Thursday, January 31, 2008


Sean Laffey's GIG PIX

Over the past five years I have built up a large stock of photographs of unsigned bands and solo artists .
And I can tell you that photography is the poor relation when it comes to band work, thousands of Euro are spent on recording, but very few artists take the trouble to spend just a small amount on excellent graphics. How many CD Covers are made up from old family photos? Too many.
Your music needs something better and I believe I can supply you with high quality images without breaking the bank.
Why are few live shots ever used? You play out of your skin throw all sorts of shapes, but nothing gets into print? Why? It's pantomime, look behind you? Clutter and rubbish on the stage makes you look unprofessional, solution?

Where you can please specify a plain (preferably black) back cloth on any stage.

Remember too the photography of sponsors logos may incur an additional and often large license fee.

Payment should be made in advance , at the start of a photo shoot is acceptable, no images will be handed over until full payment is made.

Cost €100 per session. Plus expenses.*

You get a CD ROM with up to 50 JPEGS Images, saved at magazine quality.
Each disc will contain:
Full size images in colour and BW
Web sized images in colour and BW.
There is NO restriction on image use except I require a textual credit (ie image: Sean Laffey:
Sean Laffey retains the right to use the images .
Prints can be ordered as below or processed by the musician independently.
Gigs- Add 2 persons at the door or to your guest list. I like to take shots during the sound check if possible, as this allows for more control over the stage lighting, please call with details of the venue and arrival times. If you would like the majority of shots taken during the live gig, I need access to all stage areas and do please ask the lighting crew to go easy on Red Gels (they flatten images and take detail out of pictures).
Turn round time overnight for basic CDROM (only colour shots, no reduction in fees. ) Five working days for full package. Allow time for postage. Add €5 for Swiftpost
Expenses, these are €20 for return journeys over 100 miles.
€40 for return journey over 250 miles.
There are no mileage charges for gig /photo shoots in:
Port Laoise, Waterford, Cork City, Limerick City, Nenagh , Kilkenny, Clonmel or Tipperary Town.
Prints : 8 X 10 or nearest equivalent prints will be charged at €5 each, payment in advance please
You are free to have these photographs independently printed once you have paid for your CDROM.
36 x 6"x4" en-prints
36 en-prints in colour produced. Extra prints/enlargements at cost plus 15%.
Negatives are retained by Sean Laffey.

Expenses as GIG PIX 1
12 colour slides produced, you retain all copyright on originals.
Plus expenses as above.
Photographic Studio work.
Prices from €300 per day.

Duplicate CDROM €7

No extra charge to basic if photographs are taken in your own rehearsal location / studio or outdoors which is the cheapest option.
Prices as above plus €15 per hour

Session, plus basic web pages: Biog, reviews, News, interviews, gig list, contact, interviews pages using session shots.
Pages to be uploaded + maintained by band. A quick method of getting your website together. Please allow approx 1 month or less after gig session.

We use a reliable third party service.
Session, plus basic webpages using session shots. Maintained for 1 year (gigs, reviews etc)
As above with additional domain name (call to discuss your requirements) and site maintained and hosted for 1 year with additions.

CONTACT SEAN LAFFEY on 062 62685 or 087 982 1916

scroll way down for a nice Gig Pix of Liam Clancy

Thursday, January 17, 2008



Seán Laffey asks questions about folk music that were prompted by the work of Chris Wood.

Where does our native music come from? What was it like in the past? Where is it going ? What values does it hold for my life today?

These are some of the most vital questions to be asked by anyone who is interested in folk music.Some would say there's no reason to be skeptical, there's never been a better time to make or enjoy folk music. The web has given us access to information we could only dream about in the 1970s , tunes, songs and their backgrounds are all at our finger tips. The egalitarianism of the net means we can at least theoretically, be heard over the maddening crowd, we can make our own music or pass comment, the freedom is often indulgent, frequently intoxicating. Others would surely point out, right now in January 2008 we are blessed with exemplary musicians making spell-binding music.

