Celtic Concerto

Dublin is truly a city of drinking and chatter,but one where the music never stops

Written by Krishna Raj | New Delhi | Published: July 13, 2012 3:47 am

Dublin is truly a city of drinking and chatter,but one where the music never stops

While Belfast appears polished and orderly,Dublin is a city intoxicated by the three Irish Cs cint,ceol agus and craic (Gaelic for drinking,music and chatter). It is a city of beautifully dressed young people and old pubs,which encourages one to leave aside a maze of thoughts and grab the lute,instead.

A city that never sleeps,Dublin’s quaint Irish pubs remain open through the night,charming audiences with passionate musicians,hearty cuisine and rounds of old Guinness. The warmth of the old-style wooden interiors,the inviting fragrance of spirits,wooden barrels and Gaelic inscriptions take you to a different world. At the city’s famous Temple Bar complex,one can find some of the most sought-after Irish pubs like the charming St John Gogarty’s,The Auld Dubliner and The Temple Pub to name a few.

Typically,an Irish musical session consists of a group of musicians gathered informally with instruments like the Uilleann pipe (pronounced Eylen Pipe),a fiddle,a tin whistle with a sweet,shrill tone,a button accordion and the bodhran frame drum. While other instruments are said to have arrived in Ireland from outside,the bodhran is considered to be an indigenous Irish instrument. Usually seated around tables or on a small platform,the musicians create the perfect mood for the all-night “lock-ins” where guests spontaneously participate by singing along,dancing or just absorbing the melodies and heart-pounding rhythms. The type of music also depends on the kind of pub,and at the more traditional pubs outside Temple Bar,one can find serious performers with regular connoisseurs who understand the music.

Temple Bar is also known for its musical pub crawls where traditional musicians lead audiences from pub to pub,rendering good old classics coupled with hardy Irish humour,interesting anecdotes and tales of yore. At one pub,a part of the enthralling soiree was a hilarious story about how the scarcity of beer in County Cork led two men to visit Devon and return with cider in whiskey barrels. The highly potent combination of cider and whiskey was christened Johnny jump-up and hence the song: “Oh never,oh never,oh never again / If I live to be a hundred or a hundred n ten / I fell to the ground and I couldn’t get up / After drinkin’ a pint of da Johnny Jump-up!”

Armed with a folk drum and a single-stringed fiddle,I was readily welcomed by the musicians. As the jam unfolded,the audience danced with abandon to our music.

Ireland has been influenced by several cultures from the Vikings to the British. Its music,similarly,bears the diverse marks of Polish,Scottish and Indian influences. The most popular genre of Irish music today is dance music,where spirited jigs and reels (lively folk dances and accompanying tunes) form the foundation. Ballads,folk tunes and traditional singing styles also form a part of Ireland’s musical repertoire. The Sean Nos style of singing is considered Ireland’s most ancient. Rich in exquisite ornamentation and emotional content,I was hypnotised by the traditional renditions in pure Gaelic sung at the Gaeltachts (traditional Gaelic-speaking villages) around County Kerry. While Sean Nos dancing is more free-style with free hand and hip movements,the step dance performances,like the renowned Riverdance,tend to be more rigid,with rapid leg movements while the body and arms stay stiff.

While travelling,I discovered several similarities between Irish and Indian music in both the melodies and the rhythms. Francis McPeake III,of Belfast (he taught John Lennon),had once told me at his conservatory that both streams had an ancient spiritual connection. He said that influences from Indian music and dance could have been brought by travelling soldiers.

A break from tradition was provided by a superlative performance by Dublin’s Laptop Orchestra where young performers made magic with laptops,computer software,golf cables and wireless routers. A brainchild of composer Dan Trueman,the orchestra uses electronic instruments in a way similar to acoustic music. Besides hosting mega music festivals like The Temple Bar TradFest with star-studded line-ups,Dublin is known for its eclectic street musicians seen on almost every cobbled street,who fill the city with notes of the past and songs for the future.

The author is a travel writer and musician.

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