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PostPosted: Sat Mar 23, 2019 12:19 pm 
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Next thursday on RTE : Slán Leis an Cheoil


The blurb:
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Tony MacMahon, one of the nation's most remarkable traditional musicians, recounts the pivotal events that shaped his life, determined his mind and influenced his art. The result is a fascinating rollercoaster ride of emotions.


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A lyrical portrait of a brilliant yet tormented artist, Slán leis an gCeol (Farewell to Music) explores the complexities of a talented and philosophical man. Tony MacMahon, one of Ireland’s most remarkable traditional musicians, was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is rapidly losing his ability to play.

His former skill is revealed through lively archival sequences which demonstrate his immense talent and the great pleasure he derived from performance. Now the loss of his creative voice is slowly killing his spirit and has led him to prepare for his own death through assisted suicide. Cathal Ó Cuaig’s at times harrowing film follows MacMahon to India where has spent recent winters working on his memoirs. Delving deeply into MacMahon’s mental anguish, the film reveals a difficult story of euphoric highs and devastating lows through a long battle with bipolar disorder wherein he tried to use his passion and creativity to turn his darkness into light.


McMahon is always good for deep insight, strongly held, sometimes controversial but always passionate and thought provoking opinions (See his 1996 presentation to the Crossroads conference: The Language of passion ) and music of great emotional intensity. Now looking back, at the end, reflecting on his life, this is his farewell to music and will be one to watch.

Next Thursday or on RTE.ie/player [will post direct link once it becomes available).


See also : Slán leis an gCeol- how we made the intimate portrait of Tony Mac Mahon

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2019 4:06 pm 
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That was an interesting essay to read, maybe someday the film will be available in the states.

The essay makes the classic move that links authenticity to nationalism. At every point, it sets up the idea of a "real" music which expresses the soul of Ireland. This is a nationalist question: it's all bound up in what's Irish and what's not. On the one hand, this sort of excludes all people who don't live in Ireland from ever playing genuine Irish music. OK, I can understand the impulse there, but what you end up then promoting is exactly the kind of tourist popularity he deplores. People flocked to Doolin seeking what he described, and very shortly everybody was complaining that Doolin had been irreparably harmed by the bearded tourists. The real thing only exists in isolation; the only way to understand it is by piercing the isolation: in other word, tourism, which destroys it. Micho, on the other hand, seems to have very much enjoyed his international popularity. I like his argument for humility and careful listening, sure, and when I'm a tourist I try to be a quiet, respectful tourist, but he's sending a mixed message: you can't appreciate this music except in its native setting, and that means you can't actually appreciate it, you can only BE it. And the people he's criticizing are failing at "being Irish," even the ones born and raised in Ireland.

Put aside whether or not X or Y living Irish person is a legitimate Irish musician: an example of how weird that is comes when he cites Patsy Touhey as an exemplar of the real Irish thing. Touhey came to the US when he was three years old, and he started touring in Vaudeville shows very early, and he never set foot on Irish soil again except perhaps the Irish soil imported and placed on a giant map of Ireland at the St. Louis Fair of 1904, where he played in front of a mock Irish village, and where Abbey theater players refused to perform with him because they though his act was not really Irish. He's a phenomenal player--I still almost can't believe some of the stuff he played. But he didn't develop that style and that facility after a day of cutting turf. He developed it playing three sets a day on Vaudeville, nine months of the year, performing Irishness professionally for ethnically mixed crowds of Americans.

I love a lot of what's in that, as I sit daily and meditatively practicing "Rolling in the Ryegrass" or "the Green Mountain," for no audience other than my own spirit, but he's wound himself around a tree with that argument. It's not really about music; it's about nationalism. Which is fine, nationalism is important. But he ends up with an impossible view of what the real might be.

I suppose he's arguing that music is good when it's played for love and not for money, ok yeah I kind of agree, but there again people do sometimes manage to combine the two.


