Cross came to his art form in his final years of secondary school (high school) in, Athlone, Ireland. Having been passionate about sports throughout his youth, it was when he heard some friends playing guitars after school that the urge was suddenly reignited to create music. Buying a cheap Honda acoustic he joined up, but was not fully taken by the choice of material, and on hearing a faded early Bob Dylan bootleg tape became hooked on the solo acoustic sounds of guitar. The songs also held significance as they were not the usual pop songs he had grown up hearing, but traditional material about suicide, murder, political unrest all set to ancient melodies from the Old Weird America. The music became a course of study into American Folklore through the blues of Bukka White, the country blues styling of Mississippi John Hurt, The Carter Family, and many others that had somehow disappeared from the discourse on popular music. Once bitten he used these early acoustic recordings as a springboard into other notable songwriters: Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, John Prine, Steve Earle, and from the Irish scene Andy Irvine, Paul Brady. Upon graduating from secondary school he did what most young Irish folks did who didn’t have a job or college placement did, and boarded the ferry from Holyhead to England with his guitar in tow.
On arrival in London he sought out the mythical venues that were central to UK Folk Revival of the 1960s by performing at Bunjies in Leicester Square, The Troubadour, and opening for Isaac Guillory at the Railway Inn. Cecil Sharp House was also an important stop, as it was here he performed a self-penned ballad for Tom Paley & Peggy Seeger. He was advised to make himself known on the new-acoustic music scene. Busking on Carnaby Street he caught the attention of Canadian actor Rob Freeman (Saving Private Ryan). Impressed by his maturity a plan was hatched to somehow shop Cross to record labels, and so a demo recording needed to be done. The session took place in 4hrs approx, and 6 songs were recorded straight to tape: “Wondering Why, “Dreamer” “White Line,” “Bus Stop”, “Glass World.”(None of which have been released in the original form to this date). Cross was squatting at the time (a common practice for artists in overpriced London) and was raiding the libraries of his squatting mates. He eagerly read: Kerouac, Huxley, Orwell, Guthrie, Steinbeck and anything that seemed to hint at a life philosophy or an exit from mainstream culture. By the end of the summer, time had run out on the experiment. The squat had run its course, and the label wasn’t interested in another Bob Dylan wannabee. Choices had to be made, and so he returned to Ireland for what was to be a recurring pattern.
The London metropolis continued to call Cross, however, as he returned again a year later after stumbling across bluegrass music while busking and hitch-hiking through Europe. The story places Cross in Zurich, Switzerland around 1991-1992, where he met a fiery 5-string banjo player from London. Caught up with this passionate ensemble type music or “folk music on overdrive” he listened carefully and was inspired by the playing of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Ralph Stanley and his favorite band The Kentucky Colonels. In fact, a serious flat-picking obsession began as he learned numerous fiddle tunes on the guitar to emulate his hero Clarence White. Regular performances at the Stags Head in Camden Town drew enthusiastic crowds to check out this unusual international bluegrass band with Montz Matsumto (5-banjo) from Japan, and traditional Irish fiddler Chris Short, and UK bass player Stephen Harrison (Sons of the Desert) rocking it out every Sunday lunchtime. On occasion respected folk roots musicians would join the band such as Ron Kavana (The Pogues) or Rory McCleod. Cross remembers this as a highlight of his music career where everything was fresh and open. It wasn’t exactly bluegrass as such, but it was something that felt right. Cross drew on early field recordings as well as bluegrass classics for much of the material and sidelined writing his own songs. He eventually ran out of steam, as the summer ended and winter dictated another change. But not before another demonstration tape was recorded containing raw acoustic versions of “Afterhours,” “Any Reason,” “Guess I'm Doing Fine,” and “In Transit” (none of which have been released in the original form to this date). However, some of these tunes made it onto his first full-length album Home Away from Home (2006). But before he could move on a brief creative death occurred as Cross woke up to discover all the strength in his picking hand had disappeared. Struggling to comprehend life without the ability to play guitar he returned to Ireland again.
While waiting for change in the West of Ireland, and seeing nothing coming, Cross made the move to Dublin. Able to play guitar, but altering his style considerably he drifted back to songwriting. Little realizing that Dublin (the town of his birth) would be another mandatory sojourn on the road towards the creative life. He sought out the places that the ragged songwriters go. Performing on the streets (Temple Bar, Grafton St) and at the Tuesday songwriting nights at the International Bar. These were places that songwriters lined their guitars up for the chance to sing one song in the company of their peers. Often established songwriters would show up too to test drive new material, and on one such occasion Luka Bloom provided encouraging words to the emerging Cross on a new song titled “Driftwood.” Other times Damien Dempsey would workshop new material or Mundy would hang out. It was such a fertile environment that many of these artists have now become established household names in Ireland and even the US.
