Category Archives: Music

Does Your Mother Come From Ireland?

RTÉ archives are in possession of a 1981 documentary called Does Your Mother Come From Ireland? It was co-produced and presented by Limerick traditional musician and US-based academic Mick Moloney. The film gets an occasional airing, the last for RTÉ being 11/11/2011. Information about the film is not readily available and the following is based on a single viewing.

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Does your Mother Come from Ireland? is roughly 45 minutes in duration. The brief was to film the practice and maintenance of traditional Irish music in 80s New York. The film follows Moloney and cameraman Paddy Barron to New York and then back to Ireland where they document the 1981 All-Ireland Fleadh in Buncrana, Donegal.

Opening with the vista of New York from the air, and soundtracked by the Bob Seger rock anthem Rosalie, Does your Mother Come from Ireland? is a unique visual record of many contrasts specific to its time.

An exploration focused on Bronx residents the Tara Céilí Band who were busy preparing for a return to Ireland to compete in the annual All-Ireland Fleadh. These teenagers had previously won the title three times before and would be filmed winning it again. Historically this film is a record of a pan-Atlantic traditional music scene. Embedded in the film was an outline of the cultural mission imitated by an Irish diaspora concerned for the upkeep of tradition. The New York players were conscious of  the possibilities of cultural isolation and insisted on the maintenance of a continuous link with the source of the music.

The NY Irish community was known to harbour talented musicians and families noted for their traditional strengths but no one had investigated, in film, how their endeavours fed back into the cultural cradle in the ‘old country’. Moloney’s film is a singular record of this.

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The cast, including the celebrated fiddle player Eileen Ivers, were all young American-born musicians who were as proficient in the language of traditional jigs and reels as they were in typical New York pastimes. Footage of these youths playing baseball was styled in that particular filtered haze, unique to filming in New York in the late 70s. It rendered the Irish-Americans similar to those who shimmered in the otherworldly Coca-Cola television ads familiar to Irish television audiences. When the film cut to the same youngsters in houses in the Bronx, diligently playing the sets that would win in Donegal, it registered as a benign jolt.

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The overlap between 80’s America, Ireland, Irish America and TV America on Irish television became more than just a subtext as the film progressed. In the 80s US immigration restrictions ended the steady traffic that had replenished New York’s Irish population since famine times. The special Irish relationship finished and with this ending the cultural update injected from each new group of Irish immigrants did also.

Those who delivered styles to the Bronx from sessions all over Ireland were now without visas. The consequences of restrictions forced a realisation that, for the culture to progressively continue, the response would involve an Irish return. Moloney interviewed parents, teachers and other members of the community after the fallout from the decision of the US government to cap immigration. The annual visit to Buncrana was part of a solution.

Increasing awareness of the lack of immigrants arriving  with new songs encouraged the parents and teachers to support the concept of the return. The passion and commitment of these teachers in this process was very evident. Other vital insights arose in how the culture was being maintained. One involved Martin Mullverhill, a Bronx musician and teacher. He described quickly crafting an original Irish tune underneath the city (in tunnels, perhaps dug by Donegal men). The subway composition flowed easily, “I had it finished by 205th St”, he said proudly.

Heading to Ireland and winning the Fleadh were happy events for the young American passport-holders but those were not the main priorities of the trip. The youth were engaged in a type of journeying, travelling in the sense of a pilgrimage. An undertaking of a type of pilgrimage that sought rejuvenation and reflection. The humble showing of awards at home by the Ivers family testified to this, as did a Bronx bar manager’s dignified imploration while helping to raise 5000 dollars to send the Tara Céilí Band back to the Old Country: “If anyone here tonight hasn’t the money to contribute, please stay and enjoy the music anyway”.

The hazy tone of the 80s New York landscape as a backdrop to the endeavours of the American Irish youth filled the first part of the film. The second part while filmed in colour stock may as well have been shot in black and white such was the contrast of location at the Fleadh. 

Now far from the Bronx the Tara Céilí band are performing on a knocked-together stage in a grey Parish Hall. Their practised reels were clinically measured under the horn-rimmed eyes of a stern adjudicator (the cigire). An impassive seated crowd also measured their performance. A readjustment of viewing was needed as the romance of the previous communal preparations undertaken in the beauty of a New York summer was left behind. The music was the same but it was now heard in the environment of a monochrome Ireland. This 80s island was home to many who wished they had the chance of returning with the American visitors.

Moloney’s Ireland presented itself through another lens. The landscape could have been taken from any Irish documentary film of the 50s. Things moved differently, people acted slower. An officialdom appeared to take over the camera as if the regulations of the Fleadh insisted on it. The adherence to Comhaltas rules and the rigidity that accompanied the reading of them registered even in its recording.

