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Detective untangles web of ancient history

POSTED ON February 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

STEPHAN-TALTY

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

They say: write what you know. Stephan Talty, though, has written about where he knows in his sixth book, which is his first novel.

In “Black Irish,” Abbie Kearney, a Harvard-educated detective, returns to her hometown of Buffalo where she investigates a series of murders connected to her past. Abbie was adopted by a legendary detective and raised in the County, an Irish-Catholic stronghold that thrives on secrets.

“The setting is inspired by the place I grew up in, South Buffalo, one of the last Irish enclaves in the Northeast,” Talty said. “The County and South Buffalo aren’t the same place, but they have the same DNA.”

One of County’s secrets is a shadowy organization that seems to be behind the killings.  “Abbie has to untangle this web of ancient history even as the killer closes in on his victims,” Talty said.

The author, whose parents Vince and Brigid Talty met in America after they’d emigrated from County Clare, has won the sort of superlatives for his non-fiction work that thriller writers covet — for example: “a ripping yarn,” “a swashbuckling adventure,” “elegantly crafted”  and “more intrigue and excitement as you’d find in a le Carré novel.”

Little wonder, then, that early reviewers of “Black Irish” are demanding more Abbie Kearney books.

The Stephan Talty File

Date of birth: July 2, 1964

Place of Birth: Buffalo, N.Y.

Married: Mariekarl Vilceus-Talty

Children: Asher, 7, and Delphine, 4

Residence: Montclair, N.J.

Published works:  “Mulatto America: At the Crossroads of Black and White Culture: A Social History”; “Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign”; “The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon’s Greatest Army”; “Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama’s Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero”; “Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Double Agent That Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day.”

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I take my kids to school in the morning, then sit down and surf the Internet until 10 a.m. or so. Then guilt begins to build and hopefully I start writing and don’t stop until I finish at least three pages. I tend to rough out a first draft and then go back and revise and revise.There really are no ideal conditions. I love to write in a cafe where there’s a constant murmur and blur of people moving around but no conversation loud enough to actually listen to. Then you’re inhabiting two worlds, the world of the cafe and the life of the novel you’re writing, and you feel like you’re missing nothing.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

The really important thing is that you get better with time, that you slowly become able to do things you weren’t able to do last month or last year. You can feel this happening, but it sometimes takes a long time. I wrote my first novel when I was first out of college and I was working at Doubleday Publishing as an editorial assistant, making $16,000 a year. The book was terrible and my editor basically told me to bury it out in the woods at midnight so no one would know it ever existed. But 25 years later, I started writing “Black Irish” and, having been a journalist and nonfiction writer, I was able to do things I had no clue about before: control the pacing, make characters distinct, write dialogue, etc. If what you’re writing is more alive than what you did last year, don’t give up.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

“The Great Gatsby” is, to me, a perfect novel, so full of pleasures and not a line that’s badly formed. I was obsessed with it and with Fitzgerald as a kid; one of my first pieces of journalism was a feature on his Celtic roots for Irish America magazine. “The Silence of the Lambs” is the best modern thriller, hands down, and Harris is able to give you so many unexpected things that you don’t usually find in suspense novels. And the Travis McGee novels of John D. MaDonald are completely original crime novels and they really ought to be rediscovered. I read them again and again.

What book are you currently reading?

I just finished “The Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkinson, which is a fantastic piece of work. As a writer of narrative nonfiction, you dream of subjects like that – and she did it full justice.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

I recently finished “Wise Men” by Stuart Nadler. The first part is a story about love and money on Cape Cod and it’s mesmerizing. You can really taste the salt-laced air in those pages. The book sort of falls apart toward the end, but Part I is perfect.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

Fitzgerald, as tortured as he was. He just seemed alive in a way that few other people are or were. He could be a terrible human being at times, but that goes with the territory.

What book changed your life?

“Gatsby.” I think it was Borges who said that he took charm to be a kind of genius, and “Gatsby” is the most charming book ever written. It’s pure personality. It made me want to be a writer but also to lead a fuller life.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

I’m not really a fan of wide-open spaces, so it would be a crowded Dublin street corner at rush hour. People to me are infinitely more interesting than landscapes. I lived in Dublin for two years in the late 1980s and even though I nearly starved, I have fond memories of it.

You’re Irish if…

You occasionally feel more at home in a pub than anywhere else.

