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OUR CUP WILL BE FULL AGAIN

A few weeks ago, my friend Gary Dunne, who curates an incredible artistic slate for the London Irish Centre asked me to contribute a poem to their online season. Gary and the staff of the LIC do incredible work for the Irish community in London and they have been very good to me down the years – they hosted the London premiere of Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About, and I have also showcased sketches with The Brownbread Players there too. It’s always a warm, giving audience that finds a connection through a shared tribe in a generous welcoming environment. So I was honoured to be asked, and frankly, I was happy to have a creative project to focus on in the rare moments I had to myself during this uncertain time.

The theme was HOPE which really spoke to me, and the image of a paper cup delicately dancing on a wave is one that has been with me for decades, but never found a proper home in a piece of writing. As soon as I sat down to write the poem I knew that this was where it had been drifting towards all along. It came together relatively quickly (thank goodness because time is a rare commodity these days) and it allowed me to marry it to a piece of music I wrote many moons ago that had also never found a creative home (unsurprisingly, the music was also written around the same time the image of the cup first washed into my brain). I also knew that the focus should be on the words but have a strong simple visual to guide it, so I went down to the sea by my home to film the waves but they just weren’t right. I resigned myself to using what I had and then serendipitously my friend Jim posted a short video that day on Facebook of the Irish Sea, that connects this island of Ireland to the UK, and I simply knew that it was the perfect accompaniment. Jim graciously allowed me to use it, and I lent my rudimentary video editing skills to piece it together. The end result feels ever so slightly imperfect but absolutely right, and I am immensely proud of it.

I hope it resonates with all of you, and I would be grateful if you shared it onwards with anyone in need of a message of hope right now.

Solas Creation #1

As part of our new Solas Season, we are commissioning Irish artists to respond to a theme. In Solas Creation #1, poet Kalle Ryan responds to 'hope'.

Posted by London Irish Centre on Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A new poem & film coming this week

Delighted to announce that I have written a new poem in response to these remarkable times we find ourselves in (and created an accompanying little film to go with it). It will debut later this week as part of the London Irish Centre’s new curated series entitled SOLAS. Stand by…

Extraordinary Normal People

Just finished the incredible tv show Normal People. It manages the rare feat of being as good as the superb source material of the book, while still being its own beautiful work of art. Incredible central performances by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, beautifully filmed and directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie McDonald, and impeccable nuanced writing. It’s unlike anything I have seen before and, to me, it is an absolute masterpiece and will stick with me for a very long time. Available on Hulu, BBC and RTE for anyone who wishes to see it.

The Sentence (a poem)

To mark #WorldPoetryDay, I accepted Colm Keegan‘ s challenge to read/recite a poem. Extra widescreen, and extra-hidden text off camera (my memory is not what it used to be), this is my most poem-y poem and feels strangely apt for the times we find ourselves in. This is called “the sentence”

A playlist of great music videos by great Irish artists

betamax

The art of music video making is alive and well in Ireland. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is a selection of some exceptional videos to accompany some remarkable songs by Irish artists. Hit play and be spirited away by their brilliance.

DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL JUDGING

For the past two weeks I have had the absolute pleasure and honour of being a judge for the Dublin Fringe Festival awards. Having written and performed two previous award-nominated Fringe shows (which I have spoke about on this website previously) and a longstanding fan of Irish theatre, I was super excited to see the festival from this angle.

The experience of engaging with so much great art (and some less than great art) over a two week period, and to truly immerse yourself in a festival and the curatorial vision, was a genuinely humbling, inspiring and inimitable experience. Also got to see the supportive, thoughtful, engaging team at Fringe Festival itself who really cared deeply about every single show, and saw it as their duty to make the experience as good as possible for audience and artists alike.

It was a really interesting group of 14 judges (including me) from really varied backgrounds like journalism, theatre, architecture, opera and more besides. (You can see the list of judges here) I knew a few of them cursorily beforehand but not well. They were a cool bunch of people across the board, and we all were soon neck-deep in a WhatsApp group firing tips about the best shows, horse trading tickets, and generally sharing what shows were clicking with us (and which ones weren’t)

It was a huge programme of 100+ shows, so I couldnt possibly have gone to everything. The way it worked was that every show required a minimum of 3 Fringe judges to see it , so the festival doled out 3 complimentary tickets to each show. My inner child leapt with joy when I learned that the codename for picking up the judge’s ticket at the box office was Marty McFly.

Over the fortnight of the festival I was lucky enough to see over 20 shows, from the genres of dance, comedy, theatre, acrobatics and others that defy categorisation. What I saw was a really varied, vibrant, eclectic mix of artists – a bit hit and miss at times, but overall I saw new ideas, and creative people trying to do something new. I also saw a few chancers who were trying to wedge their semi-finished show into the Fringe, which happens every year, and thats the luck of the draw.

