2018 Grateful 21

Sometime last year I booked tickets to see Ed Sheeran play in Warsaw. I knew nothing of his music. I thought Galway Girl was a song he covered rather than wrote. But the hype that surrounded the announcement of his European Tour – which by the way sold out in record time with extra nights added in a number of cities, including Warsaw – made me curious. And I had friends in Warsaw whom I hadn’t see in a long time so it all worked out.

Fast forward through the intervening months and it came time to book train tickets and make the trip. My friends, in the meantime, had absconded to Zanzibar and had it been easy to sell the tickets, I’d have done so. But our names were on them. And transferring them to someone else had to be done in person – so I’d have to go to Warsaw anyway. So we went.

The National Stadium (PGE Narodowy) is a massive venue, holding some 58,145 (official for football matches) / 56,826 (UEFA capacity) / 72,900 (concerts) punters. The back half of the seating wasn’t open but the floor was rammed with teenagers who had queued since 1 pm for a 5 pm admission and an 8.45pm appearance. They wanted to be up front and centre. Us? We had seated tickets in the rafters and were in no rush anywhere.

Had I done my homework, I’d have known his stage time was 8.45 to 11 pm. I incorrectly assumed he’d appear at 8 pm (it was a Sunday night), so we got there about 7.30 pm in time to catch the last of his warm-up acts, a gal by the name of Anne-Marie. To give the girl her due, she can carry a tune. But when she brought out the vodka (Polish of course) to do shots with her band to mark the end of a very successful tour, I was less than impressed. Really? With a multitude of impressionable teens in the audience, what was the message? Cool to do shots? Okay, I know they’re probably all drinking anyway, but I’m of the mind that stars with a young following have a responsibility to show some decent example. Yep – I was one of the oldest there.

When our boy Ed didn’t show to my schedule, I started to get a tad upset. And when he eventually sauntered on, without a care in the world, I was on the verge of seething. But then he started to play.

Now, as regular readers will know, I can’t hold a tune to save my life so I’m won’t even begin to comment on how good, bad, or indifferent he is as a musician. But as an entertainer, he has it nailed. Just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, coupled with some funny insights in to the 2% of the audience that were there under duress (reluctant boyfriends and super dads) endeared him to my cynical self. The guy has class. And he described me to a T. We’re quite alike apparently when we’re at gigs. Ed and me. Everything goes on in our heads – not a hint of enjoyment shows on the outside. But, hey, anyone who can quieten a crowd of 72k screaming teens gets my vote for audience control.

The National Stadium doesn’t have the greatest sound system in the world – either that or Ed’s diction is a tad off. Some of the lyrics were difficult to make out but the crowd didn’t seem to care. They sang along. Every word. Every single word. Except for that one quiet song when he told them to sssh. And I think it was during that song (whatever it was) that some young lad up in front got down on bended knee and proposed to his girlfriend. It takes all sorts.

Ed Sheeran Concert WarsawCigarette lighters are a thing of the past. Now it’s flashlights on mobile phones. And the Warsaw lot were organised enough to have white lights on the top tier and red ones on the lower one – creating a waving Polish flag. The flashlight effect was given a flickering look by holding up sheets of white A4 paper in front of their phones. From my vantage point, it was quite spectacular (ok, so not everyone was in on it, but it did look great). When he had them wave and pump their arms, the mosh pit looked like a sea of worms. For a minute, I felt queasy.

Knowing Poniatowski bridge (Most Poniatowskiego) over the Vistula River would be closed before the gig ended and that 72 000+ people would flood out of the stadium starting from when he played his last song, we left early. Just two songs early, mind you, but that didn’t stop the wave of sympathy from the young ones. No matter. The music was so loud, Ed followed us across the bridge towards the Centre so we missed nothing but the hassle.

I enjoyed it. Our Ed’s done well for himself. I like the fact that his first support band were some Polish friends he’d roomed with when he was 18. I like that he’s engaged to his high-school sweetheart. And I like the fact that it’s him, his guitar, and his customised looping machine that makes all the noise. Everything we heard, he assured us, was live. The bit about him being homeless has been exaggerated. In his book, he explains:

There was an arch outside Buckingham Palace that has a heating duct and I spent a couple of nights there. That’s where I wrote the song Homeless and the lines ‘It’s not a homeless night for me, I’m just home less than I’d like to be.’