PHOTO OF STEPHAN TALTY BY KYLE DEAN REINFORD

Hero, villain lines blurred in ‘Broken City’

POSTED ON February 8th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

WAHLBERG

Irish-American actor Mark Wahlberg said he is cautious when adopting dialects for film roles since he has witnessed some excruciating imitations of the colorful Boston accent over the years.

The Dorchester, Mass., native plays a disgraced New York City cop-turned-private detective in the film “Broken City,” in theaters now.

Asked at a recent Manhattan press conference to detail the nuances between a Brooklyn accent and one from Bah-stan, Wahlberg told the inquiring reporter who’d attempted the latter: “That was a bad Boston accent. We’ll let it slide because it wasn’t as bad as half of the people on ‘The Departed.’ We’ll give you that.”

He wondered aloud if that film’s two Massachusetts stars weren’t misleading the others. “What was crazy was Matt Damon and I were sitting there like, ‘We must sound so bad because everybody else either sounded like they were from somewhere else or like they’d been watching JFK videos.”

Noting how New York and Boston accents are “very different,” he explained, with a reference to his 2012 comedy hit: “I try to always do things very subtly. With the Boston accent, for instance, if you’re in ‘Ted,’ you can, obviously, push it a little bit. But I just try to do it very subtly. I think people can go over the top with many different things. And accents being the biggest one that, to me, kind of takes you out of the movie, so I didn’t want to push it too much.”

Directed by Allen Hughes and written by Brian Tucker, “Broken City” is a political thriller set against the backdrop of a contemporary New York City mayoral race. In the film, Wahlberg plays a police detective who loses his badge after killing a man acquitted of murder and rape. Jeffrey Wright plays the police commissioner who wants him fired, but not necessarily put behind bars, while Russell Crowe plays the mayor who hires him as a private investigator seven years later because he suspects his wife, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, is cheating on him in the midst of his re-election campaign. However, the Big Apple’s first couple isn’t what she and he seem to be and as the mystery unfolds, the lines between good and bad, hero and villain are blurred. The movie co-stars Barry Pepper as the mayor’s opponent and Kyle Chandler as his rival’s campaign manager.

“I’ve played New York City police officers on a number of occasions, so I have had time to spend with a lot of cops both in New York and Boston, but the script was so well-written and the characters were so juicy, it was like the writer really did most of the work,” Wahlberg told the Irish Echo at the press conference.  “And being a producer on the film, as well, I was spending a lot more time with Allen and [casting director] Sheila Jaffe casting and getting everything else prepared.  … You want to be particular about details. …

“Allen and I were talking about it a lot that we were making kind of a gangster movie with these characters — whether politics or the police department was the backdrop,” Wahlberg added.

 

“I’ve played New York City police officers on a number of occasions, so I have had time to spend with a lot of cops both in New York and Boston, but the script was so well-written and the characters were so juicy, it was like the writer really did most of the work.”

 

The actor-producer – whose big-screen credits include “The Fighter,” “The Other Guys,” “The Perfect Storm” and “Boogie Nights” – said he enjoyed the freedom that came with making a film such as “Broken City,” which was financed outside the Hollywood studio system.

“Halfway through making the movie [Allen and I] were like: ‘There’s no studio telling us what we can and can’t do. We are literally here making our own movie. Doing what we want to do, how we want to do it.’ And that in itself is a miracle.  And, obviously, doesn’t happen very often,” the Roman Catholic celebrity said of the movie, which is now being distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.

The 41-year-old married father of four children said he has gone through several physical transformations for his career in the past couple of years as he shot “Broken City,” “Pain & Gain,” “Two Guns” and “Lone Survivor” back-to-back.

Wahlberg then recalled how Hughes shamed him into working on his physique before the cameras started rolling in late 2011 on “Broken City.”

“I came into the production meetings and he was like, ‘What happened to you?” Wahlberg remembered. “I was like: ‘What do you mean? Nothing happened to me.’

“He was like: ‘Oh man. You gotta get your sexy on.’  I was like, ‘What?’ He said: ‘You know that slim, sexy look. What happened to that?’

“But I knew I was going to do the Michael Bay movie where I was playing a bodybuilder,” he said, referring to “Pain & Gain.” “So, I just wanted to kind of teeter somewhere in the middle at about 190 before I tried to get up to 210 or 215 pounds.”

“I call it the… sexy man look. His arms, he looked like Mike Tyson at the time,” Hughes, sitting beside Wahlberg, clarified.

