- 16 Jun 23
A week after the release of his new single, 'Uaigneas', Cork native Jack O'Rourke delves into the creative process behind the project.
After the success of his third album, the-lockdown inspired Wild Place, Cork-born singer Jack O' Rourke recently returned with his new single 'Uaigneas'.
Taking the poem 'Uaigneas' by Brendan Behan, O' Rourke composes beautifully haunting yet soulful music around the words. This isn't the first time he has taken Behan's work and created a song from it. His original inspiration came from composing a soundscape to the words of 'Oscar.'
Spending time in the Centre Culturel Irlandais Residency in Paris, O' Rourke met Bob Gallagher, where friendship bloomed. "He said, 'Did you hear this poem, 'Oscar'?'" O' Rourke explained. "So I started with that and I put music to it. I was listening to a lot of Debussy and Ravel, kind of impressionistic French composers. I was also listening to a lot of trad. I don't normally write in such a folk idiom, but maybe because I was away from home I became very patriotic or something," he laughed.
The atmosphere of the residency was ideal for creating something so exquisite. "I’d go to the Chapel in the centre, beside the the Pantheon. It's a beautiful old Chapel, it’s almost like Versailles. There's a piano in there, and I'd go in there to write."
From this experience, he was able to curate the soundscape for 'Uaigneas'. "This one is a bit weirder than the last," he said. "It's got a bit of Kate Bush in it, and The National and even Radiohead, but still quite folky. It's one of his poems too, where Behan wrote it in Irish and in English. So it's nice that it's sung in English first and then the whole thing is sung in Irish again."
Seemingly drawn to Behan's work, O' Rourke explained that the juxtaposition of Behan's character against these two touching poems was the alluring force behind the projects. "It’s interesting because he's such a caricature of himself. What I mean by that is he's seen as the rogue and the drunk. He's bawdy and up to mischief and there's hilarious stories about him. But these two poems are really poignant and heartfelt."
"Uaigneas is just… I don't know if it’s typical to the Irish psyche, but that sense of inherited sadness. Not even just sadness, but an empathy with the weariness of the world. The images he paints of himself as he says, 'the taste of blackberries after the rain, on the hillside, the silence…'"
In the music video for Uaigneas, the artistic impression takes the words of the poem and turns them into literal scenes. "What Mark Corrigan did in the video was really interesting because often, music videos can be abstract. I do like that, but he actually took it literally: There's the prison, the pastoral scene with the blackberries and the people, who he starts mixing. There are two lovers, and there's a man on a train, and there's a guy in a prison. Then he has the couple in the prison and eventually the three characters are all on the train. Yet they're lonely. So the idea is you can be around so many people and still be lonely."
O' Rourke's powerful music and lyricism has been gaining traction since the beginning of his singing career, especially with the release of his single 'Silence' in 2015. 'Silence' became anthemic for the 2015 amendment of the constitution to legalise same-sex marriage.
The singer explained that the original idea came to him based on an early childhood memory. "I had asked Santa for a kitchen when I was four and he brought me one. It was the reaction from my friends when I went to school with my kitchen that made me realise, 'oh, I'm different.'"
He explained that he believes the idea of a child being gay, born gay, was what aided in the success in the song as it wasn't an aggressive call to arms. "I think when you're trying to change the mindset of some people who are a product of their generation and believe that something is wrong, you can't just go up to them and say, 'you're an ignorant bigot'. You have to educate them and have a discourse with them."
"It’s not a choice and and it manifests itself in lots of ways. If this was your grandchild, wouldn't you like them to be free and equal and have the same opportunities as everybody else, regardless of religious beliefs or your background?"
O' Rourke added that he believes education to be the best way to incite change. Explaining the importance of pride to older members of the heterosexual community who aren't as progressive as most is a matter of helping them empathise, especially with queer people of their generation. "They need it because they were around in the difficult years, even before me, when it wasn't legal and they had to group together in places and disguise what they were meeting up for. I think pride is important to for new people who want to come out. You need that kind of that celebration aspect of it, that pride essentially. It's vital."
When asked what he wanted his music to leave with people in the future, he paused. "If we haven't destroyed the world by then, if there isn't another big bang. I don't know," he laughed. "I would hope just that people saw it as honest and that they could empathise with it. Or a song would have helped someone along the way, made them stop and think."
However, on a more short-term, lighter note, O'Rourke said that his dream achievement would be to sing with Emmylou Harris. "And I'd make do with CMAT if Emmy Lou isn't available. If I ever do the country album. Or Dolly."
Over the summer holidays, the singer has big plans, including a few performance dates. "I suppose just wait for August. There’ll be cool and track with Bantam, my friend, and he's an electronic composer so that'll be very different from 'Uaigneas'."
Check out O'Rourke's upcoming gig dates below.
16th June - Sea Church, Ballycotton, Co. Cork
18th June - Cork Summer Show, Curaheen Park
1st July - Baltimore Castle, Co. Cork
23rd July - Live at Marquee
29th July - Mallow Arts Festival
15th Sept - Prim’s Book Shop, Kinsale