Posts Tagged ‘ History ’

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!

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Where swallows sing: psychogeography, lament and loss.

You probably don’t think of the crack of rifle fire and the rumble of tanks when you think of home. Growing up on an army base you might think I would, and I do somewhat, but more than that I think of birdsong and the trees when I feel home. I say feel home because I think of home as an emotion, a geography of the psychological. Psychogeography is the way in which an environment plays on the emotions and behaviour of the person. Strictly speaking it had its roots in the situationist urban landscape but whenever home returns to me I think of the psychogeographic.

image

 

Karl Marx once said that people can see nothing around them that is not in their image, everything speaks to them of themselves. In the Curragh Camp I see myself in the animate and inanimate objects of my youth. They form part of my being and my being forms part of the Curragh Camp. The patch of land where the barbed wire coiled like a snake ready to bite with its rusty teeth. We would tie a rope around the branch of the giant tree, pulling it taut, letting it go then we would swing upwards and outwards over the wire. I was always terrified. Not too far away there was an old toilet, bald on top from the collapsed roof, we held contests to see whose piss could reach furthest up the wall. Urine spraying everywhere.

As the brightness of a summer night gave way to purple tinged dusk the cawing of hundreds of crows settling in for the night would assault the ears. A great cacophony that heralded bedtime was near. Swallows would nest in the eaves of the houses, swooping dangerously close to the roads in between the blocks. As summer sneaked away school sauntered in. Who remembers now the little path where a gang of us walked as we wound our way out of MacDonagh? Memory pain.

Teenage years spent in the disused houses as the old lady began to creak under the weight of a new world coming. We kissed in the shadows, cigarettes glowing in the dark winter nights, love was proclaimed on Lover’s Rock and the plantation bore silent witness to the fumbling hands of lustful youth. Bon Scott RIP AC/DC graffiti on the laundrette wall. Traces of an empire fading in the pencil lines of men that would go off to see the blood of Europe spread on Flanders field. Some never to feel the warmth of home again.Sitting on the hill of the ranges with Kildare spread out under your feet and the sky stretching forever. Everywhere I see my image: our image.

It is the stillness that gets me now. Noise only existing in my half-formed memories and fragments of dreams. Home populated by absence rather than wholeness. Each time returning I promise it will be the last, however we are forever linked. It is a symbiosis. It is dreamtime. We are a people fading. The last of us receding. I wonder did the migrating swallows think: ‘where did we they go’ when the terrace that was ours and theirs disappeared?  I wonder where they sleep now? I wonder do they dream of us like we dream of them?

Dedicated to the memory of my childhood friend Anthony Frahill 1976-2017. Rest softly in the dreams of our hometown.

Flickerings

A cathedral for a forgotten god
its altar bare
prayers and incantations unknown,
maybe unanswered. Maybe.
Upon the uneven, undulating wall, a human hand, imperfect man.
‘He had a broken finger’ an anthropologist intones.
Traces of art scattered in the recesses of the land
passively watching the rotting bones.

What is real? the shadow cast or the light?
The physical manifestation or the dream?
God in man or the man in god?
The cave (the Freudian interpretation is clear) wet, but also warm and inviting.
The shadow play sings a song:
man seeking an answer
(there is the obvious Jungian one)
but they knew no Freud, no Jung, no Christ.
Just the cave bear and the dark and the sacrifice.

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….

In the gloaming heart

 

In the child’s field, before his fame
innocence and experience stake their claim
the soldier’s path is chosen
blood signifies the man.

Love, it finds it’s own sweet voice
and echoes out across the void
that riddle rests within the heart
forever to remain.

From Dun Sgathaich the warrior rides
to crest the heights of a morning sky,
three daughters raise the sounds of war
three sons to kill the kings.

Strapped upon a rock to stand
to hold back that dark grasping hand
yet, Black Morrigan’s cacophonous caw
heralds the fading day.

