Des O'Driscoll talks us through his highlights for 2019
Anderson.Paak may not have quite delivered on the promise of his first album, but in a live setting at the Olympia he was magnificent. A perfect 21st-century hybrid of soul, funk, hip-hop, etc, and great to see such a cross-section of ages on their feet grooving to it all.
Sons of Kemet were special at Electric Picnic. Late night in one of the smaller tents, Shabaka Hutchings and co really plugged into the madness. Brilliant music that gets filed under ‘jazz’, but draws in other genres, from grime to punk.
James Blake impressed early in the year with Assume Form, and Fontaines DC certainly delivered on their hype with Dogrel, but my personal discovery of the year was Matthew Halsall. The British jazz scene is buzzing at the moment — hopefully, more promoters on this side of the pond can tap into it.
I’ll go parochial as Kevin Barry did such a great job on Cork dialogue in Night Boat to Tangier. Also, Lismore Castle provided the perfect setting for the Towers & Tales festival.
Like many people, Fleabag tops my list — Phoebe Waller- Bridge is a genius. Chernobyl is a close second, for shedding light an even we thought we knew about. Succession also stayed the course, bringing the concept of anti-heroes to a new level in a show where every character is despicable. Better late than never that the viewing public was open to hearing about the disaster that’s long been under way, and Our Planet was among the shows sounding the alarm bells. The let-down list is of course topped by a Game of Thrones series that managed to break the bond before the final episode even arrived.
In the space of little over a week, I was blown away by two shows in Cork. Gare St Lazare drafted in a gamelan percussion orchestra for another impressive instalment in their threepart take on Beckett’s How It Is; and Loch na hEala was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Michael Keegan-Dolan’s masterpiece probably doesn’t reach the audience it should because of its billing as a sort of contemporary version of Swan Lake. In the arts world we all get a bit jaded of seeing so much stuff that’s ‘good’ — it’s great to get an energising jolt from something like Loch.
The Crawford Art Gallery is back at the heart of the city’s cultural life, and its Mary Swanzy exhibition particularly impressed. Another art highlight was Dorothy Cross's 'Heartship' project for Sounds From A Safe Harbour, which involved a human heart being carried up the River Lee on a Navy ship. It evoked the refugee crisis, and the navy's part in rescuing hundreds in the Mediterranean. When Lisa Hannigan's ethereal voice slipped into 'My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean', there was scarcely a dry eye on the quayside. An incredibly ambitious project that Cross managed to turn into something really affecting.
In London, both Antony Gormley and Olafur Eliasson pushed the boundaries with highly enjoyable ‘experiential’ exhibitions; and Don McCullin reminded of the importance of old-fashioned photojournalism with a retrospective at the Tate that was remarkable and heart-breaking.
After a few years of closures (Savoy, Pav) amidst insane insurance woes, it was good to see Cork venues bounce back a bit with the likes of a revamped Cyprus Avenue and a reopened Kino.
It’s long been a national sport to complain about RTÉ, but the changing nature of the broadcasting landscape makes for a difficult prognosis for the organisation. It looks like we’re witnessing the end of an era. I’m a fan of public broadcasters, and if they get hit, ultimately we all suffer.
As a David Attenborough fanboy, it was great to interview the people behind Our Planet. Also, the Cork Fanzine Archive stands out as a real labour of love, and is capturing some great history among all the nostalgia.