It’s Good Friday today and yet again all the pubs in Ireland will be closed until just before lunchtime tomorrow. It’s been like this all my life, though I have drank porter in Irish pubs on this day in the past. Two years ago, I did so legally and I’m going to be supping legal pints in a licensed premises this evening as well. Alcohol will actually be available today on trains and at train station bars, but only for people who produce a valid train ticket as proof of travel that day. I’ve no idea why commuters are given this privilege, as travelling by train is the safest form of journey you could take. However, there’s another option available for connoisseurs of drink in four Irish cities today. For some reason, greyhound racing is also exempt from Good Friday restrictions, presumably because it makes the sport more interesting. The four lucky venues are Galway Greyhound Stadium, Limerick Greyhound Stadium, Curraheen Park, Cork, and Harold’s Cross, Dublin. For just under €40, you get a four-course meal, admission & a race programme. You also get a drinks service and someone to take your bets. I was there a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it, though only two of my dogs won. Hopefully, Jesus can bring me better luck today
A few weeks ago, my friend John and I caught the first in what promises to be a busy few months of checking out some of our favourite songwriters at various venues around the British Isles. First up was Randy Newman who played two gigs at Dublin’s Vicar St. at the start of March. We had hoped to catch him there a couple of years ago, but he caught a sore throat and had to cancel. On the opening night this time, he began with Mama Told Me Not To Come and it was obvious that he was under the weather again and should probably have heeded the song’s advice. Fortunately, his head cold only affected him on a few songs and the rest of the show made me forget my own dose of the man ‘flu for a couple of hours
I mentioned on Wednesday that I’d be spending Patrick’s Day immersing myself in Irish culture. I had planned to take it easy on St Patrick’s Eve, but shortly after writing the post I got an unexpected text from a good friend of mine. It didn’t take too much for Tom to persuade me to call over to his place for a few drinks and to watch Chelsea take on Inter Milan in the Champions League. Watching English football teams is one of the most popular pastimes amongst Irish males and the tie was nicely balanced at 2-1 to the Italian team. I brought along an 8-pack of Bulmers cider (the Irish one, not the English one). The game was quite close, but Inter scored near the end to ease their passage into the quarter-finals. As the number of cans got fewer and fewer, Thomas put on one of the best Irish films of recent years, In Bruges (it’s in Belgium). The next morning, Tom’s lovely lady Linda made an Irish breakfast for the three of us. Even though Linda was unable to offer any evidence as to the food’s heritage, I had no reason to believe that it wasn’t an Irish one. It was cooked and eaten in Ireland and it even tasted like an Irish breakfast. After that, Tom checked out Cheltenham and we watched the Irish trainers, horses and riders cleaning up. After Linda cleaned up, she dropped me home. My thanks to Thomas and Linda for a lovely Irish day
On Monday evening, I finally got to see Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. This 1976 film was the fourth that Roeg had directed and I’d already seen and enjoyed his previous three: Performance (co-directed with Donald Cammell), Walkabout and, in particular, Don’t Look Now. I was also interested in seeing David Bowie in the title role of Thomas Newton, an alien on a mission to bring water back to his dying planet. Like Roeg’s previous films, it’s never completely clear to the viewer what exactly is going on; information is kept from the audience, little is properly explained and scenes that we believe take place in the present are intercut with scenes that may occur in a different time and place. Generally, everything comes together, more or less, at the end. I believe that Don’t Look Now is a superior film, but I quite enjoyed The Man Who Fell to Earth and Bowie’s performance was one of the film’s highlights. It was quite clever of Roeg to cast Bowie as the alien. The singer had constantly reinvented himself over the previous decade and these reinventions would have made him more suited to this role than many of his contemporaries in the music world. More importantly, the persona of his most famous creation, Ziggy Stardust, and the recurring theme of space travel in his songs also came in handy for his role as as a travelling spaceman
