A question of taste: Declan McCarthy

Declan McCarthy is the director of the Baltimore Fiddle Fair and is also involved in Skibbereen Arts Festival, which begins this weekend and runs until August 6.

Best recent book you’ve read:

I read lots of plays, but not half as many books as I’d like to. I just finished Do No Harm, Stories of Life and Death in Brain Surgery, by Henry Marsh, which was fascinating.

Best recent film:

Moonlight was definitely my favourite last year. I’m looking forward to seeing all of the films at this year’s Skibbereen Arts Festival, particularly I Am Sun Mu.

Best recent show or gig you’ve seen:

I really enjoyed The Stunning at the recent Doolin Folk Festival. It was a homecoming gig of sorts for them, as the Wall’s are from just up the road in Ennistymon.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old):

A major advantage of working on music festivals is that you get loads of albums in the post ; my current favourite is Snowy Side of the Mountain, by American old time band, The Goodbye Gals.

First-ever piece of music or art that really moved you:

I remember the 1985 album, The Storm, by Moving Hearts, having a big effect on me, because, before that, I never listened to traditional Irish music.

Also, a 1990 album by Máirtín O’Connor, called Perpetual Motion, had a profound effect. His address was on the back, so I wrote him a letter, inviting to come and play in our bar in Baltimore — my very first venture into music promotion.

The best gig or show you’ve seen:

Impossible question: Van Morrison, at Skibbereen Welcome Home Week, around 1996; Chic, at Liss Ard, in 2012; or countless amazing Fiddle Fair gigs over the years.

What was your favourite event of last year’s festival in Skibb?

Can I mention two? The ’60s street party, All You Need Is Love, was pretty amazing and I don’t think Skibbereen town hall has ever seen a night quite like the Vieux Farka Touré concert.

Radio listening and/or podcasts:

In the car, it’s usually a mix of R na G, The Blue of the Night on Lyric, or Off The Ball on Newstalk.

You’re curating your dream festival — what three artists are on the bill, living or dead?

The Beatles, Tom Waits, and a young Van Morrison.

Your best celebrity encounter:

Back in the early 1990s, when running the family bar in Baltimore, I was totting up the old-style credit card slips from the restaurant, when I spotted the name Robert Plant.

I asked my mum and sister ‘Was Robert Plant in here tonight?’ and they both said ‘Who’s he — there was a guy with a big head of blond curly hair, was that him?’ God help us! I did meet him at the festival in Glasgow a couple of years ago, so I eventually forgave them.

You can portal back to any period of cultural history or music event — where, when, and why?

I suppose it’s a cliche to say the ’60s, but it must have been pretty amazing. Also, would have been cool to have been hanging out in Vienna, back in the 18th century, when Mozart was making music (as long as you were wealthy, of course).

Unsung heroes:

CoAction — I was lucky enough to spend one winter producing a play with the members of the local group, here in Skibbereen, and it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. The level of support for individuals with intellectual disabilities is pretty dire in Ireland, especially after they leave the school system, and organisations such as CoAction truly do amazing work.

You are king for a day — what’s your first decree?

Lock up all the bankers, politicians, and developers who bankrupted the county and got off scot-free, and then declare January a national holiday.


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