Steve Cooney

Introducing FACÉ

A new affiliation of traditional musicians, singers and poets has just had two of its members – Dónal Lunny and Liam Ó Maonlaí – elected to the board of IMRO. Renowned musician and producer Steve Cooney introduces FACÉ – Filí, Amhráinithe agus Ceoltóirí na h-Éireann.

Sláinte Chugaibh! Hello! May I present this message to the readers of JMI, in order to inform them of the existence of a new network of traditionally based Irish musicians, singers and poets – Filí, Amhráinithe agus Ceoltóirí na h-Éireann – FACÉ.

Although we all may differ in matters of style, temperament and philosophy, we are joining together to form a ‘grand alliance’ of individuals, each with their own personal perspective, but all committed to the goal of establishing a self-supporting organisational structure that will be of benefit to all. We are over 150 strong at present, and the mechanics of building an effective new organisation are currently being activated. We represent many different aspects of the creative arts in Ireland, and have been in ‘cyber-existence’ since April with the temporary web-site Our membership list can be seen at this site. Having launched ourselves at Lúnasa, we will shortly be upgrading the web-site, with a new web-address:

We are currently beginning to install an e-voting system whereby members will be able to collectively determine our policies, efficiently. This e-voting concept will be a major innovation in the field of music, and in the arts generally. Our first task will be to define and refine our basic philosophy, and establish our aims, to have short-term achievements, medium-term developments, and long-term aspirations. We are successfully developing an efficient structure that houses the creative energies of individuals, where cohesion and synergy takes place, where personal potentials may be more easily fulfilled, where uncertainty and stress may be diminished, and where financial self-sufficiency can be achieved.

Many of our members are full-time professional musicians and, for these, financial self-sufficiency is vital, as most have to care for their families as well as themselves. Other non-professional members, who play with or without payment in pub sessions, may not be financially dependent on music, but none the less they have an interest in ensuring that their creative art is accorded the respect it deserves in their local communities and throughout the country. For non-professional or semi-professional musicians, FACÉ provides a network to link people of common interest, expand the number of venues where traditional musicians are welcome to play in sessions, encourage venues to treat musicians fairly, help with teaching and learning, provide recording experience for those who wish to make CDs, and provide a resource centre – our developing web-site – with all its related links. We can all, professional and non-professional alike, bring about positive change by channelling our creative energies in a united way.

These plans, although idealistic, are intensely practical, and the organisation itself has been born of necessity. Until now, there has been no institution to promote and safeguard the rights of those working as creators within the Irish traditional arts of poetry, singing and music, and to speak on their behalf. There is very little respect for the dignity of performing artists by those in the ‘music business’. Conditions in venues can be poor, often lacking the most basic facilities. A lack of soundproofing may mean that the thump of the disco plays havoc with the quieter pieces of music. Intimidation by poorly trained security staff is commonplace in many venues. The days when musicians were immediately welcomed at gigs with mugs of tea and plates of ham sandwiches seem to have gone with the last century. Not enough venues host traditional music nights. The list goes on…

When musicians are exploited they have nowhere to turn. In order to recover an unpaid fee of £120, would a musician risk thousands of pounds in court costs? Unlikely. Entrepreneurs without scruples understand this very well and therefore may not pay musicians their rightful due, or rather, they will pay the people that pressurise them the most. Musicians are often intimidated by the legal/business world, and prefer to immerse themselves in their own sense of creativity. As most don’t have personal managers to deal with this world of business, they are often left living in hope. Although it could be said that musicians do not often take sufficient care in their business dealings, it may also be said that they have a certain naive trust in the better side of human nature.

Now, with the advent of FACÉ, our members will have access to legal advice about their professional rights, both from within the organisation, and from the firm of solicitors engaged to represent us. If a member has a valid claim for non-payment and requests our assistance, we will be able to take whatever action is appropriate in order to secure this payment. We have engaged a firm of accountants to establish a process of assisting members requiring financial advice, and we are working with a firm of marketing consultants to help us interface with the business community efficiently.

