Arthur’s Day – The ‘Hot’ Stuff?

Now that things have calmed down, Tickets There would like to further explore the Arthur’s Day controversy the erupted within certain circles of the Irish music scene last month when Walls / Stunning front man, Steve Wall, attacked the day for promoting English artists ahead of Irish talent, given that the spirit of day is a celebration of Ireland’s most famous export – Guinness.

Steve is quoted in the Irish Times as describing this year’s Arthur’s Day celebrations as a “cynical act in pulling the wool over Paddy’s eyes”. A great number of people have supported Steve’s comments while many others (including The Minutes & Thomas Walsh of Pugwash) don’t see what all the fuss is about. From a bog standard point of view, it should be simple, an Irish festival for Irish bands – but that’s just not the way it is unfortunately. This article is not directed at Steve Wall, but rather the points he raised that a lot of other people / musicians agree with.

Diageo PLC, owners of the Guinness Brand and many others, are a British company that decided to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Guinness Brewing Company in 2009 with an international tribute to Arthur Guinness, the man who started it all. They landed in Ireland on September 24th and spearheaded a massive celebration using international music acts with a massive Proud to be Irish / Guinness drinker theme running through it. Great success, made a bit of dosh for Diageo– everyone happy. However, when it returned a year later people got the message that this was not a once off thing. Obviously the chance to generate a guaranteed annual increase in revenue was a little too lucrative for Diageo to just ignore. Fair enough, this is a recession after all and more revenue equals more money for the country and St. Jame’s Gate employees getting to stay in the job. All good, no?

So the money-making side isn’t what’s annoying Steve and supporters of his comments. It all comes down to the entertainment being used to promote this supposed Irish / Guinness festival. While Diageo promoted that fact that over 500 Irish bands were taking part in this year’s Arthur’s Day celebrations, none of those names were headline artists. Indeed, no Irish act of any sort was chosen to be a headliner at a festival that used Ireland and Irish-ness as its foundation and platform worldwide. Very unfortunate and a little disrespectful to a country long renowned for its powerful traditional music and its massive contribution to the world of internaltional music over the years….not to mention all the pints of the black stuff us good auld Irish have purchased over the years. While Arthur’s Day could have been a chance to allow home-grown talent like Le Galaxie, Jape, Ham Sandwich, Cast of Cheers, (Shudder) Fight Like Apes..etc, etc to shine on an international setting, on a day when the whole world wanted to embrace Ireland and it’s culture. A very fair point, but Tickets There can’t unanimously agree we’re afraid and it’s for one simple reason. Arthur’s Day is a celebration for a man who endorsed the idea of British rule over Ireland and proclaimed himself an Irish Unionist. Therefore, isn’t it more fitting we get British acts in to represent Arthur’s Day rather than Irish ones?

To be fair, that’s not our real reason. Unlike St. Patrick’s day (incidentally, another plastic paddy festival for a man who was 1, ENGLISH and 2, brought Christianity to Ireland – something a lot of people these days would rather hadn’t happened), Arthur’s Day is an event invented by and run by a company, not a country. Sure pubs chip in and do their part, but they aren’t answerable to Ireland or its people. It’s all for a drink and the man that invented it and it just so happens they came from Ireland. We are fortunate a company has taken a lead at drumming up some good cheer and extra business for our streets, pubs and restaurants during these bleak recession hunkered days, rather than do nothing at all like most of our national companies. None of the Irish bands mentioned in any of this are tearing up the international charts so why would they be booked as major headliners just because of where they’re from? That folks is bias, discrimination and wouldn’t be tolerated in any other form.

We must all be getting sick of Irish people attacking anything and everything in sight. Why don’t we all just attack Oxegen and Electric Picnic for not exclusively booking Irish talent as their key headliners? Or fine MCD and Aiken for not ensuring that 50% of their events are Irish based? If Irish bands want to make it in this life they’ll have to do what every other band has to do, appeal to people, sell albums and make it. They’re not being discriminated against, they’re not be cast away or anything else. This is not 1960’s London, we are no longer below the dogs. We are a respectable country with a proud musical heritage and should be able to make our way in the 21st century without Bono or hand-outs. If people higher up in the Irish entertainment world have a problem, why don’t they arrange their own festival to celebrate our music? If our bands are as big a draw as they say then certain people will make a fortune and the bands will get a larger platform.

The Irish need to stop blaming their problems on everyone else and take some responsibility for themselves. How can we ever hope to restore our pride and dignity if we keep running back to internationals, pulling on their trousers asking for more? Ireland needs to re-carve its own identity and make other countries look to us with awe and excitement, rather than berate, guilt and sulk our foot through the door.

Incidentally, Steve Wall is a man I have a lot of respect for. He’s one of the greatest song writers Ireland has ever produced and founder / driver of two bands Tickets There (and myself, Robert O’ Connor) greatly admire and enjoy. This is not an attack on him, but a criticism of any Irish band that sits around waiting for ill-gotten hand-outs. It’s tough out there but that is life as a musician (and everyone else for that matter). Stop sitting around waiting for others to open doors and do it yourselves with your music. If Ireland doesn’t suit, re-locate or get a new job. If things are made too easy, everyone will be in a band and the whole scene will water down even further. Steve fairs better than most and works exceptionally hard to keep his bands going, but it’s time Ireland stopped blaming all of its problems on the English and got up and did something about it for ourselves. Let’s just leave Arthur’s Day for what it is, celebrating the black stuff!

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