Still having no idea what this was all about, Cross hovered on the fringes of the songwriter scene. Playing occasional shows, opening up for busking friends Terry Sutton at Whelan’s or Paddy Casey at Eamon Dorans, but not knowing what he was trying to get at. He wrote personal lyrics mostly, but was drawn to political discourse, and yet was fascinated with traditional forms such as bluegrass and old-time music. How does that all fit together? Where does one go now?
There are as many arcs to a creative life as there are creative people. Cross saw some of his friends signed to major labels, and like so many this was considered the attainment of the goal. The economic success would surely follow. However, economics and art don’t often line up, and in the fickle music industry they can appear irreconcilable. Making a living beyond survival, and being a part of the music industry seemed linked and yet disjointed. In Ireland the nascent music industry was a pretty tight environment, but it was expanding with the likes of Mic Christopher and Glenn Hansard pushing for more respect for homegrown songwriters. In fact, it was chance meeting with Mic after he opened for Arlo Guthrie that connected many of dots on roots music and contemporary writing. When his friend Paddy Casey was signed to Sony and was opening for REM, Cross wondered what he would do next. Seek a label or just see where his muse would take him. Well the muse got the better, and on hearing there was work for troubadours in Scandinavia off he went for road weary tours that stretched from Lapland to Strasburg all the while seeking something to write about, but these were not the venues to share self-penned songs. Returning to Ireland for a fourth time, he visited the Isle of Man (a small independent Island in the Irish Sea) and found a welcome at the legendary Cul-De-Sac bar. He finally had the chance to develop his songs further into a more contemporary sounding electric sound. It was the perfect environment to experiment as the need to financially succeed was covered by the gigs, which brought a wealth of new fully realized songs into being. Staggering onto the stage each night at the Cul-De-Sac a band formed around Cross’s new material: “Keep On Keeping On,” “Memphis, “ Down to Earth,” “Driftwood,” “Bus Stop,” and “Pass You By.” Songs conceived on the long Nordic roads of Sweden and Norway began to become sentient things. Many of these songs would make it onto the first EP to make it past demonstration stages, but not into manufacturing or distribution. There wasn't a hint of bluegrass, as banjos and fiddles were left out of the mix to accommodate a louder band sound with guitars, bass and drums. I real switch from what had been happening before. Excited about the change a CD found its way to Arista Records in New York City. A number of shows were arranged and interested parties agreed that Cross needed more time to develop his following in the states. Tired, broke and unsure to how long that would take, he returned to Ireland again.
It was here that Cross sat, but not completely idle, in the town of Galway, Ireland. He was still writing as a cold, bleak, and wet Irish winter was about to blow in. Isolated each night with just a 4-track machine new creations were born. A rough tape was compiled for a friend, which made its way to Jon Richards of Galway Bay FM. Richards an avid fan of songwriters was so taken with the songs, that he asked Cross to record two tunes for his popular in-studio sessions. Both of which were included on two separate nationally released albums Undercurrents (2001) and Inundations (2002). These songs would be recorded again in various versions: "Sensitize" as a country style song and "Memphis" close to the in-studio version. Both albums featured some of the biggest names in music in both Ireland and abroad. Cross was included along with an impressive line up of more established songwriters such as Hothouse Flowers, The Devlins, The Frames, Gemma Hayes, Eleanor McEvoy, Cara Dillon, Mary Black & Damien Rice. These releases were considered by many to capture a high-water mark in contemporary Irish songwriting. At the time he was also a fixed opener for artists who played at the Roisin Dubh such as Damian Rice, Glen Hansard, and Llyod Cole (of The Commotions).
