Reviews of The Northern Concertina
“The second solo album from English born but Belfast based Jason O’Rourke, The Northern Concertina spans a gap of 16 years from his debut album (1999’s The Bunch Of Keys). That in itself was a very fine debut, alerting attention to a player whose imaginative approach to his repertoire and its presentation yielded some high quality results. Now, after a duet album (Roguery Road) with ex-Oige fiddler Ruadhrai O’Kane, a PhD in English and other life events, The Northern Concertina arrives like a phoenix confirming his giftedness and musical ability.
This recording finds a player at home with his repertoire and his technical approach to its application. The title does not refer to a defined Ulster style, but the hallmarks associated with his music – clear notes, steady pace and quick-fire exchanges with any accompanying musicians. The result is music that is clearly defined and individual, easily at home in a session as much as a listening experience in its own right. The album features both solo performances and ensemble pieces, usually with one or more accompanying instrument. There’s an experimental set with a tenor sax joining the concertina for some interesting results on L’Aguillette, a set of Mazurkas from Italy, with Sionaid Murray’s sax and Teresa Clarke’s piano adding some Mediterranean shades. Stevie Dunne’s deft guitar adds some spice to the opening jig set, Munster Bacon, while the solo concertina reel set, The Gooseberry Bush, creates a lovely intimacy within its tenure and The Mongrel, a trio jig set with Stevie Dunne on guitar and fiddler Teresa Clarke again, swings gracefully while emphasising the tunes’ delicate nuances.
Jason O’Rourke’s music has matured down the years into a fully cohesive and finely-tuned style; each note executed with pin-pricked precision. He stands on his own merits among concertina players in Ireland and elsewhere, and his music finds full maturity on this outstanding set.”
John O’Regan, The Living Tradition, December 2015.
“Looking like a young van Gogh in the cover painting, this Belfast based musician packs a lot of punch into his handy-sized music box. Jason O’Rourke’s playing takes a very different approach from Niall Vallely, for instance, and there’s no suggestion that The Northern Concertina is a definitive recording of an Ulster style: rather it’s the result of Jason’s musical development over almost twenty-five years, and a step on from his first solo album fifteen years ago. I had heard relatively little of this man’s music before I received this CD, and I must say it was a very pleasant surprise – every track is enjoyable with enough variety to make things interesting, despite this being very close to a true solo album. O’Rourke sticks mainly to traditional Irish material here, with a few forays abroad and four tunes of his own. His style is rhythmic and relatively unornamented, but there’s generally a strong accompaniment in the left hand, or a countermelody in the right, to keep company with the tunes. A spot of fiddle and piano from Teresa Clarke, a touch of sax from Seonaid Murray, and a couple of very capable guitarists: otherwise it’s all concertina. The sleevenotes are very helpful, a background booklet as well as full tune details on the cardboard itself.
From Munster Bacon to Aggie Whyte’s, Jason has chosen some big tunes. The Spike Island Lasses, O’Farrell’s Welcome to Limerick, The Gooseberry Bush, Tell Her I Am and The Cuckoo Hornpipe are representative of old traditional masters. There’s a border slip-jig I know as Brose and Butter, a pair of Italian slow mazurkas, and those four new tunes from Jason. His Mongrel Jig is straight down the line, catchy enough, and his reel Aggie’s Wedding fairly bowls along. There’s a polka and a slide from him too, cheeky little numbers with notable titles: The Frozen Mouse, and To Hell with Austerity, a sentiment many of us can identify with! I’m also reminded of Munster musicians such as North Cregg or The Four Star Trio, and even The Monks of the Screw, not just by the slides and polkas but by the general bounce and bravado in O’Rourke’s playing. This is not a young firebrand’s recording, but there’s still a spark and vibrancy to The Northern Concertina which distinguishes it from smoother or more technical performances. I like it – I think you will too.”
Alex Monaghan, Irish Music Magazine, September 2015.
