McCarthy’s life is really interesting and he really captures the era and what it was like to pursue a life in music. He comes from the place in Irish history where a family like his, where the number of children was in double digits (twelve in his case), was not uncommon. What was rare was having a mother who took flying lessons despite taking care of this brood.
Despite the huge success enjoyed by McCarthy he struggled to make it in a small country with a very underdeveloped music industry. It certainly was not an industry that provided support for original artists. His prose is clear and insightful; it was a pleasure reading such a well written book.
In a way, even though it is his story, I think this is the best book I have read about the Irish music industry. It captures the early struggles, his band Southpaw managed by the legendary Elvia Butler, who did so much to foster original music in Ireland during the punk era.
The familiar pattern of Irish musicians forced to eke out an existence in London is really well documented. He even discusses sharing a squat with a gaggle of Scottish punks who were inspired by Crass.
Ultimately this book is inspirational. A triump of a life for a good guy whose life could have taken him in a different, more destructive, direction. He candidly describes his battle with alcohol and he decision to embrace a sober existence.
He gives a fresh first-person insight in folk and trad music in Ireland, as well as how career paths are advanced by decisons to record in what seem like random places like Switzerland. The variety of ways in which artists fund their recordings is better described in the book than anywhere else I have read.
Other music industry figures emerge from the pages too. The role they play in the networked Irish industry is illustrated well by the Cork songwriter. It is interesting to read about Louis Walsh’s advice. And Pat Egan’s input is singled out for high praise. The lack of high quality management in Ireland is noted.
Ultimately the life narrative of McCarthy seems to have been enabled by strong family support where parents encouraged their offspring to express themselves, in particular through the arts. This is contrasted with the type of abuse suffered by so many of their contemporaries at school during this era.
The book, without expressing it, asks the question of what Ireland would be like if young people were supported, nurtured, invited to express themselves and to think independently. In essence to follow their dreams. One answer is that we might produce more people like Jimmy McCarthy. And that would be a wonderful thing.
I will put more info up on the book (the reference etc) when I have it back in my hands again.
In the meantime here is a link to his website, although it looks a bit neglected in tersm of recent updates