Tuesday 14 November 2023


 Because I host Celtic Crush on SiriusXM, I’m occasionally asked about the state of the arts nowadays.

Well, Broadway has yet to fully recover from the Covid crisis – it’s a rare night, tickets are not available for the “big” shows, while many new productions are failing to gain traction.

Most likely this is because the theatre demographic tends to be older, and many are still steering clear of enclosed spaces.

As for live music, let’s put it this way, a band like Black 47 couldn’t exist today. While the audience might still be there, many venues are gone, making touring an unprofitable venture.

Another reason is that people now stream songs (a financial disaster for practically all musicians) rather than buy CDs (a band’s biggest profit maker).

Much the same conditions exist in Ireland, except that the government provided some financial support to professional musicians during lockdown. Perhaps, this helped the local music industry to get back on its feet quicker.

It could also be the pub culture, the booming economy, or the simple need to get out of overcrowded, expensive apartments, but many venues are doing decently; not to mention, there’s a lot of distinctive, original music emerging from Ireland in these recently roaring 20’s.

It’s a rare week that I don’t get a couple of excellent new Irish tracks pinging their way on to my laptop – much of it from women. Let me tell you about a few of them.

Lisa O’Neill comes instantly to mind. Now some might say that this talented lady has lifted her voice and persona from the late great Margaret Barry, but it didn’t do Bob Dylan any harm that he co-opted Woody Guthrie.

There’s something eerily beautiful about the Cavan woman’s songs. Try Goodnight World from her latest All of This Is Chance album. I have to admit that I cried the first time I heard this lovely song – I don’t know why. Give it the tears test yourself.

For something totally different, how about Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, also known as CMAT. This Dublin native, by way of County Meath, is a knockout.

I don’t even know how to describe her music except that her first single Another Day (KFC) might fit a campy Country scene - how about a cross between Patsy Cline and the B52’s? And yes, you’re correct, KFC stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Suffice it to say that CMAT recognizes few boundaries on her recently released CD, Crazymad For Me. She writes about lost love, abusive relationships and longed-for weight loss, and I have little doubt she’ll be an international star someday soon.

Two powerful and innovative bands rooted in tradition are Lankum and Jiggy. (By the way, Dan Neely’s weekly Irish Echo column is an outstanding resource for those interested in new and classic Traditional Irish Music).

Radie Peat fronts Lankum, originally known as Lynched. She’s a mesmerizing and authoritative singer and multi-instrumentalist; then again, Lankum may be the premier Irish band of the last 10 years, they continue to impress and progress with every recording. Listen to their majestic The Young People – it will transport you to places forgotten but achingly familiar.

Jiggy’s roots may be in traditional music but their mix is spiced with world beats and modern dance grooves. More a collective than a band, they are often a savior when I’m assembling Celtic Crush sets; though utterly distinctive, their tracks mix and meld easily with any other music of quality.

Aoife Kelly’s haunting voice and fiddle permeate Jiggy’s addictive sound.  Do yourself a favor, and savor Silent Place on YouTube, with over 35 million views it has become an international phenomenon. 

I hate to leave The Mary Wallopers until last. Perhaps the most invigorating Irish band since Shane’s Pogue Mahones, with their County Louth accents to the fore, they are Culchie Rock at its finest.

The terror of all fey folksingers, try standing still to The Frost Is All Over. Politically correct the Wallopers are not, their humor knows few bounds, and yet they’re subtly indicative of a newfound Irish self-confidence.

But do all these artists a favor. They make at best $0.005 per stream on Spotify, however, if you download a track (which you’ll then own) they can clear $0.80.

Do the math. Support musicians. Wall Street will survive without you!

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