Tir na nOg
Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1969-74)
- Sonny Condell -- vocals, guitar, clavinet percussion
- Leo O'Kelly -- vocals, guitar, violin
- Barry De Souza -- drums, percussion
- Larry Steele -- bass
- Carrier Frequency (Leo O'Kelly)
- Sonny Condell (solo efforts)
- Emmet Spiceland (Leo O'Kelly)
- Leo O'Kelly (solo efforts)
- Scullion (Sonny Condell)
- Tramcarr 88 (Leo O'Kelly)
Rating: 4 stars ****
Title: A Tear and a Smile
Country/State: Dublin, Ireland
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Comments: gatefold sleeve; US pressing white label promo copy
Catalog ID: 6284
So, the first thing most folks are liable to want to know is what the name means ... As far as I can tell the Celtic Tir Na Nog translates as 'land of the young', or 'land of eternal youth' ...
The duo formed in 1969, showcasing the talents of former Tramcarr 88 singer/guitarist Sonny Condell and singer/guitarist Leo O'Kelly. Like Condell, O'Kelly had previously played in a string of Irish show and rock bands. Meeting in Dublin, Condell and O'Kelly discovered they shared a common interest in music spanning genres from folk to hard rock. They began writing together; relocated to London, and began playing the folkie club circuit as Tir na nOg. The resulting publicity saw Island Records turn them down, but Island's Chrysalis subsidiary signed them to a recording contract.
Their second studio release and the first to see an American issue, 1972's "A Tear and a Smile" actually saw two variations. The original UK release featured ten new studio numbers produced by Tony Cox. For the American market Chrysalis chose to compile a mixture of two tracks from their 1971 self-titled, Bill Leader produced debut ('Daisy Lady' and' 'Dante'), along with a re-recorded version of 'Looking Up' (also featured on the debut), and seven new compositions recorded with producer Cox. Included on the UK album, but missing from the US release were three tracks - 'Down Day', 'Bluebottle Stew', 'Hemisphere', and 'Goodbye My Love'. Since I've never heard them, I can't comment on any of those tracks. Guess I'll have to shell out for a UK version of the LP someday. Featuring all original material, the US release showcased four Condell compositions and six from O'Kelly. Musically the album wasn't a major departure from the debut. Producer Cox may have pushed them a tad in the more mainstream direction, but for the most part the LP offering up another intriguing mixture of subtle Celtic folk influences, Eastern shadings, along with an occasional nod to more conventional pop and rock ('Come and See the Show'). If you were expecting to hear a pair of guys shoveling out the kind of staples you'd hear at your local Irish bar, then just stop reading here. Note I used the word 'subtle'. Those Celtic influences came in the form of the acoustic instrumentation, open tunings and occasional ethnic percussion (yes Condell occasionally slapped away on a bodhran). The other thing about the album was that in spite of comparisons to other early-1970s folk-rock acts like Dr. Strangely Strange, or The Incredible String Band, for the most part Condell and O'Kelly managed to avoid the dreaded hippy excesses that plagued those contemporaries. They both had great voices and were wonderful harmony singers; their songs were typically short and quite melodic (thanks in large measure to support from drummer Barry De Souza and bassist Larry Steele), and while there were plenty of hippy influences in the lyrics, they were kept largely in check. As mentioned above, each man wrote independently and while they shared a common outlook, Judging by these performances Condell had more of a rock orientation (check out 'The Lady I Love'), while O'Kelly had more of a folk leaning..
- The first couple of times I heard 'Come And See The Show' it made zero impact on me ... That said, when the song's charms finally hit me, it was like a ton of bricks - It may have started out as a folk number, but when De Souza and Steele joined in it turned into a real rock song, complete with a great chorus. What a great 'pick up' song. rating: **** stars
- O'Kelly had the more folkish outlook and voice and those traits show on the pretty acoustic ballad 'Daisy Lady'. Yeah, the lyrics were a bit on the twee side, but you couldn't help but smile when you heard O'Kelly's earnest delivery. rating: *** stars
- With its quirky lyrics, open tuned guitars, and laidback hippy vibe, 'When I Came Down' sounded like a Donovan outtake. Mind you, a quality Donovan song, but a Donovan song nevertheless. rating: *** stars
- O'Kelly's 'The Same Thing Happening' was one of those rarities - a highly thought provoking and literate lyric cloaked in an immediately likeable melody. This one featured one of O'Kelly's best vocals and some of their best acoustic guitar strumming. rating: **** stars
- 'Looking Up' was one of the few tracks to feature a distinctive Celtic feel, though it was wrapped up in a surprisingly aggressive acoustic guitar arrangement. Great harmony vocals and the pounding melody made it one of my favorite performances. rating: **** stars
- Remember how Donovan could occasionally actually get funky and rock out on some of his better performances (think 'Mellow Yellow'), well 'The Lady I Love' managed to achieve the same results. You wouldn't think two guys with acoustic guitars could get down and dirty, but Condell and O'Kelly managed to pull it off on this one. Brilliant. Chrysalis tapped it as an instantly obscure single. rating: **** stars
- A stark acoustic ballad (just O'Kelly with acoustic guitars), normally a track like 'So Freely' wouldn't have made any kind of impression on me, but this one was so pretty and O'Kelly's performance so engaging and heart tugging that it instantly caught my ear. Another album highlight. rating: **** stars
- Sporting yet another gorgeous melody (courtesy of Condell), 'Two White Horses' reminded me a bit of an Irish version of Simon and Garfunkel. rating: *** stars
- Another sensitive singer/songwriter ballad, 'Lady Ocean' was noteworthy as one of the few songs to include extensive orchestration. One of the more obvious efforts to increase their commercial quotient, to be honest, it didn't make much difference since this one simply never kicked into gear. rating: ** stars
- A delicate slice of acoustic folk with a charming Baroque edge, 'Dante' sported another beautiful melody complete with glorious strumming guitars and some of the pair's best harmony vocals. rating: *** stars
As mentioned above, Chrysalis tapped the album for a single in the form of:
- 1972's 'The Lady I Love' b/w 'Heidi' (Chrysalis catalog number CHS 2001).
Normally I'm not a big fan of this particular genre, but have to admit this was a total surprise and an album that I play on a regular basis.
and a Smile" track listing:
and See the Show (Sonny
Condell) - 3:17
The duo recorded a third studio LP (1973's "Strong In the Sun"), toured a bit and called it quits in July 1974.
Three years later Condell started a sporadic solo career:
- 1977's "Camouflage" (Mulligan catalog number LUN-010)
- 1990's "Sonny Condell" (Grapevine catalog number GRAPE 1204)
- 1994's 'Someone To Dance With" (STARC catalog number ???)
- 1999's "French Windows" (Hummingbird catalog number ???)
- 2001's "Backwater Awhile" (Backwater catalog number ???)
That was followed by stints in the bands Scullion and Radar. He also has a web presence at:
O'Kelly briefly played in the band Naima and then turned his attention to production work before releasing some solo material in the late 1990s/early 2000s:
- 2001's "Glare" (Gael-Linn Records catalog number ???)
- 2003's "Proto" (Clarinda and 1st catalog number ???)
- 2011's "Will (Life & Living Records catalog number ???)
O'Kelly also has a small website at:
The duo reunited in 1985 and over the ensuing years have recorded four more collections including a couple of live sets.
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