Winnie Czulinski,
Drone On:
The High History of Celtic Music

(Sound & Vision, 2004)

This is a weird, wild, wonderful read. Despite her name, Winnie Czulinski is an avowed Celtophile and has written extensively in the field. Mind you, having read the book, there may even be Polish or Russian or Brazilian Celts skulking out there.

Reading Drone On, subtitled "The High History of Celtic Music," is like attending an Irish story night in a good, non-music pub. The teller of tales mixes fact, fiction, speculation and downright lies to make the night a joy to recall. As we say here in Ireland -- and probably all over the planet -- "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Having said that, maybe every word, syllable, dot and comma of this book is gospel truth, and if it is I apologize -- but somehow I don't think so. There are tons of great facts, insights and anecdotes here, but I also detect the occasional plant, so I would be careful about what parts to use for a thesis. And, having said that, I would urge anyone with a modicum of interest in Celts, music or history to buy, read and enjoy this book because I believe it is there to be enjoyed.

Winnie takes us on a breakneck tour of the various Celtic lands and legends. Along the way, you get a flavour of the irreverence with, for instance, a reference to Fionn McCool's Fianna as the "F Troop."

Scotland's Thomas the Rhymer reminds us of a certain email address for a well-known editor. I was not too well up on this Scot or a number of Welsh, Breton and other Celts. The potted biography of Francis O'Neill and his contribution to collecting and preserving the tradition is excellent. The note that the chief collected 1,850 pieces compared to much smaller numbers by Edward Bunting and George Petrie operating on home ground just goes to prove that foreign shores make the Celts more Celtic.

The book also looks at the Celtic contribution to country and American folk styles of music, as well as the transition of songs like "The Patriot Game" into "God on Our Side," telling us the tune comes from the Appalachians as "The Merry Month of May" and was popularized as "Bold Grenadier" by Jo Stafford. And all that comes in 10 lines from this 200-page book, so imagine the other insights.

Riverdance as the inspiration for writing the book gets a fair few pages, as does Celtic music in the movies from Titanic to Barry Lyndon. Oh, and I love the comparison of the Dubliners to ZZ Top -- beardwise at least.

The book brought me closer to a number of groups playing Celtic music to the west of the Atlantic. I have reviewed many of them, so it was nice to read a little more about them. This is a wonderful book in the old sense of the word, being full of wonder. It is full of wonderous facts, but it also makes us wonder how many of the comic asides are true and how many false.

by Nicky Rossiter
22 October 2005

Buy it from