Top of the crop...

In the second part of our Top 50 list of the most influential figures in Irish music, Joe McNamee considers some of the surprising results.

WHAT? No Dustin?! That’s it, I’m out of here.Once you’ve got over the shock exclusion of Dustin the Turkey in our list of the 50 most influential figures in the Irish music industry in 2005, you might start to wonder about a few other seemingly obvious names.

No room at the inn for Van Morrison? Shocking, you might say. But, once again, we remind you that the most essential criterium in the compilation of this list was a nominee’s level of activity in 2005.

It was for this reason that there was no room for Paul Brady, The Cranberries, The Chieftains, the Riverdance mob of Bill Whelan, Moya Doherty and John McColgan, Sharon Shannon, The Thrills or The Frames, to name just a few.

With Doherty and McColgan preparing to unleash their next big Irish epic later this year, it’s a reasonably safe bet they will be here or hereabouts this time next year, but having passed a relatively quiet 2005 - well, you know the deal.

And surely our Bob should have been jostling for top spot with U2? Well, he did have a rather seismic year, but it had little to do with his musicianship.

Much more surprising to me (who, as the neutral chair of the judging panel, was privy to all the discussion) was the exclusion of the major record companies - Warner, Sony BMG, EMI and Universal. But the judges pointed out that their level of activity in Ireland, other than as regional sales outposts of their British operations, meant they simply didn’t warrant inclusion.

“It’s a reflection of a global trend, where the majors are less and less relevant to what’s happening on the ground in local scenes,” said our judges.

Certainly, there are Irish acts signed to these labels, but the judges wanted a far greater show of faith from the majors than simply acting as stables for a few of the Irish cash cows.

It was this type of thinking that led to the equally surprising exclusion of any acknowledgement of IRMA (the Irish Recorded Music Association, which works on behalf of the record companies in Ireland). A bit too much time spent hunting down illegal file sharers and not enough time spent actually promoting the industry, said the judges.

Speaking of acronyms, the exclusion of IMRO (the Irish Music Rights Organisation, which administers performing rights for Irish artists) could be considered more shocking again.

With board members including Christy Moore and Paul Brady, it seemed an obvious candidate, but while the judges acknowledged its work on behalf of its members, there was deemed to exist a failure to exploit their massive resources in a way which would truly benefit the grassroots of the Irish music scene.

Well, those were some of the exclusions. What about those who made it to the party?

First place was a foregone conclusion, but the judges still applied the same rigorous criteria to U2 as they did to the rest. While the group obviously sailed through with flying colours, one judge noted that they were one of just two or three on the list who made any real attempt to put something back into the Irish music scene. Cue applause

That Planxty thing was stretching things a little - after all, the members are essentially solo artists now, but they did perform as Planxty in 2005, and it certainly helped free up another place or two on the list. The original trad supergroup came in a very strong second.

Along with the strong showing for Altan, and other trad inclusions, this certainly indicates a rudely healthy trad scene for the years ahead.

Any other surprises? Well, the inclusion of Cathal Coughlan stunned your esteemed chair of the judging panel but, as an ardent fan, it was a delightful decision to rubberstamp.

Granted, the current issue was settled on the basis of one performance during the entire year, but what a performance it was: Flannery’s Mounted Head, a Cork 2005-commissioned project, was flawed but fabulous, and it will hopefully lead Coughlan back to the limelight.

The Republic of Loose? What a year for them - for that Comeback Girl single alone.

Finally, one very lovely gesture was the determination to acknowledge the passing of Jerome Hynes of Wexford Festival Opera. But it wasn’t a sympathy vote: he was a towering presence in the Irish arts world, not just in Irish music, and he will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.

1) U2

WELL, no big surprise here. Not only are U2 the biggest band in Ireland, they are also the biggest band in the world.

And, what’s more, it is a title they have won and lost on several occasions. In fact, it’s something they seem to particularly relish: the constant, almost biblical struggle for redemption.

The band can be accused of many things, but hiding out in the comfort zone is never one of them, probably because they are more aware of their failings than anyone else.

U2 are a band in the sense that they add up to more than the sum of their collective parts: with the exception of the Edge, there is no truly outstanding musical talent in the band. To hear Paul McCartney talk about rehearsals for a joint performance at Live 8 in July last year, you could tell he was a little taken aback at how amateurish U2 can be when they are just another backing band.

