Dubliner Gavin Glass’s latest CD “Sunday Songs” has received glowing reviews in Ireland.
By Colleen Taylor
By now, the popularity of American country music in Ireland, particularly in the West, is well established, but lately, I’ve become more aware of the reciprocal creative output resultant from this Irish fandom, particularly within the past five years. Some of Ireland’s best musicians—names like Nathan Carter, Ronan Keating and Mary Duff—are producing great country and Americana music that can hold its own with our homegrown Southern talent. Gavin Glass is yet another example. The American musical influence gives panache and distinction to Glass’s sound, one that provides for an easy-going, beautiful listening experience. Glass has recently released his album “Sunday Songs,” a collection that impels several listens. “Sunday Songs” is not the typical country music cover album: it is something both Irish and American, and all Glass’s own.
Glass is Irish country music’s Dublin constituent. A Dubliner himself, he represents the Eirecana (Irish Americana) genre across the city—a regular at its best music venues, such as Whelan’s, where he launched his new album at the end of last month. The album subsequently received glowing reviews from the Irish Times and fans alike. When he’s not performing solo, Glass also plays with Lisa Hannigan’s band or works as a music producer. But Glass’s time focused on songwriting is his time best spent. This is a musician who knows how to marry poetry with notes.
While his earlier albums, particularly “Myna Birds” (2010), are accomplishments in their own right, this latest and fourth album is his best yet. “Sunday Songs” is his most nostalgic, most emotive and most evocative. Listening to this album is like living in a Western film. Glass makes use of old-time instruments like the steel guitar and classic violin, all the while maintaining a modern interpretive flare. The historical steel guitar, for instance, is complimented by the electric, by moments of a more indie blend of instruments, such as in the more modernized rock song, “Light Heart.” On the other hand, the exquisite title track evokes that quintessentially country swaying rhythm that one associates exclusively with a horse and a cowboy. For me, one of the best on the album is “Better Left Alone.” This song is country through and through. While it exemplifies all of Glass’s own unique interpretation, it nonetheless speaks to the legacy of the country-music tradition throughout the past century. Each of the eight songs achieves a sound that is simultaneously melancholic and carefree, creating a myriad of cultural associations.
So where does the Irish come in? Aside from Glass’s own personal background, it might not be readily identifiable in this strictly Eirecana, country music album. But in my opinion, there is something definitively Irish in the lyrics. “Rise and Fall” starts out with the simple pairing of Glass’s mournful vocals and piano: “Look at us now /still running round/ From all that we were and all that we know.” The tenor of his voice speaks to a culture of balladeers and sad love songs. If you wanted to, you could make an argument for the album’s Irish lineage in the lyrics he writes and the style in which he sings them.
All in all, Gavin Glass proves that Ireland does far more than listen to good American country music. It creates it too. The Eirecana and country-music genres are lucky to have an advocate like Glass. His music is sophisticated and timeless. One cannot listen to “Sunday Songs” without being moved, without falling into reverie. Check Gavin Glass out on Spotify or Facebook.
Colleen Taylor is the Music Notes columnist for the Irish Echo.
By Irish Echo Staff
Larry Kirwan has never been busier, it seems, since his band Black 47 called it a day last fall after 25 years. On this Saturday, his solo career will take a Staten Island twist when he debuts and records “Floating.” The song may be brand new, but it tells a story from the past, specifically one about his great-grandfather, Captain James Moran, and his relationship with the sea. For tickets for the 8 p.m. event at the Noble Maritime Collection, Snug Harbor, go to www.noblemaritime.org/Larry_Kirwan.html.
“My great-grandfather was lost at sea off Penzance along with all of the crew on The City of Bristol SS, Sept. 29, 1898,” Kirwan said. “His body floated north over 150 miles, and the family legend has it that but for the tides he would have come ashore in Wexford rather than directly across the Irish Sea in Pembroke, Wales on Nov. 2, 1898.
“I had always wanted to write the story in some form but didn’t receive the inspiration until playing last year at the Noble Maritime Collection in Snug Harbor, Staten Island,” he said.
And is Mr. Kirwan as busy as ever or does it just seem that way? We asked him about whether he’s taking it easy post-Black 47.
“As regards retirement, I’ve just arrived back from playing in Milwaukee. After the Staten Island gig, I’ll be playing July 23 at Bridge Street Live in Collinsville, Conn., and July 24 at the Bull Run in Shirley, Mass.,” he said.
“One of my musicals is being developed for a major production and I’m in the midst of writing another musical about Iraq. ‘A History of Irish Music’ has just been released as an eBook on Kindle and Nook, etc.
