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In Search of the Craic: One Man's Pub Crawl Through Irish Music Hardcover – September 1, 2003
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There is nothing quite like Irish music to stir the blood and lift the soul. Slow airs to make you weep, jigs to make you happy, songs to make you sing and reels to make you dance like a dervish. It travels well, but still there's nothing quite like hearing Irish music in Ireland. Not on big concert halls or grand arenas, or even the popular taverns on the tourist route, but in the small pubs in remote areas where the locals habitually gravitate for those informal sessions that invariably develop into a serious social occasion universally known as the craic. For those who play it, it's not a style of music, but a way of life, producing its own culture and characters. After 25 years visiting Ireland both as a music writer and a tourist, Colin Irwin goes in search of the craic. He talks to some of the leading Irish musicians like Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Paddy Moloney, Martin Hayes, Andy Irvine, Cara Dillon, Paul Brady and Frankie Gavin about their experiences and they direct him to places where the craic is mightiest. This is the story of his journey into Ireland's musical soul and the extraordinary characters he meets along the way. But Ireland, being Ireland, nothing ever goes quite according to plan.
From the Publisher
There’s nothing quite like hearing Irish music in Ireland. Not in concert halls or popular tourist taverns, but in the small pubs in remote areas where the locals gravitate for those informal sessions known as the Craic. Here, Colin Irwin undertakes a long journey into Ireland’s musical soul. He dances at the Fleadh in Listowl; chats with Bono, Sinead O’Connor, and Christy Moore; visits the spa town were farmers come searching for wives; and drinks hot toddies with the legendary Keane sisters of Galway. In Search of the Craic is a glorified pub crawl, a night out that has lasted centuries, and comes with all the color, humor, drama, and pathos you’d expect from a country of drinkers, dancers, and musicians. Colin Irwin, author of The Abba Story, also writes for MELODY MAKER, THE GUARDIAN, and THE SUNDAY TIMES. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This is a story about a clockwise trip around Ireland, starting from the port city of Wexford, and ending there, scouring the rich landscape, the hills and valleys, the headlands and coves and wild surf and smokey bars in search of the elusive Craic, what Monty Python would call "The Holy Grail."
At the first pub, in Wexford where the ferrry from England lands and where the book begins and ends and there are a lot of pictures of racehorses on the walls, (racehorses that made someone rich), the bartender tells Mr. Irwin that he "won't find the Craic as it is just for tourists. It doesn't exist," he says.
Well find it he does, but first he finds a lot of other things, such as an Ireland not struggling terribly to hold onto its own identity, as its own identity is firmly entrenched in its tradition of music, which can be heard throughout Ireland at any of the myriad pubs that abound in this green, rain-drenched land of goblins and castles and long wooden bars and sessions of music where men and women, boys and girls, pull out the fiddles, the spoons, the accordians (squeeze boxes), the guitars, the bouzoukis (whatever that is--sounds like a Greek dessert), spoons, bohdrans (Irish traditional drum), flutes, banjos, uiellian pipes (Irish pipes) and more to create music that cannot be found anywhere else, except perhaps in N.Y.C., Chicago, London or Boston.
On our way around Ireland, we are not only introduced to real Irish people playing real Irish music, but we are privy to a legion of drunken continental tourists, legions of Japanese musicians, Fergie the Dolphin, Americans shouting their way across crowded bars, bikers, hippies, conventional tourists (what, prey tell, is a "conventional tourist?") and more. We are taken into the mountains, but not necessarily shown how to kill a goat whose hide will later be used to make the bohdran, the Irish equivalent to the, the, the............the tom tom? We are introduced to the Rose of Tralee, who is actually from Italy yet speaks English with a passable Irish voice. We are introduced to legions of Irish musicians who decided never to sell out. And, we are introduced to Guinness, which needs no introduction.
There is ample mention of The Pogues, and a lot of talk about The Chieftains, two Irish bands that made it big. However, little is made of all the name dropping when it comes to Suzanne Vega and Enya, two Irish popstars that Mr. Irwin fails to corral in his quest to tell the world about Irish music.
In all, a fine read if you wish to mix a bit of Irish history with one slightly tipsy Englishman's perspective on the state of The World. In all I give it four stars for its rambling unconhesive nature, which should be worth a star, so, I give it FIVE stars. Rick says check it out!
People unfamiliar with the Irish traditional music scene, however, might find the book's references too obscure to be of interest, since reading about music you haven't heard must be like listening to someone describe what a slow pour pint of Guinness tastes like, when you've never had the pleasure of drinking one yourself.
But anyone who has traveled Ireland and checked out a pub or two in search of traditional Irish music will enjoy the vicarious pleasure of following along with Colin Irwin on his quest. His interviews along the way with some of the leading figures in Irish music are one of the best parts of the book. Hearing Liam Clancy talk about his conversation with Shane MacGowan, bad boy of The Pogues, was priceless. Also funny was Irwin's own discomfort at being face to face with Clancy -- after a jouralistic career in which he had often mocked the trailblazing Clancy Brothers for their Aran-sweater-Oirish act that today seems over-the-top. Just as rewarding was seeing how unbothered Clancy was by the criticism.
This is a great, funny travel memoir and a darned good place to start your education on traditional Irish music. I can hear the music in my head but I only wish it could have been accompanied by a CD. He does provide an extensive discography, but I suspect most of them are out of print.