Friday 14 December 2018

Best Concerts Of 2018

I have, so far, attended 51 gigs in 2018. Here are, in my opinion, the 20 best.

1)    Rachel Baiman & Molly Tuttle – Cleere’s, Kilkenny.
2)    Ry Cooder – National Stadium
3)    Mitski – Tivoli
4)    Jonathan Wilson – Whelan’s
5)    Microdisney – National Concert Hall
6)    Joan As Policewoman – Whelan’s
7)    Ty Segall – Tivoli
8)    Roger Waters – 3 Arena
9)    Josh T Pearson – Whelan’s
10)                   Elvis Costello – Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
11)                   Haim – Olympia
12)                   Chic – RDS
13)                   Wooden Shjips – Whelan’s
14)                   Jim White – Whelan’s
15)                   Johnny Marr – National Stadium
16)                   Moon Duo – Button Factory
17)                   Courtney Marie Andrews – Whelan’s
18)                   Sena Kuti – Sugar Club
19)                   Sillk – Whelan’s
20)                   Low – Vicar Street

Whelan’s is clearly my spiritual home.

Best Albums of 2018

Sitting down to come up with my Top 10 albums of the year this year, I realise with great embarrassment how little new music I’ve heard or bought. Is this stressful and time consuming Life Events (as they are called), or just growing older? Hopefully, only the former. There’s also the matter of means. I’ve spent a lot more of my disposable income (surely one of the greatest oxymorons ever coined) on going to shows (see separate ‘20 Best Gigs of 2018’, coming soon) than I have on purchasing recorded music, due to the need to prioritise in relatively straitened times. Sometimes I wish I worked in a record shop. Maybe one day I will. It’s certainly all changed since my heady days as a Rock Critic, when CDs were falling through the letterbox like leaves from the trees on a windy Autumn day. All I’m trying to say is, I haven’t heard every new release in 2018, so this list is of necessity blinkeredly arbitrary, and must contain glaring omissions I don’t even know about (I’m sure that Alejandro Escovedo’s The Crossing is excellent, but I haven’t heard it, yet.) But here, anyway, and with humble apologies, is the Top 10 I struggled to put together. I am, by way of casual observation, frankly flabbergast that ‘Rare Birds’ by Jonathan Wilson (the best album The Psychedelic Beatles never made) has featured in precisely ZERO end of year Best Of’s I’ve read. Also, as the world by now must know, I’m crazy about Mitski. Here’s to 2019. Peace.
1.) Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds
2.) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
3.) Ry Cooder – The Prodigal Son
4.) Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt
5.) Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin
6.) Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
7.) Wooden Shjips – V.
8.) Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain
9.) Low – Double Negative
10.) Tune-Yards — I can feel you creep into my private life
Bubbling Under:
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage
More Blood, More Tracks – Bob Dylan

Best Films Of 2018

  1) Sicilian Ghost Story
  2) First Reformed
  3) A Fantastic Woman
  4) Loveless
  5) BlacKKKlansman
  6) The Square
  7) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  8)  Sorry To Bother You
  9) On Chisel Beach
10) A Star Is Born
Bubbling Under: Lucky, Columbus, The Post, A Quiet Place

Tuesday 19 June 2018

The Cruelty Men by Emer Martin

Back in the saddle. My review of The Cruelty Men by Emer Martin, in last Saturday's Irish Times.

The Cruelty Men

By Emer Martin
(Lilliput, €16.00 p/b)
From the publication of her first novel, 1995’s Breakfast In Babylon, it was clear that Emer Martin was an original, radical and vital new voice in Irish writing. Paradoxically, this was because she was charting the experiences of a young, international underclass, the disaffected diaspora, alienated out of Ireland as much by the uncongeniality of prevailing social mores as by any economic necessity. Furthermore, unlike other socially conscious chroniclers of Ireland’s ills at the time, such as Dermot Bolger, she was doing it from a largely female perspective. This global, feminist vision has evolved through her subsequent fictions, More Bread Or I’ll Appear (1999), and Baby Zero (2007). With her new book, however, the long-time California resident has come full circle, training her acutely dissecting gaze on her homeland, with an epic family saga of 20th century Ireland.

