Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Late Late: Guests from Aldi, 24 Carat Diamonds Left at Home

The galling thing about the Late Late Show’s booking policy isn’t just the pool of dodos from which guests are regularly harvested, painful though that pool is. It’s that the Late Late is remiss in its duty as the cultural flagship of the nation in bringing actual culture to the people, and churns out a lot of old gas from Frances Black, Eamon Holmes and Charles Bird instead.

An Spailpín was reminded of this when buying a CD recently. The CD featured Seán Ó Sé as a guest star of the Turloughmore Ceilí Band, which is a development that An Spailpín thinks worthy of a Late Late special all to itself. Bear with me for a few hundred words, and then decide if this isn’t of greater import to the nation than Ronan Keating or Mary Byrne.

Who is Seán Ó Sé?
Seán Ó Sé is a retired schoolteacher in Cork. But in his spare time he is one of the saviours of Irish traditional music. The economy is buggered, the language has been burning diesel for over a hundred years and survives from sheer spite alone, but one thing we did do right is that we saved the music.

The rising tide of the 1960s US folk scene helped in no small measure of course, t say nothing of the huge archive at the BBC offices in Shepherd’s Bush, but the indigenous impetus to save the music came from Seán Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chulann. Ó Riada showed that Irish traditional music was every bit as sophisticated as the great musics of Europe if arranged in a similar style and all of a sudden the nation realised that we didn’t have to hide fiddles under the bed like they were some sign of hopeless boggery. The music took her place among the musics of the world and hasn’t looked back.

Seán Ó Sé was the singer in Seán Ó Riada’s band. Why Ó Sé didn’t move on when Ceoltóirí mutated into the Chieftains after Ó Riada’s early death in 1970 I don’t know, but Ó Sé is still an unquestioned hero of Irish music and culture and should be treated as such even if he never cleared his throat to sing An Poc ar Buile again.

But he’s done even more than that. Recently retired from teaching, Ó Sé is using his retirement to push the boundaries of music even further, and the collaboration with the Turloughmore Ceilí Band is further evidence of that.

And Why’s That?
Because although he loved traditional music, Seán Ó Riada had very clear ideas of what traditional music is and what it isn’t. And Seán Ó Riada particularly despised ceilí bands. He hated them. He said they had “all the musical integrity of a bluebottle buzzing around in a jamjar.” It was a rotten and unfair to thing to say – not least for a man who played the harpsichord himself, hardly the prettiest of instruments.

Ceilí bands had their advocates too, not least the late Ciarán Mac Mathúna, who pointed out that buy playing them at dances ceilí bands saved countless tunes that could have been lost. But there has always been that snobbery associated with ceilí bands, that that are not fully of the tradition.

Crossing No Man’s Land
And that’s what makes the Ó Sé collaboration with the Turloughmore so significant. Ó Sé has crossed no man’s land to join the opposition. In recording a CD with the Turloughmore Ceilí Band, Seán Ó Sé has declared music to be all one, streaming out from the forts of Tuatha de Danann and the other weird peoples that have lived here before us.

If that magic is captured in the nets of the Pipers’ Club or Ceoltas Ceoltóirí Éireann or the hammer men on stage at a hooley while the dancers belt the floor, what matter, what odds? Isn’t it all music all the same, and all particularly Irish, resonant and harmonious with the Irish soul?

That’s what An Spailpín thinks a Late Late Show should be about. The Chieftains and Ó Sé talking about Ó Riada and what he did. Jim McCann and Barney McKenna talking about the folk singers, now the Clancys all roam the other worlds. Planxty and the Bothy Band and Altan to bring it up to date. And then a huge band of the whole damned lot of them, Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, giving it socks on the Rocky Road to Dublin.

And what do I get instead? “Ryan Tubridy chats to Charlie Bird about his new documentary series of legendary Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean. Mary McEvoy talks about her new book, Ireland's greatest slimmer gives advice on how to shed the pounds, Ali Hewson and Adi Roche talk about the Chernobyl Children and Jessie J performs her hit single, 'Price Tag'.”

Price Tag, indeed. Go gcuire Seán Ó Sé an dea-chath fós, go gcasa sé a amhráin go binn go bráth, agus go mbronntar an ómós atá tuilte do lá breá éigin gan moil.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Are Lyric FM Presenters Fit for Purpose?

Marty Whelan is a gentleman. Marty Whelan is self-effacing, witty, personable, and a professional to his fingertips. He’s a gentleman and an example to whole younger generation of broadcasters who are not fit to hand him his pearly hairbrushes before he goes on camera. But my God, Marty Whelan has no business presenting the Breakfast Show on Lyric FM.