“I’m still doing ‘Celtic Crush’ on SiriusXM every week, and there’s a certain editor at the Irish Echo who demands 700 words of flawless prose for my column every couple of weeks,” he said.
The multi-talented Wexford native added: “A man hardly has time to raise his elbow with a couple of pints!! But I’m thinking strongly of throwing my hat in the ring for the Republican presidential nomination. After all, I have just as much hair as The Donald!”
By Peter McDermott
“When my father came to America, he had a lot to learn,” said Connor Harding in a eulogy at St. Brigid’s Church in Manhattan’s East Village last Tuesday afternoon.
Indeed, Peter Harding was just 18 in 1964. But when the Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, native gained the American knowledge and education he needed, he was always ready to pass it on.
And the architect Harding was the first person to call if there was a problem. “If you wanted business handled, you went to Dad,” Connor Harding said.
Officiating priest at the funeral Mass, the Rev. Peter Meehan, said afterwards: “Peter was the voice of reason during the St. Brigid’s crisis.”
Edwin Torres, chairman of the local Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church, said: “We will be forever grateful to Peter. It was his knowledge of Building Department laws that gave us our big break.”
After the New York archdiocese proposed to demolish the church completed in 1849, Harding became one of the most active members of Torres’s group. “Many people gave up hope,” Torres said. “Peter didn’t.”
“Those people [the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church] really deserve a lot of respect,” said Meehan, a pastor at Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Downtown Manhattan.
The priest said that clergy, frustrated at the late Cardinal Egan’s “intransigence,” passed on information to Harding during the long stand-off over the church. (An anonymous donation of $20 million saved St. Brigid’s and it reopened in early 2013.)
Not that the Irishman was an active churchgoer. “He was like my immigrant parents,” said Fr. Meehan. “They never darkened the door of a church. But they knew and respected the traditions. They had faith.”
Harding informed Meehan last year that he wanted his funeral Mass to take place at St. Brigid’s. “I said: ‘You better tell somebody else,’” the priest recalled. He was concerned that such a wish could get lost if only one priest in another parish knew about it.
Last September, the architect moved from a New York hospice to be with his elder son Connor and daughter-in-law Heather in North Carolina. “I spoke to him every four weeks or so after he moved,” Meehan said.
Harding died in Hope Mills, N.C., on July 2, and was cremated. Connor Harding traveled with his wife and younger brother Niall Harding, who is a Washington DC resident, for the Mass at St. Brigid’s Church five days later.
Torres heard about the death of his friend just before he flew out of New York on vacation. “I’m heartbroken,” he said upon his return yesterday. Several committee members spent a day with Harding at the hospice last year, Torres remembered.
Extended family joined the Hardings at the St. Brigid’s Mass, as did friends and colleagues from Alcoholics Anonymous. Harding was centrally involved with the World Trade Center group for many years. “He was a well-respected, quiet leader,” Meehan said, adding that Harding did a lot of pro bono work for homeless shelters and addiction centers over the years.
“He wasn’t a perfect man,” Connor Harding said. “But he was a good man.”
Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
PHOTO: EMILIA KRYSZTOFIAK
“Secrets will always out,” the Dublin novelist Dermot Bolger wrote recently. “In the same way as Emily Dickinson’s poems were once the best-kept secret in Massachusetts, Nuala O’Connor’s luminous prose has long been one of Ireland’s most treasured literary secrets. Now, through her superb evocation of 19th century Amherst, an international audience is likely to be held rapt by the sparse lyricism and exactitude of O’Connor’s writing.”
And so it has proven, if “international audience” means admiring fellow writers here in the U.S. Ahead of its publication here this week, several have stepped forward to praise “Miss Emily.”
“The structure of the book is reminiscent of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, a lyrical dialogue between two voices,” said Stephanie Barron, author of the Jane Austen mystery series.
One of those voices is fictional. Dickinson didn’t have a maid in 1866, and so O’Connor created Ada Concannon, and made her a cousin of one of the poet’s real-life servants later on, Maggie Maher, who was born to immigrants from County Tipperary.
“An original portrayal of Emily Dickinson seen here not just as a lover of words, but as a heroine and friend to a plucky Irish maid who casts a new and sympathetic light on the Belle of Amherst,” said Sheila Kohler, author of “Becoming Jane Eyre.”
“The Bookman’s Tale” author Charlie Lovett wrote: “I lost myself in the beautiful detail of 1860s Amherst, a cast of characters that leapt off the page with life, and the constant reminder that words, properly wielded, can transcend time, transmit love, and, above all, inspire hope.”
O’Connor, a former Irish-language translator, library assistant and arts administrator, will visit Dickinson Country next month for a series of events.
