Traditional Irish Music
We have covered 60+ albums over the course of 2013. Despite perceptions that the internet along with Spotify and a host of other social media resources are destroying music, the albums nevertheless keep coming. Sadly it would appear that the album as a format is reaching the end of its life and some music writers are ahead of the curve in predicting its demise. What will replace it and how sales of commercial traditional music will survive remains to be seen. The existing format of album/launch/ promote cycle will change. The younger generations coming through may grasp this reality quicker and adapt accordingly. In truth however it will probably take another 10 years for its impact to be felt in traditional music.
In a year of talking to and interviewing artists, it is becoming clear that the dilemma which more and more artists face concerns the online world - which platforms to use, how to promote their music, the benefits of iTunes, CDBaby, Bandcamp and a whole host of other social media outlets. Irish musicians are generally slower in adopting new technologies. We prefer to hold on to a physical product while others appear to have moved on. Musicians are too busy gigging, making records and grazing on their Facebook News Feed. Online time needs to be more usefully spent - building a profile, building audience, engaging in a more interesting way.
Some are adapting at a faster pace. We Banjo 3 had another good year. They have a personality and a story. Mórga are another good band with a distinctive 1920’s voice. They need to show it off more and present it as an individual sound. Lúnasa continue to excel. They have character, stagecraft and a whole lot more. Martin Hayes in his various collaborations sets his music apart. Stateside the members of The Yanks collectively or individually are web savvy. They understand how to work the net. They ran a very slick Kickstarter campaign for their next album having released a fantastic self-titled debut called The Yanks earlier in the year. Member Dan Gurney introduced the world to Concert Window. Check it out. It could make you some money and raise your profile. Irish musicians are slowly starting to use it. It’s basically artists streaming concerts via their laptop. In Dublin, The Cauldron Sessions is a similar idea that may start up in 2014 if they gather enough subscribers. They may push this concept even further, within a studio environment with cameras. This could be interesting. These are the areas where developments are taking place and artists will need to keep up with the pace of change in order to survive.
The vast majority of this year’s music fits into the pure traditional mould hence the tradition is safe and will always be so. Some have stepped outside of the norm for a taster and the results were astounding. These artists have taken the road less travelled. Ensemble Ériu's debut was outstanding. Pádraig Rynne with his Notify album is another great release. For Notify he teamed up with Tyler Duncan, Michael Shimmin and Joe Dart who were part of the Olllam project in 2012. You will hear more of this in 2014 and it’s a treat indeed. Notify is not for the purist I would add but it shows the ingenuity of some artists. Pádraig was also involved with another more traditional album earlier in the year. It includes Dónal Lunny and his Guidewires mate Sylvain Barou. It is a less extreme pushing of the boundaries and one I really like. It is called Triad and again is a little nugget. This progression of the music is natural. The Internet has opened it up, created a global village. Musicians no longer have you to rely on local approval or a local audience. There is a whole new world out there and new fans can be quickly gathered. If the world was this advanced when Seamus Ennis and Bobby Casey were weaving their magic, one can only wonder at what they would have been doing. We are of now, and now has no boundaries. The riding of the tune as Peadar Ó Riada describes it can happen in multiple formats. In the comfort of his Cork home where Triúr create an honest and undeniably magnificent expression of the art. Alternatively the cables that traverse the Atlantic can provide a medium of expression to artists like the Olllam and many others. Good music prevails and that is the guiding criteria.
Most Listened to Album Track 2013 - David Doocey
For those that may have missed it we have a poll for Album of the Year 2013 running on the site at the moment. Regrettably a number of albums received late in December will have to be excluded from this 2013 poll. These include the aforementioned Notify by Pádraig Rynne, For The Sake of Auld Decency by Mórga and The Narrow Edge by John Blake. We haven’t had time to listen to these albums in full and neither have our audience so these and any other December releases will be considered in our poll in 2014.
Elsewhere throughout the year Edel Fox and Neill Byrne lit up the southern coast with their masterful The Sunny Banks. An outstanding classic album if ever I heard one. It’s an album that will be hard to beat in any year. Another concertina surprise came in the form of Yvonne Bolton and Alan Jordan and their Silver Threads album. It includes many self-compositions and with a modern edge it is smart and sophisticated in equal measure. Together with Lá ag Ól Uisce you have probably two of the best, low key releases of the year. The summer concert series Tunes In The Church gave us a great live compilation album and Toner Quinn and Malachy Burke gave us Live at the Steeple Sessions. Maybe it’s my inclination towards fiddle albums but this latter one is great.
