Fiddle player Kane O’Rourke told David Hennessy about covering the Bothy Band’s Farewell to Erin, the first song he ever listened to on a CD player when he was a teenager, enlisting the help of Lúnasa’s Kevin Crawford and that he would not be playing music if it was not for Brendan Mulkere.
London-born fiddle player Kane O’Rourke has played with established country artists such as Mary Duff, Daniel O’Donnell, Mike Denver and Derek Ryan.
He has also played with Dingle Spike, Una Healy and the Hungry Grass who are well known on the Irish scene in London.
Now Kane is working on his own material. He has just released Farewell to Erin which followed Dance in the Fourth as the second single from his forthcoming solo album.
The cover of the Bothy Band cover features Kevin Crawford of Lúnasa and has got the approval of the original fiddle player Kevin Burke.
Kane told The Irish World it is a track that makes him quite nostalgic.
Kane tells the story: “That tune is so important to me.
“I’ll tell you about that tune, Farewell to Erin. I was on holidays in Ireland one summer and everyone was saying to me, ‘Have you heard of the Bothy Band?’
“And I was like, ‘No, never heard of them’.
“It was like being into rock music and never hearing of Led Zeppellin.
“Christmas was coming up so I said to my mum, ‘I want a CD player’.
“I bought two CDs. One was After Hours by the Bothy Band.
“Christmas Day, I got to open up a CD player. I didn’t even touch the speakers, I put headphones on.
“I said, ‘Farewell to Erin, I know that track’.
“You know the way it’s just fiddle and then the whole band come in? It blew my head clean off, ‘Oh my God’.
“And I said that day, ‘I’m never ever giving up Irish music. It absolutely blew the socks off me.
“That was me absolutely obsessed with the Bothy Band.”
Kane was a teenager, he guesses around 15 or 16, when he heard the Bothy Band for the first time. While he played most of the instruments on the preceding single, he knew he had to enlist some help if he was to do such an important tune ‘justice’.
“With Dance in the Fourth, I played everything. Everything except for my mate on the banjo.
“For Farewell to Erin, I had to draft in some help. It’s a Bothy Band cover so I wanted to give it justice so I got Eanna Cronin on pipes and then legendary flute player Kevin Crawford from Lunasa. I had banjo on it, Mark Conyard is class.”
Eamonn Macdonncha features on vocals. The song is accompanied by a video that features the cities of London, Brooklyn, Rathmore Abbey and Trim Castle as well as the dancing talents of Dane McKiernan of Prodijig.
“For Farewell to Erin, I wanted to be in this video and everyone had to be in it.
“So Kevin Crawford got up at five o’clock in the morning to go to the Brooklyn Bridge. Mark Conyard was up the crack of dawn as well. He got moved on three times by the police trying to film in front of London Bridge- An act of terrorism on the banjo. Three times he got moved on. That’s why he’s on different parts of the bridge.”
What did it mean to have someone of Kevin Crawford’s stature as well as the other musicians and dancer join Kane on the track that means so much?
“He done a wonderful job. He’s an amazing flute player. What a pro.
“I don’t know Kevin Crawford. I’ve never met him. I just got chatting to him on Facebook. Obviously, we know similar people and that.
“And then he just went on about how he likes Dance in the Fourth and then he said he liked the tribute to the Bothy Band I done with Mike McGoldrick and John McSherry and Cathy Jordan.
“And I said, ‘Well hang on. Actually, I want to record Farewell to Erin for my album. And he just said, ‘I’d love to be involved’.
And the track has got the approval of the Bothy Band fiddle player.
“Kevin Burke is my absolute hero. I actually I sent him the video before it was released and he got back to me and said he absolutely loved it. He loved the video and everything.”
Kevin has been stuck in Westport for the crisis and the two fiddle players may even meet up if they can.
“It would be be nice to meet him after I’ve got his approval. It’s like covering Stairway to Heaven or something. It is a tune I would have never thought about recording.”
The grandson of All-Ireland-winning ballad singer and lilter Michael O’Rourke, Kane had a very Irish upbringing in the Charlton area of south London and took an interest in Irish music from a young age.
“It was a very Irish community and upbringing. I did play GAA for Cuchullains.
“It’s strange being second generation Irish. You sort of affiliate yourself with the other second generation Irish even not on purpose.
