Archive for the ‘belfast’ Tag

A Perfect Day (Day 76)

Terri Hooley on laptop

Pretty much the best day so far. Started out from Terri Hooley’s house in the company of Stuart Bailie, radio presenter on BBC Ulster, head of the Oh Yeah music centre and expert on Van Morrison, having grown up in the same hood. The pair of them gave me a beautiful tour of Van’s East Belfast taking in not only his birthplace in Hyndford Street but all those mythically poetic names like Orangefield, Cyprus Avenue and the like. Stuart really knows his shit, he recently made a radio tour of the place and is making a longer programme along the same lines to be broadcast soon. That’s the pylon where Van arranged to meet, the third one over. That’s where he drunk alone under the bridge, chips in Terri. It was such an evocative way to experience the city.

a gift from my nephew repatriated and signed by the 'old puffin'

a gift from my nephew repatriated – and signed by the ‘old puffin’

When we got to Oh Yeah in the Cathedral Quarter, all within spitting distance of Terri’s Northern Irish Punk hub at the old Harp Bar, I took my leave of Terri, a warm hug from a genuinely warm and charming personality, at the entrance to the former whiskey warehouse which is now one of the physical legacies of Terri’s activities over the years, Oh Yeah indeed, and Stuart gave me a really insightful interview, shedding light on some of the more mysterious parts of the Good Vibrations story.

oh yeah stiff little fingers

From there I trotted round the corner along the alleyway where Wizard Studios used to be, where Teenage Kicks was recorded. At the end is a red door which marks the new home of Atto Partners, a digital and design agency I work with, having introduced them to the emerging world of multiplatform TV on 4thought.tv . They gave me a bag of Christmas tea – happy days!

KVLR

KVLR says hi

Within a literal stone’s throw is the John Hewitt which seemed as good a place as any to hook up with my old friend KVLR, Kev Largey to dull mortals. He’s an artist who does a lot of top class work on the streets of Belfast and Dublin. One of his pieces opposite where we were seated happens to be on page 194 of Terri’s book Hooleygan. It’s beside the Art Deco arcade where Terri’s shop was immolated by the forces of darkness. [see Day 75 post for eejits and incendiary devices].

breaking bad graffiti

Kev took me on a splendid tour of the best of the top-notch street art around North Street where Good Vibrations currently resides. He gave me a bag of dried seaweed – happy days! It’s a Belfast favourite, which he picked up as we passed a greengrocer’s stall, to give me my first taste  – it brings the sea to you like nothing else, even shellfish and fishfish, the minute you start chewing. It brought back memories of the seaweed baths my beautiful young bride and I visited in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo on our honeymoon.

To round off a perfect day we popped in to the record shop below Kev’s studio where I found some of Malcolm Garrett’s finest work for Buzzcocks [more of him in the new year] and a bootleg or promo album entitled On The Road with, yes you’ve guessed it, Allen Ginsberg on the cover sitting with Bob Dylan beside Jack Kerouac’s grave.  Waiting for me or what?

on the road bob dylan allen ginsberg jack kerouac

Hooley in Belfast (Day 75)

The One-eyed Man

Writing this one in Terri Hooley’s kitchen with Terri at the table sorting out his Facebook and emails. On the fridge door is a magnet saying “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. The weird thing is that is from 4Talent, a Channel 4 talent development initiative I was in charge of establishing in my first years there. It couldn’t have ended up in a more appropriate place after all these years (it must be a good five years old by now, more probably).

Terri Hooley on laptop

I spent the whole of Day 75 in Belfast with Terri, mainly at his Good Vibrations record store on North Street. I picked up a copy of Teenage Kicks there for a fiver. How could you not? – it was on the wall crying out to me. I also picked up a New Order LP with a Saville cover and not much by way of writing – no title or band name as was the Factory way, just FAC153 on the spine.

