Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Fat Cats, Cheap Suits, & Celtic Invasion

The music “biz” is hitting new lows – and that’s saying something. Where once fat men in cheap suits up on 57th Street ripped you off with a smile, now faceless young dot.com warriors “lease” your songs and pay fractions of a cent when one is played.

Still, you can sit around lamenting that you didn’t major in computer programming rather than Stratocasters, or you can find other ways of getting paid for making music.

While having a drink with Jon Birgé of Valley-Entertainment we hit upon an alternative: get a great song from each of a dozen fine acts and put out a compilation CD?

Ideally, the artists should be from the same field but have a different artistic sensibility. Since I seem to know every Irish-American band along with their maiden aunts, my gig was to choose the material – Jon to market the CD.

We set a couple of ground rules: bands would get a small advance and a royalty on each CD sold. The bands could also buy the CDs at wholesale cost and mark up accordingly.

Thus each band would be paid a royalty for every CD the eleven other bands sold, along with a first-class introduction to eleven other fan bases. In other words, the more you sell the more you make; the more anyone else sells, the more you make too! And if one song were to take off, then all twelve acts would be in the gravy.

The trick was to enlist the most interesting bands, and choose songs that would not only gel together but appeal to a wide audience. Hosting Celtic Crush on SiriusXM for almost eight years has given me some insight into the latter. I pride myself on finding great songs that have been overlooked in our teeming musical meat market.

It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science. You just have to wade through an ocean of refined mediocrity to find a track that both sparks your interest and contains that ineffable something that will move a mass audience.

Thus I chose a number of overlooked local classics like “You’re So Beautiful” by Pat McGuire, “McClean Avenue” by Shilelagh Law, “22” by Celtic Cross, “Weekend Irish” by Barleyjuice, and “Sullivan’s Lake” by Garrahan’s Ghost.

To bring in a wider Celtic influence I included two Scottish gems: “Clash of the Ash” by Runrig, the best band you never heard of, and “Wacko King Hako” by Peatbog Faeries who put grooves under bagpipes that have to be heard to be believed.

I needed a couple of names for marquee value: Mike Scott gave me a brilliant unreleased version of a Waterboys classic, as did Hothouse Flowers. I tossed in the zany “Uncle Jim” by Black 47, which tells of Fr. Jim Hughes quixotic mission to East Belfast to convert the Rev. Ian Paisley.

The CD is called Celtic Invasion and also contains “The Irish Rover” by Blaggards, the kings of Houston, and “Buile Mo Chroí” by John Spillane, the bard of Cork City. Officially released last week, Celtic Invasion has been picking up radio play all over the country and selling like cold pints in August.
You can get a free download of my “intimate” thoughts on each band at www.celtic-invasion and if such ravings pique your fancy you can purchase the music in digital or CD form – no “leasing” necessary!

Will this idea succeed? I haven’t a clue, but it’s one hell of a compilation that crackles from first beat to last and will shake the dust from the ceiling at any gathering – St. Patrick’s Day or otherwise.

It’s already a success – Your Man Up In Pearl River says it’s the hottest thing since fried bread - and if it breaks even financially then we’ll round up another dozen acts and give them the same opportunity to beat the dot.com leasers!

And if it fails, well we tried to make a difference, and at the very worst I might still have a career ahead of me as a fat cat in a cheap suit up on 57th Street.

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