Since the 1950s folk music has diverged and part of it developed as a distinctly commercial art form, drifting away from the communities and cyclic events that gave it both an impetus and a validation. Largely in the British Isles international success, if success it is, has been achieved within Irish and Scottish music, English music for a number of reasons, summed up in the notion "uncool" still lags behind, making neither a commercial or populist mark much beyond Blighty and frequently not even gaining its due respect at home.

However, we might ask what sort of music existed before people made "folk" ? What did they play if they had no intention of developing a career out of it? Before it became possible to be a "folker" what roles did traditional music play in people’s lives? You won't find answers to those questions here, but come back another day and we can chew the fat, and in the meantime keep asking them.

Firstly, to put a bit of clarity on this, I'm writing this from an Irish perspective, and the truth is many traditional players here don’t often ponder such questions. There are reasons for this, players start young and most have the acquired the skill and repertoire long before they begin to pose serious questions about the culture. Secondly unlike the rest of Europe our traditions continued unbroken, today any budding flute player or fiddler has over two hundred years of material from which to build a personal canon, and the good news is that there is more to be published, the well is not yet dry. Irish Folk song is a bit different, yes it exists in books and archives, there are the ballad bands, there are older more "authentic" recordings, but somehow it isn't the communal activity it once was. Unless of course it is part of a seasonal ritual, but more of that later.

One musician who thinks deeply about those opening questions is Chris Wood. He is a busy man, performing solo, working with story teller Hugh Lupton, touring the country in a series of thematic concept shows, “Common Ground”, and “ The Imagined Village” and throughout December 2007 he was in “Christmas Champions” taking a fresh look at the Mumming and Guising traditions. He writes music, gives lectures, and is a genuine advocate for the often hidden folk culture of these islands. In particular he is a champion of English folk music. A founder member of the English Acoustic Collective, his work is both rooted in the tradition yet open to new influences as can be seen in one of his current projects with the Guru behind the Afro Celt Sound System Simon Emerson; with whom he has collaborated on the “Imagined Village” project.

This interview was necessarily stitched together through a series of phone calls and emails, one of the conversations went something like this, “I’m in a Café having a cup of tea with Simon Emerson and Billy Bragg, it’s a bit too noisy for a chat, can you call me when I eventually get to my hotel?”

While Chris enjoys his Barry’s moment, let me kick this interview into gear with a CD review . Here’s my take on his latest album, "Trespasser". I came by this CD in mid-October, and for some strange reason it made me think immediately of a Gothic autumn nearly five hundred years ago, Remember when Martin Luther nailed his 95 objections to a German Church door. In 1517 Protestantism was born and it rapidly gained ground, due in no small measure to a combination of Papal lethargy, new technology (printing), incessant pamphleteering by the Doctor and vernacular communal hymn singing (there’s nothing like a catchy pop song to get a message remembered). Thirty years on and heir-obsessed Henry VIII knowing nothing of L’Oreal sent the sixteenth century into a spin, from which Catholic Ireland and the newly Protestant England began their spiraling, divergent and bloody misunderstanding.

There’s a huge slice of that Protestant heritage in the music of Chris Wood. It is characterised by forensic detail in song narrative and the duty to declare personal revelation, it has those easy to learn hypnotic songs (many are new compositions within the folk idiom, some are hymns), each song is full of message and promise, stark ideas are paramount over florid fancy. In Irish songs place is often the central theme, but Wood picks another angle on the notion of home. In England the Diaspora is internal and dispossessed not just of space but of its culture, the gulags are in the wasteland called neglect. In his world view the English class system has for seven centuries made the natives trespassers in their home place, and now in more so-called egalitarian times the old squiring attitudes persist minus the humanity of “noblesse-oblige”.

Take a simple tune, the addictive "Monks Gate", essentially English, modal and deliberate, you may know it as the melody to "To Be A Pilgrim" , but a hundred years before that is was "Our Captain Cries All A Hands" and variants appear in "the Blacksmith" and the damning comment on the social/ethnic divide that has the descendants of Norman Warlords conscripting their Saxon vassals in "Fighting for Strangers." Woods cleverly adopts this melody to "The Cottager's Reply" as story about how in the twenty-first century it is the 4x 4 owning nouveaux-riche who are usurping hundreds of years of heritage, how? With a signature on the corner of a cheque. “But what does it matter? “ They say. “The English poor are mobile and they’ve been off the land for two-hundred years.” Wood’s view is that tradition becomes gossamer thin when you have only a short tenure on place.

