Sunday 17 November 2019

Country, the music of the ages

* Keepin Er Country (BBC1)
* Eurovision's Greatest Hits (BBC1, RTE2)

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

There is something strangely reassuring about Ireland's eternal addiction to country 'n' western music.

In 50 years' time, when there is no other kind of music left in the world, because nobody pays for anything any more, somehow in Ireland there will still be country 'n' western music, and bands playing it several times a week in large venues throughout this island. In a hundred years' time, when everyone is talking about the challenges facing the internet, because young people just aren't using it any more, Irish men and Irish women will still be going out in large numbers in search of these two kinds of music - country, and western. That's all they want. That, and a couple of long-necked bottles of beer, and someone to jive with, because they are mad for jiving.

Young farming men and women in particular want to jive, more than they want to do anything else. You could see this in Keepin Er Country", part of the BBC Norn Iron 'True North' series, which brought us scenes of this phenomenon - if phenomenon is the right word to describe something that has been embedded in the character of the Irish farmer perhaps since the Stone Age.

The Northern farmer, like his Southern counterpart, gets up every morning and milks his cows and goes to the mart and does all the stuff that farmers do, not because he wants to be a farmer, as such, but ultimately because he wants to jive. He wants to get dolled up of an evening, and get himself down to the honky-tonk, there to jive with some lady who is herself almost certainly a farmer, but above all else a lover of the music of men such as Mike Denver and Derek Ryan and Robert Mizzell, and all the jiving that can be done when those boys are going hard at it. The livestock merely sets them up for the live music, and the dancing.

The fact that the Northerner is no different to the Southerner in this regard - if anything he's more dedicated to the cause - might suggest that this is a farmer thing, more than a specifically Irish thing. Yet I am not aware of Swedish farmers or Bulgarian farmers who ride this thing all the way, till they can't ride it no more.


The Eurovision too is indestructible, as shown by the recent Eurovision's Greatest Hits, celebrating 60 years with a special concert presented by Graham Norton and Petra Mede.

There'll be another one of these in 60 years time, when the internet is giving up completely because everyone is getting their information in the more luxurious form of this thing called a "newspaper". And given the advances which we are enjoying across all areas of human endeavour, Johnny Logan may be performing a medley of his Euro smashes on that one too. On such nights, when he shares the bill with the likes of Brotherhood of Man singing Save All Your Kisses For Me, it is perfectly plain to see that Logan is a prince, and that there will be no other prince like him for all eternity.

Brotherhood of Man sang quite well for people who are now quite elderly, but while they were doing their little waves and shuffles and shimmies, you worried for them. Johnny by contrast seemed to have lost none of his powers. Yes he is a prince, but it is a magical fairytale land which he rules, a place in which he is loved by all the people as a wise and a good ruler, a place of sweet music in which is heard just one note of almost unbearable sadness - this magical land exists for just one night of every year. And then it all disappears, for another 364 days, but perhaps that is the secret of the magic.

Time was, it would exist not just for one night, but perhaps for one whole month or even longer, a time recalled by Phil Coulter on RTE's recent Eurosong contest when he said that back then, if you won Eurovision, "you could put the kettle on" for a number one hit all over Europe. Coulter put the kettle on for a million records a few times, but Johnny has kept the kettle on for more than 30 years. Which seems like a long time, but only in this world.

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