Afterwards, the Americans quietly moved outside with portable cassette recorders recording the open sessions in the unregulated public space of Buncrana. This act of capture was what the journey was about – collecting evidence of native playing. They were capturing the Donegal air to uncap and release on their return. Historically the natives merited recording also. A long shot showed tents surrounding Buncrana. An atmosphere was evident in the attendant mingling of generations and visitors, each with their own agenda.

Another shot on the street captured a suited family man, in town for the day, holding his own as he passed long-haired youths and neatly dressed musicians. Fleadhs at this level were the social midway for the remaining Irish generation of the 80s. The campers in the background sought a music based outlet in this, a transitional time. For the long-haired youth the landscape of this Fleadh was open ground between the depressed dancehall scene and festivals that had yet to appear.

The demand for trad-based groups like De Dannan and Planxty on the festivals that had began to appear came from the transitional long-haired demographic filmed by Moloney. Panning his camera for background filler the filmmaker inadvertently documented a crossover.

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Another vibrant shot of overlapping cultures was a brief shot of a native Irish céilí band with a young drummer starkly wearing a Doors t-shirt. There was a minor cult for the ‘poetry’ of Jim Morrisson circa 1981 as the Doors’ back catalogue was being repackaged. But a Doors t-Shirt was a relatively rare and exotic item particularly for a teenage drummer in a céilí band in Donegal. Would one of the American contingent have gifted him the shirt?  Perhaps gifted tapes also? The Americans were now known as regulars and tentatively part of this Fleadh community. It is conceivable that friendships were made, and perhaps cultural exchanges of many sorts were a regular feature.

It is fair to speculate that the New York parents who facilitated their children’s activity to maintain the diaspora’s cultural link to Ireland could have inadvertently instigated a reciprocal musical process. 80s Virtual America, especially the urban otherness of New York, was visually a familiar sight from Irish TV programming which leant heavily on US import drama. A type of virtual American landscape began to merge with an Irish one. A topology that stretched from The Waltons‘ Mountain to Kojak’s Manhattan with the beach of The Rockford Files in between. The virtual West was passively received, indulged as a glamorous contrast to a recession-based Irish vista. An aural insight into the land of opportunity would have delivered a different sensation. This insight may have been on a cassette tape containing excerpts, musical and otherwise ranging from New York radio to trad sessions in the Bronx. Those cassettes may have been left behind in Buncrana.

The content of Does Your Mother Come From Ireland? whether primary, secondary, or speculative remains as entertaining and historically informative 30 years after it was shown, and its concept is a credit to Moloney and his team.

(by Paul Tarpey)

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Garth Brooks: A Warning In Retrospect

In the way that mushroom clouds are a thing and gaping head injuries are a thing, Garth Brooks was once a thing in Ireland. For a period in the mid-nineties, he was probably the biggest thing of all the things: bigger than Dustin, bigger than Bishop Eamon Casey, bigger than Barry O’Hanlon’s bald spot. He swooped onto the world stage in a dusty haze of snappy, singalong country music, branded with innocuous moral code and sensitive cowboy shtick. Ould wans spoiled by Philomena Begley seized his coattails and hung on for dear life. Married couples took to their fringed boots and started spending every Saturday night clicking their heels in formation with their thumbs hooked into their belt loops. Teenagers – teenagers! – learned the words to Brooks’ ditties and belted them out of car windows and school auditoriums and youth disco dancefloors. No one was safe from Garth Brooks. No one.

Look at him there with the head on him.

And because no one was safe, I was no different. Like all inexplicable crazes, Garth Brooks ended as suddenly as he’d begun, but a couple of notes from ‘Friends In Low Places’ or ‘Standing Outside The Fire’ and still I burst into involuntary playback like a subject chewed up and spat out by Derren Brown.

In the mid-nineties, I was far too cool to ever go line dancing – I even refused to learn the Macarena – and I certainly eschewed such trappings as cowboy boots and tasselled blouses, but even an aesthetic forged in army navy surplus stores and by a weird attraction to Jarvis Cocker couldn’t save me from the magnetic wrench of Brooks’ melodies. It may be partly down to south county Galway society and the heady scent of silage in the air, but Garth Brooks felt like communal madness. I had a copy of his album The Hits – didn’t everyone? – and it nestled beside Pablo Honey and Music For The Jilted Generation on my dressing table. I have no idea where it is now. I can only assume I burnt it during my repatriation ceremony to the land of the living.

Oh, the horror!

It kind of makes sense when you examine the phenomenon with a forced level of detachment. Ireland has long been a slave to folk music and country is like folk music as understood by a Teletubby who fell out of a pickup truck straight onto his head. It’s folk music you don’t need a social conscience or patriotic pride to get in on. You just need to like easy little stories about rodeos and whiskey chasers and patriarchy, all told in metre-perfect rhymes.

