I’m New Here – Conchúr White

The term ‘dreampop’ is often used in these pages, but it seems to apply to Conchúr White’s work in a slightly different way to that of his ethereally inclined contemporaries. In the songs of his debut album Swirling Violets, dreams – surreal visions and imaginings of the afterlife – form a recurring theme, framed within beautifully soft-sung acoustic vignettes and chamber pop confections.


I got friends who died a thousand different times, strewn across the sky,” run the first words of opening track “The Holy Death”, luring us into a world of “surreal settings with tangible messages”, as he has previously put it. Northern Irishman White (his first name is pronounced “Conor”) has seen his profile grow over the past couple of years thanks to slots opening for the likes of John Grant, John Cale and The Magnetic Fields. Meanwhile, last year’s “Atonia” single, inspired by studies of sleep paralysis, proved an enticing precursor to Swirling Violets.


“I’ve long had an interest in filmmakers like David Lynch and stuff like Carl Jung’s The Red Book,” says White. “I spent a lot of time wrestling with those ideas: dreams and death, collective unconsciousness. When I was a kid growing up in a Catholic household, I’d ask so many questions about whether there’s an afterlife, my parents got a bit worried about me!”

This enduring sense of wonder has infused his songs since he parted company in 2018 with indie-folk outfit Silences, the band he helped form at school in Portadown, County Armagh. In some instances, his warm harmonies, pop hooks and nostalgic reference points will strike a universal chord, as on “501s”, a catchy paean to a childhood crush. But he also speaks of particular times and places in lines such as “Remember the boy at the Centrepoint / When he kicked us out for passing the bottle,” referring to youthful mischief at his hometown’s leisure centre.

Elsewhere, there are darker allusions to the Ulster he grew up in, mostly post-Troubles, but still scarred by the intolerance that characterised them. “Fenian boy without a father / Mother drank / It almost sunk her and it drowned him in the end,” he sings on “Deadwood”, and while it’s not autobiographical, he explains that “it’s just about how as a child you’d be narrowed down. That’s what you were – a Fenian or… I don’t want to say the other one.”


White’s interest in inner lives was further piqued by his former day job working in child and adolescent mental health services, something he says has seeped into some songs on this album, such as the “Women In The War”, with its passionate declaration of undying devotion to a (possibly unrequited) love who is “pushing daisies”.  “You’d come across that kind of intense love and infatuation, but also intense pain and tragedy,” he says.

All this is beautifully wreathed in atmospheric arrangements, whether it be the ghostly whispers shrouding “Deadwood”, the delicate piano and woozy electronic decoration of “Righteous”, or the subtle lacings of vocal harmony on “River”. So far, White hasn’t been able to fully recreate this sound in his stripped-down solo support slots, but that hasn’t stopped him winning followers with every performance. “I’m hoping to go out with a full band [later this year],” he says, “but I’m a big believer that if a song sounds good when it’s fully arranged or when it’s just played with a piano and vocal, then it’s passed an important test.”

Swirling Violets is out now on Bella Union