It was Paddy McGinty’s Goat that must have first got me hooked (from my first year of birth) to songs and music with a compelling and contagious Celtic connection of one kind or other. Thank you Val Doonican for the music and some very natty bits of knitwear too. Songs by Scots or Irish singers have endlessly sang and rang true to me, beautifully and lyrically voicing good humour, tears, defiance, lurve, melodrama, lament and (ahem) sex – one of rock’n’rolls unholy trinity. Amen.
So, leaping forward a few years I recall the unsinkable Irish or Scottish tune-smiths that have mapped out a musical route and pathway through the glorious and mundane chaos of it all.
“I suppose I must have cried…”
First up is the most tear soaked and lump in the throat inducing tune from Ireland (via London) which for me, at least, is Thousands Are sailing by The Pogues. In just three and a half magical, musical, minutes this track vividly explores and illuminates the waves of Irish migration to America (and elsewhere) and the contrary push and pull factors which cruelly compel so many to reluctantly leave their birthplace then go onto celebrate it, nevertheless. Did I mention it also has a totally mesmerising, beguiling and uplifting musical threnody of fiddles and flute smack bang in the middle too? Sure I did.
“It’s a rat trap Billy…”
So, after the tears, pass me a Kleenexe – sniff- it’s time for some bellicose and unvarnished Celtic, musical, defiance…and what’s not to like about the youthful Sir Bob roaring through his brilliant number one narrative pop smash hit, Rat Trap, with his fellow Boomtown Rats? Gasp at its finger wagging rage about your, supposed, given place in society! Swoon at its power to topple the almighty plastic American film musical heroes John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Sigh as they triumphantly storm and strut around the Top of the Pops stage on Thursday night whilst tearing up the pictures of those overbearing Grease lovebirds Danny and Sandy! Marvel at it all as every spotty British teenager, like me, punched the air as the Rats ‘stuck it to the man’ then proceeded to pass ‘GO’ and collect much more than a mere £200 in monopoly money.
“Barbed wire love snags my jeans…”
By some way of contrast perhaps a bit of melodious musical harmony, peace and goodwill might be well placed at this stage? The Nolans, perhaps? Or maybe their b*?!+!rd other (dark) side of the streets, punk rock bruvvers – Stiff Little Fingers? Yeah, dim those lights, light up a scented candle and listen, what’s that playing in the background – oh, BARBED WIRE LOVE! A noisy, schooldays, rough diamond of a track from the bands raucous album Inflammable Material. I loved this album so much that I took it into school on the last day of term for one of my sniffy peers to sneer and dismiss the whole thing as ‘animal noise.’ I was wounded but that doesn’t stop pimply punk guitar boys thrashing around to awkwardly sing out their LURVE amidst the chaos of THE TROUBLES and my teenage days - as Jake Burns sang “I met you in no man’s land, across the wire we were holding hands, hearts abubble in the rouble, it was love at bomb sight…” Boom!
“How long, how long must we sing this song?”
If Stiff Little Fingers could sing about love across the barricades – they could – so can Bono’s boys, U2. Sunday, Bloody Sunday beats and rasps its way through a raw and unpolished lament for peace and justice amidst the ugly, bloody lack of it in 1983, 1984, 1985, and so on, to date. But again for me what makes this tune so fabulous is its social/political heart and raw, emotional appeal – with a thumbing big lick of plangent, wailing guitars and drums to boot! Paddy McGinty aside, this seems to be the infectious and most irresistible link.
“I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered, but you can’t stay here with every single hope you have shattered…”
The next up in my carefully contrived, connected, cornucopia of Celtic flavoured music comes from the North of the United Kingdom – home of Dennis the menace and Stuart Adams modestly named group, Big Country. Their debut album The Crossing knocks me out, every time I reach out to play it. Somehow the entire album sings Scotland at its best, brash, bold, loud and lyrical with an underlying tenderness amidst the crashing urgency of the songs and neat studio tweaks which somehow makes the guitar sound like a bagpipe - with wings. I love the artwork too on the inner sleeve (yes I know younger readers have no idea what those are or were in the era of mp3 sound files). Grainy, black and white carton images from a 1950’s illustrated Boys Own adventure story are scattered amidst the lyrics on the inner sleeve, evocative of The Sunday Post, The Broons and such like beloved Scots characters. If you think of New York and have to sing Frank Sinatra’s song ‘New York, New York’ Big Country’s songs come to mind every time I walk along Sauchiehall Street or the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
“Oh Jean, you let me get lucky with you!”
Coming to an end now with a bone shaking, musical crescendo from the SPECTACULAR and Spotty twins that can sing, and then some, I mean The Proclaimers of course! If you don’t know this tune, it’s from their 1990 album Sunshine on Leith and it’s a raw and emotional musical whoop of joy, delight and eventual relief to have someone to love you and love you back. It’s also, for such clean cut Celtic, Christian, rockers, quite a frenzied and rocking finale in the very best ‘sex and drugs and rock’n’roll tradition. I’m no expert, but for me it’s a musical version of a very, very merry and satisfying coupling. A Celtic connection which happily concludes my romp through just a few fabulous and favourite songs with a Scottish and Irish flavour, energy and rollicking good life!