What doesn’t make sense is that it wasn’t just Ireland that was enslaved by the honeyed twang of Mr. Brooks, but countries of varied cultures and levels of cop-on. Brazil loved him, as did Australia. The British media were sniffy, but the people were smitten. Garth Brooks was a one-man religion.

And we were, briefly but totally, disciples. What set the Garth Brooks craze apart from all of the other childhood crazes I’ve weathered was that unlike pogs, Saved By The Bell, and those stupid oversized beanies that East 17 used to wear, Garth Brooks was one you could get in on with your parents. Generations were united by a common adoration for the stetsoned one and his warbling tributes to unanswered prayers and sleeping loved ones and cougars he plumbed when he was a teenager. Which may have seemed all facets of creepy, but it is a credit to Mr. Brooks that every passion he ever sang about was declawed as soon as it left his throat. Never before has a singer turned so much everyday mundanity into so much anthemic yodelling into so much lyrical docility. It’s so straightforward it’s genius.

Like Mother Goose, Garth Brooks had universal appeal because there were no stipulations attached to enjoying his work, like the need to have a working brain or a basic understanding of metaphor. Mid-nineties Garth Brooks was as simple and as appealing and as bad for you as apple pie. Why, even Garth Brooks himself has taken great pains to limit the damage done by his perfect universal appeal, by making his music unavailable on most of the social media giants and burying – BURYING – the master for The Hits underneath his star on Hollywood boulevard.

Ponder all ye on what horrors lie beneath

It is my solemn conclusion – the only logical conclusion, really – that Garth Brooks took root because everyone has… a weak spot for country music.

Oh, you may think such aural failings don’t apply to you, pouting there in your biker jacket or skinny jeans, but it happened once, and it will happen again. Keep your eyes out, kids. And your ears closed.

(by Lisa McInerney)

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When the Cureheads invaded Ballsbridge

It had been hot all week. On Monday 10 July 1989 I was woken by powerful sunshine. “Five days to go” I thought to myself. The Cure were playing in the RDS the following Saturday and I couldn’t wait. I had been to a handful of concerts before but this was the big one. For the previous two months I had been playing Disintegration every night. My favourite way to absorb it was via headphones as I drifted off to sleep.

After a televisual diet of Wiseguy, Snub TV and Degrassi Junior High, Friday afternoon finally rolled around. I left work at 3.00pm and went home to grab my gear. Bus Eireann’s New Ross to Dublin service was taking off at 4.50pm and this quartet of Cure fans were determined to get on board. We touched down in Busáras at about 8.00pm and were met by some friends. Some unimpressive fast food followed. We then toyed with the idea of checking out Bartley Dunnes [none of us had actually been there at that point] but eventually decided on heading towards our base in Sandymount.

Some pints were consumed outside O’Reilly’s pub on Seafort Avenue and additional food supplies purchased from the 7Eleven. The remainder of the Friday night passed by in a haze of smoke, The Smiths on the stereo and some interminably long-winded party game called Personal Questions. We eventually crashed at about 3.30am but none of us could sleep – presumably due to the mounting excitement. Instead we made a quick trip to the nearby beach to welcome in the dawn and watch the tide go out.

Saturday was another glorious day. At times like these I really wish I had the foresight to carry a camera. Thankfully some people did manage to capture the moment. Here is a marvellous snapshot of Cure fans taken outside an Inchicore house on that morning of 15 July.

It was time to use the DART for the first time. The morning was spent in and out of record shops like Comet, Freebird and the Virgin Megastore. All of us bought at least one record. The Fall’s Seminal Live and The Wedding Present’s Ukrainian Peel Sessions were among my purchases. There was no turntable in the apartment so we spent the afternoon listening to Japan and The Sugarcubes on cassette. At about 4.00pm the preparations began. The black clothes went on and the front room was turned into a mini hair-salon. Let the backcombing begin!

By the time we left for the RDS the conditions were extremely hot and sticky. We walked up Sandymount Avenue and almost wilted. Black-clad, mascara-streaked and hairspray-soaked temples. Then we reached the top of the road and gasped. The Curehead army was marching through Ballsbridge. Our time had come; this was our day. We may have been marginalised in our respective hometowns but this was truly a gathering of the tribe. A number 18 bus swung around onto the main road; its occupants stared at us with a mixture of shock and probably pity.

Finally it was time to get out of the searing sunshine and into the fiery, sweaty cauldron that was Simmonscourt. The atmosphere was highly-charged with expectation. I saw a number of guys standing at the side of the arena. They were inhaling Tippex in full view of the St John’s ambulance men. The first support act came on – Shelleyan Orphan – and gave us a competent set, Shatter was the highlight. It was still quite easy to get to a decent vantage point so I made my way towards the front. There were loads of Dead Kennedys Bedtime For Democracy t-shirts. All About Eve came next and Julianne Regan wore a see-through white dress. I thought she looked amazing. Martha’s Harbour and all that.

