Two Broads Abroad

A Mother and Daughter Discover
the Heart of Irish Music

Aah, Ireland. Land of a thousand welcomes, with stunning views to dazzle the eyes and a dazzling array of whiskies to stun the mind. Each corner of this small country offers not-to-be-missed sights: the mountains of Connemara, the desolate beauty of the cliffs of Moher, the mosh pits of Dublin.

I was sitting there, an American in an upstairs bar of north Dublin, next to a stage on which a reggae band from Poland was performing, as my daughter carved a petite niche for herself on the dance floor. Somehow it just made sense. I didn’t even mind that much when someone spilled a beer on me. A local guy asked me the time and then pointed at the fist of moshers, “Is that your daughter?” When I said yes, he tipped his drink at me. “Most parents wouldn’t let their kids come here, and yet you actually brought yours here?” Giving credit where it is due, I said with demure pride that really she had been the one to find the place.

In August, Margaret and I made a long awaited pilgrimage to Eire, searching for trad music and a respite from the American way of life. Outfitted with backpacks and the coveted Bus Eireann bible of schedules (which lists every bus route throughout the country), we began our audio adventure in Dublin—and immediately ran into a snag. Margaret, being a daughter of a certain age, was not allowed past the door at any of the pubs. Mind you, this problem never occurred once we were out on the west coast, but Dublin had an army of tight-faced bouncers that would not listen to the sound argument, “But this is my daughter. She’s not going to be drinking!” Yeah, just what a pub employee wants to hear.

Heading back to the hostel at a tragically early hour, grousing at the inequity of it all, talking through the disappointment, suddenly I realized Margaret was no longer with me. She was gliding across the street in a trance, her upturned face bathed in the benediction of Christmas lights from a second floor window as riotous music spilt down around her.

There wasn’t much going on in Firestones—in fact, it was dead save for a few relics permanently attached to the bar. No one even glanced up as M. beelined her way to the back of the bar, where a narrow staircase soon ejected us into a packed room that throbbed with music and hangovers in the making. A few Euros bought us three bands and several hours of craic (craic being the Irish term for “a good time,” often associated with drinking). As openers, Mr. Blueface delivered a straightforward punk that kept the tiny tangle of moshers happy.

When their session was over, several audience members took over the stage, messing with mics and equipment, and by the time we figured out that these kids were the next act, Foot in Mouth was spitting out their ska with manic veracity. The lyrics were fueled by anger, mistrust, and dissatisfaction, and yet, the ska beat and saxophone gave all this angst a magnetic pull. Turlough stepped down from the stage, preferring the camaraderie of the bouncing deadlocked crowd as he played his sax. Ed’s words were shouting contempt and misery (“I hate living in a world/where depression is a comfort”), yet somehow he managed to pull a sliver of hope out of this open wound. Of course, some of this redemption comes from not taking themselves too seriously, with songs like “Fuck You Foot in Mouth.” Another part of their redemption stems from tightly crafted tunes that allow each member to showcase his abilities. Although Turlough looks like he’s maybe 17, give or take, he plays with the confidence of a saxophonist who’s been playing with The Scofflaws for years.

Vocalist Ed Whitfield gave me some band background after their set. Formed by locals from Wicklow, they have Ed’s brother Luke (guitar), Eoin (drums), Turlough (sax), and Steve (bass). Eoin and Turlough split time with a punk band named Kid Blunt, (another band I’d like to eventually see). Foot in Mouth plays mostly in Dublin, where the clubs are but, Ireland being about half the size of Missouri, they’ve played all over the country. They’ll be releasing a four-song 7” during their European tour this autumn, with a winter release in Ireland. The influence of punk is apparent in their playlist, with nary a nod to romance or sentiment, but songs like “Racism,” “Deadly One,” “6Ft Under,” and my favorite, “Trip Hop,” which initializes effort but won’t give the other side a second chance—“We could work together/There’s a lot of things we need to do/And if you’re not up for it/Well fuck you.”

The Polish reggae band that followed was very good and very up-tempo, and if you can imagine a reggae band on meth, you would have a fuzzy picture of the rest of the evening. Taking our leave while the bar-closers finished their pints, we made our way back toward the hostel. With the prospect of a hot shower, the Guinness I was wearing was just a souvenir of the night. I told Margaret, “Someone spilt a beer on me.” Beaming the grin of a trophy winner, Margaret countered, “Yeah, well, somebody threw up on me! It’s okay, though—I just scraped it off with a beer mat and kept dancing.” My heart swelled again with maternal pride—this was the start of one fantastic holiday.

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