Sinead O’Connor: The comeback queen
How to sum up the year in Irish music in 2012? Easier to find the Higgs Boson. . . (OK, I need a new analogy, but you get my drift). At this time of year, rock critics are driven demented because the net has made the scene so fragmented. But here's a snapshot of what went down.
The year belonged to a young lad from Mullingar whose stratospheric rise to global fame and fortune was on a level not seen since U2 first appeared on the cover of Time magazine. With an army of six million followers on Twitter hanging on his every tweet, a No.1 album in the US and rumours of celebrity girlfiends, 2012 belonged to One Direction's Niall Horan. Respect.
Our most commercially successful all-Irish band of 2012 was The Script, who notched up nearly three million views on YouTube for their collaboration with will.i.am and took up residence once again at the top of the charts with another album of perfectly polished pop-rock. But will they make The Choice Prize shortlist?
Perhaps the most eye-catching feat came courtesy of The Chieftains, who celebrated an astonishing 50 years in the music biz with a star-studded new album, Voice Of Ages, that featured a NASA astronaut (Cady Coleman) playing her flute accompaniment from outer space. (Sadly, the band also lost a founding former member in 2012 with the passing of Martin Fay.)
The Chieftains were just one of many home-grown bands and singer/songwriters who gave the chisellers on the block a run for their money. Aslan sounded like they had also read The Script when they returned with the anthemic 'Too Late For Hallelujah', proving that for Christy and Co it's never too late.
But the comeback of the year was by Sinead O'Connor, who released her best album in a decade. How About I Be Me (And You Be You?) saw her in great voice, singing her heart out on 'The Wolf Is Getting Married', and popping up in TV studios from Jools Holland to Graham Norton.
Paddy Casey also returned with his first album since parting company with Sony. The Secret Life Of was the sound of a singer unburdened by major label expectations and happy to indulge his poppier side.
It also seemed that every street you walked down in the capital was covered with posters of a sodden Damien Dempsey emerging triumphantly from Dublin Bay.
He sang about Kilbarrack and Baldoyle and the Belfast train and his friend Wayne – one imagines Luke Kelly smiling benignly from on high.
Another famous Dub, Glen Hansard, returned minus The Frames and The Swell Season, with his first solo album under his own name. Rhythm And Repose saw Rolling Stone magazine compare him to another famous Glen – the Rhinestone Cowboy himself, Mr Campbell. Meanwhile, theatre-goers flocked to see the stage version of Once in London's West End. So lightning struck twice.
Jack L came up with a concept album whose unifying theme was that all the songs were covers of artists who had died at the tender age of 27. Mmmm. A touch macabre, Jack?
Julie Feeney went back to her roots for her third album, Clocks, which saw the queen of the kooks interview her own dad in his Galwegian home about his memories of their ancestors in a promotional video. Sweet.
A trad supergroup for the 21st Century set the twilight reeling – The Gloaming's coming together of sean nós guru Iarla Ó Lionaird, flinty fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, the legendary Martin Hayes and Thomas Bartlett, made the watching President Michael D Higgins whoop with joy in Vicar St earlier this year.
Owensie – aka Michael Owens – released the most mellow-yellow album of the year in Citizens, its smooth grooves and high falsetto made you want to kick back and switch on a lava lamp.
Owensie also delivered a reminder of the harsh reality of life for some people this Christmas with his excellent seasonal charity single 'The Old Breadline' in aid of a special school in Limerick. But in the year when the Pogues' 'Fairytale Of New York' celebrated its 25th anniversary, the most talked about new yuletide jingle saw Ultan Sherry notch up 147,000 views and counting on YouTube for 'Let The Snowflakes Fall', in aid of an autism charity.
Jape also made history by carrying off the Choice Music Prize for the second time – the first artist to do so since the prize commenced. But if I had to pick one album that really stopped me in my tracks, it would be the third album by Dubliner Ronan Hession – aka Mumblin' Deaf Ro.
Dictionary Crimes is a collection of disarmingly direct and deeply personal songs about familial love and loss, delivered with a quiet, understated dignity. The combination of Hession's restrained vocal style and delicate guitar picking recalls the hushed intimacy of Nick Drake. This is a record made with heart and soul – which will hit you in the gut.
It was also another feather in the cap of Dublin-based indie imprint Popical Island, whose third compilation during the summer (featuring the likes of Tieranniesaur, No Monster Club, Groom and Yeh Deadlies) showcased the thriving scene bubbling away underneath the radar.
As for the other newcomers to the party, Day & Night's star columnist Nialler9 has collated the best new acts of the year over on his blog, where you'll find the likes of 16-year-old Derry wonderkid Soak (Bridie to her friends). The title track of her EP Sea Creatures was my favourite Irish single of the year. Our next star appears to have been born.
My Irish gig of the year was a wonderful double bill in the Workman's Club which saw the original line-up of the Would Be's come back to life after so many years away, supporting our friends in the south, the ever-charming Frank & Walters, who put a smile on everyone's face with their timeless tunes and Cork patter. Roll on 2013.