Themes of cultural fraction and disenfranchise appear over an over in his work.

Sounds glum? Not a bit of it, yes it is dark, yes it uses musical metres we might find… hiccoughy . Take time to appreciate the strongly rhythmic guitar playing and the subtle vocal harmonies in the back cloth (then ask where would three part folk harmony be without the Anglican Hymnal, or would anonymous English folk song be so robust without the King James Bible?).

This is work that needs to be heard, we could misjudge English folk music as simplistic, terminally nostalgic, achingly bucolic, a soundtrack to a benign comedy, minor tones chiming beneath the whimsy of Dibley, uncouth and Ribald, but it is bigger than that and more important too. There’s an intellectual angst in Wood’s work: he is quaffing bitter ale and arguing in the tavern with Paine and Blake. Maybe such debates have become obligatory in these PC times when it’s not enough to be ourselves, we all have, it appears, a duty to explain our positions and justify our passions.

In the end there’s more to this than another 24 carat album from Wood, it’s a history lesson deep in emotional detail, it begs our listening. Its Lutheran roots are more logical and more persuasive than the astringent Calvinism that has for too long coloured our conception of one of the other religious traditions of this island. It’s a way forward for English music and a signpost for a shredded social road we would be best advised to avoid. Essential and possibly the finest English album of the year.

Now let’s just take one song from the album and ask Chris to comment on it, that song is "England in Ribbons." Written by the story teller Hugh Lupton, it recounts the actions in a familiar mid-winter Mummer’s play, (we have version of this in Armagh and our own Wren Boy culture is not too dissimilar. Dublin photographer Brian Shuel did much in the 1960’s to capture the spirit of this homemade culture, (some of his excellent collection of pictures are on

Chris Wood toured "Christmas Champions" throughout December 2007, the show was two hours long and built around an English Mumming play."It developed from a BBC Radio Three commission for their Late Junction programme, we had the opportunity to write a seasonal piece” says Chris, and “for the time of year there are two major choices of folk inspiration Mumming and the Mari Llwyd traditions of south Wales.”

Wood and Lupton decided on the Mumming plays. Chris is openly enthusiastic about the song writing talents of Hugh Lupton, “it was my idea, but it’s Hugh’s words that make the song so important” The song in question is England in Ribbons, which is a complete Mumming play with all the characters and action handled by a solo singer. Chris tells me the secret is to allow the words in the song space, let them develop a resonance with the audience, the song is sung slowly, unlike the traditional actor’s deliveries, which are usually given in a rapid-fire knockabout fashion.

Secondly he says that Lupton’s words are key to the deeper meaning within the piece.
“Hugh Lupton has constructed the song so that at one level it is the recognisable play with all it’s characters, action and stock phrases, but there are points where he employs subtle modern idioms, so we get a bigger understanding about what the pay actually means.“
Chris tells me that key to England in Ribbons is a dual concept of time, he says that Hugh Lupton conceives linear time as the slow tick of a clock, marking days off a calendar, rights of passage, our personal journeys from cradle to grave. Then there is resurrection time, this is cyclic, seasonal, the year turns round, there are times to sow, tend and harvest, these actions are repeated, revisited from generation to generation. The play is an allegory on Death and Resurrection . It pits St George against the Turkish Knight, western Christendom against eastern Islam. St. George and the Turk fight, neither wins, the conflict is without resolution, this has meaning for our own times, the US and militant Islam are locked in a bloody stalemate, (the US has its own George too). The only victim is the concerned innocent: in the play Bold Slasher, a youth, sees the folly of conflict, he tries to stop it only to fall victim, as Hugh Lupton puts it in the “crossfire”.