Of course, when we say the biggest band, we don’t automatically mean the best. U2 have always been a ‘big’ band: big themes, big sounds and big ambitions that didn’t always sit easy with the tenor of the times during their early days in the 1980s - and it was the televised Live Aid in 1985 that first gave the world an indication of U2’s hunger for the big arena.

The big arena is where U2 continue to do what they do best: bringing to the cavernous enormodomes an intimacy and an emotional sincerity more often found in poky little clubs.

When The Rolling Stones play the big stadia, they just play great tunes louder; when U2 do it, it is often the perfect marriage of environment and music - their songs and sound seem perfectly designed for the great outdoors, often more so than for the studio.

Since the release of Boy in 1980, U2 have sold over 120 million records worldwide.

The band formed firstly Feedback and then The Hype in Dublin during the late 1970s. By 1978, the group comprised Larry Mullen, Bono, the Edge and Adam Clayton. They changed their name to U2 and Paul McGuinness began managing them, as he still does today - along with other artists in his Principle Management stable, one of the world’s leading management companies.

The band’s decision to base themselves in Ireland, helped by their tax-exemption status, was a great boost to Irish music.

McGuinness was a member of the Arts Council of Ireland for 12 years and is a board member of Digital Media Development Ltd and of the School of Film and Drama, at University College Dublin.

Bono has emerged as an active human rights campaigner.

Alan O’Riordan & Joe McNamee

2) Planxty - Trad band

In 1972, Christy Moore recorded Prosperous with his old schoolmates Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Liam O’Flynn. Afterwards, they formed the near-legendary Planxty, a band widely credited with starting the Irish folk revival. Planxty released the highly-acclaimed single, The Cliffs of Dooneen, and they were signed to Polydor Records. The group recorded two more albums in the following two years. After that, they split up and a compilation called The Planxty Collection was released. A low-key gig in Lisdoonvarna led to gigs in Dublin and Clare in 2004, and the release of Live 2004.

Why included: The most influential of traditional bands.

3) Republic of Loose - Rock band

Going by the names of Mick Pyro, Dave Pyro, Bress, Benjamin Loose, Coz Nolean, andDeco Quinn, Republic of Loose formed in Dublin out of the ashes of Johnny Pyro and the Rock Coma and quickly gained a reputation for their live shows. The band’s sound takes in delta blues, Sly Stone, hip-hop, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more. Their self-conscious ditching of all things Irish is part of their anti-parochial charm - overblown, overconfident, sleazy, fun and devil-may-care, Republic of Loose stand apart and above most of the Dublin music scene. Their debut album, This is the Tomb of the Juice, was released in 2004.

Why included: A uniquely confident presence on the Irish music scene.

4) Altan - Trad band

Founded in the 1980s by Belfast flute-player Frankie Kennedy and Gweedore singer and fiddler Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Altan grew into a band with the addition of guitarist Mark Kelly and bouzouki player Ciarán Curran. They were part of the band’s eponymous 1987 album, which defined Altan’s studio sound.

Since the death from cancer of Frankie Kennedy in 1994, the band’s line up has been Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh; Dermot Byrne (accordion); Mark Kelly, Ciarán Tourish (whistle), Ciarán Curran and Dáithí Sprule (guitar). In 1996, Altan became the first Irish band of their kind to be signed to a major label, Virgin.

Why included: The most influential traditional band since the 1980s.

5) Iarla Ó Lionáird - Singer

Born: CuilAodha, Co Cork, 1964

Ó Lionáird has been performing since he was five and made his first recording at age seven. He has worked in radio, film and TV production. He holds a masters in ethnomusicology from Limerick University’s Irish World Music Centre. With the Afro Celt Sound System, Ó Lionáird has put sean nós singing in a modern context. The band fuses modern dance rhythms with Celtic and African influences. It was formed by Grammy-nominated producer-guitarist Simon Emmerson, and is considered a world music supergroup. Their albums have been released through Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records. .

Why included: For his invigorating, experimental approach to traditional singing.

