Irish folk singer Emet finds a home of support in the Calgary music scene

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On March 20, Irish-born singer-songwriter Emet had what can only be described as a very Albertan musical experience.

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As part of the Country Music Alberta Awards celebrations, he was in Red Deer to participate in a songwriter showcase. This saw him play alongside heavyweights representing various shades of the province’s proud country music surplus. There were mainstream artists such as Devin Cooper and Annika and the more traditional/outlaw strains of Shaela Miller, who would take home Project WILD’s top prize a few weeks later.

But it’s doubtful either act fell as far from what is considered Alberta country music as Emet that night. His new album, Carlin’s Farm, is a collection of deliciously funny, poignant and sometimes melancholic folk songs. His music can recall both the muted beauty of doomed British folk Nick Drake and the chamber music of the Fleet Foxes. But there’s not a twang to hear.

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Certainly, in his home country, these distinctions are not so well defined. Still, he admits there was some trepidation.

“In Ireland, folk and country go together in a way that I didn’t think would necessarily translate as well here,” he says. “But there was a crowd of really sincere people and being able to perform in songwriting sessions at the Country Music Alberta Awards was a really great experience for me. You could hear a pin drop all the time. I was there for both sessions. People were really listening. »

Emét, who was born Emmet McGonagle in Northern Ireland, now lives in Calgary. He arrived recently via London, where he has held a wide variety of journalism jobs over the past two years. This included a stint covering celebrities for OK! and as a “video editor” for the Daily Star tabloid, where he says he mainly covered conspiracies involving Elvis and UFO sightings.

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When the pandemic hit, he split his time between London and Limavady, a town in Northern Ireland that is perhaps best known as the birthplace of teary Irish ballad Danny Boy.

It’s an hour’s drive from Belfast, where Emet would travel sporadically to record the material that would become Carlin’s Farm. London and Belfast aren’t exactly known as culturally deprived centers, especially for a writer and a musician. But Emet said he couldn’t wait to leave. He remains somewhat vague about what brought him to Calgary, saying only that he and his partner visited friends here in 2019 and decided this was where they needed to be.

“I was getting tired of working in England and the pandemic didn’t help,” he says. “But before that moment, I had come to Calgary and I had seen the possibility of doing a work visa. Then the pandemic hit and all those plans were put on hold for over a year. So Canada has become a much more important thing to me in terms of “as soon as the borders open, I slip away”. I’m going to Calgary and I’m going to have a great time. That’s exactly what I did. I hit Calgary really hard and Calgary hit me back really hard, so I’m taking advantage of that.

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In addition to playing songwriter showcases in Red Deer, he also had a gig as part of the Big Winter Classic. On May 1, he will host a CD launch at the Teahouse in Calgary.

It was the pandemic that revived Emet’s musical career. When the lockdowns hit Ireland, her hairdresser in Limavady asked her to write a song about her business after it was forced to close. The dark, philosophical folk number JJ Johnston kicked off a creative period for the writer. It had been years since he had released music in Ireland in his late teens under his first name and he wanted to take a different approach.

“I took myself so seriously,” he says. “When the pandemic hit, I thought I was just going to have a laugh with it, have a good time. That’s the kind of energy I wanted to bring with me to Calgary, not necessarily with the ambition to play music full time. As things progress, I feel a lot more pride in my work. There are so many gigs and the community here is amazing in Alberta. The arts culture is amazing, second to none. I’d be a fool if I didn’t go as hard as I could.

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Emét says Carlin’s Farm songs explore themes of mortality and morality, which are not uncommon in the work of many of his country’s great writers. A graduate in creative writing, Emet often puts a pop culture spin on these ideas. The Chelsea Hotel is closed until further notice was inspired by a self-portrait taken by Leonard Cohen which he captioned ‘days the hat doesn’t help’. Scarecrow (I Think I’ll Miss You Most) is inspired by The Wizard of Oz and is told from the isolated perspective of a scarecrow in search of love and adventure. These Better Not Be The Good Old Days takes its name from a tweet by American singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers and focuses on the precarious business of making music for a living as a “twenty-something of the working class “.

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There are also songs about alcohol, politics and faith. The surprisingly sweet Sticky Floor Serenade was inspired by the loud, drunken nights Emet spent with a fellow musician in various pubs. The steering wheel Seeking A Friend For the End of the World recounts a violent night raid of a housing estate by the police. The melodic Hate to See It is a character study of a disconnected “politically charged pensioner” obsessed with Northern Ireland’s past troubles. The title track and the dramatic Bardo, the Tibetan term for the state of existence between two lives on earth, evoke reincarnation.

Recorded by percussionist George Sloan, who plays with Belfast bluegrass band No Oil Paintings, Carlin’s Farm often involved marathon sessions whenever Emet could hit the studio. The impressive song art is matched with a certain “go-for-broke” vibe.

“I’m 25, I saved up to do this thing, got into it and thought I’d give it my all,” he says. “A lot of it came with weird ideas. There is a melodica, which is a keyboard that you blow into. Or there is a Tibetan singing bowl at some point. Just really weird stuff. If we’re going to kick off a genre, I tend to say indie-folk because that tends to broaden that reach a bit more. But overall, I’d say it’s just the folk at the heart of it all.

Emet will perform at the Teahouse on May 1 with Liz.

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