Tír na nÓg was a mellow hippy folk duo formed in Dublin by Sonny Condell and Leo O'Kelly in late 1969 or early 1970. They took their name from an island in pre-christian Irish mythology where people remained forever young. "Tír na nÓg" literally translates as "Land of the Young".
They met in the highly active folk club scene in Dublin in 1969. Sonny Condell, from Wicklow, had previously been in folky duo Tramcarr 88 who scored a minor Irish hit in 1968. In 1964, at the age of 14, Leo O'Kelly from Carlow began playing in a local showband called The Tropical Showband, before graduating in 1967 to psychedelic band The Word. In 1969 he began playing the folk clubs in Dublin and replaced Donal Lunny in the Emmet Spiceland with whom he toured in Britain, Europe and North America.
Although influenced by traditional music, the duo played modern acoustic folk music, becoming more rock-oriented over time. Both Condell and O'Kelly were strong songwriters and their songs (written separately) complemented each other well. While not obviously as touched by otherness as more adventurous Dublin contemporaries Dr. Strangely Strange, the songs are offbeat and unusual, always melodic but with playful deviations and an element of whimsy. They developed a unique, immediately recognisible approach in their early days, with judicious use of exotic instruments supplementing the basic two acoustic guitar format.
They travelled to London to try to secure a record deal and succeeded within 2 weeks, signing with Chrysalis Records, even though they'd already been turned down by parent label Island!
Between 1971 and 1974, Tír na nÓg released three albums on Chrysalis and gigged heavily in Britain and Europe, alternating between the small folk clubs and playing support in larger venues to bigger names such as Jethro Tull, ELP, Procol Harum (all on the Island/Chrysalis roster), The Who, Steeleye Span, and Hawkwind to name a few. The built up a devoted following in the UK and Ireland and had a strong supporter in BBC Radio's John Peel, but they never quite managed to breakthrough to a wider audience. There are moments of greatness spread across their three albums but they never quite made that one classic album.
The eponymous debut is their most acoustic album, featuring complex, intricate guitar playing. It was produced by legendary folk producer Bill Leader. It has been compared favourably to Pentangle, The Incredible String Band, Magna Carta, Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. The response to the album was encouraging -- it was Melody Maker's Album of The Month on its release in 1971 -- and though sales were modest the band seemed to be building momentum.
The second album A Tear and a Smile takes the first steps in a more rock-oriented direciton with the addition of the rhythm section of Larry Steele (bass) and Barry DeSouza (drums). Producer Tony Cox who'd previously worked successfully with Family and Caravan adds string arrangements to some songs and there are subtle developments suggesting stronger commercial appeal. Sales remained modest but the album did manage to secure a release in the USA, with some tracks substituted for with songs from the debut. The single preceeding the album "The Lady I Love" was Melody Maker Single Of The Week!
On their third album Strong in the Sun (1973), the band took even bigger steps
towards the mainstream. Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum produced, giving the duo
a fuller, cleaner sound. It opens with a cover of Nick Drake's "Free Ride",
surely one of the earliest Nick Drake covers and a bold step for 1973. Even so
this is the most conventional of their three albums and apart from some
beautiful songs it is sometimes their most mundane. In any event it did not
bring the hoped for commerical breakthrough and Chrysalis lost interest in the
They returned to Dublin and split up. Sonny Condell subsequently enjoyed the more visible solo career and was a founder member of Scullion. O'Kelly played with Naima in the mid-70s and became a producer, working for the Irish branches of EMI and Polydor, before moving abroad again to live and work in Amsterdam and London.
The band's reputation remained strong in Ireland and Tír na nÓg reformed in 1985, releasing a single "Love Is Like A Violin" and performing sporadically ever since. A live album Hibernian was recorded in 1995.
In 1999 a set of pre-LP demos recorded in Dublin in 1970 was released on Kissing Spell, followed by Spotlight, a collection of BBC radio sessions, in 2001.
Produced by Bill Leader
With guests Barry Dransfield (fiddle on "Tír na nÓg") and Annie Crozier (psaltery on "Time Is Like A Promise").
The CD reissue is slightly resequenced.
• The Lady I Love / Heidi
7" - Chrysalis Records - CHS 2001 - UK - 1972
7" - Chrysalis Records - 5c-006-93345 - Holland - 1972? - unique PS (text)
7" - Chrysalis Records - 6155 001 - Germany - 1972 - unique photo PS
7" - Chrysalis Records - 6155 001 - Spain - 1972 - unique photo PS
Melody Maker Single Of The Week. Non-LP A-side (except in the USA) & B-side.
Produced by Tony Cox. With Larry Steele (bass) and Barry De Souza (drums).
The US edition has a different tracklisting. It substitutes four tracks with tracks from earlier releases and resequences the running order. "Down Day", "Bluebottle Stew", "Hemisphere" and "Goodbye My Love" are replaced by three tracks from the debut LP ("Daisy Lady", "Looking Up" and "Dante") and the UK non-LP A-side "The Lady I Love".
Produced by Matthew Fisher (of Procol Harum).
Engineered by Geoff Emerick
Featuring guest musicians Matthew Fisher (keyboards), Brian Odgers, Dave Markee & Jim Ryan (bass) and Barry De Souza, Ace Follington & Jeff Jones (drums).
Notes: Compilation album drawn from the BBC TV Series The Camera & The Song, broadcast in the early 1970s. Besides the two exclusive Tír na nÓg related recordings, it also includes tracks by Fivepenny Piece, Alex Glasgow (x2), Ralph McTell, The Ian Campbell Folk Group, Max Boyce, The Grimms, Harvey Andrews, Jake Thackray and Jeremy Taylor.
Fifteen previously unreleased demos recorded in April 1970 in DUblin.
This album is comprised solely of previously unreleased recordings mostly taken from the BBC archives. The sources are as follows:
Tracks 1 recorded 04.09.72 broadcast 17.10.72
Tracks 2-5 recorded 23.10.73 broadcast 13.11.73
Track 6-11 recorded 16.9.72 for "In Concert"
Tracks 12-13 recorded live in London 1973
The last two tracks were mastered from second generation tapes and are included for the benefit of completists.
The dates above don't quite tally with the BBC transcription disc shown below, which is "Pick Of The Pops For Your D.J. - 345". The same material is present on both sides, one side mono and the other stereo. It features Tír na nÓg in concert, introduced by John Peel. The disc dates from before 16.6.72 (the broadcast expiry date).
Help!: We need your help to complete this entry. If you can tell us more about this band then please do! We welcome any corrections, missing details, connections to other bands, where are they now, etc. We also need photos, scans, copies of releases or live or demo recordings, and any other memorabilia gathering dust in the attic. If you can help, then please get in touch.