by Bill Margeson
It is 10 years already. Ten years since the last “Best of The Decade in Irish Music” list in the Irish American News. Ten years of magical moments in Irish music represented here by the very best of the very best of the very best. You get the drift. Each artist listed here has dedicated his or her life to the music, and they are the best there is at the tradition we all hold so dear. These awards are not recognition of their talents. These awards are a thank you. Gratitude for the joy, magical moments, talent, and heartfelt love of the common musical bonds that bind us—these artists have brought all of that to us. There are probably 500 artists and albums over the last decade who could have won these awards. But, they didn’t. These artists did. So looking back over the last 10 years, here is our “Thank You” to each of these amazing people and groups. Do we sound like fans? You bet we are. Our job is to be subjective. OK, fair enough. Here are the musical icons who have done it all in the last decade. On to the new, with a bow to these magnificent achievements from 2000-2010:
Performers of the Decade
All of the really great groups in Irish music tour as much as they can. When you are as terrific as Lunasa, there is a constant demand for your concerts that keeps you on the road constantly. So it is with this magical quintet of masterful musicians. Lunasa is deeply rooted in the tradition, and a force in the field. We love them. And, according to their concert demand, so do you. If God grants us another 10 years to write about great Irish traditional music, we hope you’ll hear in 2021 that Lunasa has won this award again. Masters of the form, lovely guys, and a real embodiment of what traditional Irish music is today, and will be. Roll on, lads.
Male Musician of the Decade
Now, you might think that this would really be a tough award to figure out. Not so. It may be the easiest of all. In Irish traditional music, as in every other form of art, you can usually be headed to an enjoyable fist fight in a pub if you want to argue who is the best fiddle player, the best bodhran whacker, the best flautist. Not so for this award. Trust us. In the halls of Irish music, one musician is unanimously recognized as the best at his instrument. The best who ever was. Jimmy Keane on piano accordion has become what it means to be the best in any art form. It is not enough to say he is a master musician. When it comes to the piano accordion, he is the maestro. He is rather like a musical combination of Ray Charles, David Beckham and Mickey Mantle. The best. Period. No argument. My God, this man is a gift! Long may you rule, Jimmy. To the literally hundreds of other unbelievable musicians who are out there playing fabulously, we apologize. But, you know as well as we do. There is no argument.
Song of the Decade
Nova Scotia’s Laura Smith is a genius. This singer/songwriter ran into so many health issues during the last decade, and yet. And yet, above all is her voice, her impeccable musical standards, and her unbelievable lyric-writing talent. The first time we ever heard “My Bonny,” we were in a car traveling 65 miles per hour and had to pull off the road. We listened to it then, three times in a row, and are still completely moved by it. Is it Laura’s voice? Is it her interpretation of her lyrics? Her lyrics, themselves? Her genius, which you can literally hear? Yes. All that and more. It cannot be done better than this. Singers throughout Ireland, America, and Canada bow to her. She rules. “My Bonny” and Laura will outlive all of us. And, they should. They are masterpieces. They are a gift.
Instrumental Group of the Decade
The Brock McGuire Band is Paul Brock on button box, Manus McGuire on fiddle, Enda Scahill on banjo/mandolin and Denis Carey on piano. Brock and McGuire formed the greatest instrumental group of all time back in the day, Moving Cloud, and only they could have followed up with something this good. Brock McGuire is the best instrumental band in the business. In a just world and universe, they would make $1,000,000 per concert. This is not a just world. If they are anywhere near, anywhere near you, go. See them. For at least once in our lives, we can say we saw the best at the height of their powers. We saw Brock McGuire.
of the Decade
Eilis Kennedy lives on the Dingle Peninsula. She is the voice of Ireland. She is stunning. It is hard to think now that she has been active in the business for an entire decade. We well remember her first solo album of 2001, Time to Sail. We were as gobsmacked then as we are now by her voice and her taste. She is at the core of what an Irish singer should be. Not only from Ireland, she is Ireland at its best. Whether it be in her current efforts as a part of Lumiere, Beal Tuinne, or her second solo album, One Sweet Kiss, her talent is so special and so stunning that she has become a natural force. Up, Dingle! And, if prayers are answered, we will have this diamond around for several decades more. On behalf of all who have heard her, thank you, Eilis.
of the Decade
Alan O’Leary runs Copperplate out of his London headquarters. With the possible exception of Harry Bradshaw, formerly of the RTE, no one knows more about Irish music, its history, and its future, than Alan O’Leary. Never mind that he is one terrific guy. When Copperplate takes on an artist to promote, he or she is in the master’s hands. He knows everybody. Everybody knows him. Everybody respects him. Things just happen for Alan O’Leary’s artists. And, they may not even have an idea as to how or why. He is an excellent flute player himself. He understands the music in detail, and more importantly for his artists, no one understands the business better. He is a walking encyclopedia of Irish music, and Copperplate is a critical, worldwide outlet for the very best traditional music there is. Purely perfect.
Project of the Decade
No album has moved us more in the last decade than Shona McMillan’s People and Songs of the Sea. It is a stunning chronicle of the history of the Scottish fishing industry, and its bleak future. Shona and her family are of the fishing community. This album is a blessing for all who would touch the brave souls and deep hearts of the communities now virtually gone in Scotland. That Shona has grabbed this moment in history to chronicle this for all time is a miracle of her intelligence, her heart and her commitment. She and the Greentrax label are not to be congratulated. They are to be thanked for giving us all an aural picture of courage and resilience.
This is more than simply music. This is important. A lighthouse of an album in an often dark world.
Decade Awards in Order 2000-2010
1) Performers of the Decade Lunasa
2) Male Musician of the Decade Jimmy Keane
3) Song of the Decade “My Bonny” (Laura Smith)
4) Instrumental Group of the Decade Brock McGuire
5) Female Newcomer of the Decade Eilis Kennedy
6) Trad Promoter of the Decade Copperplate
7) Creative Project of the Decade People and Songs of the Sea
8) Male Newcomer of the Decade Paddy Homan
9) Female Singer of the Decade Cathie Ryan
10) Male Singer of the Decade Len Graham
11) Vocal/Instrumental Group of the Decade David Munnelly Band
12) Composer of the Decade Shaun Davey
13) Trad Fusion Album of the Decade Rubai (Flook)
14) Female Musician of the Decade Liz Carroll
15) Album of the Decade Live at St. James Church, Dingle (Beal Tuinne)
to be continued next month