Column 28 — French kissing the Blarney Stone; LALD, Le Beat tonight

Category: Blog — @ 12:49 pm June 8, 2005

This week’s column, below, gives you a brief idea of my music options in Ireland last week — not much beyond what I expected. That was fine. I wasn’t expecting to hear this generation’s version of U2 performing at some hidden Irish Sokol-esque club. Judging by a few fliers posted throughout the cities, I know that an underground scene exists over there (It has to). Even Courtney’s (mentioned below) sported a scenester vibe. I was there on their once-a-week “traditional music” night. Apparently they market themselves as Killarney’s “alternative” pub, and the crowd was clearly hipper, younger and more “local” than what I’d seen on my trip up to that point. I can only imagine what kind of music they played during the rest of the week. Sliba Luchra was quite a find, and I believe if a label like Saddle Creek or Absolutely Kosher or Misra put out a well-recorded CD of their music, it not only would fit well with the rest of the labels’ catalogues, it would be mildly successful, especially with indie fans who dig instrumental-only music. The “uncle/guitarist” at Paddy Murphy’s had a voice that was a dead-on match for Damien Jurado… or maybe by this point in the trip, I was just reaching for something, having heard virtually no “modern” music anywhere (I didn’t have access to radio). Anyway… I had a great time, but it’s good to be back.

Column 28: An Irish Rover Returns
Finding a lump of gold in a pot of cheese.
There was no column here last week because, well, I wasn’t in the country. Instead, I was in Ireland for a week’s worth of boiled potatoes and cold Guinness, crumbling castles and jagged cliffs, bad hotels and tacky gift shops, and of course, lots and lots of St. Patrick’s’ Day-style music.

Other than the Cliffs of Moher, it was the pubs and music that made spending 35 hours in cramped jets and crowded airports worthwhile. You go to the pubs in Ireland expecting to hear the same traditional music that we’ve all come to know from Lucky Charms commercials and reruns of “The Quiet Man.” I never deluded myself into thinking that I was going to find Ireland’s hidden underground indie-rock scene.

Instead, I was content to find comfortable pubs and drown my nights in pints of Kilkenny, Guinness and Smithwicks (pronounced “Smitticks” — you best not pronounce the “w” if you want a decent pour). If you get there at 8:30, the place will be nearly empty, with only a handful of locals staring up at the live horse races televised from Newton Abbot, Folkestone or Naas and bet on at Ladbrokes booking parlors located almost everywhere. But by 9:30 — the unofficial starting time for all bands — the pubs are crush-full with camera-toting tourists looking for a “slice of real Ireland,” and a smattering of locals whose bane in life is putting up with camera-toting tourists.

On the first four days, there weren’t any surprises. The music sounded pretty much like what you’d hear if you venture out to our versions of The Dubliner or The Brazen Head on a live music night. Irish bands are essentially cover bands playing songs handed down from generation to generation, with the most popular ones eventually making it over to the states where they’re played every St. Patrick’s day for the beer-soaked masses. The tourists not only want — they expect to hear “Wild Rover” with its 4-beat clap-along or “Rye Whiskey” (“I’m a rambler / I’m a gambler / I’m a long way from home…”) or, god help me, “Danny Boy,” which is blared through every gift shop and Blarney Wollen Mills outlet from County Wicklow to County Clare.

And so it was in Dublin and Kinsale, groggy nights filled with drunken group singing and annoying banter from brogue-inflicted band leaders who know just what to say to please the needy tourists, all of whom are proud, chest-thumping great-grandsons of Ireland whose own brogues were worn away generations ago, replaced with nasal Boston accents.

Then, six days into the trip, came Killarney. As the evening began, my companion and I, worn down from the past five days of reveling, decided to stick close to the hotel and stumbled into a hole-in-the-wall pub called Paddy Murphy’s. Sitting in a corner right behind the front door was the night’s entertainers — a twenty-something accordionist, a banjo player who looked like his father and a guitarist/vocalist that was probably an uncle. Unlike the elaborate set-ups from prior evenings, there was no sound system or lights, just the trio sitting behind a table with three jars of Guinness.

Instead of playing the usual crowd-beloved standards, the lads performed traditional instrumentals I’d never heard before. How do I know they were traditionals? By the look on the face of the old man — a local you could tell by his clothing — who sat across from them and grinned with every satisfying keystroke and banjo pluck. It wasn’t until the third song that Uncle Guitarist took voice, and what a sad, lonely voice he had. His moan was drawn in layers of sorrow, singing stories of famine deaths, lost wars and broken hearts. There were no happy sing-a-longs; no clapping, unicorns or laughter. Ireland’s true song is one long, tragic dirge, a testimony to suffering and survival even if it means leaving your home behind forever.

The next night, also in Killarney, we found the usual barn full of drunken, happy tourists pleading for their “Whiskey in a Jar.” We snuck out early and found Courtney’s, a room so dark with 18th Century lighting that you could barely see your pint in front of your face. This time it was a banjo, guitar and harp — no vocals — playing intricate instrumentals augmented by chiming, syncopated plucking. Called Sliba Luchra (I’m sure my spelling is wrong, thanks to Guinness), the young trio’s arrangements were slightly askew, purposely odd and strangely sad and yearning. It was like listening to a Celtic version of Tristeza or Tortoise. I hadn’t found Ireland’s indie rock. I had found something better.

Two days later I was back home, with “Danny Boy” and Guinness still ringing in my head, but thinking about Paddy’s and Courtney’s and the music I left behind.

A couple interesting off-the-wall shows tonight. Life After Laserdisque and Microphone Jones are at Trovato’s starting at 9; while Le Beat is said to be at The Goofy Foot (according to the SLAMOmaha calendar, buyer beware).

–Got comments? Post ’em here.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment