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Culture Guide 2021: Albums and live music

Our music critic John Meagher looks ahead to the best albums, festivals and gigs coming our way this year


Imelda May has a new album out in 2021

Imelda May has a new album out in 2021

Imelda May has a new album out in 2021

In normal times there would be a glut of albums in the early stages of the new year, but many record companies are biding their time to see what’s going to happen with Covid before announcing a release date. However, while there are still a few gems to look forward to, it’s a very different kettle of fish when it comes to live shows and festivals. The third lockdown, imposed over Christmas and expected to last until spring, has put the kibosh on several shows, but we can live in hope that the gigs and festivals that have been tentatively pencilled in from spring onwards will get the go-ahead. Here’s a rundown of the best albums, festivals and gigs we hope we will be enjoying in 2021.


To death and taxes one can add a US number one album from Drake as one of life’s certainties. Each of his previous five albums topped the chart there and he is among the most streamed artists on the planet over the past 10 years. A sixth album, Certified Lover Boy, is slated for release this month — but an exact date hasn’t been scheduled. Lead single Laugh Now, Cry Later did the business on its release during the summer.


Sixth album: Drake will release Certified Lover Boy this month

Sixth album: Drake will release Certified Lover Boy this month

Sixth album: Drake will release Certified Lover Boy this month

The Canadian dominates the list of artists releasing albums in January but there’s already considerable excitement about Drunk Tank Pink, the second album from cult English post-punk band Shame. Produced by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, it’s due on January 15.

Elsewhere, prolific US singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco and Bee Gee Barry Gibb will be worth a listen in January with, respectively, Revolutionary Love and Greenfields.

Declan O’Rourke’s seventh album, Arrivals is due for release in early February. Intriguingly, it’s produced by Paul Weller and was recorded in the ex-Jam man’s Black Barn studio in the UK.

The month also features some biggies, including the Greg Kurstin-produced Medicine at Midnight from Foo Fighters on February 5 — a “party album,” according to frontman Dave Grohl — and Sia’s Music the following week. The latter is a soundtrack to a film that the Australian pop star has written and directed. Billed as a ‘musical drama’, it stars Kate Hudson.

The Hold Steady and Julien Baker release new albums in February and the evergreen Willie Nelson — still rocking at 87 — brings out That’s Life at the end of the month.

In early March, we can expect the much-anticipated debut album from young English troubadour Dodie Clark, who originally built a profile for herself on YouTube. Build a Problem has been preceded by several singles, including Gutless.

Teenage Fanclub fans have much to cheer. Endless Arcade, their first album since 2016, is out on March 5. It’s also their first without founding member Gerard Love, who departed the band in 2018.

Not to be outdone, another of those great Glasgow indie bands, Arab Strap, will also release a long-awaited album on the same day. As Days Get Dark will be their first album in 16 years.

But the big release of the month will be the seventh album from Lana del Rey, Chemtrails over the Country Club. The LA-based New Yorker delivered one of 2019’s best albums in Norman Fucking Rockwell! and expectations are high.

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Very few albums have been given definite release dates beyond the end of March, although the once white-hot Glasvegas return with Godspeed on April 2 and Weezer’s 14th album, Van Weezer, is out on May 7. The latter is, apparently, Rivers Cuomo’s hard rock album and a nod to the late Eddie Van Halen.

2021 will also see a new album from Imelda May. The as-yet-untitled release comes in the wake of her well-received single 11 Past the Hour and it will be her first long player in four years. The Dubliner is one of several Irish acts expected to bring out albums this year, including a sixth from Villagers, and newcomer Gemma Dunleavy, who made waves with her single Up de Flats.

There are several biggies in the offing for 2021, although dates have not been finalised. Adele will be back with her fourth album. Each of her three previous albums, 18, 21 and 25 has been named after the age she was at when recording. It will be intriguing to hear what’s been happening in the 32-year-old’s world.

It’s expected that Cardi B will release a second album in the summer. It’s got a lot to live up to: her debut, Invasion of Privacy, is the longest-charting album by a female rapper in US history.

