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It’s only rock ‘n’ ceol

Mick Flannery is just one of the top artists featured singing a track on Seachtain na Gaeilge’s Irish language compilation Ceol ’09, due for release next month. Jackie Hayden talks to him about the experience.

Jackie Hayden, 06 Mar 2009

One of the annual features on the Irish record scene is the release by Seachtain na Gaeilge of a CD compilation featuring some of the top Irish stars, performing songs in the Irish language. In the past, homegrown acts of the calibre of Bell X1, The Corrs, The Saw Doctors, Mundy, Declan O’Rourke, The Walls, Luan Parle and The Frames have featured on these albums. One of the attractions is that a great fluency with the language is not essential for artists to be invited to take part. Some of course are also at the black belt level when it comes to doing the “as Gaeilge” thing, but the project can also be as much of a learning (or re-learning) process for artists like Mick Flannery whose knowledge of the language might be a little sketchy.

Ceol ‘09 has Flannery singing an Irish version of his essential track ‘Tomorrow’s Paper’ and it appears on the CD in the company of sterling tracks by Duke Special, Swell Season, Eddi Reader, Cathy Davey, Paddy Casey, John Spillane, Caruso and others. Flannery doesn’t think of himself as a regular Irish speaker as such, but his father is a fluent speaker. “I’ve often gone with him to the pub and listen to him talking Irish to one of his pals. Although my own knowledge of the language isn’t great, I’d be able to follow the gist of what they were talking about anyway.”

The first Mick heard of the project was when he was contacted by his booking agent Lorcan Ennis, who had arranged for John Spillane to appear on Ceol ’08 and is obviously enthusiastic about the project. As it happens, Mick is a great admirer of Spillane’s use of Irish in his own work and with poet Louis de Paor. “John is very careful to get the right word to go with every note, and the effect is quite beautiful. I’d love to be able to do that with Irish, which I think is a more guttural language than English. Although what you have to do in a song in any language is make sure that the words fit the notes.”

Flannery’s song ‘Tomorrow’s Paper’ was chosen and then translated for him by the Seachtain na Gaeilge people, and the new version on Ceol ’09 uses the same backing track Mick recorded for the track on his White Lies album released last year to much acclaim. “For the Ceol ’09 CD, myself and singer Yvonne Daly travelled up to the studios they have in Merrion Square in Dublin. They’re very good studios too. It really only took us about forty minutes to put the whole thing down. It only took me a while to get around some of the more difficult lines. Actually, I had been a bit dubious about the whole thing at first, as I’d never recorded anything in Irish before, but the Seachtain na Gaeilge people were great to work with. The proceeds of the CD go to charity and the only thing I have to worry about is the slaggin’ I’ll get from my brother when he hears it!”

All profits from the sales of Ceol ‘09 go to the long-established charity Barnardos, and this could be a tidy sum if the album duplicates the success achieved last year when the Ceol ‘08 album sold enough to climb to the number one spot in the Irish charts. As Orla Nic Shuibhne, Bainisteoir Seachtain na Gaeilge, put it, “The strong calibre of musicians like Mick Flannery appearing on the album will add greatly to album sales and will also raise the profile of the Irish language, especially among young people. Popular musicians, performing their newly translated songs as Gaeilge, connect people with the Irish language via the medium of music. It has proved to be a continuing success.”

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