“So, what’s wrong with that?” Wahlberg joked back.  “So, I trimmed down to 165 just playing basketball, doing cardio high-impact workouts — stuff like that and then, within the next 10 weeks or so, put on almost 50 pounds. Then I had to lose 35 pounds of it within 30 days of finishing the bodybuilding movie to do ‘Two Guns.’ Then I went to SEAL training after that. … Marcus Luttrell, who I play in the movie, was actually there. So, you couldn’t just say: ‘I’m tired. We can do some tomorrow.’ You had to basically just suck it up and get it done because we were really committed to making those guys proud and telling their story in the right way.”

Since Wahlberg was recently spotted by the media chatting up hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, he was asked if he is working on a revival of his own music career.

“No music in my future,” the performer formerly known as Marky Mark emphasized.  “We do have a bunch of other things that we are working on and [Combs] is actively pursuing an acting career in film and television and we have some other business interests together.  But we’ve been friends for a long time. We started out around the same time.  … We’ve known each other forever, but, no, you won’t see me doing a record any time soon.”

 

 

“Broken City” is in theaters now.

Celtic Cardio stresses fun over technique

POSTED ON February 8th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

celtic-cardio

A wise woman once said: “Find fitness with fun dancing. It makes you forget about the dreaded exercise.” It was Paula Abdul, and if you’re wondering why a quote from an 1980s pop star ended up in a column about Irish music, it’s because Patricia McManus, a young Irish-American woman from New Jersey and currently living in Queens, is heeding Paula’s advice and inviting others along for the ride with Celtic Cardio. With classes offered in Manhattan and Queens, Celtic Cardio is a fitness routine that combines the two best aspects of Irish dancing – burning calories and having fun.

An award-winning Irish step-dancer, McManus spent more than 20 years deeply involved in the world of competitive Irish dance. “I had Irish danced since I was 4, did a lot of competitions, and I was completely in love with it,” said McManus of her feis-filled childhood. But like many Irish Americans raised on step dancing, the demands of adult life caused her to “filter out of the scene” in her early 20s and she missed the demanding workouts that came along with competitive dancing. “I was never as fit in my life as I was when I was dancing,” she said. So with the goal of keeping the exercise component of Irish dance without the time consuming and demanding competitive aspect, Celtic Cardio was born. The class is a 45-minute session that includes stretching, learning dance segments, and raising your heart rate while kicking up your heels to the sounds of Irish jigs and reels. While some Celtic Cardio students are “retired” competitive step dancers looking for a gateway back into the activity that they loved in their adolescent years, others join the class for an introduction to Irish dancing. McManus stresses that you don’t need a dance background to drop in on her class, “I don’t correct technique, we’re just there to have fun and work out. You don’t have to be Irish to try it either” she said with a smile in her voice. Celtic Cardio classes are offered at the Sunnyside Ballet Studio in Queens and Ripley Grier Studios in Manhattan. (For details and a full class schedule visit celticcardio.com.)

When she’s not teaching Celtic Cardio classes, Patricia McManus spends her time teaching Irish step dancing to children and lends her talents to various New York City based Irish dance companies and bands. So next time you see her on stage and admire her strength and stamina, remember that you don’t have to be a pro to soak up all of the psychical, social, and emotional benefits of a good Irish dance!

 

Here are my picks for some of the best Irish sounds around town this week: Foy Vance at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC on 1/30, the Sandy Seisiun concert series featuring Mary Courtney & Morning Star, Larry Kirwan, and more at An Beal Bocht Cafe in the Bronx on 2/1, and The Narrowbacks Super Bowl Party at Rory Dolan’s in Yonkers on 2/3.

Should I stay or should I go?

POSTED ON February 8th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Yvonne_Cassidy

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

The protagonist in Yvonne Cassidy’s second novel “What Might Have Been Me” has a decision to make that is a familiar one to young immigrants – and a particularly difficult one if the person is illegal: whether to commit long term to their country of residence.

After 11 years, however, Carla Matthews is brought abruptly to that crossroads with the news that her mother back in Dublin has been diagnosed with Altzheimer’s disease. Carla herself tells the story of how she came to New York for a summer job, but fell in love with Eddie, a musician, and the city itself, and opted not to return home to college. “A decade later though,” Cassidy said, “Carla’s life is not where it’s supposed to be.” They haven’t moved on much: he’s still in the band and she’s still waiting tables. Eddie is willing to marry her to aid her legalization, but the relationship is hardly ideal.

