Jim Carroll

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Why writing about Irish bands can be bad for your health

There is one topic above all others which is guaranteed to have tanks parked on an Irish blog’s lawn by teatime: writing about Irish bands. Can you park your M1s on the left and Challengers on the right please? Musicians …

Tue, Jul 28, 2009, 09:45


There is one topic above all others which is guaranteed to have tanks parked on an Irish blog’s lawn by teatime: writing about Irish bands. Can you park your M1s on the left and Challengers on the right please?

Musicians are a thin-skinned lot. You scratch them and they bleed. And they keep bleeding: bleedin’ complaining about this, bleedin’ whinging about that, bleedin’ giving out about something else. Usually, the bleeding concerns how they’re regarded by the members of the fourth estate (dancing about architecture branch). Even members of allegedly successful and established acts get thick about less-than-flattering write-ups. Then, it gets back to the writers who inevitably chortle long and loud about it – and then write another review which is just as scathing to keep the circle in motion.

When it comes to homegrown acts, you can count on the camp followers and street-team groupies to join in and that’s when you need to inform AA Roadwatch about those tanks. In recent times, a couple of such skirmishes have broken out spoiling the usual sense of joy and happiness which normally prevails in the Irish online community. The debate here about The Ticket’s 50 Best Irish Music Acts Right Now, a downright bizarre discussion over a review of a Superjimenez album at State (a discussion which has probably at this stage been read by more people than have bought the album) and Johnny’s post about Irish bands getting soft reviews at home compared with more honest reviews abroad have been the latest manifestations of this protectionist trend.

While blogs, online forums and websites have made such rent-a-mob tactics easy to manage, there’s nothing new about this kind of orchestrated outrage. Back when broadband refered to the girth of the bass-player, negative mentions of Irish bands in the local press would see the immediate recruitment of an outraged mob clutching pitchforks and cudgels. Many elder hacks still have the laughter lines from some of those run-ins. Some probably still have the recordings of the 3am phone calls where a band member drukenly spits feathers down the line.

I’m sure it’s not just Irish musicians who are so sensitive, but the fact remains that critical reviews of local acts in Irish publications are the ones which cause the most fuming within local boundaries. A lot of this has to do with an unwritten rule peculiar to this bailwick where some publications and their house-hacks give Irish acts (or some Irish acts) an easy ride. It’s the green rock’n’roll card, where an Irish release gets an extra star or mark out of 10 which an act from, say, Wolverhampton would not get with the same album in the same situation.

Handling acts with kid gloves just because you have the same passport as them is never a good idea. As any eager student of the history of Irish next big things will tell you, bands who left here to take over the world with rave reviews from local papers in the arse-pocket of their jeans found that such reviews were not worth the paper they were written on. In the world beyond Howth Head, you were up against bands who’d already proven their chops and didn’t have to just rely on a fawning local press for their accolades. In most cases, those hotly tipped Irish acts eventually came home to lick their wounds and prop up a bar. Some would complain to anyone who’d listen that the UK music press of the time had an anti-Irish bias. An anti-Irish bias? 800 years of oppression and now this? A snotty review in a UK rag from someone rubbing it in about the potato famine? Padraig Pearse, where are you now that your country’s indie-pop acts need you?

The bands never learned from these outings and, worse, their fans and fanboys with typewriters didn’t either. All would wonder why acts who were the pick of the bunch at home fell apart like cheap suits when they went away. Very few would consider the fact that those acts were just not good enough to begin with. Even fewer would articulate that view in public. And the circle would go on and on and on.

There is, thankfully, more robust coverage of local acts in 2009. More outlets mean more room for different views and less of the horrific cosy consensus which once sadly reigned supreme. Yet there is still a rotten sense amongst some in the Irish music community that we should always support our own come what may. Not everyone has learned the lessons of the past.

That explains why the knives still come out when writers and commentators move away from the line that it’s all good and actually write what they really think about the act in question. Fans and bands who’ve become used to the soft treatment get uppity and air the kind of spluttering outrage usually experienced on Liveline when Joe Duffy is at his manipulative when a different, more considered and harsher opinion is expressed. Every reason under the sun is put forward for this negative review – the reviewer was bullied by the band’s drummer in school, the reviewer was jilted by the lead singer, the reviewer is first cousin twice removed with the manager of a band who are after the same support slot, the reviewer is an alien who doesn’t have any ears and, the one I’ve heard a few times over the years, the reviewer is a woman. The one reason which is never considered is that the band might not be any good and that the album or gig was rather dull. Better to invent some red herrings than face up to the source of the bad smell. It seems there are still some people out there who need to do a bit of copping on.