Early May 2012 saw us setting off in Huey, our campervan, for Ireland. We headed off at first for East Clare and after calling in to Peppers Bar to see who was about we visited our good friends Michael and Dorothy and their family in their excellent B&B at Clondanagh Cottage. If you are ever visiting the west of Ireland I can’t recommend their hospitality too much!
We then headed just across the border to Kinvara in Galway for The Cuckoo Fleadh, a rather extended weekend of traditional music and drinking, to search out a few sessions before going on to Connemara. We then drove south, heading for the Baltimore Fiddle Festival stopping off on the way on the Dingle and Kerry Peninsulas. Finally we travelled back north east to Dublin staying overnight in the Wicklow mountains on the way before returning to Wales via Rosslare.
For us there are two different Irelands. The one that is represented by the traditional musicians who keep the tradition alive with their amazing musicianship. Just in these few days we listened to Edel Fox, Andrew MacNamara, Thomas Bartlett, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Sam Amidon, Cleek Shrey and Nic Gareiss. Most have devoted much of their lives to learning their craft and tradition. The other Ireland is the one that rushed headlong into the nonsense that became the infamous Celtic Tiger. A land of speculation, institutional corruption, garden decking, hot tubs and men in pink shirts driving 4x4s and talking excitedly into mobile phones about their next ‘Real Estate’ purchase in Bulgaria.
This two-facedness was apparent when we stepped into a bar in a village on the Dingle. The pub looked very traditional and even sported a plaque giving it some ‘Trad Pub Music status’. I should have known better when the menu outside was promoting their Chinese food. Inside there was a cosy fire and a large plasma TV which, about 5 minutes after we sat down with a pint to await pretty much the only non Chinese item on the menu, was turned over to ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or some such programme. Until now I’ve not watched one of these shows and my worst fears were realised. A variety of truly dreadful acts were loudly cheered by a studio audience of imbeciles and was presumably watched by many millions of cerebrally challenged morons who clearly don’t have two neurons to rub together. First came an appalling girl singer followed by a dance act who cheekily misspelt their name to start with a ‘K’. I can’t remember what they called themselves but it should have been ‘Kuntz’. The teenage girl singer, whose sole talent seemed to comprise a pair of decent legs in a short skirt, was ‘singing’ some anodyne song with a voice that had all the charisma of public service broadcast in North Korea. When she had finished the judges, the two female ones of whom seem to have just come back from a face painting competition, pronounced their verdict. By now I’d lost the will to live so finishing my food and resisting the need to vomit (not from the food) we headed out on onwards to Baltimore Fiddle Fair.
As I write this I wonder if I’m just a miserable old git, elitist or probably both? Am I just sneering at what other people seem to enjoy? So what if someone enjoys such banality? Then, no doubt like my elders before me, I muse over the lowering of standards to the lowest possible denominator. Are people so fecking stupid that they can’t even get out and watch some live music for themselves and decide if it is good or not?
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we Love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
People seem to be sleepwalking into a packaged world where the advertising executives are trying to control what they think so that they can sell them more crap.
A world where people are so divorced from nature that thy think meat comes wrapped in cellophane in TWATCO’s. A world where people think they have talent because their ‘friends’ on Facebook tell them they have.
Baltimore Fiddle Festival was the antidote I needed. It was our first trip here but the amazing list of musicians that have been here over the years and played in small bars, rooms and marquees is almost a ‘who’s who’ of traditional music. This weekend was no exception and it would have been great to stay longer but we had to head up to Dublin.
Things only got better when we did get to Dublin, via an overnight rough camp in the Wicklow mountains, and not just because Liz got to see a shower for the first time in a week! We were in Dublin to see ‘The Gloaming’. This band are made up of some of the best trad musicians around who are pushing the boundaries away from the ‘trad’ tag. This Irish new wave doesn’t suit all the traditionalists; but of course music always evolves and needs to or else it just becomes repetition. We had been at their first ever gig in Dublin last August and now we were back for a ‘one off’ gig this year. It was a very, very special night; it must have been because even the Irish President turned up to the rather unglamorous venue at Vicar Street. Their trad tunes and songs were played on the edge with Thomas Bartlett (who also opened with his childhood friend Sam Amidon) playing some sublime piano. I probably shouldn’t use the word ‘play’ it’s more that he feels the music throwing in single notes and chords together with plucked and damped notes on the piano strings. Iarla Ó Lionáird’s singing (and I can’t understand a word of Gaelic) made you want to cry at the beauty of it. But I doubt that the media muppets who trotted out the bilge on the plasma TV will ever understand that music is about emotion not the plastic crap foisted on an acquiescing public between the commercials. The principal purpose of the whole exercise being to sell them even more crap (such as air fresheners) that they don’t even need in the first place.
And if you want emotion no one really puts their ‘heart’ in to it more than Martin Hayes. When he plays music, he doesn’t just play notes; he becomes the music and when it is over you feel drained by the emotional journey he has taken you on. You feel spiritually uplifted and know that you have been transported and transfixed in some world in another place. I could of course just be talking complete bollocks as a tone deaf Englishman who has absolutely no musical ability in his body. On the other hand I’ve always been able to make my own mind up and I’ll choose Martin Hayes, Iarla Ó Lionáird,Thomas Bartlett and the rest over what some TV executive deems to be talent any day.