There are many more aspects of practical concern for professional traditional musicians. Car insurance for musicians is hard to get and is very expensive, mortgages are difficult to obtain, and so on. We will establish a relationship with the business community that can alleviate some of these burdens. Obtaining a visa to work in the USA has become far more difficult and expensive. Proof of outstanding musical ability is required, including newspaper clippings. Then there is a minimum of 3-4 months waiting time involved in the application, unless you pay a $1,000 processing fee. With a four-piece group, that puts a significant hole in any tour profits. We hope to assist in this regard, by developing a dialogue with the Irish Government and the American authorities, in order to help them validate our members’ applications quickly.

Our operation will be funded through the sales of our compilation CDs. Members can, if they choose to, donate a piece of music or poetry that they have recorded. There are currently three high-quality compilation CDs under production, a reflection of the artistry of our members. Their sales will bring in sufficient funding to pay a web-master to construct our web-site. This site will contain a wealth of information, including databases of venues and agents worldwide, members-only chat-rooms, support services, a music-law reference library, and so on. The works of our poet members will be posted on their web pages within the FACÉ web-site, and we will provide an e-mail and postal facility for those members of the public who wish to buy our poets’ published work, as well as CDs of our musicians and singers, and books of related interest.

We hope that other organisations in the fields of Irish music and Irish traditional music will welcome our coming into existence, and perceive the benefits of liaising with us. Through the efficient co-operation of all bodies, and with a new and effective method of defining the copyright of artistic work within an oral tradition, we will at last be able to bring clarity to the confusing issues of music publishing and the collection of public performance royalties in Ireland and abroad.

The question most often asked of us is, what is our relationship with IMRO? FACÉ represents singers, musicians and poets. IMRO represents composers, authors and publishers of music – a different concept entirely. IMRO have no legal responsibility to defend and promote the rights or interests of musicians, traditional or otherwise. This popular misconception, that IMRO represent musicians, and that they are able to use their assets and bargaining power for the advancement of musicians’ interests, creates an expectation that can often lead to disappointment. In reality IMRO is strictly a body for the collection and distribution of public performance royalties on behalf of composers, authors and publishers of music, and they have no other role. Musicians, singers and poets badly need their own forward-thinking advocacy group, and FACÉ recognises this need. There is no point in blaming IMRO for not representing musicians, it’s simply not in their charter to do it, so we must all advance our own cause.

IMRO are legally prevented from becoming a union or engaging in union-like activity, and so they may not – as an example – use a percentage of the millions of pounds they caretake, to co-underwrite cheaper car insurance policies for members. I believe that FACÉ will be able to work in a complementary way with the growing number of these collection and distribution agencies, and by collectively informing ourselves of their various workings, bring greater benefits to all of our members, while helping these agencies to communicate with traditional singers and musicians more efficiently.

Four members from FACÉ ran in the recent elections to the IMRO board, and we are all delighted that two were successful, Liam Ó Maonlaí and Donal Lunny. We wish them every success and look forward to positive developments within IMRO as a result of their appointments. We greatly thank Cormac Breatnach and Noel Hill whose campaign clearly helped the success of the election. FACÉ has now established a mandate to help improve the representation of traditionally-based musicians within IMRO.

Liam Ó Maonlaí
In the light of my coming to the age of 36 and still being ill-informed, I thought it a good idea to become a board member of this society responsible for my publishing income and that of the majority of Irish writers and composers.

I lay no claim to a flair in business or politics, indeed I would prefer to steer clear of either. Still, I would not be the first to realise that if you don’t find out for yourself you may never know. In this capacity I see myself as a witness, curious to the workings, the whys and wherefores of an organisation responsible for a lot of money.

Above all I wish to represent that which has been my source. My music and my success is shaped by the fact that I grew up speaking my native language and playing my native music. From this I come and to this I will return. This music and culture still exists at a level above and beyond the commercial world. It can and does live within this world but it is not a slave to it. It has existed long before and will continue to exist independently of the market place. I am not sure if this is respected and would like to bring it to the table.

