Colin Harper
& Trevor Hodgett,
Irish Folk, Trad & Blues:
A Secret History

(Collins, 2004)

One of the common conceptions is that Ireland imported folk-rock from the UK. As authors Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett assert in Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History, this simply is not true. They inform us that the group Sweeney's Men were the originators of the genre that was to revitalise folk music, not only here but throughout the world.

Much of the book's content was originally published in magazines and newspapers over the past decades and, although they have revised the material and added fascinating prologues, we get repeated phrases and anecdotes, which can jar at times. Still, the volume is full of fascinating facts, insights and behind-the-scenes stories.

We learn that Paul Brady was once for a very short period one of Sweeney's Men. Anne Briggs is cited as the influence on many of our best singers, male and female, and in this book we find out who she is and how she managed to delight so many while remaining relatively unknown.

The book reminded me of a band I saw back in the 1970s and had completely forgotten called Mellow Candle. They started out as three girls singing Helen Shapiro songs in a Dublin convent school and progressed through various incarnations and line-ups with a record deal bankrolled by the actor David Hemmings and backed by the backing group of the then phenomenally famous Cliff Richard. They shared the bill with the Chieftains and played a John Peel compered festival in Wexford.

The book gives us a great insight into the music business and tells us how much luck can play in determining success.

Here we meet great musicians who saw others, perhaps less talented, get the breaks. The mean-minded pettiness reported here could keep many away from a music career or, then again, it might prepare them better for it. The candour of the interviews featured is refreshing but one often wonders how music was produced at all in the circumstances -- demarcation lines on food, personality clashes and more are recorded here.

In the book you will find the big names like Van Morrison, Clannad and Them. But you will also be introduced to some pivotal other players without whom the modern music business would be much different.

Here you will find out about how Paul McCartney ran Wings, the acrimony over the names of bands like Them and Steeleye Span. You can read about Cara Dillon and her early years or the origins of Tara Records. International stars like Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan also appear.

This is a great read that does what a good book should do. It entertains while also educating the reader. In more than 400 pages this book transports the reader back to the genesis of the current Irish music scene.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 5 February 2005