Seán Laffey Editor of Irish Music magazine dons a white coat and prescribes some essential diddley-diddley-dee for those bar tenders in need of a music tonic.
Picking the right combination of sounds is just as important as selecting
your pub decor, and remember music is heard well before the customer enters
home turf, it is the first impression. If your Irish CD cupboard is bare,
compilations are the easiest and cheapest way into the music. Be careful,
the catergory “various artists” crosses into a tourist niche intent on
recycling dinosaurs from the 60s (great for nostalgia heads, to be avoided
if you are aiming to build cred with yuppie émigrés).
You can play to both camps with John O’Regan’s Legends of Ireland, on the Rhino label, a brilliantly integrated introduction to the last 40 years of Irish music. Running from the bar room balladry of The Clancy Brothers to the cult Irish-American group Solas (check out the video The Brothers McMullen and you’ll understand). The Craic Was Good from Polygram-Debutante, fixes on the folky-pop end of the Irish market and is sure to appeal to both confused locals and ex-pats alike.
We Irish cherish the ladies, and a big Irish hit three years ago was A Woman’s Heart, seriously feminist in places it was is too. Pretty women are hemmed in neatly by the black dresses and pop sensibility of the Corrs. Feisty Celtic ladies can add a certain edge to an evening, like a twist of lemon in a gin and tonic, try the Putyamayo release Women of the World Celtic II. The opening track The Drunken Piper - world beat meets frenetic fiddling by Natalie MacMaster, will bow the froth off your Guinness from 20 paces.
On a recent visit to Guernsey I caught up with Steve and Michelle Taylor; a young couple who have over the last four years established two successful Irish pubs on the island. Michelle, originally from Limerick, observed the longer you are away from the real Ireland the harder it is to re-create the authentic atmosphere of the auld sod.
Over a quite pint at the end of her regular Tuesday night session (where she joins in on tin whistle) the talk turned naturally to recorded music. She recommends a fairly extensive CD collection to enhance the many moods a bar takes on over a working day. Business lunches are best accompanied with the Irish piano of Tony O’Breski; Pogues in your soup may lead to a fry on the wall. When building a classic CD collection, artists to look out for are DeDannan, The Bothy Band, The Chieftans, Altan, Dervish and the Saw Doctors (the ultimate Irish party band). Irish music used to mean sweaters and bearded warblers, so corner off a parcel of this terrain by ensuring you have a copy of Paddy Reilly’s Fields of Athenry, play it when you screen Irish soccer. Seán Keane’s version of Robbie O’Connell’s Home Away from Home is a late 90’s jingle just waiting to happen, get his No Roses album and plan ahead for the next world cup (dream on Laffey). Mary and Francis Black have back catalogues covering all the bases from folk to adult- rock. Sinead O’Connor is well worth the investment if you attract a professional late 20s crowd intent on mortgaging their angst. Christy Moore is obligotary. Thankfully, Sony have finally released an excellent compilation to ease the strain of collecting Christy’s ninety-something records.
Want to catch the authentic scent of the Celtic Tiger? Cran, Deiseal, Calico, Anam and Lunasa, all young bands, blend Irish roots with jazz and Euro-Celt touches,( Brittany has a lot to answer for in modern Irish music). Belfast based Tamalin, are retro folk rockers re-difining the Fairport Convention songbook and may well fit in with a serious return to tank tops. No evening would be complete without a few tracks from the London based Afro-Celt Sound System, their dance music defies narrow labels, blending African drumming, the low whistle of James McNally and the old style singing of Iarla O’Lionaid into something which is so now it will be next week before you realise it.
Michelle quized me on the scence in Dublin, principally who’s work should she look out for? Trad music is hip and session venues are now so trendy on the south bank of the Liffey - they have even appeared clustered alongside creme-Anglaise eateries in the bistro quarter of Temple Bar. Local heroes, Kila, regularly achieve sell out gigs in the nearby POD (Place of Dance) and Midnight at the Olympia (a serious groove venue for chic twenties who like to Boogie on Domhian). Kila play a dance-hall stew of hip-hop-jungle-funk-jazz-traditional, fronted by bare footed Ronann O Snodaigh. Their chanting second album, should come with a health warning - Irish Music is highly infectious, as the title has it -Tog E Go Bog E - take it easy.
Like all good medicine, it is best with a drink and remember to repeat the dose.
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