There were four whistle albums of note. Brian Hughes with The Beat of the Breath, and Enda Seery with Peace of the Countryside. Also Robbie MacGowran gave us Basically and Gavin Whelan an album of airs called Catch The Air. Banjo releases came from Colm Naughton with Between The Notes and Garry O' Meara with Pickin' Time.
Punching Above Their Weight - North Texas School of Music - Winter Air
The raw power of Joey Abarta's Swimming Against The Falls was a surprise and was amongst a number of great piping albums. Sean McKeon’s To The City, Leonard Barry's New Road and Peter Carberry and Pádraig McGovern's Forgotten Gems. The idea of themed albums also made a bit of a comeback with Niamh Ní Charra and her "Cuz" album, A Tribute to Terry "Cuz" Teahan. Mick O' Brien, Emer Mayock and Aoife Ní Bhriain also gave us the Tunes From The Goodman Manuscripts, a very impressive collection of new tunes. On the vocal front Kevin O' Donnell delivered a great themed album of song called Deep Is The Well. It delivers a fresh perspective on the American experience over a 170 year period as told by a multi-generational family of Irish descent.
Most albums these days are independently funded with just over 10 of this 60 bearing the Arts Council Logo. Despite our recessionary gloom and lack of a credible funding line for the traditional arts, musicians are still managing to get into the studio. Kickstarter and Fund It campaigns have financed some albums and should be utilised more often. To make this work a greater awareness needs to exist with regard to their importance. What use are 5,000 friends on Facebook if none will step up to the plate and spend €10 on a Fund it campaign for your record? This is one of the unfortunate consequences of not utilising networks correctly. Very few supported Moxie and Leafzang. Despite this Moxie were successful with some big contributors getting them across the line. However, Leafzang, another great crossover band were unsuccessful. We will write further on this issue in the New Year. Liking and sharing on Facebook is pretty useless. We need to get back to appreciating and buying.
Impressive Debut - Yvonne Bolton & Alan Jordan - Silver Threads
Most of the albums we have received were produced without Fund It campaigns and some really punched above their weight. The North Texas School of Irish music with the assistance of fiddler James Kelly showed what can be achieved when you put your mind to it. Winter Air was a great community project featuring the school's students with some great Clannad inspired vocals and harp arrangements. They are using it to fund a trip to Ireland in 2014. Inspiring stuff.
On the fiddle front we went to the David Doocey album launch of Changing Time in Dublin recently. A great team of musicians with David teaming up with Patrick Doocey, Stephen Doherty and Ryan Molloy on the night. The album was one of the highlights of the year. We also had comebacks of a sort from Maurice Lennon as he released The Little Ones and Shane McAleer and his album Long Time No See. The big hitter on the fiddle front was of course Liz Carroll and her album On The Offbeat. She pushes her band, her compositions and herself at every turn for a great great album. Chris Corrigan gave an album of new compositions called The Crooked Mountain Road. The other great highlight of the year was the return of Tríur with Omós and 21 new compositions. These boys don't need to dress anything up. They can just sit down and record themselves, which is exactly what they did.
Groups and traditional singers gave some strong releases. We had Téada, Dervish, Lúnasa and Fullset all delivering new recordings. Lúnasa teamed up with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra for a full reworking of some of their material while Téada's In Spite of the Storm celebrated the arrival of new member Séamus Begley. Fullset established their name as one of the best new groups around with Notes After Dark while Dervish delivered another fine album earlier in the year called The Thrush in the Storm. German group Cara continued to develop their sound with their new album Horizon. A challenging record that sets the bar very high indeed and offers an alternative sound to the Irish groups. Open The Door For Three featuring Liz Knowles, Pat Broaders and Kieran O'Hare produced a fine debut recording, mixing song and music from the States. American singer Colleen Raney delivered the superb Here This Is Home and Beoga star Niamh Dunne went solo with some great hometown songs on Portraits. We got to see Bernadette Morris for the launch of All The Ways You Wander in Dublin, another great debut album. Dick Hogan completed the outstanding Hogan Collection. 200 songs, many never before recorded. Nothing trumps that.
The ongoing battle to achieve sales and pay back the studio costs of recording these albums continues. Somewhat easier for established artists, not so easy however for new artists. Again, all the more reason to have the albums pre-funded. At First Light raised some controversy by withdrawing their music from Spotify. Spot on I would say. Artists need to stop ticking the box that puts their music up on this platform. You don't need it and it can't help your sales strategy. It’s akin to Xtravision lending out free copies of movies while the same movies are playing in the cinema. Add a single sound to Soundcloud and create a campaign. Release another sound later on. Upload some outtakes with some laughter and studio banter and be interesting. Show people what goes into making these tracks.
