Flying piano prof goes the distance

He’s been nicknamed the flying piano man.

Retired German professor of music Franz Frank flies in each Wednesday from Munich to tinkle the ivories at one of Cork’s best known pubs.

The professor first visited Cork with his choir for the choral festival in 1978.

He was back in Ireland in October for the Ireland v Germany soccer match and the Guinness Jazz festival, when the unusual arrangement with the pub was struck.

“I was visiting places where music was on and I saw an article about Dick O’Sullivan playing piano in the Hi-B. So I went for a look. I was told that he was sick. Unfortunately, he later died,” Franz said.

While he was in the Oliver Plunkett St bar regulars inquired what he did, and soon he was at the piano.

“Brian (O’Donnell), the owner, asked me if I’d do a few sessions and I said, ja, sure.”

“Brian then asked me if I could play regularly. I said, my God, I live in Germany, it’s not possible.”

But the 58-year-old widower, who has a holiday home in Malta, thought more about it.

“I checked flights from Munich to Cork and saw that I could fly in on a Wednesday and leave on a Saturday. So I said yes. It’s costing me money, but as you say here, I love the craic.

“I do it for the love of it. Long distances [a 2,978km round trip] and money aren’t important,” said Franz, who has conducted the Munich Opera.

While he plays classical music he’s well able to mix it with famous Beatles, Sinatra and Elvis songs as well a jazz.

“I’ll basically play what people want. The people are so friendly and have a great sense of humour, like Bavaria,” Franz said.

Back home he drinks Weiss (wheat) beer, but in Cork it’s pints of Murphys.

Pub owner Brian O’Donnell said: “He’s very good, if a bit overqualified. He certainly knows his music.”

Regular Garry Corbey said: “Franz has really grown on the people here. He’s a great sense of humour.”

Franz was taught to sing as a young man by Georg Ratzinger — brother of Pope Benedict XVI.

He also has another Cork connection. His daughter Jeannie met her husband, Douglas man Brendan O’Callaghan, at a GAA tournament in Paris.

The couple, who now live in Luxembourg, got married in May 2011. Brian is a financial manager with Astra Satellites.

Friends in Hi places lie low when Brian’s on warpath

By Dan Buckley

Groucho Marx once said he would never want to join a club that would have him as a member.

Anyone who has ventured up the rickety stairs of the Hi-B will understand what he meant.

Unlike today’s fancy clubs and sleek pubs, the tiny bar on Oliver Plunkett St in Cork is surreal — not so much a place as an experience — and it is rejection rather than acceptance that is the mark of distinction most prized by Hi-B goers.

Many of the clientele are highly irregular regulars, a bit like the Hi-B’s owner, Brian O’Donnell, the sometimes genial and more often grumpy despot who lives and reigns over the bar.

Occasionally he will give over his reigning to do a bit of pouring but mostly you will find him either aloft or next to the fireplace, surrounded by newspapers and listening to classical music while watching for miscreants within range of his beady eyes and withering wit.

His Pythonesque ways are legendary. Do not be surprised if he comes downstairs into the bar in his pyjamas. That might elicit a gasp of wonder in more ordinary bars but not in the Hi-B. His sartorial ways are well known and old customers still talk of the time he sat on a barstool in nothing but a tea-towel.

Beware of venturing too far on the wrong side of Brian, because while being occasionally shown the door is a badge of honour, permanent expulsion is not.

Over-indulgence will barely register with him and you will not come amiss for arguing loudly or too passionately so long as you exhibit high intelligence. He will even indulge you if you happen to enjoy singing the Neapolitan ballad Santa Lucia as gaeilge and I can swear to that from personal experience.

But be caught whispering into a mobile phone or — God forbid! — texting and you will be immediately banished.

Other, more venial, preoccupations will attract a variety of sanctions.

Brian likes best the customer who orders something reassuringly expensive, and drinking too slowly will irritate him no end. Wearing a loud tie risks having it severed with a scissors, and adding coal to the fire is not recommended, as one customer found when Brian took a slug from his pint in retaliation.

Yet every few years Brian has managed to attract a new generation to the Hi-B. This is just as well because every now and then he will decide on a mass culling of clientele, and if it wasn’t for the large proportion of young imbibers, there would be nobody left.

So why do people return again and again? Hardly for the decor and certainly not for the dungeon-like gents’. There is only one word for it — craic, beloved of hard drinkers and easy listeners.

And the more cracked you are, the better.


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