Drama of course has to resolve itself and in the Mummer’s play the resurrection of the fallen everyman is carried out by the Doctor. Wood has a contemporary take on this. “ The Doctor is the real hero of English culture, take the biggest TV event of the past ten years, Dr Who. He’s the same character from the Mummer’s play, he knows everything, he has the one power which eludes us ( he never dies and this the heavy cross he has to bear). Like Dr, Who the Mummer's Doctor joins the action mysteriously, always at a time when something significant is happening, (when else would use need a medic?). His actions are never violent but always clever, his knowledge allows the re-birth of the innocents, he restores cycles to their order, he is the controller of resurrection time. He leaves when the job is done, but we know he’ll be back when tragic time and resurrection time are once again in disharmony.”

The song and the play show us the tragedy of ourselves the players caught in linear time,riding the burning fuse of life, mirrored against the glass of the characters that live forever in resurrection time, those who will replace us, who will do what we do, until it is their time to let the new generation take the load.

It is powerful stuff and a powerful album, one that will cycle in the folk canon for years to come.

Check out more on

An illustrated shorter version of this article appeared in the Irish Music Magazine Annual Edition 2007/08.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

St. Patrick's Parade in Cashel March 15th


Fun and Fireworks in Tipperary


This will run on the same day as the National Lottery Fireworks Display from the Rock of Cashel.

We are expecting larger than normal crowds and an increased TV coverage of the day’s events.
Cashel with its historic links with St.Patrick will again host a Street Parade, this year the event will run on Saturday the 15th of March.

We are expecting one of the biggest parades in many years and we are now accepting applications these can be for motorised or walking entries, from individuals, groups , community and sporting organisations and commercial companies, we’ve even had a politician or two in the past! There is often a wicked dose of satire laced in with the shamrocks and green hats, so if you have a funny idea we’d loved to hear about it.

There is no fee to take part in the Parade, but we would urge you to secure adequate Road Traffic insurance if your entry is a motorised vehicle, contact Sean Laffey and we can discuss this if you have any queries.

We need to finalise entries by the second week in February.

If you would like to take part in the parade please contact the Chair person Sean Laffey at, and if you’d just like to come along and enjoy this special fun packed day, you’ll be very welcome.

We welcome entries from Cashel and all the other towns in County Tipperary for what will be a hugely enjoyable event.

If you are a marching band or troupe visiting Ireland for the St. Patrick's Week, we'd love to hear from you, maybe you could join us in our parade on Saturday March 15th.

The structure and order of the Parade is under the control of our Parade Steward, Tommy Butler whose task it is to ensure that all entrants have a safe and enjoyable day. We physically separate walking and motorised entries in the interests of the Parade’s safety. The route will be the same as last year.

In the interests of safety and if you are new to the parade an application does not guarantee automatic acceptance. You will be contacted by the Parade Committee to confirm your participation in the Parade and to provide further details, please ensure you put a contact phone number on your application form.

As you know Cashel’s St. Patrick’s Parade is comprised of an entertaining and colourful mixture of entries for which there are specific prizes (with an overall first prize of €1000), entries can be categorized as follows:

Community Entries
Contract Entries
Commercial Entries


Community entries are non-profit groups including, associations, social groups, athletic organizations , schools, and cultural groups.

There is no fee to participate in the Parade as a Community Entry however, organizations must return the enclosed application form to the Parade Committee as we have to secure insurance in advance of your participation.


Contract Entries are those that the St. Patrick's Parade contract, typically for a fee, to provide additional entertainment value to the Parade.

Contract Entries might consist of bands, costumed characters or other types of entries, such as street entertainers and face painters, that we feel would add to the enjoyment of the Parade.

Our ability to pay for contract entries depends on the amount of sponsorship we receive.


Commercial Entries are usually mobile presentations created for, or by, commercial businesses from the Town and County.

Typically these entries consist of a float or a sponsor-provided vehicle bearing the sponsor's message. Unlike many other Parades we do not charge an entry fee for this category.

We ask all commercial entries to inform us well in advance about the number of vehicles they will present and to have adequate Road Traffic Insurance.

We do ask that commercial entries be generally restricted to a maximum of three vehicles per business and that some effort goes into dressing those vehicles in green bunting and flags.


The Parade for all that it is a fun event has to work in the real world, insurance has to be bought, trophies made and cash prizes awarded.

