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Irish Studies’ Seminar Series 2018-19
December 6, 2018 @ 4:00 pm
“Hear The Band which is more powerful than the Atom Bomb!”
Labour, Aesthetics, and Irish Sit Down Dance Orchestras, 1940 – 1960
Professor Rebecca Miller, IACI-NUI Galway Visiting Fellow in Irish Studies, 2018-19. Centre for Irish Studies, NUI Galway.
Image: Noel Coade (compère) with unknown band and dancers, Dublin, ca. 1955. (Courtesy of the family of Noel Coade).
From the mid-1920s to the 1960s, audiences on both sides of the border flocked to parish and commercial dance halls to dance to big band jazz, popular music, and other styles as played by Irish “sit down” dance bands and orchestras. Well known touring groups such as the Mick Delahunty Orchestra, the Maurice Mulcahy Band, and the Gay McIntyre Band, as well as smaller, semi-professional dance bands such as the Brideside Serenaders (Tallow) and many others performed from sheet music of American big band jazz standards that were arranged and published in London and then imported to Ireland and Northern Ireland. They also played a range of other music, including Dixieland jazz, popular Irish songs, old time waltzes, and the occasional céilí dance.
Focusing primarily on sit down dance band musicians who were active in the post-World War II years, I argue that these musicians functioned, in part, as laborers whose job it was to keep their audiences dancing. As such, they engaged with their audiences’ fascination with American popular music and culture while at the same time, reflected Irish locality and musical aesthetics.
Using ethnographic interviews and archival sources, I also trace how these musicians, increasingly came to see themselves also as entertainers and artists. It was this changing perception that in part informed the emergence of the showband era of the 1960s/1970s and ultimately Ireland’s popular music industry.
Rebecca Miller is Professor of Music at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the 2018-2019 IACI-NUI Galway, Visiting Fellow in Irish Studies. Dr. Miller received a MA from Wesleyan University and the PhD in ethnomusicology from Brown University.
The author of Carriacou String Band Serenade: Performing Identity in the Eastern Caribbean (Wesleyan University Press, 2008), Professor Miller has published articles and chapters on traditional and popular music in both Ireland and in the USA. A recipient of Fulbright and Whiting Fellowships, among others, she is currently completing a book on Irish popular music, specifically Irish dance bands/orchestras and showbands.