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My Top Five Books of 2017

A snowstorm is a perfect chance to write the blog posts I’ve been meaning to do since the turn of the year, right? Belatedly, then, here are the best books I read in 2017 (picked from just under 50 I managed to work my way through), and just why I loved them. I decided to make this an annual thing in part because I’ve already flicked back to last year’s post half a dozen times to check the names of certain authors whose other books I’m dying to read (good memory and a young child don’t go well together, it turns out), but also because I’ve found reading has edged to easily on a par with music for what fills my free time (free time – haha) these days, and a good 90% of this website is about music. So, you know, balance or something. As with last time, these are not necessarily books released in 2017, they’re simply books I read in 2017. More importantly, these are some great books. Go read them!

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (link)

This is a chunky enough book to put off the casual reader (it was only after seeing more than half a dozen people absolutely raving about it online that I was willing to commit to 600-plus pages), but what a fantastically imaginative and evocative tale it is. Starting in rural Cork, with a young woman pregnant by dubious means and very publically expelled from her community, it weaves through the lifetime of the child, which encompasses much of the time of the existence of the modern Irish state. Cyril Avery’s winding tale is picked up at various key moments of his life, incorporating key political events, the progress of the gay rights movement, the influence of the church and – critically to the enjoyment of the story – a poignant and unforgettable tale around the main character.  I was sad when it ended, which is saying something for a novel of this length.

Pirates, Punks and Politics by Nick Davidson (link)

It’s hard not to be a touch disillusioned with football these days, which can be hard as a lifelong fan of the game, but the levels of imbalance amongst clubs and the sense that the vast majority are there to be also-rans sits heavy, and it’ll take more than a Leicester premier league title to convince me otherwise. I was lucky enough to catch German club St Pauli play against Union Berlin in Hamburg a few years ago. Whilst not the only ones, they are the stand out club that convinces me football still has its soul. Pirates, Punks and Politics is the story of an Englishman falling in love with the club (I’d be on that boat if it was within the realms of life’s realities, to be honest), and their story is incredible. Born out of the harder edge of what’s now the city’s party district, the Reeperbahn, the club has been at best modestly successful (they typically, and currently, sit in the German second tier), but play with an ethos of left-wing politics, social equality, anti-abuse, atmospheric protest and progressive views that is encapsulated in this book. I can’t help loving them, though I dread to think what the parties are like.

In Concert: The Favourite Gigs of Ireland’s Music Community

in-concertJust a quick post to draw your attention to this book, ‘In Concert, Favourite Gigs of Ireland’s Music Community’, produced by Niall McGuirk and Michael Murphy of Hope Publications, for which I wrote a short article sometime last year.

In it, loads of Irish music folks from the world of journalism, gig promotion and of course bands themselves (myself included) talk about their favourite gig to take place in Ireland. All the profits go to the Irish Red Cross in aid of Syrian refugees.

As Niall wrote ahead of the launch, the book came about as a result of seeing pictures from the town of Aleppo, which as you’re no doubt aware has been absolutely bombarded over the past five years.

I’ve ordered my copy, and was lucky enough to see the book in draft form ahead of publication. It’s a real ‘who’s who’ of people involved in music over here (well, and me!), with over 100 different contributors talking about gigs spread across several decades. It goes without saying, none of us were paid for our contributions (charity being a special case!), and while there’s a number of more obvious contributions (yes, it features U2 several times), you might learn a little bit about some less-publicised Irish acts, too. I wrote about Dropkick Murphy’s – you’ll have to read it to find out why.

Grab a copy at the link above for €15, and you’ll get a great read and be doing a little bit of good along the way…

Bring the Punk, Bring the Noise

Publisher Museyon have kindly given me permission to reproduce a small part of my contribution to their new book ‘Music and Travel: Touring the World through Sites and Sounds’ on my own website. In the book, writers and artists with insight into particular musical scenes give a guidebook style tour through their city, describing the music, it’s origin and where to go and see it. My own part describes the trad. influenced punk scene in Dublin (and beyond), exploring bands like Blood Or Whiskey, Thin Lizzy, The Pogues, The Dubliners and Paranoid Visions. Here is a brief taste of what to expect:

The roots of Celtic Punk date back to 18th-century agricultural Ireland, where—as a break from lamenting British imperialism— folk music helped pass the drizzly winters. Much of this was first performed by solo singers, but by the time it drifted to Dublin, piercing penny whistles, staccato fiddles, and twanging banjos had been added to the heartfelt vocals. At its peak in the late 1950s, Irish folk music was an international success, and more orchestral acts like the Dubliners and the Chieftains created a spinoff genre, Celtic Fusion.

Famine, war, and economics have long led the Irish to travel—often within the bosom of their Imperial neighbor—and it was amongst expats that Celtic Punk took shape. In the 70s and 80s émigrés gathered in London’s Irish bars, celebrating their heritage with traditional music nights. Around the same time, of course, punk rock was being imported across the pond from New York City. Acts like the Pogues (a London-based group with Irish heritage) and the Skids (based in Fife, Scotland) were the first to combine the propulsive drumming and rich melodic clatter of Celtic folk with the full on electric assault of punk. The Pogues in particular made a big impact: it didn’t take long for their sound, essentially the template for Celtic Punk, to return to its spiritual home.

If that taster’s wet your appetite, then you’re going to have to hold your breath until the end of the month (disclaimer: I’ll not be held responsible if you take that literally), when the book will be released, for more. Other scenes are set to include Indipop, Berlin Trance and the haunting sounds of Istanbul.

You can order the title on pre-release here (UK – Amazon)

or here (US – Direct from the publisher)

Exert copyright Museyon Guidebooks New York, 2009.