Monday 5 December 2016

The music can help -- but it's being Irish that sells our bands

Published 26/03/2011 | 05:00

The Coronas. Photo: Gerry Mooney
The Coronas. Photo: Gerry Mooney

There's a TV advert currently doing the rounds, featuring a young Irish couple as they prepare to move to Germany. In it, a sombre last-supper scene is punctuated by the woman, who comments that they will at least be able to get Kerrygold butter in their new homeland.

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"Ah sure," comes the curt reply from her mother-in-law, looking sadly at her departing son. "They export all our best stuff."

This may be an obvious reference to our 'current situation', but the complaint is a timeless and oft-heard one. From food to drink and from crafts to talent, there has always been this suspicion that the premium fruits of the island end up overseas.

However, we've never had to make such complaints when it comes to rock and pop. If anything, it's replaced by mild embarrassment.

We're blessed with a reputation as a haven of music and heavyweight literature, yet the output that's getting snapped up abroad seems to dwell mainly on the fluffier end of the scale.

It's not difficult to see why. U2's Celtic-kissed light rock became synonymous with the nation right across the globe -- and from then on, it was always going to be easier for emerging acts to follow in their image, accept the comparisons and take the well-worn path to success.

Bono & Co have long been regarded as being among the hardest-working acts in the industry and tales of their early toil are up there with the day Lennon met McCartney in the annals of rock. Little did they know, however, that they were doing much of the heavy lifting for several generations to follow.

If that all sounds a bit like the Cynics' Guide To International Stardom, well, the dim view is justified.

A quick look at the bands that travelled to this month's Canadian Music Week in Toronto and SXSW in Texas screams talent, depth and -- most importantly -- diversity.

From the soulful James Vincent McMorrow to the dirty Adebisi Shank, and from the melodic Dirty 9s to the bluesy Mighty Stef, the Irish 'delegation' was varied and admittedly imperfect yet complete.

The uncanny consistency and similarity between the bands who strike it big across both bodies of water, however -- Snow Patrol, The Script, The Thrills, early Hothouse Flowers, et al -- leaves quite a few of us at home wondering why this multi-talented thoroughbred is being sold as a one-trick pony.

The 'next U2' branding, in other words, is wonderfully useful marketing material for a band working their way along the eastern seaboard of the US. But back home, it's often fodder for a roll of the eyes and a shake of the head.

The Coronas, who were firmly fixed with the tag when they beat U2 to last year's Best Irish Album at the Meteors, have just returned from a showcase tour in the US.

And frontman Danny O'Reilly admits that the comparisons were a notable part of life on the road over there.

"It gets mentioned and we get comparisons to U2 and to The Script as well. It's not something that really bothers us, though," he says.

Critics' darlings they may not be -- but then seldom are the bands who fly the flag for us abroad. O'Reilly insists this doesn't bother him, nor has it ever done so before.

"There's never been any great hype about us and we've always been a people's band.

"The thing is, we don't consider ourselves amazing musicians and we're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We write pop songs, we just write the sort of music we love."

And he insists that despite having written the unofficial 'anthem' for the infamous J1 visa in 'San Diego Song', the band are not trying to exploit their Irishness in exchange for Stateside success.

"We wouldn't say no to a summer tour in the US, but at the same time we don't want to be playing to Irish people on holidays.

"We don't want to be known as an Irish band. We want to be known as a good band."

The Coronas, like so many before them, bear every hallmark of international success waiting to happen. Whether they can forge out the distinction between 'good' and 'Irish', however, will prove to be a very different question.

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