Date of birth: Jan. 14, 1970
Place of birth: Dublin
Spouse: Finbar McLoughlin
Children: Cúán, 21, Finn, 13, Juno, 6.
Residence: Ballinasloe, Co. Galway
Published works: Three novels, four short story collections, three poetry collections, two chapbooks published in Ireland and the U.K. Full time writer since 2004. Up until now has written as Nuala Ní Chonchúir.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I write in the mornings from about 8.30 a.m. to 2 p.m., while the kids are out at school. I have a desk in the corner of my bedroom. I like peace and quiet – no music, interruptions or radio.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read like a maniac; write every day; walk a lot; travel as much as possible; listen and take notes. Don’t worry about productivity or what anyone else is doing – write as much as you can when you can. There is no right age or time – do it now.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco; “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen; “The Country Girls” by Edna O’Brien.
What book are you currently reading?
“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” by Jennifer Tseng. Set on an unnamed island (probably a fictional Martha’s Vineyard) it’s about a 41 year old librarian’s obsession with a 17 year old boy. It’s hilarious and beautifully written.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco – such a delicate, fairy tale-like novella about the power and ingenuity of women.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“On Writing” by Stephen King. Part memoir, part writing guide, I found it fascinating and affirming.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
Flannery O’Connor. I love her cock-eyed humor and penchant for darkness; I love that she kept peacocks. I imagine her conversation would be raucous and incisive.
What book changed your life?
“The Portable Virgin,” Anne Enright’s first short fiction collection. It changed my writing life in the sense that she made me understand that it is possible to write about Irishness in a modern, open way.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Mill Lane in Palmerstown, Dublin, where I grew up – a country idyll on the hems of the city. We spent our childhood in and on the Liffey, swimming, boating, fishing.
You’re Irish if…
You love to make a story out of every small thing.
When did the poets eat a peacock?
Seven poets gathered to eat a peacock over a century ago, Sunday, Jan. 18, 1914, at 12:30 p.m.
And why would they do a thing like that?
W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound, the most famous of the lot, organized the gathering to honor the Victorian poet, horse-breeder, and anti-imperialist Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, who was married to Byron’s only granddaughter. Blunt was actually a mediocre poet, but he was tall, handsome, and notorious for his protests against British imperialism in Egypt and in Ireland. He lived a life that was operatic in its scale and drama. It was primarily his iconoclastic behavior that appealed to Pound, who wanted to meet him.
And why did they eat a peacock?
Blunt was also notorious for his philandering, and one of his early romances had been with the Irish writer Lady Gregory back in 1882. Behind the scenes Lady Gregory (at Yeats’s request) helped plan the dinner. It was she who suggested the main course, because she knew that Blunt had a flock of peacock and that Yeats had always wanted to taste that particular bird. One bird was not enough for all those hungry men, and Blunt, who hosted the dinner at his manor house in West Sussex, served roast beef in addition to roast peacock.
Why were only men invited?
Pound told Yeats he wanted to avoid the atmosphere of what he called “literary men’s wives.” In fact all the men at the dinner knew many women poets, but Pound aimed to ground his own writing in a tradition of literary masculinity and identified Wilfrid Blunt – with his oppositional politics, his good looks, and his women – as a role model. Blunt, who still felt great affection for Lady Gregory over thirty years after their affair, hoped she would attend the dinner, but she claimed a family obligation.
However, women were present as the invisible connections between the men: Blunt had allied himself to Lady Anne in large part because she was Byron’s granddaughter; Richard Aldington, one of the other poets, had recently married Pound’s former fiancée Hilda Doolittle, and Pound was engaged to Dorothy Shakespear, the daughter of Yeats’s first lover, Olivia Shakespear; and Yeats had met Blunt through Lady Gregory.
How can you get a whole book out of one meal?
What interests me are the overlapping biographies of the celebrity writers, their intimate friendships and their literary partnerships. They worked together under the same roofs. After her last night with Blunt, Lady Gregory handed him a sonnet sequence she had written about their adulterous affair. Later Blunt (with her permission) published the sonnets under his own name, “improved” by himself with revisions to some her words. In 1901, at Lady Gregory’s estate Coole Park, Yeats and Gregory together wrote “his” most famous play, “Kathleen Ni Houlihan,” presented to the world as if it were his alone. And in the winter of 1913 – 1914, Pound and Yeats were living together at Stone Cottage in Sussex, writing poetry and reading one another’s manuscripts with the ink barely dry. Out of all these intimacies the peacock dinner was constructed.
Then isn’t the book a kind of literary gossip?