Good Vibrations records - singles

Terri took me on a tour of the area past the site of Wizard recording studio where Teenage Kicks among other Good Vibes things was recorded. We also went by the site of the Harp Bar, hub of Punk Belfast. We ended in the John Hewitt for a swift pint or three. I’d been there in the past, originally with Peter Logue, then Channel 4’s Man in Northern Ireland, and later with Kev Largey aka KVLR, a (street) artist who I first met through 4Talent – then known as Ideasfactory Northern Ireland – and one of whose pieces appears in Terri’s book Hooleygan.

the john hewitt pub belfast

We headed back to East Belfast to Van territory and Terri’s place to do an interview which was quite revealing about the kind of person Terri is and therefore some of what fuelled his catalysing of Punk in Belfast, which proved to be an important act in the context of the bleak days of The Troubles. He has many things in common with Tony Wilson (and some key differences) but the political dimension and the urgency of need to provide an alternative were particular to Terri’s situation and enabled him to help deliver the Needed Thing at the right time.

Terri Hooley and Teenage Kicks mural Belfast

As we sat up late partaking of some grapejuice, listening to Stuart Bailie’s show on Radio Ulster (with roots in John Peel), news came on about a failed incendiary device attack in Belfast city centre around the time we were in the Hewitt. Some eejit ended up setting himself on fire. Kingdom of the Blind.

Good Vibrations record store Belfast

Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations Belfast record store

Good Vibrations (Day 73)

The Clash in Northern Ireland

The Clash in Northern Ireland

Day 73 was centred on Terri Hooley, the man behind Good Vibrations record shop and label in Belfast. He’s a complementary case study to Tony Wilson in the Music chapter, also illustrating the underlying theme of creating from where you are and resisting the drag to the centre/capital.

Alternative Ulster

Alternative Ulster

There was an endearing movie released earlier this year about him called Good Vibrations, similar in vibe to Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll and Telstar. My friend Adie Dunbar made a spirited appearance as a Republican gangster in one of the all-time dodgiest wigs, worthy of a series in its own right.

Terri Hooley

Terri Hooley

I’m going to see Terri in Belfast straight after this weekend on Day 75 which I’m very much looking forward to.

Richard Dorner as Terri Hooley in 'Good Vibrations'

Richard Dormer as Terri Hooley in ‘Good Vibrations’

My nephew gave me an early Good Vibrations 45 for The BoxOne by One by Ruefrex. He was given it by Terri one day when passing through the shop in Belfast. I think I’ll repatriate it (if only temporarily) just for a sense of poetic completion.

It smells like …victory

I’m getting into the swing of the lovely Twitter-based word game Artwiculate – born in Belfast, thought of and designed by atto, improved and realised by Johnston North.

Artwiculate Twitter word game
Artwiculate Twitter word game winner

Diaphanous was one of my first gos at Artwiculate. I tried one a couple of nights earlier but it was only 5 minutes before the end of the 24 hours and it didn’t register – the word was Quagmire. “I admire a good quagmire, something you can really get stuck into”

The challenge of writing well in 140 characters is something else you can really get stuck into – it has something of the unities of classical drama about it. Some people really seem to shine at it like Russell no T Davies of Wired UK.

I came across Artwiculate because I’m always on the look-out for inspirational word stuff in my capacity as a non-exec (NED – another word game I indulge in is collecting TLAs) of Wordia, the video dictionary which is a quagmire in itself once you immerse yourself in all those lovely words and definitions like Vibrato, Neologism and Flannel.

Update 12.01.10

Some of my recent Artwiculate entries:

A John Osborne one…

The Avocado Bathroom Suite – a drama by Kitsch N. Sink. Jimmy looks back in anger on a miserable visit to Habitat with posh cow Alison.

A Steely Dan one…

Yesterday’s Ephemeral is today’s Ephem: no static at all

An Evelyn Waugh/Men at Arms one…

Lissome up, men, I want this march lithe, quick and graceful – by the left, lithe, quick and graceful march! left, right, left, right…

Hunger

Steve McQueen directing Hunger

Steve McQueen directing Hunger

I have to admit I was a bit worried when I heard Channel 4 were making a film about Bobby Sands and the Maze hunger strike. Having sat through shite like Ken Loach and Rebecca O’Brien’s ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ I feared the worst. But ‘Hunger‘, by Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen, is an artist’s film of intense emotional impact and real insight. And it belongs on the big screen, its compositions and rhythms fill the space. That it is a London born film-maker, a black film-maker, that provides such insight into so fraught and sensitive an Irish story is all the more remarkable.