I caught Jamie Fox talking about him on the Graham Norton Show. And I liked his story, too.

It worked out well. It was a fitting end to a good weekend. I won’t be buying a CD or downloading him any time soon, but I will be in danger of singing along. For a young fellah who struggled like many others to make his mark on the world, the boy’s done good. And he’s still a nice lad. Lots to be grateful for there.

 

 

Manifesto

We have a saying in Irish  – cuir ar an mhéar fada – which is what we do when we put something on the long finger, i.e., put it off till whenever. I do this a lot – too much. And as a result, I lose out on vouchers and gift certificates. Despite my best intentions, 9 times out of 10, by the time I get around to it, they’ve expired. I’ve been meaning to go see Cate Blanchett in Manifesto for a few weeks now, ever since it opened at the Magyar Nemzeti Galéria back at the end of May. It only runs till 12 August, so I was cutting it fine, but I finally got my act together this week. And went.

I had a vague notion of what it was about. From German artist Julian Rosefeldt come 13 short video clips of Blanchett playing different roles, reciting from various manifestos that had a huge impact on art and politics. Think Dadism, Surrealism, Communism and a host of other isms perhaps less well known (to me, at least) like Vorticism, Stridentism, and Situationism that have shaped our today. Shot in just 11 days in and around Berlin, each of Blachett’s characters speaks English but with different accents. She appears as a homeless man, a stockbroker, a mother, a punk, a eulogist, and more, each role convincingly played. Years ago, in another life, I remember being fascinated seeing a closeup of Kevin Costner in some movie or other and wondering why, with all his money, he didn’t get his teeth fixed. Seeing the 12 very different sets of teeth that Blanchett’s characters wear (we only hear her voice in the prologue) has me now thinking that those teeth belonged to his character and were not his own. Will I ever know?

I was pushed for time and had figured just over two hours to see all 13 vids, so I didn’t spend as much time as I might have reading the timeline of the various manifestos Rosefeldt read (said to be 50 in all) when he was researching this piece of work. I went straight for it, expecting to walk between 13 separate rooms or semi-closed spaces. Or perhaps we’d each get headphones. But no. The videos played side by side with no signalling as to when they’d started. That really upset my sense of orderliness and from the outset, I was out of sorts.

I can multitask with the best of them but when it comes to listening, I have a hard time drowning out background noise. I work in silence. No radio or music playing in the background. I read in silence. No music or TV. I walk in silence. No headphones or other distractions. I like my silence. One of my most jarring memories is stepping outside the airport terminal in Chennai, India, at 2 am and recoiling from the wall of noise that met me. Another was opening the door into FunGalaxy and hearing the screaming kids inside. I really have a hard time with noise.  So I skipped the first two videos (I came back to them later) as both were going at what seemed like full blast and I couldn’t focus. I found one that I could actually hear.

Once I got into the swing of it, though, I enjoyed it. But I can see why some people might give up trying in the first 10 minutes (and admittedly, by the end, I was flagging). That said, it’s worth persevering. Especially if you can get in the groove and catch the videos as they start (all bar the first one are about 10.30 minutes long). This isn’t a must, of course, but if you veer towards pedantry like I do, I suggest you try it.

That Blanchett is a multi-award-winning actor, I had no doubt. But I hadn’t really appreciated how talented she is. Each of the 12 roles she plays is as convincing as the one before (in the first, we don’t see her, just hear her voice). I was particularly taken with her portrayals of a homeless guy, a punk, and a newsreader where she interviews herself.  Blanchett’s personal make-up artist Morag Ross worked miracles. Even if you’ve no interest in the spoken word, just seeing the 12 different faces and hearing the 13 different voices is worth the entrance fee.

At one stage, each character starts chanting in a strangely monk-like fashion. This happens at the same point in all videos so the rooms are filled with intonation. At other points, the narration from a video showing beside the one you’re watching will seem to eerily fit the film unfolding before you. It really is all very clever. Confusing and confrontational, certainly, but really very, very clever.

