Where: The Spotted Mallard, Sydney Rd, Melbourne
When: August 27th 2014
From a punters point of view, the way in which gigs are organised in the Spotted Mallard is different from other venues here, in that you can relax and enjoy your pre-event dinner followed by the gig itself, from the comfort of your own assigned table for the duration of the night. As a result there was an obvious sense of calmness amongst the audience, on the night that Dublin singer songwriter Declan O’Rourke, returned to Melbourne to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his debut record, Since Kyabram.
Before O’Rourke took to the boards, County Clare native Aine Tyrrell arrived on stage, to warm up the mainly Irish crowd with her blend of folk inspired tunes and Latin American rhythms. Accompanied solely by her acoustic guitar, it was obvious that the large turn out wasn’t going to perturb Tyrell in any way, as her easy going nature was evident from the off. She opened her account with the tranquil and swirling “Gypsy Daughter”, a song attributed to a good friend, and it didn’t take long for her to try and get the cautious – initially at least – audience involved during the chorus.
It was evident that Tyrrell, based in Australia for the last three years, is passionate about what goes on at home, as the follow up, “Bail All The People”, was inspired after watching a documentary which highlighted the comparisons, or lack there of, between how Ireland and Iceland’s government’s reacted following their respective banking crises, a few years ago. It was written in her car en route back from a gig, with only the steering wheel for company, so she used a drum loop, courtesy of her tapping the guitar, to help get the message across.
Next up was an old Irish folk song entitled; “Oro Se Do Bheath Abhaile”, where Tyrrell tipped her hat, and the crowd their toes, to the 1916 Padraig Pearse associated rendition, which focussed on the pirate or ‘Great Sea Warrior’, Gráinne Ní Mháille – i.e. Grace O’Malley for non Irish readers! – who helped fend off invaders on Ireland’s west coast. “Pirates Call”, a song she wrote for her daughters about the aforementioned ‘Great Sea Warrior’, and “Oh Salty Water” followed, the latter a slower paced tune, but one that got those in attendance singing along.
The looping drums returned, during the upbeat “Blank White Sheet”, while Tyrrell finished off her set with the uplifting “These Walls Weep”, a song inspired by a family trip, and her daughter’s swift hands, to Tasmania’s infamous Port Arthur Prison. Tyrrell will be recording her debut album – on board a 30 foot bus – come the end of October, so be sure to keep an eye out for it and its promotional tour.
Declan O’Rouke ambled on stage to a very appreciative audience and seemed quite taken aback by the turn out. The room fell silent as he kicked of proceedings with the thunder like notes of “Be Brave and Believe”, from his 2011 album Mag Pai Zai. The third track of the evening, “Sarah (Last Night In A Dream)”, was written by O’Rourke following his return to Australia, after spending his teens back in Ireland. It’s the story of a close friend who went missing, and how the news made its way into his dreams that same night, as he sang; “Sarah come back to me/Across the flower beds of destiny/I called her name/Like it was yesterday” .
He then played a new song, “Yellow Moon”, which came to him following a late night stroll home. It had a kind of cowboy’s gathered round an open campfire type feel to it, and afterward he announced that he would be releasing it online as the first in a series of new songs each month.
Of the next tune, O’Rourke joked about how some chap said to him once that he “always put it on a mixtape for a girl he liked, but that it never worked!” So once the initial chords of Since Kyabram’s hit single “Galileo (Someone Like You)”, resounded around the room, the crowd’s jovial retort was clearly evident. It’s the song that put him on the map, not just at home, but further afield, so much so that Paul Weller (The Jam, The Style Council) was quoted as saying of the Dubliner; “He writes the sort of classic songs that people don’t write anymore, songs that sound like they’ve been around forever…listen to Galileo, which is possibly the greatest song written in the last 30 years.” Praise indeed from the Modfather himself! (The video below is from Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in November 2010)
The ease with which O’Rourke can converse with such a crowd is one of the many positive aspects affiliated with this wandering minstrel. This was exemplified by the story of how he realised that American folk/country singer John Prine had a holiday home near where he lived, how they bonded over their passion of the Ink Spots – a US vocal group from the 1930′ s& ’40’s – and ended up recording an O’Rourke penned song called, “Lets Make Big Love”, that he tried to pass off as a ‘lost song’ from the same band! Due to Prine not being in attendance he had to sing both parts, to comical affect.
The gig was also a platform for O’Rourke to delve into the meanings behind nearly all the songs he performed, which in-turn incorporated alot of historical references. “Mile 59” being a prime example, as he shared how he had read about how 57 Irish men arrived to the docklands of Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1832 and how they were forced to work the railroads as soon as they disembarked. It was always believed these men had all died of cholera within six weeks of being on the job, but it had since transpired they had all been murdered! O’Rourke quipped how Christy Moore had beaten him to the punch about writing about this tragedy, so he decided instead to write about one of the 57, who’d had his remains tested in recent years and had them sent back to his family in County Donegal.
Fellow Irish musician Rosey then joined O’Rourke on stage for a song they wrote together 14 years ago, called “In You Come”, but only recorded the quiet and subtle sounding track, the night before! The Dubliner commented on how things had come full circle and how small the world really is, now that he was back in Ireland and Rosey was now living in Melbourne. “Go To Sea” followed, a track O’Rourke wrote about the west of Ireland, though at the time he’d never been, yet it was easy to picture oneself facing the Atlantic ocean during it, so impeccable is O’Rourke’s way with words and melody.
The history lesson continued via “Mary Kate”; a song about the girls born in Irish workhouses during the great famine that were sent to Australia, “Poor Boys Shoes”; described the strength of the human spirit after families were separated once they entered the dreaded workhouses, and “The Children of 16”; which recounted how the innocent kids of the 1916 Easter Rising were caught up in the crossfire. During the latter track, O’Rourke used a mini bass drum to recreate the sound of the shelling and explosions that bombarded Dublin’s GPO, over that bloody weekend.
After near on 2 & 3/4 hours, O’Rourke bade farewell with “Gold Bars In The Sun”, a tune about how to a farmer, having a bountiful harvest after a couple of years of bad luck, can be compared to how a thief perceives those priceless blocks of bullion.
Ireland has always been viewed as a land with an enviable ability to unearth storytellers like the flick of a switch, something that is alway constantly attached, be it fairly or not, to all singer songwriters that emerge from their bedroom’s, with a guitar and lyric sheet in hand. It’s an obvious tag that befell O’Rourke when he first emerged on the Irish scene at the turn of the century, yet it’s one that suits him perfectly, as his performance, demeanour and lyrical artistry, for the duration of his time on stage, attested to.
Set List: “Be Brave and Believe”, “Time Machine”, “Sarah (Last Night In A Dream)”, “Yellow Moon”, “Galileo (Someone Like You)”, “Lets Make Big Love”, “Mile 59”, “Caterpillar”, “In You Come (with Rosey)”, “Go To Sea”, “Mary Kate”, “Children of 16”, “Marry Me”, “Big Bad”, “Lightning Bird Wind River Man”, “Poor Boys Shoes” and “Gold Bars in the Sun”