Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Late Late: Guests from Aldi, 24 Carat Diamonds Left at Home

The galling thing about the Late Late Show’s booking policy isn’t just the pool of dodos from which guests are regularly harvested, painful though that pool is. It’s that the Late Late is remiss in its duty as the cultural flagship of the nation in bringing actual culture to the people, and churns out a lot of old gas from Frances Black, Eamon Holmes and Charles Bird instead.

An Spailpín was reminded of this when buying a CD recently. The CD featured Seán Ó Sé as a guest star of the Turloughmore Ceilí Band, which is a development that An Spailpín thinks worthy of a Late Late special all to itself. Bear with me for a few hundred words, and then decide if this isn’t of greater import to the nation than Ronan Keating or Mary Byrne.

Who is Seán Ó Sé?
Seán Ó Sé is a retired schoolteacher in Cork. But in his spare time he is one of the saviours of Irish traditional music. The economy is buggered, the language has been burning diesel for over a hundred years and survives from sheer spite alone, but one thing we did do right is that we saved the music.

The rising tide of the 1960s US folk scene helped in no small measure of course, t say nothing of the huge archive at the BBC offices in Shepherd’s Bush, but the indigenous impetus to save the music came from Seán Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chulann. Ó Riada showed that Irish traditional music was every bit as sophisticated as the great musics of Europe if arranged in a similar style and all of a sudden the nation realised that we didn’t have to hide fiddles under the bed like they were some sign of hopeless boggery. The music took her place among the musics of the world and hasn’t looked back.

Seán Ó Sé was the singer in Seán Ó Riada’s band. Why Ó Sé didn’t move on when Ceoltóirí mutated into the Chieftains after Ó Riada’s early death in 1970 I don’t know, but Ó Sé is still an unquestioned hero of Irish music and culture and should be treated as such even if he never cleared his throat to sing An Poc ar Buile again.

But he’s done even more than that. Recently retired from teaching, Ó Sé is using his retirement to push the boundaries of music even further, and the collaboration with the Turloughmore Ceilí Band is further evidence of that.

And Why’s That?
Because although he loved traditional music, Seán Ó Riada had very clear ideas of what traditional music is and what it isn’t. And Seán Ó Riada particularly despised ceilí bands. He hated them. He said they had “all the musical integrity of a bluebottle buzzing around in a jamjar.” It was a rotten and unfair to thing to say – not least for a man who played the harpsichord himself, hardly the prettiest of instruments.

Ceilí bands had their advocates too, not least the late Ciarán Mac Mathúna, who pointed out that buy playing them at dances ceilí bands saved countless tunes that could have been lost. But there has always been that snobbery associated with ceilí bands, that that are not fully of the tradition.

Crossing No Man’s Land
And that’s what makes the Ó Sé collaboration with the Turloughmore so significant. Ó Sé has crossed no man’s land to join the opposition. In recording a CD with the Turloughmore Ceilí Band, Seán Ó Sé has declared music to be all one, streaming out from the forts of Tuatha de Danann and the other weird peoples that have lived here before us.

If that magic is captured in the nets of the Pipers’ Club or Ceoltas Ceoltóirí Éireann or the hammer men on stage at a hooley while the dancers belt the floor, what matter, what odds? Isn’t it all music all the same, and all particularly Irish, resonant and harmonious with the Irish soul?

That’s what An Spailpín thinks a Late Late Show should be about. The Chieftains and Ó Sé talking about Ó Riada and what he did. Jim McCann and Barney McKenna talking about the folk singers, now the Clancys all roam the other worlds. Planxty and the Bothy Band and Altan to bring it up to date. And then a huge band of the whole damned lot of them, Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, giving it socks on the Rocky Road to Dublin.

And what do I get instead? “Ryan Tubridy chats to Charlie Bird about his new documentary series of legendary Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean. Mary McEvoy talks about her new book, Ireland's greatest slimmer gives advice on how to shed the pounds, Ali Hewson and Adi Roche talk about the Chernobyl Children and Jessie J performs her hit single, 'Price Tag'.”

Price Tag, indeed. Go gcuire Seán Ó Sé an dea-chath fós, go gcasa sé a amhráin go binn go bráth, agus go mbronntar an ómós atá tuilte do lá breá éigin gan moil.