I've been a Celtic music fan for many years, long before it began to turn up on the New Age charts. While I don't mean to knock that genre (which has given some splendid traditional musicians -- e.g., the O'Domhnaills of Nightnoise and Alasdair Fraser of Skyedance -- the wider listenership they deserve), traditional Celtic music is an altogether grittier, funkier breed. Ciaran Carson brings a poet's sensibility to the performer's-eye perspective of Irish music, from last night's fun to the next morning's rude awakening. Irish music isn't simply the tunes themselves; it's the old-timers who performed them, the instruments they played, the pints of Guinness, the choking smoke in the bar and the pouring rain outside, and Carson conveys the whole experience admirably. It's almost as good as being there.
Carson takes the reader on a journey deep into the very heart of Irish Music - the musician at his most timelessness. Don't pick this up expecting a scholarly approach to Irish music. This is an amazing insight into the music and the soul of the music as performed by an Irish musician. Carson even shows the little quirks of daily living that help to give birth to such a personable music. I love Irish music, but am a jazz pianist by musical trade. I highly recommend this to any and all musicians who are searching for their soul in music, especially those in jazz. It is a very moving and thought provoking work.
Belfast writer, fluter, raconteur and unreliable witness takes us into the subterranean world of craic agus chaos as he attempts to surf the web of the perfect session experience. Part nostalgic interrogtation of his own relationship with traditional music, part exploration of the Ulster breakfast: this book is a close as it gets to the cameraderie and catharsis of an all night music bash. A work of astute fiction that might never be true but is always believable. At the end we are left wondering was this one large joke or simply a witty Northern oxymoron? A book to be revisited when the frost keeps us away from session, pub or our inner fiddler. Excellent is too narrow a word to describe the sweep of the narrative. Sean Laffey Irish Music Magazine Dublin
A skilled and formidable poet and chronicler of his native Belfast, Carson here blends his power over words into an evocation of how Irish music makes the impact it does. Seemingly an impossible task to attain on the page, but his decades as a musician allow him to capture the spirit behind the music. As they say, it's not how you read the notes, but how you hear them.
His chapter headings refer to various titles of Irish songs, and I enjoyed his rendering of differing reasons (or lack of) for how various tunes get attached to specific names. A much better book than "Round Ireland with a Tin Whistle" by David Wilson for its ability to convey the feel of how music changes with every playing, and how fluid the communication between players can be in a seisuin.
Any book Carson writes deserves a read, whether his version of Dante's Inferno, his prose-poem-fiction of late, his explorations of his city's past, or his crafted if learned verse.
He opens up a bit more here than in some of his earlier works, and the glimpses into the world he lives in between nights playing makes for intriguing scenes.
"We are on Ballyweird on the outskirts of Portfush, County Antrim, and it's the morning after the night before. Or rather, it is sometime after noon..." This is how Ciaran Carson begins his literary journey through the world of Irish traditional music-- old recordings, pubs, late-night sessions, drinking, cigarettes and "The Fry" of the next morning; traditional ballads, American country music and tall tales. He does a good job of evoking the mood of traditional music, and the musicians' interest in the small details of the culture. Each chapter stands on its own, so you don't have to read this book straight through.
This is a book you read again and again, because it is so rich. If you plan to visit Ireland or have visited Ireland, this book brings you into the heart of the culture. If you play Irish music, Last Night's Fun illuminates the culture of the music. Plus, it's a beautifully written book.
I don't currently own a copy of this book because I keep giving it away. I've never read anything that delivers, as this book does, the mindset of Irish music. The fact that the author spends only half the time actually talking about music, and the rest putting that music in context after context, the draining of a pint, the drag of a cigarette, musings over breakfast, the historical meanings of gestures, and story after story of the performers of Ireland, is the very essence of the book. Impersonal and scholarly, yet so intimate it borders on autobiography, this book is a handful of contradictions that make a whole as nothing else could, and we are grateful for his poetry, his knowledge, and his unique gift for imparting it.
At one point in the book Ciaran talks about leaving a session and how it is the sound of the flute that stays with you as you walk away. You would know that he is a flute player. Now it is not often that I have left a session when there was still music being played but I can think of many times approaching a venue and the clear sound of the flute over everything would make me hasten my steps. I have been part of Irish music sessions now maybe for even longer than Ciaran and this book should be sort of unnecessary but it sure reminds me of a lot of good times even if they have not stopped.
I spent 3 years in Ireland as I was growing up, but it was during the period when the music was not being promoted This volume was nostalgic for me as it conveys something of the cultural ethos of the Irish people, and it added a great deal to my current interest in Irish music in general and fiddling in particular. I enjoyed it and recommend it.