Lewis Barfoot | Interview

2021 saw singer-songwriter & multi-instrumentalist Lewis Barfoot release her debut album “Glenaphuca”. The album is full of evocative, autobiographical songs that speak of Lewis’ wish to unearth the legacy of her family roots in Ireland and is a mix of original compositions and reinventions of traditional songs from Ireland and England.

We caught up with Lewis to chat about the release, her Irish roots and English upbringing and her upcoming tour plans!

Hi Lewis! Congratulations on the release of your debut album ‘Glenaphuca.’ The album was released on International Women’s Day. Why was it so important for you to have your release on this day?

Thank you Alison and thank you for having me here on Mnásome. Glenaphuca is an album that speaks of my journey to give voice to the women in my lineage here in Ireland; the women whose voices had been silenced and whose stories hadn’t been told because of the overwhelming legacy of shame and secrecy. To release it into the world around International Women’s Day was a poignant part of the timing, but it also fell midpoint between the anniversary of my Mum’s death and Mother’s Day and being a folk prayer to the ancestors I wanted to honour my maternal line in the timing of its release.

It is also spring, a time of new beginnings and as the album thematically muses on life, death and the eternal natural cycle of both, to birth it as the freshness of springtime carries us into a new season feels beautifully aligned.

‘‘Like leaves on a tree sprouting in springtime, as I sing to your spirit, may it rise up in mine’ – Rise up (a song for my Grandmother)

‘We’re all green shoots sprouting.… Rise with me and I’ll rise with you, step on my shoulder sister, I’m coming too’ – Sister Lover (a song to celebrating sisterhood, community and solidarity between Womxn)

From winter to spring, from silence to voice, from surviving to thriving. I am the first in my line to hold these difficult subjects in the grace of light, love, compassion and forgiveness and hopefully this may spark the courage in others to unlock and release the hidden stories, shame and suffering in their families and communities. As the day lengthens, may this album bring light to those dark areas that may have been previously hidden. A new beginning, a new cycle.

You were born in Walthamstow, London, and have recently moved back to Cork, Ireland. Your mother previously had to abandon Ireland because of the abuse she received at the hand of the church and state. How has the move been for you given your family’s history?

The move has been bumpy. Between 2018 and 2019 I made 9 or so trips back and forth trying to reconnect with Cork, with my family here and trying to learn who my family were and what happened to my Mum, Aunts, Uncles and Nan; why they were sent to the orphanage, industrial schools and Our Lady’s asylum in Cork. This was met with resistance from male members of my family in England. Who repeatedly told me that going to Ireland was against my Mum‘s wishes, that my Mum wouldn’t approve, that it was wrong, that I shouldn’t be doing it, I shouldn’t get my Irish passport, in fact it was just easier if I didn’t mention Ireland at all. So tender was the trauma. But my instinct, intuition and calling was clear. It was my role to harmonise this trauma and the only way to do so was to lean into.

On the other side, When I came to Ireland all my Uncles, Aunts and Cousins, welcomed me with open arms and went out of their way to help uncover what happened, share the stories they knew and integrate me back into the community.

So in 2019, I moved to Cobh and lived a street below the Orphanage my Mum grew up in. Prior to this none of us in our family could mention the word Cobh without feeling rage, sickness and sadness but now I’ve made peace and I feel my family have made peace too. I feel proud to walk in the shoes of my Mother and Grandmother and all those women before me here on Cork soil.

How has your English upbringing and your Irish roots affected your songwriting and sound?

I grew up listening to a lot of folk music at home with my father playing guitar, banjo and mandolin. So his fingerpicking style has been a huge influence on me. My mum would play The Dubliners on repeat, especially when my dad was out of the house and I have to say that’s been a huge influence too. I’ve always been drawn to Irish fiddle tunes, they make my body come alive with delight and speak to me in a way beyond words. I loved the Pogues as a teenager and saw them at the Brixton academy. I mean that was wild. I grew up with Mum saying a few words in Irish and it always fascinated me, so in 2009 I joined Rún a Gaelic ensemble and we sang in Irish in 5 part harmony with beautiful arrangements by Brona Mcvittie. I created new arrangements of two of the pieces Amhrán Fosuíochta and Dúlamán and they feature on Glenaphuca.

Lockdown is finally coming to an end and live music is returning. Are you excited to finally give Glenaphuca the tour it deserves?

I cannot begin to describe how excited I am to be touring and playing live again. To play with other musicians, meet audiences and enjoy the whole beautiful shebang of live music. It feels like a completion to the album cycle: you know you put all his work in creating it, recording it, releasing it, promoting it and this is the icing on the cake – the tour and I’m so delighted that we have been able to secure a good bounty of dates across Ireland and England. Cannot wait!

Catch Lewis on tour this November/December:

Stream “Glenaphuca” by Lewis Barfoot on Spotify.

Follow Lewis on Instagram.

Words by Alison Kenny.


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