RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta celebrates 50 years this week, but however great its achievements and its positive impact on traditional music and song, Irish-language media cannot stand still, writes Toner Quinn.
I don’t think I would be able to speak Irish were it not for RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, which celebrated 50 years of broadcasting on 2 April. Many people who go to English-language schools are let down by the way Irish is taught and come out with a basic or poor grasp of the language. When I decided to address this gnawing weakness, I used to listen to RnaG while working in my first post-college job – the kitchen of a pizza restaurant in Dublin. At first, I could get lost in the range of dialects and the fluency of the presenters, but slowly I began to find the shows that I could follow, and, with some classes and reading the weekly newspaper Foinse, my understanding grew. When I moved to Conamara, I found I almost had to relearn the language; learned and spoken Irish are two different things. I can recall, however, a breakthrough moment when I was listening to a conversation on RnaG and suddenly realised I wasn’t thinking about the language anymore. My Irish is now good, not fluent, because fluency would mean I could express everything I think and feel through the language, but I am comfortable enough to use it every day. Once you learn Irish, it is like putting on a special headset, whereby everything is now multi-dimensional. You hear and see the language everywhere, you think in terms of both languages, and you are part of a very connected community.
RTÉ recently broadcast a new documentary on the Irish folk revival, titled ‘The Flourishing’. Toner Quinn reviews.
The folk music revival in Ireland, generally associated with the 1950s, 60s and 70s, was an important time. How many of us would be playing this music today were it not for the artists, recordings and ideas of that era? New generations are still seeking a deeper understanding of the work of those artists, whether it is Aoife Ní Bhriain and Liam O’Connor exploring the work of Tommie Potts, Doireann Ní Ghlacáin examining the legacy of her grandfather Seán Ó Riada, or Louise Mulcahy delving into the work of Liam O’Flynn or interrogating the history of uilleann piping with her work into female piping history. Our appreciation of the achievements of the previous generations are only growing with time, and we are in an age where we have many scholars undertaking detailed research into the nuances of this music. Many of the leading artists of that time are also thankfully still with us.
The latest restrictions on live music events leave many unanswered questions, writes Toner Quinn.
Last Friday, a post by the National Campaign for the Arts expressed how many felt:
Anger, frustration, disappointment and exhaustion across our sector as we unravel again. Jobs lost, businesses decimated. We are resilient but we are running on empty.
The Government had just announced that the capacity for concerts and indoor events was to be reduced by fifty per cent, and nightclubs would be closed entirely. By when? As it turned out, in four days time. When the announcement was made, artists and promoters had been putting on full-capacity events for just 43 days. Now their plans, their careers, their well-being, would crumble again.
The new Beatles documentary ‘Get Back’ gives an incredible insight into the band’s creative process, and provides an important lesson for our society today, writes Toner Quinn.
In Peter Jackson’s new three-part Beatles documentary Get Back, we see the magical chemistry that arises when a group of musicians return day after day to the same space.
The fiddle-player Martin Hayes has recently published a memoir of his life in music, ‘Shared Notes: A Musical Journey’. Toner Quinn reviews.
The last three years have seen a generational shift in Irish traditional music. We have lost some of the outstanding musicians that have shaped previous decades, from Liam O’Flynn and Tommy Peoples to Tony MacMahon. And we have lost many others. Much of their musical knowledge is gone with them, and those who knew them are thinking about what they learnt from them and what they need to hold on to. They have of course left us their music, and other significant documents, including Peoples’ 2015 tutor/memoir Ó Am go hAm – From Time to Time, O’Flynn’s papers now lodged with the Irish Traditional Music Archive, and MacMahon’s radio and television programmes, interviews and essays, but the fact is that we still have few in-depth biographies and autobiographies of leading traditional musicians from the past sixty years, a period that has been a momentous era for this music. That is a significant blindspot in our book publishing and in our cultural dialogue.
On 25 September, the National Concert Hall, the Arts Council and RTÉ presented two tribute concerts to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Seán Ó Riada’s death. Toner Quinn reviews.
The day before the two concerts last Saturday that were organised to celebrate the legacy of composer Seán Ó Riada, his son Peadar, also a composer, musician and a broadcaster on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, published a particularly negative perspective on Irish traditional music over the past five decades.
The new report on the night-time economy has 36 recommendations, but it has an unfortunate blindspot, writes Toner Quinn.
Last week, the government published the Report of the Night-Time Economy Taskforce, focusing on entertainment and culture between 6pm and 6am in towns and cities. It contains 36 recommendations that the Taskforce believes can transform the night-time economy, energise our urban centres, and make Ireland an extra-special destination for tourists. The proposed actions are broad, from modernising licensing laws to pilot events to developing transport.
The return of live music to the Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick featured Iarla Ó Lionáird, Úna Monaghan and Kevin Murphy on a Music Network tour. Toner Quinn reviews.
The narrative for the return of live music has been regularly repeated. After eighteen months, everyone will launch themselves into the experience. It will be characterised by joy and celebration. It will be a relief to be back to normal, or what you feel normal is. But what if it is not quite like that? We are different now. We carry a new experience that shifts the way we look at the world. Music and art will change.
Unless music is coated in nationalistic terms it will struggle, writes Toner Quinn.
It was when I heard the interview with Justin Green of the Events Industry Association of Ireland on RTÉ’s Drivetime on Tuesday (23 August) that I realised things had become desperate. Referring to the 18 months the industry has been closed, he said: ‘We were asked to do everything [i.e. cease holding events] … for the country.’ ‘We all understand that we have to do our part… for the country,’ he reiterated. Green understood that the only way left to make his argument for the return of live music was to coat it in the language of nationalist, patriotic rhetoric.
The restrictions on live music are frustrating and perplexing for musicians and they point to larger issues, writes Toner Quinn.
The frustration over the lack of planning for live music continues to grow. Minister Catherine Martin held another meeting yesterday (18 August) with a number of organisations working within the live events sector, and yet no date was set for a full reopening. It appears that the Minister’s plan for reopening the music and entertainment sector was rejected at the beginning of the month by Government.