Sunday, April 17, 2011

A frantic Friday at Cúirt 2011

The Druid theatre is full to capacity. The people who couldn't get seats are standing out in the lobby, craning their necks so they can hear the author read.

The writer in question is Kevin Barry, whose debut novel City Of Bohane is one of the most anticipated Irish novels of the year. His collection of short stores There Are Little Kingdoms is a gem of a book. His appearance at last year's Cúirt was one of the highlights of the festival, when he read Fjord Of Killary - which was published in the New Yorker.

After a brief introduction by Alex Bowler - senior editor at Jonathan Cape - Kevin Barry takes to the stage. He thanks Bowler for being 'deranged in his enthusiasm' for City Of Bohane. Anyone who has read Kevin Barry can sympathise with the editor - the writer's work provokes giddy enthusiasm.

Kevin Barry is a superb reader of his work, proving that 'literary' and 'fun' are not mutually exclusive terms. Bohane sits on a peninsula that juts out between Limerick and Cork, a city with its own cant and a cadence that shows the uninhibited flair in Barry's writing. Here's a quote from a chapter that was read at the launch:

"More'n talk's what I got a fears on, H. Is said they gots three flatblocks marked Cusack 'bove on the Rises this las' while an' that's three flatblocks fulla headjobs with a grá on 'em for rowin,' ya check me?"

You'll develop an ear for this dialogue fairly quickly; it certainly had the audience in the Druid in knots. And judging by the queue of people waiting for Barry to sign their book after the reading, there'll be plenty of people learning Bohane this year. Ya check me?

The Cúirt merry-go-round was in full swing now and it was time to leg it down to Massimo on the Sea Rd where The Atlantis Collective were launching Eat The Swan, their third collection of short fiction. This was no ordinary reading, with visuals running while the writers read and live music backing up some of their pieces.

Swans were dismembered, a tennis match was recalled and other nefarious shenanigans were described. The Atlantis Collective are an inventive bunch, and deserve your attention. Buy their book! 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cúirt 2011

Galway's festival season kicked off this week as Cúirt 2011 kicked off. The corner of Neachtains on Quay St has been turned into bookshelves. It looks impressive and really gives the sense of an event happening.

Swing a left down Druid Lane and you walk through three giant books fashioned into an archway. Sometimes this is a lovely, daft town to live in.

I was on my way to the Over The Edge showcase, which this year, for the first time, also featured the winners of the Cúirt New Writing Prize. Choosing Druid Theatre as the venue for these readings was a smart move by the organisers - last year's event, though well attended, could not fill the Town Hall Theatre. Yesterday, the Druid was packed and there was a convivial vibe in the room as Susan Millar DuMars took to the stage to introduce the readers.

Paul Casey, organiser of the Ó Bhéal poetry nights in Cork, read work that drew on his experiences of life in South Africa and Zambia. A particular highlight was the poem he read in Afrikaans - recalling an officer Casey encountered when he was drafted into the South African army. He took the room back to his native Cork with a poem about hurling.

Celeste Augé read her short story The Good Boat, which won the Cúirt New Writing for fiction. Click on the link to read it - it's a fantastic piece of work. Augé delivered the piece with conviction it merits. The scene where each team member is named by number - and the inner fear driving each is revealed - will linger long in my memory.

Salthill native Sarah Clancy was up next and gave the kind of reading that should see her become a Cúirt regular. The poet's sharp wit and easy on-stage manner had the room laughing, and each piece was followed by raucous applause. Cinderella Backwards and Hippy Get A Job were enviously excellent.

More Cúirt shenanigans to come - happy days!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Elbow, The O2, Dublin, March 31st

The modern gig-going experience: giant  German wurst being barbecued outside (irresistible); €6 beer on tap inside (c’mon, I was thirsty!); and the smell of popcorn (in a rock venue, just peculiar.) And a polite usher to bring the disorientated punter to their seat.

All very nice – but it’s hardly rock ‘n’ roll is it?

Comfort and convenience is fine, but you’re not out for a merely ‘ pleasant’ evening. This is an Elbow show – it’s about big music that uplifts, songs that make your ticker feel like it’s going ninety.

As people filed into the cavernous 02, Villagers discreetly began their support slot with the magnificent  Meaning Of The Ritual. It’s a song that a less confident band might place in the middle of their set, when they have your ears. But Conor O’Brien is an assured frontman, as comfortable in this arena as he is in smaller venues.  Villagers aired two new songs ( The Bell and Memoir) and  six songs from their Mercury-nominated debut.  Becoming A Jackal  and Home were fluid and magically played. A great set.

Two Dublin blokes sat in the seats beside me, drinks placed in the convenient cup-holders in front of them.  ‘I got us doubles’ the lad beside me tells his friend as the Elbow stage is prepared. The band members appear on a screen in separate, ornate picture frames. Every few seconds they move slightly. ‘Jesus, it’s like something out of Harry Potter,’ says my new neighbour. I laugh. ‘I’ll tell you my favourite bit out of that film,’ he says, nudging my arm, ‘The people moving on the newspapers. Imagine seeing that on hash – maybe I have already!’

Wizards aside, however, the guy is also a massive Elbow fan, reeling out the tunes he hopes they play, singing snippets from the new album Build A Rocket Boys. As the lights in the 02 dim, he says something that speaks volumes about the effect of their music.  He throws his arm across his friend’s shoulder and declares ‘I fucking love you man, no matter what.’

Now, we’re at an Elbow show.

Launching into The Birds, it’s immediately clear that the band have made a smooth transition to playing venues this massive. They sashay seamlessly into The Bones Of You, a band taking their time, safe in the knowledge that they’ve a reserve of magic to draw from. Garvey is amiable and chatty throughout; sometimes you feel like you’re in his sitting room. Especially when, halfway through the set, he opens the piano to reveal a drinks cabinet from which he fixes his band (mates) a cocktail.

Lippy Kids is a highlight from the first half of the set.  Sublime, slow-burning, magic – Elbow, really. Neat Little Rows was ridiculously brilliant, the point where the rocket hit lift off.  The band were determined to reach every punter in the room and, at one point, even shone a spotlight at the back row. Garvey told them to stand up and then asked everyone else to give them a standing ovation.

The quintet were backed up by strings but on some numbers showed how slick they are as a five piece. Grounds For Divorce shook the rafters, thanks to the thunderous bass and drums of Pete Turner and Richard Jupp. Garvey led the band out along the gangway , to what he called the ‘B’ Stage, in the middle of the room. Weather To Fly soared here, as the singer asked ‘Are we having the time of our lives?’

Elbow encored with Starlings and, for the eager fans in the balcony, there was no more sitting down. They followed with a kicking Station Approach but there was only one song that could end the show. Strings at the ready, goose bumps everywhere, Elbow launched into One Day Like This. The exhortation to ‘throw those curtains wide’ was deafening; Garvey was no longer the front man.

Your man beside me had his arm around his friend. He was probably telling him he loved him again; thousands of people in the room were doing the same. Whatever brought them into this room was met with the promise that ‘one day like this a year will see me right.’
Shaking off a heavy one? Well, my friends....