What-Might-Have-Been-Me

“What Might Have Been Me” is something of a change of pace for Cassidy, whose debut novel, “The Other Boy,” was a thriller. Both won praise from the critics. The second novel offers insights into family dynamics, the Sunday Times says, “the different reactions to loss, the fear and guilt, the problems with communication. Cassidy’s vivid and authoritative depiction of Alzheimer’s confronts clichés and misinformation about the disease that still abound.”

Cassidy writes in her acknowledgements: “I dedicated this novel in part to my grandmother, Sarah Bowe, who passed away in 2001 after a long battle with Altzheimer’s. It was a disease that seemed to be shrouded in silence, and I knew that I wanted to write about it, to incorporate it somehow in the story of one of my characters.”

In the fall of 2011, the novelist began “dismantling” (as she describes the packing of boxes)  her life in Dublin to make a commitment to New York. That commitment involves helping some of the most city’s most disadvantaged. She works part time for Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, the emergency feeding program. “I teach creative writing to homeless people,” Cassidy said. “Seeing their dedication to their writing and how much it means to them to have their voices heard is truly inspirational.”

For more information about “What Might Have Been Me” and its author go to www.yvonnecassidy.com.

The Yvonne Cassidy File

Date of birth: May 2, 1974

Place of birth: Dublin,

Partner: Danielle Mazzeo

Residence: Upper West Side, Manhattan.

Published works: “The Other Boy”(2010) and “What Might Have Been Me.”

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

My ideal writing day starts outside – walking or running in the park gives me time to reflect on my characters and what scene I want to write that day. Although I have a writing desk in my apartment, I rarely write there – I usually go to the library on 42nd Street or even Starbucks. While some writers need absolute silence, I find the energy of other people feeds my work.

Since I’ve been published, I’ve had to let go of my ideal writing conditions and write whenever I find the time – which sometimes means jotting down lines of dialogue while I’m on the subway.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Remember to have fun with your writing – loosen the reins a bit, silence the voice that tells you “it’s not good enough.” Drop the “shoulds” and write what feels right for you. Let your work take the shape it’s going to take. This will help you to find your own voice, which is the most important thing for any writer.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

“The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole” by Sue Townsend; “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt; “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.

 What book are you currently reading?

“The Blackwater Lightship” by Colm Toibin.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

“Room” by Emma Donoghue. I didn’t expect to be so gripped by the characters and to, literally, not be able to put it down at certain points.

 If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

Raymond Carver. I’d love to sit down and chat with him over a coffee about his writing and his life. He was published late and in one of his essays he talks about having had “two lives,” which is something I relate to.

What book changed your life?

I’d have to say “The Catcher in the Rye” because reading it as a teenager was the first time I realised that novels could be written like that – as a conversation between the author and the reader, rather than being so formal and distant. That was the first time I remember thinking that one day maybe I, too, could write a novel.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

The West Coast. Donegal is my favorite county – I love the beaches and the rugged coastline.

 For more information about “What Might Have Been Me” and its author go to www.yvonnecassidy.com.

 

 

 

Moloney’s latest was 10 years in pipeline

POSTED ON January 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Aedin_Moloney

By Orla O’Sullivan

letters@irishecho.com

Aedín Moloney, who wonders why she always gets cast as “tough” women, ends an interview recounting how she ran off two men attempting to break into her apartment during Hurricane Sandy – all the slight 5’1″ of her. This while her boyfriend was in the bathroom, disturbed by Moloney arising during the night to investigate noise she heard from the fire escape.

“I’m really a big softie,” said the self-described “character actor” and founder of Fallen Angel Theatre Company.

Moloney gets to show both facets in Fallen Angel’s latest and arguably highest profile play, “Airswimming”— the first co-produced with the Irish Repertory Theatre.

The play by British playwright Charlotte Jones falls within Fallen  Angel’s remit of showcasing works by Irish and British women.

More than that, it is particularly appropriate for Fallen Angel in that it is about the institutions for “fallen” women where, for much of the last century, women who had children without being married were locked away for life.

Ten years in the offing, the play helps to mark Fallen Angels 10th anniversary and the 25th anniversary of The Rep. Director John Keating-a close friend of Moloney’s since they worked together on her first play in New York, “Barry And Ger,” at the Irish Arts Center in 1998-suggested “Airswimming” to Moloney in 2003.