The Cure finally came on stage to the chimes of Plainsong. Robert Smith sang those immortal opening lines.

“I think it’s dark and it looks like rain.”

A young female goth approached me and asked to get on my shoulders. She wanted to take some photographs. Being a gentlemen I obliged her. The crowd surged forward and I temporarily lost my friends in the crush. I didn’t drop the lady at this point but her dead weight gradually began to have an effect. By the end of Closedown she was thrown on the floor. Sorry again – whoever you are. During A Night Like This I took a breather. The lack of sleep was taking its toll. My mates were at the right hand wall where a guy had fainted and was being stretchered off by paramedics.

It was an epic set. Poppier numbers mixed with brooding epics. Lovesong‘s drift into Charlotte Sometimes was fantastic; A Forest was immense while the “gloom trilogy” of Same Deep Waters As You, Prayers For Rain and Disintegration was thrillingly miserable on a massive scale. We got two encores – a short sharp set of more immediate tunes like Close To Me and Let’s Go To Bed before a longer a meandering seven track sequence of brilliance. Hot Hot Hot was quickly followed by a beguiling version of A Strange Day and the two “Boys” numbers. By the time they concluded with an epic 14 minute best-version-ever Faith (with added lyrics – listen to it below!), almost three hours had passed. I was exhausted. 23 years have passed and I’ve been to hundreds of gigs since then. This is still number one.

We walked back to Sandymount afterwards in a state of quiet contentment and unexpressed awe. Sleep finally came after a few beers. Meagre funds and work commitments (a “proper” summer job in an office) did not permit me to stick around for the following night’s gig. My abiding memory of the Sunday morning is being part a group of dishevelled youths dressed in black frantically half-running through a pre-regeneration Temple Bar and down the Quays. We had a bus to catch. Time to return to civilian life.

Set list
Plainsong
Pictures of You
Closedown
Kyoto Song
A Night Like This
Just Like Heaven
Last Dance
Fascination St

Lovesong
Charlotte Sometimes
The Walk
A Forest
In Between Days
Same Deep Water As You
Prayers For Rain
Disintegration

Lullaby
Close To Me
Let’s Go To Bed
Why Can’t I Be You

Hot Hot Hot
A Strange Day
Three Imaginary Boys
Boys Don’t Cry
Homesick
Untitled
Faith

Postscript
4 August 2016: It turns out that somebody had taken a photograph after all. I’m on the left.

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Photo credits
1) Ryaller, 2) Blogtrotter Revival, 3) Where Were You / Vincent McCormack / Gavin Paisley
4) Jarlath Slattery, 5) Impression of Sounds, 6) Jenny Murphy O’Neill

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Coe-opted

When I was growing up, Shay Healy was as ubiquitous as anyone in gainful employment in Ireland could be; he seemed to have a hand in almost everything musical in the country. He and Phil Coulter looked to have Irish popular music carved up in their own duopoly. Not much of Healy’s work from those years is remembered now – except, of course, the 1980 Eurovision winner he wrote for Johnny Logan – and that’s not too surprising given his work was almost quintessentially ephemeral, written and performed for a living.

To give Healy his due though, he and his work had an edge and wit that was lacking in most light entertainment emanating from the official culture of Ireland in the 1980s. He also never took himself too seriously, even if he did have the semi-legendary attribute of indirectly causing Charlie Haughey’s downfall. His interview with Seán Doherty on Nighthawks in January 1992 elicited the claim that other members of Haughey’s cabinet knew about Doherty’s phone-tapping while justice minister. Haughey was gone within weeks.

One song I do remember introduced me to the man who is now the head of the London Olympic Games Organising Committee. I was too young to remember the Moscow Olympics but three years later I heard “If I Were Sebastian Coe” and its jangly pub-rock was sufficiently catchy to lodge the middle-distance Olympic champion in my conscience. It was so impressive that I was a bit surprised to discover that Sebastian Coe was not some crusty old dignatory but a fairly young man with a few years on the track ahead of him. The song is an amusing ditty, with the inevitable Steve Ovett reference, and the title and refrain demonstrate a command of the subjunctive mood rare in pop music. As Healy explains on his own YouTube channel, Coe himself was not too impressed at the tribute:

I wrote “If I Were Sebastian Coe” in 1983 as an homage to Seb, one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time, whose frequent jousts on the track with fellow Briton Steve Ovett were the stuff of legend. I sent a copy to Seb and he said he would sue me…I hope Lord Coe, Olympic supremo 2012 has a better sense of humour…

Quite.

