There was a time in Ireland, not that long ago… I’d say pre early 90’s, when coming across people happily playing music and singing in our pubs, heck, for the love of it, was fairly commonplace. Not so much these days, I find.
Yes, there are many places, and pockets around the country, where this joyous activity still happen fairly regularly. While there are a publicans who actively support and encourage this very Irish of social activities, I am not sure that the ‘impromptu Irish pub trad session’, that rarest of gatherings, is in such rude health. People are too busy for one, and staying at home more binging on box sets while drinking affordable half-decent wine and beer – thanks to our German friends Ali and Lilly – which makes for an easier and cheaper option.
Sure who needs an Irish trad session anyways when you have ‘Seanie’ (no offence to all Seanie’s out there) the local solo-singing artiste. Seanie arrives every Saturday night sets up his gear – speakers, backing tracks and drums – and sure when he plugs in it’s like Nathan Carter and The Eagles played through AC/DC’s sound system. Seanie will sing-on regardless of who is listening or not, it’s all the same to him, he gets paid anyways. Whist! It’s somebody’s birthday shouts Seanie… ‘Happy Birthday to… blasts from his top-of-the-range speakers. What he lacks in vocal talent and originality Seanie more than makes up for in fervent guitar strumming backed up by even louder well-honed drum-laden backing tracks. Now, there are some very fine pub solo and band performers on the circuit, don’t get me wrong, but alas many are mediocre, at best, in my experience.
Anyways, if you really crave Irish music in a pub there are places around the country where you are guaranteed a decent trad session on selected nights, especially in the more touristy, areas like (OMG!) Doolin in Co. Clare. It is a must there, and it is put on for the tourists mainly. The canny publicans of West Clare are no fools. They know that overseas tourists love our traditional music and our old-style pubs. So by combining these, and throw in a tasty fish n’chip supper, makes for a winning formula!
In fact, I read recently in some Fáilte Ireland tourist survey that a very high percentage of overseas visitors put down experiencing a traditional Irish pub and hearing Irish music being in their top five things to do here. So local pubs and communities take heed, here is an easy way of attracting tourists to your area by simply doing what we do best, sing, play, dance and enjoy ourselves.
The weird thing is that there were never as many talented musicians in the country, ever. Just go to any Fleadh Ceol, or the Willie Clancy week (more on that soon here) and see for yourself. The level of talent and numbers playing under the age of 25 is off the scale, yet you don’t see these young people playing out socially very much other that. Now, I am not saying that we should be encouraging our young people to go to pubs, God knows we have our cultural issues with booze.
What I am saying is that the local pub is a friendly and safe environment for people of all ages to enjoy playing their instruments and singing their songs (acoustically now Seanie). It is a platform for musicians to express themselves musically and learn from other musicians, and have great fun doing it. We did for generations here. Not to mention the joy that it gives to us listeners. Now, some of our younger musicians and singers are probably too cool to be hanging out in dark old pubs, and you can’t blame them really… but still.
‘But… you cannot beat the wonderment that happens when a chance meeting of musicians and singers converge on a place – a sort of magic is weaved, a spontaneity that makes it fresh and real.’
There are some ‘contrived’ Orish trad sessions too, as alluded to, but hey, give me one of them over a Seanie (poor Seanie) or that dreadful ‘piped’ music any day. Now, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with your regular session, same people same format thing, sure isn’t live trad for God sake, we love it, the tourists love it and its all grand.
But… you cannot beat the wonderment that happens when a chance meeting of musicians and singers converge on a place – a sort of magic is weaved, a spontaneity that makes it fresh and real. Having a live acoustic traditional music session going on anywhere in a public house just adds something special to the place. It is not intrusive, just a natural sound, and one that we are hearing less and less of sadly in our cities, towns, villages and rural pubs (those that are left!)
Now where’s me bodhran!
(No, I am not a ‘bodhran-bore’, and yes these creatures do exist, go and play with Seanie).
Alert! The Tourist Czar will be listing his best Irish Trad session venues here soon so keep an eye out for that!