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Ed Power on “Irish music”

with 4 comments

In the course of my daily rummaging, I stumbled across the following article, published on St. Patrick’s Day this year in the Guardian by Irish music hack Ed Power (are he and Eamon de Paor one and the same? I’ve never been able to figure it out).

It’s a peculiar piece of self-flagellation – peculiar, I think, because as far as I’m aware he is actually based in Ireland and probably shouldn’t be as sensitive to the paddywhackery he derides. He attacks an odd target in the Pogues, a group that have never really struggled for legitimacy – after all, what better representation is there of the London-Irish than trad mixed with punk? It’s a wildly inaccurate article that doesn’t stand up to much logical scrutiny at all.

The Pogues, hailing largely from London, are the musical equivalent of the Republic of Ireland soccer team circa 1990, when half the starting 11 had English accents. Shane MacGowan (born in Tunbridge Wells, no less!) and chums may drape themselves in the tricolour, but their supposed “Irishness” is a mish-mash of hairy, outmoded cliches, many of which they seem actively interested in perpetuating.

Granted, they did make a name for themselves on the back of songs like ‘Streams of Whiskey’ that did, rightly or wrongly, perpetuate the drunken Irishman myth. However, in Shane MacGowan’s case at least, he was a genuine alcoholic. If you accept that he was merely perpetuating a negative Irish stereotype, then you’ll naturally have to deliver the same judgment to the drunk on O’Connell St. and I honestly don’t think he’s going to give a fuck. Would be funny to watch though.

Secondly, Shane MacGowan wasn’t even born in Turnbridge Wells – he was schooled there, which is hardly the same thing. I know sub-eds are at a premium right now, even at the Grauniad, but a simple wikipedia search would be enough in this case. Power goes on:

While claiming a deep spiritual connection to … well, they’d probably call it the “Emerald Isle”, their inauthenticity stinks. The obvious giveaway is the choice of band names: Black 47, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys. You can tell exactly what stripe of Irishness these guys are trying to flog. Hint: it has sweet feck all to do with Oscar Wilde, Christy Ring or Samuel Beckett.

Again, I wouldn’t disagree completely on principle, but Flogging Molly (fronted by Dublin-raised exile Dave King) and Black 47 (fronted by Wexford’s Larry Kirwan) can hardly be said to lack a true connection to the country, even if they do present it in a rose-tinted light. Both came about as emigre Irish met second and third-generation Irish in LA (Flogging Molly) and New York (Black 47) – both cities with substantial emigrant populations intent on carrying on those traditions… or “outmoded cliches,” as Power calls them.

Dropkick Murphys can do one though.

Where the piece really falls apart, though, is in the final sentence. Are we really going to hold up Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett as paragons of Irishness now? The same Oscar Wilde who spoke with an English accent and spent almost his entire adult life taxiing between London and Paris? The same Samuel Beckett who spoke with a French accent and wrote almost exclusively in his adopted tongue? Those artists are rightly celebrated in Ireland, but to suggest they’ve ever represented anything other than an elitist culture is just plain wrong.

It’s one thing to be put off by emigre groups and their “inauthentic” appropriation of traditional Irish music and themes – a culture that does not exist to a large degree anymore. It’s quite another to then, in the next breath, casually appropriate the European modernism of Beckett and Wilde’s charismatic Anglo flair. Those writers may be more sophisticated than the likes of the Pogues and Flogging Molly, but they are definitely no more authentic.

Still, it is the Guardian. I’m sure judgmental middle-class types were all over this shit when it came out.


Written by Dave

November 2, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Man I have always disliked that horrible term, ‘plastic paddies’. How insulting to people born of Irish parents – there’s a reason why footballers have an Irish granny, location has no bearing on blood chemistry until you breed it out. I could almost sympathise with Ed’s disdain for the music otherwise. It’s a very strange thing to grow up in a different country from your parents – I was born her but moved to London at 5 and my brother was born soon after, we moved back in 1996. That doesn’t make us any less Irish, and we grew up hearing the Pogues, Christy Moore, U2, The Cranberries – most of the good Irish music was played in my home as a kid and I could always hear the echo of dispacement, the way the music rang out to people who could not be in Ireland. So while I’m not defending Shane MacGowan, far from it, in cases such as the Pogues the awful music still does contain a grain of truth – many unhappy Christmases have been soundtracked to ‘Fairytale’ – and unfortunately it’s something we have to deal with. There’s no point blocking out the shameful miseries of the past. However what is important is that these parody musicians are clearly criticised and other examples/options/path presented. Going tit for tat with historical figures isn’t really conducive – it doesn’t matter where they lived or died if an Irish person wants to recognise their art and find something to be proud.


    November 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    • I think there might be a whole nother article in there on that subject – the generation of the 80s and 90s might be the last one to be truly isolated by emigration, what with the world being so connected now.

      I suppose I’m different in that I genuinely like the music. The Pogues and Flogging Molly at least – like I said, Dropkick Murphys (and Black 47) can go away and shite. The fact that it’s a bit “plastic” or whatever word you want to use doesn’t make it any less legitimate as a form of musical expression.

      And it’s not about going tit for tat on historical figures – it’s the selective choosing of the figures he likes (Beckett and Wilde) and rubbishing the ones he doesn’t based on his ill-defined bullshit criteria. I have no problem with Beckett or Wilde being considered Irish – they are part of our grand tradition – but they have to be considered in the same bracket as artists like Shane MacGowan and Dave King.

      Dave 2 Famous

      November 2, 2010 at 3:13 pm

  2. Just wanted to make sure you saw this:!/lexpretend/status/4604387297071105


    November 17, 2010 at 12:35 am

  3. […] a comment » I wrote this extremely even-handed blog post on Ed Power a month or so ago because it was the sort of myopic begrudging shite that Irish […]

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