Green Sleeves: Popular

Seven decades of LP covers in Ireland

This section presents a range of popular genres from the showbands of the 1960s to country & Irish. The visual approaches found here range from hurriedly produced design through to sophisticated imagery. The concentration on groups and solo artists is evident, with the singers and musicians promoted strongly as individuals in their own right, as much or more so than the music. Also included is a small selection of commercial albums, used to promote companies, products or tourism. Notable is the emphasis on the interior of the Irish pub as a centre of everyday life and culture.

The intro and overview page for the Green Sleeves exhibition is here.


The Irish showband is a band format that was an Irish take on the large dance bands of the mid-twentieth century. A complex ballroom and dance hall circuit across Ireland developed as they gained popularity. Many of the bands recorded little or nothing – the emphasis was on their live shows. During the 1970s the scene flagged under the pressure of disco, country, rock and pop and many of the groups or their members crossed into different genres.

This selection, drawing on some of the more prominent showbands, offers a sense of the eclectic imagery used – from 1960s psychedelia inflected sleeves to 1970s pop influences.

Irish Pop

Pop music in Ireland followed a similar path to that elsewhere in Europe and the UK with solo artists and groups coming to the fore. Participation in the Eurovision Song Contest from the 1960s onwards shaped the form to a considerable degree but successive groups and solo artists tended to reflect styles that were popular at a given time. The imagery of such groups and solo artists is eclectic but a bright, brash, colourful style, with the concentration on the artists themselves, is the most characteristic aspect.

Country & Irish

Country and Irish is a form of music that blends country music influences with Irish folk music. The form has been very popular from the late 1960s both live and on record and has undergone a further revival in recent years.

As with other forms of Irish popular music there has been considerable movement by groups and artists across genre boundaries. The visual imagery of Country and Irish, as reflected on record sleeves, has seen both Irish and American influences dominate. Artists are often photographed in Irish landscapes or in the context of Americana.


This small selection of rock and blues albums demonstrates a pared down visual approach. It is one that leans heavily upon a visual language that instead of decorative elements uses a workman-like identity, focused on the individuals making the music.

Notable are the depopulated urban backdrops used on two of the covers.

 Live & Festivals

Festivals and live events in Ireland generated a sub-genre of albums. These ranged from releases marking protests in the late 1970s against the possible construction of nuclear power stations, to the Self-Aid anti-unemployment event in Dublin in 1986. These albums tended not to contain actual recordings from these events but instead showcased previously recorded tracks from musicians who had played at them.

Commerce & Promotion

Many albums sleeves used aspects of Irish identity and culture as a promotional tool. On occasion this was assisted by the state – either for tourism or industrial expansion. Other examples saw commercial entities, such as United Distillers of Ireland support albums to bring their products to a wider audience. Another aspect of this was the use of the concept of Ireland and Irishness. The Irish pub for example, whether in Ireland or abroad, is a potent symbol of Irish identity.


These albums share a similar, largely instrumental, musical approach and are also linked by a visual aesthetic that is rooted in stylised landscape. The painting on the cover of Phil Coulter’s Classic Tranquility is ‘Dawn, Connemara’ by Paul Henry from the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.