I’m New Here – Oisin Leech

Lost Brother finds himself amid the harsh beauty of Ireland’s northernmost tip

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“It was this mixture of total excitement and total fear,” says Oisin Leech of his decision to make a solo album. “I had no idea what was going to happen. But when we’d finished, Steve Gunn turned to me and said: ‘I think you’ve done something special here. There’s not many people making records like this.’”


Produced by Gunn, Cold Sea is Leech’s first venture outside of The Lost Brothers, the folk duo he formed with Mark McCausland in 2008. It finds the singer-songwriter reaching into his ancestral roots for an exquisite set of lambent folk songs that reflect the harsh beauty of his ocean-facing surroundings. Recorded in an old schoolhouse in Malin, at Ireland’s northern tip, Cold Sea maps exile, love, loss and healing via erudite guitar and judicious use of synths and strings. Gunn is a discreet presence too, as are guests M. Ward, Dylan’s upright bassist Tony Garnier and bouzouki veteran Dónal Lunny, co-founder of Planxty and The Bothy Band.


“The album is inspired by that landscape,” says Leech. “My mum and her family come from Donegal, where we made the record. It’s almost like it’s full of longing for travelling from Dublin, where I live, to arrive up north. But even though it’s a majestic place to be, there’s this underlying sadness and darkness that’s part of Irish folk music. A lot of my favourite songwriters – Townes Van Zandt, Fred Neil, Nick Drake – have that sense of melancholy.”

The brooding drama of Cold Sea feels very natural. Leech studied English literature and theatre at Dublin’s Trinity College in the late ’90s, igniting a passion that flares into his art. His songwriting talent first came to the fore in The 747s, the Liverpool-based quartet fronted by Leech during the 2000s. They cut one album – 2006’s Zampano, released the same year as he guested on Arctic Monkeys’ “Baby I’m Yours” – before Leech moved on to The Lost Brothers.

At one point, Leech’s wanderlust took him to Naples, where he’d busk on the street. “If we made enough money, we’d jump the ferry to the island of Procida to go swimming and play football,” he recalls. “I was such a big Joe Strummer fan that the other lads nicknamed me Joey Procida.” Returning to Ireland, Leech kept the name and launched a folk night in Navan.


The Joey Procida Folk Club has since hosted the likes of Gunn, Lisa O’Neill, Andy Irvine and Willy Mason. It also provided the platform for what organically became Cold Sea. “I usually begin the night by playing a couple of songs,” Leech explains. “So I thought I‘d better start writing some, just to play on stage. I ended up spending months writing. I wasn’t on any big mission, but as the songs built up, a friend of mine told me they felt like a new soundworld.”

Gunn was his first choice as producer. Upon hearing a couple of tracks, the American singer-guitarist didn’t need a second invite. “The thing that makes Oisin’s music special is his poetic simplicity,” says Gunn. “Working with him was really inspiring.”

“Steve was a wonderful touchstone,” says Leech, “reassuring my instincts about not overcooking the cake and getting the spacious sound.” It also proved serendipitous. Gunn was also eager to explore familial links to the Donegal area, his great-grandmother having emigrated from there. While The Lost Brothers are still very much a going concern, Leech is revelling in his new creative space. “I’m finding it really fascinating to sit down at the canvas by myself. It’s challenging and rewarding at the same time. These songs are incredibly personal to me. They come from deep within, but I hope other people get something from them too.”

Cold Sea is available now from Outside Music / Tremone Records


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