FROM BUTCHERING to balladry might seem like an unusual career arc but it is one that Mayo-born, Galway based, songwriter Michael O’Connor has managed with aplomb.
Michael has just released his second album, I’m Not Myself in Character, the title of which, and the cover, featuring the man himself in greasepaint, alludes to his experience acting onstage.
Michael left school aged 16, and started working as a butcher. He spent 18 years in the profession and customers of Collerans in Galway will recall him from his time there, but he first took up guitar during an injury-related lay off from work.
Music was always in his blood but he did not start to pursue it in earnest until 2002 when he found himself laid up with a foot injury for three months. Unable to walk, yet feeling restless, he bought a guitar, learning Irish ballads to begin with, followed by the songs of John Prine, Steve Goodman, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Johnny Cash. He next embarked on writing his own material, finishing his first album, Octopus Tattoo in 2006.
Alongside his burgeoning musical career, Michael was also taking steps in acting with a range of local theatre companies. He has appeared in Ala Theatre Company’s staging of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town; with Croi Theatre in Change Of Heart and St Francis; and, more recently, in Mick Donnellan’s hit plays for Truman Theatre, Gun Metal Gray and Short Cut to Hallelujah. He also completed an acting programme in Moinin Na gCiseach Galway, which included a performance in Druid Theatre.
I’m Not Myself in Character features musicians who have accompanied the likes of Van Morrison, while also showcasing Michael’s distinctive songwriting talents.
What other album can boast titles and themes such as ‘Aloe Vera’ and ‘Coeliac Dough’? And ‘Let Your Jowl Hang Down’ is a rare tribute to double chins and those who possess them. It wryly observes: “A double chin is a common thing/It’s a trim feeling, it’s not at all an issue/Just residue and tissue/So eat well, be sound/Let your jowl hang down.”
While that song shows Michael’s humorous slant, ‘Home in Mayo’ displays his heartfelt side: “Well it’s been a while now, sure it’s good to see you/Do you remember when we were young the fun we had/Back home in Boolya/On those calm clear summer nights/seen in solace by the moon’s full glow/still stands silently among the trees/that home in Mayo.”
Then there is the wistful‘Whistle In The Wind’, with a plaintive sax and piano which sweetly recalls an old flame:
“Lightning struck an oak tree trunk/It still stands in the country where daffodils grew there in spring/It grew its leaves in plenty/Lightning struck when clouds all changed on a clear blue sky/Before that change the whistle began/There we said our last goodbye.../Years long and by when she and I sat beside that tree saying nothing/both of us had our own dreams, went our separate ways/where we would be beside that tree leaves memories always.”
The quirks of relationships are also explored in ‘Wandering Eye’ and ‘Emotional Vampire’, highlighting the range of Michael’s repertoire.
Michael is presently studying in NUI Galway for a degree in philosophy, English, and drama, yet he still makes time for his music, busking, doing open mics, and playing a gig in Campbell’s Tavern, Cloughanover.
Moreover, John Creedon’s Radio 1 programme has taken a keen interest on Mike’s album, recently playing his music on a number of occasions. He has also made the playlists on Midwest and Galway Bay FM.
I’m Not Myself in Character is available in OMGZhivago, Bell and Book Candle, Charlie Byrnes, Opus II, and NUI’s Campus shop. Well worth a listen.