Foy Vance comes to terms with demons on fourth album ahead of York Barbican gig

Foy Vance: Storytelling singer-songwriter from Bangor, Northern Ireland, now living in the Scottish Highlands

NORTHERN Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance will play York Barbican on March 25 on next year’s British tour in support of his fourth studio album, Signs Of Life.

His second release on Ed Sheeran’s Gingerbread Man Records label arrives today on CD, vinyl and digital formats as his follow-up to 2016’s The Wild Swan.

Signs Of Life finds Bangor-born Vance – husband, father, hipster, sinner, drinker – belatedly coming to terms with his demons at 47. Driven by percussion, lead single Time Stand Still features a soaring, emotive vocal from Vance, who was struggling with an addiction to alcohol and painkillers at the time of writing.

Likewise, Vance tackles the subject head on in Hair Of The Dog, listing his self-medicating crutches while confessing, “You no longer make me happy/You no longer make me smile/You take everything that’s good within me.”

“I had my first extended period off the road after 20 years of constant touring,” says the moustachioed storytelling bluesman, survivor, rocker and folk hero. “I realised: wow, I drink two bottles of wine and at least a half bottle of vodka a day. I’d start the day with codeine to get myself sorted, and I’d smoke joints throughout the day.

“So, I realised: I have so many incredibly bad habits here. I’m showing all the signs of death, getting ashen, grey, smoking more, drinking more, smoking more…I hit a wall.”

“Signs of Life is about re-emergence: me in my own soft revolution, the world re-emerging in what we’re about to see as we hopefully go back to some semblance of normality,” says Foy Vance

His manager urged him to seek help. “And in those moments, you do wish time would stand still,” says Vance. “Can’t I just stop here and sit in this moment before I have to take up that mantle?”

Alternative/indie vocalist, guitarist and piano player Vance released his debut album, Hope, independently in 2007 before signing to Glassnote Records for his second full-length album, 2013’s Joy Of Nothing, winner of the inaugural Northern Ireland Music Prize. He has since toured the globe with Ed Sheeran, Bonnie Raitt, Marcus Foster, Snow Patrol and Sir Elton John, as well as on his solo headline tours.

In 2015, Vance became the second signing to Gingerbread Man Records, Sheeran’s label division within Atlantic Records. The Wild Swan surfaced in 2016, executive-produced by Sir Elton John, with the singles Coco, Upbeat Feelgood and Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution all being playlisted on BBC Radio 2. That year too, Vance performed on NBC’s Today and CBS’s The Late Late Show with James Corden. 

Now comes Signs Of Life. “As always, Foy has knocked it out of the park,” says Sheeran. “I love giving him the creative freedom to do what he wants as I’m at the end of the day just a huge fan of his work. It’s such a joy to be able to put out such great bodies of work from him, I hope everyone enjoys it as much as me.”

“As always, Foy has knocked it out of the park,” says Ed Sheeran of Foy Vance’s second album for his Gingerbread Man Records label

“I feel like I’ve got a confidante in Ed, a real ally,” responds Vance. “In many ways he has found a way to afford me the ability to keep on making art the way I want to make it. It’s comforting to know that no matter what I wanted to do, he would fight for it.”

This week, Vance is playing six intimate sold-out shows on his An Evening With Foy Vance Tour 2021, taking in Leeds Brudenell Social Club on Tuesday, and tonight’s London gig at St Pancras Old Church will be livestreamed globally from 9pm BST with multiple broadcasts to follow. Tickets are available at: dice.fm/artist/foy-vance.

Signs Of Life was recorded in three locations: Vance’s Pilgrim studio at home on the shores of Loch Tay in Highland Perthshire, another recording set-up in nearby Dunvarlich House and at Plan B’s Kings X studio in London.

The album was written and played more or less entirely by Vance, with assistance from young Northern Irish producer Gareth Dunlop. 

Among the first tracks Vance wrote was the mea-culpa album opener Sapling – now rapidly approaching two million streams on Spotify –and it showed him the path forward.

“I once built a bower, I could build you a home,” he sings in his promise to his new wife, after her move from London to join Vance in his adopted Highland home, that he would do more than simply offer a new domestic setting. Or, as he puts it in his inimitable style: “Let me go further and do the actual right thing instead of being a drunken ballbag.”

Fashioned out of the grimness of 2020, Signs Of Life is an album of dawn after darkness, hope after despair, engagement after isolation, uplift after lockdown. It comes encased in bold sleeve artwork that reflects Vance’s desire to embrace all sides of everything, all humanity’s textures.

The “mad, striking image” for the album cover for Foy Vance’s Signs Of Life

Shot on a 160-year-old camera that “does arresting things with colours and shading”, the front image depicts him in a dress, blond wig and theatrical make-up back; on the back, he becomes a bare-chested, bare-knuckle boxer.

“They’re just mad, striking images, and I loved the fact that it was male and female,” explains Vance. “You know, life’s extreme, life’s volatile, life explodes into reality sometimes, and stops just as quick. So, to be struck by images on the cover made sense.”

A new collection of Foy Vance songs would be a tonic at any time, not only for devotee Ed Sheeran. Right now, in pandemic times, they cannot arrive a moment too soon. “That’s a huge part of it,” says Vance.

“Signs of Life is about re-emergence: me in my own soft revolution, the world re-emerging in what we’re about to see as we hopefully go back to some semblance of normality. But just life in general – flowers growing through the cracks in Chernobyl. Life finds a way, doesn’t it?”

The full track listing is: Sapling; We Can’t Be Tamed; Signs Of Life; Roman Attack; People Are Pills; Time Stand Still; If Christopher Calls; System; Hair Of The Dog; Resplendence; Republic Of Eden; It Ain’t Over and Percolate.

Tickets for Vance’s March 25 2022 gig – his first in York since playing Fibbers in June 2008 – go on sale at 10am on September 17 at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Knockout punch: Foy Vance in boxer mode on the back sleeve of Signs Of Life

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