Also it's really puzzling to me that he praises Michael Flatley: he always seemed like an example of American gaudy excess stapled to a fantasy of irishness: The Quiet Man with more heel toe battering.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2019 1:28 am 
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Our Tony can go down the nationalist rabbit hole a bit sometimes, not all that uncommon I am afraid with some figures around this music. At least5 he doesn't maintain, like one of his friends, that only Irishmen have the genetic make-up that enables them to play diddly music. I did hear him. or his aforementioned friend, utter once that the utter pinnacle of Irishness was an Irish Man playing a Slow Air on the Pipes. Adding, casually, another ism to the list of offences (that was in pre-Fair Plé days).

He made an arse of himself when phoning in to Joe Duffy's radio programme to say Alec Finn was a a second rate accompanist and a Yorkshireman to boot (seemingly implying a causality between the second and the first) so he shouldn't have any opinions on Irish music. But I have found him to be kinder and more nuanced in more private and relaxed settings and most people don't take him too serious when he goes off on one of his rants. He's a complex character with contradictory streaks.

I come from a background that bred a deep suspicion of any sort of nationalism into me, let's put it that way and leave the subject for, perhaps, another day. I could go off on one myself there. Being deeply involved in Irish Traditional Music sometimes involves navigating around murky waters.

I am fully with him on other points he makes there though, treating music as another commodity, Breathnach's theory of 'footprints', music of people and places and all that but rather than music belonging to a nationality I think music belongs to the musicians who dedicate their their time and efforts to it, to bring along what's been handed to them and carry the imprint of what went before. Expressing their life's experiences and humanity through the shared language of this particular art form

'Tradition' being more about the means of transmission, the community, it's social interactions and the environment they take place in people and places again, the experiences and shared humanity of its participants.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2019 5:12 am 
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Mr.Gumby wrote:
rather than music belonging to a nationality I think music belongs to the musicians who dedicate their their time and efforts to it, to bring along what's been handed to them and carry the imprint of what went before. 'Tradition' being more about the means of transmission, the social networks that exist, people and places again, the experiences and shared humanity of its participants.



I'm often struck by how musicians of all sorts tend to develop a sense of history, and it's almost always connected to specific musicians they recognize and admire. A teenage kid might at first only love the hotshot guitar hero of the day, but if he sticks with the instrument he's almost always drawn back. I've done a lot of gigs where people want to announce the tune: "this tune was written by X; it was famously covered by Y who added this stylistic change." Nobody does it, because the audience won't put up with it, but musicians often want to do do it because it reflects their own personal journey through the history of the medium.

"Authenticity" is always bound up in nationalism/colonialism, always. I don't think the concept exists outside of nationalism. Authenticity can be used by the oppressor to justify oppression--"these people have an authentic primitive culture"--or it can be used to justify liberation--"we are the X people and we have an authentically different culture distinct from you." Often the primitiveness or distance from centers of power is the sign of value, like the closer the music gets to Dublin or New York, and the further from the bog or the bayou, the less authentic it gets. But that just sets up a tourist aesthetic: go make a journey to see the authentic thing. It's like selling rare commodities from the colonies.

O'Neill on the one hand describes the music as folk music, songs passed along in families, lilted by mothers at the spinning wheel or danced at the crossroads, and then celebrates virtuoso players who are way better than anyone else, and then complains that people won't support the music financially. He's got three different things going on: it's the natural expression of the humble folk; it's the bravura expression of distinctively great individual musicians like Touhey, and it's a commercial obligation Irish people fail to meet. These are kind of contradictory claims: if you're appreciating folk music by paying money to see a virtuoso player who is way better than the common run there are some internal contradictions at play.

I would have liked to have met Breathnach. He seems like a tart and peppery guy with lots of strongly held opinions but a big heart


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2019 5:20 am 
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Quote:
I would have liked to have met Breathnach. He seems like a tart and peppery guy with lots of strongly held opinions but a big heart


Breandán was sound, very encouraging if he saw a genuine interest and potential in someone, anyone. He had opinions and didn't do petty nationalism. Without him, Tommy Munnelly and Muirís Ó Rochain (and the wave of like minded people they encouraged and drew along) the world of Irish music would look completely different today. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 26, 2019 12:01 pm 
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Interesting how this topic evolves.

