For a long time now, this blog has been drawing your attention to some of the leading up-and-coming musicians on the Irish music scene that are worth keeping an eye on in the future. In a lot of cases, most of these musicians and songwriters were first discovered at the The Zodiac Sessions – which stands as a tremendous opportunity for young songwriters in Ireland, and abroad, to play music in front of a respectful and considerate audience. One of these, was Padraig MacMahon.
Over the last few years, Wicklow born singer/songwriter MacMahon has been one of the standout performers at the acoustic music night in Bruxelles. MacMahon started performing at The Zodiac Sessions back when he was only seventeen years old, and even then he used to demonstrate a songwriting maturity and sophistication of musicianship that belied his years. MacMahon seemed to draw on inspiration from artists who viewed songwriting as a true craft, something that should be cultivated and fussed over, rather than rushed, showing attributes that would remind the listener of The Tallest Man on Earth, John Martyn, John Prine, and others. It helped to make for captivating listening.
A few weeks ago the Wicklow native released a song on his Instagram page without any forewarning that it was going to happen. I think I spent the day listening to it.
One of the standout attributes of MacMahon as a songwriter is the vocals. There is a emotive range to MacMahon’s voice that helps him to create stark and powerful emotional soundscapes in his music. He seems to have this peerless ability to move from assertive protagonist to fragile songwriter, often in the space of a single song, helping him to bring the lyrics that he is singing to life in a natural and honest way.
These qualities are clearly on show in the recently released song, To The City Lights. The song talks about regrets that we can sometimes have when we leave somebody that we care about in a situation that we know might be detrimental to them, and ultimately it results in us losing them. The title refers to seeing someone move to a city and get swept up in a new life, but the city in question can be interpreted by the listener to be a metaphor for any situation or setting that we think might be dangerous or unsafe for someone we love. This helps to make the story being told by MacMahon feel like a story involving us, rather than just one that is familiar or relatable.
The song also hints at a sense of feeling that you have failed the person who has been lost. That you couldn’t keep them safe. That you couldn’t give them reason to stay.
“But I can’t see nothing more, the colour of blood, when I look at my hands”
MacMahon has demonstrated through much of his music that he has a strong ability for lyrics and imagery, and again this is showcased here with one of the best lines I have ever heard in any piece of music. The line in question comes in the middle of the second verse, as MacMahon reminds us that regardless of the decisions and failings and paths that we take in our different lives, they’ll all end the same. This is an immensely powerful sentiment as it almost marks and talks to a sense of futility for all the things that we try to do. A harrowing thought, but something that can also be viewed as something reassuring – we’re ultimately not in control.
“Don’t know how life can be lived in a thousand different ways, and still end on it’s own”
Just stunning songwriting.