How was it for you? Our highlights from 2017

Our regular contributors select their highlights of the year.

Ellie O'Byrne

Live gig

Saint Sister played a double bill, with Talos, in St Patrick’s Church, in Waterford, last May, and were the most musically satisfying gig I saw in 2017: the Dublin duo, of Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty, produced their intricate harmonies and wise, introspective lyrics with sublime, instinctive ease.

Body & Soul chucked out their usual, amazing line-up of discoveries: Anna Meredith, The Moonlandingz, Sleaford Mods, and Sinkane were some of the memorable acts on larger stages.

Book

Having written a novel’s worth of newspaper articles and an MA thesis in 2017, reading fell by the wayside; I didn’t pick up a single novel.

On holidays, I read Gut, by microbiologist, Giulia Enders, a woman who combines her exploration of the human digestive system with a necessary sense of humour. Gut entertainingly covers everything from why people can burp more easily when lying on their left than on their right, to emerging discoveries about the gut-brain axis: how ‘gut feeling’ and the health of our microbiome influence our mood.

Honourable mentions for another non-fiction: Irish Examiner columnist Mick Clifford’s account of the Maurice McCabe whistle-blower scandal, A Force for Justice: The Maurice McCabe Story, combines forensic detail, from the years the veteran journalist has covered the story, with a thriller-like sensibility. Eminently suitable for screen adaptation.

Film

Tom of Finland, which screened at Gaze Festival 2017, is director Dome Karukoski’s sensitively wrought Finnish biopic about Touko Laaksonen, the gay erotic artist who was an underground cult figure in the hedonistic scene of San Francisco in the 1970s.

Live event

Spraoi Festival’s 25th anniversary celebrations in Waterford. Not only were there many phenomenal street performers and acts, but the loyalty of locals to the annual event was palpable. 

The street theatre company’s dedication to live, challenging, entertaining art on the streets for free, delivered to an audience that might never walk into a gallery for such encounters, is just amazing.

Lowlight

Middle-people. Only one-third of Creative Ireland’s budget has been spent on the arts.

Of the €4.4m spent to date, €1.32m, or 30%, was on marketing, according to the results of a Freedom of Information request lodged by Sinn Féin.

When artists across many disciplines are struggling, it’s frustrating to see so much window-dressing, and the insertion of so many middle-people in various guises, often carving out cosy, secure jobs for themselves, off the backs of the creative work of others.

Best interview

Sue Rynhart

‘Celebrity’ interviews don’t do it for me; too often, you’re just listening to someone trot out the same platitudes and tired anecdotes with polished ease.

The best thing about covering the arts is talking to the many wonderful people who excel at what they do because of how much they care. Of many Irish interviews that spring to mind, the most enjoyable were fiddler, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and jazz songstress, Sue Rynhart, both of whom explained their motivation with originality and considerable eloquence.

Interviewing eccentric New York performance artist, Reverend Billy Talen, of the Church of Stop Shopping, earned him a convert: as the interview evolved into a sermon, I saw the light and am now a convert to his anti-consumerist, ecological teachings. Earthelujiah!!

Looking forward to in 2018

Having had a preview of The English National Ballet’s new adaptation of Giselle, I predict that their May dates in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre will make waves.

It’s a stunning and topical modern interpretation, with the German peasant class of the original replaced with a sweatshop work-force. Choreographer Akram Khan’s fusion of classic pointe-work with his native Bangladeshi Kathak dance is breath-taking.

Veteran Tuvan folk band, Huun Huur Tu, from the border between Russia and Mongolia, bring the sound of the steppes to Irish shores for several dates in March. They are characterised by otherworldly, polyphonic vocals, rhythms inspired by galloping horses, and a sense of freedom derived from the vast grasslands where the music was composed: if you see a rapt nutter in the audience with their eyes shut, it’ll be me.


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