6) Westlife - Pop band

Westlife’s origins lie in the Sligo outfit IOU, which included original band members Mark Feehily, Shane Filan and Kian Egan. They attracted the attention of Louis Walsh, who was looking for the next Boyzone. Three of the original line-up were dropped and Dubliners Nicky Byrne and Bryan McFadden joined to form Westside, later Westlife. The band reached No 1 in Britain with Swear It Again and a few months later scored with Flying Without Wings. Westlife equalled and then surpassed the Beatles’ record of seven consecutive No 1s. Now with four members after the departure of McFadden, the band have so far sold over 30 million records and have had 12 British No 1s.

Why included: An unprecedented popular phenomenon.

7) Damien Rice - Singer

Born: Celbridge, Co. Kildare, 1973

Rice was originally the singer for Juniper. Disenchanted by the commercial pressures of the band, he quit as Juniper were leaving for France to record their first full album for Polygram. He busked around Europe before return to Dublin, where he began performing at Whelan’s of Wexford Street. Rice released O in 2002. The album has since gone double platinum in Ireland. He was nominated for the Hot Press and Meteor Best Newcomer Awards in 2002, winning the latter. The Blower’s Daughter and Cold Water featured in Mike Nichols’s 2004 film Closer, while Delicate featured in the US TV drama Lost. The follow-up to O is due for release early this year.

Why included: An outstanding singer-songwriter.

8) Sinead O’Connor - Singer

Born: Dublin, 1966

While singing with Ton Ton Macoute, O’Connor was signed by Ensign Records. She also acquired an experienced manager, Fachtna O’ Ceallaigh, former head of U2’s Mother Records. O’Connor’s first two albums (1988’s The Lion and the Cobra and 1990’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got) gained considerable attention. The second contained her biggest hit, Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U. Her 2002 album, Sean-Nós Nua, marked a departure in that O’Connor interpreted traditional Irish folk songs. Her retirement, announced in 2003, proved short-lived, with a reggae album, Throw Down Your Arms, appearing last year.

Why included: Her distinctive singing and her compelling, divisive public persona.

9) Bob Geldof - Musician and political activist

Born: Dublin, 1951

Geldof is the elder statesman of rock. Though the Boomtown Rats were a successful act - Rat Trap was the first new wave chart-topper in Britain, and I Don’t Like Mondays was equally successful - he is best known for Band Aid and Live Aid. More recently, he has worked with Bono on the Make Poverty History campaign, though the Live 8 concerts were widely criticised. Geldof has also been an activist for fathers’ rights and runs TV company Planet 24.

He is currently involved in a legal dispute with his former bandmates, who have accused him of withholding profits from the band’s recordings.

Why included: An important figure in the growth of the international profile of Irish rock music.

10) Bell X1 - Rock band

Originally known as Juniper, Bell X1 became a foursome with the departure of Damien Rice.

The band comprises Paul Noonan, Brian Crosby, Dominic Philips and David Geraghty.

They have released three albums: Neither Am I, in 2001, Music In Mouth, in 2003; Flock was released in 2005 and has become a critical success.

The group have built up a devoted fanbase on the gig circuit.

Their song, Eve, The Apple Of My Eye, featured in an episode of the hit US TV show The OC, while Bigger Than Me, from Flock, reached number 16 in the singles charts, with the album following to No 1 a fortnight later.

Why included: The critical darlings of 2005 - a band going places.

11) Michael Buckley - Saxophonist and Composer

Born: Dublin, 1971

Buckley has been playing professionally since the age of six. He first came to prominence in 1984 when he played flute with saxophonist George Coleman in the NCH in Dublin. Though largely self-taught, his obvious talent has been developed by Pat LaBarbera, Enrico Pieranunzi and Milt Hinton. He has toured the world four times with The Mingus Big Band, Dave Liebman, Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, Grant Stewart, Ingrid Jensen, Louis Stewart and Gerard Presencer, among others. He has made numerous radio and TV appearances, and regularly works on film and television scores. He has collaborated on recordings with Donovan and the Cranberries.

Why included: A leading musician on the Irish jazz scene.

12) The Chalets - Rock band

Formed in 2001, The Chalets have been causing a stir on the live scene. Their style-consciousness is hardly surprising, given that drummer Dylan Roche is a printer, while guitarist Enda Loughman, bassist Chris Judge and singer Caoimhe Derwin all went to Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology - but this has helped set them apart and define their image. They won Best New Band at 2005’s Meteor Awards. Their Sexy Mistake single was chosen by MTV as the soundtrack for its branding campaign in Ireland; while Nightrocker was used in the trailer for the film Madagascar. Their album Check In was released in September 2005 to mixed reviews.