Some money goes to support bands who add so much to the atmosphere of the day, some goes in providing refreshment for the entrants, some is given as a donation to voluntary groups who are in charge of our first aid cover. Not one cent is taken by committee members , their work is 100-percent voluntary.

We actively seek sponsorship for our prizes, for our staging, for our refreshments and also for training days to help young people make the best of their St. Patrick’s Parade.

St. Patricks Parade in Cashel March 15th


This will run on the same day as the National Lottery Fireworks Display from the Rock of Cashel.

We are expecting larger than normal crowds and an increased TV coverage of the day’s events.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007



"For some time I have been concerned that the ancient song tradition has been neglected…..The airwaves seem to be wallowing in a vast reservoir of mediocrity."

There's a certain responsibility that comes with being a household name, and the small possibility that those in power will actually take you seriously. Moreover it's a gift to be able to do something positive, to use your name for good. That's Tommy Makem's philosophy as he told Seán Laffey when they discussed the aftermath of the inaugural The Tommy Makem International Festival of Song.

Strange how technology is often more influential than politics, back in 1950, Peter Kennedy picked up a prototype domestic tape recorder from the Scophony-Baird factory in Somerset England, a small act that would change the face of folk music forever. By 1952 Kennedy was in Keady Armagh, in Sarah Makem's cottage, recording songs as she worked "from the kitchen sink, to the range and then back again". One of those songs was 'As I Roved Out.' It became the eponymous signature tune of a BBC Radio programme, that was so influential in the folk revival both in Britain and Ireland. (Indeed in Ireland Seamus MacMahuna 's 'Job Of Journey Work' employed the same vox-pop formula, interspersing chat from musicians alongside their songs and tunes - it was radio at its best, real, engaging and new). Sitting in on that 1952 kitchen recording session was Sarah's young son, Tommy Makem, who by all accounts was half a sleep at the time, the music making (in the true Irish custom), had drifted into the small hours. But the songs stuck with him, within the decade he was performing with the Clancy Brothers, singing his mother's songs across America, (from a Keady kitchen to Carnegie Hall is some achievement for both the singers and the songs).

June 2000 Tommy Makem was back in his native Armagh championing the culture of this troubled border county, with a music festival bearing his name. The idea for the event was the result of discussions with interested parties including an impressive list of celebrity patrons. Tommy's nephew, the man on the ground, Newry based poet Peter Makem had the task of guiding the event to its very successful fulfilment.

I asked Tommy what was the spark that kindled the idea for the festival. "I had been talking to Peter about the vast culture of South Armagh, which is alive and well, and how the terrible pummeling , intimidation and denigration the area has suffered over the last 30 odd years has not been able to keep the culture from thriving . The portrayal of South Armagh as a very dark place, perpetuated by the powers that be and the press, both British and Irish, could not be further from the truth."

Tommy is ecstatic at the level of local grass roots support for all the native traditions. "Every October there is a Sean Nos weekend in Mullaghbawn, its now in the fifteen years and growing in quality every year. The Stray Leaf Folk Club in O'Hanlon's of Mullaghbawn has been operating on a weekly basis for nearly as long and many of Ireland's leading singers and instrumentalists have appeared there. (They have an impressive 13 week summer programme of traditional music, at a time when other folk clubs close for annual holidays). Another nephew of mine, John Makem has been running the Bard of Armagh Humourous Poetry Competition for five years now, with contestants from all over Ireland participating. On their "Finals" night they will have anywhere from 600 to 800 people in to enjoy the craic. The poetry tradition continues apace with superb poets like Hugh Murphy of Lislea continuing the centuries old South Armagh Poetry School tradition. New songs are being written and recorded by the likes of Briege Murphy. The Armagh Rhymers are a unique group of performers who have taken the song, music, poetry and even a local Mummer's Play to Festivals and schools all across North America and to many parts of Europe. Storyteller John Campbell and his partner singer Len Graham have also taken South Armagh stories and folksongs from Armagh to Alaska and from San Francisco to the Skelligs. Surprises keep flowing out of South Armagh!"