Donal Lunny
I feel that the inception of FACÉ is a very important event in the realm of traditional Irish music, despite the existence of IMRO. Having been just elected to the board of IMRO, there hasn’t been time even to ask the questions to which many traditional musicians crave the answers. The main one is, how effectively does IMRO deal with the rights and entitlements of traditional musicians?

The very presence of FACÉ on the scene brings a refreshing perspective to the situation. A brilliant vision of an organisation which cherishes the welfare of its members, it stands in bright contrast to the somewhat colder world of musical commerce. And while being idealistic in some of its objectives, overall it serves to remind us that we traditional musicians are a community who can and should care for each other.

IMRO is a collection agency. It collects the royalties due to its members, and distributes those royalties to the best of its abilities. I feel IMRO has done great work in getting the support of the many organisations who now pay royalties to members whose music they use.

As a publisher/director of IMRO, I feel I can be of most use to the membership if I focus my energies on the distribution of royalties. The computer system has a vast database of information. My interest will be in ensuring that this system is functioning at maximum potential. I make no claims to having any expertise as a publisher, but I will do my best to obtain information from people who do have expertise, for members who request it.

FACÉ membership does not exclude anyone from being in any other organisation, nor does membership of any other organisation exclude anyone from joining FACÉ. In that light, we will establish a fruitful relationship with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and all other bodies who work in complementary areas.

We have a firm commitment to the strengthening of the Irish language, as it is intrinsically bound up with the Irish arts. The success of TG4 has brought with it new opportunities for the broadcasting of our members’ work, and many leading exponents of Irish language and song who have an international platform have chosen to join the FACÉ network. We have been invited to host a concert by the Oireachtas in May 2002. Here’s a message from our Runaí le Gaeilge:

Roibeárd Ó Cathasaigh
Tá dlúthbhaint ag an nGaeilge leis na healaíona cruthaitheacha le sinsearacht – san amhránaíocht, sa cheol agus san fhilíocht. Ar an mbonn sin, is mór againn an t-ardán úr atá á chruthú ag TG4 dár mbaill.

Tá Gaeilge líofa ag roinnt mhaith de bhaill FACÉ – agus go deimhin cáil idirnáisiúnta bainte ag amhránaithe agus filí na Gaeilge atá san eagras seo. Dá réir sin, tá sé mar aidhm ag an eagras seo tacú go láidir leis an ngné shaibhir seo dár n-oidhreacht cruthaitheach.

Ar deireadh, is mór ag FACÉ an cuireadh atá faighte ón Oireachtas (an t-eagras a eagraíonn mórfhéile na Gaeilge gach Samhain, agus a bheidh ar siúl sa Daingean i mbliana) ceolchoirm a thabhairt faoina scáth i mBealtaine 2002.

Beir bua agus seinn ceol!

I must congratulate JMI for bringing a much needed new forum to Irish music. The Crossroads Conference was an important step in bringing the strands together, but the momentum that it generated has partially abated. Hopefully JMI can help re-establish this process. I hope that there will be an increase in the number of pages, to allow for a broader range of discussion of traditional music, aside from the classical and jazz aspects. It would be remiss of me not to make the point that certain contributions to this magazine, notably Terry Moylan’s response to Rossa Ó Snodaigh, and Mary MacNamara’s CD review, contained such an excess of ‘nitpicking’ from a very personalised perspective that they became extremely unbalanced. As both Kíla and Mary MacNamara are members of FACÉ, it falls to me to briefly protest, and help provide another perspective.