Various delays ensued, she said, not least finding just the right actor to play opposite her. “In a two-hander, the actors are very important.”

When she encountered Rachel Pickup (Agnes) in the Rep’s 2011 revival of “Dancing At Lughnasa,” Moloney knew she had found her other half.

Moloney’s Lughnasa role as Rose gave her the “sweeter, softer” type of character she’d love to play more of, she said. Crediting Charlotte Moore Rep co-founder and director of that play, Moloney said, “She always sees the range.”

It’s a “great honor” to have people of the caliber of Moore and the Rep.’s other co-founder, Ciarán O’Reilly collaborate with her company, she added.

Fundraising is a big part of Moloney’s job in Fallen Angel. So how does a “primarily shy” person raise the funds to produce a play? “You beg!” she answered.

To date, Fallen Angel has managed to produce one play a year, but Moloney hopes to double that, perhaps starting this year, with a show during the Holidays.

Meanwhile, in April, Moloney plans to release a recording of her signature Molly Bloom soliloquy, which she regularly performs in New York during Bloomsday celebrations.

It will feature music by her father, Paddy Moloney, founder of the Chieftains. (The daughter bears a resemblance to the traditional music giant and both exude the same warmth.)

Collaboration is very much part of Moloney’s M.O. Despite its focus on Irish and British plays, 60 percent of its audience is Hispanic and African American, in part because of Fallen Angel’s work with community groups that tackle the kinds of issues raised in the plays-such as female incarceration in “Cell,” its 2009 production of Paula Meehan’s play. But the Molly Bloom recording was the first time Moloney worked with her dad. And how old is he now? “Early seventies? He’ll kill me if I get it wrong!” she replied with a laugh. (The great musician is 74.)

Mistakes she does not take lightly. She comes to our meeting during previews, too sick with nerves to eat. “I don’t want to mess up,” she said, “especially for my fellow actors.”

Talbot’s ‘Angels’ is very special album

POSTED ON January 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Heidi-Talbot

Sounds Around / By Liz Noonan

I’m so lost in Heidi Talbot’s new album “Angels Without Wings” that I can hardly snap out of my delectable musical cloud to write about it!  Her voice is sweet and tender as ever, her lyrics, breathtaking and romantic – it’s music to daydream to.

As I listen to the beautiful new material from the Kildare-born folk singer/ songwriter my mind drifts back about 11 years to the time when I heard her first self-titled album and was swept away by her voice. Shortly after discovering her music I wandered into a local pub in Yonkers on a quiet weeknight and found her there bewitching a handful of captivated bar dwellers.

So much has changed for Talbot since then. She joined the well-loved all-female Irish traditional group Cherish the Ladies in 2002. She toured the world and recorded two albums with them while simultaneously working on her 2004 solo album, “Distant Future.” After leaving Cherish the Ladies in 2007, Talbot went on to record two more solo albums, “The Last Star” in 2010, and “Angels Without Wings,” due out Jan. 29 on Compass records.

In a recent conversation with Talbot, she spoke about her diverse musical influences, from Joni Mitchell to Shane MacGowan, the Fureys and Belle and Sebastian. But her biggest influences in the composition and recording of songs for her latest project were the long list of musicians and songwriters that lent their talents to make “Angels Without Wings” a very special album. “The idea was to write an album of modern day folk songs with input from a lot of different people”, she said. The album features collaborations her band mates, John McCusker and Boo Hewerdine, as well as Mark Knopfler, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien and many more. The relationships between band members and special guests were a major ingredient in the final product. Talbot spoke about her desire to make the album sound as live as possible. “It was more about capturing a performance than having it sonically perfect. We wanted to make it feel like a band playing together, feeding off each other. We are all friends and everyone had input.”

Although Talbot is relatively new to the craft of songwriting, and admits that it doesn’t always come easy to her, my favorite track on the album is her original composition “I’m Not Sorry,” a song that only took her 20 minutes to write.  Other highlights include the title track which features a Parisian influence with lovely accordion solos from Phil Cunningham, and “New Cajun Waltz,” a song that paints a very pretty picture of two lovers dancing under the stars. As for Heidi Talbot, her favorite track on the album is the playful song “Will I Ever Get To Sleep.” It’s a song that her 2-year-old daughter likes to listen to on repeat. Now there’s a kid with good taste in music!

Mark your calendars for Jan. 29, the day you can add “Angels without wings” to your collection.

