Seamus O’Reilly, commonly seen busking in front of the BC Liquor Store in Evergreen Centre, is bringing old-time folk favourites and a touch of the Irish to Sooke.
The 64-year-old covers a variety of different artists like Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, in addition to traditional Irish songs that stretch back hundreds of years.
Arriving in Sooke in early March after spending the winter in Charlottetown, Nova Scotia and Vancouver, O’Reilly stated local residents have been generous and welcoming.
“I find that Sooke is very supportive… the people of Sooke really like what I’m doing here.”
On his mandolin, which is a custom-made Gibson replica by a Saskatchewan luthier, he craftily picks and strums while singing songs reminiscent to listeners. He also plays the tin whistle, a recorder-like instrument made of brass tubing.
He said his purpose is to provide an enlightening experience to passers-by heading in and out of the liquor store — something that isn’t achieved by “bubble gum music” on the radio today.
“I’m talking about music that elevates people into another dimension. They’re brought into an awakening where they realize, ‘Oh geez, what am I doing with my life? I should do something else,’” O’Reilly laughed.
“You can bring back the sense of wonder into people because they’ve lost it.”
Because one of the best parts of his job is interacting with people, O’Reilly has also introduced magic into his repertoire for kids.
Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, O’Reilly began his excursion into music with a banjo-madolin at nine years old in his school’s orchestra class.
O’Reilly recalls sitting on a long wooden bench in a room of about 15 kids, who followed tunes and notes on a long scroll canvas in front of the classroom.
“You could sit back in your seats and everyone would be looking at this tune hanging, instead of everyone having a piece of paper in front of them and not looking up… it was a really neat way of teaching music,” he said.
When the orchestra disbanded, O’Reilly retired from music until he was 18 years old, which was the same time as the folk music revival in the late 60s.
Restless and longing for adventure, O’Reilly left for Canada two years later, where he remembers playing Irish songs throughout the night when homesick.
“Being away from home, I would play a lot of Irish music,” he said. “I’d rent a room and then I’d be sitting around at night listening to music, playing music and that’s when I got really into it, when I was on my own.”
After playing instrumental Irish music for years, O’Reilly began doing covers of some of his favourite artists with the intention to sing.
With music now ingrained in his bones, O’Reilly sees himself playing until the end of his days.
“I am a musician you see. If I don’t play music now till I die, I’ll be kicking myself when I’m on my death bed,” he said. “I’m probably a musician over and over and over lives.”