Yes indeed; and why not? This is what literary history is made of. In their letters to one another and their poems, all these writers talk about one another, about their friendships, their rivalries, and their romances, and out of these relationships poetry is made. Pound twice made poetry out of the peacock dinner itself, attacking one of the other peacock poets, Victor Plarr, in his 1920 poem “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly” and commemorating the dinner and Blunt’s generosity to the poets in “Canto 81” (1945). Lady Gregory’s romance with Blunt inspired not only her love sonnets but her own literary career.
If the dinner took place in West Sussex, how important is the Irish element?
Blunt was very proud of being the first Englishman imprisoned in the cause of Ireland. In fact he was determined to be arrested: in 1887, during the Land War, he attempted to speak at a banned meeting in Galway, and after the second time the police pulled him off the platform, he shouted, “Are you all such damned cowards that not one of you dares arrest me?” The police took the hint, and before long Blunt was locked up in Galway Gaol, where he wrote a sonnet sequence that Oscar Wilde praised in a review and Yeats anthologized. He also wrote a play on the Cuchulain theme for the Abbey Theatre. And of course, the dinner could not have happened without Yeats and Lady Gregory. In its politics, its oddness, and the sympathies of those at the table, the peacock dinner was in large part an Irish event.
As told to Peter McDermott.
Lucy McDiarmid is the author of “Poets and the Peacock Dinner: the literary history of a meal” (Oxford University Press). Her next book, “At Home in the Revolution: what women said and did in 1916,” will be published this fall by the Royal Irish Academy. Her previous works include “The Irish Art of Controversy” (2005). She is the Marie Frazee-Baldassarre Professor of English at Montclair University in New Jersey. For more information go to: lucymcdiarmid.com.
Seamus Heaney was an original member of the Belfast Group organized at Queen’s University from 1963. He is pictured near his home in Dublin in 1995 after it was announced that he’d won the Nobel Prize for Literature. PHOTOCALL
By Maureen McGavin
A new website called Belfast Group Poetry Networks will make it easier to understand the connections between Irish writers, particularly members of the mid-1960s Belfast Group, using open-source software created by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS).
Belfast Group Poetry Networks (http://belfastgroup.digitalscholarship.emory.edu), which launched last Tuesday, provides an interactive way to explore the poets’ literary and social networks, based on correspondence, shared poems at workshops, and mentions of names and places in poems and throughout their personal papers. The new site builds on and extends the previous Belfast Group webpage, created in 2000 by the Lewis H. Beck Center for Electronic Collections (now part of ECDS), as well as EmoryFindingAids, a repository of collection descriptions for MARBL manuscript collections.
Belfast Group primer
Organized by Philip Hobsbaum, a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, the Belfast Group was a writers’ workshop that met from 1963 until 1972, when it disbanded due to political turmoil in Ireland and the rising literary careers of many of its participants. Members would bring Group sheets – typed copies of their drafts – to the weekly meetings to distribute to fellow Group members for feedback. (Since these are drafts, some of the poems differ from their published versions, adding another layer of interest for researchers.)
Original Group members included Seamus Heaney and Marie Devlin (who later married), Edna Broderick, Bernard MacLaverty, Stewart Parker, James Simmons and Arthur Terry. Heaney and other members took over running the Group when Hobsbaum moved to Glasgow in 1966. Over the years, the Group counted Ciaran Carson, Brendan Kennelly, Michael Longley (who married Edna Broderick), Derek Mahon and Paul Muldoon among its members.
The new website
The project for the Beck Center’s original Belfast Group website began in the mid-1990s, when a small number of poets whose papers are held by MARBL gave permission for their Group sheets to be digitized to create an electronic poetry collection.
The updated site features the Group sheets of poets who gave permission, which include Heaney, Muldoon, Michael Longley, Hobsbaum, Carson, Simmons, and Kennelly. The papers of one poet often contain Group sheets written by other poets.
“In our Muldoon collection, we have Heaney’s Group sheets because Muldoon was there when Heaney read, and in Simmons’ papers, we have Longley’s Group sheets,” says ECDS digital humanities strategist Brian Croxall, who served as deputy project leader and project manager.
Other features of the website include biographies of several Belfast Group members, generated from the MARBL finding aids (if MARBL doesn’t have the poet’s papers, the software will pull in the biography from Wikipedia); network graphs of the authors’ connections to the Belfast Group and to other writers; maps of places connected to people associated with the Belfast Group; and essays about both archival biases and women in the Belfast Group.
The road to networking the Belfast Group
The idea to update the Belfast Group site started with senior software engineer and project lead Rebecca Sutton Koeser, who completed a majority of the software development. She wanted to provide a new way to visualize some of the information found in the finding aids, which list the contents of poets’ papers and archives. Online finding aids are constructed more for humans to read rather than computers, Croxall says, even though there is data embedded.
