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Tir Na Nog

Taking their name from the Gaelic for “Land of eternal youth”, TiR nA nOg were formed by Newtonmountkennedy-raised Sonny Condell and Leo O’Kelly in Dublin, Ireland around 1969. Both musicians/singers had cut their teeth in local Celtic showbands, Condell with Irish Top 10 hit-makers Tram Car 88 (alongside cousin John Roberts), O’Kelly by way of DONAL LUNNY’s former outfit, EMMET SPICELAND. Arguably one of the first prog-folk outfits to emerge in the early 70s, they drew their inspiration from LOVE, PENTANGLE and their Celtic traditions.
Stalwart producer Bill Leader was at the controls for their eponymous Chrysalis debut LP, TIR NA NOG (1971) {*6}, while promotion came by way of supporting stablemates JETHRO TULL. With another folk icon, fiddler BARRY DRANSFIELD on board, the acoustic duo were compared at times to The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND or DR. STRANGELY STRANGE. Tracks such as the romantic `Our Love Will Not Decay’, `Boat Song’, `Time Is Like A Promise’ and `Dante’ sat easily alongside exotic, experimental touches like the JETHRO TULL-esque `Looking Up’, `Aberdeen Angus’ (an old-timey sing-a-long of sorts) and `Dance Of Years’. Sadly, it did not contain their earlier 45, `I’m Happy To Be (On This Mountain)’, nor the flipside `Let My Love Grow’, both favourites of Radio One DJs, John Peel and Bob Harris.
Produced by Tony Cox and augmented by a rhythm section of bassist Larry Steele (from CAT STEVENS and ELTON JOHN sets) and Barry DeSouza (ex-DAVID ESSEX band), the duo opted for a more commercially-friendly, folk-rock approach on sophomore set, A TEAR AND A SMILE (1972) {*9}. Opening with (surely a hit had it been a single) `Come And See The Show’ (both sides of the accompanying 45, `The Lady I Love’ and `Heidi’ were absent), the LP was a balance between the subdued PINK FLOYD-ian `Down Day’ and The BONZO DOG BAND/Noel Coward-esque `Bluebottle Stew’; `Hemisphere’ and closing SIMON & GARFUNKEL-like cue, `Two White Horses’, were two further gems from the pen of Condell. Melodic throughout, the classy album also provided some of the best from O’Kelly’s songwriting canon, `When I Came Down’, `So Freely’, `Lady Ocean’ and the melancholy `Goodbye My Love’.
Album number three, STRONG IN THE SUN (1973) {*7} – with guest Matthew Fisher of PROCOL HARUM on keys – stumbled slightly by comparison, a slight “sell-out” to conventional pop-rock – proof of the pudding, the NICK DRAKE-scribed opener `Free Ride’. A plethora of session men, including De Souza, and other drummers Ace Follington and Jeff Jones, plus bassists Jim Ryan, Brian Odgers and Dave Markee, were all too present. Condell’s highlights came courtesy of `Whitestone Bridge’, the romantically subdued `Teesside’, the LEONARD COHEN-ish `In The Morning’ and the SUPERTRAMP-like `Most Magical’, while O’Kelly’s best bits were the uptempo `Cinema’ (featuring dialogue from Henry Fonda!), the JANSCH-y `The Wind Was High’ and the catchy, STRAWBS-like title track/flop single.
After their split in ‘74, Condell released Camouflage in 1977 and joined Irish traditional outfit Scullion (alongside Greg Boland, Philip King and Jimmy O’Brien Moran); they issued several albums, while O’Kelly became a producer and solo artist.
The duo re-formed in the mid-80s and again a decade later; a live recording from 1995, HIBERNIAN (2001) {*5}, revisiting some of their best tunes from their early 70s heyday with a few fresh numbers. SPOTLIGHT (2001) {*7} comprised BBC recordings from 1972/73, while also featuring a ragged but sincere version of BOB DYLAN’s `It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’. On 17th February 2007, TIR NA NOG played a comeback gig at their local Cherry Tree venue, while a few years on (21-22 August 2009 at Cobh) the pair recorded an album’s worth of material as LIVE AT SIRIUS (2010) {*6}.
Over 40 years since their previous studio set, THE DARK DANCE (2015) {*6} revived the TIR NA NOG pairing of Condell and O’Kelly. Having given their loyal fanbase an EP in 2014, four of the same and arguably best tracks re-appeared here: `I Have Known Love’ (a cover of a SILVER APPLES track), `You In Yellow’, `The Angelus’ and `I Pick Up Birds At Funerals’. Losing none of their wit and banter, `Sympathetic Love’ was another psych-folk favourite, while `Ricochet’ was distinct and absorbing.
Add to their CV, a pastures old and new excursion in concert in Putney, LIVE AT THE HALF MOON (2016) {*7}, had TIR NA NOG fans reeling in the aisles.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Sep2015-Jul2016

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