It was commissioned by my colleague Jan Younghusband, Commissioning Editor for Arts and Performance at Channel 4. She is a woman with a purist and committed approach to art, as I learned from working with her on projects like Big Art Project and 4mations. ‘Hunger’ was five years in the making and conception. Through her work on the Turner Prize Jan came into contact with McQueen, hooked up from time to time in a cafe on Old Compton Street and gradually homed in on this most demanding of subject-matter. Film 4, in the person of Peter Carlton (who I worked with last year on My Movie Mash-up/Faintheart, which amply demonstrated his ballsy approach) came in to back the film as a theatric offering. I have to say, having just emerged from a viewing of the finished film, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of an organisation that creates a work like this.

I walk past Bobby Sands regularly in the form of a Christ-like statue of him in Newry, the town in County Down where my wife was born. She grew up in Northern Ireland in the 70s and early 80s – I can hardly imagine how she and her sisters will watch this film. Whatever you feel about the politics behind Bobby Sands (of which most of our (British) population is incredibly ignorant, and was so back in 1980 – as a suburban London teenager it was right off my radar beyond what I gleaned from Stiff Little Fingers) the portrayal of political conviction and of inhuman bigotry is as powerful as it comes. Thatcher’s voice, heard in voice-over punctuating the film from time to time, comes across as truly monstrous. Everything about its coldness and stridency speaks of the huge cultural gulf between the Lincoln grocery and a family gathering in West Belfast or Gweedore, Donegal (where the key flashback scene of the film takes place) or pretty much anywhere in Ireland or an Irish home.

My wife recalls how her life and the lives of all around her were overshadowed by the hunger strike. A time punctuated by the staggered deaths (they deliberately spaced the starts of their hunger-strikes two weeks apart to maximise the impact of their sacrifice). Looking back from the last few years it is only now she truly recognises what a troubled, hard childhood she and her contemporaries lived through. A couple of years ago we were in the (old) Tate with the children. They were copying some of the pictures in the Pop Art rooms. As we emerged from the gallery I noticed my wife was really upset. I asked her what was up and it turned out walking through a room of Richard Hamilton images of soldiers on the streets of Belfast [The State 1993] had really disturbed her and awakened ghosts. (Richard Hamilton of course also portrayed Bobby Sands draped in blanket in his picture ‘The Citizen’ [1981-83].)

When I first visited Newry in 1986 I was greeted by the most surreal of experiences – walking down the high street I watched British troops, armed with machine guns and equipped with radios, ducking in and out of shop doorways between little old ladies struggling along with their shopping bags. Nothing in my North London childhood had given me the slightest clue that such dark comedy was to be had on the streets of ‘my country’.

On my way out of the screening I met a woman who looked pretty shaken by the experience (naturally enough). It turned out her daughter works at the Channel and she comes from Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh. Needless to say she knew the one family I know in Crossmaglen, as that is the way of Ireland. I knew the hospital she was born in in Newry, Daisyhill aka Crazyhill, as my wife was born there too. I knew her school in Kilkeel as my wife went there too. It’s a small, connected place. In her family home this woman I got talking to has some of the tiny notes smuggled out of the Maze – that’s how connected it is.

I thought the starvation in Sean Penn’s ‘Into the Wild‘ was painful to watch and moving but it goes nowhere near the forensic observation of this film. The skeletal bodies are resonant of Auschwitz – and the crucifixion. And yet the film captures something incredible, something transcendent about the human spirit and will.

Towards the end of the film we see a flashback of the Belfast boy on a coach traveling over the border into Donegal to attend a cross-country race put on by the Christian Brothers (purveyors, as Pete McCarthy amusingly put it, of “the carrot and stick method of Education – only without the carrot”). Behind the face of the young Bobby is a blurred swoosh of gold, low sunlight on the ferns and bogland. It represents a paradise to the starving man.

