Last Wednesday, the six members of Midlake from Texas took to the stage of Dolan’s Warehouse and delivered an impressive 90-minute set. I wasn’t that familiar with their music beforehand, but I thoroughly enjoyed the band’s musicianship, vocal harmonies and their songs. They formed in 1999 and released albums in 2004, 2006 and 2010. Antiphon is the title of their fourth album and it will be released later this year
It’s four in the evening and sunny. That’s not unusual for a mid-July day in the Northern Hemisphere. But I’m writing this on the outskirts of Limerick city and anyone familiar with Ireland’s third largest city will be only too aware that it’s not noted for its sunshine. Recently, however, the Limerick of Frank McCourt’s raintrodden Angela’s Ashes, like the rest of Ireland, has been experiencing its hottest summer in seven years and there’s no sign of it abating. The unusual weather has brought warm days and nights, sunshine and no rain. As a result, people are constantly in a good mood, more optimistic and far happier. This unexpected heat wave has had to compete with two other unusual events this week. On Sunday, the Limerick hurling team won its first Munster championship in 17 years, when they defeated provincial rivals Cork in front of 30,000 sports fans at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds in Ireland’s national sport. Two days later, at the home of the Munster rugby team, Thomond Park, over 30,000 music fans came to watch Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band make it a memorable few days for the city by the River Shannon. Many people got to experience the weather, the hurling and the music. Due to work commitments, I could only watch Sunday’s final on television, but I was there on Tuesday to see the concert of a lifetime by my favourite performer.
Ireland’s television network became the latest in Europe to make the switch from analogue to digital yesterday. I much prefer the higher quality of picture and the greater choice of channels that digital TV offers, though there are also certain things about watching the telly before the arrival of digital that I’ll miss. The first TV set that arrived in my family home, a black and white Ferguson 21-inch, didn’t get a lot of use for the first few years. You see, we only had the one channel until a second one appeared in 1978. RTE had been going since 1961 and programmes didn’t start until about five in the afternoon and finished well before midnight. I remember watching lots of cartoons, cop shows and sitcoms around that time and all in black and white. We got our first colour telly around 1985 and a VCR a few years later. I didn’t get access to the BBC and Channel 4 until I moved into Limerick city about twenty years ago
It’s Good Friday today and yet again all the pubs in Ireland will be closed until just before lunchtime tomorrow. It’s been like this all my life, though I have drank porter in Irish pubs on this day in the past. Two years ago, I did so legally and I’m going to be supping legal pints in a licensed premises this evening as well. Alcohol will actually be available today on trains and at train station bars, but only for people who produce a valid train ticket as proof of travel that day. I’ve no idea why commuters are given this privilege, as travelling by train is the safest form of journey you could take. However, there’s another option available for connoisseurs of drink in four Irish cities today. For some reason, greyhound racing is also exempt from Good Friday restrictions, presumably because it makes the sport more interesting. The four lucky venues are Galway Greyhound Stadium, Limerick Greyhound Stadium, Curraheen Park, Cork, and Harold’s Cross, Dublin. For just under €40, you get a four-course meal, admission & a race programme. You also get a drinks service and someone to take your bets. I was there a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it, though only two of my dogs won. Hopefully, Jesus can bring me better luck today
This summer sees the 40th anniversary of the release of one of rock music’s most iconic albums. The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars was David Bowie‘s fifth studio album and it made it into record shops in June, 1972. It’s basically a concept album that draws upon science fiction and rock mythology to tell the story of a musician named Ziggy Stardust and his band, The Spiders From Mars. The concept is a loose one as not all the songs on the album relate to the overall concept and one of them (It Ain’t Easy) is a cover of a song by a guy called Ron Davies. Nevertheless, the album’s packaging, marketing, sequencing and overall sound certainly made it seem like all the songs were connected and it also helped that Bowie and the band adopted the fictional band’s persona in concert and television appearances. Of course, the decision to wear the group’s “futuristic” costumes during this period was a big factor in maintaining the illusion. The album contains some of Bowie’s best songs (Starman and Ziggy Stardust) but, like all great records, its strength lies in the consistency of the work and that it can be enjoyed from beginning to end
I’m not usually a fan of tribute bands, but I saw one last weekend that proved to be the exception to the rule. It took place at Dolan’s Warehouse in Limerick, though it would be more correct to call it a tribute to one of the greatest musical events in rock & roll. The show being celebrated was the 1976 farewell performance by The Band that took place at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco during Thanksgiving Day. This spectacular concert not only featured The Band along with an impressive horn section, but also some of the biggest names in music at the time. Thankfully, the show was filmed by Martin Scorsese and given a cinema release two years later as The Last Waltz. I first bought a copy on video cassette over twenty years ago and upgraded to DVD a few years ago. I’ve watched it dozens of times over the years and it always cheers me up no end when I put it on. It was no different at Dolan’s last Saturday night
We’ve been experiencing an early summer in Ireland this week, with hardly a cloud in the sky and temperatures remaining in the late teens throughout. On Thursday, however, I decided to heed Noël Coward’s advice about mad dogs and Englishmen venturing out in the midday sun by taking refuge at the pictures. The venue was The Belltable, Limerick’s main arts centre since 1981. The film was Roger Hamer’s 1949 Ealing classic, Kind Hearts & Coronets, the first of two black and white films to be screened that day. I’m a big fan of the films made by Ealing Studios and have most of them on video or DVD. Kind Hearts is my favourite and it was wonderful to see it on the big screen. It was restored for cinema release in the UK last year and had also been released on DVD nearly a decade ago by the Criterion Collection. I don’t know what version the Belltable used, but the image was brilliant even if it was only in 4:3 format. The film is mainly composed of long- and mid-shots and rarely uses close-ups. This was certainly apt for the theatrical surroundings of the Belltable, and the venue was even more appropriate for the film’s strengths – the script, dialogue and the acting