“There’s so much work that archivists do when they process a collection and describe the material, and they put a lot of that information into the finding aids,” says Koeser. “This is a way to use more of that data.”
Koeser proposed the “Networking the Belfast Group” project to ECDS in 2012, but she first started experimenting with the idea in 2010, when members of her team were given time to explore new technologies and possible projects.
She noticed that four Irish collections held by MARBL have an index of correspondence, and she began harvesting the names to map the connections. “It’s really kind of extraordinary; they have a list, person by person, of what letters are in the collection,” she says. “But I would say maybe fewer than 10 collections in MARBL have this type of index, because it’s so time-intensive for archivists to do.”
The team went through the finding aids, tagging the names of poets, their places of birth and residence, locations mentioned in their poems, and organizations. The software Koeser wrote allowed team members to complete this process more easily, and it also communicates with an international cataloging system that assigns a permanent ID tag to each poet and author. Even abbreviations of names could be tagged, so if Seamus Heaney was referred to as S.H. or SH, those abbreviations could be identified as Heaney – something that is obvious in context to a human, but not obvious to a computer, Koeser says.
Once those tags were in place, Koeser then wrote software that could infer relationships among them from the data in the finding aid, which was then output in RDF, a linked data format.
“For example, Seamus Heaney marries Marie Devlin. She is his spouse, and the software recognizes that relationship,” Croxall says. “We can then essentially start to make a Facebook for these people – that’s one way to think of it.”
Open-source software and open data
The software Koeser developed is open-source and can be used by other archives to show similar connections among their collections. Anne Donlon, a CLIR postdoctoral fellow in MARBL and ECDS, is using the software for preliminary work with MARBL’s African American collections to connect the writers who wrote, owned, or inscribed books to each other, Koeser says.
“It’s a quicker way to find connections among our collections, and it really gives a sense of what the library has and how collections relate to each other,” Croxall says. “That opens up a lot of possibilities for research.”
In addition to Croxall and Koeser, team members included digital text specialist and original Belfast Group website manager Alice Hickcox, digital archivist Elizabeth Russey Roke, and senior software manager Kevin Glover.
The team also plans to publish the data from the site in Emory’s Dataverse Network and on Figshare, for others to use in their research.
Maire Reilly and Maura Mulligan.
By Maura Mulligan
The recent Bergen County Irish festival featured pipe bands, step dancers, food, and a pub area as well as an evening céilí with top musicians Margie Mulvihill, John Reynolds, John Nolan and Dan Gibney. The main stage featured bands “Celtic Cross”, “Nine Mile House,” and “The Narrowbacks.”
With entertainment like that in the same general area as the literature tent, we who presented readings were mightily pleased to have an audience all afternoon. It was a rich reminder that Irish people have a special grá for words.
The literature program had a dramatic start with the Irish Reperatory Theater’s co-founder Ciarán O’ Reilly reciting five poems by Yeats. The talented actor took it all in stride in spite of technical distractions in in the middle of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” By the time Angus started his wandering, the microphone was fully operating and we all breathed a sigh of joyous relief.
Next up was the legendary Carmel Quinn who not only sang beautifully, but also made us laugh when she drew our attention to a passing ambulance announcing that she was alright, that it wasn’t time for her to be taken away yet. Then she belted out “The Gipsy Rover” and the audience joined in the chorus.
Ciarán and Carmel were hard acts to follow. Still, you could tell we managed to keep the momentum going because as soon as someone got up to get a cup of tea, a standee grabbed the vacant seat. Soon extra chairs were added and everyone settled in for an afternoon of stories and poetry in the rain.
Several literature tent presenters paid tribute to the 150th birthday of Yeats and the forthcoming anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Michael O’Malley spoke elegantly about the dreams of Yeats and Pearse and the Éirí Amach na Cásca, or Easter Rising. The scholarly Pat Schuber spoke of the Fenian Movement and how John O’Mahony went to America in 1853 and tried to gain support for another uprising from those who had left Ireland during the Great Hunger.
“Women of the Easter Rebellion” was Hank McNally’s topic, discussing Countess Markievez, and others not so well known or remembered. Mr. McNally reminded his listeners that the last to leave the GPO were members of Cumann na mBan. These included Winnie Carney, Julia Grenan and Elizabeth O’Farrell.
The theme of the Easter Rising and tribute to Yeats continued with the melodic voice of Ryan Cahill singing “The Foggy Dew” and “Down by the Sally Gardens.”
