One half of prog electric duo Tir na nOg,
Leo O'Kelly went solo after they split in 1974 and one of his first solo
gigs in the UK was at Friars Aylesbury supporting Fruupp in 1975. As you
will see, he has vivid memories at that tour and indeed of Friars
itself. Now touring with Tir na nOg again as the original duo, they tour
Britain in the spring of 2012. We caught up with Leo at his home in
Leo at Friars 6th December 1975 (Geoff
Thank you Leo for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website.
I'm not sure I can contribute too much, but we'll see what I can do!
Even back then, there was an aura about playing at Friars.
When I was researching for our chat,
it looks like we billed you incorrectly as Leo Kelly rather than
This does happen from
time to time. I think it's the two o's running in to each other.
When I first contacted you, you said
you remembered the gig as it was the first night of the Fruupp tour?
It was certainly the
first night I played. I think the tour started the night before, but
Friars was certainly the first one I did. I few over from Ireland and
got a train up from London. I remember walking through the town.
It's pleasing for me knowing that the
Friars gig stood out rather than just being another gig for you.
Even at the time, you knew you were playing somewhere very special and
it was an honour to play there. When I played, I knew the place was
hallowed if you like.
Fruupp for example were particularly
big in Aylesbury, how did that tour support come about?
I was trying to think
how it came about. When I was living in Dublin, I used to get lots of
gigs but I didn't have a telephone, so I don't know how it came about.
Possibly, it came about through Paul Charles, Fruupp's manager. I didn't
really know Paul until that tour but he would have been aware of me.
Word of mouth? I think so. Somebody must have sent the word over to
Dublin. We did the London Roundhouse on that tour as well. It was
fabulous and there was a Northern Irish gig that I was told not to
play on that tour because it was such a Protestant town that if they
heard my southern accent there would have been a riot.
I just got paid for
the gig though and I tried to go back to the hotel...and I went to the gig - it was very threatening being followed
round and I dared not open my mouth. I got back to the hotel to find it
locked and surrounded by barbed wire and gates. So I went back to the
gig and the town was deserted and from the hotel to the gig a car drove
beside me the whole way. I was scared
to look left right or centre. This was not long after the Miami Showband
Friars was very
pleasant and very well organised. I remember there was one guy
That was/is the legend they call
David Stopps! So many artists I have spoken to, like you, talk of the
magic of Friars.
Prior to playing at Friars, you were
one half of Tir na nOg.....
We came back to Dublin
in 1974 and I did a few solo gigs, but these (the Fruupp tour) would
have been the first UK gigs as a solo artist.
You did just the three albums as Tir
na nOg (Tir na nOg, A Tear And A Smile and Strong In
The Sun)....and John Peel took a shine to you?
We did the three
albums and a couple of live albums. We also did stuff for Bob Harris and
as many as ten John Peel sessions.
Those sessions have finally come out
CD as well. You did just the three albums, you got tagged as progressive
folk which is quite a unique tag in some ways. It's unusual for a start!
I suppose it is but at
the time progressive was respectable and seems to be acceptable again!
In the Tir na nOg days, you got to
support some amazing artists didn't you?
It's probably easier
to say who we didn't play with! We supported Jethro Tull, T-Rex, Roxy
Music, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Procol Harum, Hawkwind, the list goes
on! Rory Gallagher, pretty much everyone. And Supertramp supported us
That's amazing! I think you're right,
it is easier to say who you didn't play with!
We were gigging with
the likes of Fairport Convention and Pentangle at the folk end of the
scale and Hawkwind at the other end of the scale. The great thing about playing in Tir na nOg is that we could
be playing a small folk club one night and then something like the Royal
Albert Hall with Jethro Tull. And pretty much everything in-between so
we got to meet everybody, it was fantastic really.
Playing and meeting all those
fantastic artists must also have brought your music to wider audiences.
But Tir na nOg stopped in the summer of 1974, although you were getting
all the John Peel sessions, was it the lack of commercial
The real problem was
that we had all our eggs in one basket. We were managed by Chrysalis,
recorded for them, publicised by them....we didn't really have anyone in
our corner. We had no independent manager to look after our interests.
Another problem was we were playing seven nights a week all the time. It
was just too wearing. Three or four nights a week maybe....
It was too much wasn't it?
I think so, we hardly
had any time to do our laundry!
So that really brought it to an end?
Well, at one point
towards the end we thought we might give them another six months but we
got really got pissed off and said could we do three nights a week or if
we were doing a tour then seven nights might be OK if it was at the
start or end of a tour but not endlessly. We could be in Glasgow one
night and Cornwall the next day. It was a bit mad and then they
got a bit pissed off. I think we could have been the first band to drop
their record company! (laughs)
That's a novel situation!
It's a pity in some
ways but everyone was very young. Even the managers at Chrysalis were
all in their twenties.
After Tir na nOg split, you and Sonny
(Condell) went off and did your own things and your solo careers. You
also got involved in production didn't you?
Yes. Around that time
I did that Fruupp tour in 1975, I produced an album by The Loudest
Whisper which became a collector's item selling for lots of money. I
produced mainly Irish folk acts and produced half a dozen or so albums
for EMI and Polydor.
Aside from the production and your
solo work, have you stayed in the music business?
I haven't done
anything else, it's been 100% music.
Around the mid 1980s, Tir na nOg got back together and you've been
performing sporadically since then?
We put an single out
then (Love Is Like A Violin) and did a bit of a tour and recently we
have been gigging everywhere - our last gig was last weekend in Wicklow.
We've got four short tours of the UK coming up all over the place.
I will be making every effort to get
to the gig you are playing at Milton Keynes Stables, a fabulous venue.
I believe the tickets
are selling well. This is totally down to friends and fans in England
who have managed to get us these gigs all over the country.
It goes to show that the music lives
Yes, and the audiences
are coming out of the woodwork!
I also noticed which I find
fascinating is that as part of your UK 2012 gigs, you are going back to
the Troubadour in Earls Court where you played for first ever UK gig in
That's going to be exciting, I'm really looking forward to that. I'm
amazed it's still there, I can smell the coffee! It's a small venue. I
remember staying on the floor of some friends of Sonny's in London and
the first place we went to was the Troubadour.
With all your UK gigs planned for
2012, is there a new Tir na nOg album in the pipeline?
wouldn't rule it out let's say. We are being encouraged certainly to put
With the fans having helped put these
gigs on, I guess you have to weigh up the commercial realities before
you decide to make an album....
Leo, it's been great talking to you -
best wishes to you from all at Friars Aylesbury
Official Tir na nOg
interview and its content are © 2011 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and
may not be used in whole or in part without permission.