(I first saw the video for this song on Youngline, an RTÉ youth programme of the day, and a precursor to Jo-Maxi. I have a very dim recollection of Youngline, though it also provided me with my first ever glimpse of The Jam around about that time. I always imagined it to be short-lived but I had in fact only caught the tail-end of it. It ran from about 1978, in which year U2 made their first ever TV appearance on the show. Well, we won’t hold that against it.

(by Oliver Farry)

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Canvas Of Life

Minor Detail were an Irish synth pop duo from Blackrock, Co Dublin consisting of two brothers – John and Willie Hughes. They became the first Irish band to secure a deal with a US label – signing to Polydor in 1983. Their debut single Canvas of Life was released in October of that year with their self-titled album following shortly afterwards. The LP was produced by Bill Whelan of Riverdance fame. It’s a curious piece of melancholia with some rather heartfelt themes encompassing world peace, positivity / success in life and tentative romances.

Canvas of Life was also promoted by a video single which received a number of plays on the first season of MT USA. It’s a soaring pop tune with a heavy reliance on the Roland SVC-350 vocoder. The video was shot in Dublin and features some evocative footage of St Stephen’s Green.
I remember Fab Vinnie being particularly fond of it. However sales were lacklustre and the band broke up during the summer of 1984 after their second single (Why) Take It Again?  A brief reunion in 1986 produced two more singles but no meaningful critical acclaim. John Hughes later went on to manage The Corrs.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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The Liberty Belles

The Liberty Belles were formed in 1969, out of the Francis Street Parish Club in Dublin. The area is known as The Liberties – hence the name of the girls’ singing group. Originally a dozen members, the numbers had swelled to 30 singers and a total membership of over 60 by the time that this album was released. Their mentor was local priest Father Foley who enlisted the support of Tom Gregory (guitar), Shay O’Donoghue (piano and organ) and Frank McCarthy. The LP was recorded in the Eamonn Andrews Studios in Dublin and released by Dolphin Records in 1971; Dolphin Discs being the name of a long-running record shop located in Talbot Street.

The album has been compared to The Langley Schools Music Project which is not too far off the mark. Given the era there is the inevitable Hair connection. Two tracks from the hit musical are featured – a serene Good Morning Starshine and a groovy Aquarius.

Hurry Home and Snowbird (made famous by Anne Murray) are plaintively performed with a maturity that belies the girls’ tender years – their ages ranged between 11 and 15.  A haunting version of Brahms Lullaby concludes a most entertaining first half.

There’s a spiritual vibe on side two with righteous versions of Oh Happy Day and Amazing Grace. After competent takes of the catchy Scarlet Ribbons and harmonious Yellow Bird, the LP finishes on an apt note – the togetherness anthem of positivity known as United We Stand.

However my favourite track on this charming LP is their version of the Cuban classic Guantanamera. I love hearing the spoken word section being delivered in a Dublin accent.

Full tracklist.

Side 1
01 Good Morning Starshine
02 Hurry Home
03 Snowbird
04 Guantanamera
05 I Made So Many Friends
06 The Lullaby

Side 2
07 Oh Happy Day
08 Scarlet Ribbons
09 Aquarius
10 Amazing Grace
11 Yellow Bird
12 United We Stand

(by nlgbbbblth)

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History Is Written By The Singers

I can only assume that the stereo was broken the day I did the housework to the tune of my own soulful yodelling. I usually find it difficult to function without musical accompaniment, and ninety-nine times out of ninety-eight I’ll stick on a thoughtful, finely-tuned playlist and get busy to the lusty tones of some foppish chap with a guitar and a check shirt. But this one day, I went a bit mental and decided to provide my own soundtrack. I went through my entire repertoire – The Merry Ploughboy to My Heart Is In Ireland to The Fields Of Athenry to something vaguely sinister about British soldiers.

My better half interjected after about an hour of odes to emigration and immigration and deportation.

“Jesus wept… How – how the fuck – do you know all of those bloody songs?”

In fairness. I know them all because I’m Irish and Irishly impressionable. My better half is an odd fish in that sense. He was raised by enlightened parents who didn’t think it their patriotic duty to instil in him appreciation for rosy-cheeked racism. He learned a few Irish ballads when he took up guitar and check shirts, but jingoistically-speaking, he’s a bit of a fop. I don’t think he’s ever cried into a pint about Boolavogue, Slievenamon or inconsistent four-faced clocks. Which makes him a rather wondrous oddity, don’t you think? Rational, open-minded and patient…none of the qualities sung of in Irish rebel songs.

I don’t know what my first rebel song was, but I reckon God Save Ireland would be a safe bet. It’s a gory march with a tone of defiance so solid you could use it to take down an entire order of nuns. One listen to God Save Ireland, and you’re voting Sinn Féin. It’s a very dangerous ditty, and I thank providence that I was too young for the polling booth when it first battered me with its seditious charms.

