Photography: Tomas Adam

Visible Women

  • +
  • Laura Duff
  • Maz O'Connor
  • Ciara Ní É
  • Lisa O'Neill
Liverpool Irish Festival @ Philharmonic Music Room 23/10/19

“What do they call me? My name is sweet thing,” sings LISA O’NEILL with a biting intensity. The County Cavan songwriter admits she’d been unsure whether it would be appropriate to cover Nina Simone’s Four Women for tonight’s Liverpool Irish Festival showcase; none of the song’s narrators are white, and they’re either subjects of slavery or live in its cruel wake.

However, its themes of oppression, inequality and resilience will surely have a universal resonance for many listeners tonight. Her voice peaking, she drives down her heels one final time and lets out a chilling bawl of “Peaches!”. A battle cry signalling the strength found in sisterhood, it’s an incredible note to finish the evening on. Yet, O’Neill is only one of the four performers that make the Visible Women showcase so memorable this evening.

Bilingual spoken-word artist CIARA NÍ É hosts. Having been assured that Liverpudlians are famously “a great craic”, her blend of Irish Gaelic with fierce, proudly feminist poetry immediately appeals. The rattle of Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life backdrops her spin on Irvine Welsh’s “choose life” Trainspotting monologue. It’s a powerful take, pitching provocative humour against hard-hitting naked truths.

Visible Women Image 5

Maz O’Connor (main image, Lisa O’Neill)

Captivating English songwriter MAZ O’CONNOR is the first singer to take centre stage. Drawing from her fourth album Chosen Daughter, which was influenced by the trials and torments of various female relatives, her timely and evocative set is steered by her pristine, delicately nuanced voice. Mary’s lyrics linger long after she takes her leave, whereas the direct thrust of Loved Me Better hears O’Connor take aim at dominant patriarchy. Limerick’s LAURA DUFF then follows, her sultry pop inflections bringing more groove to proceedings. Humbled, she talks about how empowered she feels to be part of this bill.

Still reeling from the last time we caught her, it’s a joy to see O’Neill make her grand return to Liverpool. A powerhouse, like Simone, Björk and Karen Dalton rolled into one, she’s a storyteller and songwriter of remarkable depth. Opener What A Voice says it all. Backdropped by the Liver bird, tales of cormorants, wrens and blackbirds circle overhead. “It’s good to shine a little light on madness, it’s in us all,” she grins before Violet Gibson; its daring chorus, “I moved in silence, for the love o’ truth, not violence” feeling particularly apt as we look back over the showcase.

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