Conor O’Brien had just had his first major label release in Summer 2010 when his elder sister died. He put up with what must have been unbearable pressure to make it work, hitting the festival circuit hard and working hard to achieve milestones, from Later…With Jools Holland to Mercury Award nomination.
The ascent from Temple Bar mag star to Ireland’s finest and most mysterious export since Shergar is complete: Conor O’Brien is now a high rider, pun intended, in a competitive marketplace. Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling wield an angelic stranglehold on the UK side of things, whilst Noah and the Whale’s Charlie Fink could yet serve revenge upon his ex Marling by blowing her out of the water with NAW’s March album ‘Last Night On Earth’.
Conor’s angle is the moody, Bic-shy Heaney bard, although he told Clash in an interview last year that he hates being asked for grand themes in his work: “I liked Dubliners by James Joyce but I’m not really into all that.”
He cut his teeth with platinum Irish singer Cathy Davey and toured with Neil Young [who he tells us would “walk around backstage trailing a cloud of yellow smoke”] and Tracy Chapman.
His performance of ‘Becoming a Jackal’ at the Mercury nomination event drew a chilling hush from the music industry bods in attendance, and it’s clear that he has that kind of an effect on crowds. His brand of deep poetry may be too fragile to survive the A-tier London venue test, but those who listen keenly will get their hearts healed by the finest unguent going on the emerald isle.