The Patrick Sarsfield Car-Free Parade takes place this Saturday, September 19th, in Limerick city. The parade begins at 1.00pm and goes from City Hall, Merchant’s Quay to the Treaty Stone on Clancy Strand and will feature music and street entertainment along the way. It will also include a sword fencing demonstration and a battle re-enactment at Clancy Strand. The event is part of European Mobility Week 2009, which runs from September 16th to 22nd. The purpose of this week is to raise awareness about the benefits of walking, cycling and using public transport instead of bringing cars into the city centre. As someone who doesn’t own a car (or even know how to drive one) I’m completely in favour of any initiative that will make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to make their way around the city centre without too much trouble. I’ve just done a post about running and I did one previously about cycling, so here are some songs about buses, bus drivers and the passengers who use this particular form of public transport
We only made it to one play at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival and what a play it was. Chronicles of Long Kesh at the Assembly Hall told the story of the prison situated outside Belfast that was variously known as Long Kesh, the Maze and the H Blocks. The prison opened as HM Prison Maze in 1971 and housed thousands of paramilitary prisoners before its eventual closure in 2000. This two-hour play could have been heavy going for its midday audience, but it managed to blend a hearty dose of humour and song with the many tragic events that took place within the prison. The first half of the play takes us through the 70s from the burning of the camp in 1974 up to the dirty protests and the first hunger strikes at the end of that decade. The set is bare except for six large wooden boxes that the actors constantly move around to indicate a change of scenery. It is narrated by Freddie, played brilliantly by Billy Clarke, a young Protestant man who decides to become a prison officer more out of financial necessity than personal choice. At the beginning, Freddie is naive and out of his depth, but he settles into his role as an officer despite the pressures that it brings. Freddie introduces us to the rest of the characters and keeps the audience up-to-date with events inside and outside the prison as the play progresses. The rest of the cast is made up of one female and five male actors who each play a number of different roles. At the start it seems that there are too many characters and sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart. However, we are soon able to differentiate them due to the actors use of facial expressions, accents and body posture and movement
After weeks of contemplation, I got my hair cut yesterday. I try to get it cut every three months or so, whether I need to or not. I didn’t get too much cut off as I don’t like to have it too short and I prefer to show off my curls. The barber told me that he was not as busy as he used to be as people were not getting their hair cut as often. However, I might have to go back sooner that I would like as he didn’t take that much off. Here are some tunes for all the barbers and hairdressers who’ve had the pleasure of cutting my hair over the years!
This weekend the 54th Eurovision Song Contest (Concours Eurovision de la Chanson) takes place in Moscow, Russia (la Russie). Ireland (l’Irlande) is one of 42 countries that will compete in this year’s competition. It has always been more about style over substance and has become, in recent years, more about politics than entertainment. For example, one of the rules of the competition states that each act can have no more than six members on stage during their performance. That’s one trophy that Manchester United won’t win this year. C’est ci bon!
The first nine years of the competition were unremarkable, but two exciting events occurred in 1965. First, France Gall won the second of Luxembourg’s five titles with a wonderful song written by Serge Gainsbourg, Poupée de cire, poupée de son. Second, Ireland entered the competition for the first time. Despite stiff competition from France (La France), the United Kingdom (le Royaume-Uni) and Luxembourg (le Luxembourg), Ireland has been victorious more times than any other European nation with seven wins. The emergence of the Celtic Tiger (le Tigre celtique) brought four wins in the space of five years from 1992-1996. “Why Me?” asked Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, as it cost them a fortune to host the competition on each of the four occasions following those wins. Pourquoi moi?
