'Jimi Hendrix of the Accordion' - Liam O'Connor shares joy in Ja
Many in the audience sat spellbound. The notes from the instrument were nothing like they had ever heard before. It was not a piano (though in part it looked like one), but the sound it produced was interesting.
That was the experience of the children at Jerusalem in Spanish Town on Thursday where they were entertained by world-renowned Irish accordion player, Liam O'Connor.
O' Connor and a group of volunteers are currently in the island to help with repairs to the Mustard Seed Communities' Sophie's Place orphanage in Gordon Town, St Andrew, which was built 20 years ago with donations from Irish donors.
"We've brought a group of volunteers who have raised funds, and all they've raised is going to rebuild Sophie's Place," organiser Dervilla Gannon told The Sunday Gleaner.
In love with the accordion
From a musical family, O'Connor was born in Country Cork Island as the youngest of seven children. He told The Sunday Gleaner that his mother was particularly passionate about music. "She died when I was young, but she left a great legacy of love and music," he shared. His father was also a musician, but he proudly and fondly recalls his mother's vigour, which he carries on in his presentations. "You can be the greatest technical musician in the world, but if you don't have the feel, you have nothing. I'm a performer and an entertainer. It comes from the heart," he said.
Adept at as many as 20 musical instruments, O'Connor is renowned for his accordion skills, and his accomplishments with the instrument are immeasurable. He has headlined sold-out tours in the United States, Scandinavia, Italy and Australia, performing in world-class venues including MGM Grand Las Vegas, Radio City Music Hall, Sydney Opera House, and Wembley Arena. He also spent two years touring with the Michael Flatley's sensational Lord of the Dance and was even entered into the Guinness Book of World Records (2008) for having the world's fastest fingers.
"Some people call me the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion," he shared. He described his instrument of choice as an extension of himself. "The accordion is what I do no particular reason. I like the way it feels. It's what I play. It's a part of me."
Accomplishments in tow, O'Connor's motivation to carry on with music is to spread joy. "I want to bring someone joy by what I do. Can we make someone happy? Can we do something for somebody and also to appreciate what we have? And I've done it. We've done it for the last few days. I might not have built a house, but I've given joy," he says of his time in Jamaica.
The accordion maestro was introduced to the Sophia's Place restoration project through Father Gregory Ramkissoon after performing at a luncheon they both attended. "I said, 'I want to come over'. We love music and we wanted to see we wanted to help little kids. So I brought my kids as well just to see another life, see other things."
During his visit, O'Connor played at all the Mustard seed Communities across the island. "Jerusalem, Jacob's Ladder that one was very interesting, out in the middle of the farm. That was amazing. Way out in 130 acres we played for residents there," he recalled with delight.
The effort to rebuild Sophie's Place kicked off last year when Gannon recruited six teenage volunteers and four leaders. "This year, we're bringing more than 60 teenagers and leaders. All of them have to raise 2,700 euros to come here. The majority of that money, at least 1,000 euros, goes back into Mustard seed after all costs are paid," she explained.
In addition to spreading joy, Mustard seed Communities is raising awareness for the charity's efforts on an international scale. Gannon explained: "We wanted to capture all of this on TV. We're creating a production to capture what Mustard Seed is all about. It's going to be aired on Virgin Media TV station in Ireland."
The objective is to run a 1-800 text line to their donation campaign alongside the to-be-televised production. "We're hoping that it will be aired before Christmas-time. It will be Mustard seed Ireland's Christmas appeal. We want to continue what we started. We want to keep up the goodwill and rebuild Sophie's," she continued.
As for O'Connor, this will not the his last time in Jamaica. He plans to return to the island to record. "I'd like to come back, but I'd like to come back musically next time. I have been invited back to play and record maybe some Christmas songs with a reggae band."