An Irish jig in a foreign land

A Traveller’s Tale by Elizabeth McKenzie and Mark Wilson

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The unmistakable plaintive note of the flute cut through the cacophonous noise of the busy street. Jazz, rock, country and western music assaulted our ears from every restaurant and shop. It was nice to think that even in this frenetic atmosphere gamelan music could survive and even make its dreamy, tranquil presence felt.

But as we drew nearer to the source of the sound, we realised that our flautist was not playing the melancholic, soporific high musical line of the gamelan flute. Much too spritely for a start. Finally, there could be no doubt about it, we were hearing a very upbeat, lively Irish jig emanating from a very lively Bali restaurant!

The Wicked Parrot is decidedly Indonesian in ambiance and style, constructed to resemble a traditional open sided, thatched roof pavilion. Small candles flickered on batik-covered tables. The Indonesian waiting staff, wearing bright green St Patrick’s Day T shirts, produced menus of all Indonesian dishes. It was possible to order Indonesian beer and even wine, although Guinness and Kilkenny ale as well as antipodean wines were also on offer! And on stage, merrily churning out Irish folk tunes was an all-Indonesian Irish folk group, ‘The Bali Leprechauns’. One of the group, Gangga, playing the guitar in lieu of a fiddle, wore a peaked cap and waistcoat. The others, Agus (bass), Joko (flute) and David (drum in lieu of a bodhrán) made do with waistcoats, to establish their adopted ethnicity.

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The Bali Leprechauns

As we settled down to eat our delicious meal, it became evident that ‘The Bali Leprechauns’ were every bit as adept at garnering audience participation as their Irish counterparts in a Dublin pub. The diners came from all over the globe, French families ate cheek by jowl with other European nationalities, Irish accents intermingled with the Aussie ‘drawl’. The lilting voice of Indonesian English was pervasive. But it seemed everyone knew the chorus of such Irish pub favourites as Whiskey in the Jar, The Fields of Athenry, Black Velvet Band and most popular of all The Wild Rover, where it seemed everyone in the restaurant put down their cutlery to clap, 1 2 3! And as the evening wore on, there was a subtle move to jazz/rock selections from ‘The Commitments’ and the ubiquitous, ‘U2’.

The Wicked Parrot was established by Mark Wilson and his brother Phil both folk musicians who love Irish music, in 2008. Born in Lancashire, they had an Irish grandmother who played the concertina. Phil has organised folk groups and traditional dance groups, in both Britain and Australia and was Director of the Australian National Folk Festival for seven years.

In 2001 they had started a weekly Irish music session at The Cat & Fiddle, their restaurant in Sanur, Bali, which quickly became very popular. After moving to a new location in 2004 they recruited a local band, who already knew a few Irish songs, to expand and enhance the Irish music nights. Only one of the present lineup of four were in the original band of ten years ago but the group have progressed a great deal since then, and now have a wide repertoire of songs and tunes. As well as being coached by Phil, they have learned many tunes and songs from the Wilson brothers as well as various visiting musicians, and from CDs and books. The band has never been to Ireland, in fact only one of them has a passport. Everything they have learned they learned in Bali!

The fact that they love the music comes through, and being Indonesians playing Irish music makes them a novelty, and great fun to listen to. According to Mark Wilson, the Irish music does attract tourists of all nationalities, in particular Australians, Brits, Irish and also Dutch people (many of whom appreciate Irish music), while Indonesian visitors are always fascinated.

Initially when Phil and Mark decided to open a second pub and restaurant in 2008, they planned to have a more tropical Balinese atmosphere and a grass roof – a tropical version of the ‘Cat & Fiddle / Pig and Whistle’ type pub name with a bit of humor added. Phil came up with The Wicked Parrot name. Having two restaurants enabled them to employ ‘The Bali Leprechauns’ on a full time basis. So now they play six nights per week – three at each restaurant.

The ‘pubs’ were never planned to be paradigmatic ‘Irish pubs’, with component parts imported from the UK. Mark and Phil prefer the decor the way it is – Balinese. The atmosphere and flavour are provided by the music, the fun loving staff, the menu, Kilkenny draught beer, and great Irish coffee!

And it all blends together like magic.

Elizabeth McKenzie is on the editorial team of Tinteán; Michael Wilson is the proprietor, with his wife, Ketut of The Wicked Parrot in Sanur Bali.