Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Oh no, here come the purists!

We’ve had a few issues with purists of late, which may or may not have had something to do with the upcoming referendum. It began with the theatre lads, who arrived here last week with pitchforks, scarves and copies of …

Wed, May 2, 2012, 08:29


We’ve had a few issues with purists of late, which may or may not have had something to do with the upcoming referendum. It began with the theatre lads, who arrived here last week with pitchforks, scarves and copies of “Dramaturgy for Beginners” to chastise us mere philistines for deigning to write about theatre. Over the last few days, the music mob have joined the party. We’ve seen a plague of purists descend on poor Nialler9′s gaff armed with fiddles and bodhrans after he had the temerity to write about traditional Irish music in the context of five acts he was recommending to his readers. Such an intervention, harumph the purists with a swish of their beards, will make the little numerically-obsessed bolloxhead think twice about writing positive things about Irish music again in a hurry.

Ah, purists. There is nothing like them and their ways. They are the tribe who turn the joyful into the joyless. Obsessed about making sure that everyone knows their place – and, if they don’t, can be quickly reminded of it – the purists are capable of ruining everything they put their minds to. You can’t write about theatre, for example, unless you’ve spent two decades watching terribly produced Irish plays about alcoholic sons blaming their woes on distant fathers (I’m screwed on that score as I’ve only a decade under my belt). You can’t write about traditional music unless you’ve spent years soaking up the sessions in rundown, dusty pubs and are on first-name terms with various aul’ lads with fiddles and squeezboxes in distant Gaeltacht hamlets. Nialler9 fails on that score as he speaks more Mandarin Chinese than the Gaeilge.

I had a belt of the garage rock purists’ leather jacket during SXSW when I tweeted excitedly about The Coathangers and was informed with a haughty sniff that the band had been around for years and I should have known better. That was me told, I can tell you. And let’s not even start with the Irish rock purists, the ones who believe there’s no such thing as a bad Irish rock record and are constantly on the lookout for the smallest infraction of the unwritten regulations to have a bit of a fume about (apparently, all the sheep must baah in the same way so it’s now a criminal offence to link to a different website to everyone else, even if it contains the same album). Them’s the rules and you risk the snobby ire, scorn and indignation (indigestion?) of the purists if you mess with these in any way.

The purists came to mind the other night during a conversation with a musician friend of mine. This person has played music since they were a chisler and has been in various bands over the years. Their current resume includes spells playing Irish traditional music, post-rock, bluegrass, old-timey, indie, ambient rockabilly, electronica and other sounds lost to the mists of time. Like many musicians, this person can talk about, eulogise and deconstruct what they do and why they do it until the cows come home. There’s not a hint of the music purist because the natural curiosity about what happens when musicians from different backgrounds and genre make-ups come together and start to play trumps any rules.

It makes sense because life isn’t perfect and the best things usually occur when people from different backgrounds come together and combine their talents. Musical purists, like Irish Catholicism back when everyone was kicking with the same foot, don’t want change or innovation. Whether it’s Irish traditional music or jazz or country and western, purists want things to remain the way they’ve always been. There is no room for anything else. Change and progression are verboten and anyone who messes with this state of affairs is subject to a barrage of slings and arrows. Innocent outsiders looking for kicks and thrills, who nonchalantly come on the scene with their hands in their pockets whistling a happy tune, are to be viewed with suspicion because they might upset the applecart. The state of affairs should remain how it has always been, with a chorus of tuts and sighs to reinforce the barriers.

But to hell with the purists. Nothing good has ever came from sticking a set of rules and regulations around culture and arts. It should not be about maintaining how things have been since your father’s father’s time, but reflecting how the music works in the context of today. Keeping the music in cotton wool and bashing outsiders who mess with traditional tenets is protectionism at its worst. A bit of outside influence won’t do any harm.