Saturday, 26 January 2013

Message is Not Getting Across

Published in The Irish World newspaper  19/01/13

The stroke of midnight in Dublin on December 31st not only heralded the start of a new year but also the beginning of the government backed initiative “The Gathering 2013.”

Nearly a month in and The Gathering is still somewhat clouded in confusion for many of the diaspora in London.

Irish tourism organization (ITIC) say 6.5 million visitors visited Ireland last year but Ireland’s tourism market of England, Scotland and Wales were down 4 per cent.

The Gathering is a Government-backed, year-long festival in which members of the Irish diaspora and anyone with an interest in Ireland are encouraged to visit the country during 2013.

As well as holding new events the Gathering will sponsor hundreds of pre-existing festivals and events throughout the year. Already more than 2,500 “gatherings” have been pledged on the events website.

The initial core budget from the government was €5 million but they now hope to attract an extra 325,000 visitors and generate €200 million in tourism revenue.


People living in Britain are key to Ireland’s hope of any economic improvement this year as Britain remains Ireland’s prime source for tourism.


However many Irish citizens living in London who had travelled home for Christmas are unsure as to what it is all about.


The Irish World asked some of London’s Irish community how they felt and the results seems to suggest that promotion for the Gathering is leaving a bit to be desired.


David Hanly,27, From Athlone living in West London- “I only heard about the Gathering when I was home for Christmas and even then I didn't hear much, there should be more done to advertise it outside of Ireland. Paddy's day would be a prime opportunity.”


Fiona Hedderman ,25, Dublin - "A lot of the stuff that’s on seems like rubbish you wouldn't go to if you lived here so expecting people to come from other countries is mental.";)


Marcus Culloty, 29, From Cork Living in West London,: I think for the Irish we don't really need an excuse to go home. We go home as often as we can. I obviously know that it's a year long 'come home' campaign but I couldn't tell you one event that's happening.

“I don't know who they are targeting exactly. Surely the richest new untapped market is the second and third generation Irish. So TV ads should be running in the UK showing those people where their grandparents and great grandparents enjoyed their childhood with a slogan about 'The Gathering. There's never been a better time to discover your Irish roots'.


Brian Meggs, 26, From Dublin living in North London:” I literally only heard about "the Gathering" from my Mum at Christmas, and when she told me about it, I thought she was trying to get me to join a cult. I love going home every time I do, and I will of course be going home during 2013. But I always want to come back to London - this is my new life now and no cheesy anti-brain drain campaign that seems to be only broadcast back home is going to make me change my mind.”


From the outset The Gathering was met with scepticism, with even well-known figures such as Gabriel Byrne slamming the year-long event by claiming it was a “scam.”


However criticism such as this has been strongly defended by Damon Blake  of The Gathering, who said, ”It’s a tourism initiative to have those who are or love the Irish return here in 2013, an initiative that is not being dictated by a governing body, merely enabled and supported by it. Like any group exercise, the outcome and results of it will be determined by the desire and input of the people involved.”


Speaking to assistant manager of the Irish Cultural centre in Hammersmith, Kelly O’Conner, it appeared that many who visit the centre are excited and eager to get involved in the event.


“It is being discussed somewhat. I think every Irish person is aware of it. Whether they understand the full workings of it I wouldn’t like to comment on that but they are certainly aware of it which is the first step.”


“They understand it to varying degrees. We have a huge diversity of people who are very interested and people are definitely trying to find out more about it.”


When asked about their promotion of the initiative Ms. O’Conner said “We have bunting up with the gathering details as well as flyers and leaflets. We certainly try to do our best here to make it as clear as possible but it has been a bit of challenge to communicate the clarity of it for people to understand.”


We have a lot of people here who are recent graduates who have just moved to London and are really excited that they can bring their new friends back to Ireland for a gathering- they get that it’s a good opportunity.”


“We also get our fair share of people who will say that is just a waste of money but I think with a bit more open mindedness people are a bit more positive about it.”


For those who do understand the concept of The Gathering it does seem that they are feeling positive about what it means for them and their native country.



Lorna,25, From Clare living in South London: “Despite the negative publicity the Gathering has been getting, I think it is a great excuse to meet up with friends and family and there seems to be some good events planned. They have done something similar in Scotland for the past few years and it has been really successful.”


Tess McGuane, 26, from Clare living in North London: “I have heard a bit too much about it , the family are planning a Gathering of a life time with even a few same family weddings if all goes to plan :).We heard about it late last year. It seems such an American idea but we are really looking forward to it. It does seem that the family members outside of Ireland are a little more excited then the ones at home but that is natural.”



The Gathering has the potential to provide Ireland with that much needed boost it has been calling out for these past few years but if promotion of the festival itself does not improve and reach those it is most targeted towards then the event will unfortunately fall victim to the sceptic’s predictions.


You're In Bandit Country

Published in The Irish World 26/01/13
Before 2010 Limerick city was known mostly for The Cranberries, Terry Wogan, Angela’s Ashes, and unfortunately some gang related violence.


When The Rubberbandits appeared on RTE’s Republic of Telly they soon put the city on the map for a whole new reason.


Describing themselves sarcastically as “hardcore gangster rappers”, the mischievous duo first began dabbling in the artistry of funny bone tickling when they made a CD of their prank phone calls for friends in Secondary school. Word soon spread, along with the CD and their prank calls, and later music, soon became available to the world on Youtube and their website.