The Eurovision Song Contest seemed quite glamorous in the 70s and 80s when I didn’t know a lot about music (or glamour). It even produced a few good songs back then. Apart from the Irish ones, however, the last winner who’s tune I can recall is Germany’s Ein bißchen Frieden from 1982. I haven’t heard any of this year’s entries, including the Irish one, and I have no intention of tuning in on Saturday (samedi). I understand that some of the power has been taken away from the voting public and handed back to a panel of “experts” in each country. This should make the whole thing more fair, although I’m sure that RTE will be hoping that Ireland don’t make it Number Eight in 2009. Et maintenant, je vous presente six chansons pour votre plaisir
UPDATE: RTE can bring a sigh of relief as Ireland’s entry by Sinéad Mulvey & Black Daisy failed to make it through to the final
The first nine years of the competition were won by ballads, so when Ireland entered in 1965 they must have thought thay had a good chance. However, it wasn’t a ballad that won, but an uptempo little ditty sung by France Gall, Poupée de cire, poupée de son. Serge Gainsbourg’s song can simply be translated as Wax Doll, Bran Doll, but it can also refer to the singer who is like a doll that is being manipulated by the songwriter, a puppet on a string, if you will. The song has been covered quite a bit over the years, including by the Canadian band, Arcade Fire. Here is a great live version by a band from Scotland (l’Écosse), Belle and Sebastian. It appears on their dvd, For Fans Only. Onze points
In 1973, ABBA entered the Swedish national song contest, but only finished third with their song, Ring Ring. The following year they were successful with Waterloo and went on to win the Eurovision in Brighton, England (l’Angleterre). The title of the song refers to the Battle of Waterloo which saw Napoleon Bonaparte defeated, thwarted, outfought, outwitted, hoist with his own petard, placed among the also-rans. I suppose you could say that he met his Waterloo. ABBA went on to worldwide success and are one of only a few acts to achieve any credibility following Eurovision participation. Here’s a version of the song sung in French. Dix points
By 1967, the United Kingdom had been runners-up on five of the previous eight occasions before Sandie Shaw won it with Puppet on a String. Shaw was not a fan of the song’s lyric and bouncy tune, which was co-written by a bloke from Scotland and a fellow from Ireland called Phil Coulter. Another Irishman, Sean Dunphy, came second with If I Could Choose. Here’s a reggae version of Puppet on a String by John Holt. Nul points
In 1970, the tables would be turned when the United Kingdom finished runners-up to Ireland. Rosemary Brown, only eighteen, used the stage name of Dana to bring Ireland’s first win with All Kind of Everything. The only controversial aspect of this episode, and perhaps of her whole career, was that she was actually from Derry in the UK. The song has a rather annoying tune with banal lyrics. She sings that “all kinds of everything” remind her of her lover. These include: things of the sea; things of the sky; Monday, Tuesday, in fact, every day; the seasons; weather. You name it. Everything reminds her of this poor fellow. There was nothing that didn’t remind her of him. It must have been hard for her to concentrate. Dana went on to have a successful career in the music industry before shocking everyone by announcing her candidacy for the Irish presidency in 1997. Even though she only came third this time it paved the way for her to become an MEP for Connaught-Ulster in 1999. Her political outlook is even more conservative and religious than her music. So, here’s Sinéad O’Connor singing All Kinds of Everything with Terry Hall. Neuf points
The person saddled with the rather dubious distinction of being the most successful person in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest is from Ireland. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to win the contest once is misfortunate; to win it twice seems like carelessness. In fact, Johnny Logan won it twice as a performer and once more as a writer for Linda Martin in 1992. His first success came in 1980 with a song written by Shay Healy, What’s Another Year? I can remember the song at the time, although I thought it was an optimistic song that looked forward to another January. It’s actually quite a lonely, existential song and this is certainly borne out in Shane MacGowan’s interpretation. Shane sounds pretty weary in his version. In fact, he sounds like he’s just woken up and hasn’t even had a drink yet. Six points
Ireland’s dominance of the competition in the 90s and the financial burden that hosting it put on RTE inspired an episode of the sitcom, Father Ted. In A Song For Europe, Ted and Dougal try to write a song to enter in the Irish heat of a competition called Eurosong. They come up with an effort called My Lovely Horse, but struggle to find a tune. Then, Ted overhears a catchy little number that Dougal continuously plays on his record player. Ted discovers that it is the b-side of a song that came fifth in the Norwegian contest in 1976 and that everyone connected with the song died in a plane crash! So, he rips off the tune and our boys are on their way to success. Or are they? You can see what they came up with here and see some inspiration for the images here. The song was written by the show’s writers, Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews, along with The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. It appears as an extra track on the Gin Soaked Boy cd single and is less than a minute and a half long. Douze points!