Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History
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Book review:
Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History
By Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett
Cherry Red, London (

Belfast critics, Colin Harper for trad and folk and Trevor Hodgett for the blues, recount how these genres have spawned their own Irish artists and how similar musicians from overseas (e.g., Ornette Coleman, Muddy Waters, John Fahey, and Bob Dylan) have influenced the island's music scene. The book concentrates on influences emerging during the mid-Sixties. Musicians range from Altan, Anne Briggs, Johnny Moynihan, Ashley Hutchings, The Bothy Band, Henry McCullough, and Arlo Guthrie to Martin Hayes, Clannad, Horslips, Planxty, Sweeney's Men, Ottilie Patterson, Terry and Gay Woods, and the ubiquitous Rory Gallagher.

Davy Graham gains in-depth coverage for his "folk-baroque," mingling raga, jazz, blues, folk, African, Middle Eastern, and Tin Pan Alley standards from 1962 into a career that makes, Harper claims, Graham the father of world music. Harper, Bert Jansch's biographer, plots the Irish impact of the British folk-rock movement.

This book assumes familiarity with progressive Irish music. If you do not know what distinguishes Mellow Candle, Paddy Keenan, or Tamalin on record, you will not find it here. Careers rather than tunes remain the focus. Yet, folk is never distinguished from trad. The blues tends towards blues-rock. Repetition of material due to multiple entries on the same artists occurs; the index lacks complete references. The annotated discography is valuable.

Narrating the careers of many artists touring in, living in, or passing through Ireland the past four decades, Harper and Hodgett stitch, in Harper's phrase, "a patchwork history of Irish music interwoven of many fine tapestries." The authors compile and expand fifteen years' worth of album and concert reviews, magazine articles, and interviews into a sampler from two fans turned journalists. Their account is neither turgid musical history nor pithy record guide. - John L. Murphy

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