Yeats wasn’t the only poet presented. Séamus Heaney’s beautiful poem, “Sunlight,” was read by Maura Quinn and poetry of Bobby Sands came alive in the voice of Dick Moloney. A living poet, Tim Dwyer shared poems from his own collection: “Smithy Of Our Longings: Poems From The Irish Diaspora.” These included a moving poem inspired by the 2013 drama film “Philomena.”
There was no lack of prose either. Gary Cahill brought Colum McCann’s writing to life when he shared a passage from “Let The Great World Spin,” which won the 2009 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary award. Cahill also read an interesting passage from his own work. “For Richer, for Poorer.”
McCann’s wasn’t the only world spinning at this festival. John Kearns, the emcee at the Irish American Writers & Artists salon shared a scene from his own novel-in-progress “The World.”
In it, Janey Logan sends her young son, Paul, to get a jar of mayonnaise at the local A&P. When Paul returns saying that the single paper bag the cashier had given him had broken in the rain, Janey goes to the store to cause a scene. She walks out with a free jar. “Paul felt his mother could have gotten a whole order of groceries for free if she had wanted to. But she had fought like a lioness for only a jar of mayonnaise.
“And she didn’t even like mayonnaise.”
Speaking of rain, you could say we used it to our advantage in the literature tent. At one point the side of the tent blew down giving us a mighty splash of rainwater. That turned out to be an appropriate, albeit accidental introduction to the seanachai Marianne McShane’s presentation of “Dermot In The Land-Under-Wave.” A great storyteller Marianne brought the audience along with her under the magical wave.
Poetry, prose, history and magic made way for personal accounts when memoir took its place at this feast of words. Joan Comiskey read from her lovely book, “Ballylinn,” about growing up near her grandmother’s pub/grocery in a small rural village in Ireland of the 1930s. Joan’s light-hearted, voice and entertaining manner kept us glued to her words. She shared a passage about a woman who always wore her hat in the house so that whenever someone she didn’t want to entertain came to the door she could simply say, “Oh, I was just on my way out.”
Music enhanced words when the talented fiddler Longford native Marie Reilly played the haunting tune “The Lark in the Clear Air” as an introduction to my own contribution from my memoir, “Call of the Lark.” I was glad the audience liked my scéal about the local Schoolmaster and his wielding cane. It will be an honor to present this and other stories from “Call of the Lark” at the biggest festival of them all – the Flead Cheoil in Sligo on Aug. 13 when Marie Reilly will again join me in an hour-long presentation.
Congratulations to fellow IAW&A member and festival committee organizer Sean Hickey for including the literature tent. Likewise, much credit is due to Marie Morris and her team for their warm introductions and for doing their best to keep the literature tent out of earshot of the music performances.
Maura Mulligan is the author of a memoir, “Call of the Lark.”
Derry’s Bridie Monds-Watson, aka SOAK,
is currently on a United States tour.
By Colleen Taylor
Bridie Monds-Watson never goes anywhere without her notebook. At the young age of 19, Monds-Watson, or SOAK as she’s more commonly known in the artistic world, has traveled all over the world sharing her idiosyncratic music—the fruits of those well-traveled notebooks. SOAK’s creative process is never put on pause. Even when she’s busy touring, she’s always processing, creating, writing. “Now that I’m on the road all the time, I’ll write on my phone and draw and do things like that all the time,” Monds-Watson explained. With such consistent productivity, it’s no surprise that at 19, the young Derry native already has three critically-acclaimed EPs, several single releases, and most recently, the culmination of all her hard work, her first full-length album, “Before We Forgot How to Dream.” The album has already been tagged by many as yet another bullseye for the young artist. Everyone seems to be in agreement: SOAK has done it again. In the following weeks, SOAK will be sharing her album with American audiences as part of her international summer tour.
You might remember SOAK from my previous praise in this column. Her early work in the EPs “Sea Creatures” and “Blud” blew me away with their unique identity, their freshness. From the first time I heard Monds-Watson, she struck me as the antithetical teen star. Her music is subtle, tragic, raw and stylistically exploratory. “Before We Forgot How to Dream” is no exception. It troubles the status quo—topically and musically.
Monds-Watson describes her album like a diary: “It’s a collection of songs I wrote since I was 14,” she said. “When I felt like I needed to talk about something, I’d go into my bedroom and I’d write down everything I was singing, everything I was trying to work out.” It’s fitting then, that SOAK’s vocals are noticeably young in sound, while being paired with sophisticated melodies and beats, not to mention smart, mature lyrics about the hardships of adolescence. The album signifies the apotheosis of three years of careful work while still reflecting that self-identified status of a teenage diary. The 14 tracks are both youthful and wise simultaneously. She sounds like a young girl singing the music of a well-rehearsed artist at the peak of his or her career—which, in a way, describes just what SOAK is.
