Time for the Ir­ish mu­si­cal di­as­pora to bring out the Dead

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

WE KNOW too much about the Ir­ish mu­si­cal di­as­pora. We could all write PhD the­ses on the Ir­ish her­itage of Oa­sis, The Smiths, Dexys, John Ly­don, Bana­narama (ev­ery­one al­ways for­gets them), Cul­ture Club and hun­dreds of oth­ers. British mu­sic just wouldn’t be the same with­out all those Ma­hers and O’Dowds – not for­get­ting Mary Ber­nadette O’Brien (aka Dusty Spring­field).

The one band which has mys­te­ri­ously, and some­what ir­ri­tat­ingly, never make it onto the list are per­haps one of the finest ever. Dead Can Dance may be an Aus­tralian/New Zealand duo, but Bren­dan Perry is the son of a Ca­van woman and Lisa Gerrard the daugh­ter of a Meath man.

Granted, Dead Can Dance are the least Ir­ish-sound­ing band of the di­as­pora, but dig down deep enough and you’ll hear straight-up Ir­ish trad ar­range­ments and in­flec­tions (how­ever skewed and dis­torted) in their work.

Pos­ses­sors of one of the most in­ef­fa­ble sounds in mu­sic to­day, Dead Can Dance do big and beau­ti­ful mu­sic. Perry and Gerrard came of mu­si­cal age dur­ing the white heat of the punk/new wave era, but they have trav­elled fur­ther than al­most any­one in the de­vel­op­ment and so­phis­ti­ca­tion of their sound.

Me­dieval plain­song, tra­di­tional Per­sian rhythms, post-rock and neo-clas­si­cal are just some of the read­ily iden­ti­fi­able nodes in their work. They make Sigur Rós (who are in­debted to them) sound like Westlife.

In much the same way as an act such as The Blue Nile can re­lease some of the most sub­tly sublime mu­sic and yet still – for the most part – fly in un­der the main­stream radar, Dead Can Dance are, for many, a pri­vate pas­sion. They are one of those rare bands you would go the full box-set nine yards with.

Claimed, at var­i­ous times in their al­most 30-year record­ing ca­reer, by both the Goth community and world mu­sic afi­ciona­dos, the band have

al­ways re­tained a noble ide­al­ism about their work – which has al­lowed them to jaun­tily shrug off the re­duc­tive­ness of be­ing de­scribed as “a sound­track band”.

When I spoke to Perry the other week, he men­tioned how, while “as a punk mu­si­cian I had learned the nec­es­sary three chords”, he later went on to con­sid­er­ably ex­pand his mu­si­cal pal­ette. “Mag­a­zine, Wire and PiL were in­flu­ences be­fore we tuned into what Can and all those sem­i­nal Kraut-rock bands were do­ing,” he said.

The Goths weren’t let­ting go of Dead Can Dance, though. “It was a tag we had from the first few al­bums,” said Perry. “I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber do­ing this gig in Vi­enna in the 1980s which was held in a con­verted abat­toir. The au­di­ence seemed to be a cult of what looked like Sa­tanists, all stand­ing there in these black cowl capes. And they were chant­ing!”

The next great leap in their sound was in­spired by what Perry calls a “fas­ci­na­tion with church mu­sic”. “It was the solem­nity and the cer­e­mo­nial of the mu­sic. Baroque and Bach were also im­por­tant for us”.

With a new al­bum just out ( Anas­ta­sis), the duo will soon set out on a mini-world tour that doesn’t just stop off in the usual places (New York, Lon­don, Paris, Ber­lin) but also takes in, as a tes­ta­ment to the span of their ap­peal, Beirut and Is­tan­bul. And in a nod to their Ir­ish back­ground – and the fact Perry has been a long-time res­i­dent of Ca­van – the tour fin­ishes up in Dublin with a date at the Bord Gáis En­ergy The­atre on Oc­to­ber 28th.

If you’ve yet to be ini­ti­ated, start your jour­ney at Anas­ta­sis and work back­wards. It re­ally doesn’t get much bet­ter than Dead Can Dance.

Dead good: Lisa Gerrard and Bren­dan Perry

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