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Rising Tides – Report

On the 8th and 9th of September 2018 a large number of people gathered together in Liberty Hall in Dublin to discuss further the issues of fairness and respect for female performers working within traditional and folk music in Ireland.

The panel discussions and performances were organised by FairPlé in conjunction with The Musicians Union of Ireland. The event was funded by a Traditional Arts Award from the Arts Council of Ireland.

In the opening speech FairPlé founding member Karan Casey described the background to the movement stating that “FairPlé is a movement of people founded to change the working environment for women in the worlds of traditional and folk music. We are advocating for deep societal change: an improvement in the imbalance of line-ups that discriminates against female performers particularly instrumentalists, an end to sexual harassment, an end to the macho cultural bravado that is endemic within the community.”

The whole day was facilitated by Dr. Síle Denvir who so graciously assured that the proceedings ran on time all day and with Síle’s expert skills and patience in steering people the day ran without a hitch, many commenting on how well run the whole occasion was. It should also be noted that the sandwich making skills of Úna Ní Flannagáin, Pauline Scanlon, Maeve McCann, Eamon Murray, Karan Casey and Úna Monaghan are second to none.

The first morning panel “She Means Business” was chaired by the inimitable Lynette Fay and featured Liz Doherty and  Dermot McLaughlin. Drawing on their years of experience within the fields of traditional music, Liz emphasised her long time campaign work for women and Dermot stressed the need for statistical evidence to any injustices. The other panellists included singer-songwriter and IMRO board member Eleanor McEvoy, who spoke about going to the music shop and asking for 30 sets of guitar strings for an upcoming tour only to be asked if she was making jewellery! Peter Cosgrove of the 30% Club delivered a stellar and compassionate speech on the need for men to be part of the change in attitude and shift in cultural thinking. The floor then entered into an engaging discussion on the music industry at large, where traditional and folk music exists within that framework, and how women fit into this environment.

Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, Chair of The National Women’s Council of Ireland gave a rousing talk and was among the most radical of activists present, calling for “temporary quotas” in all areas of work for women until we have achieved a more level playing field. This panel, called “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace”, was expertly chaired by Dr. Úna Monaghan, an astro-physicist harp swinging, sound engineer stroke genius, who also happens to be the Rosamund Harding Research Fellow in Music in the University of Cambridge. FairPlé have been benefiting greatly from her brain, music and compassion. Paul Henry from SIPTU gave very heartfelt and pragmatic advice as a lawyer on where to go if any harassment issues arose and the folk singer and FairPlé co-founder Pauline Scanlon, in giving a deeply moving testimony on her own experiences of sexual assault, really challenged all in the room and the audience responded very well to her great courage. A particularly striking moment was when, in response to a call for a show of hands of who present had been sexually assaulted, most of the females in the room put up their hands as did one male.

The tone of the conversations was intensely engaging and encouraging to all for having the strength to speak out. Many ideas were floated as to how change might be delivered and FairPlé were keen to point out that they were viewing this weekend as a consultation process with the community to help them enact lasting change.

The final panel “Emerging Artists” was chaired excellently by FairPlé member Joanne Cusack, and again featured enthusiastic and some really funny commentary on what to do, and indeed what not to do, when starting out in a career in music. Most panellists emphasised that they didn’t really know what they did starting out! Panellists included Eamon Murray, manager and band member of Beoga, who brought the whole house down when he spoke about how proud he was to be married to Pauline Scanlon. He was his extremely funny, engaging, generous self, providing practical advice, stating that people needed to diversify and upskill. Shane Gillan, director of Big and Bright music agency, reiterated this point. FairPlé member Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s engaging speech, delivered in an emotive and very honest fashion, focussed on child rearing and on the  difficulties of maintaining a career as a woman once children come along. Muireann’s intense honesty again drove home the point that many people have to do different things in order to survive. Another FairPlé member, Ciara O’Leary Fitzgerald gave a rousing Cork-style talk drawing on her experiential wisdom and relating many tales of her own displaying the sexism she has encountered herself along the way. Ciara, a concertina player who also works as a digital marketer for the Opera House in Cork, reemphasised the point of diversifying. Her honestly was generously received by the audience. Nuala O’Connor gave a measured and beautiful account of her own work as a film producer in the Irish Music industry. She very bravely recounted how she had initially thought that the programs she had worked on had a fair representation of women but when she looked back on them and counted the participants she was surprised by the actual figures. The series ‘Sé mo Laoch’ featured 6 women out of 30 overall musicians and ‘Bringing it all Back Home’ featured 50 women out of 300 musicians. So in essence the figure of around 25% for female representation holds. Tola Custy delivered a deeply moving talk on the need for men to enact change and be part of the movement. He also posed very interesting questions about male identity and the pressure on men to be warriors and at times outrageous in order to fit into the gig mentality. Speaking with his usual philosophical underpinnings Tola, as always retaining his own creative flourish, reminded everyone of how important it is to understand that we hop out of bed in the morning and love doing what we do, all day! And crucially that any changes that FairPlé nurtures will be of benefit to the whole community.

The concert on the Sunday night displayed at long last a gender balanced performance. It was a truly brilliant adventurous musical occasion. On show was a broad spectrum of the creativity evident in traditional and folk music once given a chance. Different creative aspects and elements being explored ranging from the Friel sisters who started out the night by setting the brave tone of the concert with their spellbinding version of ‘The Mountain Streams Where the Moorcocks Crow’. Other artists present were the gallant Niamh Parsons, Graham Dunne, Emma Langford being her riveting usual self along with trumpet sounds, the harpist Una Monaghan’s powerfully provocative piece about gender balance called ‘What We Haven’t Heard,’ performed along with Niamh Dunne, Pauline Scanlon and Karan Casey, John Spillane, Atlas Joined by Lucia Mac Partlin, Maria Ryan and Seán Warren from the band Strung, Síle Denvir, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh,  Barry Kerr and Donal Lunny. The night culminating  with the rousing finale from everyone singing and playing ‘Óro sé do Bheatha Abhaile’.

Permalink - Posted: September 24, 2018 at 11:04 am