Most exciting of all is the first album in 16 years from the legendary Stevie Wonder. Through the Eyes of Wonder is expected to get an early summer release and will feature a host of collaborators, including rapper Busta Rhymes.

Live gigs and festivals

After a nightmare year for artists and promoters, it’s not surprising that there is a reluctance to commit to dates — especially in the first half of the year.

With suggestions from several health experts that the ‘old normal’ may not return until the summer, it’s no surprise to see musicians push out their live dates yet again.

Irish quartet Pillow Queens were set to play Dublin’s Button Factory on February 26, but rescheduled the show to August 27. They won lots of admirers thanks to an exhilarating debut album, In Waiting, in 2020 and it will be worth the wait.

At the time of writing, several big 3Arena shows were set to go ahead in the spring, including The Who (March 5), Harry Styles (March 19) and Stormzy (April 2 and 3), but their fate very much rests in the hands of the virus and the vaccine.

Fingers crossed that John Grant will play Dublin’s National Concert Hall on May 17 and that Idles can lift the roof at a pair of sold-out shows at Vicar Street on May 17 and 18.

Even the most pessimistic of us might hope that come June, gigs can go ahead as planned. Traditionally, the start of the summer music festival calendar has begun with Forbidden Fruit at the grounds of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, and the 2021 instalment is set to take place on the first weekend of June. No acts have been announced as yet.

June 6 and 7 is due to feature rescheduled performances from one of the great American bands of this generation, the National. The first date is Live at the Docklands, Limerick; the second, Live at the Marquee, Cork. The latter is one of the great annual music programmes —and, on June 23, Pet Shop Boys are set to bring their peerless brand of pop to Leeside.

Dermot Kennedy plays St Anne’s Park, Dublin, on June 4 and 12 while the evergreen Lionel Richie and 80s pop survivors Duran Duran play the same outdoor venue on June 5 and 13 respectively. Kennedy is also due to play several dates at Killarney’s INEC.

For many of a certain generation, one of the most anticipated gigs of 2021 will be Echo and the Bunnymen, who play the Olympia, Dublin, on June 11. Ian McCulloch et al are no strangers to the storied venue and know how to deliver goosebumps.

Outdoor shows are to the fore this year — and set to be especially popular after all we have been told about Covid spreading indoors. David Gray and the Script play Musgrave Park rugby ground in Cork on June 19 and 22 respectively, the Killers are the pick of the acts playing Malahide Castle, Dublin (June 15 and 16) and Guns n’ Roses will be doing their thing at Dublin’s Marlay Park on June 22).


Musicians Alana Haim, Este Haim and Danielle Haim of HAIM

Musicians Alana Haim, Este Haim and Danielle Haim of HAIM

Musicians Alana Haim, Este Haim and Danielle Haim of HAIM

Trinity College Dublin shows have been special in recent years and this year has some excellent headliners, including reigning Mercury Music Prize winner Michael Kiwanuka (June 28), Haim (June 29), Crowded House (June 30), Beck (July 4) and the Specials (July 5).


Tom Jones has two dates in the Republic of Ireland this summer

Tom Jones has two dates in the Republic of Ireland this summer

Tom Jones has two dates in the Republic of Ireland this summer

Longitude is scheduled to go ahead on the first weekend of July, while those of a greater vintage may be tickled by the prospect of Tom Jones at Energia Stadium, Dublin on July 2. (The Welsh crooner will be at Live at the Marquee, Cork, on June 2, too, but the availability of tickets is low.)

We are spoiled for shows come high summer. Homegrown heroes Fontaines DC play Live at the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin on July 3 and 4 and the same venue hosts Caribou on July 9, Damien Dempsey on July 10 and — and this should be special — Pixies on July 17.

If everything goes to plan, the best of the new crop of festivals, All Together Now, will return on July 30. In summer 2019, attendees moaned about the traffic on the way to the festival at Curraghmore Estate, Co Waterford. After a year starved of gigs and festivals, let’s hope it’s the only thing we have to complain about seven months from now.

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