A Tear And A Smile was the second album by the overlooked Irish duo, Tír na nÓg (Land Of Youth). The band boasted two singer/songwriters in Sonny Condell and Leo O’Kelly. By todays standards Tír na nÓg were in fact inhabiting “a supernatural realm of everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance and joy” although by the standards of the day they were another folky acoustic duo, for all their loveliness unlikely to have a hit.
Although A Tear and A Smile was released in the US with an altered track listing their first album wasn’t released there at all allegedly due to Condell and O’Kelly refusing to record a version of Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm, a song they regularly played live.
Condell’s Come To The Show opens A Tear And A Smile conceptually with what must have also been their live opener, that dry warm sound of drums and warm bass supporting their acoustic style with the introduction of strings in a rousing Folk Pop that might not be amiss on a Cat Stevens album of the day – although this isn’t typical of the album – a certain Progressive Celtic/World influence pervades. Condell and O’Kelly contribute five songs each and it’s the second track Condell’s lovely Down Day that is one of the album’s highlights. A meandering moody melody with tuned down arpeggio guitars that turn into a mellow dynamic strident hanging chord chorus disappearing into pastoral strings recorded in a meadow in the fantasy land of their name.
Leo O’Kelly’s When I Came song of romantic return might have been on a Peter Sarstedt album and sometimes you imagine they might have made their own version of Side 1 of Meddle had they come across a like minded electric guitarist. That’s not to say they weren’t original, they certainly had their own sound, growing out of their sensitive and strong songwriting that takes them into Incredible String Band territory on O’Keely’s second contribution The Same Thing Happening with Condell presumably supplying percussion. Side one closes with Condell’s humorous Bluebottle Stew.
Side 2 opens with O’Kelly’s So Freely, lovely warm acoustic arpeggios’s and a dreamy lyric and calming captive melody that makes you wonder how they weren’t as popular as John Martyn or Pentangle’s Bert Jansch. O’Kelly lulls you into soft reverie, drifting between the sunbeams and leading you to garlands of flowers and the tenderness of love’s sweet kiss. ” I could live so long on your memory alone”.
Sunbeams do appear in Condell’s beautiful homage to a dazzling princess in Hemisphere, redolent of allegorical sailors in love ships in the blue seas of the lady’s eyes which could explain Lady Ocean as O’Kelly takes a similar journey across the heartlands of affection and longing for the eternal mysterious magical charms of the queens in their dreams or the down to earth appreciation of the world where we live as we escape into nature in all its forms.
O’Kelly follows again with Goodbye My Love, a haunting melody and a dark regret. Some great production ideas with surging low notes and flute, Condell on percussion. You wonder how Donovan fans didn’t discover Tír na nÓg, you wonder how Nick Drake fans didn’t discover them and then you remember that Nick Drake’s fans didn’t discover him till it was too late and that by the seventies Donovan was old news, once another Dylan then Pyschedelic Folk Hippie hit maker and by now might have been somewhat out of favour when Tír na nÓg were creating their own special world.
Two White Horses ends the album and you just can’t imagine that the public didn’t allow them greater success despite critical acclaim and three strong albums between 1971-1973 – the last, Strong In The Sun opened with a Nick Drake cover and was produced by Procol Harum’s Matthew Fischer.
I’ve seen both O’Kelly and Condell live as solo artist over the years, O’Kelly in Dublin and Condell in London. I have four vinyl copies of A Tear And A Smile in the archive just in case someone falls in love with the album but can’t find it. Tír na nÓg split up in 1974 but since the eighties have made sporadic appearances. They released their first studio studio album The Dark Dance after forty two long years in 2015. I have it, so should you.
Lots of information about the band here, including lyrics and how to purchase their latest album:
Tír na nÓg will be playing in the UK in June and September. Don’t miss them, check the dates below: