When I started off playing music professionally I still laboured under the misapprehension that the listener responded to the music I made in the same way I felt it. Put that down, firstly, to an inherited tendency to think the world revolves around me (thanks, Ma!) but also to a strong dose of naivety.
Gradually over time and with much disillusionment I came to realize that only a very small proportion of listeners actually hear music ‘for its own sake’ by which I mean independent of the myriad of contexts in which it sits….the age, style, image, attitude, politics of the artists who make and perform it ..for a start. So many people wear their music like a tribal badge of identity, a common bond of inclusivity. ‘I’m into Florence and the Machine…are you?’ kinda thing, with the ‘music’ being actually peripheral to the whole package…which in the case of Florence is perhaps somewhat understandable (ouch!).. but you know what I mean.
Later, when I started to play traditional music and worked mainly within the UK ‘folk scene’ as it was known, I found these tendencies to be even more exaggerated. More often than not politics (left wing) became the central context in which music was experienced and an artist’s music was often judged by the political stance he or she adopted. Worst of all was not to have any. How often, too, did ‘musical artists’ come to the fore who really were political agitators in disguise, artists whose musical ‘arsenal’ was basic, unimaginative and wholly derivative but whose agility with the ‘bon mot’, instinct for exploiting and capitalizing on the mood of the moment was finely honed. Pre internet and mobile phones, the need for social cohesion that, in my view, gave the folk scene one of its main raisons d’être gave a platform to a host of ‘entertainers’, comedians and commentators whose communication skills often enabled them to present themselves as leading lights in folk music. Nothing wrong with them tasting success. It was often great entertainment. But did it have much to do with music? Not a lot, really.
In the Irish context, traditional music and song has always nestled in an overall political context, that of rebellion, rejection of the old enemy Britain and, to an extent, of modernity in general, a regret for things past and gone forever. Particularly in the 80s, when the political tension was ratcheted up to a degree between Ireland and Britain to the extent that some were regrettably convinced, on their own or by others, that hunger strike was the only option, it was so often assumed within the traditional music camp that a love of ‘The Music’ went hand in hand with support for violence. Again, failure to toe the party line was frowned upon. The lone wolf in me got tired of all that appropriation of music for ulterior motives and I have plowed a terminally non aligned furrow ever since I broke away in the 80s.
I find that people too, depending on whether they feel liberated or threatened by the prospect of the future, tend to mirror those traits in the music they embrace. Folk music old, substantial, good…pop music young, lightweight, bad, for instance. Me, I feel there’s some really bad pop music but equally some ghastly folk music. Personally I feel that new music, pop or otherwise, is the future and while I fiercely love the best in my native music and hugely enjoy playing it, it no longer interests me as a vehicle for progress. more one of comfort, security and nostalgia…and, yes, joy.
But perhaps this appropriation of music for ulterior motives is just a factor of youth, that period where we will grab at anything to bolster up our sense of ourselves as belonging, having validity, being relevant…a time when we delude ourselves till the cows come home that this or that music is the only one worth admitting to our imaginary inner circle, based on whatever contextual baggage is flavour of the month.
As my own audience ages with me I find that more and more they simply relate and respond to what is in the music I make rather than claim it as a badge of identity. I set off on this tour slightly concerned that the variety on my new record Hooba Dooba would be more than they could deal with. How wrong I was. A woman I met after the Edinburgh gig who had first seen me 20 odd years ago and who had brought along her 19 yr old metal head son, now a fan, asked me was the song ‘The Winners Ball’ influenced by watching the tv series ‘The Wire’. Hooba Dooba! She’d got it in one. There’s a lot to be said for maturity. You tend to finally really hear stuff…
Had front row seats (well nearly) to your adrenal fuelled show yesterday evening at Shepherds Bush. You were certainly firing on all cylinders. Nice to hear some new tracks, along with the familiar. Placed my order for the new work on Amazon this afternoon. I took my 17 yr old son Ciaran to see how a guitar can be played, (He is learning bless him) and how incredible the dynamics can be in the right hands. He was obviously very impressed as he was “synchronising” his I Pod to I Tunes this morning in an attempt to buy a copy of “Nothing but the same old story” (Your best performance of the evening we thought) so he could relay to his school pals this life affirming experience. Praise indeed! Loved that anarchic drummer, he kept telling me on the tube ride home. Has a bit of Keith Moon about him. Great support act Sarah Siskind. I look forward to hearing more from her in the coming years. Nice to see you and your band again. Keep well.
Spell checked version oops!
