Whether we like to admit this or not, Ireland has always looked to England for musical guidance in the arena of pop and contemporary music. This is a country where songwriting appears not to have been tainted by conservative religious values, or to have provoked the inherent insecurity of average man if you suddenly started acting like you are ‘somebody’, otherwise known as: ‘getting above your station’.
On the contrary, English writers have crafted their lofty songs unshackled by the feeling of inadequacy, and in terms of modern pop songwriting Ireland has largely loomed in the shadow of its more confident neighbour. Personally I don’t think it ever needed to do this.
Ireland has a rich tradition of songwriters and a natural resource of musical talent to be the envy of any nation, but perhaps the flame of ambition has been somewhat suffocated by our own self belief (or lack –thereof).
This lack of belief in original songs has probably been evoked by the awkward silence; which occurs when faced with the prospect of having to embrace something new and hasn’t been validated by radio play. As humans, we naturally seek the comfort of familiarity; the usual cries of ‘play us a song we know’, at parties. Validation is everything to the baying crowd when confronted by the eager entertainer! The question beckons; how do we promote new talent when we constantly, refer back to the work of established artists? It creates a cycle, which stunts the evolution of original music.
Ireland of course is synonymous with tradition and looking back with fondness and that warm feeling of identity. It has a folksong back catalogue to rely upon in any musical situation. But, What of the future?
It’s worth pointing out that Ireland has it’s own champions of original music like DJ Dave Fanning. We need people like this to push the boundaries of music on Irish airways and introduce new tastes to the musical palette. I’m looking at ways in which we can go beyond the boundaries of our beloved Island and start making original noises elsewhere too.
Being Irish, you are inclined to ask too many questions of yourself, not least, should I trumpet my talents and virtues to the wider world? Modesty is a very admirable quality and I advocate it myself, but not at the expense of feeling slightly remiss about being good at something you love, like music. This is accompanied by the fear of evoking disapproving glances from your fellow countrymen – if you dare display an air of confidence about your craft. This obviously didn’t affect U2’s front-man Bono too much, and thus they play Stadiums around the world and not pubs in Dublin, where they started out.
In the UK, anger, fear, class and social difference were put to lyric and melody. The ethnic diversity of music such as Reggae and Ska, and the socio-economic divide between the ruling classes and the underclasses have provided a rich source of material for bands and songwriters like Elvis Costello, Paul Weller and The Manic Street Preachers. I get the feeling from their songs that they didn’t believe in ‘acceptance’, ‘Status Quo’ (not the band!) or religious rule. Perhaps, with the recent influx of Eastern Europeans into the Irish gene pool and the current economic turmoil – we might experience some these cultural side effects ourselves.
Ireland has produced its own balladeering heavy weights in bands like U2 and Snow Patrol and artists like Van Morrison – but too few and far between for the sheer volume of talent that it yields. It’s also important to note, all of the aforementioned cut their teeth in countries like America and Britain before they were deemed to be the musical messiahs that we know them as today. This again, begs the question – should we or can we do more to support our homegrown musicians, songwriters and artists within their native country? The next Snow Patrol or Van Morrison certainly hopes so!
I am really impressed with the work done by Panarts in Northern Ireland; who organise and produce the ‘Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival’ – The only dedicated festival in the UK dedicated to the art of Songwriting, recording, and musical performance. This is certainly a great step in the right direction for burgeoning writers to cut their teeth and gain confidence, feedback and exposure, amongst more recognised and experienced artists.
Ireland is brimming with talent. The people are it’s greatest export!
We need to throw off the shackles of self-doubt and insecurity about our obvious talents, which are all-too-often laid waste by discouraging words and attitudes at an early age.
We need, the powers-that-be, to get behind creative initiatives, and build a platform for new artists to trumpet their talents to a wider audience. Perhaps then, we can start to compete on a global stage with our noisy neighbours!
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