I sometimes think that life is like an accordion. Most of the time it’s closed as we concentrate on day to day living. But very occasionally and often through music, the accordion opens and out tumble the notes and colours of times past with stunning clarity. I was about 10 years old when my mother embarked on a project to educate me in ‘the arts’.
Dublin in the early 70s wasn’t exactly brimming with cultural productions however we did manage to get off to a fine start with our first outing which was to a performance of Swan Lake by the Cork Ballet Company in the Gaiety Theatre. Apparently I was very taken with it.
My mother is an opera aficionado and generally considers herself a bit of a culture vulture, so she was delighted.
I am not sure if it was the dearth of alternatives or the term ‘opera’ in the tag line which made her book tickets for the ‘rock opera’ Jesus Christ Superstar which opened for the first time in Dublin in March 1973. This was radical stuff in the ultra conservative Ireland of the time. There were even Fr Ted ‘down with this sort of thing’ protests from many who felt that Jesus was above superstardom.
The cast list however read like a ‘who’s who’ of the music scene in Ireland of the day. Tony Kenny played Jesus, Cahir O’Doherty was Pontius Pilate and Judas Iscariot was played by Colm Wilkinson who went on to become a big star in London’s West End. But most unbelievably of all, the part of the very camp King Herod was played by folk legend Luke Kelly. The orchestra contained many musicians who played in the showbands who were at the height of their popularity back then. It was exhilarating stuff for an 10-year-old.
The following year, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat came to town and so off we went. It was here that we ran into trouble. Tony Kenny again played the lead and Pharaoh was played by Cahir O Doherty in full ‘Vegas Elvis’ regalia. Mother is a huge Elvis fan and so was very taken with our Pharaoh. We went to see Joseph many times.
When it finished we discovered that Mr O Doherty had formed a band – The Dazzle Band and they played rock ’n roll in various cabaret venues all over Dublin.
This neatly coincided with my mother learning to drive and becoming the proud owner of a Fiat 500. They weren’t at all trendy back then. They were just very small. Anyway my arts education came to an abrupt end as mother enlisted me as her very willing, groupie sidekick instead.
Off we would head of an evening to the wilds of Finglas (The Drake Inn) or Dublin 1 (The Tudor Rooms, off Parnell Square) or sometimes just up the road to the Noggin Inn in Sallynoggin. While mother’s alcoholic intake progressed from fairly harmless ‘snowballs’ (yes, really) to the more hardcore ‘vodka and white’, I drank coke.
I was 13-years-old but at almost six feet tall had no issue gaining access to venues that were generally over 18s. Oh what fun.
Last night I once again sat beside my mother in a darkened theatre savouring the anticipation of a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar. My teenage daughters and my husband were on my other side.
As the first notes floated around the Bord Gais Energy Theatre the accordion of life opened out, spilling out images from all those years ago.
I sang every word of almost every song in the show in my head. Songs that had no real meaning to a girl of 11 now stirred poignant memories of the intervening years causing old emotions to bubble to the surface; each one now having a relevance that I could not have sensed when I had only the first decade of my life lived.
My mother is now almost 80 and I am, well... you can work it out. As we drove home we regaled my very stunned daughters with stories of our trailing around Dublin in her little car, after The Dazzle Band.
By the time we got to our house, my mother had gained a whole new kudos in the eyes of her grandchildren. They both agreed that their Granny must have been mad craic.
As for Jesus Christ Superstar, they said they found the story hard to follow. They wanted to know who the hell was Judas. Catholic education, how are you?
Maybe Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat would be less challenging. Or maybe I should take them to Swan Lake and leave it at that. These musicals can be the road to Perdition.
Just ask my mother.