Of dreams and doctorates

Academic snobbery is nothing new. Universities thrive on it, college lecturers live by it and students get caught up in its tailwinds. I loved university when I first attended it which, was during my mid-twenties. After the boredom of the classroom and the ennui of a succession of dead-end jobs I felt that third-level education was radically different then what I had experienced up to that point in time. Now, in hindsight, I realise the error of my ways, but more of that anon. At this juncture I should point out that I was a high achiever in university. I received firsts on a regular basis and was offered a masters degree in English and in History. I chose History for two reasons: History allowed me to become a tutor and the degree was a masters in literature (or an MPhil). The latter was crucially important to me as the Mlitt allowed me to research on my own and to gather primary sources around which to build my thesis. I had hoped to pursue a PhD but it was felt that my particular topic did not lend itself to that particular award.

It plagued me for some time. Feelings of uselessness were aroused. Somewhere deep inside of me I felt I had let people down. I agonised over the rejection. My thesis director assured me that the department did not treat those pursuing a masters or a PhD any differently but if this was truly the case then why mention it? My director was right: the department didn’t treat me any differently but I was looked upon differently. So begin the next part of my journey as I decided that I wouldn’t attempt to make my thesis into a PhD and that I had to move on toward something new.

That something new was teaching at secondary level. Essentially my academic career was now viewed as over. Of course, I had to obtain a diploma to teach but I know (and I felt it) that this was looked upon, by the academic world, as a minor achievement, that I was, for all intents and purposes, taking the easy way out and would be stuck in the backwater of pedagogy. One thing that the diploma gave me, that neither of my degrees ever could, was the tools to look at my educational experiences up to that point. It forced me to interrogate the model of chalk and talk and to challenge middle-class assumptions about the merits of education from the primary to the secondary and on to the tertiary.

Within Ireland the discussion around education narrowly focuses on the first two but rarely on the third. The chalk and talk model is now seen as old hat in the primary and secondary level yet it persists in the third level. A lecturer stands up and talks at the class, the methodology of teaching is absent and the human connection is lost. Jargon triumphs over knowledge and a narrow focus is often pursued. Where do students with special needs fit in? Disclosure time once again: my second diploma is in the area of special needs. The ‘yak and don’t talk back’ model of third level in Ireland doesn’t really leave a space for those with special needs or as our old head of English said in 2003 to the mass of students on their first day: ‘If you have dyslexia then this course isn’t really for you.’

Knowing what I know now, I should have stood up and walked out but then I was chasing the dream (of just getting a degree).  My mother would have said of our old head that he was ‘a know all that knew fuck all’. To my shame I said nothing. How could I? Wasn’t the model just: ‘Yak and don’t talk back?’ In the end the PhD wasn’t to be but you know what I took the right path in the end,

The sacred heart

image Yeats famously observed that ‘too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart’. It is an acute observation, concerning as it does the way humans lose compassion when they get blinded by a singular idea, goal or ideology. WB could see that Irish republicanism would very quickly become heartless, with a narrow view of ‘Irishness’. It is easy in hindsight to see where my nation would go wrong. Very easy to see that we would adhere to constrictive doctrines with regards identity, politics and religion. Our supposed superiors believed that sacrifice was at the centre of what it meant to be human. The sacrifice of Christ became attached to the sacrifice of those that died in the 1916 Easter Rising (so much so that even today the anniversary of the event has became a moveable feast just like Easter itself!) The poets job is not to live in the realm of hindsight but to react to the world around him or her self. Poetry has an immediacy that isn’t matched by other art forms. It can react and create the moment. Yeats knew those involved in the Rising and had seen first hand the job that sacrifice had done on the heart. Most presciently he saw that this shade of ‘green’ would see a terrible beauty born. I cannot read the poem without thinking of all those buried in unknown bogs, those blown up in some pub bombing, those locked away in laundries, the raped and abused, unfortunately the list could go on. The point is the sacrifice comes at a price and even more so when the symbol of sacrifice becomes more important than the reason for sacrifice. What terrible beauty is born when the image becomes more important than substance? Can compassion flower just because you place a painted heart above the hearth? Can ideology feed the starving? This is where the metaphysical matters. Poetry probes and confronts that which we find unpalatable and uncomfortable. It confronts that ‘other’ within and it attempts to shine a light on the darkness residing just below the surface of the self. I cannot live in a Dawkinish world where I am at a scientific remove from myself. Yeats, through words and images, causes me to confront my own hard heartedness and warns me against singularity. To be holistic, to use that overused word, is key. A single purpose is not enough. That way lies the stone and the heart is too sacred a thing to waste.