Don’t listen to that if you’re not ready to fall in love with Gerry Adams. You have been warned.

For God Save Ireland triggers something deep within the Irish breast. Something ancient, something battle-born, something something delirium-of-the-brave something. Not quite innate, for nationalism was man-made to fill the gap left by Jesus when he rose from the dead, had a spot of lunch, and traipsed off the mortal coil again for some reason. But it’s a feeling that’s long-rooted and therefore profound and unfathomable, all the same. It’s like Fionn mac Cumhaill playing your heartstrings like a fucking fiddle while a bunch of 1980s London skinheads make fun of your freckles. You want to belong to something bigger than you. You want to feel like there’s someone to blame for your not being able to yammer as Gaeilge. You want to fight someone wearing a sneer and a monocle…not with you wearing the sneer and the monocle, obviously. I meant your enemy would wear the sneer and the monocle. Irish rebel songs don’t allow for sneering or pretentious eyewear.

They allow for enemies, though, and impressionable people (like wee Galway-bred cailíní hearing God Save Ireland for the first time) need enemies. Something to rail against like the proud badass you are. Listening to rebel songs is the Irish equivalent of reading Lord Of The Rings if you’re a yokel or listening to Faith Hill mangling the Spangled at the Super Bowl if you’re American. It makes you feel like you’re part of something, whilst at the same time instilling strange and exciting feelings of bottomless rage. Like you want to take your shirt off and punch a wall / kill a Nazgûl  / mutilate a herd of steer.

Knowing your Irish rebel songs really starts to pay dividends when you’re old enough to get served in pubs, and the whole blistering love affair with your own masked xenophobia begins anew. Except this time it’s bolstered by alcohol. Alcohol and pickled friends. Rebel songs make you want to be part of something, and for the entire length of a stanza, you are. You’re part of a swaying, weeping choir of stain-shirted supermen, each more moved by the misdeeds of the Black and Tans than the last.

Come out, ye Black and Tans, come out and fight me like a man!

And without fail, some young fella, his face still in the throes of pubertal disharmony, will slap his fist down on a table and spill someone’s pint.

If you don’t know your Irish rebel songs by the time you start college, for example, your entire social worth will disintegrate as soon as someone chokes out the first few lines of Streets of New York. You’re nothing if you can’t howl back at them about Uncle Benjy and how he got shot down in an uptown foray (sure, even if you can get through the last four lines without your voice cracking, you’ll be thought of as highly suspicious and most likely taken out back and robbed). Irish rebel songs go with Irish drinking culture. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to determine which came first; the rebel songs, or the drinking culture. They sustain each other, a symbiotic muddle of blood, sweat, and needlessly sentimental tears. Kevin Barry died for Ireland. Ireland’s dying for a pint.

“Needlessly sentimental” is the key here. The denizens of modern Ireland have no real claim to the misery of our history; it doesn’t define us in any way but nostalgically. We don’t sing Sean Nós shopping in Brown Thomas and we don’t vow vengeance in the queue at Abrakebabra (unless it was the queue for refunds). I’ll make a concession to exception for the emigration songs, although it’s hard to sing plaintively about how tough it is to work in a dentist’s surgery off Bondi Beach. In general, you lead an Irishman to balladry, and you’ll open the floodgates of hyperbole and hazy threats of international payback. It’s boorish. It’s ignorant.

It’s glorious.

We are Irish and we are collectively excitable and more prone to reminiscence than a spinster with a sherry. Irish rebel songs provoke in us feelings of pride that we’re not entitled to and leanings towards martyrdom that we won’t be celebrated for. Their lyrics are cynically romantic, the flag-waving equivalent of Kim Kardashian’s arse trying to sell you cheap perfume. Sing them at a sober person, and you’ll look like an angry lemming. Sure I can’t sing the entirety of Only Our Rivers Run Free without having an inexplicable emotional meltdown. Honestly. Misdirected patriotism is my party piece. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s funny, because I listen to a lot of folk music now – hipster folk, the kind sung by foppish boys with guitars and check shirts – and I suspect the communal joy of singing evocative rebel songs is the cause of my current aural inclinations. And I’m not alone. Why else would Mumford and Sons – who mostly sing about God, with whom we fell out with in a big way – be so damn big in Ireland?

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

(by Lisa McInerney)

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RTÉ’s Greatest Themes

This LP was released by our national broadcaster in 1987 to celebrate 25 years of television and 60 years of radio. It was marketed by that old reliable, K-Tel, on foot of a vigorous advertising campaign. The premise is pretty straightforward – one side devoted to television, the other to radio. In both instances selections of themes are played with panaché by The RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

The 15 minute suite of television themes serves up a feast of nostalgic thrills for anyone aged over 30 who grew up on a diet of one/two channel television. Most of the memorable ones are present. For the children we have Wanderly Wagon and Bosco while the Wesley Burrowes triptych that is The Riordans/Bracken/Glenroe is present and correct.