“We used to do pretend Irish accents to each other, play with tractors and pretend we were in Ireland.
“Mum is big into Meath football so we used to go to north London to watch the live games. My Dad used to take me all around London to sessions.
“All my dad’s side are singers. Grandad’s the only one who won the All-Ireland for ballad singing and lilting as well. Lilting is a tradition that I keep alive and my uncles keep alive. It’s a forgotten sort of tradition. My album will have lilting on it.
“Then I started going through my dad’s records and I found a Tulla Céilí Band record. I loved it.
“And who was the piano player? Phil Coulter. I remember my parents were gone out and I actually got a complaint from my neighbours for playing Phil Coulter too loud. It was piano music!
“I was a bit weird like that. I was obsessed with Irish music. There was The Tulla Céilí Ban , the Kilfenora Céilí Band.
“Then I used to start copying the céilí band rhythms with a hairbrush and a video cover, a VHS video cover. I never knew there was such thing as a bodhran. I sort of invented the bodhran in my head without knowing there was one.
“Then I saw a Chieftains album and I was like, ‘What’s that?’ And I remember looking at the front cover, ‘How is he holding the stick?’ I started copying the Chieftains on the bodhran. That was it.
“So then I went to my godfather’s house and he had a bodhran on top of the cupboard and he let me play it. All I can remember is when I played it, I was so used to playing a video cover, the sound- Oh my God. So loud. That was me on the bodhran.
“Then I saw there were Irish traditional music lessons in Greenwich with Brendan Mulkere. I went down with my bodhran. He asked me to play the bodhran and then he said to me, ‘The best thing you could do with that is play it with a pen knife’. He gave me a tin whistle. That was the start of my journey with the tin whistle then. I went on to learn the fiddle with him.
“Then he stopped teaching in Greenwich so my dad used to drive me up to Kilburn.
“Brendan Mulkere is responsible for an unbelievable amount of musicians that have come out of England. I wouldn’t be playing music if it wasn’t for him.
“He teaches you and puts you in good stead and then then you go off and then you start listening to other fiddle players. I can go back to recordings of sessions of me and tell who I was listening to at the time. You get influenced by different people.
“I used to play with Dingle spike in London. They were my first band. Then I went on to join Hungry Grass. I still am a member of Hungry Grass when I can.
“Then I moved to Ireland and I started playing country music.”
Since he moved to Ireland about 16 years ago, Kane has toured Australia more than once with Mary Duff as well as playing with other big names such Daniel O’Donnell.
“My mate Nigel Connell just phoned me saying, ‘Do you want to join Mary Duff’s band? There’s a tour coming up in Australia. 2007’.
“Then I was on the Irish Irish dance hall circuit with Gerry Guthrie for two years. Then I was with Mike Denver.
“Then I joined Daniel O’Donnell. I did a year with Daniel. That was all over the place: Sri Lanka, America, Australia, the works.
“My current job is Derek Ryan. But now I haven’t been gigging for the last two years, because of obvious reasons. I got back into my trad, I got back into my studio and making music that is from my heart. And that is where this album is coming out of.”
It is Kane’s mission to get young people into Irish music by mixing trad with hip hop beats but he says it is important to respect the tradition.
“I got into dance. I got into hip-hop and my rave days were going to Camden palace every Friday night when I was a teenager. But traditional has always been my heart. My music is very traditional.
“I don’t compromise that and I don’t want to compromise the dance either so I’m not going to start writing tunes that don’t really sound like Irish music. They are really traditional sounding tunes.
“That’s my whole philosophy. I like to think I have my own sort of sound.”
When his album is released later this year, it will be his first since The Jolly Tinker in 2007. He almost laughs when he remembers how clueless he was making that record.
“That was from my Mary Duff tour. Because my mate Nigel said, ‘Don’t go to Australia unless you’ve got your own CD’.
“I thought, ‘Right, I better get it together’.
“I had no experience of making a CD. Some of the tracks are like 15 minutes long. I had no idea you shouldn’t have tracks that long.
“I actually had to shorten the album to fit it on a CD. A CD only holds 77 minutes.”
Farewell to Erin by Kane O’Rourke is out now.
The album Dance in the Fourth will be out later this year.