“London born Jason O’Rourke originally was playing melodeon for his mum’s clog dancing and rock music on the drums. In the late 1980s, he taught himself playing traditional Irish music on the anglo concertina, back then quite an exotic affair. He was fortunate though to play jam sessions with the likes of Kevin Crawford and Luke Daniels. In 1991, Jason O’Rourke came to Belfast. Here everything fell in place and he developed his particular straight-forward and punchy style of playing on his Jeffries C/G and Bb/F concertinas. He has been involved in various projects and is hosting the Tuesday session at The Errigle Inn on South Belfast’s Ormeau Road these days. 15 years after his debut recording, “The Northern Concertina” is his new solo album. Jason says in the CD’s liner notes that “the concept of the The Northern Concertina was not intended to describe a prevalent style of concertina playing in Belfast or the North of Ireland, where styles and influences differ widely. Rather, it was intended to describe my playing, which I would like to think would be recognisable for its simplicity, power, and rhythm, the legacy of playing for dancing since I was a small boy. For me, the latter two elements, power and rhythm, reflect some of the characteristics of Northern Music.” Rather surprising, jig sets prevail in number over reels, there’s also a polka and a Scottish march. Jason took his liberties, he turned fiddler Andy Dickson’s reel “A Short Walk from Home” into a hornpipe and “Sporting Paddy” into a slide, and put some tenor saxophone behind two continental mazurkas. Further support comes from Teresa Clarke (fiddle, piano) and Tim Edey and Stevie Dunne (guitars) creating a solid sound. He named an original slide “To Hell with Austerity” because he said to a politician once: “To hell with austerity – we’ll write, and play tunes, and dance like we always did.” And that’s what Jason does – resolute and determined.
P.S.: In 2012, Jason O’Rourke started writing short stories about everyday life in Belfast on his blog, www.vernacularisms.com. Since then he’s had a few stories and poems published; details can be found @ www.jasonorourke.info/writing/.
© Walkin’ T:-)M
Tom Keller in Folkworld, March 2016.
- A review of The Northern Concertina in Le Peuple Breton, June 2016. PDF (in French).
- A review of The Northern Concertina in Boston Irish Reporter, June 2016. JPEG.
- A review of Roguery Road in Le Peuple Breton, April 2005. PDF (in French).
Roguery Road review Irish Music magazine 7 April 2005 Volume 10 no 7:
Jason O’Rourke & Ruadhrai O’Kane
The two lead instruments are fiddle and concertina, no surprise there until you note the location, it’s not Clare that the music of Jason O’Rourke springs, for like O’Kane, both are based in the North. Indeed this lovely live album was recorded in Northern Mecca of traditional music; the Cross Keys Pub outside Portglenone. Now by live we should say ambient, it’s a considered recording, using the slate floors and the natural acoustic of the bar to pick up the music.
Jason O’Rourke plays a Jeffries concertina, Rudhrai O’Kane on fiddle, his father Seamus O’Kane on bodhran (listen to the triplets on the Coach Road to Sligo or the simple hypnotic beat on a pair of Donegal Highlands.) Track three starts off a bit shaky, it’s a pairing of mazurkas with strong Breton connections, the first ‘Bernard’s’ is given an Irish accent, whilst the second ‘ Chez Jean-Luc’ has more of Breizh feel to it.
Guest musicians include, Davy Maguire on flute, and Davy Graham on bouzouki, folks in the south might have spotted them at Ennis trad festival. Otherwise they are regular names in sessions in Belfast. There are 16 tracks on this album, with tunes ranging from reels through jigs and hornpipes to slow airs and some unusual European measures, mazurkas and a gavotte for instance. The playing is tasteful and sounds totally acoustic, as if the lads are in a session and listening to what’s going on, not hiding behind a set of headphones in a studio, this is particularly true of ‘J.F. Dickie’s’ reel where Jim Rainey puts down a guitar accompaniment that mixes runs and chords, counter point and a pulsing bass under current, a master class in how to play an interesting backing without killing the tune. The audience listens too, evidence for this is on the unaccompanied flute slow air ‘Suo’r Gan’, which is originally from Wales and which brings a huge response from the crowd who wait silently on every note.
If you are wanting something out of the top drawer, the final track, a pair of reels, would be my suggestion, the lads are in top gear and top form and if you can’t smile when this is playing you are probably eating lemons. Another welcome (to me anyway) feature of this album is the warts and all live sound, you can hear the concertina buttons being pressed on the hornpipe, ‘the Queen of the West’. The kind of barefaced honesty is a refreshing departure from many of the hygienically scrubbed albums we get to listen to. The liner booklet is well written, legible and full of material musicians like to read ( like the keys in which tunes appear and how they’ve been changed from their originals.) The liner notes suggest that the lads like curry, and it shows in their playing, it’s all so spicy and stylish.
By Sean Laffey