Whilst searching for the Welsh TV hit Keeping Faith on BBC iPlayer a few weeks ago, my search also brought up the following suggestion as I began typing: Keepin’ ‘er Country. As a country music fan, I thought I’d click on it just to see what it was about. It may have been about the countryside or some nationalist discussion for all I knew. But to my surprise, it was actually the latest series of a BBC Northern Ireland production looking at the Irish country music scene. Across the six episodes, we meet truckers, vicars, and sheep shearers, to name but three, all with a love of Irish country music.
Perhaps the most interesting insight that I garnered from this series was how big the sub-genre actually is. The soundtrack may have featured traditional American country singers, but it also boasted a fair amount of Irish ones too. And these Irish singers – names like Philomena Begley, Nathan Carter, and Robert Mizzell – are huge stars in their own right. Carter may be the most recognisable to those of us this side of the Irish Sea, having released his version of Wagon Wheel in 2012 (which proved to be a massive hit). But Begley is certainly someone I’d never come across before. Yet she is one of the legends of Irish country music, drawing large crowds at the nation’s biggest festivals, including the Clonmany Festival (featured in episode 5).
The series itself is also a sideways look into Northern Ireland as a nation. Country music remains the main theme of each episode, but we also get to meet some interesting characters and gain an insight into some of the traditions, customs and events of this largely-rural nation. For example, episode one follows the fortunes of truckers at their annual gathering; and episode six follows the fortunes of some of Ireland’s top sheep shearers. In addition, we also meet a group of passionate people who re-enact scenes from Spaghetti Westerns, and two vicars who double up as musicians, joining forces to record a song as part of the Reverend David’s brand-new album. It may be slightly oddball stuff at times. But, ultimately, there is something quite endearing about the series.
Now in its third series, I’ve clearly come rather late to the party. But I can’t help feeling thankful for stumbling upon Keepin’ ‘er Country. The UK Country Scene may be only just starting to burgeon, but clearly the Irish Country Scene has been in full swing for some time. Indeed, I’ve always understood Ireland to have a deep affinity with country music. I just didn’t realise how deep, until now. In fact, it’s pretty much a part of everyday life, it seems, for most people in Northern Ireland. Let’s just hope that that becomes the case over here too!
Thank you BBC iPlayer. It’s great to find something that you wouldn’t ordinarily come across. To then enjoy it makes it even better.
Visit the show page here.
Featured Image (C) BBC