With the demise of the traditional late 20th century record industry structures, the emergence of digital and online technologies heralded the utopian promise of creative freedom and viable artistic independence.
Well, that was the dream. The reality is a little more prosaic and a little less inspiring. At least for self-confessed technophobe Jack O’Rourke, who I find vainly attempting to upload his delicately wrought portrayal of an illusive lover through the prism of country music queen Patsy Cline on the online music store CD Baby.
“I’m after getting an email from CD Baby,” he informs me, ”one of those things where you’re putting up a song that will be put on every nightmare streaming platform known to man, and I had to resubmit it three times.
“I couldn’t understand what it was,” he continues. “I think I’m jinxed when it comes to technology because I only got the email today. The reason you can’t submit your track is because it’s called after a famous artist.”
Exasperated, O’Rourke lists some examples of artists who never had to contend with such problems: David Bowie for his ‘Song for Bob Dylan’, Cake’s ‘Frank Sinatra’ and Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’.
“I’ve certainly been Patsy Clined,” he relates, “so I went with Patsy at the end of the day.”
Clined, but not declined. O’Rourke didn’t fall to pieces, and the next single ‘Patsy Cline’, from his forthcoming album, is now being released. You can listen to Jack's new single here...
“I suppose it is an unusual name for a song,” he reflects. “But I love female singers. I don’t know if that’s because I’m gay, or what, identifying with kinda strong and vulnerable women, but I’ve always loved Patsy Cline’s voice.
"I think she was an extraordinary singer, actually. Her tone, you know. She really could have sung anything. She was a country singer, but she was more of a pop singer, I think.
"She had this amazing sound in her voice. It was big and fat incredible resonance to it. She could have sang r&b. Some of her stuff was bordering on that. Or even jazz rather than country.
“It was so polished, as well, but yet in her voice there’s a kind of a reckless quality, I think. Almost like a pre-cursor to Janis Joplin or Grace Slick. And I hear that in her voice. So when I was writing this song about love that was the nearest analogy I could come up with. You know when you’re listening to a voice and it’s so evocative and it reminds you of the wildness of love.”
O’Rourke will talk enthusiastically about his musical heroes, but any probing about the autobiographical nature of his new single is coyly batted away.
“I think with anything romantic I like to keep certain things private for the sake of the other person,” he smiles.
As he has already mentioned, and as anyone familiar with him will know, O’Rourke takes great inspiration from a range of powerful female artists.
“I have another song on the album and I talk about Aretha Franklin, who is equally brilliant in her own right,” he announces. “And on my song ‘Silence’ I mention Maria Callas. Not that it’s name-dropping.
“And there’s a great song actually by Mark Germino, the country songwriter. He has a song about a mechanic [‘Broken Man’s Lament’] and he has a line on it he could ‘tune and make a diesel sing just like Patsy Cline’. Stuff like that is golden. And sometimes you can’t name the feeling. I think sometimes by comparing it to a voice, it’s more abstract, but it makes more sense sometimes in a weird way.”
Accompanying ‘Patsy Cline’s’ release is an enigmatic video by animator Marc Corrigan.
O’Rourke is delighted by the results.
“The video is very beautiful,” he says approvingly. “He did the one for ‘Opera…’, too. It’s a little bit more abstract. It’s just the idea of a couple and their journey in their relationship.
"The wildness and excitement and madness of love and how that’s associated with Patsy Cline’s voice.”
Released in June, ‘Opera on the Top Floor’ was something of a surprise radio hit for O’Rourke.
“It did great,” he confirms. “You can’t ever anticipate how something is going to do, but I think the story of the song particularly resonated with people. And the words. And there was a lot of space, I suppose, in the arrangement because of the piano and strings. And I think the idea of just everyone having their own secret space. There’s a sadness in that, but there’s also a bit of hope, that it was a sanctuary. It did very well. It got played even on some classical radio programmes and some folk ones as well. So yeah, branching out.”
Speaking of branching out, the singer-songwriter returned to live gigs recently with an appearance outdoors at O’Mahony’s of Watergrass Hill, alongside guitarist Hugh Dillon and cellist Aisling Fitzpatrick. It was an opportunity to not only try out some new songs but also exercise his audience skills.
“It was great to test them out on people, and people were very receptive. There was one noisy table, and eh, I don’t know, you kind of get better with banter. I was actually on that song, ‘Opera on the Top Floor’. ‘This is a story song,’ I said. ‘Fold your arms – fold your arms! This is the story.’ And then I was like, ‘I have a taser: I’m not afraid to use it.’
“We got them onside,” he chuckles.
Are these tactics he has learned as a teacher?
“Maybe it’s an Irish thing,” he considers.
“If you’re an artist and you’re up there baring your soul you can get very precious.
“But people are on a night out.
“But at the same time a gig is a gig and I’m not going to go all Christy Moore on it, you know - ‘Get out!’
“But I think you can shame people using humour into having some self-awareness. It seems to work for me anyway.”