Storyteller in Song
August 22, 2008 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Frank Harte is considered to be one of the greatest balladeers and song collectors in the Irish musical tradition. He specialized in the songs of Dublin City and saw himself as a "storyteller in song".

A scholar, collector and singer, Frank performed regularly at pubs in Dublin such as the Brazen Head and at the Goilin, on radio and television, as well as conducting workshops and group singing lessons at festivals in North America and at home. He lectured at Dublin Institute of Technology. His discography was prolific.
He was named Traditional singer of the year in 2004, and has a festival named in his honour, as well as a prize at DIT, where he lectured. A singer, collector and architect, he passed away in Dublin on the 27th of June, 2005.
(Warning, many youtube links here)
posted by LN (13 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In the interests of self-disclosure: I had the honour of interviewing Frank in 1999 for my research. A fine man, and a fine singer. I only wish I had been able to to interview him more.
posted by LN at 8:37 AM on August 22, 2008

I promise, I really tried LN...but within two seconds of listening, I'm over the hills and far, far away!

That dirgey Dublin nose singing has got to be one of the most acquired tastes in music!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:51 AM on August 22, 2008

A nice first post there LN. I'd never heard of this cove. He has a fine traditional voice. I mean no disrespect to Mr Harte at all, but when you say that he performed regularly at pubs, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Irish singers I encountered in London pubs back in the early 70s. They would appear at your table uninvited and sing in this style. Genuinely moved (great voice, wonderful stories) and at the same time embarrassed (there's an inebriated stranger singing loudly at your table) I often bought them a pint and they moved on to the next table. Does this still happen?
posted by tellurian at 9:28 AM on August 22, 2008

Not to my knowledge, tellurian. By the 1970's, folk and traditional singers in Ireland had started getting the "piss off" vibe at sessions, and began gathering at the Goilin club and other clubs like it, which are set aside solely for this type of singing. So traditional singers now generally sing for and amongst themselves. I can't speak to the London scene, though.
posted by LN at 9:48 AM on August 22, 2008

I promise, I really tried LN...but within two seconds of listening, I'm over the hills and far, far away!

Sometimes it's easier for me when I don't know what they're singing about. Though this Tuvan throat singer may be singing about his pick-up truck and cheatin' wife, all I hear is his voice set to stun. But sometimes I do better when I do know all the details; for instance, Mulligan and O'Hare go over much better when I know the background.
posted by pracowity at 11:15 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

To each their own, Jody. This song is actually banned in some pubs, you know.

Also, while we're on the subject.
posted by LN at 11:31 AM on August 22, 2008

Fairly unrelated.
posted by mandal at 11:40 AM on August 22, 2008

Oh, LN it's hopeless...

Even the muppets' version of D***y B*y makes me sink, absolutely mortified, in my chair here - eyeballs a-roving for the nearest imaginary pub exit!

I should have said, though. Beautifully put together post. And I can quite see that among those who are known for doing this sort of thing very well, your Frank Harte clearly belongs right at the very top of the heap:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:52 AM on August 22, 2008

I agree it is dirgy, and in this instance is definitely Dublin, but this is traditional Sean Nós singing and is certainly not limited to Dublin, or any other urban area. It's also not necessarily frowned upon - not the most mainstream, but not marginal either.

Now, if some old geezer came up to me in a pub and started singing uninvited with his hand out, I'd tell him to piss off just as quick as if he had an accordion (or god forbid some 'Crusty' with a hoover-pipe digeridoo as I've seen in Galway), but it's a legitimate form of traditional Irish music, and is part of many sessions I've sat in on or participated in.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 1:59 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

(Very nice post by the way LG - some of them Nova Scotians have the closest thing to a Galway accent I've heard this side of the pond)
posted by Nick Verstayne at 2:04 PM on August 22, 2008

LG? *Sorry*
posted by Nick Verstayne at 2:06 PM on August 22, 2008

Thanks so much for the post, LN. I love the Irish melodic sense. I too, however, find this particular singer's voice just a bit too nasal to really enjoy fully. Just personal preference.

There's one CD I have of traditional unaccompanied singing (in Gaelic) that I dearly love, and I wonder if you might know of this singer, LN. It's this release from Darach O'Cathain. I gather he's pretty well known in the world of Irish music?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:43 PM on August 22, 2008

Holy cow, yes, flapjax, Darach O Cathain's singing is considered to be one of the most representative of the Connemara tradition, barring Seosamh O hEanai (Joe Heaney). In fact, the album is still in print! If you're interested in recommendations of other singers in that style, just mefimail me.

To address the issue of the sound of Frank's voice: Nick calls it sean-nos, and indeed it sounds awfully similar. For Frank, and others of his age-group, singing in that nasally sounding voice was something they'd picked up from older folks at Fleadhs or from visiting older folks in the countryside. It's from the older generation that they learned their songs and this particular singing style. In their minds, they're continuing a long-standing tradition into the modern day. But they don't call it sean-nos, because their songs are in English. Out of respect for the Irish language and its preservation, they only term songs in Irish sung in that style as "sean-nos".

Bottom line - this singing style is cultivated, and that nasal sound is highly prized. Perhaps I'll do a companion post with Irish traditional singing that is less nasal. Would that suit everyone?

Oh, and p.s.: Nick - you must have had a bout of electronics fever when you wrote your post! :D
posted by LN at 9:22 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

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