When Lyric FM celebrated its tenth birthday two years ago its head honcho told the nation that the great thing about Lyric FM is that they put music first. The most important thing for them when choosing presenters is the music. Everything else comes second.

An Spailpín has no reason to doubt this man. But it does seem a coincidence that, in as small a broadcasting pond as Ireland’s, the persons with sufficient classical music knowledge, appreciation and ability to share that appreciation all happen to be on the RTÉ payroll.

Marty Whelan. Lorcan Murray. Geri Maye. Gay Byrne. Frank McNamara, for God’s sake. After a while, there’s just too many of them for it to be a coincidence.

George Hamilton, in fairness to him, is an exception to this. He witters on during his Saturday show, certainly, but no more so than he does when Aiden McGeady is closing in on goal and the nation holds its breath, wondering how McGeady’s going to screw it up this time.

But behind the bonhomie there’s an astute and very cultured mind who knows what good music is and who can teach you so that you know too. You couldn’t imagine Clive Tyldesley speaking ex tempore on Wagner and the Tristan Chord, for instance.

The ability to teach is the single-most important asset a presenter on Lyric should have. Classical music is not like pop music, no matter how much people may try to pretend it is.

To get it, unless you’re blessed with an innate musical sense, you’re going to have to do your homework and be told what to listen for. Or else have a presenter whose love for the music is so overpowering that he or she can’t help but sweep you away.

Marty Whelan, for all his gifts, just can’t do it. He’s still a wonderful radio presence – An Spailpín has watched his breakfast milk curdle while Frank McNamara is speaking – but Marty Whelan’s particular schtick isn’t suited to classical music. It’s just not.

This You Tube pianoman, one of the anonymous specialists that light up that marvelous website, is the sort of guy that should be presenting classical music on the radio. The love comes through all the time. Leave Marty to take over from Derek Mooney or something. Wouldn’t we all be so much better off?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Support the Philly McGuinness Memorial Park

This day week is the first anniversary of the death of Philly McGuinness. Philly McGuinness was a 26-year-old engineer from Mohill, County Leitrim, who had his whole life ahead of him when he togged for Mohill in a league match against Melvin Gaels with his brothers on Saturday, April 18th, last year.

There is no more typical vignette of Irish rural life than the men of a football family playing for the parish in a league game. All of the brothers had played for the county; they knew what they were about. There was no reason for this to be any different than any of the other league games Philly had played or had ahead of him.

But it was different. At some stage during the course of the game Philly took a knock, as happens in football. The knock was bad. He hit his head, and everybody knew he was in trouble. Philly McGuinness was rushed to Sligo Hospital and then on to Beaumont in Dublin but he never regained consciousness. He died on April 19th, 2010.

The club hasn’t forgotten him, and doesn’t plan to. The Mohill GAA Grounds have been re-named in his honour and memory, and the club are organizing a draw for this Easter weekend to raise funds for the redevelopment.

Contact details for anyone who wants to buy a ticket are available on the Philly McGuinness Facebook page. Ring the mobile number or drop them a mail and they’ll sort you out. The prizes are worth winning too, with a ten grand total prize fund, two weekend breaks in Lough Rynn and the Landmark Hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon, and spot prizes too.

We hear so much chat about the GAA and what it means. Martin Breheny will almost certainly churn out another of his why-oh-why pieces about why the GAA doesn’t market itself better between now and the League Final. Clubs like Mohill don’t need the GAA marketed to them, but we, the nation, need GAA clubs like Mohill possibly more than ever before as we fight for our very survival as a nation.

God have mercy on those whom He has called home before their time. Ar A dheis go raibh anam uasal Philly, sásta saor ó gach buartha an domhain crua seo.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tipperary North v Dublin South: Who are the Real Eejits?

Mr Michael Lowry, Teachta Dála, was not wrong when he told Dáil Éireann two weeks ago that the electorate of Tipperary North were every bit as sophisticated as any other electorate in the country. If anything, he was being coy.

The electorate of Tipperary North, and of so many other constituencies, see the electoral system as it is, and not as people would wish it to be. The disjunct between politics as they are in Ireland and politics as some people would like them to be is to be seen in its purest form in the Lowry case. It is the different between the world of what exists in fact and what exist in theory only.

In the real world, what actual censure is on Michael Lowry? None. Some people don’t like him. Some people don’t like An Spailpín Fánach either, and it wasn’t necessary to make millionaires out of senior counsels to find that out. But Michael won’t be seeing jail anytime soon. Lowry has got clean away and, if an election were held in the morning, Lowry would top the poll yet again.

That’s the reality, and that’s the reality that people in Tipperary North are voting on. It’s all very well for the commentariat or the blogosphere or three just men on the high stools in Mulligan’s witter on about democracy and standards in public office, but people who live and work in the real world are very quickly disabused of any romantic notions when they see nature red in tooth and claw. They know what works and what doesn’t, and that all else is just so much chat.