Sports fans will be delighted with the theme to that Saturday afternoon staple Sports Stadium (1:40pm – after The Wonderful World Of Disney/Daktari/The Invisible Man – take your pick) and the evergreen stomper that is James Last’s Jägerlatein a.k.a. The Sunday Game.

Current affairs are represented with News and Newstime, Today Tonight and 7 Days. The first two are reasonably groovy. Hats off to the orchestra for their stirring rendition of To Whom It Concerns – theme for the world’s longest-running chat show, The Late Late Show.

Here’s the first part of “Television Themes Down The Years”.

A competent cover of the Dallas theme tune follows. For those of us who grew up in Ireland during the 1980s, Dallas on a Saturday night was a ritual. Usually watched after a bath while drying one’s hair by the open fire.

Side 1 concludes with The American Connection – a medley of three classic cop/private eye shows. Hill Street Blues is reprised towards the climax.

The flipside is a different story and is likely to be of more interest to those of more advanced years. It’s all about the radio. Music On The Move is nicely funky and is taken from the Chappell library. Other melodic choices include Living With Lynch and the Irish Hospitals Trust while Hospital Requests‘ use of a Gershwin melody is oddly sentimental. My favourite remains Tico’s Tune which soundtracked The Gay Byrne Show for all those years.

Two traditional compositions conclude the LP – dramatic and expertly honed versions of An Chuilfhionn and The Raggle Taggle Gypsy (made famous by Planxty).

Full tracklist

Side 1
01 Television Themes Down The Years
(a) 7 Days (b) The Palatine’s Daughter – The Riordans
(c) Here Comes The Wagon – Wanderly Wagon (d) Today Tonight
(e) To Whom It Concerns – The Late Late Show
(f) Eireodh Mé Amárach – Glenroe (g) Strumpet City (h) Bracken
(i) Thrilling Spectacle – Sports Stadium (j) Murphy’s Micro Quiz-M
(k) Tolka Row (l) Bosco (m) Mart And Market
(n) Classical Action – News And Newstime (o) The Shadows
(p) Jägerlatein – The Sunday Game
02 Dallas
03 The American Connection
(a) Hill Street Blues (b) Magnum P.I. (c) The Rockford Files

Side 2
04 Radio Themes Down The Years
(a) O’Donnell Abú (b) O’Donnell Abú
(c) Fish And Sticks – Music On The Move
(d) The Wibbly Wobby Walk – The Town Hall Tonight
(e) A Fair Day – The Kennedys Of Castleross
(f) The Old Turf Fire – Round The Fire
(g) Someone To Watch Over Me – Hospital Requests
(h) Perpetuum Mobile – Question Time (i) Le Jet d’Eau – The Foley Family
(j) The School Around The Corner (k) Three Little Words – Living With Lynch
(l) When You Wish Upon A Star – Irish Hospitals Trust
(m) Tico’s Tune – The Gay Byrne Show
05 An Chúilfhionn – Nordring ’78
06 The Raggle Taggle Gypsy – Nordring ’78

In an ideal world the original versions of all these themes would have been compiled with extensive sleevenotes in some sort of fancy box set. However this highly enjoyable interpretation from the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is probably as much as you’ll ever get.

I’ll leave you with the second part of “Television Themes Down The Years”.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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It Was a Shame How He Carried On (Or, What I Learned From Boney M…)

There was a certain time, not so very long ago, when you couldn’t walk into a house in Ireland without tripping over vast piles of James Last or Boney M records. My family home had them. Your family home had them. Homes that didn’t even have record players had them. You’d find them in fields and car-parks, just sprouting out of the ground.

Most ubiquitous of all Boney M releases was (the delightfully named) Night Flight to Venus.

One of my earliest musical memories is of falling over a coffee table while wobbling along to “Brown Girl in the Ring”. About 12 years after that I fell into a Christmas tree while “dancing” to The Pixies. Plus ça change…

It wasn’t all about pain with Boney M, however, it was also about…education. If it hadn’t been for Frank Farian and the gang it might have been many years before I learned that Grigori Rasputin was both “a cat who really was gone” and “Russia’s greatest love machine” (an insatiable, and unkillable, early-20th century disco stud). Thus, while still in short trousers, I became seduced by the impossible sexiness of all things Russian and revolutionary. It’s most likely Boney M’s fault that I find the sight of an embalmed Lenin sexually arousing.

So potent were such memories that when I stumbled across the below a couple of years ago I almost fell over a coffee table (again) with excitement (even though none were nearby).