Here are my picks for some of the best Irish music around town this week:  Mary Courtney at Christ Congregation Church in Princeton, NJ on 1/18, Jameson’s Revenge at Ulysses in NYC on 1/19, and Bangers and Mash at Good Friends in Mastic Beach, Long Island on 1/19.

 

Molloy to celebrate St.Brigid’s Day

POSTED ON January 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Jerry-Kelly

 

Saturday, Feb. 2, from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., the Irish Language & Gaelic Culture classes of the Irish Studies Institute at Molloy College will celebrate the ancient Celtic feast of St. Brigid with song, story, and poetry in Irish. The event will take place at the Wilbur Arts Building on the north side of the college’s campus in Rockville Centre, L.I.

Admission is free and refreshments will be served.  Anyone interested in taking part with a song, short tale, or poem in Irish, should email Jerry Kelly at jerrykelly@att.net or call him at 516-804-2968 (evenings).

Meanwhile, the Irish Studies Institute has announced the expansion of its certificate program in Irish Language & Gaelic Culture for adults and children, which is taught by Kelly.  For more information contact Cathy Muscente by calling 516-678-5000 ext. 6218 or emailing cmuscente@molloy.edu.

Crumb, essays celebrate Conlon’s virtuosity

POSTED ON January 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

CD-cover

Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely

The melodeon seems to be having something of a resurgence.  Back in December I wrote about the Tin Sandwich Band’s lovely new album “By Hook Or By Crook” which features Danú’s Benny McCarthy on the instrument, and now I have in hand “The Genius of Peter Conlon,” a collection of recordings issued on 78 RPM between 1917 and 1929.  Produced by Emmett Gill and Gerry Clarke, it is an outstanding offering.

Peter (or more commonly, P.J.) Conlon is a name that will be familiar to Irish music historians as not only an important early melodeon player, but also as one of the earliest Irish-born musicians to record (the only two to predate Conlon were the duo Eddie Herborn and James Wheeler).  Until now, those interested in Conlon’s work were generally collecting it on record, but this collection brings together everything available in one place, and in so doing fills major gaps about his life and music.

The first thing one notices about this set is the cover, which features an illustration by the great (and reclusive) artist R. Crumb of Conlon playing.  It’s a bold choice because the producers could just as easily have used the brilliant and rare photo of Conlon they ultimately reserved for the cover of the set’s booklet. Instead, however, they used the stylistically distinct Crumb image, and in doing so gave the set both a special look that ties it to a greater tradition of record collectors and collecting.  (Crumb is a well-known 78 RPM record collector and old time musical themes feature prominently in his work.)

The set includes a lavish 44-page, full-color booklet comprising several sections.  The first, a deftly researched biographical sketch, comes from Alan Morrisroe; Emmett Gill (about whose brilliant album with Jesse Smith, “The Rookery,” I happened to write in December) wrote the second, a brief descriptive essay about the recordings; while the third, an essay called the “Accordion in Irish Music During the 78 RPM Era” was provided by Charlie Harris.  The booklet also includes several tributes to Conlon’s playing from notable musicians, two transcriptions of Conlon’s tunes, label scans and a complete discography of Conlon’s work.

As one might expect, the music itself is outstanding.  One can hear Conlon’s virtuosity shine, for example, on “Paddy on the Turnpike” and the “Broken Pledge.”  However, tracks like the “College Grove / …”, “Phil the Fluters Ball” (with singer Shaun O’Farrell),  the “Banks of Newfoundland (with banjoist Walter Lally) and the “Tap Room / …” (with fiddler James Morrison) are all brilliant.  The digital transfers are well handled and are generally clear.  With few exceptions, the source material was in good, playable shape and helped contribute to this fine presentation.

The set’s presentation of a comprehensive booklet in a plastic DVD-style case is reminiscent of Viva Voce’s lovely 2003 collection of John Feeney’s recordings, “When It’s Moonlight in Mayo,” Gael Linn’s wonderful 2004 set “Seoltaí Séidte/Setting Sail” of recordings that label issued on 78 RPM between 1957-1961, and Gael Linn’s 2011 re-reissue of their absolutely essential Michael Coleman collection, “1891-1945.”  This is the way archival collections should be released.