The festival closed on the Sunday, culminating in the awards ceremony, which we were tasked with defining the nominees and winners for. So we gathered late Saturday afternoon upstairs in Fringe Lab in Temple Bar. And we started the process of sifting through the different categories, and starting to blurt out our nominees and nods for various shows that we had seen. Our chair of the judging panel, Meg, calmly and carefully captured these on slips of paper and affixed them to the mirror on the wall behind her. It soon became a collage of posters, flyers, post-its and papers scrawled with names of shows and actors. We then began to go systematically through each category, as we attemoted whittle down our blurted responses into something approaching longlists for each category. Then into shortlists. Then the final nominees. And a winner. Then on to the next category and through the same cycle again.

It was a fascinating process. Afternoon dragged on into evening. Pizzas arrived, and were consumed. On we debated, shuffled, made impassioned pleas for our favourites. I felt I had to make concessions on some categories like design for example, because I didnt know enough about it, and I actually hadn’t seen enough shows with good design to merit a nominations, so I had to blindly trust the other experts in the room and the shows they had put forward.

Evening dragged into night. A few shows were clearly coming up again and again, and it was clear they were going to be awarded something. The big categories like best show and best performer brought out spirited debate but were actually easier to pick than some of the other ones, as they seemed pretty clear to the majority of the group. It was interesting that for some categories it wasnt up to us, like the Writing award, which was judged by Fishamble – which made sense given that the prize of mentorship was awarded by them. Then there was the quirky, fun, catch-all category of Spirit of The Fringe for shows & events that defied categorisation, and it meant that something super out-there and Fringey could get recognised for the sheer brilliance and gumption of what they were setting out to do. All in all we picked nominees and winners of 12 different awards and I can happily say I would stand over all of them, even the ones I didnt get to see (because I trusted the impassioned and thoughtful cases made for these shows by the other judges). And the judging process made you long for Marty McFly capabilities to bend the space-time continuum to go back and see some of the shows that the others raved about, but you simply didnt have time to catch.

For what it’s worth my two favourite shows were very different, but equally brilliant pieces of writing – Oneday by Dick Walsh & James Moran, and For Saoirse by Colm Keegan. Oneday was a unique, inventive show that saw an actor, a drummer and one of the writers enact (and reenact) several news stories and tales from a single day – March 12 2012. There was hypnotic movement, highly comedic wordplay, breaking the 4th wall, and a whole host of other things too difficult to try to describe – but brought such a clever focus on the disposability of news cycles, and the way in which perception and bias come in such different forms depending on who is telling the story. I thought it was an absolute masterpiece of madness ( I know some of the other judges didnt dig it as much) and was unlike anything else I have ever seen. For Saoirse was a poetic one man show by Colm Keegan that had big mad bursts of magic realism, and swept through masculinity and history ( and what James Connolly’s ghost could do for you if you ever got your motorbike clamped). It was a gorgeous piece delivered simply and brilliantly.

Anyway, back to the actual judging itself. We locked down our official nominations and winners late into Saturday night. The Fringe team posted the nominees up on their website, and we went for a celebratory pint, and readied ourselves to reconvene the following evening to hand out the awards.

The awards ceremony was a rowdy, fun affair as you’d expect from the Fringe. Lots of bodies wedged into the back of a pub, craning their heads to hear if their name was called out as a winner. There were oohs and aahs, and the feeling was festive. For many new artists, the mere act of being nominated can be a huge boost to getting the show restaged (I know this to be true of my own shows) and for others it is a chance to share in a celebratory moment with the theatre community. The full list of winners can be found here

I was honoured to be asked to do it. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I loved the experience from end to end. It even sparked an idea for a show of my own. Maybe I’ll submit it to next year’s Fringe.

All Together Now festival

If any of you Ireland-based folks are heading to the All Together Now festival this weekend, I will be hosting an incredible Brownbread Mixtape show on the Sunday with some of the finest spoken word artists in the world (Jasmine Gardosi and Erin Fornoff), as well as performing some classic radio-style comedy skecthes with our resident troupe The Brownbread Players. There will be plenty of singalongs, silly stories and a rousing rendition of My Blood is Boiling for Ireland too. It would be great to see some warm, friendly faces at the show. Pop by and say hello, and stick around for some of the other LEGENDS onstage at the event throughout the weekend!

What is creativity?

The Dublin based artist Vicky Knysh recently released this short film about creativity, where she interviewed different creatives from varying disciplines here in Ireland. A lovely little snapshot of the creative process and what makes artists tick. I also recommend checking out her website Minushka, which features some of her gorgeous illustrations and artwork.

