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The greatest podcast episode ever?

I have mentioned the podcast Reply All on here before, and I’ve bored many a friend about its brilliance. In short, its my favourite podcast, and the latest episode might just be their best ever. It has all the hallmarks of their great storytelling, with a unique perspective on the oddities of life in the age of the internet, and, best of all, it has a proper little mystery at its core. Rarely have I been so swept along in a story, and I wont spoil it for you, but like all good tales, the ending is terrific. Anyway, have a listen, it will bring you joy. And don’t just take it from me, The Guardian reckons it might be the best podcast episode ever. Like, ever, of all podcasts.

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is always such an important day in our household. My mother worked tirelessly for equality and social justice throughout her short life. She was a product of the Swedish socialist system and believed deeply in fairness and human rights for all, something she imbued everything she did with. I remember her vividly in those formative years living in Waterford being at the heart of campaigning for women’s rights in Ireland, being part of the International Women’s Day celebrations, later joining and being a driving voice on the Council for Status of Women (CSW) and a devoted member of the epic campaign that ultimately saw Mary Robinson elected as Ireland’s first female President. She showed me and my sister that empathy, integrity and equality are fundamental to an inclusive society. In this photo she was merely at the start of her journey, and she burned bright, hard and true in a just a few decades. She was a hero and friend to so many. And to me too. I was lucky to have her as a mother and a role model. Remembering her today and knowing the work she did must continue for a better, fairer society

Hitrecord – Life is a wonderful dream

Love this. Hitrecord.org is such a cool example of creative communities coming together and collaborating in the internet age, simply because everyone on there believes that making beautiful new art together is awesome. So much respect for Joseph Gordon-Levitt for building this online sandbox for artists of every discipline to share and create

Off Camera with HITRECORD | A Collaborative Music Video

The HITRECORD community turned a sweet little guitar riff from Joseph Gordon-Levitt into a full-fledged song (and that song is, dare I say it, a bop). Creative collaboration can turn the smallest wisps of ideas into something much bigger. That's what it's all about 🙌

Posted by hitRECord on Thursday, March 5, 2020

POP

Pop by U2 just turned 23 years old. I remember the day the record came out and how the eclectic set of tracks were equal parts surprising, arresting and inspiring. Achtung Baby and The Joshua Tree were always firm favourites, and still are, but this was such an eye opening, ambitious record that transported me to somewhere utterly magical and new. The band themselves later said it felt unfinished to them, as they were up against a time crunch with their touring deadline, but to me it has everything and has possibly become my favourite of them all (even if many other fans I know don’t hold it in high regard) It took weird turns, wasn’t afraid to fail, had vibrant arresting playful artwork, took lyrical and sonic leaps, and most of all had an authentic musical heart at it’s core that they always have had. Spinning the record tonight and I’m reminded of the magical possibility in all creativity and art. Take big chances. Try new things. Go to new places. And an audience will find you. Sometimes it takes 23 minutes, sometimes 23 years. And even if they don’t, that creative leap can lead to new ideas and avenues that continue to pop (pun intended) and echo long afterwards in ways you can’t imagine.

What I’ve been creatively consuming of late

Have been on a bit of a kick trying out new podcasts and tv shows, as well as revisiting some old faves. Here are some of the best I’ve been watching, listening to, and reading of late.

PODCASTS

  • Conan O’Brien needs a friend: Candid, funny, honest conversations with fascinating artists and comedians. Hosted by one of the most original and brilliant American comic minds. One of my favourite new podcasts
  • Creative Processing with Joseph Gordon Levitt – Really stimulating and cool chats about the creative process with filmmakers, visual artists and more. JGL is a real hero, and I recently returned to his super interesting collaborative artistic website HitRecord.org
  • Reply All Easily the most interesting and engaging podcast around. Likeable, engaging hosts explore the minutiae of the internet, that end up becoming fascinating explorations of what it is like to be a human in the digital age. Funny, interesting, unique.
  • Armchair Expert with Dax Shephard: Simple, honest conversations with artists and scientists. Dax has a very laid back and amiable interviewing style.

TV/FILM

  • Hip-Hop Evolution on Netflix. Brilliantly crafted documentary about the history of hip-hop as told my some of the giants of the genre
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The most insightful and simultaneously funny look at the news and world around us
  • A Touch of Cloth – Genius parodies of crime procedural dramas written by Charlie Brooker, and starring John Hannah

FILM

  • All of the Fast & The Furious films, in a row. Yeah, that’s right! My son asked me, how would you rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. I replied, they are both a 1 and a 10, thats what makes them amazing. These have been so much fun to watch with my brother-in-law David, as we have also come up with a set of awards for each movie “Worst Dialogue”; “Most nonsensical car-related dialogue”, “Worst actor”, “Best preposterous stunt” “Actor who doesnt realise they are in a Fast & Furious movie”
  • Avengers: Endgame Haven’t been that invested in the Marvel series overall, but this was a rolicking, enjoyable closer to the series. Spoiler alert, Beards and Haircuts are part of the story.

BOOKS

  • Ready Player One: Zips along and is a fun read. Could have maybe done with another round of edits, but you forgive it for the pacy, pulpy fun that it is. For kids of the 80s its a treasure trove of fun.