This is the fourth of Oldtime Records’s reissue projects.  The first two, “Vol. 1. U.S. Recordings” and “Vol. 2. U.S. Recordings” include several great tracks by major artists of the period, while the third, “Vol. 3. Piping Rarities,” is a collection of early piping recordings.  Although I regrettably don’t possess these discs, each of them appears fabulously curated; if this P.J. Conlon set is any indication of prior success, then these earlier releases are of a similarly high quality.

Ultimately, this an outstanding and loving tribute to one of Irish music’s earliest leaders and to an instrument that is currently under appreciated. Although this set probably isn’t for the casual listener whose sensibilities aren’t accustomed to the comparatively low fidelity of acoustic era recordings issued during the 78 RPM era, it is an absolute must have for any lister or institution with an interest in traditional Irish music’s history.

To learn more about the P.J. Conlon set, visit oldtimerecords.com.

Nazis find asylum isn’t good for health

POSTED ON January 18th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Stuart-Neville-[Philip-O'Neill]

Page Turner /By Peter McDermott

In the 1963-set novel “Ratlines,” Irish Minister of Justice Charles J. Haughey has a mission for Lieut. Albert Ryan of the Directorate of Intelligence. Three former Nazis who were given asylum in Ireland have turned up dead. On the last of the bodies there’s a note addressed to Col. Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favorite commando who now has an estate in County Kildare. It says: “We are coming for you.” President John F. Kennedy is about to make a visit to Ireland on a trip that also takes in Berlin, and Haughey wants it all out of the way before then.  “Ryan, a World War II vet, has very mixed feelings about the investigation,” Neville said, “To say the least.”

“Ratlines” is the follow up to the much-praised Belfast Trilogy, comprising “The Ghosts of Belfast,” “Collusion” and “Stolen Souls.”

The Dubliner John Connolly, perhaps the best known of the Irish Noir novelists, has said: “‘The Ghosts of Belfast’ isn’t just an extraordinary debut novel, it’s an extraordinary novel.” Indeed, it won the 2009 L.A. Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category, as well as the Spinetingler Award for Best First Novel, and was a New York Times Notable Book in 2009.

Joseph Long, a graduate of NYU’s Master program in Irish and Irish-American studies, has been fan of Neville’s work from the beginning. He described “Ghosts” as “stunning, the proverbial page turner.”

He added: “This guy is a special talent. In his short career, he has taken chances and makes those of us who love Irish crime fiction relish in knowing he is force to reckon with.

“Stuart brings a voice from the North and augments Connolly’s writing from the South. They are the anchors that, I believe, will finally give Irish crime fiction the recognition that it deserves,” said Long, who helped organize the “Down These Green Streets” seminar at Glucksman Ireland House in the fall of 2011.

“With ‘Ratlines,’ Neville continues on his path of investigating aspects of Irish history under the veil of crime fiction. In turn, he makes his readers want more,” Long said. “Look at the amount of work that has been published in the last six months. Without doubt, Stuart’s success has influenced other writers as John has before him.”

Stuart Neville

Date of birth: Jan. 25, 1972

Place of birth: Armagh

Spouse: Johanne

Children: One daughter, Issy

Residence: Armagh

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I try to stick to a normal working day, but it isn’t always easy.  Most of “Ratlines” was written in the study room of my local library after my daughter was born; it was the only place I could get the necessary peace and quiet.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A common mistake is to invest everything in the first novel you write without moving on. As soon as you’ve finished writing one novel, rewritten it several times, and made sure it’s as good as it can be, start writing another. Too many people keep flogging that one book without exploring other stories. In reality, many, if not most, published authors write several books before they come up with something that can sell. My debut was actually the third novel I’d written; the previous two will never see the light of day.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

“American Tabloid” by James Ellroy for its complexity, and its blend of historical fact and fiction. “Marathon Man” by William Goldman because it’s just about the perfect thriller. “Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris because it’s the best serial killer novel ever written. That list could change on any given day.

What book are you currently reading?

My UK publisher just reissued all of Fleming’s James Bond novels, and they very kindly sent me a bunch of them. I’m reading “Live and Let Die” right now, and I’m enjoying it despite the horrendous racism and misogyny. It’s very much a book of its time.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

I wish I had the talent to write something as layered and huge in scope as “Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe. He weaves so many threads over so many pages, it’s dizzying.

Name a book you were pleasantly surprised by.

“JFK in Ireland” by Ryan Tubridy. I bought it initially for research purposes, but found it a very enjoyable and accessible glimpse into Ireland of the early 60s.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

I’ve been very lucky to meet so many of the authors I admire, like James Ellroy and John Connolly. I’d like to meet William Goldman; I admire him both as a novelist and as a screenwriter.

