Our regular arts/ents writers select their personal highlights of the year. Today we hear from Eoghan O’Sullivan & Ellie O’Byrne.
Live music highlights
LCD Soundsystem at Barts, Barcelona, 31/5: Whatever about their comeback after five years (I was one of the sceptics), seeing a stellar live band in front of 1,500 people is always a great idea. ‘All My Friends’ has never sounded so stirring.
Lisa Hannigan at Cork Opera House, 12/12: It’s taken her a while to get there but At Swim has cemented Hannigan’s place at the top table of Irish music. She showcased why at a sold-out Cork Opera House on a wet and chilly December night.
Villagers at Everyman Theatre, 24/1: There have been some special Villagers shows in Cork but this one topped them all. There was no ‘Becoming a Jackal’ — and it wasn’t even missed.
Rusangano Family — Let The Dead Bury The Dead: It’s been great seeing the Limerick trio, rappers God Knows and Murli and beatmaker John Lillis, reach their potential. They were already one of the best live bands in the country but they proved with their debut album, following a couple of mixtapes, that they have the songs to back the up the hype.
Stephanie Danler’s debut Sweetbitter, about a young woman coming to New York and finding her place, both in life and at a busy restaurant, lived up to the hype, while Donal Ryan wrote his best book yet, All We Shall Know, and Mike McCormack finally escaped the confines of being a writer’s writer (ie not known) with Solar Bones. Honourable mention for the best essay of 2016, Sinéad Gleeson’s superb tale of Lourdes and ailing bodies, Blue Hills and Chalk Bones, in Granta.
Room and I, Daniel Blake were certainly the biggest tearjerkers of the year; the latter seemed less a movie and more an indictment of society in 2016. On the other side of things, Captain America: Civil War was the tour-de-force blockbuster of the year.
With fewer and fewer quality options for the music fan in Ireland, it’s testament to Cian Ó Cíobháin (An Taobh Tuathail, RnaG, 10pm, Monday-Friday) that he still intrigues, excites and informs. Special mention for Jeff Buckley’s Irish Odyssey, a brilliant RTÉ Documentary on One in November.
Apart from the obvious sports ones, 2 Dope Queens and My Dad Wrote a Porno both provided a lot of laughs — we needed them in 2016.
Thankfully I couldn’t relate to it too much, but I thought Can’t Cope Won’t Cope was the best homegrown TV I’ve seen in a long time. Creator Stefanie Preissner may well be the voice Irish twenty-somethings have been seeking while Seana Kerslake, portraying the increasingly off-the-rails Aisling, is the newcomer of the year.
The increasing amount of Irish acts coming to terms with the dwindling amount of money going around.
I haven’t thought about the whys of music-making more than after my 45-minute chat with the prolific Dan Walsh for my podcast, The Point of Everything. Dan’s just released a superb album with his experimental troupe Fixity (The Things in the Room) and he runs the improvised music nights in Gulpd Cafe every Thursday. He told me he thinks about music all the time. He just gets it.
Looking forward to for next year
After hoovering up every literary gong going in the past 18 months, Sara Baume follows up Spill Simmer Falter Wither in February with A Line Made By Walking (Tramp Press).
Lisa McInerney’s awards cabinet is also fit to burst and she follows The Glorious Heresies with The Blood Miracles on April 20. Kevin Barry’s play in the Everyman in January, Autumn Royal, also has me intrigued.
Music wise, I’m excited to hear what the Tune-yards adjacent Ae Mak do next, along with Barq, Lakerama, and Ellll, and seeing just how big Talos become.
Having spent my fair share of time schlepping through mud at festivals in 2016, and hierarchising people on the basis of the amount of cash they fork out re the levels of fun and comfort they deserve, Paul Simon’s ‘Wristband’ became my anthem of the year.
The first single from Stranger to Stranger, released in June, extrapolates from the tacit acceptance of “wristband” mentality to broader acceptance of a ‘haves and have-nots’ society. At 75, he’s as astute a social commenter and observer of trends as ever he was.
RTÉ’s December screening of Atlantic, Richie O’Domhnall’s powerful, Brendan Gleeson-narrated documentary on the struggle for Atlantic marine resources in Ireland, Newfoundland and Norway was a bold move by the State broadcaster.
There’ve been some amazing memories. Rusangano Family’s album launch in The Kino, in Cork, delivered whopping doses of exuberant energy. Girl Band’s taut precision and incendiary fury burned up all the oxygen at Body & Soul mainstage and left me gasping. As far as reverent silences go, Melbourne alt-pop outfit, Oh Pep!, and their extraordinary rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel’, in the snug confines of Coughlan’s, on Douglas Street, left the biggest impression. Admittedly, this may be partly retrospective; three days after their gig, Cohen died.
Iggy Pop holds court on BBC Radio 6 on Friday evenings, with a two-hour slot combining eclectic musical selections with Iggy’s gravelly reminiscences of everything from the first time he heard Miles Davis (“I thought my head had exploded”) to encounters with legendary bands like the Ohio Players. There have been a few stand-ins this year, as Mr Pop has been busy with his album, Post Pop Depression, released in March.
I’m finally getting around to comedy podcast, My Dad Wrote A Porno. Jamie Morton and his friends, James Cooper and BBC Radio 1’s Alice Levine, read, chapter by anatomically incorrect chapter, a distinctly unsexy ‘erotic novel’, penned by Morton’s 60-year-old dad under the pseudonym, Rocky Flintstone. Awkward hilarity all round.
For many, 2016 will be remembered as an endless wake for musical icons, but, for me, it was the loss of notable arts spaces that hit a bum note. In Cork, the Camden Palace Arts Centre, and Sample Studios, fell foul of rising property values, as developers moved back in. Camden Palace is now temporarily housed in a less-than-ideal building, and the 82 resident artists and staff of Sample Studios are winding up their year seeking new quarters.
Lip-service to ‘Creative Ireland’, in the same year that the coalition government spawned a new ‘Frankenbrief’ for Heather Humphreys, as Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht (for which read ‘anything unprofitable’) was cold comfort. It seems arts faces a choice: be monetised or be marginalised.
Actress Fiona Shaw was a razor-sharp intellect, but firmly evasive of any questions that erred on the side of the personal; an awkward interview that left me feeling like a thundering idiot.
Tuning in to her interview with Marian Finucane the day after our interview, and hearing Finucane’s blunt attempt to engage her on the subject of her sexuality and Shaw’s swift shut-down, all was clear. Grow up, Ireland. Sigh.
Looking forward to next year
Laurie Anderson’s trio of performances at the National Concert Hall, in May. Bon Iver for Forbidden Fruit at Kilmainham in June. Cork Opera House looks like having a good year for comedy, and Townlands Carnival, in Macroom should be established enough to draw good acts, while remaining a friendly size.
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