There was a great Ted Talk recently by Amanda Palmer. It wasn’t about trad but within it are lessons for everyone. Artists need to get closer to their audience and need to make them more inclusive. Like Amanda they need to be able to ask for help without a guilt complex setting in. People will help if they feel that they’ve become part of your music and your progression. They develop a sense of connection and with that comes a "buy in" mentality. This approach needs to be nurtured through newsletters, updates, mailing lists and insight into the creative process. Every week sit down and write something. Every week take 20 minutes to write and send it to us or post it on an appropriate site. People want to read about you and we want to write about you. Stop wasting time on your Facebook News Feed and start creating. Facebook isn’t marketing, it’s noise. Twitter to paraphrase Bob Lefsetz is like shouting for your mother across Croke Park on All-Ireland day. Useless. Facebook has peaked. The young are starting to avoid it for newer platforms like Snapchat and others. Make a New Year’s resolution to be interesting and to find interesting ways to present your music. Step outside your comfort zone. Follow what is happening in the pop and rock world. These lessons apply to traditional artists as well, and the next 5 years will see a number of groups and individuals understanding and embracing this concept. Will you be the next one to one to catch on?
The above is a summary of the music and thoughts which have cropped in the course of the year 2013. As many tracks as we could find are included on the playlist below. There were lots of other albums released that were also noteworthy and we list below the ones we are aware of. They are just under the playlist. 2014 is going to be every bit as good based on releases we are aware of. Looking forward to it.
All In Good Time - The Wandering Minstrels
Annette Owens & Brenda McCann - Fly By Night
Beoga - Live At 10
Bernadette Morris - All the Ways You Wander
Brian Hughes - The The Beat of the Breath
Burning Bridget Cleary - Pressed For Time
Cara - Horizon
Chris Corrigan - The Crooked Road
Colleen Raney - Here This Is Home
Colm Naughton - The Space Between The Notes
Dannsair - Breton
David Doocey - Changing Time
Dermot Rafferty - The Little Green Bunch of Joy
Dervish - The Thrush in the Storm
Dick Hogan - The Hogan Collection
Dinny McLaughlin - Ark of Tides
Edel Fox & Neill Byrne - The Sunny Banks
Enda Seery - Peace of The Countryside
Fleadh - The Cleggan Bay Disaster
Fullset - Notes After Dark
Garry O' Meara - Pickin' Time
Gavin Whelan - Catch The Air
Joey Abarta - Swimming Against The Falls
John Blake - The Narrow Edge
John Sherman & Randy Clepper - Finally Tuned
Johnny McCarthy with Alph Duggan - Steele's Rock
Kevin O' Donnell - Deep Is The Well
Kiérah - The Stonemason's Daughter
Lá ag Ól Uisce - Tomás Ó Gealbháin/Caoimhín Ó Fearghail/Seán Ó Fearghail
Leonard Barry - New Road
Lilt - Little Falls
Liz Carroll - On The Offbeat
Lúnasa - With the RTE concert Orchestra
Mary Dillon - North
Matt Dean - Trasna na Farraíge
Maurice Lennon - The Little Ones
Mick O' Brien/Emer Mayock/Aoife Ní Bhriain - Tunes from the Goodman Manuscripts
Mike O' Laughlin - Irish Song : Traditional & Sean Nos
Niamh Dunne - Portraits
Niamh Ní Charra - Cuz, A Tribute To Terry "Cuz" Teahan
Noel Battle & Róisín Broderick - Up and about In The Morning
North Texas School of Music - Winter Air
Nua - Bold
Open The Door For Three
Pádraig Rynne - Notify
Peter Carberry & Pádraig McGovern - Forgotten Gems
Robbie MacGowran - Basically
Sean McKeon - To The City
Shane McAleer - Long Time No See
Siobhán Smith - Timing Is Everything
Slide - Mendicity
Sylvain Barou/Dónal Lunny/Pádraig Rynne - Triad
Téada - In Spite of the Storm
The Celtic Fiddle Festival - Live in Brittany
The Drôle - John Kelly, Éamon McGivney, Peadar Ó Riada
The Leitrim Equation 3
The Quarter Mile - Almost There
Toner Quinn & Malachy Burke - Live At The Steeple Sessions
Triúr - Omós - Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Martin Hayes and Peadar Ó Riada
Tunes In The Church
Yvonne Bolton & Alan Jordan - Silver Threads
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