ESAW- Sounds Division
Michael O’Leary is a New Zealand publisher, poet, novelist, performer, and bookshop proprietor. The songs on Michael O’Leary’s album ‘Fences Fall’ are described as a Kiwi re-invention of the folk traditions and boldly literate rock music associated with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Beatles, Irish folk song, and the seminal sounds of blues and country.
The songs have diverse themes and unforgettable lines. “Did Jesus play his guitar, gently weeping?” is from a doo-wop song that echoes George Harrison. Another song has the poet meeting a woman, from whom he stole a scarf, who tells him her mother has just died: the scarf tightens around the poet’s neck and the revelation “…it openly mocks us/So deceptive and beguiling, and that it shocks us.’ Other tracks refer to lost love, the loading of Jews on the Belsen-bound death express, and, using chanted lines in English and Maori, provides an insight into the poet’s early life when he began a journey from poverty and school failure that eventually led to achievements that include 10 books of poetry and 5 of fiction, and a number of non-fiction works including a doctorate.
Much acclaimed in literary circles, Michael O’Leary is described by Dr. Neilson Wright as “… a powerful writer who never falls into mediocrity and consistently shows a strain of genius.” A trustee of the Poetry Archive of New Zealand, he also runs the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop (E.S.A.W.) which has published works by Hone Tuwhare, David Eggleton, Elizabeth Smither, Greg O’Brien, John Pule and others The music for the songs on ‘Fences Fall’ is by singer-songwriters Helen Dorothy, Kayte Edwards, Niels Gedge, Francis Mills and Al Witham, with instrumental numbers by Gilbert Haisman and Brian Romeril. It was recorded at Ross McDermott’s Soundsgood studios in Paraparaumu.
Reviews and coments: Fences Fall – Songs from the Lyrics of Michael O’Leary had launches in Auckland, Paekakariki, and Dunedin.
Below are some initial responses to the album.
“After four decades of friendship, I thought Michael O’Leary had exhausted his capacity to surprise me. But Fences Fall is wonderful in ways I didn’t expect. It’s not just that the poignancy of Michael’s lyrics that strikes me afresh when heard from a range of fine voices, the album really works in musical as well as literary terms. O’Leary backed with cello and sousaphone. Who would have thought that would work? But it’s magic!” – Iain Sharp
“Masterful, brilliant!” – Peter Olds
“Stunning tracks energised by O’Leary’s great lines. Take it neat or take it on the road” – Michael Gifkins