Alone for another long winter in the West of Ireland, he started to find himself drawn back into roots music. Heading into Galway city he was taken by the mandolins of an old London friend who had moved to Ireland, Brian Lofthouse. Taking a chunk of money he bought one to keep his mind right. Well it brought him right back to bluegrass almost overnight, and back to busking on the streets again. Inspired and excited by this turn of events he found himself performing music he a felt deep connection to. He began to perform at bluegrass Festivals around Ireland. Not knowing why, but following this path he found America calling again. Wasting no time he found himself right back in NYC again picking at jam sessions just as an emerging new bluegrass scene was erupting in the city. Jamming with top musicians such as Michael Daves, Chris Thile, Mark O’Conner, Greg Garing, Cross formed his own bluegrass band called Good Company with Elio Schiavo (Mandolin), Joe Choina (Bass), James Kerr (Dobro), Dan O’Dea (Fiddle), and Jon Fletcher (5-string banjo). A live demonstration recording was cut live and straight to tape for an EP, Laugh My Cry, which highlighted new songs and alternate versions of previously released songs. The EP highlighted the bands instrumental strengths including the title track “Laugh My Cry,” but before anything serious could be done artistic differences began to show and Good Company shifted around so much that it became impossible to maintain. With this in mind he hit the studio with the new songs and the old songs to create his first bluegrass album, Home Away from Home (2008). With the help of seasoned NYC musicians: Alan Cohen (bass), Andy Cartoun (5-string banjo), Bruno Bruzzese (Fiddle) and Cross on guitar and mandolin was the long overdue bluegrass album became a reality. Favorable reviews followed as the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) heralded “A new high, lonesome edged lead voice emerges on the bluegrass scene,” and “Home Away From Home is a successful endeavor, and hopefully there will be other projects to follow” from Bluegrass Unlimited. Later a chance encounter with the folk legend Odetta in the East Village led to an invitation to perform at her historic tribute hosted by Wavy Gravy at Banjo Jim's. Cross joined star performers, David Amram, Guy Davis, and Christine Lavin, in front of an audience that included cutting edge documentary film maker D. A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back: Bob Dylan). On hearing Cross sing in the East Village, Odetta spoke glowingly "I heard a crystal clear voice that took me back to when I was being introduced to mountain music groups and families of Appalachia. It was a pleasure to hear such beauty coming out of Vincent Cross".
Remaining in NYC, Cross continued to write and explore roots music, and though financially not able to promote “Home Away from Home” as an independent artist he spent what time he had working on his art, and his next album " A Town Called Normal"(2013). Laboring over two-three years he favored more complex arrangements, and utilized three separate band configurations. Bluegrass was certainly there with “Cursed” but there were shades of contemporary new-grass with “Turn Your Eyes,” and even indie folk rock with drums on “Sometimes.” More glowing reviews and a #8 position on the Radio Free Americana Charts finally got Cross to start traveling again on tours. It had been many years since the Scandinavian scare, and now he felt that maybe the songs were finally there. Whatever it was in the summer of 2013 Cross started to venture outside of NYC for shows. Not too far at first, but at least outside of the NYC force field. Since 2013 Cross has performed at some of the world's major Americana, folk, and bluegrass clubs and festivals. From as far North as Norway to the Southern tip of Tazmania. On seeing that the world doesn’t bite (hard), he then made a vow to return to the place of his youthful origins, Australia. Having left as a 10year old, he had never returned. This was to be more than just a holiday or even a return to his hometown, but something that indicated a reality to Cross, and that was people wanted to hear the songs and the stories around the songs.
During the Australian tour of 2014, Cross began working on the new material for an as of yet untitled new album. He wanted to move away from production seeing this as oddly placed in the folk roots music scene, and a distraction to the folk song craft. Craving something that spoke directly and without bells and whistles he knew he had to evolve his playing away from flat-picking ensemble playing and find a fuller solo sound. He wrapped up two years into learning again, and also picked up the banjo again. He moved away from his original Scruggs style and instead worked on developing a unique solo claw-hammer approach. Everything was to be at the service of the song, but it must be complete in its solo capacity. Nothing was to be added to the mix. No overdubs or effects. Almost like the old troubadours back in the 1930s. This was a true record. Like many of those artists Cross performed solo, and so one instrument had to have all the parts down. Then early into 2016, Old Songs for Modern Folk,hit the folk music scene racing into the #2 slot of the prestigious National Folk DJ Album Charts. Reviews have followed indicating that Cross’s vision of stripping the songs back had an audience. The topical songs such as "Michael Brown" and "Garments of Shame" also hit home with the folk music community. Will Cross now see himself emerge out of the shadows? Or does the muse need attending to? Has he come full circle now, and returned back to the solo acoustic sounds that inspired him to become a folk singer-songwriter and troubadour. Well...we’ll see.