Radar: Tommy Potts/Synth Britannia
Cérbh é Tommy Potts?
The life and music of an extraordinary traditional fiddle player from the twentieth century is set to be explored in a new six-part series on the Irish-language channel TG4.
Cérbh É?, which means ‘Who was he?’, will be broadcast from 8 November on television and online at tg4.ie, and follows six prominent traditional musicians exploring the work of an artist from a previous generation.
In the second programme, Dublin fiddle-player Paddy Glackin enters what he describe as the ‘lonely place’ of Tommy Potts, a musician who worked for Dublin City corporation by day and developed a highly individual take on the Irish music tradition. Born in 1912, he began playing at the age of fifteen and soon began exploring alternative approaches to traditional tunes, favouring improvisation and radical explorations of basic tune structures, innovations which are still considered ahead of their time. Although only one commercial recording of his playing was ever made, The Liffey Banks in 1972, he has gained iconic status among listeners to Irish traditional music worldwide. In the programme, Glackin interviews Helen Uí Cheallaigh, Potts’ daughter, and performs on the fiddle that the musician used on his 1972 solo recording. Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin of the University of Limerick also contributes to the series. Author of a thesis on the music of Potts, he interviewed and filmed Potts in the 1980s and some of this unique footage will be shown in the programme. Glackin is also currently working on a compilation of previously unreleased Potts recordings, which will be issued in the coming months.
Other programmes in the Cérbh É? series include Tony MacMahon exploring the music of accordion-player Joe Cooley (see MacMahon’s article on Cooley in our August–September issue online), Peter Browne on the music of piper Willie Clancy, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on fiddle-player Denis Murphy, Paul McGrattan on flute-player Josie McDermott, and Iarla Ó Lionáird following in the steps of sean-nós singer Darach Ó Catháin. Cérbh É? is written and directed by Philip King and produced by Niamh Ní Bhaoill for TG4.
From 4 November, TG4 is also broadcasting a twenty-part series called Amhráin is Ansa Liom (‘My favourite songs’) presented by Antaine Ó Faracháin, who tries to uncover some of the mysteries of sean-nós singing through interviews with today’s finest singers in which they discuss the art of performance and how they source songs. tg4.ie
Continuing its series of enquiring music documentaries, the most recent of which was Folk America exploring US roots music, preceded by Jazz Britannia (2005), Folk Britannia (2006), Soul Britannia (2007) and Pop Britannia (2008), BBC 4 television is set to broadcast a ninety-minute exploration of the pioneers of synthesiser pop. Synth Britannia, which airs on 16th October, tells the story of the pockets of electronic artists in the late seventies in Britain, such as The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, who were inspired by Kraftwerk and J.G. Ballard to dream of the sound of the future. Following Gary Numan’s 1979 appearance on Top Of The Pops synthpop had arrived, providing a soundtrack to the 1980s in Britain and beyond.
While Depeche Mode subsequently came to embody the new sound, post-punk bands such as Ultravox, Soft Cell, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Yazoo took the synth onto the front cover of magazine of the day, Smash Hits. By 1983 the Pet Shop Boys and New Order were pointing to where the future of electronic music lay – in dance. Contributors to Synth Britannia include Philip Oakey, Bernard Sumner, Gary Numan, Neil Tennant, Vince Clarke and Martin Gore who comments that ‘the music appealed to alienated youth everywhere.’
BBC 4 will broadcast two other music series this winter: Metal Britannia traces the emergence of the genre in Britain from the underground rock scene of the mid-sixties, while Latin Music, four sixty-minute programmes, documents the spread of Latino music and immigration across North America and the Caribbean. bbc.co.uk/bbcfour
Published on 1 October 2009