Jack O’Rourke’s return to the studio in 2021 marks something of a new departure for the enigmatic songwriter, who has enchanted live audiences and fans since the release of his debut album, Dreamcatcher, in 2016.
Soulful torch songs such as ‘Silence’ and ‘Shining For You’ propelled Jack into the public and music media’s consciousness, and he followed it up in 2019 with the nouveau-pop mini-album, Ivory Towers. ‘Opera in the Top Floor’ is the first taster of Jack’s new album My Own Valhalla and is a paean to a previous owner of one of Ireland’s most iconic venues in recent times.
“‘Opera on the Top Floor’ was a catalyst song,” says Jack, “a song whisperer, which opened the floodgates for more songs and an album – it’s only right, that it should be the first release. I sat at the piano and the melody that took shape to my words was quite folk based – I could imagine Liam Clancy, Sandy Denny or even Lisa O’ Neill singing it. It’s a story song and a ballad, and I’ve missed writing ballads.”
It sets the tone for what will be Jack’s most reflective collection of songs to date. Never one to shy away from the personal, the Cork songwriter has approached these recordings with a starker musical palette in mind – the arrangements representative of a more solitary, yet cathartic place, that Jack and many songwriters found themselves in over the last year. Strings and piano dominate, along with Jack’s ranging vocal to present a moving and original body of work due out later this year.
“Just before lockdown, I was playing a gig at Mike the Pies in Listowel, I feel very at home in Listowel playing this magic place. After the show, Aiden (the owner) brought me to the top floor of the pub. Michael, his uncle had been the previous owner. Aiden described him as quiet, stoic, creative, artistic.”
“Michael kept stacks of books on classical art and opera vinyls and CDs. A hidden sanctuary away from the daily grind. He himself was a gifted artist. I imagined Michael, this fascinating, eccentric man, running a bar and having this magical, secret place he created to immerse himself in Caravaggio and Wagner, and the song took shape in my head.”
“The song is written from the perspective of Michael and what I imagine for him, was a dual reality – a publican by day, and him feeling free in his sanctuary to bask in opera and art at dusk. I certainly can relate to keeping parts of me hidden. . How we all create a Valhalla in order to escape to feel truly authentic – a safe hiding place. The line referring to “my own Valhalla” is relevant, I think for many people. Over the last year, some of us had to create and recreate Valhallas.”
As well as recording the tracks for his new album, Jack enjoyed a very productive and collaborative 12 months; playing Other Voices and ringing in the new year as part of Home at Guinness Store House with Conor O Brien, Denise Chaila, Loah and The Mary Wallopers. He also performed with the RTE Concert Orcherstra, as a soloist with Jess Kav and Moncrieff, in a tribute to Aretha Franklin (which will be aired soon) and was chosen as a composer/songwriter in residence for 2022 at Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.
Jack was joined on ‘Opera on the Top Floor’ by violinists Maria Ryan, (Crash Ensemble) and Lucia Mac Partlin (Strung), David Kenny on viola and Aisling Fitzpatrick, cello. Renowned Cork composer Cormac McCarthy arranged the score for strings and the track is accompanied by a wonderful animated video by award-winning director, Marc Corrigan (www.marccorrigan.com).