I’m with Glenn Kenny of the New York Times: As an installation, it may seem like a sensory onslaught. Yes, Glenn, it does. But now I want to see the movie and I really don’t think I’d appreciate it without having seen the installation. If you’re in Budapest between now and 12 August, it’s worth the money. Curated by Zsolt Petrányi at the National Gallery up in Buda Castle district, it’s definitely one to see. Love it or hate it, you won’t be able to not talk about it.

Julian Rosefeldt: Manifesto

[As an aside, I went to read an article in the LA Times = The 13 faces of Cate Blanchett: How Manifesto went from art to ….. – and got a note: Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism. The long reach of GDPR, no doubt. If anyone’s reading in the USA and can send a PDF, I’ll admit to being curious.]

 

2018 Grateful 32

Wednesday. May 23rd. The day John Malkovich came to Budapest and taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. Right now, I’m trying to decide if it was worth the experience.

In true marketing fashion, I made a rash purchase (4 tickets) and am now trying to rationalise my decision. Apparently, this is what we consumers do all the time. It’s what keeps the marketers in business.

The facts I had at the time were:

  1. John Malkovich was coming to Budapest for one night only.
  2. He was performing what was billed as one of the top 10 shows in the world (I can’t recall where I read that snippet)
  3. If I didn’t see the man this time, I was unlikely to cross paths with him again.
  4. The cheapest tickets I could get were 20 000 huf (~€60 / $70).
  5. We were expecting visitors and I thought it would be night for them to rememeber.

And it was, but probably not for the reasons I imagined.

We rocked early to Budapesti Kongresszusi Központ, in plenty of time to have a pre-show drink and take our seats at a leisurely pace. I was all excited. I’ve had a thing for the bould JM for just about ever. What a voice. The 26-piece string orchestra – Danubia Orchestra Óbuda took their place. And the show started. No sign of the man himself. But I didn’t panic. Perhaps, I thought, he’d enjoy a grand entrance. Above the stage, rain was being projected onto a white screen. I quite fancied that I saw his face in the droplets and given the title of the programme – Report on the Blind – my imagination began to run riot.

Maestro Dirk Brossé was conducting and violinist Ino Mirkovic also made an appearance. Now, had I done my homework, I’d have been all the wiser. But I hadn’t. And I wasn’t.

Psycho Suite by Bernard Herrmann and the Adagio (To the Unknown Soldier) by Dirk Brossé and still no sign of John. My blood pressure began to rise, slowly. I could feel the anxiety setting in. I began to wonder if we were in the right place. I drew a map of the venue in my mind and decided that there were no other gigs on that night (and it would have been strange, anyway, not have to have been ousted from our seats had we been in the wrong place). The rain at this stage had turned to snow and the images of frosted glass and the ice patterns provided only a mild distraction. The avalanche footage was quite compelling though. But 45 minutes in and still no John.

Then a man appeared on stage – and I breathed a sigh of relief – a short one. On closer inspectection I saw a face that was too round, a body that was too slim, and a hairline that wasn’t quite far back enough. Not John. They danced. At one stage he blindfolded himself and hope rose within me briefly – I was grasping at blind straws. I tried to control the angst. And then came the intermission.

I left my company inside and went outside to calm my nerves. Everyone seemed to be wondering what was up. I wasn’t the only one. Then I heard that this was just the prelude. The warm-up. The man would make his appearance in the second half. And he did.

Accompanied by pianist Anastasya Terenkova, Malkovich took us on a rollercoaster ride, his voice doing more than the 26-string orchestra could have done. He was quite something. He posited some theories:

  1. God does not exist
  2. God exists but he is a bastard
  3. Good exists but falls asleep and his nightmares are our existence

I quite liked No. 3. I thought ‘wow – he wrote this stuff. Amazing.’ But he didn’t. It was a chapter from Ernesto Sabato’s novel On Heroes and Tombs. Malkovich played the protagonist Fernando Vidal who reckons that blindness drives the world. It was mesmerising. Mesmerisingly short. Just 30 minutes, if that. And it was over.

It’s taken me a week to process it all. Am I glad I got to see and hear the man in person? Yes. Am I glad I didn’t pass up the opportunity? Yes. Do I reckon it was worth the guts of €250 – which is a plane ticket somewhere – I’m not sure.

