Artists brew up storm over Arthur's Day


Singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke has become the latest Irish artist to criticise Arthur’s Day and said Ireland does not need a national day to celebrate alcohol.

His comments come after musician and songwriter Steve Wall described Arthur’s Day as a “cynical act in pulling the wool over Paddy’s eyes” and “patronising bollox”.

O’Rourke said his own experience of Arthur’s Day a couple of years ago in Wexford put him off ever playing the day again and he said he had no idea when he was booked to play that it was a promotion for Guinness.

“The whole idea of Arthur’s Day grates on me ever since I heard about it first. Is this all we have to offer as a nation. Is this our heritage?

“I know Guinness is a national icon, but this could be done in a more dignified way. Paddy’s Day is bad enough with people rolling around the streets vomiting and making fools of themselves,” he told The Irish Times. “For a country that has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption, it is a bit over the top. I don’t think we need to fill people up with drink.”

O’Rourke said the gig he played for Arthur’s Day was “very messy” with a lot of fans availing of the free drink on offer. He said the night was marred by a “drunken clown” who was dressed up as Arthur Guinness for the night.

O’Rourke said he was not anti-Guinness and has drank it himself. “We’ve all been through a certain age when we drink a little bit excessively, but that is part of what I think is wrong with our culture which is the acceptance of a culture of excess. We should be encouraging people to drink in moderation,” he said.

“Having a national day in homage to an alcoholic beverage is not going to help that social problem.”

O’Rourke says he has been asked to play Arthur’s Day since originally appearing in Wexford but refused. He is playing Armagh city tonight, but not as part of Arthur’s Day.

Yesterday, Steve Wall, the creative force along with his brother Joe behind The Stunning and The Walls, pointed out that all the headline acts, who will play in various small venues this evening, are British despite the fact that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland and Irishness. He accused British-based multinational Diageo of ignoring Irish culture to sell  Guinness.

“The smugness of Diageo's Sept 27th campaign stinks and the idea of bringing the party to us courtesy of a bunch of corporate UK acts is the biggest insult of all to Irish artists”.

Wall said his interest was piqued by a full page advertisement in The Irish Times last Saturday which stated: “The stars could be out at your local” and listed eights acts, Amy MacDonald, Ellie Goulding, Example, Fat Boy Slim, Mika, Professor Green, Texas and Tinie Tempah, none of whom are Irish, and below it “plus over 500 homegrown acts”.

He took it to mean that Irish acts would not have equal billing with foreign stars.

“Wow … 500 Irish acts who don’t deserve a mention get to fill the gaps all around Ireland on a day celebrating a drink that’s synonymous with our country,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I have to say it really sickens me. Just when our music industry is really on its knees we swallow this patronising bollox hook, line and sinker”.

He went on to describe Arthur’s Day as an “obvious and clichéd hijacking of music to sell it to people. I’m passionate about Irish music and when I see it being undermined by outside forces the alarm bells go off.”

Speaking to The Irish Times, Wall said too many Irish artists were afraid to speak out about issues that concern them from the absence of homegrown music on radio, the lack of any television forum for Irish acts and their inability to speak to their mind about the scene in general. “The people I grew up with, John Lennon, John Lydon etc spoke their minds, but here everybody is afraid to bite the hands that feed them.”

He said he was not anti-Guinness and had provided the music for two Guinness advertisements along with being a Guinness drinker, but the absence of prominence for Irish acts riled him.

He maintained that the choice of headliners was made by advertising agencies in the UK and the process was akin to “selling sand to the Arabs” given the wealth of home grown talent. “If Guinness were to turn it around and put the spotlight on Irish artists and give them the recognition they deserve in their own country then I wouldn’t be so critical,” he said.

In response Diageo said 570 Irish bands and musicians will be playing tonight including Mundy, Picture House, Dove, Walking on Cars, Fiddler’s Green, Midnight Graffiti, Willie Byrne, Jerry Fish among others.

In a statement said there would performances at eight Arthur’s Day TV special music events in Cork, Dublin and Belfast featuring This Club, The Riptide Movement, Leaders of Men, The Original Rude Boys and The Minutes.

In addition it said it was launching a competition in partnership with Hot Press and 2FM called ‘Play On The Day’ to unearth emerging Irish talent and provide some support as they start their music careers.

Criticism of Arthur’s Day has also come from the charity Alcohol Action Ireland.

Its chief executive Fiona Ryan said they were “extremely disappointing” to tourism bodies and politicians surrounding a marketing initiative to sell more alcohol.

On Sunday, Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar attended the Guinness Storehouse to announce the collaboration involving Guinness, Tourism Ireland and Aer Lingus to bring international media to Ireland for the event.

Fionnuala Sheehan, the chief executive of the drinks industry funded, warned people against the dangers of binge drinking tonight especially starting at 5.59pm as it was early for Irish people to start drinking.

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) have used the occasion of Arthur’s Day to call on the State to fund an alcohol-focussed, rape prevention initiatives and also an education programme to stop marketing campaigns which suggest a link between alcohol and sexual attractiveness.

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