Tony Strachan -
Sometime Radio Presenter/ Fan/ Whatever
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.
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
23rd May 2001 [top]
O'Kelly steps into "the glare" with the release of his
first solo album. Colm O'Hare reports:
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.
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
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!
28th March 2001 [top]
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.
28 March 2001 [ Excerpts] [top]
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.
March 2001 [top]
is a certifiable classic"
fRoots Summer 2002 - Tir na nOg [top]
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.
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.
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.
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.
na nÓg's live performances were imbued with an earthy passionate
self belief. Spotlight shows them in their early prime.