Q&A: Foy Vance
Strummer Foy Vance on growing up the son of a preacher man, touring with ginger god Ed Sheeran and the time his career literally went down the toilet.
Hello Foy. Where are you at?
Standing outside a hotel in Portsmouth, as it happens.
I think the technical term is 'living the dream'. Anyway, congratulations are in order. Your album, Joy Of Nothing, was named Northern Ireland record of the year. Presumably you dashed out and blew the winner's cheque on a Maserati.
Awards are funny things, especially where music is concerned. It's not as if it's a case of 'who can do 20 press-ups, or who can run the 100 metres?'. There isn't a clear winner. I don't know how it all works in a sense.
Steady on, Foy – they'll be looking for the award back if you carry on like this ...
Well, in another sense it is lovely. Now obviously it doesn't make the album any better or worse. Ultimately it is a nice thing to receive, especially with it happening at home [Vance is from Bangor, Co Down].
Gongs aside, it's been a busy year. You toured America with – do I have this right ? – Ed Sheeran.
It was like nothing I have ever done before. I was playing in front of pop audiences, all these kids. It was strange but great fun. I've never attempted anything like that in my career until now.
How does Foy Vance end up on an Ed Sheeran tour?
Ed is a fan of mine, actually. He really loved my first album. When his tour was coming up, he got to pick his own support artist. He wanted me. Maybe there was a time I would have been sniffy about something like that. Nowadays, I don't see the harm going outside your comfort zone.
How did you get on? Assuming you managed to press through the throng of hyperventilating 'Ed-heads' long enough to have a conversation.
We actually met a few years ago in Whelan's. We were both in Dublin for Arthur's Day. We were up until five in the morning playing each other's songs. His dad brought him to my gigs when Ed was 13.
Get a grip Foy, you're practically swooning down the phone.
Look, you can say whatever you want about Ed. He's the real thing. Ed's a songwriter who cares about his music. He is very successful at what he does. His music is from a genuine place.
It's quite a distance from American arenas to the Irish toilet circuit. Normally when musicians talk about 'playing toilets' they are referring to small dingy venues. You literally went on a tour of toilets.
The acoustics of toilets are fascinating. I thought, why not give it a go? You get very interesting sonic effects playing in a toilet. Ask any musician they will tell you that, as a place in which to perform, the acoustics are unique. It was fascinating. I really enjoyed it.
To top it all, you recently signed to Glassnote. How did you end up on the same label as Two Door Cinema Club and Mumford and Sons?
What's that supposed to mean. Are you saying I'm crap?
I'm only joking. No, they were fantastic. It was great to be on a label. I released my first album myself which was not a process I enjoyed particularly. I'm not very good at the business side of things. I don't understand that part of the industry. People like Glen Hansard, Damien Rice – they're fantastic at it.
Not me. So we sent out some demos to a number of labels, then came in with our tapes and my guitar and played for them.
You went in and performed in their offices? Gig from hell alert.
The longer I'm in the business the more I think you should be able to perform anywhere. If you are doing a gig somewhere unusual, the trick is not to take it too seriously. You don't want to lean too hard into the performance. Growing up, my gran had a rule – everyone had to be able to sing a song at a family gathering. So I learned early on to be able to belt out a tune in the most unusual of circumstances.
Speaking of family, your father was a preacher. Was it all fire and brimstone in the Vance household?
Oh no, he wasn't like that at all. My dad was a multifaceted figure. There was a lot to him. As a teenager, he and I would go over to the States. He would be preaching and I'd be sitting there bored shitless. As a child, the family moved briefly to Ohio so he could preach there. My memories are more sensory than anything. I was very young.
Foy Vance plays Roisin Dubh, Galway, tonight, Whelan's, Dublin, tomorrow.