Leo O'Kelly
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Reviews

  • John O'Regan, fRoots Summer 2002 -Tir na nOg [view]
  • Tony Strachan - Glare [view]
  • Hotpress 23rd May 2001 - Glare [view]
  • The Irish Times 28th March 2001 - Glare [view]
  • Hotpress 28th March 2001 - Glare [view]
  • The RTE guide March 2001 - Glare [view]

Tony Strachan - Sometime Radio Presenter/ Fan/ Whatever

It all started with a simple enquiry to the "enlightenment" section of a well known music magazine's website. Whatever became of those magnificent and mystical songwriters that were (and apparently still are) Tir Na nOg. Three albums produced in the early 1970's that stand up with the best, then ….. what?

As a huge fan of the band it had bothered me for a long time and as the years passed, increasingly I felt the need to find out! I picked a pretty good time to enquire. Leo O'Kelly has taken some 27 years to get this new album together and the result really has been worth waiting for. It may have been a case of taking attention to detail too far or maybe he's just a bit of a slow starter but I have to say that the smile on my face when "Streets of This Town" came blasting through the speakers wiped all those thoughts right out of my head.

Whilst the rich vocals tones are still there in abundance, the fast driving rhythms running through this album are unlike anything from those halcyon days of my youth. Leo rocks - this was a surprise to me! - not exactly the introverted acoustic singer/songwriter stuff I had expected. However as I listened to the rest of Glare and went back to the old Tir Na nOg albums as a point of reference I got an even bigger shock. Leo's song "Love Lost" - from Strong in the Sun - jumped right out at me in a way I'd never heard before. The dark haunting sounds of "Venezuela" seem to be directly descended from the musical ideas and sounds on that 1973 album track and yet at the same time appear fresh and up to date. The brooding imagery it conjured up took on a life of its own which probably bears little resemblance to Leo's original vision, so I'll spare you my thoughts on the Ennio Morricone / spaghetti western analogy. "Switch to Stereo" has Leo briefly sounding like Elvis (that's Presley not Costello) while the next track - "You Took all the Fun out of it" - is reminiscent of the strident lyrical statement of the legendary Andy White.

In fact Glare embraces a broad spectrum of musical styles. From the current dance rhythms of "You Prefer Jim" through rockers like "Streets .." and "Ricochet" ( "This Plane is Dragging Me Down" even hints at the epic early 80's soundscapes of OMD and Ultravox!!) - it finally emerges at the end of this musical melange in the doo-wop feel of "On My Way Home" (all that's missing is the girl backing singers) - leaving no decade since the 50's untouched - all without sounding dated in any way!!

Overall Glare is a sensational album with lots of really clever bits, musically and lyrically, which continue to impress me as I keep on discovering them. It has great vibrancy and flows in a manner more often associated with those collections of songs written over a somewhat shorter period of time. An album carefully crafted by a painstaking perfectionist, it still sounds both natural and exciting. More importantly it's one of those albums you just want to stick on repeat play.

I would appeal to Leo not to leave another 27 years before recording the follow up to Glare. It's not just that I'm impatient to hear more great music from this man but, with "the land of eternal youth" looking a little more finite than it used to, some of us may not still be around in 2028 to hear it, and that would be a shame!

 

HOTPRESS, 23rd May 2001 [top]

Leo O'Kelly steps into "the glare" with the release of his first solo album. Colm O'Hare reports:

Hard to believe that the youthful looking man sipping a cappuccino in front of me once toured the world with the likes of The Who, Jethro Tull, Hawkwind and ELP. He even did a John Peel session - long before it became the Holy Grail of the indie brigade. However, it's all true. Tir Na nOg, the folk-rock duo formed by Leo O'Kelly and Sonny Condell in 1970, enjoyed notable success releasing several albums internationally and touring widely before finally breaking up in 1974.

"People sometimes think we were a traditional group but I don't think we ever played a trad song in our lives," O'Kelly says. "We were more into the West Coast stuff like The Byrds and Love. I did an interview on radio recently and the guy said, 'obviously you come from a traditional background'. I said, 'er, no, I don't actually'. 'But you must've played traditional music,' he insisted. 'Er, no, never'. We ended up talking about Jonathon Richman and the Velvet Underground!"

O'Kelly who started out with Emmet Spiceland, first met Sonny Condell at a gig in his hometown of Carlow. They clicked instantly and decided to form a musical partnership. "It all happened so quickly for us," O'Kelly recalls. "We went to London with £30 each in our pockets and got a residency in Petticoat Lane the first night we arrived. We were invited to a party later that night where we met this sound engineer who worked in a jingles studio. He got us in after hours for nothing and we made a demo. We brought it to Chrysalis and got a deal straight away. A couple of weeks later we were in the Royal Albert Hall supporting Jethro Tull."

