It ranges from rock and roll to American-style country


August 11, 1991|By Bob Allen

For an increasing number of Dublin-bound travelers, a sojourn in Ireland's capital means not only a literary pilgrimage to the shrines, homes, haunts and former tippling places of such Irish literary figures as James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde and Brendan Behan. It also will mean exploring Dublin's teeming, exotic, stylistically hydra-headed local music scene.

Over the past few years, this ancient metropolis has been transformed into a major world music center, largely because of the international breakthrough of such Irish musicians as U2, Sinead O'Connor, the Hothouse Flowers, the Waterboys, Clannad and Bob Geldof, not to mention internationally acclaimed veterans Van Morrison and the Chieftains.

Thus, you'll find a new generation of Dublin-bound travelers who perhaps have never pondered the resonant metaphysical implications of Yeats' "The Second Coming," and have maybe never even heard of Stephen Daedalus or Molly Bloom. Yet ask them, and they can quickly rattle off the names of all four members of U2, or rhapsodize at great lengths over the musical genius of the Hothouse Flowers.

So it follows that for these folks (and I'm surely one of them), a tour of "Dublin's fair city" not only means a stop at the Guinness Brewery and a visit to James Joyce's tower out at Sandycover, but may also include a wander past the now-famous Windmill Lane Studios (which, in rock legend, has become somewhat like Dublin's answer to Abbey Road) where tracks for U2 albums like "Joshua Tree" and "The Incredible Fire" were recorded.

"Dublin is set to become one of the world's major centers for pop and rock music -- thanks to the success of artists like U2, Chris De Burgh, and Sinead O'Connor," observed Dublin's daily Irish Independent in a May 1990 article about the Irish music $l explosion. "The Irish capital is rapidly transforming itself in the same way as New Orleans is seen as the home of the blues and country & western belongs to Nashville, Tennessee."

It's also worth noting that Dublin recently received the European Economic Community's coveted "European City of Culture" award for 1991.

Strolling through Dublin's narrow, atmosphere, pedestrian-choked midtown streets, one can feel -- and hear -- strains of this transformation everywhere. Along Ormond Quay, on the north bank of the Liffy River, the fences and storefronts are plastered with dozens of colorful posters advertising concerts and musical happenings.

A few blocks over, near O'Connell Bridge, street vendors do a brisk trade in souvenir rock and roll pins, buttons and T-shirts and U2 concert posters. Just across the bridge, rock music blares out of the trendy record shops and boutiques along D'Olier Street.

Across town at Trinity College, a free outdoor rock concert is under way on the green; the raucous, insistent guitar and drum riffs are loud enough to give a bounce to the shoppers' steps on nearby Nassau Street, and sometimes they even faintly penetrate the Trinity College Library, where dozens of tourists peruse the centuries-old Book of Kells and other ancient Irish artifacts and heirlooms.

Down on busy Grafton Street on a Saturday afternoon you'll find dozens of buskers (street musicians) plying their music talents -- everyone from callow but passable Dylan imitators to exquisite Celtic fiddle-players -- in exchange for meager tips from shoppers.

In the shadow of such staid, somber midcity landmarks as Dublin Castle, St. Peter's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral you'll find dozens of hole-in-the-wall musical pubs and clubs, like the Baggot Inn, McGonagle's and the Waterfront. Some of these are the very same small venues where the now world-famous Dublin rock band U2 got its inauspicious start more than a decade ago.

Not surprisingly, today you'll find dozens of up-and-coming rock and pop bands (many of them fresh out of the garage) playing these haunts, which needless to say, have come to be rather closely watched by music-industry talent scouts.

No doubt these aspiring young musicians have read all the rags-to-riches stories of U2's and Sinead O'Connor's international success in local music magazines, like the lively and irreverent Hot Press. Now they play their hearts out, night after night (often to the same sort of indifferent audiences that U2 encountered in its early days as an inchoate and unextraordinary high school rock band), hoping that their big break is only an audition away.

Even though I'd read quite a bit about Dublin's musical smorgasbord, I still was a bit overwhelmed by the daunting multiplicity of musical happenings that the city played host to on a continuing basis.

Indeed, the array of musical styles and genres that can be heard in Dublin -- rock, Celtic rock, Irish traditional, Irish-style Nashville country, jazz, big band, blues, cabaret and classical -- is so varied and colorful that it's expanded and enlarged upon the term "Irish music" to the point where the phrase is so all-inclusive as to be non-functional.

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