What book changed your life?

“On Writing” by Stephen King gave me a lot of help when I was starting out as a writer, in terms of how to approach it as a craft. I can’t recommend that book enough to aspiring writers.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

I’ve always been fond of the north coast of Antrim. It features a lot in “Game of Thrones.” The family of a childhood friend of mine had a cottage in the little fishing village of Cushendun that overlooked the bay, and we used to go there for weekends. You can see Scotland from the window on a clear day.

You’re Irish if . . .

You like cheese’n’onion crisps with your beer.

Ill-matched cellmates find ways to cope

POSTED ON January 16th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Airswimming

Theatre / By Orla O’Sullivan

“Airswimming” * Written by Charlotte Jones * Directed by John Keating * Starring Aedín Moloney and Rachel Pickup * The Fallen Angel Company at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St., NYC * Playing Wednesdays through Sundays, extended through Feb. 17 * Contact: 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org.

How is it possible not to be submerged by the most depressing life circumstances? asks “Airswimming,” which opened at the Irish Repertory Theatre on Sunday.

“Mummy said you must never say never,” chirps Persephone (Rachel Pickup) one of the play’s two characters, adding plaintively, “but you can imagine never in here. I’ll never dance again—the weight of it all kills me!”

“Here” is a mental asylum and Persephone and her cellmate, Dora (Aedín Moloney) find themselves there because they had children outside of wedlock in 1920s England.

This was the era of the Magdalene laundries, state-sanctioned, clergy-run workhouses for “fallen women,” previously fictionalized in an Irish context in the play “Eclipsed” and the 2002 film “The Magdalene Sisters”.

“Airswimming” focuses on the coping mechanisms two completely opposite types of women use to rise up when dragged down to the emotional deep.

One is swimming. Since they never leave their cell—at least within the 75-minute confines of the play—this is all mime, or airswimming. And it is synchronized swimming, now that this odd couple has acclimated to each other after years of close confinement. The play was inspired by a true story.
 
Dora is a repressed, dry-witted, intelligent lesbian, probably lower middle class. Persephone is a flighty, upper-crust beautiful blonde with wit to match the stereotype. Her heroine later on is Doris Day; Dora’s is Joan of Arc, together with a whole succession of women who went into battle.

One wonders how Dora wound up conceiving,  though incest is mentioned in the play. Persephone’s story parallels her namesake from Greek mythology, who was taken by Hades, God of the underworld. Her father had her locked away after she was impregnated by one of his friends, a man 30 years this ingénue’s senior.

The play opens with Persephone’s arrival to the asylum in 1924. She condescends to the inmate she finds, repeatedly distinguishing between herself and Dora and emphasizing that she is merely passing through. It ends in 1972, by which time she is inseparable from Dora.

The scenes move very well back and forward in time to show Persephone’s transformation from denial to resignation and assimilation.

Crucially, she and Dora indulge each other’s fantasies, the coping mechanisms that keep them almost sane.

In a beautiful scene, Persephone imagines herself at a ball, “I’m in a full-length shimmering gown, hair-up, a handheld, diamante cigarette holder…  ” Dora, stumped, cannot go there. Persephone enters her world. “Oh, come on Dora! What regiment?”

Both actresses are very credible characters and the isolation of their world—or partially overlapping Venn-diagram worlds—is palpable.

Kortney Barber’s sound design adds the evocative touch of regularly played footsteps echoing on hard surfaces, footsteps that won’t stop at this cell, and instantly echo familiar prison or courthouse scenes.

What feels less solid is the broader context. How are the inmates so au fait with the outside world when no engagement is suggested?

Playwright Charlotte Jones seems not to have quite the ear for period-piece language that, say, fellow Briton Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” fame has. Speech patterns in “Airswimming,” her first play, feel at times too contemporary for the 1920s. Dora uses modern-sounding slang (for example, “carpet muncher”) well before the 1970s and Persephone talks quite early on of the Doris Day Pet Foundation, which wasn’t established until six years after the play is supposed to end.

Still, “Airswimming” is a quirky, moving, funny and provocative play. And it has lovely singing. Persephone’s convincing Doris Day impersonations that grate on Dora are both soothing and sinister, as the lyrics successively speak the unspeakable, from “Que Sera, Sera” on to “Once, I Had a Secret Love.”

 

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