So with all this activity going on, why hold a summer festival of singing? "For some time I have been concerned that the ancient song tradition has been neglected. It is extremely important that the song tradition should not be allowed to lag behind," he told me. The festival was attended not just by locals but visitors form many overseas countries, surely this had a bearing on the songs that were heard over the week? "Some of the American visitors sang songs that became popular when Liam Clancy and myself recorded them in the 1980's. They also did some American songs that had come from Irish song sources, songs like 'Streets of Laredo' (same tune as the Bard of Armagh), Get Along Little Doggies (same tune as Rockin' the Cradle, which is, of course an Irish song about the Holy Family) and many more. Dutch visitors sang songs that I hadn't heard since the Clancy Brothers and I recorded them in 1957, songs like 'Kitty Magee', 'The Nightingale' and 'The Little Beggarman'. I sang some songs that I had written in the last few years with South Armagh connections, songs like 'Count Redmond O'Hanlon', 'Sweet Dromintee' and 'The Long Woman's Grave'. Polish visitors sang us a couple of songs in their nativetongue. The Makem Brothers sang some songs from their grandmother's repertoire. My mother, Sarah would have been proud of them. Great stuff altogether and very highly appreciated by the listeners."

In all the pre-publicity and press releases for the festival, much ado was made of the Irishness of the area, the ancient landscape, Neolithic archaeology, mythical connections and the central role of Armagh in the bardic and poetic tradition form the middle ages to the end of Gaelic rule. But, nothing was said of the Protestant traditions, which although they are a minority in the area, must surely be accommodated in any drive towards reconciliation. By marketing the song festival as a "festival for peace", I wondered how much support they had from the Unionist section of the community? "There were some local councillors from both sides of the isle who attended and who sang and laughed together in very obvious enjoyment. As to the songs having "colours": the song tradition of Ulster is a complete blending and mixture of three cultures: the Irish, which is predominant, the Scottish which is very strong, and the English. The songs sung at the festival, for the most part, were from the mixture known as the Ulster tradition and therefore were common to all those from Ireland who attended. One local councillor has stated publicly that the Festival of Song has done more good for South Armagh in a week than the council to which he belongs, has done in twenty-five years. This is what Peace and Reconciliation is all about, uplifting the people and the area."

For the future, Tommy would like to see more official support and a fairer treatment of the native arts by broadcast media. "People of all persuasions singing, laughing, talking and enjoying each others company must make the bureaucrats realise that the people who were there had more in common than they had differences. Bringing people together and sharing the strong culture with visitors and neighbours alike was like a tonic for the entire area of South Armagh." Yet he is critical of the way in which Radio seems to have abandoned indigenous music "The airwaves seem to be wallowing in a vast reservoir of mediocrity. The young people are not being given the choice nor the opportunity to glory in their culture because of the dull, narrow, and I personally think, misguided view of the powers that be who are allowed to decide the tastes of the country. If the reaction of those who attended the song festival in South Armagh, both young and old, is any indication, there is great hope for our culture. Perhaps the local radio stations could bring this music and enjoyment to the entire country since the national stations don't seem to have any inclination to do so."

That brings me back to Peter Kennedy and his groundbreaking radio shows, his aim was to show the commonality of the singing traditions of the islands of Ireland and Britain. Reflecting on his work in 1975 he observed, "Most of our singers turned out to be local rebels, refusing to conform to local religious and local political pressure: they were traditionalists and yet at the same time they were often outrageously progressive. What touched you when you met them was their utter sincerity, and when they sang their songs you felt they knew what they were singing about."

That spirit of honesty and individualism may be the very reason for the survival of songs and the singing tradition, and of course why it is still treated with suspicion by bourgeois bureaucrats and their servants in the media.

Seán Laffey June 2000

NOT for re-publication in electronic or other media without prior consent of the author.

Sean Laffey

Is the Editor of Irish Music Magazine - Dublin.

Writes for the Internet magazines Folkworld (Germany) (England).

Is a contributor to Celtic News (Buenos Aires) The Buzz ( Guinness in House Magazine) Irish American Post (Milwaukee).

A member of the Mountjoy Writers Group - USA

Consultant to the University of Glamorgan -Wales.

He runs his own Media, Photography and Journalism company ;


Cashel Co. Tipperary.

Contact 0033 62 62685 Voice 00353 62 62967 Fax email