Saturday 21 March 2020

Celtic Crush Top 100 Songs 2020

Does music influence society or does society influence music?

If you take a look at the Top 20 charts from the 1950’s you might think that Doo-Wop and early Rock & Roll swept all before them; yet Miles Davis captured a moody, dissenting streak that has little to do with the popular image of those placid Eisenhower years.

In Ireland Bridie Gallagher and various Céilí bands were the standard fare as people were forced to emigrate in droves, but musicians were already kicking aside their music stands and forming showbands.

I’ve been hosting and producing Celtic Crush, a three-hour music/talk show on SiriusXM for 14 years now. The show is heard all over the US and Canada, and became international with the advent of the SiriusXM App.

I play roughly 40 songs a show in sets of three and talk about them from a historical, political and social point of view, but as the commentary is improvised the kitchen sink is often tossed in the mix. 

Every couple of years I take the pulse of the audience by inviting them to vote for their favorite Celtic songs.

Broadly speaking these songs come from the music of the 8 Celtic nations and their various diasporas. 

In essence I favor the song not the singer. I’m always on the lookout for what I call future classics - songs from unknowns or singers/groups with niche appeal that I can bring to a broader audience.

This year the audience submitted roughly 250 songs as their listening favorites. 

Given our fractious times I had expected that Celtic Punk songs – of which there are many adherents - would be favored.

Instead, the Top 10 songs tended towards the beautiful and reflective, the lesser known, and often the most melancholic.

In fact I would imagine the #1 song - When You Become Stardust Too by Shay Healy is rarely heard except on Celtic Crush.

It’s a wonderfully optimistic reflection on life and the hereafter and seems to have struck a deeply personal chord with listeners.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was a tie for #2 between two other very reflective tunes.

I devoted a column to Eva Cassidy recently and this is her year on Celtic Crush as four of her songs placed in the Top 100. Fields of Gold her interpretation of Sting’s classic is #2.

Perhaps the biggest surprise at joint #2 is Aisling Gheal from The Poet & The Piper, the mighty collaboration between Seamus Heaney and Liam O’Flynn.

The melody summonses up the devastation of the Irish people during the Penal Laws era but it’s also informed by an untrammeled hope for better days. 

Lest you think the show is funereal #4 and #5 are the irrepressible Whiskey in the Jar by Thin Lizzy and the celebratory Whole of the Moon by The Waterboys. Rounding off the Top 5 is the only overtly political song to make the Top 20 this year, the militant James Connolly by Black 47.

Of interest to New Yorkers, Pat McGuire’s You’re So Beautiful is at #7 and master fiddler Tony DeMarco enters for the first time at #9 with The Best Years of My life.

The perennially popular Pogues score at #11 and #13 with Fairy Tale of New York and Rainy Night in Soho while Van Morrison’s top song this year is Tupelo Honey at #16.

What does all this suggest – perhaps a desire to block out the raucous lies and exaggeration of political discourse with songs that have a deep human resonance and an innate beauty. 

Since two of the three most popular songs are new entries you’d have to say that there’s also a desire for change.

Change would appear to come slowly, however, for I’ve been playing the top three songs for years. 

I wonder what all this says about the state of our society and the coming elections? 

It’s hard to say, but given our original question - Does music influence society or does society influence music? This year I’d have to go with the latter.

To receive the Top 100 write me at or visit Christopher Carroll’s Fans of Celtic Crush at Facebook. Celtic Crush can be heard on Sunday mornings at 9amET on The Loft, Ch. 710, SiriusXM with repeats on Tuesday 9pm and Wednesday Midnight.

Monday 2 March 2020

Wexford's Deep Sea Sailors

Isn’t it odd how the character of towns can change? 

My hometown of Wexford is a case in point. Known originally as Menapia on Ptolemy’s 3rd Century maps, the Vikings didn’t even arrive until 6 centuries later and change the name to Weis-fjord.

Being the closest town to Britain and mainland Europe it was conquered so often Monty Python and his merry band probably came roaring up the Slaney with divilment on their minds but got stuck in one of the many pubs that used to line the quayside.

For Wexford was always a busy port and its young men sailed the world over.

A majority of these came from The Faythe on the south side of town.

It was there that one side of my family, the Morans, originated. The most renowned was Capt. James Moran, a skipper of one of the old three-mast vessels.

He was my grandmother’s father and sailed often to Odessa in the Black Sea bringing back God knows what. 

Alas on one such expedition he encountered a violent storm off the coast of Cornwall, his ship the City of Bristol went down and all hands were lost.

His two sons, Matthew and John also became merchant marines as did my father. There’s definitely salt water in my blood.

However, Wexford’s young men no longer go down to the sea, as Herman Melville put it Moby Dick.

Certainly many still work on the ferries from Rosslare to Fishguard in Wales or even further afield to Le Harve in France but I never hear of a “deep sea” Wexford sailor anymore.

These men usually sailed off for six months at a time to various parts of the world, be it on tankers out of the Persian Gulf or on the London to Buenos Aires run, to name two routes my father worked on.

After such long voyages the companies would usually give their thirsty mariners a couple of months leave at home.

Did the young men grow tired of such a life, or did wives and girlfriends refuse to put up with such a routine?

As a boy I loved to go with my father to one of the pubs frequented by these deep-sea sailors.

It would usually be in the early afternoon. Two or three of them would already be sequestered at the bar smoking and, more often than not, studying horse and dog racing form.

They would barely acknowledge each other while enjoying their first pint or glass of whiskey, but eventually someone would throw out a question.

“What was the name of that bar in Sydney I met you in, Jem?”

My father’s brow would furrow in concentration before he might reply, “Jaysus, John, it’s on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t for the life of me remember.”

Then some other salt would interject, “There was one night I ran into the two of yez three sheets to the wind in the Rusty Anchor, was that the one?”

Then the floodgates would open and as I sipped my Fanta Orange they’d order up a second round, and a succession of exotic locales would be rattled off, as they wondered if that gorgeous waitress still worked in Sammy’s Bar in Valetta, Malta? Or if Kevin Connors still ran the boarding house on Geary Street in San Francisco, or had Tom Rossiter chucked in the Cunard Line for a job on the oil rigs up off Aberdeen?

Wexford seems like a lesser place without these independent men who took a little piece of the old town with them on their travels and brought back new ideas and the ways of the world upon their return.

Most have passed on now but about 10 years ago I saw one of them sitting on a bench by Wexford quayside. He was old and weatherworn, but still alert and staring out across the harbor.

I could tell he was thinking of his seafaring days for he had a twinkle in his eye, and I fancied he was reminiscing about the gorgeous waitress he had dallied with in Sammy’s Bar in Valetta.

Knowing the type of men these Wexford sailors were - I bet she had fond memories of him too.