Unity in Diversity
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
By Noel McLaughlin
Recently, Joanna and I attended our first virtual book launch for Made in Ireland: Studies in Popular Music, a collection of illuminating essays on different aspects of Ireland’s popular music culture.
A paradigm case of the positive epithet, ‘unity in diversity’, this ground-breaking volume is distinguished by a healthy pluralism and an eclecticism of critical approach that elegantly matches the range of musical practices it covers.
If you want to know more about how Irish music became a distinctive genre category for the early phonograph industry; to learn about the current situation in Irish language rock; to keep abreast with debates in LBGTQ+ Irish popular music; or indeed to understand in greater depth Sinead O’Connor’s place as a highly politicised musical icon and the way in which she articulates ideas about feminism, nationality and about what music can be and do, this is the book for you.
This list is but a mere snapshot, as Made in Ireland also includes insightful analyses of the Irish rebel song in the context of ‘Troubles’ Belfast; the importance of the DIY fanzine; meditations on music and identity in an illuminating interview with Neil Hannon; and an exploration of the importance of the Fanning sessions. I could go on, as the book explores alterative histories, city-based scenes, but I’m assuming you get a sense of the breadth and depth involved already. Pardon the retreat to ‘popular-music-speak’ it is quite simply a ‘must have’ compilation album.
Needless-to-say, Joanna and I are very flattered to have a chapter on Ottilie Patterson included in this formidable array.
It is the first time that this seminal, if largely overlooked, artist is honoured in a dedicated chapter in a Popular Music Studies monograph.
A huge thank you must to the editors for making this happen.
However, we also find it sad in the same spirit, that mainstream media in its coverage of popular music does not make greater use of the range of expert voices included in this collection. Their expertise would bring a much-needed informed voice to more general popular-musical coverage, offering an opportunity to think otherwise, acting as an alternative to the usual ‘go-to’ suspects in such situations.
The editors - Áine Mangaoang, John O’Flynn and Lonán Ó’Briain – are to be congratulated for creating this remarkable collection. Importantly, in today’s world – with its fetish for procedure, process and the maintenance of hierarchy – contributing to the book was in no way beset by any of the above. Rather, it was a delight to work on: a mutually supportive and sustaining experience (something all the contributors noted at the launch) was fostered, a genuine community of scholars at work to progressive cultural and political ends.
Irish popular music historiography has come a long way from ‘showbands versus beat groups’, or the usual recourse to revisit the ‘already-famous’ moments in the orthodox story. I’m very flattered to have been involved in developing Irish popular music studies – a role this book’s introduction acknowledges to my embarrassment. After all, as this collection of essays reminds me, I’m just a student: culture never stands still; and that delusion awaits those who feel they are the master of anything.
Alongside acknowledging the history of Irish popular music studies and giving a concise and elegant snapshot of the field, the editors openly promote new scholarship in the area – even naming recent doctoral awards by recipient and thesis title.
This is not just an innovation - it is communitarian and democratic in impulse.
If I think back 20-plus years ago to my time as a PhD student there was a huge gulf between my ‘starting out’ position and the ‘stars’ of popular music studies. And while many of the stars did not want to be, nor saw themselves in such terms, as ‘celebrities’, a larger system played a part in this informal hierarchy.
The editors of Made in Ireland have gone against this grain, and it is manifest in the form and content of the book.
This was a great day for Irish popular music studies.
It was also a great day for pluralism and diversity, both in terms of identity, outlook, approach and attitude. Most importantly perhaps, it was uplifting in these days of lockdown to spend a couple of hours in the company of talented colleagues working in the same field, to swap stories, and of course to raise a glass and toast this erudite collection of writings – sending it on its way into the wider world.
Distinguished popular music scholar, Stan Hawkins, gave Made in Ireland a fitting contextualising preface, one that managed to mention every individual contribution (thereby echoing the democratic impulse noted earlier) and the necessarily online event was a virtual equivalent of the now old-fashioned phrase ‘packed to the rafters’.
Áine, Lonán and John, thank you; both for your patience with our chapter, for providing Ottilie with a voice, and allowing a whole series of new narratives on Irish popular music to emerge. The fruits of the collective labour will no doubt appear in the coming years in future writing.
Good luck with the book!
Click here to buy Made In Ireland on Amazon
About Made in Ireland
Made in Ireland serves as a comprehensive and thorough introduction to the history, sociology and musicology of 20th- and 21st-century Irish popular music.
The volume consists of essays by leading scholars in the field and covers the major figures, styles and social contexts of popular music in Ireland.
Each essay provides adequate context so readers understand why the figure or genre under discussion is of lasting significance to Irish popular music.
Table of Contents Introduction: Popular Music in Ireland: Mapping the Field by ÁINE MANGAOANG, JOHN O’FLYNN AND LONÁN Ó BRIAIN
Part 1: Music Industries and Historiographies
1 A History of Irish Record Labels from the 1920s to 2019 by MICHAEL MARY MURPHY
2 Broadcasting Rock: The Fanning Sessions as a Gateway to New Music by HELEN GUBBINS AND LONÁN Ó BRIAIN
3 Don’t Believe A Word? Memoirs of Irish Rock Musicians by LAURA WATSON
4 Raging Mother Ireland: Faith, Fury and Feminism in the Body, Voice and Songs of Sinéad O’Connor by AILEEN DILLANE
5 "Missing From the Record": Zrazy and Women's Music in Ireland by ANN-MARIE HANLON
6 "Alternative Ulster": The First Wave of Punk in Northern Ireland (1976-1983) by TIMOTHY A. HERON
Part 2: Roots and Routes
7 Irish Lady Sings the Blues: History, Identity and Ottilie Patterson by NOEL McLAUGHLIN AND JOANNA BRANIFF
8 The Politics of Sound: Modernity and Post-Colonial Identity in Irish-language Popular Song by TRÍONA NÍ SHÍOCHÁIN
9 Communal Voices: The Songs of Tom a’ tSeoighe and Ciarán Ó Fátharta by SÍLE DENVIR
10 Popular Music as a Weapon: Irish Rebel Songs and the Onset of the Northern Ireland Troubles by STEPHEN R. MILLAR
11 "…Practically Rock Stars Now": Changing Relations Between Traditional and Popular Music in a Post-Revival Tradition by ADRIAN SCAHILL
12 "Other voices" in Media Representations of Irish popular music by JOHN O’FLYNN
Part 3: Scenes and Networks
13 Assembling the Underground: Scale, Value and Visibility in Dublin’s DIY Music Scene
by JAIME JONES
14 Parochial Capital and the Cork Music Scene by EILEEN HOGAN
15 Death of a Local Scene? Music in Dublin in the Digital Age by CAROLINE ANN O’SULLIVAN
16 Fit for Consumption?: Fanzines and Fan Communication in Irish DIY Music Scenes
17 Hip Hop Interpellation: Rethinking Autochthony and Appropriation in Irish Rap by J. GRIFFITH ROLLEFSON
18 Making Spaces, Saving Places: Modern Irish Popular Music and the Green Turn by GERRY SMYTH
19 Songs of Love: A Conversation with Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) by ÁINE MANGAOANG