Blindboy sees the light

The Rubberbandits’ frontman thought he’d just do a few podcast episodes to promote his book. As their popularity spread, however, these digital missives have a become a popular staple of the Irish scene, writes Richard Fitzpatrick.

There is a section towards the start of an episode from the Blindboy Podcast where the host goes off on one about poitín. 

He describes how Irish men pretend to like it even though it’s a drink that could “potentially blind you” and how it’s used — usually in rural areas — by hurling folk to treat muscle injuries. Blindboy knows it’s useful for relieving pain.

“There was a man in West Cork who used to mix poitín with horse’s piss,” he says, “and then he would have his wife rub it all over his back.” 

He draws breath for half a second, and then delivers the kicker: “That man was my father.”

We can only take his word for it. Blindboy’s father — we know from references in other episodes — is from West Cork.

Blindboy has been a vibrant voice on the Irish landscape for several years. He shot to fame in 2010 as part of The Rubberbandits. Then, last year, he began his solo podcast, which is a mix of comedy, readings, interviews and reflections or, as he puts it, “hot takes and opinions on the universe”.

The content, which is usually a long, rambling monologue set to ambient jazz music, visits all manner of subject areas, including impressionist art, St Brendan’s voyage, cheap speed and Yurty Aherne, an otter he has befriended along the banks of the river that runs through the University of Limerick campus. 

He will record an episode live at It Takes A Village, the upcoming weekender festival in Trabolgan, Co Cork.

The initial idea was that he would throw out a few episodes to help promote the publication of his first book, The Gospel According to Blindboy in 15 Short Stories, but it caught fire so he’s going to keep broadcasting weekly episodes “indefinitely”.

He’s warmed to the podcast medium, especially because of the creative control it affords him compared to, say, his experiences producing television shows.

“The best thing about podcasts is the element of choice,” he says. “A podcast is never forced on anyone; it’s always sought out. It’s pure democratic. It’s a vernacular medium where mistakes and rough edges are part of the craic.

“Also, the process — my podcast is recorded, produced, commissioned and edited by me. I’ve full control — I answer to no one. This is the reason my podcast is getting 250,000 listeners worldwide. My TV shows that I made for RTÉ didn’t get much ratings at all.

“Making TV is very expensive. The money that goes in to TV demands some type of return so it’s not given much room to fail or push boundaries. The biggest issue with making TV is the ‘too many cooks’ syndrome. 

"I’ll have an idea or a vision, and by the time it gets on screen, it’s been changed and diluted by seven people — seven people who each make a contribution based on the fear of deviating too far from what mainstream entertainment is — and it has lost its rigour.

I’m rarely happy with the end result when it comes to television. It always feels like a big game where my producer and myself are sneaking a tiny amount of the best ideas past commissioners rather than the best ideas going on screen, unadulterated. If something I make in a bedroom, that costs fuck-all, and has no budget for advertising is outperforming my TV work that costs thousands, then that tells me, the creative system for TV is broken and needs to be examined.

There is money, however, in television. Making money from a podcast is a different challenge. He is looking for a sponsor — he had one for a month, at one stage — but believes the fact he deals with mental health issues on the podcast could be off-putting for some potential sponsors. 

The patrons who support him on the online membership platform Patreon — usually for about “the price of a pint” a month — have been a fillip, though.

“My Patreon page is fantastic at the moment,” he says. “It’s giving me a lovely incentive to deliver on time each week. I also love the philosophy of it — it makes the podcast experience feel reciprocal.”

The breath of Blindboy’s interests is a draw. Listening to the podcast is a bit like as if Melvyn Bragg was talking to himself on BBC Radio 4’s show In Our Time, the expert discussions show on the history of ideas.

Blindboy will admit to not being an authority on certain areas, for example, with a recent riff on the perils of neoliberalism but he is nearly always engaging, which is helped by his deadpan sense of humour. 

Referring to a conversation he had with a Muslim cabbie in London who claimed to have worked for the MI5, Blindboy concluded: “He’d some very interesting things to say; now he could also have been a compulsive liar.”

Blindboy has only had a few guests on the show to date, but there are some appealing ones coming up, including Russell Brand. A few weeks ago, he had on the writer Kevin Barry. 

Kevin Barry

The pair had a lively chat where they chewed the fat on the writing process; lamping rabbits; mindfulness versus mindlessness; and Barry’s days clubbing at Sir Henry’s nightclub in Cork in the 1990s (“120 beats per minute and nothing less”).

As a writer, Barry is a reference point for Blindboy. 

“I was taken aback and relieved by how much writing he does before he lands on something he considers good enough to keep,” Blindboy says. 

“He’s such a talented writer, I figured that the content would just come to him. That’s the discipline of anything creative though.

“You need to be able to tolerate the anxiety of not striking gold, and trudge through the process without fear.”

In addition to driving the podcast on, Blindboy is working on his second fiction book as well as looking at adapting elements from his first book for stage.

“The second book is the project that most excites me,” he says. “The feeling of disappearing into my own head cinema to watch films that were made just for me is pure ecstasy. 

"I adore sitting down at the laptop, and just letting my unconscious mind reveal stories to me. It’s like dreaming when awake but having control over the dream.”

The Blindboy Podcast will feature a special guest interview at It Takes A Village festival, April 13-15, Trabolgan, Co Cork. See: ittakesavillage.fm


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