Started talking about Tony Mc Mahon, moves through the regional/ethnic purity of Irish
folk music, and ends with Brendan Breathnach's rarely noticed opinions.

I like a lot of what is recognized, and lament what isn't mentioned.

Like how, where, and why all folk music gets its unique flavor.

So you'll agree there is a vast chasm
between Robert Johnson's blues recordings, with implied 1920's life sounds in them such as the
renowned Terraplane car he mentions, or the gentle, yet erotic, sway of his base lines, and so on;
compared to the mechanical maniacal collossus of noise found among those inspired by him, such as
John Mayall. The contrast could not be more complete when you consider the cruel harsh noise ridden world that stout devotee lived in.

Any teen, 1950s etc, as well as now, is entranced by Johnson's pained bleatings, like a
forlorn cat in a tree. But you'd have to be high as a kite to be similarly moved by the devotees
who aped him.

There are some similarities to Tony's circumstance here. He was enraptured by Joe Cooley, an impossibly difficult act to follow, never mind eclipse. The Cooley thing is the same as Johnson, wild loneliness of, in this case, the immigrant, and not Johnson's racial alienation, although these two are
sides of the same coin. Yet there is some parallel here in a trend set by genius and echoed by devotee.

I do not think there is much of case to be made that this duality is the root of in-authenticity of an entire genre, although some might want to make that case for personcentric music, eg Elvis impersonators etc.

While there may be a case for criticizing a devotee of Cooley for not quite making the grade, it is an entirely different kettle of fish saying that a devotee of a genre isn't authentic because of his/her ethnicity.

Moving to TM on the authenticity of Irish music; I don't, TBH, think it matters at all. Because this formal Cultass style taught today has become global with no roots in any particular place. Yes it is compliant with the Ceilidh tradition which CCE embraced as authentic. But because of their standardization, their style has lost its regional flavor, and in a lot of cases, sadly it's gentle rhythms as well.

In effect anybody anywhere who has the urge can learn Irish folk music to a standard as good as, and better than the best Irish native.

So what is TM really saying? He does not like some Chinaman playing the Uillean Pipes better than Ennis, or Clancy, or Flynn. Maybe the Chinaman can't speak a word of English, never mind An Gaelge, yet when it comes to Crans, Rolls and Trills he is the Paganini of the UP!

There is no good ground to complain, TM, because Irish musicians have been recording, selling, and performing the music all over the globe for the last several decades. It's like the California gold rush, you find it, people - lots and lots of them - will come and TAKE IT AWAY from you.

I mean what did you expect would happen? You got paid for what you sold didn't you?

On point here; I years ago heard a Sean-Nos song about this very thing where the lyric complains about the Irish hoors who sold their poetry for drink and so on, who then are eclipsed by the sasenachs who steal the glory from them.

Again, if John Mayall had never heard the blues, he would probably have become an insurance agent. And if Ting Dong Poo had never heard Tony McMahon playing like Joe Cooley, he would have become a noodle sales man, not the Paganini of the Uilleann Pipes.

I'll get me hat.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 26, 2019 12:40 pm 
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If you haven't read it Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta is very good. Basically he points out that Robert Johnson was never very popular with African Americans, nor was he especially distinctive or influential in that community, but he owes his fame to notions abut black authenticity held by white people, and white people celebrate him as an example of black authenticity which had little to do with how black Mississipians lived at the time he recorded. I mean, poverty and segregation aside, they were listening to swing bands and Bob Wills and commercial Gospel.

I agree that the primary claim coming out of MacMahon's essay is racial, a kind of essential purity, and you can't have your cake and eat it to, in that it's hard to have music be appreciated and loved and also isolated and protected, unless you put it behind glass like a museum exhibit.