But I learned a lot about myself. If I have no expectations at all – which is generally the case – I can’t be disappointed. My mother tacked that one on as the ninth beatitude. But if I have expectations, and I’m thrown off course, then I get ansty and anxious. I let it consume me. I tried to enjoy the music in the first half, which was stellar by the way, but my heart was racing and my mind was all over the place. I had brief moments of enjoyment but peppered as they were by a sense of being utterly lost, I barely remember them.

I wanted to see him so badly that I didn’t think to check what it was he’d be doing. I could have. It’s out there. I could have done my homework, perhaps before I bought the tickets. But I was blindsided by fame. Still, though, as a lover of oratory and the spoken word, I think Malkovich would be hard to match.

I’d like to see  Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters. The interview with photographer Sandro Miller makes for fascinating reading. And I never knew that JM owns a restaurant in Lisbon, speaks fluent French, and lost millions in Bernie Maddoch’s Ponzi scheme. For the background reading, I’m grateful. For the opportunity to hear the voice in person, I’m grateful, too. I only wish he’d spoken for longer and that I’d known what I was letting myself in for.


 

In a state of shock on Mars

I’m not sure what I expected, but I didn’t expect this. And when I read today in the Hungarian Spectrum that a ruling politician had declared that “our goal is to achieve a stable, absolute majority with 100 seats to establish a government. Above that number every seat is only a gift, a sign of the voters’ trust,” I had to wonder. A two-thirds majority was some gift indeed. I’m deflated. Completely deflated. Friends who voted spoke of the palpable excitement and anticipation of change at the polling booths. The other guys were being better people and standing down in favour of stronger counterparts. It seemed as if the planets were aligning and while I never thought that the 100 seats would not be achieved, I was sure the other guys would fare better. But I was wrong.

I dug out this poem I’d read last year in the aftermath of another disappointing election – and it just about sums it up for me.

An Election Tale: A Poem By Tarik Günersel

Once upon a time, on Mars,
an election took place –a farce:

A profit promising guy was promoted
for imperial goals; twice his followers voted.

The Electoral Board: “It’s been a good race;
here’s the official result we realistically face:

A post-modern synthesis of kingdom and republic.
Despite infidels, God’s Law conquers the public.

We proudly present this legal innovation,
which is naturally the best for our obedient nation.”

Thus the selected leader declared “Victory!”
A journalist dared to ask: “Is justice history?”

Public reaction was professionally tested;
“Fraud!” –some opponents protested:

“Booo! Look at the voting lists: We’re excluded,
but some dead were secretly included!”

On TV, the financed misleader announced:
“All those traitors must be denounced!

Evil circles keep sponsoring their acts,
I speak the truth, supported by alternative facts.

In our new democracy, which patriots promote,
dead citizens can also vote

as the revival of our passified [sic] nation.
Down with foreign agents! We need fair aggression!

I do have an idea about sports:
Attack is the best defense, as echoed in the courts.

My leadership proves that ‘evolution’ is wrong.
To my faith in God your lives now belong.”

All such stuff was not without reaction;
some with conscience attempted action:

Two girls, on hunger strike, stood up
and were given free poison in a cup.

A few more utopian objecters [sic] joined in the story
for a happy ending –a deserved glory:

“It’s high time for a revolution
for Martian rights, devolution!”

The outcome on Mars remains unknown,
but your life on Earth is a path of your own.

No gods can build a future for you.
No solution can rise out of the blue.

 

The great wave

A few months back, in a workshop I was running, a participant included an image of The Great Wave by Japanese artist Hokusai in their presentation. I was the only person in the room not to have seen it before and thereby not to recognise it. The shame of it. Where had I been? Coincidentally, that same week, I saw an advertisement for a screening of a documentary from the British Museum about the artist and his work. The first two were sold out but I managed to get tickets for the screening in March.

In the months that followed, I forgot all about it. When the day dawned, I was up to my tonsils – a litany of meetings strung together like beads on an abacus all totting up to a controlled frenzy. But we had tickets. So we went. To Várkert Bazár, billed as ‘a renovated 19th-century Neo-Renaissance complex of exhibition halls, theaters, gardens & restaurants. I’d not been before and the venue was another reason I’d chosen to go. But wow… Hokusai! Where have you been all my life?

