Archive for the ‘ Work ’ Category

Pay to play…please.

Living on the bottom rung of music is a difficult place to be. Starting out as a young musician you have aspirations to make a career out of that which you love. However, Ireland doesn’t really have the avenues to make a living out of music. There are many reasons for this but there are three major ones that I believe hamper the scene and creativity in general: (1) a lack of dedicated places that put on original music (2) too many bands and (3) unwillingness to pay bands. The first two points are difficult and impossible to solve respectively. Pubs are the venues for gigs in Ireland and the punter wants music that they recognize. On the second point, you can’t stop people playing so, an overcrowded market exists. Point three is the kicker and it is the one that really stifles the Irish musician.

Firstly, we all have to admit that we have devalued music. All of us. We don’t think we have to pay for music. Spotify, YouTube etc. etc. pay very little we all know this and now we are beginning to see the fruit of this as even successful bands have to tour constantly to make money. ‘Well screw them’ you might say ‘they have enough money already’. That may be the case but I’m thinking more about the bottom rung musicians and in Ireland, when you are there well money doesn’t exist.

‘What system does exist?’ I hear you ask. For the most part, exploitation. A tad dramatic? No not really. You see I come from a working class background and my parents couldn’t afford to bankroll my dreams. ‘Never stop believing’ is easy to say but let’s be honest that doesn’t pay for guitars, amps, PAs, strings and petrol. Look at point two again. Yes, too many bands. You see there will always be a band that will play if you don’t. Starting out I never cared about money, of course I didn’t I was 14 when I started. But when I turned 18 I was expected to work. Nothing dulls a dream like an empty pocket and nothing kicks you in the stones like working on songs only to be told: ‘We will give you the gig , we can’t pay you but (and every bottom rung musician knows the next line) it’ll be great exposure!’ We all believe this at the start but only a fool believes it down the road. Or so you would think.

I’m writing this because I believe that most musicians live in a bubble or suffer from a psychosis. I’ll never forget my girlfriend asking me ‘How much did you get for that gig?’ I was in my thirties and playing in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. I’ll never forgot the look on her face when I replied ‘Nothing’ (I lie we each got one pint). She looked at me like I was mad. I was. You see that look pulled me out of the reverie but to be honest that had begun to happen a long time before.

It happened one night in a pub in the inner city, I won’t name names here as I’m classy like that ah what the fuck they probably need the exposure. It was The Mercantile and we were waiting to go on and the drummer turned to me and he said: ‘I’m sick of playing up and down in the same places for nothing’. He looked so dejected that I knew that night his heart was gone out of the band and truth be told mine had begun to. It wasn’t really the band. It was more that I had to try to hold down a job and then get to a venue and play to about fifty people who didn’t really care. I’m from the punk school of music so I put on a show but it was hard. What was harder was the realization that when you don’t pay for something you don’t appreciate it. We weren’t getting paid, and we weren’t getting paid for all the hard work that we had done and because of that people treated it as next to nothing. Harsh? Yes. True? Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

I’ll leave it on this, I was in another band and we got an opportunity to appear in a short film. You know the story, it’ll be great exposure yadda, yadda. So, I ring to find what we would need (as I’ve never been in a movie) and the most ignorant waste of space has the temerity to start getting snotty with me as I’m asking are they providing a PA for us to play through. He starts to launch into an attack about how I should know and why am I ringing. I stop him dead in his tracks and tell him in no uncertain terms to never talk to me like I’m an errant child and remind him we are doing him the favour. Against my better judgement I borrow a PA to bring with us to the shoot. We drive fifty miles to a pub at the designated time of one o’clock. No one is there. When they do arrive three hours later we set up etc by eight that evening we have still not started the shoot. I talk to a guy back stage ( I don’t want to embarrass my band mates) he has a word and eventually at around 9:00 the shoot begins. It’s all over by ten but we have to pack up and get back. We were promised food. That’s all we asked. Food. They bought eight pizzas for about eighty people. I got one slice. I arrived home at one. I did twelve hours for a slice of pizza. That was two and a half years ago. The film has never been released and the band have since split. Exposure? When you’re on the bottom there ain’t no such thing!


She Speaks

image…boop,boop.Metronomic time, ceaseless and unforgiving.Under her watch fingers freeze, throats tighten and pulses race. In the moment four fight from going under the sonic waves they have created. Outside there is the alley. The artery. Rain falls in giant globs running from Pearse Street to Lombard finally coming to rest at the side streets end.

Some months before and the half whistled shapeless melody is given form by the guitar player’s hands.Lucid dreams given substance. Consonants and vowels drift from the larynx and the word is made flesh. Bass flitters between the gaps, wild and old. This new ship is anchored by the drum. Happiness fills the space.How easy it can be to make worlds.

Joyce’s Liffey everflows to the sea. The eastlanders follow on to Westland. Time passes.The metronome is tamed. Beginnings give way to ends. Parents to our children (all eight of them and those we lost) we coo at them, play peek-a-boo with them. Afraid to let them go but let them go we must.