Why included: A band on the rise whose style sets them apart from other glum Irish rockers.

13) Ronan Guilfoyle - Composer

Born: Dublin, 1958

Guilfoyle studied bass and improvisation with Dave Holland in Banff, Canada, and has performed extensively in Europe, Asia and the USA. He is director of the jazz department at Newpark Music Centre, in Dublin, and has taught extensively in Ireland and abroad, and lectured on improvisation for the International Music Council of UNESCO.

As a composer, he has written music for theatre, television, film and numerous jazz ensembles, as well as for orchestra and chamber groups.

Awards include the Julius Hemphill Composition Award, in 1997 for Devsirme. He was elected to Aosdána in 2003.

Why included: A central figure in the development of Jazz in Ireland.

14) Gerald Barry - Composer

Born: 1952, Co Clare

Many of Barry’s works have been commissioned by the BBC. His opera, The Intelligence Park, was first performed in 1990 and The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, was written for Channel 4.

In 1998, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra premiered The Conquest of Ireland; 2002 saw the premiere of Dead March and the first staged performances of The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, in Aldeburgh, London and Berlin. He was also the featured composer in several festivals, including the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, England. In 2005, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant premiered in Dublin and London. He is a member of Aosdána.

Why included: Ireland’s leading opera composer.

15) Daniel O’Donnell - Singer

Born: Dungloe, Co Donegal, 1961

In 1980, O’Donnell left Galway Regional College to join his sister Margo’s band as a backing singer. At the time, she was a household name. His career started to take off after he recorded and released Johnny McCauley’s My Donegal Shore, in 1983. Later that year, he formed his own group, Country Fever. After it disbanded, he formed Grassroots. In 1985, he was introduced to Sean Reilly, who remains his manager. O’Donnell has had 20 UK Top 40 albums and 12 Top 40 singles. He regularly tops the British country music charts and enjoys considerable sales of imported records amongst Irish-Americans. In 2002, he was awarded an honorary MBE.

Why included: The leading exponent of ‘country and Irish’ music.

16) John O’Conor - Director, Royal Irish Academy of Music

Born: Dublin, 1947

O’Conor has become a key figure in the development of young artists through his role as director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and was a co-founder of the AXA Dublin International Piano Competition, of which he is artistic director and jury chairman. As a pianist, he is a masterful interpreter of the classic and early romantic repertoires. He is a champion of works by Ireland’s leading 19th century composer, John Field. He has an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland and an honorary fellowship with the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He has the title of Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government.

Why included: A renowned pianist and important teacher.

17) Catherine Leonard - Violinist

Born: Cork, 1973

As Ireland’s leading violinist, in 2002 she was invited by President McAleese to play for the Finnish president during a State visit to Finland. The RTÉ National Symphony, Ulster and Irish Chamber Orchestras regularly invite her to perform as a soloist, and an RTÉ television programme profiling her with the NSO aired in autumn 2005. Leonard is a regular guest at the Music in Great Irish Houses, West Cork and Vogler Festivals, and has played at the Prussia Cove Chamber Music Seminar, the Perth International Chamber Music Festival and the City of London Chamber Music Festival. She was recently appointed to a principal violin chair for the Californian chamber music ensemble, Camerata Pacifica.

Why included: Top-class violinist.

18) Denis Desmond - MCD

Born: Cork, 1953

Desmond worked as an engineer before turning full-time promoter after a U2-Thin Lizzy concert at Slane in 1981. He brought The Smiths, The Clash, Simple Minds and REM to smaller venues. Later, REM would play in front of 80,000 at Slane.

MCD dominates the Irish concert business and Desmond’s portfolio includes interests in the Gaiety, the Olympia, the Ambassador, SFX and nightclub Spirit.

He recently bought a large share of rival company the Mean Fiddler. The importance of the Desmond-backed Féile to the marketing of live music cannot be overestimated, and MCD also promotes Oxegen.

Why included: As head of MCD, he is Ireland’s biggest music promoter.