  This is the story of the O Conaills, transposed in 1935 from their home village of Cill Rialaig on Bolus Head in Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry, to found what would become the Meath Gaeltacht in Ráth Chairn – an initiative by the Land Commission to promote the Irish language. So, leaving pregnant mother Grainne behind, to join the rest of the clan later when she had their latest baby, father Dessie heads off in a pony and trap with their already extensive brood: the then ten-year-old Mary, hard-working and good-hearted, around whom much of the narrative revolves; eldest boy Seamus, hapless and conniving, the source of so much trouble for the others; Bridget, first to leave the nest, for Dublin and then America; sensual, adventurous Maeve, who, after a becoming pregnant while working as a shop girl in Trim, spends the rest of her adult life in, successively, a mother and baby home, a lunatic asylum, and a Magdalen laundry; feral, creative Padraig, who also winds up the victim of unimaginable horrors in the ‘big house’ in Mullingar; and the youngest, Sean, a smart lad Mary puts through school and college, who becomes a Christian Brother, but grows disillusioned with the endemic abuse, until he can no longer live with himself.
  Mary vows to her mother to keep the family together, but after her father returns to Kerry in search of his wife who never arrived, himself never to be heard of again, it proves a task too much for a 15-year-old girl to sustain on her own, and the siblings are scattered, one by one. In fairness, it was a gargantuan undertaking, trying to dodge the Cruelty Men of the title, who neighbouring farmer Patsey tells Mary: ‘…usually are retired guards or teachers and they wear brown shirts…They answer to no one and I’ve heard tell that they take bribes from the local industrial school to get more kids in there and put them to work…If they got their hands on you in one of them schools you’d be a slave for the rest of your childhood. The priests are always looking for more children.’ Later, priest’s housekeeper and Goldenbridge graduate, Elizabeth Quinn,  expands on this: ‘They’re not fecking orphanages, Mary, because the children aren’t poxy orphans… They’re not charities. The government is sending money to them for each child. That’s why the Cruelty Men are scouring the country. They prey on the poor and get more and more children. And they keep the women having more and more babies in their ignorance. Babies that they can’t take care of, and then they feed them into schools that are no more than concentration camps. Sure there are children as slaves all over the land.’
  When Seamus gets the small farm, and marries badly, Mary goes into service with the Lyons, a solid middle-class family in Kilbride. This also provides a rich strand of social observation of Ireland in the ’50s and ’60s. Elder daughter Eileen is discouraged from pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor, and opts for nursing instead, as she had to run the gaunlet of the boys’ school to study honours maths, much to the disapproval of the nuns, who did not provide the subject in the convent. Younger girl Teresa (‘Baby’) is steered towards primary school teacher training, as news of a Cambridge scholarship is kept from her.
  Martin has a William Trevor-like ability to sum up an era with a couple of deft brush strokes, as when Baby recounts of herself and Eileen: ‘We met every Sunday and she took me to the 4 Ps as we called it, the Four Provinces on Harcourt Street. They had afternoon dances. No rock and roll allowed but plenty of Pat Boone and Frank Sinatra.’ - which tells you as much about Dublin in 1964 for young people as you need to know.
  The novel also benefits from a foundation of strong underlying myths, like the Bull of Bhalbhae and the Children of Lir, incorporated mostly through Mary’s storytelling. If there is any criticism of this fine work, it might be that we never find out what became of some central characters. But perhaps such lack of resolution is in keeping with the material, as that is often what happened back then.
  There is a school of thought which holds that such so-called revisionist readings of recent Irish history are merely kicking an already open door open, and with the decline of the power of the church/state nexus, serve no useful purpose. Indeed, they are construed as a literary version of ‘talking down the economy.’ But if we forget, we may repeat, and while it may border on cliché to depict priests and nuns as sadistic, self-serving ghouls, Martin’s text stands as a record of a not too distant time when, far from loving both, they loved neither. Besides which, her sensitive treatment of these thwarted, trammelled, traumatised lives, if often angry, is never heavyhanded or preachy, and should propel an already proven and podigious talent to the forefront of contemporary Irish letters.