SOAK is known for her quiet, acoustic songs, but some of my favorites on “Before We Forgot How to Dream” are the ones with a strong beat. “Garden” is likely the most upbeat on the album, and I’d say one of the best too. It shows the other side of SOAK’s theatrical mask, and it suits her. “Reckless Behaviour” is another standout not only for the fact that it’s a great alt-folk song in and of itself but also because it reveals the audible evolution of Monds-Watson’s artistic formation. Her voice reflects growth here, a mix of smoky verses, high notes and beats. But don’t let me misguide you—there’s unavoidable darkness in these songs. For instance, “Reckless Behavior” offers the following haunting metaphor to illustrate the turnover from youth to adulthood: “We are reckless, ready for apocalypse. / We are golden, until the very last falls.” “B a noBody,” the keynote lament of the album, seems to be a fan favorite. It’s vulnerable, ghostly—audible pain and confusion. It’s exquisite, if scary. The song, between its dual, echoy choruses and its high and low notes, encompasses—for listener and singer alike—all the pain we associate with the confusion of teenage trials.
You can’t quite say SOAK is “beyond her years” because she writes so poignantly about her specific point in life. And yet, her musical intelligence would match that of someone three times her age. As “Before We Forgot How To Dream” evinces, SOAK holds a special, if paradoxical, place in the music industry. Behind the mic, Monds-Watson is of, as well as far beyond, her age group.
SOAK is currently busy promoting her transatlantic album release. I spoke with her while she was on the road to her next gig in the UK, and she was—unlike her music—reserved, guarded. Luckily I’ve watched enough interviews with the young singer not to take this personally. After all, to get at the depth of this young woman’s complex artistry, one should turn to the music itself, where she is in her element. Nonetheless, she gave me a bit of insight into SOAK on a day-to-day basis. Monds-Watson loves to keep in touch with her fans via social media. She says it’s a way to “make sure people know you’re there.” Her fans are very important to Monds-Watson, and she makes a point of going out after her gigs to meet everyone. She remembered her previous gigs in the U.S. fondly and found her New York audience to be a friendly one. Any time off she gets (which is little these days), she spends with her family or friends, or, as she told me, “in her room,” her original recording studio.
I think SOAK is rather excited about her American tour, despite her cool and calm exterior. “It’s weird to think your name has gotten all the way to America,” she said. The idea is not so strange for the music critic, however, of which there are many singing her praises across the pond and here in the States as well. No doubt after her North American tour, there will be even more to praise.
SOAK will be hitting both East and West coasts on her tour, and stopping by all the major Eastern cities. She will be in Boston on tomorrow night, Friday, July 10, Philadelphia on the 11th, D.C. on the 12th, and finally, at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC on Tuesday, July 14. Check out “Before We Forgot How to Dream” and get tickets for the tour at: soakmusic.co.uk
Barry Ward as the activist James Gralton in a scene from the
County Leitrim-set “Jimmy’s Hall.” SONY PICTURE CLASSICS
By Karen Butler
Irish actor Barry Ward says the notion of working with Ken Loach was a lifelong dream that ultimately came true when he was cast in the British filmmaker’s latest period drama, “Jimmy’s Hall.”
“Even though I kind of adored him and worshipped him, I had underestimated him. I had undervalued him,” Ward told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. “When I met him then, I thought, ‘Wow!’ I had no idea just how good he is – as both a man and a director.’”
Ward said he was a young teen when a friend introduced him to Loach’s brand of social realism, urging him to watch the auteur’s 1969 picture, “Kes.”
“I never thought movies were made about people like me, so when I saw ‘Kes,’ I was kind of going: ‘Wow! This is incredible that there’s somebody out there, making movies about people I can relate to.’ So, it really opened up a new world to me,” Ward noted.
Inspired by a true story, “Jimmy’s Hall” is about Jimmy Gralton’s return to County Leitrim after the Great Depression ends his decade-long exile in the United States. Gralton was run out of his rural Irish town in the 1920s by the parish priest and politicians who feared his Pearse-Connolly Hall — a community center he opened for those seeking education, entertainment and intellectual discussion – had become a breeding ground for social and political activism. Gralton arrives back home years later with the intention of caring for his elderly mother, working on the family farm and living a quiet life. However, it isn’t long before his neighbors convince him to re-open his hall, a move seen by the local authorities as an open act of rebellion.
“It’s a story of Irish history that was unknown to me, or Ireland at large, so I was thinking, if anyone was going to unearth it and give it a fair hearing, it was Loach and [screenwriter Paul] Laverty,” Ward explained. “I agree with their politics. I think their movies [such as ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ and ‘Bread and Roses’] are always politically sound, though, my main concern wasn’t the politics, to be honest. I wanted to just be sure we were making a good movie and, in that regard, I was absolutely confident from the get-go because of having seen their previous work. There is never a bad performance in a Ken Loach movie, so I really thought, as soon as I got the job, you know, ‘This is a winner.’”
