Its All About the Music, Baby.

Photo: Man in an Aran sweater. Seriously, how was I meant to resist a singing Irishman wearing something like this? He’s, oh-so-wholesome looking and traditional, like.

This weekend has been all about the music. There were the Decemberists on Friday, of course, and some traditional Irish music afterwards. Yesterday morning, on the way to buying theatre tickets at the Gaiety, I got distracted by 4 young men in Aran knitted sweaters singing ‘The Black Velvet Band’ with mandolin, guitar, fiddle and pipe on the pedestrian Grafton Street. And, whilst I really, really didn’t want to buy a CD because it seemed painfully aimed at tourists (a group which I am loath to include myself in), and I didn’t want to spend the money, and because I didn’t want more ‘stuff’ to cart around, I caved in the end, because it was only 5 Euro, and… well… because it was 4 very attractive young Irish men in Aran sweaters singing songs about losing their heart to a girl wearing a black velvet band in her hair. Sold!
That afternoon I did something I have always wanted to do, but never have, which was went and paid to have a tarot card reading. Yes, Dad, if you are reading this, I threw away my hard-earned cash on having a charlatan delve into the occult for me and tell me exactly what I wanted to hear. Oh, but goodness it was fun. And, I’m sure you’ll say it was me who created all the significance in the broad, generalised info and coincidences she spouted, rather than that she actually told me mystical, spiritual, unknowable things, but I still had a hugely enjoyable time. Even with synthesised Titanic music in the background. Besides, the other thing I’ve always secretly wanted to do and never have is get a tattoo, and I’m sure you’d prefer me to get my horoscope chart done and have someone gaze into a crystal ball for me, and do all sorts of hocus-pocus before I went and got a tat.
Anyway, back to the music. I headed out to see ‘The Cripple of Innishmann’, which is not music, but on the way, I saw a dude blasting out Irish reels on his electric violin in Grafton Street to boombox beats, which was pretty astoundingly cool. Then, the play was… good, I guess. I was exhausted and getting sick by the time I got to the theatre, so spent most of the first half struggling to stay awake. The writing was good, the acting was good, but, in the end, I think it was just not particularly exciting. Its a Martin McDonagh play (of ‘The Pillowman’ and ‘The Beauty Queen if Leenane’), so its definately high-quality, but, I don’t know, it didn’t really touch me in the way I expected. Maybe it was too slick. Maybe I wanted to see a different play last night. By the end of the show I was desperate to go back to the hostel and sleep.
But, then there was the music again… As I was walking home, I went past a pub where two blokes, one on a guitar, one on a mandolin, were playing ‘The Black Velvet Band’. Again. I clearly can’t resist that song, because I immediately forgot my worsening cold, turned around, bought myself a pint and got comfy for another night of trad music. Apart from the steadily increasing pain in my throat, nose and head, it was awesome. I did hear a lot of the same songs as I did the night before (‘7 Drunken Nights’, for example), so I’m getting an idea of what the music is like in most Dublin pubs, and who it’s catering for, but it was still fun. They did some amazing Scottish reels on the fiddle and mandolin (which was different), and then did some hysterical covers. ‘This song is a traditional Irish song from the 12th century, which has just been re-discovered, and was covered by a New Yorker recently…’ was the intro in to the Irish traditional version of ‘Poker Face’, which was more than a little hysterical and kept the 16 year old girls from London up the front entertained. We also heard Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’, Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ June Carter’s, ‘The Ring of Fire’ and Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’. Awesome times.
Today, the music continued in interesting ways. I got back to Cork mid-Sunday afternoon, so the streets were reasonably quiet. As I was wandering through the city centre, shops all shuttered up, me not being certain whether or not this was because it was Sunday or because it was the recession, this big, big, operatic sound starts coming from just up ahead. I figure out the song is, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, the big ballad from ‘Carousel’, and the singer is close to making the buildings vibrate with the power and passion with which he is attacking the song. I turn a corner, and there is this busker; a little rough around the edges, like he hasn’t had a shower or a shave in a few days, his clothes a bit crushed, but standing bang in the middle of the pedestrian mall, with his legs spread, one arm behind him, one stretched straight out to the sky, his face bright red from the effort and emotion he is putting into the song, and filling the city with his voice and his charisma and power. It was incredible. I’ve never seen someone so completely take over such a large space before. It also appeared a really apropros choice for both this man, who seemed a bit down on his luck, and of course for Ireland, which is most definately down on its luck. When he finished he gave an almighty cough which made all the pedestrians walking around him laugh, because it was almost as powerful as the song, and it was certainly a welcome release of tension from the impassioned ballad that had gone before it. He waited a few minutes, presumably to let the pedestrians who had just heard him walk away, because then he started to sing the same song all over again, just as passionately, just as big. It was remarkable. It was like Little Orphan Annie singing ‘Tomorrow’ for Roosevelt in ‘Annie’, except much more real and far less saccharine.
Then, in contrast to that, I walked past a store with a big ‘Closing Down’ sign in front of it, blasting out whiny, depressive James Blunt music. It seemed an interesting musical contrast of two very different and potential reactions to Ireland’s current situation. Neatly, when I got to the bus station, the old man in front of me was humming, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. So, I’m going to make a huge, grand statement here, and ignore the fact that the man at the bus stop was too old to know who James Blunt is, let alone know any of his songs well enough to hum them waiting for the bus, and say perhaps the ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ attitude is winning. Well, we can only hope.
That’s about it. But, also, you should listen to this cool Irish rockabilly chick, Imelda May. She has a great song, called ‘Mayhem’. Its fun.

And that’s all, folks. Thank you for the music.

Photo: Lady Gaga. More Irish than you may have at first thought.

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