Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ó Riada sa Gaiety

Sometimes, it's hard to see the love. RTÉ released a Best of Scrap Saturday maybe two years ago, retailing at twenty lids old money I believe, and would you believe it, the lazy shameless swine showed no sign whatsoever of having bothered to go through the tapes at all. There was no evidence of late-night arguments and heated discussions over what could make the final edition and what had to be left beside, as should happen with all Best Ofs. There were no extensive sleeve-notes on Scrap Saturday and the tremendous impact it had at the time. All posterity got was an arbitrary episode from the show that they didn't even bother to divide up into tracks, on the off chance that people might before some sketches over others, along with two special episodes of the show, Scrap Charlie and Scrap Ireland. The inclusion of the Scrap Charlie show was legitimate as it was a classic and featured Mr Haughey, the show's most enduring character, but the inclusion of Scrap Ireland, a once-off live show produced as a stunt for the launch of Radio Ireland in 1997 - someone must have been having a laugh. Just not the poor punter who shelled out twenty bucks.

The last Best of Luke Kelly to come out was another disappointment. I don't doubt for a second the good intentions with which it was released, but to call it the Best of Luke Kelly is patently wrong when so much of the Dubliners' sixties material was unavailable due to arguments over rights. And it's all very sad, as Dermot Morgan and Luke Kelly, who have been giants of Irish cultural life, deserve better.

Imagine then, the sweet relief and the very real joy experienced by a smitten Spailpín twenty minutes ago when he opened his brand new re-released and re-packaged CD of Ó Riada sa Gaiety, the most famous of the records Seán Ó Riada, Ceoltóirí Chualann and Seán Ó Sé released during Ó Riada's short life. It's beautiful, it really is. There is a long, bilingual booklet with sleevenotes by four - four! - different authors, including Ó Riada's son Peadar, and there are three extra tracks thown in as well into the bargain. I felt like cheering, I really did.

The reason this is big news is because Seán Ó Riada was the first man to give musical respectability to Irish traditional music. By forming Ceoltóirí Chualann, by orchestrating the old tunes, by playing traditional Irish music in concert halls wearing dinner jackets, Ó Riada showed the country and the world that traditional Irish music was not some drunks sawing away at fiddles on fair days, but one of the great ethnic musics of the world, fit to take its place with the great ethnic musics of the world.

Treat yourselves and give it a listen. And in case you're wondering why Track 7, Marbhna Luimnigh, sounds so familiar, that's because yes, it is the music from both Miller's Crossing and The Shawshank Redemption. Small world.

Thank God for Gael-Linn, and please God they'll do as impressive a job on the rest of the Ó Riada back-catalogue. The man deserves that much.