Hokusai was painting right up till his death, some four months after his 90th birthday (depending on which page you read on the WWW). And by his own reckoning his best work was the work he did shortly before he died.

From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.

Interestingly, a variation of this translation also appears on the web. Or perhaps he was paraphrasing himself.

When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvellous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age.

There’s a good biography of his life on the Katsushika Hokusai website, which says that he changed his name more than 30 times during his career, a practice common to artists of that era in that part of the world. My favourite was Old Man Mad (Crazy) about Art (Drawing): Gakyō Rōjin Manji. The Guardian ran a piece on him last year and included some pictures of his prints. It’s worth checking out.

It’s said that Claude Debussy was inspired to write La mer after seeing The Great Wave, and while it’s arguably his most famous print, I was more taken by Poppies. I can feel the wind as I look at it. Amazing stuff.

Of course, I changed my mind a million times as the documentary went on. And then, when we got a virtual tour of the exhibition in London, I changed it yet again. I was very taken with this one but I’m not so sure I’d like it on my wall. But how alive it is. Those eyes. Still, after all the back and forth, I’m sticking with Poppies as my all-time Hokusai fave.

If you get a chance to see the documentary, make the time for it. If you’re one of the lucky ones who got to see the exhibition somewhere in the world, I’m suitably envious. It’s possible to order hand-painted reproductions of all his work from Japan, and with a 365-day return policy. Once I’ve decided what size I want my Poppies, I’ll be doing just that. What a man.

What’s the opposite of gun?

I have a fondness for poetry. Not all poetry. Some poetry. I like slam poetry, with its fast and furious pace, its jumble of words cascading over one another as thoughts rush out and feelings rush in. I’m a fan of the Canadian spoken word poet Shane Koyczan and travelled last year to Bristol to hear him live. He didn’t disappoint. You might know him for his poem on bullying To This Day…For the Bullied and the Beautiful that went viral a few years back. He suffers from depression and speaks openly about it, as he does many other issues that are so human, so prescient, so now. He makes sense.

And while WB Yeats gets my vote for an old Irish classic, an Irish classic in the making is the fab Neil McCarthy. Of anyone, he’s the one responsible for reconnecting me with the joy that is the spoken word. He’s going to be in Budapest launching his latest book on May 10th – at Massolit. If you’re in town, don’t miss him. When Neil recommends a listen or a read, I listen and I read. Enter Brendan Constantine and his opposites game. Given the debate that’s reverberating through the USA, supported by all those on the outside looking in, it’s a topical one. One that gives pause for thought – and more.

 

I’ve finally made time to listen and to read. I’ve realigned my priorities and taken the back control I’d temporarily lost to the gigging world. No more working myself to near exhaustion. Life is far too short not to make time for poetry.

 

A palpable realignment of the soul

There are days when I’d cry at the sight of a cat crossing the road, or an episode of Coronation Street, or a Guinness advert. And there are days when tears are beyond summons, when death and destruction are greeted with a shrug and a whatever. I can’t find a correlation – not mood, not diet, not weather. It’s odd. But these days, for the sake of my sanity, I’m putting everything down to menopause and hormones. And I mean everything. If the bakery has run out of croissants, it’s down to not enough oestrogen in the kitchen. If the price of petrol has jumped overnight, it’s down to too much testosterone in the oil fields. And for everything else that goes wrong in my world, it’s down to not enough progesterone in my system.

Twice in my life, I’ve been moved to tears by a piece of art. Once was in Costa Rica in May last year. I’m not sure what happened. I was on holiday. In great form. Loving life. And then wham!$% … I was bawling my eyes in the Hidden Garden Art Gallery. I’m still not quite sure what happened, but ever conscious of what the universe might be trying to tell me (having learned to my cost that that little voice should be listened to) I bought it. Fast forward a few months and I found myself in an art studio over in Buda where the fab Hungarian artist Karl Meszlényi works his magic. He was pulling out canvases from here and there, trolling through paintings on the web that are on show in galleries in the city and abroad, and giving me a rundown on his art. I spotted something interesting in the corner: a rather large mixed media piece roughly framed in black wood. I asked to see it. He pulled it out and set it on the sofa.