Blindboy Boatclub and Mr.Chrome like to keep their identities hidden behind shopping bags, which only adds to their originality as comics and in their words- their appeal to women- as we can’t but be drawn to anything that might resemble shopping.


Although the boys often rap, joke and sing about drugs, sex and Limerick city style rock and roll, it is obvious that their intent is satirical and that there is real artistic intelligence behind what they are saying or singing.


Their gig in London’s Soho Theatre last week delivered what any loyal fan would have expected- Jack the lad playfulness, tongue and cheek gags and some very catchy and often hilarious tunes.


Arriving on stage in “Sawhaw”, as they called it, they made the audience aware that we were in for a rollercoaster of a night as their show would contain not one but three jokes- proving that these guys can even laugh at themselves.


Accompanied by Willie O’DJ- a masked character based on another of their fans back home (Minister Willie O’Dea), the cheeky chappies kept the atmosphere upbeat with their string of hilarious songs such as Horse Outside, I Wanna to Fight your Father, Black Man, Spoiling Ivan and their latest release Danny Dyer.


For each song the video, some of which directed by Fr. Ted’s Declan Lowney, played on a screen in the background accompanied by occasional lyrics which were presumably for those not acquainted with the strongest of Limerick accents.


The Rubberbandits proved once again that they don’t attempt to hold back as at one point, Mr. Chrome, naked from the waist up, encouraged the audience to join in in a verse of Devalera double dropping yokes- a reference to the recreational drug use of Ireland’s historical figure.


This followed an appearance from Willie O’DJ dressed in a black balaclava draped in the tri- colours. Something which could cause huge offence to a certain type of audience in London, but as it was delivered to us Rubberbandits-style it was obvious too all that such serious issues can be laughed at, even if uncomfortably.


This is certainly not a comedy show of which to bring your granny, but it is something very different and riskier than your average one man and a mic gig.


The Rubberbandits play Soho’s Theatre until February 2nd so if you feel like being slightly offended, bemused and yet hugely entertained this is one comedy gig which certainly deserves your attendance.


Thursday, 3 January 2013

A Special Appearance

Published in the Irish World newspaper 05/01/13

Leah Quinn went along to Shepherds Bush Empire theatre last week and to see what's so special about Belfast singer, Duke Special.

I would imagine duke specials's appearance can be off putting and without a doubt misleading to many. The singer/song writer is often masked by a heavy curtain of ginger dreadlocks and a thick layer of rock and roll style "guy liner"(eyeliner for the more adventurous of men) all of which leaves you expecting some form of trash metal, gothically tainted, "I hate my life"-style sounds to come from the piano when his fingers touch the keys. The reality is very different. Duke special's music is theatrical, often upbeat ,playful and fun and much more in tune with the whimsical style of Elton John's early work rather than that of Korn, Metallica or any other band that might inspire the urge to trash your nearest hotel room.

Having been initially taught to play the piano by his granny, the Duke (or Peter Wilson as he may be known his hometown of Downpatrick) has since developed his own style on the keys which exudes personality and gusto.

On entering the theatre it was obvious that this gig would lie slightly on the more eccentric side, as the audience were treated to some classical Motown tunes, which were played by an elderly man in a fez accompanied by a stuffed cat sitting on a gramophone. At one stage "The Teddy Bears Picnic" even managed to make a spin on the decks.

After a less than entertaining support act, The Duke came on in tartan patched flared trousers, a bright red tie, a cascade of dreads over his face and yet wholly modest and charming. He took a seat at his quaint-looking piano like a bird perched in a nest of drums and cymbals and began "Mockingbird Wish me Luck" which seemed to be played with a real heartfelt honesty.

He then moved onto "Spiritual America"which was also enjoyable but more theatrical sounding. It was in his third song "I Let You Down" that dukes more childish and playful side shone through as he was accompanied by Chip Bailey, who began to play the drums from the wrong side of the set, strum on a cheese grater with a whisk, and prance about the stage like Animal from the muppets. At one stage Chip seemed to be engrossed in what seemed to be a out and out battle with his instruments,ending up defeated lying flat out on the stage boards by the end of the set. It was these clown like antics that not only kept the audience guessing and enthralled throughout the performance but also offered a explanation as to why Duke Special was asked to write much of the music for Northern Ireland's version of Seasame Street. Muppets or men, it was obvious these guys had their own honesty blend of circus style talent.

Then came "Applejack" a humour us play on the story of Eve and the snake which once again offered the audience more insight into the Dukes imaginarium of outlandish instruments with Chip Bailey this time giving it his all with a variety of pots and pans. Duke Special also included many of his songs from "Under the Cloth" a compilation written by him last year based on the works of various photographers for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. One which could really be felt around the theatre was "Georgia O'Keefe"of which the Duke gave us its wonderfully romantic back story featuring two 1920's aritists.

Much of Duke Specials songs featured heavy chello or guitar accompaniment as well as his melodic northern Irish accent of which he makes no attempts to hide. A Duke Special show is certainly full of surprises and from beginning to end you are not sure whether it is all a circus,fair ground ride or one big joke, however his talent for music is undoubtedly impressive and even though his style of performance may not be in everyone’s taste, you have to respect his bravery in and conviction as a performer. You might decide it's all too much but if you do find Duke Special is your bag, than your music collection will be that bit more adventurous and a whole lot more interesting.