Posted by: ardcru | January 4, 2011

Getting the traditional Irish music act together

Sandy Silva

American dancer Sandy Silva performing with Open House

If we may recall the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and – for a moment – forget the Aran ganseys, one of the features of their act that stood out was their stagecraft. Following in the tradition of Patsey Touhey and the McNulty Family, with their banter and energy they took up the baton from the Kingston Trio and brought folk songs centre stage. Back home, The Dubliners soon followed suit while Sean O Riada introduced the ensemble format which was taken up by The Chieftains, the Bothies and hundreds of other traditional music groups.
I was reminded of this while reading an article on The Huffington Post website by Rick Cairns about the demise of the recording artist at the hands of online piracy.
No friend of the pirates, Rick Cairns happens to be president of the Songwriters Guild of America. He cites the story of Damian Kulash of the group OK Go which has progressed “by leaping across treadmills, dancing with a dozen dogs and building the world’s largest Rube Goldberg machine to operate in time with music all captured on video to promote the live performance, licensing, and sponsorship opportunities of his band.
“We’re just moving out of the brief period — a flash in history’s pan — when an artist could expect to make a living selling records alone,” said Kulash.
The message seems to be – “never mind records, the show’s the thing.” Well, record an album, but only as a means of getting on the stage.
What do Irish musicians do? Make a CD album and tour, maybe, seven venues around Ireland, earnestly playing to respectful listeners, and return to oblivion.
Lets examine briefly the stagecraft. How exciting it must have been to see The Chieftains tour with dancer Jean Butler or Green Fields of America with Michael Flatley. Most exciting was Kevin Burke playing fiddle with Sandy Silva dancing wildly on top of a wooden barrell.
The only musician today who brings stagecraft to her performance is Sharon Shannon and that mainly has to do with the guests who enhance her show – Shane McGowan, Des O’Halloran, sean nos dancers like the Cunninghams.
The only point I am making is that Irish traditional musicians, instead of feeling sorry for themselves over the decline in record sales and festival appearances, should look again at themselves for different ways of doing things and different things they want to express.

Has music piracy killed the recording artist?

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