Conor O'Brien: 'I had experiences of being chased down a street for holding hands with somebody'
- Fiona Shepherd
- 10 August 2019
Villagers' mainman talks ahead of his upcoming EIF gig about growing up gay in Ireland and the tide of change that's transforming his home country
If you want to get ahead – or at least write a hazy, nostalgic sun-dappled pop gem – get a flugelhorn. It worked for Villagers mainman Conor O'Brien, who lavished his latest single 'Summer's Song' with a chorus of six flugelhorns, but says he is still getting to grips with playing his new favourite instrument.
'You sort of feel like a child again when you are naively bashing away at something,' he says, 'and that feeling of summertime in childhood was what I was trying to evoke, that feeling of it being a beautiful season, but also the wistfulness and the vague melancholy of it being a passing thing.
'I'm an uncle now and I was just on a very rare family holiday with three generations in France and my six-year-old niece was constantly singing "Summer's Song" back to me, so mission accomplished for me there.'
O'Brien, who has been recording his soft indie folk incantations as Villagers since 2008, jokes that most of his songs are actually about autumn or winter but it's hard not to invite comparison between the gentle contented ache of 'Summer's Song' and the darker lament of 'Hot Scary Summer' from his 2015 album, Darling Arithmetic.
That song first sprang from the simple desire to thank Villagers' Japanese crew for their hard work. The appropriate term in Japanese – otsukaresama – sounds not unlike 'hot, scary summer' and from this evocative springboard, O'Brien explicitly addressed for the first time in song his experiences as a young gay man growing up in Ireland as the country reckoned with the long shadow of sexual repression, control and abuse which runs through its history.