How was it for you?: Ellie O'Byrne selects her highlights of 2018

How was it for you?: Ellie O'Byrne selects her highlights of 2018

Best live gig:

David Byrne’s American Utopia at the 3Arena in October was the stand-out show of the year. A lifetime of reconstructing what music is and what performing should achieve crammed into one choreographed show with outstanding musicianship and cutting edge, near-invisible high-tech wizardry. Mindblowing.

Small gigs and fresh discoveries are usually more up my street and Laois “Atlantean folk” trio Cua’s beautiful harmonies and subversive brilliance in an afternoon lull at Vantastival in the summer made for a stand-out moment. Another was unsung Irish music hero Jinx Lennon’s set at Body and Soul: Lennon has taken his already fierce song-writing flair to a whole new level with his latest album Grow a Pair and is penning gritty, off-kilter modern ballads that deserve more recognition.

Best book

Kerry artist and food activist Lisa Fingleton’s recently self-published The Local Food Project documents her Local Food challenge, where she ate only Irish-grown foods for the month of September. It’s an intriguing exploration of issues around food security and as an artist, she has a unique way of making her message accessible: Using cartoon illustrations, she explodes a garage-bought BLT and reveals the provenance of all 45 of its processed ingredients.

TV Show

Tales from the Tour Bus is an inspired animated series from Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge. Season one took on the bad boys — and girls — of country music, while season two immerses itself in the world of funk.

Hilarious and insightful, Judge’s creation relies on first-person tales from legends including P-funk bass god Bootsy Collins to tell the maddest stories, including those of Rick James, George Clinton, and James Brown.

How else would you learn that the entire genre of hip hop was born because Clinton had taken LSD when he went to record the oft-sampled ‘Atomic Dog’ and didn’t spot they were playing the track he was singing over backwards?

Live event

Catalan theatre company La Fura dels Baus brought their awesome Human Seed aerial display to Electric Picnic, where a cast of 55 white-suited Irish aerial artists performed a synchronised display as part of a “human net,” suspended 40ft over the oohing and aahing crowd. It was magical.

The one that got away

I didn’t see enough live theatre in 2018. Having interviewed both cast members of Kevin Barry’s debut play Autumn Royal, I didn’t get to go and see it. I’m also not sure how I managed to miss Arcade Fire in the 3Arena on my birthday. Harrumph.


Good Irish bands calling it a day. In 2018, O Emperor, the Hot Sprockets, and the Strypes were among the bands that made farewell announcements to fans. No doubt all of those talented musicians will be popping up in new outfits, but their collective contributions to the Irish scene will be missed.

Best interview

I was in bed semi-delirious with ’flu while conducting a phone interview with former indie queen Natalie Merchant whose 1998 album Ophelia was something of a coming-of-age soundtrack for me. Discussing her interpretation of The Bonny Light Horseman that she had recorded with Lúnasa, she sang me a verse down the phone. Full-blown star-struck, in my sweaty PJs.

Looking forward to in 2019:

Tyrone comedian Kevin McAleer goes back on tour in 2019 with his new show, Guru, following his cameo in Derry Girls as boring Uncle Colm early in 2018. He has reinvented himself as “Ireland’s humblest lama” for his latest show, his take on all things mindful, with a promise of “full spiritual enlightenment on the night, or your money back.”.

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