OK, first of all, there’s that sleeve. And second of all…there’s that sleeve. It’s like Smell the Glove – only real. The reverse is less jaw-dropping, but excitingly reveals that track 3 of side 1 is “Belfast”.

Those who (like me) had experienced their first history stiffy listening to the goatish exploits of the bould Grigori might be drooling at this point. Wondering what nuggets of sex-disco wisdom are about to be laid upon us RE: The Troubles. The results are disappointingly non-lurid and blandly nonsensical.

Here was a golden chance to create something spectacularly tasteless. Something that would attach an erotic charge to their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns. Disco Semtex. Conflict porn. But they fucking blew it.

Ah well. I’ll always have sexy dead Lenin.

(by fústar)

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Balfe, Bothered And Bewildered

Balfe, Bothered and Bewildered was released on the Hawk label in 1974 and holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first original comedy record. It was written, produced and performed by Brendan Balfe with musical backing from The Greenbeats (“without whose valuable assistance the album would have been finished six weeks earlier”).

The sleevenotes carry some tributes from well-wishers:

“Mr Balfe is a talentless bore who loves the sound of his own voice”. – Mrs Balfe

“Great for dancing to!”. – Minister for Posts and Telegraphs

“They only had me ‘cos the budgie died”. – Mr Brendan Balfe

“At first it sounds strange, but oddly enough, the more you listen the more incomprehensible it becomes”. – Harold Wilson

The second track is called The Mystery Sound. It consists of a phone-in competition where you have to guess what the sound is. The prize is £750.73. Mrs Sarah Giftwrapper comes on the line. As an aside she mentions that her mother plays football with Punjab Rugby Club. Her suggestions – “Gay Byrne watching an elephant” and “A siamese kitten in a coalshed eating the remains of a tin of corned beef”. She doesn’t win. The prize rolls over until tomorrow, increasing to £750.74.

I Suppose and Ol’ Pal Music consist of hoary showband rock’n’roll and country stylings not unlike Hank Williams. Surprise, Surprise plays out like a This Is Your Life sketch. He was “born at an early age” and became a newspaper seller at the age of one. “Titantic sunk by an iceberg” he shouts. Is there no escape? We’re then introduced to a few demented characters such as his old tutor Heathcliff O’Reilly, an irate gouger called Arthur and Seán the oddball who likes bus timetables. Seán runs the Rasputin house for the demented at Ratlin Island. You can send them anything.

Donating is also the focus of Help The Needy, an agency that can be found in Donnybrook – “or else send me your home address”. Segued into this sketch is a Special Branch promo advertisement which promises “action, travel and adventure” by way of guarding the Argentine embassy and tapping phone calls (eerily pre-emptive). How do you sign up? Fill in the coupons in Woman’s Way (“It’s a man’s life in the Special Branch”).

Side 2 continues in the same vein. Liz is about the actress and her husbands with Brendan musing that “I’m certain that she’ll get around to me”. Oh Give All Ye Faithful ramps up the money-for-guilt stragegy with its focus on improving church collection takings, hosting a monster whist drive and relying on a crying baby to shame punters into giving more.

The album’s centerpiece is undoubted – the surreal Royal Visit (about 37 years too early) which encompasses a running commentary on chaos.

Sherry reception – Leinster House – whiskey distillers – Guinness – Iveagh House – Queen singing Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool accompanied by Bunratty Castle Singers – an insistence on detouring to Tallaght – Queen driving –  Philip in the car with a pint – they crash – hijack a bus – three squad cars – Fishery Protection vessel fires a 21 gun salute – National Emergency declared – diplomatic relations broken off – they join the Garda Band in a dance –  Queen strips off and climbs the GPO – get pelted with tomatoes and cabbage leaves from the locals – throws them back – tanks and armoured cars enter O’Connell Street.

Then, if that wasn’t enough, as part of the same track a kick-ass wah-wah guitar starts and it’s another advertising promo “The city of one minute beat”.

“I’m a traffic warden – join for action and excitement. Protect the free world against subversion. Application form in this week’s Sacred Heart Messenger. Join the fight against the motorists.

The remaining three numbers consist of:

An Beagán Francais i.e. Je T’Aime in Irish complete with the requisite panting.

Parliamo Piano Forte. Music for beginners – a piano tutor series. Distinguish the black ones from the white ones.

The Set Of Drums. Demented and confused showband madness in Westmeath.

I’ve saved the best until last. Or in this case it’s the album’s opening track – Deteriorata. This is Brendan’s parody of National Lampoon’s Deteriorata (from their 1972 Radio Dinner LP) which pokes fun at Les Crane’s Desiderata (a US hit in 1971) itself inspired by Max Ehrmann’s 1927 prose poem Desiderata.

Confused? As Mr Balfe sings in the song’s closing seconds – “Just give up.”

(by nlgbbbblth)

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