I’m reading the biography of Edward Thomas, one of the war poets who died in action in 1917. He was very interested in poetry as speech and the sense to be found in sound. This is known as Prosody. As he put it in a review of another writer: “When his prose sounds well it is with a pure sonority of words that is seldom related to sense”. Another way of putting it is that a phrase sounds like it makes sense, even if the words themselves don’t form a sensible proposition. “T’was brillag” and all that. It also refers to the rhythm of a poem; how it sounds as-if the author was speaking the words to you.

It’s a short hop from there to the fact that when some people speak, the rhythm of their voices sounds like poetry. There are certain accents that just ooze rhythm – I give you Jamaican rastafarian patois. Seen? Yu a come wit wi ruud bwoy? A bit further of a stretch, but some Irish country accents are just slow enough that they seem to have a certain gravitas that maybe isn’t there in the words. “Them were the people that were in it in those times. Grand people”.

So, there’s this musician called Gerry Diver who was born in Manchester to Irish parents. Played in the UK/Irish trad thing. All the Fleadhs and competitions yada yada. Proper serious.


Then he’s listening one day to a recording of an interview with Joe Cooley, who’s a (dead) accordion player who was born just outside Gort in Co. Galway.  In 1954, when he was about 30, Joe emigrated to America and lived in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. He didn’t come back to Ireland until 1973, the year of his death from cancer. The mother of one of my best friends as a boy was a relation of Joe’s (niece? his sister) and I remember visiting a family cottage near Gort one time, very long long ago. The cover of that Gael Linn album where he’s playing the accordion with the fag hanging out of his mouth is, I believe, one of the iconic images of Irish traditional music. When I’d be going through the LP racks down in Powell’s “The Four Corners” record shop looking for the latest album by David Bowie or Roxy Music that’d be the sort of Culchie thing I’d have to get past. Poor deluded fool that I was back then, but in my defence them days I was under attack from Big Tom, Dickie Rock, Philomena Begley and Margo. All at the same time, attackin’ me they were, with stuff about “the Four Roads to Hell” or sumpthin’. Ye’d want to be spittin’ in yer hands and hittin’ ‘um with a big auld haymaker, you wud. Gawd save us from harm.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Gerry Diver. As I say he’s listening to this interview with Cooley and it strikes him that the sound of Cooley’s voice is like music in itself. More specifically, it “sounded like it was in the key of B flat minor and there also seemed to be a slip jig rhythm to Joe’s voice”.

Listen for yourself
Gerry Diver – When in New York (feat. Joe Cooley)

So Gerry takes it from there and picks up a few more spoken recordings with all sorts of Irish grandees. It’s the stuff of times past. It’s the sound of the 6 o’clock Angelus on a summer evening in the country. It’s the sound of The Late Late Show in the background, with Gay Byrne asking the questions,  as you tried to figure out that the feck your parents saw in it. It’s the sound of old John McCormack records singing machusla and the roses of picardy. It’s the advice from the radio that, if you must sing a song, sing an Irish song. It’s coming home to town in August after taking in the hay and hearing the ballads coming from the pubs and begging the auld fella to take you in for a bag of Tayto and a mineral. It’s hearing your uncle exclaim “No better man!” after every other sentence.

It’s the hauntology of Ireland in the 1970s.

I may be only a poor Culchie with pretensions, but to my mind there’s a fair few boxes getting ticked here. Poetry and prosody – tick. Derrida and hauntology – tick. Ghostly ethereal sounds from the past – tick. Behanesque poses by dead musicians – tick. Avantgarde use of loops and fragments – tick.

The CD with all of these songs is just (February 2012) available from Bandcamp and there’s a tour off a few select cities: London, Dublin, Newcastle…. and Cambridge. Needless to say, I have a ticket.