The Worcester Phoenix
October 26 – Nov. 2, 2000
Amo leaves tradition behind
by Don Fluckinger
Amo is a strapping young Irish émigré, a singer-songwriter whose lyrics, in many of his compositions, lean toward matters romantic. You’d think that he chose his name (he wasborn John Doyle) because it is the Latin verb for “I love.” Not so, he confesses. “When I started out performing when I was 16 or 17, I started out as Amarillo, which comes from that song `Is This the Way to Amarillo?’ and I would finish my show every night with that song,” explains Amo, who plays a weekend each month, including this Friday and Saturday, at Worcester’s Irish Times. “When I went to college, people started calling me Amo for short, and that became a nickname.” Amo was born in Keadue, County Roscommon, and fits the mold of the guitar-toting solo artist. But on stage, he doesn’t even come close to resembling all those Irish folk singers who rely on the traditional material that Irish and Irish-Americans pine for. He’ll play some covers, but none of them will be “The Unicorn.” His tributes tend more toward Cat Stevens, U2, and Crowded House, musicians who influenced his upbeat style of modern pop. He calls it “anti-genre” music.
Amo’s repertoire requires a guitar that can take a beating — on one of his instruments, the wear extends through the pick-guard and past the wood finish beneath that — and he brings a drum machine with him to gigs. That and an array of effect pedals are all he needs to crank out his set. Perhaps in the future, he’ll add a bass player and drummer to achieve more of a band sound, but for now, all he needs for accompaniment is 120 volts AC.
“When I go in to buy an acoustic guitar, the first thing I do is plug it in see how it sounds plugged in,” Amo says. “How it sounds unplugged is of no benefit to me.”
Two years ago, after gigging his way through business school in Ireland, Amo moved to New York to seek his musical fortune stateside. He’d released a single back home “I Wanna Be There,” which sold 500 copies, and that became a track used on his debut CD Always Now and Forever, released on the New York label FTB Music.
Playing on Long Island, he fell in with former Wilson Pickett guitarist Paul Zunno, and signed him up to play on his CD. He met Steve Holly — who played drums with Wings and currently plays with G.E. Smith’s crack rock-and-roll blues band — at a gig when the hotel owner sort of pushed him on Amo between sets. Amo, the independent soul, had never heard of Holly, and was loath to be joined on stage by anyone. But Holly gently persisted, telling Amo to turn on his drum machine and “he’d just follow along.” Soon, Amo realized he was sharing the stage with someone who knew his stuff.
“He was this polite English guy in the corner. I had no idea who he’d played with — just because he was a nice guy I said `Sure, come up on stage,’ ” Amo recalls. “After the second bar of the first song, I turned off my drum machine. . . . At the end of the night I knew exactly where this guy came from.”
Amo’s regular gig at the Irish Times began this summer after the bar’s owner took in a Amo show in Montauk, Long Island. The musician enjoyed the crowd, and it’s turned into a one weekend a month appointment. It takes a while for an audience — especially an Irish-oriented audience — to adjust to the fact that Amo isn’t a traditional musician playing Celtic folk. When he does throw in a song from that style, it might be “Danny Boy” set to a hip-hop beat, or a quite-deconstructed “Carrackfergus” that turns into more of a Spanish tune, the way Amo plays it.
But that reflects the wonder of a young Irish man soaking in America and carving his own niche in its music scene — not particularly wanting to traipse the folk circuit playing the same, tired tunes 10,000 singers before him have done to death. Like his personality, his upbeat rhythmic style is far from the dirges and subtle melodies of his countrymen whose mission is to please the Irish-American crowd. He refuses to play the old tunes, even when they’re requested.
“I find that a lot more in the Irish bars in the New York area, where there will be Irish that have emigrated here in the past 10 to 15 years. They will request that an awful lot more, and I have absolutely no interest in playing that,” Amo says. “You’re in the capital of the world, New York City, embrace what this place has to offer you, and stop seeking out what you left behind.”
As for himself, Amo loves New York, and is content in the United States. He also enjoys traveling through the states from gig to gig, experiencing the wide-open spaces of this country, and the West Coast. Amo plays at 10 p.m. on October 27 and 28 at the Irish Times, 244 Main Street, Worcester. Cover is $5. Call (508) 797-9599.