Had front row seats (well nearly) to your adrenaline fuelled show yesterday evening at Shepherds Bush. You were certainly firing on all cylinders. Nice to hear some new tracks, along with the familiar. Placed my order for the new work on Amazon this afternoon. I took my 17 yr old son Ciaran to see how a guitar can be played, (He is learning bless him) and how incredible the dynamics can be in the right hands. He was obviously very impressed as he was “synchronising” his I Pod to I Tunes this morning in an attempt to buy a copy of “Nothing but the same old story” (Your best performance of the evening we thought) so he could relay to his school pals this life affirming experience. Praise indeed! Loved that anarchic drummer, he kept telling me on the tube ride home. Has a bit of Keith Moon about him. Great support act Sarah Siskind. I look forward to hearing more from her in the coming years. Nice to see you and your band again. Keep well.
Still riding high after seeing your show at Shepherds Bush on Sunday! Loved it all, and as a man of a “certain age” couldn’t agree more with your thoughts about music and how “tribal” it has become. I used to worry that I loved music by Sharon Shannon, the Who and Puccini all equally, but now I agree with the great Louis Armstrong’s summation, “There’s only two kinds of music, good and bad…” And what I saw on Sunday was good!
Keep up the great work, Paul. By the way, I adore the sound of your Lowdens. So much punch and clarity across the whole fretboard. May also be something to do with your playing I suppose…….. I have an Avalon (made in the old Lowden factory) which I cherish. But one day maybe I’ll treat myself to the real thing.
I learned a long time ago that in order for me to enjoy the performing arts to the utmost, I need to separate the artist from the politics. That being said, I have never thought of political music as being of a tribal nature. What I hear as Tribal for ex. is some of what the Proclaimers do. To me it is in the way they lay out the melody as opposed to the lyrics. Well, maybe the exception was some of the “Prevail” CD. Interesting angle you put forth for sure. I am not an expert. Over here, I see our pop music as being more of what you describe as making political statements, however, such artists insist on getting involved politically to the point of ridiculousness. As Laura Ingram wrote about the Dixie Chicks, just “Shut up and Sing.” Great post and concept….
Aloha for now,
Bonnie from Across the Pond again
Martin "The Luas man" says
I have to agree with Paul about the political aspect and the status of cool that comes with what music you listen too. If you don’t listen to a certain type or group your out and it’s still like that today. I was 6″5 had long hair and a goatee beard in my teenage years I knew people who got jumped on and had their hair cut just for having long hair and this was the late 80’s into the 90’s in the west suburbs of Dublin. I passed my leaving cert (1995) with twenty five others out of an original class of seventy (1989) the only thing apart from my family and good friends which held me together was music. I had an english teacher who was a musician (bass player) and he played in a band called The Business with Brian Downy who was the drummer from the famed “Thin Lizzy” In Slattery’s of Caple street every Sunday afternoon upstairs. The Trad sessions were down stairs
I remember when I was a teen playing music in rock bands there was always the “We are a better band than them” or “we’ll blow them off the stage don’t worry”. These statements would always get passed around before taking the stage in support of another act or at a festival. The attitude only a teenager would have Jesus you thought you were almost famous LOL!!!.
With Irish Trad or folk you have this primal fear of not knowing how to play a certain rebel song if asked because it would call into question your Irish roots. So like so many other musicians I had an arsenal (no pun intended) of rebel songs stored in the brain incase the armchair republican that you wouldn’t let handle the remote for the tv never mind a bomb decided he wanted to be Mr. Freedom Fighter for the next ten minutes. Hay, it got me out of many tricky situations knowing these songs and now I choose to play them for my own entertainment be it in the comfort of my own home. Maybe its unique to Irland maybe not but I know I haven’t seen it anywhere else yet!
Paul, Thank you for all the great songs you’ve written and the ones to be written…..
“I love my country and I love my people but sometimes you have to leave to come back and some times you have to go out so you can come back in”.
Martin O’Connor Irl/NJ-USA
Paul Brady says
Thanks, Martin, for taking the time to write this and for coming to the NY show! PB
Carl Moreton says
I have just booked some tickets for myself and some friends to come and see you at Buxton Pavillion in a few weeks. I last saw you at Birmingham Town Hall earlier this year, and I have to say I haven’t heard so much true passion come from a stage. I am a song writer performer, and If I can capture a fraction of your sincerity and emotion then I will die a happy man.
See you soon
Paul Brady says
Hope you have fun! Come and say hello afterwards at CD counter