not a member? click here to sign up
Rock Of Ages
Noel McLaughlin and Martin McLoone’s new book Rock and Popular Music in Ireland: Before and After U2 is an impressive tome – a lovingly-researched and begrudgery-free exploration of the Irish rock scene over the past half century. Jackie Hayden talks to the authors.
Jackie Hayden, 29 May 2012
Noel McLaughlin and Martin McLoone are academics from northern Ireland with a deep knowledge of, and fondness for, rock music. With Rock And Popular Music In Ireland: Before And After U2 they have achieved that rare thing, an evaluation of the history of rock and roll that doesn’t demean or bastardise the music itself or diminish the authors’ fascination with it.
I quiz both writers about the reference to U2 in the subtitle. Was their impact so seismic that it serves as a dividing line in Ireland’s rock history? McLaughlin explains it thus. “If you look at the way the chronology works, with U2 coming to prominence in the early-to-mid ‘80s, they fit in the middle of a history that runs from the ‘60s to the present day. We also felt that U2 are a divisive band, not only in Ireland but particularly in the UK. They hover over the Irish rock story like a colossus. For many, U2 are the sound of Irish rock.”
McLoone’s response, meanwhile, displays a sense of realism about the commercial imperatives of book publishing.
“It’s what I would call ‘a Google sub-title’. The title is meant to hit any search terms like rock, pop, music in Ireland and U2. That’s the practical aspect of it. There was also a division of labour in writing the book. I’m older than Noel by 20 years. My era is from the ‘60s to the ‘70s, including punk. Noel’s era is after that. I wanted to have the book clearly state that Irish rock didn’t start with U2. To reclaim the great pre-U2 Irish acts like Rory Gallagher.”
But why, as McLaughlin suggests, would U2 be divisive? “We cast our minds back to the pre-punk Ireland that Bob Geldof described as grim and narrow and not a lot happening,” he responds. “And then you wind forward from that to the sheer majesty and joy of the early U2 and their success. I had ambivalent attitudes towards them as a teenager. What really got me was the Red Rocks concert which I thought was one of the most powerful live performances by anybody in any genre. As Bill Graham (the late Hot Press writer) so eloquently put it, ‘U2 express Ireland’s often incoherent aspirations’. Of course the downside is that they began to dominate perceptions of Ireland and Irishness. Bono is arguably the most well-known Irish citizen in modern Irish history, so in any national context that’s going to create some kind of backlash. I think Bono himself said that one of their reasons for remaining in Ireland is that it’s a great leveller, to live in a nation where at best people think you’re alright.”