Geoff Wallis and Sue Wilson: The Rough Guide to Irish Music

First published on Green Man Review.

What? Yet another bleedin’ guide to Irish music?!? I’m sure you’re thinking that what we don’t need is another guide to Celtic music, as it seems like there’s more than ‘nough of ’em now! Ah, but this is not a guide to Celtic music because it covers just Irish music — and only Irish music as played/recorded on the Old Sod. And though I dearly love Fintan Vallely’s The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, and Breanda’n Breathnach’s Folk Music and Dances of Ireland, not to mention Gearoid OhAllmhurain’s A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music, none of these are really intended as guides for folks interested in discovering the very best in both recorded Irish traditional music and the music as it’s played there today. The Rough Guide to Irish Music is clearly designed to do just that. Everything ’bout this guide cries out that here’s the best book to date on this subject!

First of all, let’s consider its size. It’s small enough to easily fit in a coat pocket — ideal for traveling around Ireland looking for the perfect session, or heading to your favourite music shop to grab a CD based on what you read here. (Indeed, one would hope that any decent music shop will have a copy of this on hand for both the staff and customers to consult.) Now don’t go thinking that there’s no meat in this guide. It’s nearly 600 pages long! If this sounds like the TARDIS from the Dr. Who series, which was much bigger inside than it was outside, so it is. ‘Tis a small volume more than stuffed with everything you need to know ’bout Irish music.

Traditional music’s very much alive and well in Ireland, with no harm caused by the Riverdance idiocy and its brethren, and The Rough Guide to Irish Music, with its detailed biographical entries on more than 350 performers and bands, is as good as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the wealth of information it gives you. Strictly trad players such as Paddy Killoran and Joe Ryan are afforded their just due, as are innovative groups such as the Horslips and the Moving Hearts. (And ’tis good news to hear that the ‘Lips are back in the studio working on a new album!) Each entry includes recommended recordings, though I say it might be a wee bit hard to find some of the recordings. For example, I understand that Dervish’s CDs are not easily available in the States, but can be ordered from their Web site.

In addition to the biographical entries, there are brief sidebars on subjects ranging from fiddle styles to the matter of tradition v. innovation, a heated subject on the Irish Traditional musicians listserve! At the back of the guide are notes on Irish sessions, schools for learning music, and music festivals. There are also well-written notes on record shops worth checking out while visiting Ireland — not surprising given that Geoff was one of the writers of The Rough Guide to Dublin, and The Rough Guide to Ireland — and a decent, if not exhaustive, listing of print journals such as Irish Music Magazine, fRoots, Living Tradition, and Dirty Linen. To my surprise, there’s no mention of such Web sites as Folkworld, Music Traditions, Green Man Review, and their kin who provide excellent coverage of Irish music, but there are notes about Irish-based Web sites devoted to Irish music. Oh, and there’s a selected readings list that certainly is worth looking at! Many of the readings suggested have been reviewed here in Green Man, such as Ciaran Carson’s Last Night’s Fun and Christy Moore’s One Voice — My Life in Song.

OK, I’ve said ‘nough — now I need to wet me whistle with a pint or two of Stout. Finian’s Irish Stout will do very nicely, so I’ll head down to our Pub, which has it on tap.

(Rough Guides, 2001) 

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