Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 18, 2010

Irish Folk and Rock: Comfortably In Bed for Years

Hothouse Flowers (from Dublin)

More “Music of Ireland” today:

I watched part one of a new two-part documentary on Irish traditional and modern music on St. Pat’s Day (ran on Channel 20… the “other” PBS station in Chicago). Maire (Moya) Brennan — of the group Clannad, and also older sister of Enya — was the host of “Music of Ireland: Welcome Home“, also serving as main interviewer and a co-producer. Great stuff, and I got at least some on tape 9no, I don’t got tivo… so sue me).

First part covered 19th century and 20th up thru around the mid-1980s. Second part is scheduled for August 2010 broadcast in U.S., featuring more of the 80s-Aughties crowd like U2, Sinead O’Connor, Flogging Molly and Damien Rice.

A few innaresting facts and tidbits I picked up from Part One:

  • The great Liam Clancy of the famed Clancy Bros. passed away last December, at 74. He was a great soul, in addition to being a great musician. Anyone wanting to understand the hybridizing of old Irish folk with newer pop forms and attitudes need look no further than The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, and right on their heels, The Chieftains.
  • Phil Lynott, the lead singer of the cool early Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, was bi-racial. He was Ireland’s best answer to the Sixties’ Jimi Hendrix and 80s/90s Living Colour. (In other words, can we PLEASE get more great black musicians and voices in straight-ahead rock n’ roll?!?  Have y’all forgotten Chuck Berry in favor of Chuck D?) Lynott also shared a stage with U2 at the first ever Slane Castle concert/festival in 1981, perhaps unofficially handing the baton to his younger counterparts. Lynott died at age 36 in 1986, from complications due to heroin addiction.
  • Sir Bob Geldof, he of the Boomtown Rats and USA for Africa: said his whole look and style (basically punk) were completely uncool with the ladies as a kid, UNTIL Mick Jagger went a little messier and wilder. Funny shot in the film of Jagger looking a lot like  Geldof onstage in the early 80s.
  • Thankfully, personal faves Hothouse Flowers, who had a few hits in the U.S. in the mid ’80s, are still doing important work and keeping relevant. I think only one forty five second performance clip was given to lead singer Liam o’ Maonlai, but maybe Part 2 will have more from them. Liam is doing some solo tour dates this year with The Swell Season, featuring the couple from the movie Once.  And HHF co-founder Fiachna Ó Braonáin recently developed an Idol-like competition, An Cor, a show for Irish choirs now running there. (Viewable at the above link till April 2, 2010, … supposedly).
  • Also, thru the HHF facebook fansite, I got a link to a nice version of Liam O’ Maionlai and the lovely Eddi Reader at YouTube, singing (apparently recently) a cover of  The Beatles’ “Across the Universe”.

A few years ago when Liam O’ brought out his last solo record, Bono called him “the best white soul singer in the world”.  Eat your heart out, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, Jason Mraz etc!

  • Michael “Riverdance Flatley”, who I know some folks love to hate, comes off pretty good in the film. The composer Bill Whelan is featured more prominently, maybe to keep Flatley’s famed ego in check. Flatley is also a Chicago native, which I had forgotten.
  • Pogues frontman/wildman Shane McGowan has some of those classic awful U.K. teeth that Tina Fey recently referred to on Thirty Rock. Ugh! Pogues are great, but I saw Shane solo once, and he was so drunk it was sad (and it angered me). Not the usual Shane, with the workingman’s slur, but much worse, plus a bit of falling down.

Officially, she’s Scottish, but I can’t let this blog pass without a shout-out to Kate Rusby, one of the more popular, smart and sweet-voiced practitioners of the classic Celtic ballad that’s performing and recording today. It’s not New Age-y, like Enya. Just great story songs, by one schooled in the tradition.

Dunno who out there cares…  I was just inspired to spread some love, pumped by my warm, Irish Heartbeat!



  1. […] Lizzy’s brash Irish garage rock– sung by Phil Lynott, one of the greatest black rock singers ever — being brought to the masses in a big […]

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