Recalling when I first went to that place – Gweedore – brings a smile to my lips. I’d followed the roadmap and came to what I thought was not far from Gweedore. I stopped at a junction, reminiscent of where Cary Grant gets off the bus in ‘North-by-Northwest’ and gets attacked by a crop-spraying plane. There was a small shop at the junction, outside of which stood an old fella in a flat cap. I wound down the window and asked him where Gweedore was. You’re in it. Where? All around. He was trying to explain the concept of a ‘townland’ which was foreign to me. ‘Town’ I get. ‘Land’ and ‘country’ I get. But this was something in-between, half way to the imagination, between the word on the map and the ground beneath me was a cultural gap and an imaginative leap. ‘Dhun na nGall’ (Donegal) means ‘fort of the foreigners’ – foreigners have given the people there a tough time since way back – from the marauding Vikings (who probably explain my wife’s love of the battle and fighting scenes in ‘Gladiator’) to the screws beating the living shit out of Bobby Sands and fellow prisoners with their truncheons and tattooed knuckles. The same shit these men smeared on the walls of their cells in an astonishing act of defiance for over 4 years, the shit McQueen turns into a kind of circular abstract painting in one scene. The ability of people to survive that kind of degradation and brutality for the sake of an idea is ultimately uplifting. The ability to inflict that kind of degradation and brutality is to be the subject of one of my next posts (bet you can’t wait ;-) inspired by Philippe Sands‘ recent book Torture Team about torture in Iraq, where Steve McQueen served as a war artist in 2003.) So shifting Sands from Bobby to Philippe – not easy subjects but then 7/7 isn’t an easy day…

Radio Radio

Neil Pearson

An article by Robin Parker in Broadcast this week about my The Radio Play’s The Thing commission, a project I’ve been working on for two years now and which is just concluding its production phase.

I conceived it as an experiment in what I called (back in 2006) ‘User Commissioned Content’, which was sloppy short-hand for ‘User-Generated Content where you give the User a few quid to help realise their vision’ (for some studio time, a special actor, whatever). As it turned out I was applying a TV/video paradigm to the Radio medium where the gap between writer and producer/director is much wider so I adapted the project on the fly, eventually bringing in professional directors from other disciplines (TV, experimental theatre, etc.) to produce the radio dramas professionally but with the freshness of never having worked in the Radio medium.

4Radio sounds off with dramas ahead of launch

  • Published: 07 May 2008 11:45
  • Author: Robin Parker

The first fiction commissions for Channel 4’s fledgling 4Radio venture are to debut online later this month when the broadcaster unveils four audio dramas.

The plays are all by new writers and will be directed by TV and theatre directors making their radio debuts. Neil Pearson and Hollyoaks actors Gerard McCarthy and Jennifer Biddall are among the cast.

The scripts were chosen from more than 1,000 submitted to an online competition launched last year off the back of C4 theatre talent search The Play’s the Thing.

They were originally intended to be shared with OneWord before C4 pulled its funding from the station in December.

C4 now plans to use the web to launch the plays ahead of 4Radio‘s planned start at the end of this year and will also make them available as podcasts.

The 15-minute plays tackle heavyweight themes. Hospital doctor Andy Prendergast’s To the Broad Shore explores euthanasia; DA McIllroy’s The Interpreter features a confrontation between a Belfast police officer and a Chinese illegal immigrant; Stephen Todd’s Proud Songster looks at the impact of genocide in Rwanda; and Caroline Gilfillan’s The Colonel reflects on Chilean torture that took place in the 1970s.

All four are produced by Maud Hand of Maud Hand Productions and John Dryden of Goldhawk Productions. Hand has developed the project since January 2006. Dryden was invited latterly to come on board and is an experienced radio producer who has specialised in recording plays on location, most notably Radio 4’s The Cairo Trilogy, starring Omar Sharif.

The 4Radio plays are also made out of the studio in locations around London.

Directors lined up include Noreen Kershaw, the Life on Mars actress who has turned to directing Coronation Street and Shameless, and Andrew Foster, the New Zealand theatre director who developed cult comedy Flight of the Conchords for HBO and directed the feature film Eagle vs Shark.

C4 new media commissioner Adam Gee has championed the plays at C4, developing the project in his earlier role as head of 4Talent.

Also involved have been writer Annie Caulfield, Radio Academy director Trevor Dann and Shameless creator Paul Abbott.

“Having created some content for 4Radio, much of it linked to established C4 shows, this is our first experiment in making radio drama sound different,” said Gee.

Article reproduced courtesy of Robin Parker and Broadcast

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