Artists of Varied Persuasion
Various Artists, New Music from Northern Ireland, Northern Ire-
land Music Industry Commission (***)
If you had asked me, before I received this compilation, to name
a few acts from Northern Ireland, I would've cited Van Mor-
rison, the Undertones, and Stiff Little Fingers (I might've even made a case for Undertones spin-off band That Petrol Emotion).
According to this two-CD set, Snow Patrol, Ash, and the Divine
Comedy [right] also call the North home. (In a recent article for
The Independent, Andy Gill describes Snow Patrol as "the weedi-
est of the Coldplay copyists trailing in the band's wake." Ouch.)
The only other name that rang a bell was Oppenheimer, since I just
reviewed their second CD, Take the Whole Midrange and Boost It.
To judge by these 28 tracks, Nor-
thern Ireland's music scene isn't
significantly different from that
of the Republic of Ireland—or
even America and Great Britain.
Nonetheless, these sounds aren't
as off-kilter as some of the stuff
that's been coming out of Scotland
and Wales (courtesy Arab Strap,
Mogwai, Super Furry Animals,
etc.), but the compilers probably chose to focus on those
artists most likely to cross over into the commercial arena.
Also, women are conspicuous by their absence. One female per-
former, Claire Sproule with the wispy "Waiting," out of 28 equals a
measly 4%, not counting Chris Elliot's Jupiter Ace house anthem
"Dreams Come True" featuring singer/songwriter Alison David.
Are there significantly fewer women in Northern Ireland,
fewer female musicians, or are they just not receiving the nec-
essary encouragement? If this compilation is representative, there's a story in there for some enterprising music writer.
So, most selections are all right, but not mind-blowing—
though Lafaro and the Answer [below] certainly rock hard
enough. I'm glad Northern Ireland has become a more pleas-
ant place to live, and I hope that continues to be the case, but a
blistering punk landmark like Stiff Little Fingers' Inflammable
Material never would've emerged from the North of today. Hap-
pier times make for happier music. I wish no one unhappy times,
but I need more tension in my tunes, regardless as to the genre.
That said, Londonderry lad Neil Han-
non (the Divine Comedy) stands out
like a velvet suit in a rack of t-shirts.
He contributes the Spanish-inflected
"A Lady of a Certain Age" (off 2006's
Victory for the Common Muse), the
story of a bright young thing who
turns into a careworn dowager as she
drifts through Europe. Aside from his
own records and work with Tom
Jones, Ute Lemper, and Charlotte
Gainsbourg, Hannon appears in Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.
Things I learned from the liner notes: composer David Holm-
es (Out of Sight, Ocean's 11) hails from the region. Also, out-
er Belfast's the Answer features a vocalist who shares a sur-
name with the best known actor to emerge from the North.
His name is Cormac Neeson and, as his first name indicates
(see McCarthy, Cormac), he sings as if he'd been raised in the South—
the American South. (As Neeson told the BBC in 2005, "We play
high voltage rock and roll for the most part—bit of blues going on
there, bit of soul.") As with Hannon, Neeson just may have the
goods to conquer the wide world beyond his tiny country.
Philomena Lynott thinks so. According to The Independent:
The ultimate stamp of approval, though, came when Philo-
mena Lynott, mother of late Thin Lizzy legend Phil Lynott,
allowed The Answer's Micky Waters a go on the black, mirror-
scratch-plated Fender bass that her son is pictured with on the
cover of Lizzy's seminal 1978 album, Live and Dangerous.
"It was incredible—too much, almost," says The Answer's
bass guitarist. "Philomena had it locked in her basement and,
because Phil wrote on it, you could feel all that history, all those
songs. We played a gig to help raise funds for the bronze statue of
Phil that went up in Dublin, and that was Philomena's way of say-
ing thanks. She's a lovely woman. We call her the queen of Ireland."
Endnote: Aside from the paucity of women, Music from
Northern Ireland, a promo-only release, appears to be 100%
non-black (to judge by the booklet photos). I could raise a ruck-
us about that, except I suspect the North isn't as integrated as
the Republic (and I'm not suggesting the South doesn't have a
ways to go). I'm sure that will change as Northern Ireland
becomes a more attractive travel destination. For more infor-
mation about the Answer, please click here or here. Images
from Planetary Group, the All Music Guide, and Wikipedia.