Jump to content

One Beat at a Time

A music commission by Arts & Disability Ireland featuring Derrick Devine, Ailís Ní Ríain and Kevin Nolan.
Curated by Dylan Tighe

Original songs inspired by, and expanding our understanding of, mental distress, discovery and wellbeing by three Irish artists with lived experience – Derrick Devine, Ailís Ní Ríain and Kevin Nolan.

Curatorial Statement by Dylan Tighe

The impulse behind this project emerged from my own album, and wider project, ‘Record’ which looked to explore and re-cast my own experience of emotional and mental distress in my own words. While the project also spawned a theatre production, radio drama, talks, discussions and texts, it is the songs which I feel set my own record straight in a manner most free of the inherited, internalised language which I found at times seeped into other forms. These songs seemed to come from a deeper, less academic, purer well of reflection and insight, from a place which allowed me to listen to the essence of my experience and, in the words of Yeats, to “hear it in the deep heart’s core”.

During the course of that project I became aware of a long history of songwriters who, inspired by first-hand experience of mental distress, and often medical treatment, have mined the depths of their souls to bring us new insights into human suffering, distress and discovery.The songs of Schubert, Nick Drake, Roky Erikson, Peter Green, Lou Reed, Daniel Johnston, and many others, invent new and precious ways to illuminate complex and distressing human experiences and emotions beyond the medical discourse to which they are often subject. I believe that these songs tell us more in a few lines and bars about the issues at the heart of human distress than a multitude of textbooks.

While valuable work has been done to map a related history in literature and art it struck me that little has been done in this regard in relation to songwriting. When Arts & Disability Ireland approached me with an invitation to curate a project for Curated Space it seemed a perfect opportunity to both draw attention to this history and update it by inviting Irish composer-musicians and songwriters with lived experience of mental distress and discovery to delve into their own experience and insights and commit them to record. These songs take their place in a long tradition of first-person confessional narratives by artists with experience of mental distress dating back hundreds of years and are I believe an invaluable addition to this greatly undervalued canon*.

As Rabindranath Thakur wrote in his ‘Gitanjali: Song offerings’, “when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart”. The songs in this project , by Derrick Devine, Ailís Ní Ríain and Kevin Nolan, invite us to listen deeper and beyond those ‘old words’ and to appraise anew the depth of experience at the heart of crises of the human spirit and consciousness.

As our conventional understanding of ‘mental health’ comes under increasing challenge, and appreciation of expert-by-experience narrative grows, this project places the art of song at the forefront of a new understanding of human distress, discovery and wellbeing. Samuel Beckett wrote that “we must re-think the human condition” and I believe that these songs carry out that invitation with an honesty and depth of insight which is both exhilirating and inspirational. What you will hear in these three recordings are the fruits of artists diving to the deepest realms of the “heart’s core” to bring back words and music with which to inspire us all to move toward a better understanding and expression of human experience “one beat at a time” (to borrow a phrase from artist Kevin Nolan)

Many who have experienced crises of mental wellbeing have at least some experience of being analysed and represented in terms alien to their own interpretations of their experiences, and of their own insights being sidelined as somehow less ‘expert’. It strikes me that at times curatorship often performs a similar injustice. I would therefore like to leave interpretation of the songs to the real experts – firstly the artists themselves, in their own words below, and secondly to you the listeners.

* See Gail Hornstein’s extensive bibliography of ‘first-person narratives of madness’

Derrick pic credit LILY LE PELLEC680x590

Tourniquet by Derrick Devine

Curated by Dylan Tighe Words and music by Derrick Devine. Vocals and guitar: Derrick Devine. Vocals and piano: Jenna Harris. Guitars and percussion: Dylan Tighe, Sean Coleman. Produced by Sean Coleman, Dylan Tighe, Derrick Devine at Orphan Recording Dublin. Mixed and mastered by Sean…

Ailís Ní Riain

Cimmerian by Ailís Ní Ríain

Curated by Dylan Tighe Music and words: Ailís Ní Ríain Voice: Sue Rynhart

Kevin Nolan recipient of ADI and axis:Ballymun Performing Arts Residency 2014

The Coming of Complete Night by Kevin Nolan

Curated by Dylan Tighe. Written by Kevin Nolan. Lead Guitar and Bass Guitar: Mark Ellison. Vocal, Rhythm Guitar, Tambourine, Drum and Hammond Organ: Kevin Nolan. Produced by Kevin Nolan, Dylan Tighe, Sean Coleman. Recorded at Orphan Recording. Engineered, mixed and mastered by Sean Coleman.