Declan O’Rourke Live, In association with the IAC Ken Griffin
The Irish singer/songwriter returns
September 17, 2016 · 8:00pm
Irish musician Declan O’Rourke returns to Tellus!
Supported by: Ken Griffin, IAC, and Culture Ireland.
Declan O’Rourke was a latecomer to the Dublin singer-songwriter scene. A native of Dublin, when he was ten years old his family upped sticks to Australia for a few years before returning to Dublin, where O’Rourke spent the remainder of his adolescence. Despite having a keen interest in music and singing from an early age, it was during his teenage years spent in Melbourne that he first got hold of a guitar. O’Rourke was exposed to a different cultural aesthetic at this point which, coupled with his own well-formed cultural identity, may account for his unique style of melody and melancholia.
Back in Dublin, his mid- to late-teens were a fun-filled stretch of busking and Commitments-like first bands, occupied by, he remembers, “endless rehearsals and charity gigs.” Somewhere along the way he accidentally stumbled on a brand new, never-before considered concept: writing his own songs!
The plan, however, was interrupted once again by his lust for life, and so he followed his older sister back to Australia. His life back then was captured, not just figuratively, between creativity and cement: as he slowly honed his craft as a songwriter, he worked by day on building sites. His hands became, “more calloused by guitar playing than by manual labour,” he laughs. By the time he was twenty-four, having still never played his own material to a live audience, he felt it was time to scratch the songwriting itch or forever regret it. Back to Dublin, then. Somehow, home soil felt like the right place to start.
Within a month, upon discovering Dublin’s bustling songwriter open-mic circuit, Declan found himself mixing and trading songs with the likes of Paddy Casey, Gemma Hayes and many other Irish singer-songwriters. “I went to as many open mic nights as possible and just played anywhere I could,” he recalls. “And it went on from there. Every step up was an achievement. I was always looking at the next step ahead of me and really enjoying it. It hasn’t stopped since.”
In 2004, Declan released his debut album, Since Kyabram. He regards the comfortably haunting debut as little more than a collection of songs and an introduction to the different styles he subsequently intended to use. “I was also trying to break the moany singer-songwriter myth – I definitely didn’t want to be put into that category.”
Such was the critical and commercial success of the album in Ireland that it opened the doors for him internationally, earning him plaudits from the likes of Paul Weller and Jonathan Ross, each of whom were rapturous in their praise of Declan’s deep-honey voice and astute song writing abilities.
His follow-up album in 2007, Big Bad Beautiful World, easily consolidated his appeal in Ireland as well as with his growing list of well-connected champions. Support slots followed in the UK and Europe to the likes of Snow Patrol, Teddy Thompson, The Cardigans, Paulo Nutini, Badly Drawn Boy, Divine Comedy and Paul Weller, and before too long major labels started calling, siren-like, for his signature on the dotted line. O’Rourke has since been through the major label mill and come out the other side – smiling (eventually!), we’re glad to say.
“I had a great relationship with the people who worked with me on the first two records,” he admits. “I’d been reading for years about people having control of their own music, so I felt it was time to start. I’m sure I’ve made the right decision.”
He’s a free man, then, with a free frame of mind, and a new record label he can, quite literally, call his own. And on his new record label he releases his third album and first independent offering, MAG PAI ZAI, which sees him maturing as a songwriter in ways he would, most likely, have never thought possible.
Word is getting out, slowly but very surely, about Declan O’Rourke’s songwriting skills. Don’t be the last to find out.
Here is a video from one of Declan’s previous visits to Lancaster when we brought him to St. James Episcopal Church and he gave the U.S. debut of his song “Mile 59,” about the story of Duffy’s Cut. Joining him on stage are choirs from Lancaster Bible College, Music for Everyone, St. James, and the community.
Irish musician Ken Griffin has been living in New York for the best part of two decades now. During that time he has had a couple of periods playing with bands, such as Kid Silver and Favourite Sons, but he has been mostly getting by as a bar man.
“I think very few bands survive that kind of total commitment,” he says with a bone dry laugh, “and madness that we had at the time. When you get into the studio whoever pushes themselves harder kinda gets their say and I decided to push myself pretty hard on that album. So I ended up pretty isolated in the band. And it was clear we weren’t going to survive. I wanted to move to New York and the guys wanted to stay in Dublin, so… “
Taking their cue from the dense production methods of acts like Public Enemy, Rollerskate Skinny ran counter to the prevailing mid-90s orthodoxy of Britpop. The reputation of their albums Shoulder Voices and Horsedrawn Wishes has only grown and Griffin’s revelation that alternative takes exists of a handful of songs from the latter album will only serve to excite fans as the 20th anniversary of the album approaches next year.
Griffin is promising nothing. Right now he is immersed in his latest project August Wells, a two-piece comprising Griffin on guitar and pianist John Rauchenberger. Over songs that are stripped-down, wistful sounding and replete with strings and French horns, Griffin’s bruised vocals tell tales of heartbreak and regret.
Griffin initially planned for the album to be self-released but his friend and fellow New York resident Graham Finn, a former member of Cork bands Emperor of Ice Cream and Bass Odyssey, suggested he try Cork indie label FIFA Records.
Rauchenberger’s musical interests stem from experimental classical music and bebop jazz and Griffin takes delight from his total lack of interest in or knowledge of contemporary music from the last forty years.
“It’s kinda like playing with Thelonious Monk or something,” Griffin surmises. “I’m playing like three chords and singing and there’s this mad genius in the corner. It’s just a very exciting experience for me to feel pushed so I feel like I have to push my lyrics, push my voice. Push what I’m good at or what I think I’m good at and just leave the musicianship to him.”
It could be a winning combination.