Eleven years ago I was standing in a corridor of Sirius Satellite Radio’s headquarters laughing and joking with legendary host Meg Griffin. She had just interviewed me on the release of a Black 47 CD, and we were reminiscing about late nights spent in CBGB’s.
Upon noticing my accent a passing executive inquired if I might be interested in hosting a weekly Celtic Music show. As ever, being in the right place at the right is the name of the game.
Meg sat in the first couple of weeks and suggested that I play three songs, then say whatever came to mind; thus was the template for the three hour show conceived.
She warned that unlike terrestrial radio I would be speaking to people the length and breadth of the US and Canada so act accordingly. “Oh, sweet Jesus,” says I to myself, “I hope I have something to say.”
As I soon discovered, if you’re producing the show and choosing the songs you’ll find plenty to talk about - assuming you have an interest in music, half a brain, and a regard for your own opinion.
It has from time to time been suggested that I possess only two of these characteristics – a thick skin, as you might imagine, is required for this gig.
I decided upon three rules: I would only play great songs; that Celtic would include the eight recognized nations and their diasporas; and that I would not disqualify musicians because of jealousy, revenge or plain old personal distaste.
The last rule was the most difficult, having spent years on the road with the greatest collection of alcoholics, cardsharps, sheep-shaggers, petrol-siphoners, prima donnas, bad check artists, and others even less reputable.
Celtic Crush has become very popular both in the US and Canada, probably because it’s the only Celtic show on all platforms of SiriusXM. Ah yes, there’s nothing quite like a monopoly for boosting business!
SiriusXM has now over 30 million subscribers so you’re playing to a very broad demographic. That’s why Celtic Crush is song - rather than musician - oriented. With over 150 channels to choose from, if you play something merely average, or god forbid, banal, it really stands out, and subscribers are only too willing to move on to another channel.
That doesn’t mean that I only play accepted standards. Far from it! I’m always searching for what I call “future classics.” There’s nothing quite like finding a great song by a new band and introducing both to a large new appreciative audience.
One such band is Lynched who may one day fill the big shoes of The Dubliners. And yet, I could never have helped them if they hadn’t written the haunting, enigmatic Cold Old Fire.
It’s amazing how little exposed North Americans have been to The Dubliners, and the twin magic of Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew. But it’s also great to turn the world on to Corner Boy, a band from Wexford not unlike Mumford & Sons, but perhaps a little better. Try their rousing, Morning Morning.
For Scottish music, give a listen to Peatbog Faeries or the best band you’ve never heard, Runrig. But Celtic music travels far afield nowadays, so experience Alan Stivell’s collaboration with one of the world’s great singers, Senegal’s Youssou n’Dour on A United Earth.
Of course, I play all the recognized Celtic greats from Sean O’Riada through Van Morrison to Dropkick Murphys but it’s always about the song – not the singer, and the more original the better.
Celtic Crush is not without social and political content. In fact it’s a direct retort to Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien’s dastardly Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act that did so much damage to Irish culture and tradition. For on SiriusXM one is encouraged to say what one pleases without fear of censure.
The show has spawned a number of Facebook pages including Fans of Celtic Crush where discussions and arguments break out frequently on musical, political and social topics.
It’s been an eleven-year old joy to introduce so much great music and place it in a relevant context where it can be even more appreciated. I hope you’ll join me some Sunday morning.