I stood, I looked. I thought. And then wham!$% … I was bawling my eyes out once again. And this wasn’t the hysterical, expletive-ridden, just-stubbed-my-toe type of bawling. It was the kind that gathers in your feet and works itself up your body, getting bigger and bigger until it explodes, quietly. It’s accompanied by an overwhelming sense of something going on inside – a palpable realignment of the soul, perhaps. As it was the second time it had happened, I wasn’t nearly as embarrassed. I just stood there and let it all out. And with him being a painter and undoubtedly no stranger to artistic temperament, he took it all in his stride.

The piece is called Moon Two – it’s one of a series he did. Moon Blue is on the Saatchi website which gives a more knowledgeable, arty explanation than anything I could come up with. Roughly paraphrased, it’s painted acrylic, oil, tempera, and ink on canvas using mixed media with wood, stone, straw and bird’s nest. The abstract expression, is ‘all about texture, a stone breaking the monochrome, as daily events consecutively break into people’s monochrome lives.’ The term monochrome lives is used as a metaphor for the unresponsiveness of people to the speed of the world, a scream in a world of social deafness.

 

Mine has the same constituent parts…and some walnuts. That said, when I was busy going with the flow of emotion, moonscapes weren’t even on my periphery. What struck me about it all was the earthiness. The textures. The black and white. And curiously, it has something similar going on as the Costa Rica find. I’m a fan of black and white and the myriad greys in between, a reflection of my state of mind. While I might like my choices to be limited to either/or, my morals to be defined by good/bad, and my conscience to be guided by right/wrong, it’s the bits along the spectrum that I have to live with.

The piece hangs in the hallway. It’s the first thing I see when I come in the door and what I pass each time I enter or leave the kitchen. Were I given to flights of fancy, I’d say it whispers, that it knows my mood. I’d say that it darkens and brightens in sync with my soul. Occasionally, very occasionally, I feel an upsurge of emotion as I pass and when I stop to look at it, I lose myself in the shades and grey and know that I need to slow down, to re-calibrate, to centre myself.

Karl told me he isn’t an artist; he’s a painter. He explained that artists express themselves while painters study the techniques of visual communication. And for all its seeming randomness, this piece is a study of technique with each piece of straw, each nutshell, each twig placed with a higher purpose, be that Karl’s or the universe’s. There’s an order to it all that somehow makes sense.

 

Thanks again to Liz Frommer for the introduction. If you’re in the market for some statement pieces or simply want to see a painter in their home environs, contact her at lizfrommer@gmail.com

A little bit of me died tonight

I like experiential presents. They don’t take up shelf space or add to the the clutter of twenty-first-century living. They can be enjoyed over and over again, moments relived, memories recalled. I like jazz, too. So a Christmas present of two tickets to see jazz legend Dianne Reeves play in Budapest was a good choice. Thanks MI.

I’d be hard-pushed to describe what Reeves does on stage, lacking as I do the jazz vocabulary to do her justice. So I’ll borrow from her website: it’s a ‘melding of R&B, Latin and pop elements within the framework of 21st Century jazz.’ Yep – I caught that meld. And l marvelled at her scat singing – ‘vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, and nonsense syllables’ that I’d seen Ella Fitzgerald nail with Mel Torme on video once, a video that I managed to find.

Years and years and years ago, a cousin of mine went through a phase of singing everything. And I mean everything. Ask her what had happened in school or what she wanted for dinner or what she was going to wear that day and you’d get verse after verse after verse delivered in a sing-song voice that was cute at first…but quickly became annoying. While I can’t imagine Reeves ever being annoying, I can imagine her singing all the time.  She sang her hello, she sang through the usual ‘great to be back’ bits, and she sang through her band intro. She sang it all. And she improvised. And although Reeves ain’t quite Ella,  she’s a mean scat singer. With her quartet of super-talented musicians [Romero Lubambo on guitar, Peter Martin on piano, Reginald Veal on bass, and Terreno Gully on drums], she says they treat the stage not as a stage but as a playground. Every jazz musician gives what she calls a ‘jazz sensibility’ to the songs they were raised on. She mentioned Chicago, and Stevie Wonder, and Fleetwood Mac. And while I was wondering what she meant by jazz sensibility, she showed us with her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. [The cover we heard tonight was a lot jazzier than this, from 2015.]

