Music: Popular Music

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Popular Music

Popular music in Ireland can most easily be assessed by acknowledging the impact of global trends on the Irish music scene. Since the 1960s Ireland has repeatedly produced musicians and groups essentially imitative of performers in Britain and the United States, though this imitation has been leavened by the intermarriage of imported styles with traditional Irish-music influences and by an occasional original idea. Through the 1950s and 1960s popular music was defined by the showbands, whose mix of rock-and-roll hits, country-and-western sentimentality, and novelty numbers and routines filled dance halls across the country. The showbands retained popularity into the 1970s—with some, such as Joe Dolan, prospering even into the new millennium—by continuously adding contemporary hits to old favorites. From the 1960s ballad singers and groups flourished because of the increased interest in traditional Irish music and the general proliferation of folk singers in western society. The Chieftains traveled widely with their instrument-based renditions of traditional music, and The Dubliners enjoyed similar success with a more ballad-based approach. Christy Moore, whose irreverent, socially aware narratives were very popular, was one of the foremost musicians who began playing traditional music before moving toward mainstream popular music. Others such as Enya successfully followed a similar path. In the 1990s a modernized packaging of Irish dancing that combined traditional Irish step dancing and tap dance into an extended stage show, "River-dance," was an immensely profitable global phenomenon. The arrival of Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher, and Phil Lynnott in the late 1960s gave Ireland a credible position in the rock firmament. All three enjoyed acclaim as international artists, and Morrison's 1969 album "Astral Weeks" was accepted as a classic. His position in Irish popular music is second only to that of U2, whose multimillion-selling albums and groundbreaking world tours made them one of the most popular rock bands in the world in the mid-1980s. A Celtic subgenre of rock music from The Horslips in the 1970s to The Corrs in the 1990s brought national and international recognition, and an innovative fusing of punk rock, ballad, and traditional music in the 1980s brought great success to The Pogues, a London-Irish band whose singer Shane MacGowan has been acclaimed as the leading songwriter of his generation. Beginning in the mid-1990s, most albums sold by Irish artists were by industry-created boybands such as Boyzone and Westlife, whose success at home and abroad lies in the marketing of formulaic music through suggestive dance routines that appeal to children and teenagers. Again, it was a trend imported from Britain.

SEE ALSO Fleadh Cheoil; Music: Modern Music


O'Connor, Nuala. Bringing It All Back Home: The Influence of Irish Music. 1991.

Power, Vincent. Send 'em Home Sweatin': The Showband Story. 2000.

Paul Rouse

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Music: Popular Music

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