Monday, March 16, 2009

Pre-St. Paddy's Day: Update on The Chieftains

My good friend and colleague Gary Thomas (the singing bard of VOA's newsroom) gently reminded me this morning to do something here regarding St. Patrick's Day, which comes tomorrow. I'm most happy to accede to his request, with none other than his own informative e-mail comments from last week (to which I've provided Web links) on my earlier review of The Chieftains:

"I've seen them several times, although I have a personal preference for some other groups. (You want to get your socks knocked off, rummage around for some music of the now-defunct supergroup Planxty -- kind of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young of Irish music. You can see them on YouTube.)

"But I would note two things of which you might want to be aware: at several points you refer to them speaking or singing 'Gaelic'. While technically correct, that's actually a rather broad term referring to languages from Brittany to Ireland. It's like saying someone is speaking European. The proper term is 'Irish' language (or Welsh or Breton or Scottish). Secondly, the identity is Celtic, and the broad term for music from these diverse areas is widely known as Celtic music."

When I thanked him for this input (points now duly noted, Gary, and corrected) in our e-mail exchange, he continued:

"I would add that the Chieftains were the first group to popularize traditional Irish instrumental music abroad. But the way was paved by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem [mentioned in my review], who arrived in NY during the Great Folk Music Scare of the 1950s-60s wearing their Aran knit sweaters (well, they call them 'jumpers') and carting loads of traditional songs that they learned from relatives. They were a smash on the Ed Sullivan Show, singing a rousing outlaw ballad, 'Brennan on the Moor' [various versions of their song on YouTube].

Planxty arose out of the British folk scene in 1970 as a supergroup of emigrant musical standouts -- Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Christy Moore, and master Uilleann piper Liam O'Flynn. The first album in 1971, "Planxty," was a seminal event in Irish music."

And in reminding me of the forthcoming celebrations tomorrow, he added more of his musical erudition this morning:

"There has been a revival in 'sean-nos' ('old style' or 'old way') singing in the Irish language. It is an ornamental, haunting, a capella style of traditional singing. It was once widespread in Ireland but fell into near-extinction when the English language was forced upon the population. It was kept alive in the 'Gaeltacht', the remaining Irish-speaking areas of Ireland."

I'll continue tomorrow, on Gary's urging, with a post on past Grammy Award winners (including the Chieftains) in the Celtic music tradition. As both Gary and I spent part of our broadcasting careers covering Pakistan--he for several years as VOA's Islamabad Bureau Chief and Correspondent, and I as Urdu Service Chief for 21 years, it's a distinct pleasure to continue our association on musical lines.

1 comment:

katja said...

The pleasure belongs to me, and your other readers, Brian (and Gary!).