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Aoife O'Donovan

Aoife O’ Donovan – St Thomas The Martyr Church Bristol

On the tour for her new album, The Age of Apathy, Aoife O’Donovan explores gossamer highs and lows, entangling the spider web of what it means to be intensely sensitive in the modern age.

O’Donovan is lit up by the saints behind her, and she fits in with them as easily as a Queen of Hearts in a deck of cards. Her hair shines blonde in the twinkling light, and a coy smile undercuts the hushed heartbreak of her melodies.

Young and old lovers alike line the pews in a state of quiet reflection, and it mirrors the easy calm of her performance; this is not a crowd she needs to win over. She’s preaching to the choir.

In ‘Magic Hour’ – the lead single for her 2016 album of the same name – O’Donovan embraces a quiet passion that feels more like prayer than a shout into the void. It ties her Irish and American roots together with rushes, and sweeps us up in the bundle. The sound shimmers against the stained-glass windows and adds a majesty to what would otherwise be a more laid-back affair.

The set’s intimacy feels a little unusual in a church this grand, but her focus on the intensely personal – a river in Clonakilty, or a folktale she was told by her grandmother – makes the audience feel like children sitting wide-eyed at her knee. Hundred-year-old walls start to fall away.

While there is something mesmerising in the subdued stories of ‘Sister Starling’ or ‘Elevators’, it’s possible to feel out of place. The crowd is older, and the anecdotes that O’Donovan and her touring musicians bandy about centre on birdwatching, or the divide between their concert and the metal gig going on a street away.

People clap quietly. This is lit by fairy lights and not fireworks: it’s a quiet affair, but in its own way it has an epic appeal.

‘Passengers’ – the tour de force of O’Donovan’s discography – is a celestial odyssey. Her feet may be planted on cold stone, but her eyes shine to the heavens. As a folk singer inspired by the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, it’s clear she’s taken torn clues and love letters from the pair to weave into her own art.

Heartfelt and haunting, O’Donovan creates a sealed circle of trust with her songs. The quietness may not be for everybody, but lean into the silence, and the limitless depth of it echoes and beckons.  

Aoife O’Donovan tour dates can be found here.

Words by Kate Jeffrie

Photo Credit: Kirkland Childs

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