Belfast songwriter Rory Nellis on video rental and lockdown blues
In the anxious first days of the pandemic, Rory Nellis took delivery at the family home in Belfast. His friend DJ Mark was outside with a loaf of bread, a homemade present at a time when many stores were closed and goodies were scarce.
It was also a time when direct contact was not allowed, so the best they could do was pass a few words over the wall on the side of the house. Rory’s son Jack also yelled at Mark that he was missing school. It was a rare social contact during their lockdown at Ormeau Road.
Rory Nellis was also writing a song within a time limit. Work was drying up, but he had received an order from the Tinderbox Theater. The song was called Video Shop and it went back to a seemingly easier time. It was the whirr of an old VHS tape and rented movie that was familiar and good.
The next moment, Mark and Jack had appeared in the song’s lyrics and Video Shop took on some of the fears and stress of the Covid era. In a later verse, the singer envisioned a future time when hugs could once again be shared with those who wanted.
The finished job is a nice reminder that we should never take things for granted. Who would have thought that we would someday nostalgia for a rented videotape that hadn’t been rewound properly by the previous user? Rory laughs.
“And then you posted it in the mailbox in front of the store, if you were too late …”
Still, the day Rory recorded the voice for the song, he wasn’t laughing at all.
“You can hear it. I was waking up myself when we went to record the voice. It’s real. It hit me like a freight train. Everything poured in. “
It really is a highlight. It became even more touching when Rory contacted a guitarist friend called Luke Cyrus Goetze.
The latter was an American, living in Munich and he gladly added his parts as a remote recording. Luke plays the sweetest, saddest lap steel. The air is now a certified tearful.
Video Shop is a standout feature on Rory’s upcoming album, Written and Underlined. This is her third solo album and it’s another collection of grace and reflection. The melodies are elegant and the words well chosen.
Still, on the record’s title track, Rory admits he had almost given up on his passion.
“I love writing songs and I would never stop. I must. It’s just a desire that I have to fulfill all the time. But four or five years ago, I thought the time to grow well had passed, that I had missed my chance. ‘I’m too old, deep down,’ that’s what I thought.
He had almost convinced himself that he would turn a vocation into a hobby. He was going to fade away, after a decent solo career and his previous moments with the band Seven Summits. He was just going to be content to upload a track every now and then to the Bandcamp site.
What made her change her mind was a visit to Nashville in 2019, hosted by the Belfast-Nashville Songwriters Festival. Rory performed at the Bluebird Café on March 16. The place was packed and he was welcomed into a legendary proving ground for the art of song.
“People who clung to every word of every songwriter played that day. There were two sessions and a queue at the door. And I realized then that I could do it. I could stand up against these other songwriters and manage. There was no reason I couldn’t.
“I had no problem being older. It was just in my head. It was an epiphany moment and I decided I wasn’t too old to give it a shot. And then me being me, I decided that if I had to do it, then I would do it right. So I did everything to do it correctly. I have a new desire to make it my job.
Rory’s new record has that sense of mission. Produced by his musician friend Philip Watts of Alton and funded by the crowds thanks to the promises of his admirers, the music seems like an essential task.
He writes about vulnerability and friends on Strange Behavior. There is a domestic incident on Small Town Revelry that looks like a loan from Burt Bacharach. And closer, Be the Sea, it sums up the preciousness of our lot. “Be the lantern,” he sings. “Ignite the doldrums. “
Against all odds, Rory looks visionary. Xtra-visionary, perhaps.
Written and Underlined will be released on January 29. On the same date, Rory will perform a launch party at the Sunflower in Belfast, as part of the Out To Lunch festival. For more details, see www.cqaf.com