Thomas McCarthy review – Glastonbury Festival 2024

Photo: Charles Gervais, Both Hemispheres Photography

Having seen Thomas McCarthy perform a single song at last year’s festival, he was top of my must-see list for this year. He arrives without fanfare or accoutrements – McCarthy sings a capella: his voice his only instrument – wandering through the audience at Atchin Tan and onto the stage.

His set is punctuated with McCarthy’s views on the history of Irish Travellers singing and the current prejudices and injustices they face in modern society – life expectancy, high suicide rates and racism are all in McCarthy’s mind: and he’s not afraid to speak it.

His passionate views act as a foil to the songs that he performs – frequently there is humour. ‘Funny songs’ point to the wit of the Irish Travelling community. It’s the serious songs that stand out though – Green Brooms brings total silence to the crowd and there is a wonderful Lord Randall.

I am inclined to describe his singing as being in the Sean-nós style of our shared homeland – he hails from County Offaly. But he describes his singing as an old Irish style – not a traveller style, but an almost lost style. It is certainly atypical of Sean-nós, including a near-warble, replicating the sound of the uilleann pipes (or vice versa as McCarthy suggests).

With a revival of interest in Irish traditional music in Ireland with bands and artists like Lankum, John Francis Flynn And Lisa O’Neill reinventing and renewing old standards, you would hope that McCarthy finds his way to the forefront of the movement.

Thomas McCarthy was at Atchin Tan at Glastonbury Festival 2024, running from 26 to 30 June