The review of Mary MacNamara’s Blackberry Blossom went into great detail on her choice of notes, but failed to appreciate the big picture of her ‘groove’. Forensic analysis of playing can be fascinating if it is used towards a positive end, but in this case it was an embarrassment, as little or no virtue could be found in one of the country’s most soulful players. The authoritative Rough Guide to Irish Music, in describing the same CD says, ‘A connoisseur’s concertina player unleashes her remarkable talents.’ Mary’s abilities, unique style and place in the tradition were unfortunately not appreciated by the JMI reviewer, who possibly doesn’t appreciate the impact that an insensitive review can have on sales and psyches. Can we possibly have an interview with her in a future edition of JMI to balance the picture? Thanks!

Terry Moylan’s reply to Rossa Ó Snodaigh’s article (JMI, issue 4) was relentless in its criticism, but it overstepped the bounds of criticism into sarcasm and ridicule. What good does it do to mock and attempt to diminish others? Mr Ó Snodaigh and his group Kíla are renowned, not only for their prodigious musical technique and creativity, but for their consistent fostering and promotion of the Irish language, and for developing new musical idioms based on our indigenous tongue. Gaeilge is the very thing that must be protected and encouraged. Kíla must be commended for their innate sense of purpose, and commitment to a creative philosophy within the worlds of Irish language and music. Mr Moylan’s implication that this leading cultural group is ‘cashing in’ on anything must be immediately refuted. It is poor form to accuse professional musicians of ‘cashing in’ on traditional music. If obtaining cash is your objective, then playing ethnic Irish music will certainly not be the fastest route to your goal.

We all have to learn how to work together and strengthen each other. The world of traditional Irish music is big enough to accommodate all variants, and our communal heart should be big enough to accommodate all the members of our musical family, even if we find them to be an embarrassment. Yes, it is important to archive and renew all that is known, and rediscover – as much as we can – that which is not currently known. We must give due respect to the variance of style and individual characteristics that exist in any given place, and respect the local traditions. As new generations develop, new styles are born, and the creative artists developing these styles wish to define them within the context of their tradition, as a unique variant, at this point in history. Mr Moylan informs Rossa that he cannot qualify as ‘traditional’, and that his concept of ‘nua trad’ cannot be. How so? If someone includes themself in the fold of traditional music, how can you exclude them, and why would you want to try? The important thing is to strengthen all aspects that are rooted in the culture, old and new, and protect the more vulnerable cultural aspects with a strong shield.

I understand that there is a need for honest debate of the issues within traditional music, but I believe it is important that this debate takes place within a framework of positive development, with the aim of strengthening the whole culture, and all of its constituent elements. We’ll be far better off to encourage all aspects of traditional music, encourage the youth to learn it in whatever form they like, so that the love of it can take root. Over time, this will grow into an abiding interest that will lead the person into the nooks and crannies of style and nuance. Sniping at our creative artists only diminishes our communal cause. No one individual has the full understanding or authority to speak on behalf of the entire creative community. A contributor should write with authority in areas where they have the most expertise and experience, and show a degree of humility towards those who have greater experience in different and unfamiliar fields. We are all part of the whole, and we are all unique because of the different sets of circumstances and influences that have moulded our own attitudes and perceptions. Hopefully future contributors will try to refrain from passing judgement on artists whose forms of creative expression they may have personal difficulties with, and respect the rights of all to delve into whatever creative areas they wish to, and to debate unselfishly with a view to the general improvement of everyone’s situation.

In saying that FACÉ is ‘traditionally based’, I mean that it represents those whose creativity flows from, and draws on, an Irish wellspring. FACÉ is committed to being inclusive of all who wish to join together in a spirit of communication and mutual self-help. Those who are committed to being exclusive, building walls around themselves, consign themselves to isolation. One of the fundamental aspects of music is its ability to draw people together in a common emotional, telepathic and spiritual experience – an inclusive experience. As in the land, where there are a myriad of wells, all with their own unique composition and flavour, so have all the individual creative artists who work within the tradition. Each is deserving of respect.

On that note I’ll wish ye all well. If anyone would like further information on FACÉ, or would like to become a member, please e-mail cabhair [at]

Go n-eirí libh – ar aghaidh!

Published on 1 November 2001

Steve Cooney is a guitarist and producer.

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