Styles & Forms | Irish Folk
If there is a strand of folk music that seems universally popular, it’s Irish. This is not surprising considering Ireland’s sad history of emigration and the transportation of their music to all corners of the globe. Through those claiming ancestry or simply connecting with a music that conveys extremes of emotion, it has the proven ability to connect with many different cultures.
Moving into the twenty-first century, arguably the most forceful – and most popular – type of folk music has been Celtic. Whether everything marketed under the umbrella of ‘Celtic music’ does justice to great artists such as The Bothy Band and Alan Stivell, who first coined the term for their exciting music in the 1970s, is another matter. But still, massive worldwide hits for the likes of Clannad, Enya and Loreena McKennit turned Celtic into a powerful marketing tool. The incredible international success of the stage show Riverdance – based around a breathtaking display of Irish dancing, originally put together by Bill Whelan with Planxty as a seven-minute interlude in the Eurovision Song Contest – cemented the massive commercial possibilities of Irish folk culture. When the Riverdance star Michael Flatley broke away to produce his own show along the same lines, Lord Of The Dance, it seemed that no corner of the world was untouched by Irish music. Numerous smash-hit movies – from Barry Lyndon to Titanic – have liberally used Irish music to popular effect in their soundtracks.
If the lush, arranged manner in which much of the atmospheric, new-age approach to the music is played does not always meet with the approval of the hardcore fans, it is fitting that the music itself enjoys such popularity. Ireland is rare in being able to claim an unbroken traditional music history at the forefront of its culture. The rural west, in particular, harbours a myriad of different styles of playing and dancing that have all survived to some degree today.
The Salvation Of Irish Music
Not that it has always thrived, however. Despite various attempts at revival, the music was on its knees in the early part of the twentieth century; it was falling out of fashion and the old techniques of instrument-making (notably of uillean pipes) were being lost. The tradition was saved, essentially, by the country’s ongoing curse of emigration. The thousands of Irish forced to leave their homeland in search of work sought comfort in any semblance of home life, and found it in the traditional music being played – and establishing a vibrant scene – in certain Irish strongholds of America, such as New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. The records of the leading lights on the American Irish scene, particularly by The Flanagan Brothers and the Sligo fiddle players Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran and James Morrison, found their way back to Ireland and inspired an upsurge of musicians at home.
America, then, has always played a big role in the salvation of...
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