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Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History [Paperback]

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Item description for Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History by Tom Dunne Colin Harper...

This fascinating history charts the struggles and triumphs of Irish folk, trad, and blues musicians before the Irish music industry, and acts like U2, existed. Forgotten heroes and latter-day legends intertwine with honorary visitors who took a bit of Ireland with them, like Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie. The main focus of the book, however, is on the influence of homegrown pioneers, from Sweeney's Men in the 1960s to Horslips, De Danann, Anne Briggs, Rory Gallagher, and current groundbreakers like Martin Hayes. Anyone who owns even one Irish record will appreciate this book; anyone who owns a lot of Irish records will no doubt treasure it.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   432
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.25" Width: 6.3" Height: 1.18"
Weight:   1.43 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 1, 2005
Publisher   Cherry Red Books
ISBN  1901447405  
ISBN13  9781901447408  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > General
2Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > History & Criticism
3Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > Musical Genres > Blues
4Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > Musical Genres > Folk & Traditional
5Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > Musical Genres > Popular
6Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > Musical Genres > Rock
7Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Pop Culture > Music > General

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Four decades of great music from a small space  Jul 29, 2006
In this anthology, two critics from Belfast, Colin Harper for trad and folk and Trevor Hodgett for the blues, recount how these genres have both spawned their own Irish artists and how similar musicians from overseas (Ornette Coleman, Muddy Waters, John Fahey, and Bob Dylan the most notable) have influenced the Irish music scene. The book concentrates on the resurgence of these genres in the mid-Sixties. Entries favor musicians first prominent during this decade. They fought for gigs when the showbands still dominated ballrooms. However, Van Morrison only is glimpsed from the perspective of his former bandmates in Them, for example. U2 peers once from the fringes, Sinéad O'Connor or Michael Flatley not at all, and the Clancy Brothers and the Chieftains pass by quickly. Rock music overlaps erratically with the book's titular genres. Yet, folk is never distinguished from trad. The blues tends towards blues-rock. The book's subtitle covers a diverse range, as Altan, Anne Briggs, Johnny Moynihan, Thin Lizzy, The Bothy Band, Henry McCullough, and Arlo Guthrie share space with Martin Hayes, Clannad, Horslips, Planxty, Sweeney's Men, Ottilie Patterson, Terry and Gay Woods, and the ubiquitous Rory Gallagher.

Davy Graham gains sustained attention for his blend of what Harper characterizes as "folk-baroque," as this troubled guitarist, born to a Scots father and a Guyanian mother, mingled raga, jazz, blues, folk, African, Middle Eastern, and Tin Pan Alley standards from 1962 into a sound on that generated envy and awe among players who would adapt his inspirations. Harper names Graham the father of what would later be labelled as world music. Jimmy Page, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Dick Gaughan, and Archie Fisher are among those better known than their predecessor who widened Graham's trailblazing path, experimenting with new tunings and fingerpicking styles that would become standard among British folk, and some rock, guitarists. Harper credits Graham as one of the first artists to travel in North Africa, for example, to bring back in the mid-1960s musical influences that until then in the West had been heard on field recordings by only a few travelers or musicologists.

If such artists as the less renowned mentioned above are familiar, such a reader will appreciate the tales spun here. This eclectic era, overlooked by music chroniclers, by Harper and Hodgett is recreated through extensive first-person interviews mixed with the two critics' personal experiences. Harper, the biographer of Bert Jansch, follows his study of the British folk-rock movement by plotting its impact as felt in Ireland.

The writing, gathered from disparate sources, has been revised and annotated to enrich its depth beyond the limits of the original entries written under deadline for magazines. Occasionally, as in the disastrous attempt by Harper to interview Townes Van Zandt, or how both Harper and Hodgett separately reviewed an dreadful John Fahey concert in Belfast, the results diminish the book's focus. Yet, from a fan's vantage point such entries do document how smug talents from abroad treated their Irish audiences.

How Graham directly influenced Irish trad, as opposed to British folk-rock, needed direct explanation. No elaboration develops how Moving Hearts sounded as they fused jazz, rock, and trad. Stockton's Wing's failed move from folk into pop tunes is mentioned, but no details enlighten one who has never heard these songs. Theefore, this book suits best those already cognizant with 1960s and 1970s progressive music. Repetition of material due to the inclusion of multiple entries on the same artists occurs; the index lacks complete references. A necessity in providing guidance to artists interviewed whose legacy may survive only unpredictably on backlists, an annotated discography is a welcome feature.

But, if you do not know what distinguishes Cara Dillon, Shaun Davey, or Tamalin on record, you find barely a hint here. The coverage drifts away from how the songs sound. Instead, recollected tensions and joys of touring and playing grab Harper and Hodgett's attention. Due to the small native scene, greater intensity results from the struggles of Irish-based musicians who found cherished homegrown and sometimes British success, if minimal compared to arena-fillers touted by Anglo-American media. Hodgett opens one chapter with a powerful vignette of waiting to hear "world-class" music after braving a typically sinister night to enter a notably down-and-out pub, the Pound, at city center on Townhall Street in 1974 Belfast. Both writers convey, despite their unwieldy array of disparate subjects, the energy and creativity sparked when musical styles swirl together in a small nation up until recently largely ignored for many of its contemporary rock, blues, and folk innovators.

Before as after "Riverdance," Irish musicians yearn for spotlights. The fact that worldwide audiences exist for Irish music can be credited to talents from the renaissance of the '60s and '70s. These artists dominate coverage here. The younger generation interviewed tends to follow those earlier feted rather than veer off onto uncharted terrain. Still, the presence of a fresh cohort of players and fans eager for trad, folk, and blues-influenced Irish music attests both to the success of the earlier musicians and the passion of those who continue to find listeners. Making a living as an Irish recording artist, a half-century ago, would have been nearly impossible. This book's diverse styles a half-century ago most Irish musicians would have disdained, their audiences would have ignored, and the island's showband promoters would have rejected.

Investigating the careers of many artists who worked in between the U.S. and Britain, touring in, living in, or passing through Ireland for more than four decades, Harper and Hodgett stitch, in Harper's phrase, "a patchwork history of Irish music interwoven of many fine tapestries." Given the camaradarie easily found among a more intimate gathering of homegrown or transplanted talents, the authors suggest how their book can advocate for these worthy artists, whereas coddled chart-toppers tend to provide pre-fabricated interview responses and press kits. Following the method of Mark Prendergast's groundbreaking 1988 account of the modern Irish music scene, "Isle of Noises," Harper and Hodgett include first-hand testimony, as lifelong fans able to make careers now as critics, of how mid-20th century stodgy showbands and staid dancehalls began to open up to folk-rock, blues-rock, and world music categories as their musicians shared tunes at their Irish crossroads. The authors compile and expand their earlier reviews of concerts, features for music magazines, and interviews with artists into a sampler of two fans- turned- journalists and their writings over the past fifteen years rather than a dry musical history or pithy record guide.

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