Enjoying Tradfolk? Click here to find out how you can support us

The cover image for This Ain't No Disco, featuring a Dublin factory against a darkening, cloudy skyline

This Ain’t No Disco: A visual exploration of contemporary traditional Irish music

Alex Hurr delves into This Ain't No Disco, a visual feast that celebrates Ireland's new wave of traditional singers.

In this day and age, when so much content is generated, from podcasts to Instagram posts, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with. With content being made at such a pace, it’s hard to know what’s worth your time and what’s not. At Tradfolk, we hope to help you sort the wheat from the chaff.

Digging through the seemingly endless possibilities, I find I’ve a hankering to write about This Ain’t No Disco (TAND for brevity), a series of videos that appear on Youtube, hosted by Donal Dineen and created by award-winning cinematographer, Myles O’Reilly. At its core, TAND is essentially a variety show featuring some of the most exciting contemporary folk musicians playing in Ireland today, mixed in with excellent cinematography, visual art, poetry, and fascinating interviews. 

This show is a delight for a number of reasons, not least the quality of musicians that take part. As you may be aware, there has been an exciting new wave of traditional music in Ireland over the last few years, and O’Reilly has been perfectly placed to capture this. At the forefront you’ll find the increasingly world-dominating Lankum, and they make up an important part of the show, appearing frequently in various forms. But it doesn’t stop there. You’ll also find top-tier artists such as Ye Vagabonds, Junior Brother, Lisa O’Neill, and John Francis Flynn.

Another reason to celebrate This Ain’t No Disco is Myles O’Reilly’s uncanny cinematic touch, there to see across his entire filmography. Starting out as a musician, O’Reilly got involved in video making and mastered that old industry essential, the ‘tour diary’ documentary. This brought him recognition in Ireland and he worked prolifically with a range of notable artists including Glen Hansard, Villagers, Lisa O’Neill, Sinead O’Connor, and Lisa Hannigan. Though not part of the TAND series, I highly recommend taking a look at his films with Glen Hansard – endearing and greatly entertaining in equal measure. I would start here if I were you. It made me cry.

In 2017, O’Reilly teamed up with radio presenter, visual artist and music guru, Donal Dineen, to create a show with the aim of capturing and bringing attention to the vast world of great underground music that can be found in Dublin and throughout Ireland. The first from the series that caught my attention was a clip of a performance of ‘Half Blind’ by Ye Vagabonds. This video encapsulates the spirit of TAND perfectly. It is intimate, powerful and the performance is breathtaking. Each performance in this show appears cherry-picked as the finest that these musicians have to offer, following a cadence that makes each episode a perfectly curated journey of discovery, introducing the audience to their new favourite artists. 

Anyone down a typical Youtube rabbit hole would find it hard to beat Radie Peat and Daragh Lynch performing ‘Hares on the Mountain’ [Roud 329], one of the finest renditions of this song I have heard to date. Based on the popular version by Shirley Collins and Davy Graham but some deal slower (because they, “like making tunes sound like they’re on Diazepam”), I would hazard a guess that this song’s recent resurgence in popularity may well be down to this version. It currently has a staggering 610,000 views. 

An equally important part of TAND are the poets that appear in the episodes. Witness Emmet Kirwan performing ‘Dublin Old School’, an abrasive poem about growing up in Dublin. Spoken so fast it’s almost rapped, Kirwan touches on the nostalgia of transitioning from a teenager to a young adult. The energy in his delivery is palpable and truly moving. 

Finally, I have to include part of an interview by Donal Dineen which has me coming back to episode IV time and time again. Here, Dineen, with the help of Ian Lynch (of Lankum fame), interviews legendary storyteller/singer, Luke Cheevers. Scattered throughout the episode, you’ll find important nuggets of information concerning the nature of traditional Irish singing, its role in society, and the “reawakening” of traditions. In a key segment they discuss “the pure drop“; the search for the “real thing” when it comes to traditional music, and how it manifested during the Celtic Tiger years.

There’s an undeniable theme to these videos and that is, of course, Ireland. The history, the people, the culture, and the music. This Ain’t No Disco does more than show good art from around the country – it goes a level deeper. It feels like ethnography; a historical moment captured in the audio and visual medium that needed recording. The love for the country and its heritage, not to mention a palpable excitement for the future, is at the heart of this series. 

There’s no doubt that This Ain’t No Disco has, and will continue to have an incredibly important influence on the flourishing traditional music scene in Ireland. We can only hope that there will be more in the future.

If any of these clips have caught your fancy, I highly recommend finding the comfiest chair in the house and starting at the beginning. There’s more great music in each episode than I could possibly include in this article, and I promise you will not be disappointed.

Myles O’Reilly continues to release content via his Youtube page. You can support his work and see early releases via his Patreon page.