Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Just how many musicians live and work in Dublin?

New Orleans may hype its music and musicians, but isn’t it time that Dublin did something similar with its music makers?

Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 09:25


A few weeks ago, Totally Dublin decided to mark their 100th issue (and congrats to them for reaching that landmark) by asking 100 people for their views in 100 words about what Dublin will look like in the future. I was one of the 100 contributers and I wrote about something which has been rattling around in my head for the last couple of months.

Just how many musicians live and work in Dublin? When you watch David Simon’s Treme and see its evocative protrayal of New Orleans’ music, you realise we’ve something similar on our doorsteps, yet it’s rarely marked or celebrated bar as hacneyed aural postcards. With fewer conventional ways for musicians to make an honest living, perhaps the true value of the city’s music brigades will be properly assessed in the future. At the very least, from trad-playing hard-chaws to bleep-friendly electronic geezers, there’s at least the makings of a decent TV series in there. Love/Hate, series four: Nidge takes up the banjo.

Put your hands in the air if you’re a Dublin musician

The thought first struck me last year on National Music Day. I went along to see some classical musicians playing a lunchtime rectical (recital is the classical word for “gig”) in City Hall with a pal of mine, before heading to some trad thing later in the day. All over the city, as happens every day of the week, there were musicians and singers plying their trade. As you always get with Dublin, there were also musicians and singers bitching about Love Live Music Day, organisers, venues and fees, but you always get that. It’s what makes Dublin Dublin.

But when you look around at the huge amount of music which this city supports on a regular basis, from rock and pop to jazz and roots, from those who play music for fun to those who make a living of some sort from playing an instrument, you begin to wonder just how many musicians really are here. There was all that palaver about Dublin being the city of a thousand bands a couple of decades ago, but that has gone the way of the mullets. Still, the city has a lot of music in its veins. Maybe we need a census – or an independent enquiry – to establish the numbers.

I chose New Orleans earlier as a good example of how music has defined a city. When you watch a show like Treme, you see just how much music is tied up with the city. Of course, says you, that’s to be expected. They have Mardi Gras, they have Dr John, they have the Neville Brothers, they have Big Freedia. They can even claim Lil Wayne and Frank Ocean as homeboys.

But Dublin has weight too. This blog may be mostly about rock and pop and its various strains, but we can also acknowledge that Dublin has form in many other musical areas too. Those festivals which happen on a regular basis here, from the Temple Bar TradFest the other week to next week’s 12 Points jazzaganza to the likes of the New Music Dublin fest next month and the Dublin City Soul Festival in May, don’t just happen here because Dublin is a great place for the gargle – they work on the basis that we also have the musicians here to build the foundations for such events.

Perhaps it’s time that the city actually did something positive about this confluence of talent. And maybe, it’s time too for the musicians to give up their aul’ fuming and suspicions about agendas and the like for once and rise to the occasion. You can’t have one without the other. The city may already use music as soft power in marketing and selling the city, but there’s plenty of scope for this to be considerably amplified and augmented. After all, why not use something which is already there in wild abundance as a way of defining the city? Given how the narrative about Ireland too often these days seems to be bound up with horror stories of every stripe, this could provide a small splash of colour in that dark canvas. All suggestions welcome.