WATCH: Coleraine musician Damien O’Kane is a man of many talents.
He’s a singer, a brilliant banjo player, and a fine guitarist.
And the well known Coleraine man, who now lives in Yorkshire, has just released a new album.
With a pervading theme of emigration and homeland nostalgia, ‘Areas of High Traffic’ is his first solo album in five years.
Slickly produced by O’Kane and assisted by Joe Rusby, it is something of a homage to his native Northern Ireland.
Describing the album as ‘less folky’, O’Kane says that his proud Northern Irish root are clear in the songs - ‘this is who I am, he says.
In the album, the proud Coleraine man cherry picks traditional songs, moulding them into something more contemporary, engaging and stirring - all delivered in his rich Irish brogue.
Growing up in Coleraine, his first stage appearance when barely a teenager was with his own parents and siblings in the family band, dubbed “The Von Trapps of Coleraine”.
An outstanding banjo and guitar player he is now a vital member of The Kate Rusby Band.
On ‘Areas of High Traffic’ he takes songs from the bedrock of Irish music and revisits them in a previously untapped, unconventional but always empathetic way.
Damien tells: “Songs like The Blacksmith and I Am a Youth are so iconic, I’ve avoided them like the plague.
“But I’ve always loved them and I decided I had to overcome this fear of the ‘don’t touch’ songs.
“Singing them takes me back home.
“I decided I wouldn’t set any boundaries and I’d perform the songs exactly as felt right.
“There may be a touch of rebellion about it, but I haven’t done anything just for the sake of being different. I’ve tried to get inside every song and the arrangements reflect the lyrics.”
And when all the pieces are fused together with true empathy and care, the results are spectacular. These are songs from the very fabric of Irish music, recorded many times and in many ways over centuries. But never like this.
The album will be released in November, and already the praise has been flowing in for Coleraine’s much loved musical son. BBC Radio Ulster’s Lynette Fay said that Damien’s album was ‘a triumph from one of Ulster’s finest”.