by Geoff Wallis & Sue Wilson
Rough Guides £7.99 ISBN 1-85828-642-5
This book is an absolute joy. If you only ever buy one book on Irish traditional music, this should be it. Written by two journalists who both appear to be interested in Ireland and its music, it's packed from cover to cover with information about Irish music right through the 20th century. There is excellent analysis of tune types, regional styles, key personalities and developments, and well researched biographies of over 350 musicians and groups whose records are more or less generally available along with brief comments on the best of those records. The acknowledgements start with Nicholas Carolan and his team at the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin and then run through over 100 players and organisations in Ireland, Britain and America. The writers seem to have an insider's view of what makes Irish music tick, and recommend places to visit, recordings and books that show Irish music at its best.
The guide is split into 3 main sections; background, musicians, and listings. The first 35 pages give a good introduction to what Irish traditional music is and how it has fitted in with Irish social life over the years. The section on musicians and singers will stand as a reference for anybody with any interest in Irish music. The coverage is phenomenal and is up to date at the end of 2000. In the review of the life and music of Tommy Peoples, the writers have captured the heart-rending intensity of his playing, and something of his essentially private approach to music making over the last 15 years or so. Turn to someone less familiar like the relatively new group Providence and you'll soon know whether these are musicians you'd like to hear, see, or play the odd tune with. I find myself agreeing with so many of their assessments that I'd gladly invest in a previously unknown CD on the strength of their recommendation. Indeed, if you followed their recommendations you'd soon find yourself with a collection of anything between 250 and 500 CDs, although the newcomer is clearly pointed to the highlights.
The final listing section is packed with information on where to go in Ireland, North and South, to find a music session, and where and when various festivals and summer schools take place. When you can't find live music, the guide recommends radio and TV programmes or a few good books to keep you busy. In fact, I would suggest that more than half of the dozen books listed are essential reading for anybody interested in Irish music.
The authors acknowledge that there will be omissions and inclusions which some people may wish to argue over, but they are willing to take comments on-board for future editions. It's hard to find any major figure who doesn't feature although I found one or two Uilleann pipers who have recorded but don't get a mention. On the other hand, Paddy Fahy, whose playing is only recorded on private tapes, is acknowledged as a significant influence in the section on fiddlers and fiddle styles.
This pocket-sized book has got to be packed in the bag of everybody going over to Ireland this summer and it will make great reading for anybody staying at home.
Ken Ricketts & Marya Parker - 8.5.01
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