She came back onstage for an encore – and then she got serious. Her short commentary on the state of the world ended with her asking us to stay lifted, to hold on to our consciousness, to our humanity. She asked us to be a light in the world. She finished with a cover of Mali Music’s Beautiful, and when the chorus came [I put my lighter in the air for you], there wasn’t one cigarette lighter to be seen; it was all mobile phone flashlights. So not cool, people. So not cool.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I officially belong to another generation. I’m at the ‘back in my day’ stage where I have legitimate reflections of a life that my teenage nephews would see as fodder for history books. And as Reeves sang her heart out, a little piece of mine broke off. I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia that rode in on the back of a series of flashbacks to gigs I’d been to in my early 20s, where cigarette lighters were de rigueur and having a Zippo lighter meant not having burned grooves on your thumb. But no more, I thought, no more. That life is done. Reeves’ final words – one note, one voice, one people, one world, one love – though poignant, were lost on me. This one will take some time to process.

Fast-forward 35 years

I missed my 30-year school reunion. I was in Israel at the time. It was so successful that there was another one a year or so later. I got to that one and caught up with people I hadn’t seen in years. I remember a collective wondering at where the time had gone. American TV school reunions fascinate me, as do the High School yearbooks, where people are voted most likely to succeed, most likely to become millionaires, most likely to grow bunions. They’re the go-to resource when it comes to solving murders in TV whodunnits. Ireland is way more casual  – we didn’t get any further than the simple autograph book. And as we collected witty (and not-so-witty) rhymes from our soon-to-be-former classmates, I don’t think any of us stopped to wonder who among us would be famous – some day, even if one of our own, Murray Boland [now BAFTA-Award-winning executive producer in the UK] had made an appearance on the Late Late Toy Show while we were still in school – and that was like, Wow! Totes amaze.

I was in Edinburgh visiting one of my many cousins a quare few years ago, when I saw an episode of MacIntyre Investigates and realised that said same Donal MacIntyre had been in my class at school. Mad! I was a little in awe, reading his Wikipedia page. Who’d have thunk it. I never would have figured him for the type to get beaten up in bars and have to go on the lam when the thugs and gurriers he was investigating came looking for their ounce of flesh.

I was suitably impressed by Mick O’Toole’s photography and his ad campaigns. One of his most impressive photos is that of a man washing his face in the sea. Stunning. And staying with the sea, his short film on wave energy for Maynooth University has some jawdropping imagery. There’s a lotta talent lurking there, and I don’t ever remember him with a camera.

More recently though, another classmate came to light. Katrina Costello (although I could have sworn she went by Caitriona … she probably changed it to make it easier for the international brigade) is now a cinematographer/director whose documentary The Silver Branch was up for an award at the IFTA this year. And while I wouldn’t have the bladder control needed to live Donal’s life, reading about what Caitriona has been up to had me green with envy.

I contracted on mostly six months on, six months off periods — working in some of the major stock exchanges and banking capitals of the world,” she explains. “That allowed me the opportunity to do what I love; to go alone photographing and living in the far-off reaches of the world — from the mountains of Asia to the basin of the Amazon.

My ability with a camera wouldn’t even touch the shadow of the foot of a tripod in comparison to Mike or Caitriona, I have zero interest in being in or on TV like Murray. But a six-month on/six-month off schedule? And the wherewithal to travel? That I could do.

When I got over the envy and watched the trailer for her documentary, I was gobsmacked. It’s beautiful. Simply beautiful. I’ve been quoting it since. And it’s featured in the Fléadh in Galway later this year (Friday, 14th July) but I’ll be wedding it up that night somewhere in Portugal. I need to figure out another way to see the full thing.

The Silver Branch is a philosophical vision-poem on the life of farmer/poet Patrick McCormack, descendant of the generations of farmers who have lived off the wild landscape of the Burren in County Clare. Patrick and his rural community are drawn into a divisive battle with the Government, leading him and a small group of friends to the Supreme Court to decide on the fate of this iconic wilderness. Through Patrick’s eyes, and in his words, this beautifully shot film immerses us in the exquisite texture of the natural world, bringing us a rare glimpse of a disappearing way of life with all its richness and roguery, and leading to a deep connection with the Earth and our ancestral wild spirit. And though it is centred around [sic] one man’s life and a bitter-sweet end-of-era evocation, it explores much deeper themes: the relationship between man and landscape, between tradition and spirit, between body and soul. The Silver Branch is a story of hope – hope that we as individuals can make a difference to our universe.