The Hole There In The Floor – a poem

This is a poem I started writing when I lived in New York and was starting to forge a really keen interest in poetry, and specifically performance poetry. The poem was supposed to be a snapshot of the punters I saw in a bar in Manhattan called Tom & Jerry’s. But the original draft was a bit too angry and so it remained unfinished until I came back to Ireland, and after a night out in The Stag’s Head pub one night (which would later be the home of The Brownbread Mixtape), I dusted off the poem and finished the thing. It’s probably one of my poems that I am most happy with, as it captures a proper bit of the fire and melancholy I saw in those folks in the bars caught between their dreams and the drink. Some time after I had written it I was approached by Tom and Andy from the truly brilliant Storymap website, who asked me to perform it in The Stags Head so they could film it for inclusion on the site. I was only too happy to oblige and the end result is a lovely document of a poem and a place.

Alternative Irish National Anthem – My Blood is Boiling For Ireland!

One of the more bizarre things I can list amongst my artistic achievements is award winning songwriter. Here’s the short version of how that came to pass. Back in 2010, our leading newspaper The Irish Times put out a call to write an alternative Irish anthem. It was to be judged by members of the band The Duckworth Lewis Method, as well as Irish rugby international Frankie Sheahan, and then Arts editor Shane Hegarty (who has since gone on to write the superb Darkmouth novel series). I had written half of the song (the simple repeated verse) some years previously during a rowdy, boozy party in my apartment in Queens, New York. When this competition cropped up, I called upon my friend Enda Roche to help me record it. But let me work backwards through the song to capture some of the creative process.

Once in the studio we had the fun idea of adding a primitive Irish language call and response element. So I drew on the simplest phrases from my primary school days:

Conas atá tú? / Tá me go maith [How are you? / I’m well]

An bhfuil tú anseo / Tá me anseo [Are you here? / I am here]

You’ll notice in the second rendition of the chorus, I actually get the call and response wrong and ask in Irish “Cá bhfuil tú?” [Where are you?] and Enda’s brother Kevin, who was assisting on backing vocals, improvised a perplexed sounding response of “Níl fhios agam!” [I don’t know!]. When we listened back to it, it made us really chuckle, and somehow had echoes of a real Irish primary school classroom, so we left it in.

Given that the song could only be 90 seconds long I knew that brevity and sing-along-ability was the key, hence I kept it to an extremely simple structure especially the bombastic foulmouthed verses:

Oh my blood is boiling for Ireland
My blood is boiling for Ireland.
Ireland! Ireland!
Ireland fucking Ireland!
My blood is boiling for Ireland!

The swearing seemed fitting with the Irish vernacular, but knowing that the winning song would air on the national radio station Today FM (on the Ray D’Arcy show) we sensed it might be a good idea to bleep it in some way, so I cooked up the most Irish way to do that – the sound of a sheep baa-ing. It seems mad that we even considered this fact, expecting full well to not win the thing.

The opening Irish language countdown –“A haon, dó, trí, ceathar dhéag . . .” — was a reference to U2’s song Elevation which was out at the time (where Bono counts it in bizarrely as “Unos, dos, tres, catorce” [one two, three, fourteen]. So we thought we would give a nod to that, and have it almost as an Easter egg for U2 fans (of which I am a huge one).

When the Irish Times announced we were the winners I couldn’t quite believe it. I particularly loved Shane Hegarty’s description of it in the Irish Times as “somehow angry, fun and patriotic all at the same time” which described it far better than I ever could have and pretty much made my day. I recall them playing several of the runners up on Ray D’Arcy’s show and I seem to remember D’Arcy being kinda snotty and dismissive of my song, but it didnt matter really, his blood clearly wasn’t boiling for Ireland. I do remember Thomas Lewis from The Duckworth Lewis Method saying he liked it because it sounded like something you’d sing at 3 in the morning.

It has since gone on to be our signature tune at The Brownbread Mixtape and we close every show with it. We ask everyone to rise for the alternative Irish national anthem and it never fails to get a huge reaction. I still love performing it, partly due to the energy it brings to a room, and equally for how utterly ridiculous it is that it won an award.

One of the prizes for winning the competition was time in a Dublin recording studio, where I gathered many of my favourite performers from past Brownbread Mixtape shows to record a sort of gospel reworking of My Blood is Boiling for Ireland that has never seen the light of day. I will dig it out and post it at a later date (along with the other song we recorded that day which was a soul number I had written for the occasion). But for now, crank it up to catorce and shout it with me — COME ON IRELAND!

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