Conor Walsh was an Irish pianist and electronic musician based in Co. Mayo who released his début EP The Front in 2015. A year later though, he suffered a heart attack and tragically passed away at the early age of 36. The Front already offered a wonderful insight into a mature and ingenious artistic vision, but the EP remained his one and only commercial release. In the months that followed his untimely death, there was a sense that the musician had probably composed and recorded a lot more material.
Such hunches were confirmed when family and close friends eventually unlocked a treasure trove of fully-fledged compositions from his laptop and enough finished tracks to complete a full-length album. A superb posthumous collection of 10 new compositions, The Lucid was released on 11 March 2019 last as a digital download and vinyl LP to coincide with the third anniversary of the pianist’s death.
Conor Walsh started taking piano lessons at an early age but “never liked studying for the grades” and abandoned the instrument. But coming back to it in his late teens with a more liberated mindset meant that “little tunes and melodies” slowly evolved into standalone pieces and recording material.
Unlike many of his peers – musicians or not – Conor Walsh never felt the urge to move abroad or towards bigger urban centres. The musician spent one year in Dublin studying for a postgraduate diploma in music and media technology in 2011. But in the words of his sister Fiona – who was instrumental in curating the material for the album and bringing the project to fruition – “Conor detested city life and couldn’t return fast enough to the lakes and rivers of Co Mayo.” A keen fly-fishing enthusiast, the pianist drew inspiration from his immediate environment – the wild hills and bogs of his native Mayo where he had chosen to stay.
I don’t really seek out divine inspiration, I just tend to stumble across it. I usually find it in my surroundings […] I don’t see bleakness or boredom in the sparse country landscape. Instead I find beauty and wonder.
The Lucid is indeed a collection replete with beauty and wonder. In traditional Irish music, the word “lonesome” is sometimes used to describe the music played by a particularly soulful performer. However, this elusive blend of melancholy and blue notes always seems to transcend that inherent sadness and transform it into a joyful and uplifting experience. Conor Walsh’s music is imbued with a similar quality – on the superb opening track “Banphrionsa”, “Tine” or the wonderfully-titled “Pleading Sylph” for instance.
Beautifully documented in the often quoted short Conor’s Hotel, the musician spent countless hours practising on a vintage piano in the lobby of the disused family-owned hotel in Swinford (now a coffee shop). The first five pieces on The Lucid are piano-based compositions. Whether these tracks were recorded on this particular piano or on different keyboards is hard to know. They however all emulate the natural reverberation of an old piano, combining ghostlike and wavering themes in minor modes with minimal electronics.
The next five tracks have a more electronic and ambient feel, with the nearly 8mn long concluding track “An Fhuair” a clear nod to Nils Frahm from his Spaces period. Gorgeously illustrated by visual artist and animator Louise Gaffney and expertly curated and produced by music lecturer, producer and friend Enda Bates, The Lucid is a moving tribute to a sadly missed musician.