An enjoyable ramble through Ireland as the author (and wife) frequent the pubs and listen to the music of Ireland. All the big names are covered and often interviewed, from the Dubliners and the Chieftains to Clannad and Planxty and the critical judgments are usually spot-on..
As you'd expect from the former main folk music writer for the "Melody Maker" there are plenty of anecdotes, although the best of these (featuring Peter Tosh of the Wailers) has nothing whatsoever to do with Ireland or the rest of the book. The main drawback is the very contrived thread that runs throughout of trying to track down the great fiddler Tommy Peoples. I don't think I'm ruining the climax by saying that it all comes right in the final chapter, but if it had been a serious search Tommy Peoples would have been found by page 25.
Still, if you already posess Tommy Peoples LP "The High Part of the Road", (one of the best fiddle albums ever), or the Molloy/Peoples/Brady record (one of the best flute/fiddle albums ever), this book is an enjoyable light read and worth getting. Otherwise get the records first, it's much better to listen to music than read about it!.
I picked this up at the local library, and had read about half of it by the time I got home. It's very informative on Irish traditional music in general, though it's definitely not an academic treatise. The subtitle of the book - `A pub crawl through Ireland' pretty much defines the essence of the appeal for British music `journo' Colin Irwin!
Irwin was originally sent to Ireland in the late seventies to write an article on `Country music', but he discovered that the emerging `Trad `scene was more to his liking - and has gone back on regular jaunts since. This book was originally published in 2003, but the 2010 version has been expanded and updated, though it's probably fair to say that the core of material is from his earlier trips.
Over the years Irwin has met and interviewed many of the mainstays of modern `Trad'. Most of the recognised figures and institutions in Trad, get at least a mention here - including: the Keanes, the singing sisters from Galway, and their niece Dolores; Martin Hayes in 1999 (enjoying a `tribal moment'!); and Irwin looks at the genesis of the Chieftains which is interesting. He has something to say on many other musicians - if only in passing. Irwin does manage to string together some interesting and relevant facts on the changing attitudes - within broad Irish culture towards `Traditional music'. And he also touches on the varying interpretations - and definitions of this term - over recent decades.
However, as interesting as it is - it is not easy reading. It is marred by endless passages of irrelevant and annoying `anecdotes' which maybe potentially interesting, but are frequently neither interesting nor funny - particularly at the beginning of the book. And he really doesn't know when to stop. He can also be somewhat bolshy and insulting - particularly about Americans. Silly stereotypes abound.. The `laddish' attitude is annoying and off-putting. Part of the problem is that he's trying to do a a `funny book' (like 'McCarthys Bar' and others of that ilk,) and he really doesn't do humor that well, though occasionally he can be funny If `Mr Colin' had expanded on the music itself, and even the travelogue element, and forgot about trying to be funny - he would have done himself much more credit.
For Irish music fans - it's definitely a worthwhile read (if you have the stamina!!) And perhaps as Mr Colin himself would undoubtedly advocate - a few pints of the `black stuff' should `ease the pain!
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