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Saturday 1 August 2009

Songs Of The Old West

According to the sleeve notes on Brendan Shine's "Irish Startime" LP: "Not many artistes can switch from Irish songs to Country songs and give each idiom its own subtle feel in interpretation and presentation."

With all due respect to the mighty Mr Shine, that may have been true in 1978 when that album was released, but at some point in the last 30 years they seem to have discovered a formula for churning out Country 'n Irish numbers.

The basic steps for producing what you might call a Bog Standard ("For Peat's Sake", I hear you say, "no more puns") Country 'n Irish song are:

1. Take a conventional country tune that could have been produced in Nashville any time between the late 1950s and mid 1970s; then either

2. Throw in as many references to Irish place names as you think you can get away with; or

3. Get very sentimental about your mother.

Kevin Prendergast's album "My Home Is In The West" is a typical example of how to apply this technique. On a single album he crams in songs about Galway, Roscommon, Leitrim and Mayo (twice) - picking a county or province is always a good excuse for mentioning lots of towns and villages - and seven others with other place names in the title. He rounds the collection off with three or possibly four songs about mother (I am assuming "Our House Is A Home" is a tribute to Kevin's silver-haired Mammy but I can't bring myself to listen to it again in order to check).

Where the "Irish Startime" sleeve notes are correct is that not everybody gets it right. Here are examples of how to do it and how not to it.

RIGHT: "Pretty Little Girl From Omagh" by Frankie McBride. While primarily about Omagh, Frankie manages to refer to Strabane and Monaghan (to help you place Omagh geographically) and Tramore (where he and the pretty little girl met on holiday). But he does so in such a way that it doesn't seemed forced. As they always say about film nudity, it appears integral to the plot.

WRONG: "I've Been Everywhere" by Dermot Hegarty. This Irish rewrite of the old Hank Snow standard just comes across as desperate. If I was a resident of one of the 73,000 places he mentions I think I would feel used.

For true mastery of the form, though, you do need to go back to one of the Colossi of Country 'n Irish like Mr Shine or Big Tom. As it's a Saturday we'll treat you to a clip from each of them. Watch out for some excellent jumper work by Big Tom.

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