BRONA McVITTIE – Live at the Tea House Theatre, Vauxhall, London

Brona McVittie - live
Photograph by Tony Birch

London is a city divided by the Thames, so “heading south of The River” always adds a little something to an occasion.  In this case it was only just south, to the Tea House Theatre based in an old Victorian public house that opened in 1886 on the site of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens as immortalised as the ‘Vanity Fair’ in Thackeray’s novel.  The occasion was the album launch of Brona McVittie’s We Are The Wildlife.

This is Brona’s début album, although she has appeared before on albums as a member groups including the London Lasses and neo-impressionist outfit littlebow, and it is very good.  There was no supporting act for the show, but some excellent backing musicians were used as required on each song so we had almost a series of scenes and the stage was well laid out to allow easy access and exit meaning it ran very smoothly.

The evening opened with just Brona and her harp for ‘Newry Mountain’, a traditional Irish piece featured on the album that is a very gentle love song, and so eased us in to the evening.  I say it was just voice and instrument but here we have a traditionalist who lets tradition guide rather than dictate how the music sounds.  As is so often the case these days electronics were used on most tracks either for effects or to provide a backing.  When done well, as it was here, that isn’t something I have problems with as I’m sure Turlough O’Carolan would have been interested if such devices had been around in his time.  After all, some of his contemporaries considered him too modern.

The second song of the evening also nodded to tradition, with ‘When The Angels Wake You’ based on a Yeats poem and backed by Myles Cochran on lap slide and the opening track to the album.  Yeats is a poet whom Brona uses for inspiration and that wasn’t the last poem of his to make an appearance, although we had to wait until the end for ‘The Jug Of Punch’, a parting song with is heard less frequently than ‘The Parting Glass’ but is every bit as good.

Brona is fortunate to be able to call of some terrific backing musicians, in addition to Myles Cochran, and they made a huge contribution to the evening.  Flautists Anne Garner and Keiron Phelan swapped places, with Anne also providing backing vocals alongside Barbara Marion whilst  Hutch Demouilpied’s sensitive trumpet playing fitted in perfectly. As already mentioned this mixing of sounds and players kept the evening fresh as you never knew what was coming next.

Of course, every song featured Brona and her harp so there was a common theme.  Brona’s voice compliments her chosen instrument so well with its gentle lilt and gossamer application.  This also reflects back into the songs which often have a sense of not being quite of this world.  ‘Under The Pines’ is a good example of this.  The inspiration for the song was a walk in the woods, past some dog kennels where the dog’s barks echoed off the trees so the sound became a surround rather than have a distinct direction.  Reality and fantasy collided and there were occasions where we, as the audience, weren’t quite sure which realm we were inhabiting but it certainly wasn’t part of South London surrounded by flats.

Yeats even managed to inspire an instrumental piece on the album which deserves mention for its title of heroic proportions.  ‘The Vast And Vague Extravagance That Lies At The Bottom Of  The Celtic Heart’ drew on most of the band and this slow, lilting piece brought soft rain and gentle landscapes readily to mind.

Music can touch many emotions but this evening left a feeling of quiet relaxed satisfaction, as if leaving a dreamscape you long to return to and We Are The Wildlife is a perfect of example of traditional sounding Irish music that has found a new lease of life and vigour in recent years.  The album is now available through the artist’s website or other platforms including Amazon and Rough Trade, but if you get the chance I would strongly recommend buying it at a live show.

Finally, credit must go to the sound man for the evening, Mark Thompson, who did an excellent job balancing up instruments and voices with very different ranges, as well as joint promoters Graham Smallwood of FolkonMonday and Karen Ryan of Irish Music and Dance in London.

Tony Birch

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Artist’s website:

‘Newry Mountain’:


Brona McVittie announces debut solo album and single

Brona McVittie

We Are The Wildlife is the forthcoming debut solo LP from celebrated Irish folk chanteuse and harpist Brona McVittie. As a taster of the magic to come, Brona is sharing a double A side single featuring the traditional love ballad ‘Newry Mountain’, a lesser-heard folk song from her home of County Down, and the evocative original composition ‘Under The Pines’. These two tracks feature harp and subtle ambient effects with the lush richness of orchestral strings from specialist Richard Curran, who has recorded with Bert Jansch and Steve Tilston, trumpet from film-composer Hutch Demouilpied, flute from Keiron Phelan (State River Widening, Smile Down Upon Us, littlebow) and slide guitar and drums from artist/producer Myles Cochran.

Brona recently returned to living in her native County Down after many years in London and has found herself living beside ocean, forest and the Mourne mountains. Thestark contrast between the urban chaos of London and the pastoral beauty of County Down has been rich inspiration for her new compositions, and ‘Under The Pines’ arose spontaneously after a jaunt in the forest, she explains:

“One day while out running my usual circuit I stopped at the kennels on the edge of the pine forest to catch my breath. As I listened to the dogs barking I noticed they were replying to their own echoes; the build up and reverberation of sound off the trees seemed almost supernatural.”

Aside from finding fresh inspiration for writing new songs, another boon in moving back to County Down has been her discovery that there are so many more folk songs from the area than that well-worn Percy French ditty ‘The Mountains Of Mourne’. Brona has explored the archives and has uncovered some fabulous ballads in the collections of Jackie Boyce and Cathal O’Boyle. ‘Gra Geal Mo Chroi (Bright Love of My Heart)’ or ‘Newry Mountain’ was initially collected by Sam Henry in his Songs of the People, and later recorded by Joe Holmes on his album After Dawning (Topic, 1978). Brona states “the song is a vow of love, although I’m still wondering where Newry Mountain actually is”.

Brona’s musical influences are wide ranging, from the hymns that she sang at school and her teenage obsession with Prince, to the 70s folk innovators such as John Martyn and Bert Jansch. She tends to write on guitar, later translating song arrangements onto harp. Her influences include modern day post-folk electronic artists such as Tunng and Colleen, and even Portishead, in contrast she also is equally stimulated listening to traditional archive recordings e.g. Alan Lomax, and classical composers including Satie and Beethoven.

Aside from her fledging solo career, Brona has built up widespread international acclaim for her work with Irish all female folk legends The London Lasses, a capella ensemble Rún and post-folk trio littlebow with Katie English (Isnaj Dui/The Doomed Birds Of Providence) and Keiron Phelan. She premiered her new compositions in London in May 2017, and will be touring the UK and Ireland in Autumn 2017.

Artist’s website:

An old film but none the worse for that. ‘A Stor Mo Chroi’: