Influential Irish prog-folk duo Tir Na nÓg (comprising songwriters Leo O’Kelly and Sonny Condell) produced three classic alt-folk-fringed albums at the start of the 1970s, then split. Although re-forming in 1985, they basically disappeared from the recording scene for nigh on 40 years (aside from a lone late-80s single, Love Is Like A Violin, that eluded me). In 2012, the reissue (by Esoteric) of those three original albums (with bonus material) sparked both a resurgence of interest in, and a further reappraisal of, the duo’s music, and in 2014 they recorded a four-track vinyl EP (I Have Known Love), which showcased a small batch of classy new songs that were quintessentially Tir Na nÓg. The EP all too quickly sold out, so it was doubly fortuitous that these four songs found their way onto the new Tir Na nÓg studio album The Dark Dance, which was released last summer and has since garnered great press (even reaching #3 in Classic Rock magazine’s best-albums-of-2015 listing). The album’s launch gig – at the legendary music venue The Half Moon in Putney – was recorded for posterity by Mega Dodo, and forms the basis for this limited-edition vinyl LP, CD and download release (tho’ it’s not clear whether this ten-track selection represents the entire gig or not). Even more so than The Dark Dance album, this live recording gives off a distinct vibe of Tír Na nÓg taking up where they left off (“these guys have never been away”, almost). The new material forms a natural and entirely logical complement to the old, although (curiously considering it’s billed as the album launch gig) only four of The Dark Dance’s ten songs actually appear in the live set presented here (hence my above question).
The set opens, just like the duo’s first album, with Sonny’s wonderful Time Is Like A Promise, which has lost none of its deliquescent magic in this time-assured, clear-sighted new reading. The other first-album cut revisited for the set is Looking Up, very close in feel to its original but shorn of its tabla rhythm thus feeling a touch more laid-back perhaps. The Dark Dance songs performed at the gig form a good selection, ranging from the gentle, charming You In Yellow to the darkly quirky, idiosyncratic I Pick Up Birds At Funerals, the insistent, doomy trip of the echo-rebounding Ricochet (a touch of the experimental side of John Martyn here, maybe) to the drifty cover of the obscure Silver Apples track I Have Known Love. Elsewhere, Free Ride improves on the album Strong In The Sun’s more conventional rocky version, in its live setting becoming a hypnotic fragmented groove with a nagging trance percussion workout. The Lady I Love revisits the duo’s comparatively obscure 1972 single release, and Eyelids In The Snow is a slightly extended take on a song best known from Sonny’s side-project with the band Scullion (taken from their 1980 second album Balance And Control). Closing this live set (at least on the CD version, since for some reason it’s not included on the vinyl incarnation of Live At The Half Moon), we find Sonny’s gorgeously reflective composition Two White Horses – mirroring its position as closing track on the final album of the 70s trilogy A Tear And A Smile; this latest rendition is taken at a marginally slower pace, and feels just right for our age, with its lovingly lingering playing and subtle vocal harmonies. All the magic of the original Tír Na nÓg is still there, and sounds fresh and oddly urgent, albeit tempered with the passage of time and hindsight. Still making stylish, powerful and relevant category-defying electro-acoustic music with a keen sense of spaciousness and a supreme confidence that proves their personal chemistry is undimmed, Leo and Sonny are still a creative force to be reckoned with.
Live at the Half Moon is released 6 June 2016 via Megadodo
Pre-Order it here: www.mega-dodo.co.uk/products/tir-na-nog