A little Spillane


Jake O’Brien finds singer-songwriter John Spillane an engaging subject

I despise technology. I hate Microsoft, I loathe phones, and don’t even get me started on Macs. Technology will be the death of us all. Even so, I digress.

spillaneBorn and raised in the wilds of the West, John Spillane is a musical man, groomed from an early age for the trade he now calls his own. “I always used to sing when I was a young fella, when I was a boy, and then I played the tin whistle and I played stuff like that, and then I started guitar when I was fifteen.”

Rock was not to be the calling for a young Spillane, however. “I don’t think I was a very good rock and roller, I was too shy anyway!” With his timidity in mind, it became the folk and traditional music element that was in line to draw John’s attention. It had been an everpresent theme in John’s life but rarely brought to the foreground given commercial musical culture. “I suppose we had two things going on, one was the rock, and the other was the folk-trad which was more for after the gig, or for fun.”

Aside from the educational aspect of a degree in English and Irish at UCC, playing gigs was a formative part of Spillane’s years in third-level education. “I took what I wanted from college… I didn’t like it, and I didn’t even know why I didn’t like it, ‘cos I wanted to be a writer.”

So between his formative years around our little spit of land and the months he spent in Senegal, John Spillane seems to have created a wondrously direct view on life. When talking about his time in Africa he speaks warmly of an incident with a tribesman called Baaba Maal. “He said, ‘Oh, we love to see your Irish traditional music, its like a child that left Africa many, many years ago and grew up away in a foreign country, and then it comes back and we say, Oh! My! How you’ve grown!’”

Spillane’s view on music thus has a delightful hybridity to it. With its origins rooted firmly in Africa, music has spread and emigrated across the globe, in all shapes, styles and forms, only to return to its home inadvertently and sporadically.

John Spillane is indeed a man with a certain insight. While I toil away on some computer, repetitively stressing out over my eleven-year-old laptop’s untimely demise and the several thousand words of essays I have yet to write, there is something in this musician’s tone and experience that suggests a cunning simplicity in his nature.

Conclusively, otwo feels that his music reflects his nature, and he turn reflects a reassured nature in us.

John Spillane’s album More Irish Songs We Learned At School is out now.