Tiny desk concerts

NPR Tiny Desk Concerts are beautiful, pure slices of musical magic. I’ve loved watching and listening to them for almost a decade. Great music when it is stripped back to its essentials is such a joy to observe, and like any great gig, the curators of the show make it such a comfortable, welcoming place for the artist to share and bring the intimacy we so often don’t get in a large venue. They are higely inspirational for me and always leave me feeling joyous and optimistic. Here are five of many that I adore, for different but equally magical reasons

1. Taylor Swift

This one from Taylor Swift totally sideswiped me. I wasn’t hugely aware of her wider output, but really dug a lot of her songs that I had heard, but I’m all in for Tay Tay after seeing this. Pure pop songwriting perfection. And if you disagree, I simply know that haters gonna hate

2. Wilco

Wilco are one of my favourite bands of all time. My life’s journey has been soundtracked by their albums, and while I have drifted a little further away from their output in recent years, this is such a great snapshot of them at their best — a tight band, inventive melodies and great poetic lyrics.

3. Hozier

Andrew Hozier Byrne aka Hozier is a staggeringly brilliant songwriter and performer. His songs like they come from some other worldly place, and straddle between gospel, blues and pop, and I feel lucky to have shared a stage with him at one point. As an Irishman I am incredibly proud to see him be an artistic ambassador for our little island out there in the world, and he feels very much like the natural successor to the likes of Van Morrison. I hope his career is long and storied for all of our sake’s.

4. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

The incredible hooks and crafted lyrics really shine in this performance, and you can just feel the energy, melancholy and joy throughout. And Same Love still floors me, especially here, it continues to shimmer as one of the all-time great songs. “No freedom till we’re equal, damn right I support it”

5. Lizzo

Lizzo is pure unbridled joy and energy here, and it is a whopper showcase of her immense singing voice more than anything else. Her way with words and the way she hangs on those hooks is such a buzz to witness. Fascinated to see what musical path she follows over the coming years, but on this evidence she is already an all time great, and making us all feel good as hell.

What I’ve been creatively consuming lately…

Here’s my occasional list of things I’m digging on the audio, video and written fronts. Tell me what you’re digging at the moment – would love some recommendations:

MUSIC

TV

  • Succession: Despicable characters in funny, insightful tale of greed and power. Written by the genius Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show)
  • Black Mirror: Much has already been written about this inventive, brilliant dystopian show by Charlie Brooker. It is outstanding. The San Junipero episode ranks alongside any film ever made in my opinion. Finally got around to seeing the USS Callister episode with Jesse Plemons recently. A twisted, weird, inspired story worth a viewing.

FILM

  • Changeland – Really simple but beautiful story of a man who is lost in his life as he travels to Thailand. Written and directed by Seth Green, and stars an adult Macauley Culkin!
  • Cool Runnings: Watched this old classic with the kids. Still a super enjoyable, fun feel-good movie. I miss John Candy.
  • Galaxy Quest: Another one I recently watched with the kids. By Grabthar’s Hammer, this is such a funny, silly film that pokes fun at sci-fi and still has a real heart. I miss Alan Rickman.

HOZIER, FATHER TED AND ME

Many moons ago, when I was gigging more frequently and reciting poems and performing sketches, I was lucky enough to be part of a regular night called the Monthly General Meeting, which was a showcase for the most inventive and willdy wonderful creative minds in Ireland. On one of the particular shows, I was on the bill with soon-to-be global musical phenomenon Hozier, as well as Arthur Mathews, the co-writer of Father Ted (possibly the greatest sitcom ever). I recall the gig itself was in the unusual and interesting surroundings of a newly refurbished Georgian building in Merrion Square (it has since become an office building of some sort) For a while Shane (Diet of Worms) and Nial (delorentos) who ran the night, produced a terrific series of podcasts entitled The Weekly General Meeting focused on creativity, and I featured on the debut episode. Take a listen to the episode and I urge you to listen to the entire back catalogue, every one of them a snapshot of a golden age in Irish creativity, amiably hosted and curated by two great artists.

Listen to the episode here

Extraordinary Love for U2

As a teen I adored U2. I still do. It seemed inconceivable to me that the most popular (and the best) band in the world were from Ireland. They had bravado, creativity that crackled, they were cheeky and funny. And most of all they wrote beautiful song after song. I still remember seeing them live in New York after 9/11 when most other bands cancelled shows, and they stood up and did what they do best and brought a room full of thousands together. Bono was a shaman and a healer that night, wrapping his arms around the world. It was unlike any live experience I have witnessed before or since. When others criticised them or Bono, I defended doubly. I loved their music so much. Like any band they have had their ups and downs, some of their albums wobbled a bit, but there were always the beautiful gems in there that were lyrically mesmerising and with melodies from another planet. The most recent pair of records have really connected with me again, and I had the joy of standing at the very front for their Dublin gigs a couple of years ago when they performed them live. They were having the craic and belting out tunes with pure joy. Four lads from Dublin playing great tunes in their hometown. This clip from The Tonight Show a few years ago came across my radar today and it is one of those lovely snapshots of them at their best – the song is simple and catchy, and starts small and intimate, then Bono, ever the frontman, getting the crowd going, and bringing in The Roots to make a supergroup for the night. I have many bands I adore, but U2 will always be my favourite band. Because they belong to a part of me that always brings me happiness.