Belfast born singer-songwriter and producer Gareth Dunlop has been recognised as an accomplished talent ever since the BBC tipped him as ‘one to watch’ in 2010 when he was not long out of his teens. In the decade since he has released several singles, a handful of EPs and one album that have been musically eclectic yet have all showcased his highly soulful voice, with several of his songs going on to be used in the hit TV series ‘Nashville’, other shows (‘Lucifer’, ‘This Is Us’, Bones’, ‘Suits’), movies (‘The Best Of Me’, ‘Safe Haven’) and commercials (Disney, Subaru).
However, prior to the 2020 lockdown, Dunlop was just as likely to be heard by live audiences as he forged a reputation as a magnetic and charismatic performer on frequent headlining tours and support slots to the likes of Van Morrison, Jeff Beck, Snow Patrol and James Morrison. Reviewing one of his shows, Gigslutz stated that “Dunlop has the kind of voice that can still a room with its vulnerability, the meaning behind the words heartfelt, the emotion real”, while Maximum Volume Music succinctly described it as “instantly memorable.”
In his home territory, the Irish News praised Dunlop for his “distinctive croon and ear for sharp melodic/lyrical hooks”, while local website ChordBlossom declared him to be “one of the greatest talents to come out of Northern Ireland”, a sentiment only slightly qualified by National Rock Review who stated that he is “arguably one of Northern Ireland’s greatest singer/songwriters from the past decade.”
Inspired by icons such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Tom Waits, plus a soupçon of Pink Floyd, Dunlop picked up a guitar aged 14 and soon began performing covers and original songs in live venues around Northern Ireland, RoI and the rest of the UK. In 2011 he won a Young Songwriter of the Year award in Belfast that not only earned him an invite to collaborate with seasoned writers in Nashville, an experience he has repeated many times since, but it also enabled him to tour the US extensively.
Having spent so long away from Belfast following his initial breakthrough, Dunlop decided to record and co-produce his 2017 debut album, ‘No. 79’, in stripped-back fashion at home - literally - with Nashville based writer Bobby Hamrick and compatriot Alastair McMillan, who had also recorded Dunlop’s first studio sessions at Dublin’s esteemed Windmill Lane and has engineered for U2, The Rolling Stones and Van Morrison. A winning fusion of folk and soul, the album earned critical acclaim and was playlisted on several Irish and UK radio stations, while in RoI it earned an Album of the Week slot on the prestigious RTE1.
Dunlop subsequently established Sycamore Studios in Belfast, where he has recorded his forthcoming new album ‘Animal’, while also producing albums by friends and fellow Northern Irish singer-songwriters Foy Vance (Signs Of Life 2021) and Lee Rogers (GAMEBLOOD, out spring 2022). All three artists will be on tour together in 2022, with Dunlop also on additional duty as a member of Vance’s live band.
‘Animal’ consists of a diverse set of songs that include the soulful and anthemic ‘Right About Ready’ and first single ‘Look Back Smiling’, which evoke the ‘80s yet exude a timeless quality, the highly atmospheric ‘Sorrow’ and ‘Prisoner Of My Past’, which both channel late period Roxy Music, the laid-back ‘60s dream pop vibe of ‘Humans’, plus a memorable title song that adds an electronic bounce to its subtle groove.
Of the single, Dunlop states: “I wrote it as a message of sorts for my son. In these weird pandemic years I had noticed him retreating into himself. He’d missed out on most of his first year at school and bypassed an important year of making those first connections with would be friends. It set my head off in a direction of wanting him to grab life by the horns and be as much of a kid as possible before the real trials and tribulations of life seeped in. In a time when it was hard to be a normal kid, I was desperate for his young sense of wonder and childlike fearlessness to rule his heart. When I was young I couldn’t wait to grow up, and now I'm older I'd give anything to go back and be a kid again.”