Tir Na nOg released two critically acclaimed albums, 1971's self-titled debut and Tear And A Smile, both of which have been re-released on CD. But it's as a touring act that they forged their reputation and made some serious money.
"Apart from the acts we played with, we had some interesting support acts of our own," O'Kelly reveals.
"Supertramp supported us once even after they were quite well-known. I kept that contract for years. Richard & Linda Thompson played support to us one night at Nottingham University. I was a bit embarrassed about that one and I'm sure they were equally pissed off. We supported Wizard once, which was bizarre. It was the time they had hits like 'Angel Fingers' and the place was full of teenyboppers."

The pressures of non-stop touring and the lack of a big breakthrough eventually forced the pair to quit. After a spell in London and Holland, O'Kelly returned to live in Ireland in the early eighties. A regular on the live circuit he still gets together with Condell for Tir Na nOg reunions, including a recent tour of Italy.

After thirty-two years in the business O'Kelly has finally got around to releasing his debut solo album. Entitled Glare and released on the label he formed with fellow maverick Pierce Turner, the album features a wide range of styles showcasing his adept if indefinable songwriting style "It's quite contemporary sounding," he says. "It goes through a range of types of material but I think it holds together quite well. It's received quite a lot of airplay which I 'm pleased about. In fact I can't think of any other album, apart from Moby, who would get played by Dave Fanning, Ronan Collins, Mr Spring and Maxi In the Morning!

 

The Irish Times, 28th March 2001 [top]

He may have been one of the lynchpins of Emmet Spiceland and Tir na nOg, but Leo O'Kelly is no folkie on autopilot. Glare is trip hop meets 1970s psychedelia and 1980s post glam-rock, swing-shifting between fuzzy guitars and ambient soundscapes. Never a man to let his reputation do the talking, O'Kelly's penchant for lateral thinking is everywhere: Venezuela is a stand-out, replete with go-betweens-like harmony lines, while Ricochet whispers of a weakness for echoey foreboding soundscapes. Gift-wrapped for listeners who like their music stretched and bent rather than mollycoddled, this is a mighty fine solo debut. Long overdue but worth the wait.
Siobhan Long.

 

HOTPRESS, 28 March 2001 [ Excerpts] [top]

The quality of Leo's songs with Tir na nOg still resonates with many of us but, remarkably, Glare is his first solo outing. A fine auspicious debut it is too, full of twists, turns and diversions. Leo has a presence all of his own....and a wicked line in lyrical observation. Taken together, those are the things which make him one of our more challenging and innovative writers. It's a safe bet that the word"formula" doesn't crop up too often in his extensive lexicon. These are songs for the times we live in and beyond.
Oliver P.Sweeney.

 

RTE Guide, March 2001 [top]

"Glare is a certifiable classic"
Paddy Keogh.

 

John O'Regan, fRoots Summer 2002 - Tir na nOg [top]

Spotlight Hux Records HUX 021

Tir na nÓg's recorded output of three early 70's Chrysalis albums Tir na nÓg', A Tear and A Smile and Strong In the Sun was added to considerably with Hibernian a 1995 live concert recording. Now comes Spotlight featuring BBC in concert recordings from 1972/73 with album and single tracks and unreleased material.

While Hibernian showed their telepathic chemistry still intact but acknowledged Sonny Condell's diverse paths with Scullion, working solo and his new outfit Condell and Leo O'Kelly's dives into alternative folk-pop idioms in the interim, Spotlight finds them young and hungry, kicking up a tightly controlled rumpus.

In their first flush Tir na nÓg was an accomplished acoustic duo balancing romantic balladry with tight snappy folk rockers. Theirs was sharp live act honed through roadwork with Cat Stevens, Procol Harum, Jethro Tull, etc all. They rocked out convincingly on the near hit single The Lady I Love and a searing up tempo cover of Nick Drake's Free Ride, while on the other side was romantic pastoral balladry best found in Strong in the Sun, Teeside and the poignancy of Leo O'Kelly's Piccadilly.

While the performances display a fresh lively energy, what's most appealing and fascinating about Spotlight lies in some previously unreleased material. Leo O'Kelly's resigned travelogue Los Angeles and the spunky rhythmic title track reveal stronger rock leanings while Condell's gorgeous Backwaterawhile is both ethereal and majestic.

Tir na nÓg's live performances were imbued with an earthy passionate self belief. Spotlight shows them in their early prime.
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© Leo O'Kelly 2001