I think of them now and then. I wonder where they are and what they are doing? Our children. Out of nowhere She Speaks. I hear the lady clearly and remember our moments, frozen now in my mind. Silently, I thank her and all the minutes we shared. All the seconds. Bip, bip….


The digital watch flashes
catching my eye.
A nurse whispers to you ‘it means he’s not blind’.
All the seconds from here to then are taunting the living,
a death’s head moth flies to the light.

Hearing again the beep on the hour
(It means I’m not deaf, you let out a sigh)
All the hours run faster and faster.
If we could catch it, then we’d never die.

That patch on my head?
It means I’m a fighter, a scar
from a battle a long time ago.
You carried me then but I was much lighter
I’d carry you now but where would we go?

Isn’t it funny how we seek
some type of answer
to the ebb, to the flow
that makes up our lives?
Ain’t it funny how digital watches,
lighting the way
means we’re not blind.

Last orders.

Human beings love order. In fact our brain actively seeks order in chaos, for example it is one of the reasons your mind sees a face in inanimate objects or on patterned wallpaper and it is more than likely why we are always looking for a superfood to destroy cancer (I eat this therefore, I won’t get that). It sounds reasonable to look for that order but it can have a negative effect. Here is one that annoys me: be positive and that will help you survive cancer! Great isn’t it? Except when you do that, and it doesn’t matter whether you mean it, it means that you are saying that the person who dies of cancer wasn’t positive enough and ergo it is their fault that they died. Order like that isn’t so friendly anymore is it? Which brings me to history. We love order in history. The example that springs to mind is Hitler. We have all asked: ‘Why did he hate the Jews?’ Off we pop looking for order and we look for the pattern. Hitler was a failed artist, he was probably picked on by a Jew, he had one testicle and a micropenis and hypospadias.So, that solves that (Jesus must have been a fantastic artist, been hung like a horse and had polyorchadism though cause he was so good) of course, this lets humanity off the hook. Everyone knows it was all religions fault (because there was never a political ideology that was atheistic and sent people off to, oh a gulag or had show trials or ran over people with tanks and had a one child policy…ever because if there was well you know there would be memes about it wouldn’t there?) Realistically, the reason that Shoah occurred was due to religious, economic, social, political and cultural issues and prejudices that had existed in Europe for centuries. Making a snappy YouTube video explaining that is difficult, looking at the genital deformities of Hitler isn’t apparently. Human beings like the answer to be in the recent past as it is more ordered.

So, why am I writing this? Let’s be frank this is the Internet and I lost about 60% of the five to six people that read my posts already. Well you know why I’m writing it, you’ve seen the news. I also want those that are more moral than I to see that I care, I swear I do, I know stuff too I didn’t mean to change my picture to add a French tri-colour there a while back I’m like you too. I watched that YouTube video I promise I did, I know it was Rothstein or Rothschild or whatever Berg that started it all I know Israel is the real bad one, damn it lads and ladies I swear I knew it was them. They took land that didn’t belong to them, of course their people were gassed, starved, left to rot in their own vomit, shit, piss, castrated, mutilated, shot, buried alive etc etc shush now though dear reader I won’t point out that most Europeans didn’t want them, we mustn’t look too far back or our sense of order gets eroded.


A man learns a lot about himself by sitting on a train or a bus. If you have ever been on a train or bus in Ireland and put up with the assorted nutters that congregate on roads of tar or iron well, you have my sympathies. For me this year has been about those physical journeys but like any journey there is also the mental roads that we must traverse. I embarked on a diploma, yes I am a lunatic because I promised myself I would avoid academia for at least ten years (I managed four). However, the subject matter of said diploma was one close to my heart namely: autism. Look what can I say about autism that you cannot find by visiting a website and reading up on the condition? Well I suppose I could tell you to see the person and not the condition. As they say to us teachers: when you have taught one child with autism you have taught one child with autism. All of this is true but at the heart of it, for me at least, I enjoy teaching, working and interacting with autistic folk. They really do teach me as much as I teach them. People on the spectrum often have a wonderful sense of humour and a way of seeing the truth, which often catches the ‘neurotypical’ off guard. We have so many social rules and niceties that we find it difficult to cope with those that cannot read our secret language and of we are being honest the vast majority of us struggle with accepting difference. We are so set in our routines, so bound to our little rituals that when we come face to face with the ‘other’ we retreat back to those norms and cling to them for dear life.

The diploma was both heavy and interesting in equal measure. I looked at topics such as working with non-verbal children, relationships and sexuality, methodologies for accessing the curriculum, co-occurring needs, transitions, self-advocacy, applied behaviour analysis and many more beside. I bounced off Cork, Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Mayo, Laois, Waterford, Donegal and Westmeath all the while staying in rooms of varying quality (some with walls as thin as tissue and bed linen to match). I travelled by rail, tram, car, bus and foot in rain,hail and snow but I got there in the end. My favourite course was one run out of North Carolina called TEACCH (if you have even a passing interest in the area check them out). As with most things in life it was the friends I made along the way that made it all the worthwhile. I met people like me, ones that worried whether or not they were teaching the right things, saying the right words or passing on the necessary skills to the students under their care. We stressed over essays, laughed over school stories and pulled our hair out with the frustration of it all. It is this that defines our education, it is this lived experience that matters not the pieces of paper with grades.

