SET to be broadcast by RTÉ and the BBC over the coming days, tonight’s Ceiliúradh event at the Royal Albert Hall is a missed opportunity to really highlight the massive impact Irish people have made on British culture.
The State Visit organisers have billed the line-up as one that celebrates the best of Irish and British culture. It’s nothing even close to that.
This is a sanitised bill designed to show off Ireland and risk-free of anyone who might, God forbid, make a show of Ireland. It’s an advertisement for Ireland rather than a celebration of the Irish in Britain. It should have been called Fógra.
On a night truly celebrating the Irish in Britain you might have hoped to see a gang of proudly second-generation Irish Brits taking centre stage. There are many of those.
Off the top of my head I’m thinking of people such as playwright Martin McDonagh; novelist John Healy; musicians Noel and Liam Gallagher, Dexys Midnight Runners, Boy George, Johnny Marr, Kate Bush, Morrissey, Mani from The Stone Roses, The Buzzcocks, even Paul McCartney.
On Tuesday the Queen even name-checked Manchester- Irishman Danny Boyle in her speech. Will he be there? Will he heck?
A glance at who will take the stage tells a different story – a story where by the agenda is one of promotion of Ireland rather than a celebration of what the Irish in Britain have achieved.
Ceiliúradh is an excuse for a night out at the Royal Albert Hall and little more than a marketing opportunity for the Irish Government-funded Culture Ireland, who have poured a generous amount of cash into the evening.
Elvis Costello – who was born Declan McManus – is the only major second-generation Irish name on the line-up. This should have been a night of Elvis Costellos.
Instead we get people such as Paul Brady, Glen Hansard, Imelda May, Joseph O’Connor, Lisa Hannigan, The Gloaming, Villagers’ Conor O’Brien, Eimear Quinn, Fiona Shaw and Dónal Lunny – all fine Irish artists in their own right but, with the exception of Brady and Shaw, ones with no real attachment to Britain. In fact, take away the venue and this concert might as well be taking place in Dublin. It’s not that much different from that which was staged for the Queen in 2011.
MC Dermot O’Leary and the aforementioned Costello aside, the only other major second-generation names are found tucked away at the back in the house band. Manchester’s Michael McGoldrick, London’s John Carty and Luton’s Anthony Drennan are all fine musicians, but they’re not household names or Irish artists who have made a significant impact on British culture.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s sure to be a good night in one of the world’s most iconic venues, but it’s a golden opportunity squandered to push the impact that Irish artists – first or second generation – have had on Britain.
Assuming everybody who could possibly play was willing and able, here’s the line-up I would have selected:
Morrissey opens the night with Irish Blood/ English Heart
“Irish blood, English heart, this I’m made of/ There is no-one on earth I’m afraid of” – cracking opening lines to kick off the evening and sum up something that many second-generation Irish feel. Aside from the fact that he probably couldn’t be bothered, Morrissey’s phone probably didn’t ring because of his life-long hatred of the Royal family. They won’t have liked the song’s closing verse – “I’ve been dreaming of a time when/ The English are sick to death of Labour/ And Tories, and spit upon the name of Oliver Cromwell/ And denounce this royal line that still salute him/ And will salute him forever”.
The ultimate London-Irish band, The Pogues drew from the Irish traditional music heritage and mangled it up with the very British scene happening around them – punk. If ever a band encapsulated what it was to fuse our two cultures together, it was Shane McGowan and Co. They have countless songs to choose from which fuse the Irish balled form with lyrics documenting life in England – A Rainy Night in Soho, The Boys From The County Hell, White City, Street of Sorrow/ Birmingham Six – take your pick. For many, they gave teh Irish in Britain a voice and should be celebrated here.
With Oasis going up in flames we might be asking too much to put both Gallagher brothers back into the same room so we’ll take Noel. Raised second-generation Irish in Manchester, Gallagher has always spoken with passion about what his Irishness means to him. The songwriter behind one of the biggest British bands of all time, here is an Irishman who has had a huge influence in Britain – a no-brainer for the Albert Hall organisers. We’d have hoped he’d play Digsy’s Dinner in a nod to Tuesday’s State banquet – I’ll treat you like a Queen/ I’ll give you strawberries and cream/ Then your friends will all go green/ For my lasagne.
President Higgins is a man who sees himself very much as a well-read, culture vulture. No doubt he’s read about Heathcliff and Cathy. This one is for him from the second-generation Irish Kate Bush.
A man who thankfully is on the bill tonight, the Strabane-born songwriter has penned one of the best songs about being Irish in Britain during the 1970s. We’d make sure he performed Nothing But The Same Old Story. Tonight he’ll probably play The Island.
The Sex Pistols close Ceiliúradh with God Save The Queen
When asked if he would raise his glass in a toast to Her Royal Highness as God Save The Queenplayed in the background, perhaps this is what Martin McGuinness had in mind. Frontman and songwriter John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) was born to Irish immigrants John Christopher Lydon and Eileen Barry. He’s written a brilliant book partly about being Irish in Britain (No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks) and to this day travels under an Irish passport. This song changed a generation of British people and influenced countless artists who embraced Lydon’s ethos – and that of punk – to go and do it for yourself. Few Irish-raised songwriters have written anything as influencial. Would really make for a memorable end to the night and the line “tourists are money” would be suitably apt.
***This interview was originally published in The Irish Post in May 2014**
© Steve Cummins.