I was strolling along a shaded cobblestone street in the old quarter of Nice, ambling gently past artists’ ateliers and sleepy artisan boutiques up towards the Parc du Chateau when I was stopped in my tracks by a sublime sound coming from a street corner.
On looking back I could just about make out a rangy figure, dressed in black and perched on a low stool, playing a plaintive French ballad on an amplified Spanish classical guitar. The voice was strong and honest, the song poignant and haunting.
I was intrigued. I turned and walked back to see what was going on. The lone figure finished his song, and was surrounded by no one except two bearded American hikers, who were clearly boring him and whoever else that didn’t care to listen with the usual tedious counterculture schtick about the pointlessness of gigging, and how it’s all about the money these days, man.
I ignored them. At the front of the chanteur’s guitar case sat a neat row of white covered CDs. He swept straight black hair from his brow, shielded his eyes from the sun and greeted me, with a smile, in French. I thought I’d try some English: “I’ve just been listening, you sound really lovely. How much are these?” “Thanks a million! They’re 15 euros”, came the reply in a soft Galway accent.
How wonderful: an Irish troubadour filling the streets of the Riviera with song. His name is Albert Niland, and during our chat he revealed: “I’m travelling through France, and I’ve been trying to learn Italian for the last three months, but not doing very well so far! I’m on the slow boat to Tuscany.”
I purchased a CD, and it’s every bit as good as I expected. I am recommending him to you now as a result of one of those finds that not only bring great new music into one’s life, but the magic of a moment, of inspirational synchronicity.
Over the last year or so I had become tired of searching for new sounds. I thought I’d lost the music, but worse still, I genuinely feared I’d lost the muse. I worried that I was becoming yet another jaded oldie, descending into cynicism, feeling that so much of what is produced today sounds the same. (The problem is, having lived through the excitement and energy of the original post-punk, new wave era, the more bands I hear on TV and radio during the present day, the less I can seem to find anything to really counter that argument.)
However, I’m delighted to report that it’s chance discoveries like Niland that keep me hanging on to something which has been a lifeblood since I first expressed a wish as a toddler to learn guitar. Where that desire came from, I have absolutely no idea. What I did was to pick up a tiny Spanish acoustic at the age of seven, and never look back.
I truly admire people with creative vision who follow their passion to produce something beautiful and timeless for everyone to share and enjoy. The world would be so much greyer without them, and we should be happy – and grateful – that they’re here.
Lisa Cordaro, October 2010
You can see Albert Niland performing here: