Songs that tell stories!
Adrian Duffy is a man on a mission. He wants to prove to people in Bradford and beyond that Irish music is so much more than "diddly-diddly" folk music. As he explains it's actually all about telling stories.
Adrian Duffy was born in Derry in Northern Ireland and came to West Yorkshire as a student almost 20 years ago. He says: "I think I'm the only Irish person involved in the Irish music scene that's first generation Irish but I think there's a number of second and third generation."
A piano player, Adrian had never played a string instrument in his life but just over two years ago a banjo was thrust into his hands and he was asked if he wanted to be in a band. The result was Padded Cell!
Adrian explains: "We are all multi-instrumentalists. Paul Cashman plays the guitar and harmonica, sometimes together, and sings as well while Andy Carter plays the violin, mandolin, melodeon and all sorts of whistles...You have to try your hand at quite a few things to get the music out. I sing and I play the banjo and I play the bodhran which is the Irish drum.
"What we were trying to do was to get the music to a wider audience so we tried to pick songs that people more or less knew and give them a bit of treatment. We're a three piece and sometimes you have to do them a bit differently to take them into pubs and clubs where people have never heard them or just vaguely know them. It's amazing the reaction we've had because people remember their grandads playing them which doesn't particularly impress us but it's nice that people actually link them with the music. We're trying to break out of the stereotypical Irish music, what we would call diddly-diddly folk type music, and instead do the real songs that tell stories. We find that very important."
Padded Cell is not the only Irish band in West Yorkshire. Adrian mentions Belt of the Celts and Both Barrells which are both Halifax based and says there are now more opportunities to hear this music. Larger venues like the Bradford Irish Centre (formerly the Irish Democratic League) are now promoting more Irish bands as are Irish music fans in various pubs.
But how does Adrian define Irish music: "It's fairly broad based. A lot of the current scene came from the 1950s Folk revival. Irish bands would play something like Dirty Old Town but it's about Salford so it's really an English song written by a Scotsman called Ewan MacColl [Music Ed: MacColl was born in Salford to Scottish parents]. He was trying to revive the music and he was lucky he had help from a number of people including Luke Kelly who went on to be in the Dubliners and died very young. Almost single-handedly they pushed the music very hard and the revival did very well.
"A lot of the songs we sing are from round about that period. We do a lot of Dubliners and Fureys songs. I think that's general amongst Irish band to be honest with you. We also do more modern songs - we do the Fields of Athenry. Believe it or not the song's only 22 years old. People go on about it as though it's hundred of years old. We do some Saw Doctors songs as well. We try and mix them up. We do some old traditional ones and there are naughty ones in there as well. There's the whole social spectrum in there – emigration, thieving, alcoholism, prostitution, it's all in there but it's for all the family. It's only when you listen to the lyrics very hard that you ever hear that sort of thing. Most of the time people get bound up in the music."
Rebel songs are one category of Irish songs Padded Cell tend to avoid: "The trouble with some of the historical songs - what they call rebel songs – are that they are very very catchy. Even if they don't like them people always remember them. We don't particularly do that sort of music but we do touch on certain things in our music. You can't get away from a country with the history of Ireland without touching on some of the more painful sides of its history, and if you do get away from it too much you are regarded as slightly light-weight. We don't do rebel songs as such even though some of them are particularly catchy. It's not just because we're afraid of getting bottled off the stage and people are complaining or something like that. We just try to be more subtle in our song selection. We are trying to get out some of the old songs that haven't been so much performed and create our own niche in the music business."
The distinctive sound - the bodhran and mandolin
Nor is it just about the music. Adrian says: "I think the Irish Government are giving out some grants to Irish centres to push the culture a little bit more. While we're trying to push the music side of it the whole cultural side of it needs pushing as well. I think the music's struggling with more popular forms in urban Ireland. It's still there in Ireland but you've got to be very good. The Irish are very tough on Irish bands. It's easier to be a rock covers band and mess it up all night than to be an Irish band because everyone has very preset ideas of what the music should be.
"There's no set way in doing Irish music because a lot of the older songs are handed down and they've only recently been written down, in facts hundreds and hundreds may have been lost. When you do any song you can do it the way you see fit but we try to keep to what people understand. We won't do Fields of Atheray or Whiskey in the Jar the way some bands do which is to jazz and rock them up. I know Thin Lizzy did a version of Whiskey in the Jar, and they changed some of the words as well, but other bands will try and speed it up and we don't really do that."
So what does Adrian make of bands like Thin Lizzy, or even the Pogues: "I'm actually a very big Thin Lizzy fan. I went over to see a statue in Dublin – Phil Lynott [Thin Lizzy's main man] died very young, very sad. I like the Pogues as well because they did popularise the music even if aficionados hang their heads down a bit and go, 'What have they done to that song?' but they've done some very good stuff. People forget that the Pogues can actually do some very soft music very well, a Rainy Night in Soho, and this sort of thing. It's all good stuff and they have popularised the music itself, not bad for a bunch of North Londoners!"
Padded Cell also write their own songs but as yet they are not part of the stage act: "Just at the moment we are trying to build up our image and be seen not just as a band that you'd pick on an Irish night but one you'd like on any night. It's music for everybody. We hope to expand our range but we do about 30 plus songs on stage as it is." The band would like to get more involved in festivals and back more mainstream bands up just to get more experience on the circuits.
Meanwhile they feel it's important to keep in touch with where they started: "Because we are three piece and we're small - although we have a full amplified system – we don't just sit in a corner or round in a circle like these jig or reel bands you know. We're audience facing, we're on a stage and we do and try and engage an audience but you sometimes have to go back to pubs to do that because there's nowhere to hide and it toughens you up. Sometimes on a stage you can be very removed from your audience which can be better for getting your sound out but it's not too good on an engagement point of view so we try and do both."
What about the future of Irish music in West Yorkshire? Adrian says: "I'm sure it will get more popular. I'd like it to be in there among the other streams of popular music and stand on its own two feet because the songs do tell stories as well as being a bit of a laugh."
And Adrian's advice to anyone who is just starting out: "If you do want to know how to play an instrument, go out and do a gig because there's nothing quite like it to sharpen you up when people are looking at you."
last updated: 20/05/2008 at 17:27