19) Cara O’Sullivan - Singer

Born: Cork

Since she won the RTÉ Musician of the Future competition in 1990, O’Sullivan has risen to prominence as one of Ireland’s leading sopranos. She represented Ireland in the 1993 Cardiff Singer of the World competition; was first prize winner in the Second International Stanislav Moniuszko Vocal competition, in Warsaw in 1996, and won the classical artist award in the 1997 National Entertainment Awards in Ireland. O’Sullivan is renowned for her interpretation of Der Köningin der Nacht Die Zauberflöte, having performed the role for Opéra de Nantes, De Vlaamse Opera, English National Opera, Opera North and Opera Ireland. Her debut solo album was released in Ireland in 2003.

Why included: Ireland’s most accomplished operatic performer.

20) Barry Douglas - Pianist

Born: Belfast, 1960

Douglas won the gold medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow - the only non-Russian since Van Cliburn in 1958 to have won. He previously won the bronze medal at the Van Cliburn Competition in Texas, in 1985, and the top prize in the 1988 Santander Paloma O’Shea Competition, in Spain.

He has performed with dozens of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors. He received an OBE in 2002. He also received a fellowship of the Royal College of Music, where he is Prince Consort professor of piano, and an honorary doctorate of music from Queen’s University, Belfast.

Why included: A highly successful Irish pianist.

21) Cathal Coughlan - Musician

Born: Cork, 1960

Coughlan is a key figure in Irish music, having been lead singer in the acclaimed Cork group Microdisney.

He later formed the raucous and controversial Fatima Mansions.

Coughlan has released three albums of solo material.

He has provided soundtrack music for feature films, including Johnny Gogan’s The Mapmaker, and has taken singing roles in French composer François Ribac’s contemporary operas Qui Est Fou? (2001) and Petit Traité du Jardin Botanique (2004).

As a contribution to Cork 2005, Coughlan wrote a song cycle, Flannery’s Mounted Head, which was well received.

Why included: The quality and longevity of his career.

22) The Corrs/ John Hughes - Pop band

While auditioning for the film The Commitments, The Corrs were noticed by their now manager, John Hughes. The Corrs’ break came when they performed at the 1994 World Cup in Boston. This led to supporting Celine Dion on her 1996 world tour. Their first album, Forgiven, Not Forgotten, was followed in 1998 by Talk On Corners.

Both have been certified gold in the US, and In Blue has been certified platinum by the RIAA. In 2005, they recorded Home, a traditional Irish album.

In October 2005, they released All The Way Home, a documentary.

Why included: A hugely successful act, at home and abroad.

23) John Kelly - CEO, Irish Chamber Orchestra

Born: Kildare

Kelly, along with musical director Nicholas McGegan, was responsible for the success of the orchestra’s 1994 move to Limerick and has helped make the ICO a respected touring ensemble. Kelly began performing as a violinist at an early age, studying under the tutelage of his father, TC Kelly, the well-known composer and arranger.

In 1974, he received a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London. He later studied at the Nordwestdeutsche Musik-Akademie Detmold in Germany. In the late 1980s, he returned to Ireland and worked with the RTÉ Orchestras, Opera Theatre Company and the Irish Chamber Orchestra.

Why included: His role in making the ICO the success it is today.

24) Enya - Musician

Born: Donegal, 1961

Working with producer Nicky Ryan and songwriter Roma Ryan (who invented his own language, Loxian, for the current CD), Enya has become one of Ireland’s leading solo artists and one of the best-selling female singers ever. Notoriously reclusive, she has yet to play a full-scale live gig. In 1980, Enya joined her family’s group, Clannad. Her solo breakthrough came with the 1988 album Watermark, which featured the hit song Orinoco Flow; the album sold eight million copies.

Three years later, Shepherd Moons sold 10 million copies and earned Enya her first Grammy award.

Her latest album, Amarantine, was released in November 2005.

Why included: She is the leading Irish female recording artist.

25) Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin - Composer

Born: Clonmel, 1950

From 1975 to 1993, Ó Súilleabháin worked in the Music Department of UCC. He established the department as the first such educational body to work towards the integration of traditional and classical musicians. In January, 1994, he continued this work at postgraduate level in the University of Limerick, where he was the first holder of a new Chair of Music and founder of the Irish World Music Centre. These interests have expanded to form nine MA programmes with associated doctorate research. In his recordings, he has been concerned with the development of a uniquely Irish piano style.

Why included: For pioneering certain music courses in Irish academia and the foundation of IWMC, as well as for his music.

More in this section