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The first million-seller in the global music industry was the sheet music of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies.
Using this as his starting point, music historian and industry insider Michael Mary Murphy shows that there are long chains of cause and effect that run through the history of Irish popular music from 19th-century ballads to 21st-century file-sharing.
Million-selling Irish music. Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies, Bono from U2 (photo: Daniel Hazard), Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries (photo: Alterna2)
Amid fascinating accounts of some of the biggest names – U2, The Cranberries, The Pogues, John McCormack, Val Doonican – Michael argues that it is crucial to understand the informal ‘scene’ that makes all musical performers who they are, long before they score their first hit.
Where do successful bands come from? Who lends them money when they are starting out? How do they get gigs? And how do all of these factors mould their later success?
Why did nobody see The Cranberries coming, and why were they so despised in the industry press? How did The Pogues sustain their shambolic pace for decades? And why did mid-20th century Irish priests sing cowboy songs?
Exploring these and other questions, Michael argues that music has been a special case in Irish culture over the last century, escaping the censorship of the Catholic Church and playing a key role in the state-building project from the 1920s on.
Michael Mary Murphy
Michael Mary Murphy has worked in the music industry for over 20 years, and he is a leading authority on Irish music history. He writes for Village Magazine and lectures in music at the Institute for Art, Design and Technology in Dublin. He is writing a book-length history of Irish popular music.