GEANTRAÍ, the traditional music television series, is only one of three programmes on TG4 to have survived since the Irish language station began broadcasting in 1996 — Ros na Rún and Nuacht TG4 being the others. Over the years, a comprehensive collection of music has been filmed live in pubs in Ireland, Scotland, England and the United States. A special Geantraí na Nollag on Christmas night will feature The Chieftains, who will celebrate their 50th anniversary next year, Paul Brady, Eddi Reader, The Teetotallers, Mairtín O’Connor and The Kane Sisters. Filmed at The Chieftains’ flute-player Matt Molloy’s pub in Westport, the show will air at 9pm.
Series producer/director Tony McCarthy, of ForeFront Television, is pleased with the show’s popularity. “We are commissioned on the basis of the good audiences we draw in,” he says. “Geantraí grew from the very start of TG4. Obviously, traditional music is part of the Irish tradition and close to the Irish language and is very important to the station’s audience.”
When TG4 (or TnaG as it was then) called on ForeFront 15 years ago, the fledgling public service broadcaster knew what it wanted, McCarthy says. “We were making fleadh cheoil programmes for RTÉ before the inception of TG4. So when the new station was being set up and programming was being thought of, we had a bit of experience in the traditional music field. In the very first week the station opened there was a Geantraí programme on it. We get very good viewing figures and we have the longest running commissions for both RTÉ and TG4, with Fleadh Cheoil and Geantraí.”
Corkman McCarthy talks of the format of the show in the early days and the satisfaction of producing a an important archival programme. “In the beginning it was shot in the studio. There was a series of regions and we began in Cork-Kerry. Then, we went to Clare and following that we were in the south-east. It was only after that we began filming in pubs. It’s fantastic to get the combination of discovering young talent, seeing regional variations and witnessing an older generation of musicians. It’s also a very important archive source. It’s important that we entertain the audience, but we also provide an archive for people to look back on and see how the music changes over the years,” he says.
On Christmas Day the festive edition of Geantraí will see Paddy Moloney and cohorts kick-start the celebrations. “We try and theme the Christmas programme to something different each year,” he says. “That show is slightly different to a standard Geantraí because it has to reach out to a wider audience. It’s not just geared to the purists. It’s the main entertainment programme on TG4 on Christmas Day. So we are going to be first off the blocks to celebrate The Chieftains’ 50th. I think it’s fitting that we went back to Matt Molloy’s in Wesport to record it. Matt’s pub is probably the best traditional music pub in Ireland, and because he’s a Chieftain it all fitted in beautifully.”
Paul Brady sings an old favourite, The Lakes of Ponchartrain, while Eddi Reader, the Scottish chanteuse, sings the Robert Burns’ classic My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose. Brady and Reader duet on his song, Follow On, and she also sings Declan O’Rourke’s Galileo. Geantraí na Nollag will also be the debut night for The Teetotallers, a new group comprising Martin Hayes on fiddle, flautist Kevin Crawford (of Lunasa), and John Doyle on guitar and vocals. “We built the programme around The Chieftains,” says McCarthy, “and we included musicians who had an affinity with them. Paul Brady has sung with them on a number of occasions and Eddie Reader has recorded with them. Martin Hayes has benefited because of The Chieftains’ trailblazing in America, and we’ll also have Mairtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden and Séamie O’Dowd. Mairtín has recorded with them in the past and Liz and Yvonne Kane (who will appear with Edel Fox) have been on stage with them on a number of occasions.”
* Paidí Ó Lionaird is the programme presenter and the music celebrations at Matt Molloy’s Pub can be seen in the special one-hour Christmas night programme at 9pm on TG4.