My favourite line from the trailer is that everyone needs time and space and have a favourite place to come and see and visit and listen and be at peace. I have that. I’m lucky.

I’m sure many of the 70 or so who were in the Class of 1983 have done wild and wonderful things with their lives. That their fame has escaped me has probably lots to do with my paltry presence and engagement with social media, and little to do with the ineffectiveness of the village grapevine. I’m simply not in the know. It is nice, though, to see what 35 years can do to a life, and to take a tangential pride in the success of those you once sat beside in school. Note to self: Search for that autograph book. Some of those signatures could be worth money 🙂

 

Holy Mary

I made my First Communion in Waterford back in 1972. I have only vague recollections of the day, and those that I have, have been aided and abetted by photographic reminders. I do remember my white drawstring bag, though, and a Communion Prayer Book with a mother of pearl cover that I probably got from an aunt. Of the day itself, I draw a blank. No matter how hard I try, I can’t recall any specifics. But the sense of the occasion is still strong.

If I’m in Dublin for any length of time, I make sure to check what production Viking Theatre has going on in Connolly’s – The Sheds, in Clontarf. It was there I caught the sublime one-man-show by Philip Doherty – The Pilgrim, in which Rex Ryan gave us his all. Last night, having been housebound by the snow for three days, we walked down to check out Aoife Spillane-Hinks’s interpretation of Eoin Colfer’s Holy Mary. Colfer’s pre-writer experience of being a primary school teacher shows through as he nails the conversation and the wonderings of the two seven-year-old stars, Mary and Majella.

Played by Mary Murray (Love Hate, Adam & Paul, Magdalene Sisters) and multi-award-winning actor Maeve Fitzgerald, we meet the two girls on the day of their First Confession in the run-up to their First Communion. It says something about their acting skills when I had no trouble in believing that these girls were just 7. Murray and Fitzgerald between them also cover the rest of the roles: Mrs Leary (Mary’s mother), Mrs Barnes (Majella’s mother), Miss Murphy (the teacher) and Fr Ibar (the priest).

The play is laugh-out-loud funny. The girls’ take on religion is reminiscent of the kids in Give up yer aul sins and the teacher Miss Murphy, capable of going ‘full-on Provo’ when she’s in a bad mood, is also from the North. I’m still laughing at Majella’s explanation of Moses needing some ‘me time’ away from the Israelites.

The kindly priest, Fr Ibar, is from the Wesht of Ireland, the place where all the ‘unfortunates’ live. Conjuring up notions of Frank O’Connor’s First Confession, through his relationship with the girls, the good Father embodies a church I miss – one that is empathetic, patient, understanding, and in tune with the needs of its parishioners. In an attempt to broker peace between the two enemies, Fr Ibar (played by both Murray and Fitzgerald) encourages the pair to consider that they might be more alike than might appear.

For all its comedic lines and clever turns of phrase, the play offers a serious exploration of bullying and how cruel kids can be. It shows us that while our perception is very much our reality, other people have their perceptions of our reality, too. And rarely will these match.

Set in 1986 Dublin, the expressions took me back to my own childhood. I knew a few ‘right rips’ and had an aunt who was always ‘on her last nerve’. I was transported back to a time when coming from the country, I was slagged for being a culchie. I split my sides laughing at the three reasons Mary gives for culchies being allowed to come to Dublin – if they’re priests, if they’re nurses looking for husbands, or if they’re going to the All Ireland. Classic.

Billed as a ‘hilarious and heartbreaking tale of Communion, confusion, and consternation’ the original production back in 2011 lasted 55 minutes. We had a play in two parts, each lasting about 45 minutes. It played to a full house on Saturday, and I’m sure that when word gets out, tickets will be thin on the ground. If you’re in Dublin between now and 17 March, treat yourself. You’d be hard pushed to find a  better way to spend 15 quid.