“Jimmy’s Hall,” which is imbued with warmth and humor, addresses Irish politics and history without ever losing sight of the people at the center of its story. Ward said that sense of comradery amongst the characters was evident even as he and his co-stars – including Simone Kirby, Jim Norton and Brian F. O’Byrne – were rehearsing for the film.
“There is a great sense of community and heart and I was aware of that whilst rehearsing because, at that stage, we still hadn’t a script, so I didn’t really know the story or what we were getting in for. But [Loach] creates that working environment, so we were all rehearsing together, dancing together and just hanging out, and it was wonderful because we had all of these kids who had never acted before and they were so enthusiastic about it and just really gave it their all and they kind of looked up to me as an older actor, who had some experience. That dynamic you see in the film, Ken Loach created that behind the scenes, so we were living that every day,” he revealed.
Ward also said Loach hired locals whenever possible and met with numerous actors for the role of Jimmy, trying to quickly determine where they were from and what class they were to see if they were right for the part.
“When I went in to meet him, I knew well that he would be sussing out my working-class credentials, which wasn’t a hard sell because that’s the truth of it,” emphasized the actor, who was born and raised in the Dublin suburb of Blanchardstown. “So, we kind of talked about everything other than acting, really. He asks you about your life and what you do and what your parents do or what they did and their background. And my dad happened to be born in the year that Jimmy Gralton was deported, about 20 miles away, in the same town in the same part in the west of Ireland, so there was that connection to that place and that part of the world, so I was trying to sell him my working-class credentials and my connection to the countryside.”
After a successful run on the film-festival circuit where it earned stellar reviews from critics, “Jimmy’s Hall” is to open in U.S. theaters July 3. It co-stars Andrew Scott, Francis Magee, Aileen Henry, Stella McGirl, Sorcha Fox, Martin Lucey, Mikel Murfi and Shane O’Brien.
Pierce Turner will play at the Harp
Raw Bar & Grill on July 12, 19 and 26.
By Peter McDermott
People don’t associate Pierce Turner with summertime in New York.
“I’m usually in Ireland, anyway,” he said. “That’s been the pattern for quite some time.”’
But he has just returned from touring there and a vacation in Europe, and he’s ready to take the Manhattan stage again at Harp Raw Bar & Grill (Third Avenue, between 45th and 46th Streets) this Sunday evening at 6 p.m., as well as on the 19th and 26th.
Some acts have traditionally steered clear of the summer gig, working under the assumption, Turner said, that “people leave on the weekends.”
The Wexford-born singer-songwriter said: “It’s questionable if that’s the case anymore. The recession is supposed to be over, but people can’t afford to go the Hamptons or Fire Island.”
Turner promises “to brush off some summer classics” for the Harp event. “Summer in the City,” with the venue’s open roof, will be different to the show he staged in April at the Irish Arts Center.
“It will be less theatrical — looser and more spontaneous. More of a fun event, but it’s always fun,” he said.
If some of the songs are deep, the important thing is to send them home smiling, Turner said, “or they won’t come back.”
There will, of course, be storytelling. “[The story] is big part of it. And bigger with time,” he said.
On his website, there’s a clip of Turner telling composer Philip Glass — who produced his first solo album and with whom he’s worked occasionally since – the background to “Yogi With a Broken Heart.”
“Some songwriters don’t like explaining lyrics, but I don’t mind, if it helps,” Turner told the Echo. “And people want to know.”
They certainly do in Ireland. He reported that his recent tour there was “incredibly good,” though one event was rained out.
The singer-songwriter said he turned down some events, preferring quality over quantity. Besides, his fans there seem to be a “bit casual,” preferring to buy tickets very close to the day or just to turn up on the night – and that has its anxiety-inducing aspect.
“If I drive to Mullingar,” Turner said, “will there be anybody there?”
But even if a gig is full and a big success, it being Ireland, there will be always those fans who’ll seek him out afterwards to offer their unvarnished critique.
“They don’t bullshit you,” Turner said with a laugh.
“Summer in the City” with Pierce Turner will take place at the Harp Raw Bar & Grill, 729 Third Ave, on Sunday, July 12, 19 and 26. Doors open at 5 p.m.; show is at 6 p.m. He will also perform at An Beal Bocht Café, 445 West 238th St., in the Bronx, on Saturday, Aug 1 at 7 p.m. For more information, go to: www.pierceturner.com