Belfast, County Antrim
Joel Harkin calls himself an alternative, ambient folk singer. He writes songs about cherry blossoms and old churches, about lost friends and migrations and a fear of dying. He is a humourist, a poet and philosopher.
He has carried his music over the Irish north-west; from Convoy to Letterkenny and then Derry. Now he is embedded in the Belfast scene. His style is distinct and his songs meander is a strangely personal way. He announced his talent to the city with a song called ‘Charlie and Deirdre’. It dealt with love and separation anxiety and it name-checked his father and his girlfriend.
Joel is not especially coy about his family and his own inner life. On stage, the songs are often prefaced by stories and asides. While this may seem random to a new listener, there is also some purpose. “At all points from when I’m on the stage,” he says, “to when I’m off the stage, there is some point of entertainment happening.”
He made his live debut at an uncle’s wedding, playing ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ by Green Day. He made a tidy income as a busker in Letterkenny and studied Music Technology and Sonic Arts at Queen's University Belfast. He has a “secret album” of songs performed with synths and beats, but when his gear was stolen on the way to the Other Voices event in Dingle, he decided that his voice and electric guitar was enough.
Joel’s other weapon is a cheap reverb pedal. He turns the reverb to an excessively long setting and tweaks his amplifier to enhance the effect. The quiet moments are dream-like but harder playing causes everything to crunch up. Also, the little machine hums constantly. Altogether, it creates the Joel Harkin signature.
He’s been influenced by Modest Mouse, Phoebe Bridgers, Conor Oberst, Bjork and many others. He is glad that he didn’t follow his father’s advice and become a horse doctor. His ambition is happily unchecked.
"This is the sort of misery that I love" - BBC Radio 1
“A love song like few others, Joel Harkin’s touching ode to a lost love reminisces on the little things across a bed of typically downcast guitar swirls and infrequent instrumentation that brings out the beautiful lyrics. Written for his dog Memphis, it’s a touching tribute that hits true while lapsteel and harmonies add warmth to the whole affair..” Chordblossom
“The song is about your loved ones going to other parts of the world, it’s about the emotional wrench of being displaced... and I think it’s a great tune.” - Across The Line – BBC Radio Ulster
"Ambient folk songwriter Joel Harkin has one of the most recognisable voices in the scene today, his dry wit and forlorn stage presence the perfect foil for his melancholy world. Taking influence from Bright Eyes, Jeff Buckley and crying your eyes out, a Joel Harkin show promises so much more than just beautiful tunes. He’ll probably tell you about his day and throw in a few stories too." - Encore NI
Notable Live Shows
● Junior Brother support slot The Palm House, Belfast - December 2019
● Joshua Burnside support slot Bennigans, Derry - October 2019
● Kitt Philippa support slot Upstairs at The Mac, Belfast - May 2019
● Courtney Marie Andrews support slot in The Black Box, Belfast - December 2018
● Rose Water Tour - November 2018
● New Year Tour - January to February 2018
Cool things that have happened
● Nominated for the Oh Yeah Contender Award at the Northern Ireland Music Prize 2019
●"Thought I'd Go Home" Number 12 on Chordblossom's Top 50 Northern Irish Songs of 2019
●"Thought I'd Go Home" Number 90 on The Thin Air's Top 100 Irish Tracks of 2019
●Oh Yeah Centre's Scratch My Progress Talent Development Program Participant Class of 2019/2020
●"Old Churches" Number 12 on Chordblossom's Top 50 Northern Irish Songs of 2018
●"Old Churches" Number 82 on the Thin Air's Top 100 Irish Releases of 2018
Photos by Carrie Davenport and Aaron Cunningham