When the people of Tipperary North cast their ballots, they are casting their ballots on the electoral system as they understand it, and not as it’s presented to them on RTÉ. They are fully aware that one TD isn’t worth a chocolate fireplace when it comes to shaping the future of the state. That’s all decided elsewhere, and there is no role for a single TD on his or her own in any of this.

The voters of Dublin South – because the great unspoken assumption of Irish politically commentary is that the voters of Dublin South are the polar opposites of Tipperary North in terms of sophistication and, God between us and all harm, intelligence – may think they were voting for “change” when they voted for Peter Mathews and Shane Ross, but neither of those gentlemen will affect their electorates' lives on whit. A parish pumper, however, can, and the evidence is all around.

Because as well as knowing what a TD can’t do, the electorate also knows what he or she can do. They know that a waiting list for a hospital appointment can be shortened from six months to six days if a TD picks up a telephone. They know that issues over planning can be made go away. They know that their local TD can solve a whole load of problems and he’s only one phone call away.

The people of Tipperary North fully understand that the base role of a TD is to bypass the civil service. Does this then make the civil service redundant? Not at all; soft jobs in the civil service are also perks that can be sorted out by the local man.

This is the Irish system. This is how Ireland is governed. We trade in favours, in power, in leverage, in influence. And if a man like Michael Lowry makes a few pounds out of that himself, sure what harm? If it wasn’t him, wouldn’t it be some other buck? The faces may change, but the dealing goes on forever.

Garret Fitzgerald regularly writes in the Irish Times that the nature of the Irish electoral system is such that it plays to the worst aspects of the Irish character, and he was right. We can be a supremely generous people – the generosity of time and effort that people put into their GAA clubs is proof of that. But we are also a people who nod and wink and sort each other out.

Talk about doing away with Seanad or cutting down the numbers of state cars is a bottle of smoke. It doesn’t make any difference. Political reform means stopping and punishing TDs from trading in favours and influence and harnessing the generosity of spirit that gives the nation the GAA. But until that happens, it’s extremely difficult to blame the people of Tipperary North for voting for a man who can get their children into school and their sick into hospital, or not to wonder just what the electorate of Dublin South thought Shane Ross or Peter Matthews would achieve, exactly. Politics begins at home. Not in the Seanad.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The GAA, and the Need to Honour Constable Ronan Kerr and the PSNI

An Spailpín was struck by the tremendous dignity of Constable Ronan Kerr’s mother as she spoke to the media in the aftermath of his murder in a car bomb. Let his death not be in vain, she said.

And she was right. Such a grim reminder of the past shouldn’t be filed as just one of those things. An acceptable level of violence, as Reggie Maulding once put it.

So maybe it’s an opportunity for the biggest national organisation on the island to make a gesture, and say we are all Irish people of equal stature, irrespective of code or creed, Catholic, Protestant or Dissenter.

Wouldn’t it be great if the GAA were to organise a challenge match between the PSNI and either a Garda selection or a GAA all-star selection? The Garda team is the obvious comparator, but the Guards will have a better pick and having the PSNI boys hammered won’t make anyone feel better.

So how either a GAA All-Star team of veterans whose age would have drawn some of their sting to give the PSNI a game, or else appoint some GAA players policemen for a day, and let them line out on the PSNI side to even things up a bit?

Whatever. The details don’t really matter. What does matter is if the game were on. And not on some back pitch in Belfast. A full house day in the summer – maybe one of the August Bank Holiday weekend games, a day out for the PSNI with all the trimmings? President, dignitaries, the Artane Band, the works.

The game would show that everyone on the island is a Gael, irrespective of who they are, what they do for a living, where they live or whether they prefer their spuds waxy or floury. It would say that none of that matters. That we have drawn a line under history, and old disputes and old squabbles that aren’t worth any mother’s tears.

That a man or woman who wants to be policemen and maybe buy a house and meet a nice nurse some night in Coppers and set up a house and family and raise their children to be good and honest people should be allowed to do that. It really doesn’t seem like much to ask.

I saw something on Sunday about a visit to Croke Park by Queen Elizabeth of England. I didn’t like it. I would like to see a PSNI team play and made a fuss over in Croke Park first. It would mean that we are able to look after our own affairs on the island, and that we recognize neither border nor boundary between Irish people. The Queen’s visit isn’t necessary. Celebrating our brothers and sisters in the PSNI as the island tries to repair the hurt of centuries is.

God have mercy on Constable Kerr. I hope a PSNI team can play in Croke Park this summer so we can celebrate his life and what he tried to achieve.