In the end education must be about people and the sharing of ideas and knowledge. My final thoughts go to the students especially those that I have had the honour to teach. They have shown me that we cannot define, contain and restrain personalities under umbrella terms. They remind me of my humanity. My country has a dark past and an abysmal record with the manner in which it treats (and I stress treats for this is a not just a thing of the past) children. Maybe one day this little old sod will take responsibility for those mistakes and break the hard, rock like edifice of routine thar binds it so, until that day all we can do is educate ourselves in that hardest of disciplines, namely, compassion. The journey, whilst at times difficult, is the greatest teacher of all.


Serious for the winter time
To wrench my soul
Whole cotton, whole cotton ears
But I know there must be
Yes I know there must be
Yes I know there must be a place to go

Tanita Tikaram – Cathedral Song

I can remember the day we went to the room above Loftus Hall in St Patrick’s, Maynooth. I can’t remember the name of the room but that is unimportant. It was the first year of our Masters and we were floundering. It wasn’t because we lacked the smarts. I think it was because we expected more. We didn’t know what that more was but whatever it was we couldn’t find it. We were like the parents of a child that had wandered off: panic was all. But that day was our oasis. That day we found a level. You got so angry and passionate over the situation that you lit a fire in me. I grabbed a piece of chalk (was I that prescient? Was I subconsciously acting out my future career?) and I started to draw. Mind maps of madness but I grabbed all those butterfly thoughts and made a coherent philosophy out of the fluttering wings. History opened up before me. You challenged, you provoked, you were testing me and I thrust and parried. You picked up the sword and you furiously began to write. Powerful prose that was precise in its historical accuracy and insight. We laughed. Giddy that we had taken back some control of a desperate situation. God it had been a while. The winter that had passed had drained us, but through it all we had built up a sense of trust. Now spring was here and in that room all was illuminated. London , the bench in Trinity, the love and the heartache was still to come but on that day Maynooth was ours and in some small way it always will be.


As the year draws to a close I have been thinking about the changes that it has brought. Now, I have rules for this blog: don’t personalise my posts and don’t talk about work. Well I am about to break (ever so slightly) both. Looking back on the posts I can see that I have a preoccupation with music. Music is a very important part of my being, it has often been the engine that drives me forward and at other times  the ballast that anchors me to the here and now or to put it another way it is both metaphysical and rational depending on my mood and circumstance. Sometimes, when the fancy takes me, I think that the sound of God or whatever is out there can be heard in those twelve notes. Music, like time, moves forward leaving its trace in our memory.

An old friend reminded me of the connection between the two at the mid-point of the year. He said to me: ‘You need to fall in love with music again’. He could see what I could not.  To put it simply, it no longer meant as much as it once did, time had changed me and the way I related to music.  His words danced a furious step in my head for two restless days and nights. Why? Well because I knew that I could never return to a time previous to the statement. In that moment the nature of our friendship changed and with it our musical relationship had been altered, so much so that both ended.

It is so hard to describe relationships that are built around playing music. Playing together as part of a group changes the air in the room, there is a charge, there is a unity of purpose and it feels like you are riding the wave of a moment in time whilst simultaneously bending rhythm, melody and harmony to a collective will. In that space you create and are created in a time that can never be replicated in quite the same way again.  As you can imagine losing such a relationship can have a profound effect. The effect it had on me made me look in the mirror and question for the very first time in my life whether or not playing music, Jesus even listening to music, was to be part of me anymore.

Yeats (there he is again) in the winter of his life stated that he had to go back to ‘the foul rag and bone shop of his heart’ to create anew. There it was in black and white: go back to the wellspring. However, that is easier said than done. Who to play with? What to play for? That is where work comes in. I teach teenagers and that is all I will divulge except to say that it was there that I found the source again.  I set up a group with a small number of pupils, just as an extra-curricular activity but what I found there reminded me of what I had lost and that which I had lost was the simple joy of playing for its own sake and not for some other end.  Making mistakes and having a laugh has been a big part of it. Finding out that the cobbled together bits and pieces, when joined together, can sound brilliant was another highlight. Oh, but the laughter is the best part, the small laughs, the bigger laughs and the uproarious laughs warmed this cynics soul. Hearing and seeing people find their feet and in turn their voice and confidence is worth all the knocks I have ever taken. To say to someone ‘you have done your best, given it your all and hey it is all a bit of fun’ reminds me of why I teach and, as clichéd as this sounds, why I am human.  What lessons my students have taught and continue to teach me.

This is but a coda. An end of another year is in sight, a year that saw an end of an important passage in my life but also saw another beginning. Like all good codas there is a feeling of resolution. However, the next piece is the bit I am really looking forward to. Have a Merry Christmas and in the words of the late, great Dave Allen ‘thank you, goodnight and may your God go with you.”