A friend had a whole critique of Smithsonian American history museum, that it was perverse, because it was always inciting desires that it thwarted. Like you want to step on the train and pull the whistle, or sit behind the wheel of the car, or try on the hat or the First Lady gown. But the message of the museum is "history doesn't belong to you, it has to be protected from you; your touch is destructive." That's pretty much MacMahon's argument


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 26, 2019 4:12 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
If you haven't read it Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta is very good. Basically he points out that Robert Johnson was never very popular with African Americans, nor was he especially distinctive or influential in that community, but he owes his fame to notions abut black authenticity held by white people, and white people celebrate him as an example of black authenticity which had little to do with how black Mississipians lived at the time he recorded. I mean, poverty and segregation aside, they were listening to swing bands and Bob Wills and commercial Gospel.


Thanks for the reference, will look it up.
But, I want to speak to the idea that Johnson was not popular among AAs.

Local to me here is an open mic night where, and surprised would you be to hear it, the standard is
very high. Now among those performing, a couple of AA guys. It would be wrong of me to not share
that they are superb musicians, and guess what they most love to play?

Hendrix and Johnson.

So even if somebody years ago researched and came up with that idea, today here in the city where RJ made his first recordings, I find it very hard to accept the idea that AAs don't dig the Delta Bluesman.

High 70f s here. Warming my beer writing I have to quit to chill it.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2019 7:11 am 
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It has just gone up on the player, taking longer than normal but it's up now : Slan Leis an gCeol.

I watched it on Thursdaynight and thought it was pretty grim. Don't expect to walk away with your spirits lifted.

His music shone light into the darkness though.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2019 8:31 am 
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Seems to have vanished again--The link doesn't wrk here in the states and searching for Slan Leis an gCeol cane up empty


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2019 9:05 am 
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It's still there. They do sometimes put geographical restrictions on material from independent film makers. Licensing issues.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 17, 2019 4:13 am 
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Mr. Gumby has it right regarding Mr. MacMahon, no more to be said really.

Mr. Breathnach was a grand man, very encouraging and generous with his knowledge. I have a couple of letters from him when I first started to struggle with the uilleann pipes in Sweden back in the day.

Quote:
If you haven't read it Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta is very good. Basically he points out that Robert Johnson was never very popular with African Americans, nor was he especially distinctive or influential in that community, but he owes his fame to notions abut black authenticity held by white people... pb+j


This is not true. Johnson was indeed very influential and popular amongst contemporary blues musicians as he was so good. Even after his demise his influence remained strong in the blues community. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Lockwood Jr., Buddy Guy, Elmore James etc. were affected by Johnson's music. Like Johnny Doran, Johnson's few recordings were only made a couple of years before his untimely death. Again like Johnny Doran in Ireland, Johnson travelling extensively and made quite a good living playing his music for people.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 17, 2019 5:59 am 
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Steampacket wrote:
Mr. Gumby has it right regarding Mr. MacMahon, no more to be said really.

Mr. Breathnach was a grand man, very encouraging and generous with his knowledge. I have a couple of letters from him when I first started to struggle with the uilleann pipes in Sweden back in the day.

Quote:
If you haven't read it Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta is very good. Basically he points out that Robert Johnson was never very popular with African Americans, nor was he especially distinctive or influential in that community, but he owes his fame to notions abut black authenticity held by white people... pb+j


This is not true. Johnson was indeed very influential and popular amongst contemporary blues musicians as he was so good. Even after his demise his influence remained strong in the blues community. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Lockwood Jr., Buddy Guy, Elmore James etc. were affected by Johnson's music. Like Johnny Doran, Johnson's few recordings were only made a couple of years before his untimely death. Again like Johnny Doran in Ireland, Johnson travelling extensively and made quite a good living playing his music for people.



I suggest you read the book and review the evidence he presents. Here's an interview he did the Ned Sublette; http://afropop.org/articles/elijah-wald-on-escaping-the-delta


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