Thank you Culture Northern Ireland for giving me a £100 Amazon voucher (for
winning a writing competition completing a survey). And thank you Gerry Anderson and politician Gregory Campbell for helping me spend it. Well, to be more precise - they had a row. But it was a big help to me.
The first bit’s easy. One reason I feel jealous of people living in or near Belfast is that so much is going on there – and I hear about it through the Culture Northern Ireland (CNI) mailout. You may remember tour guide extraordinaire Arthur Magee. I heard about him through CNI. So the CNI bunch were already great. And they’ve now achieved beatification by giving me the aforementioned voucher.
But that left me with a problem.
The sort of thing that tickles my fancy is often not available on Amazon. S0 – how to spend the filthy lucre?
First purchase? Easy. The Point by Gerard Brennan. (He’s also in CNI talking about his odd route to getting published.) I was going to treat myself to The Point for Christmas, and now I have. (I think you deserve one yourself too, don’t you? He’s also written Wee Rockets, which is out as an ebook.)
Mr Campbell became famous in the 1980s for appearing in a temporarily banned BBC TV documentary about Northern Ireland called At The Edge Of The Union. He was shown talking about kill or be killed and loading his (legally held) pistol. But it wasn’t his fault the show was banned.
The other man featured in the programme, former IRA leader Martin McGuinness, was depicted doing something far worse – playing with children. That was what prompted the ban. He looked too nice.
Both men ended up in devolved government together for a while later on. But after Martin McGuinness’s recent failed attempt to become Ireland’s next president, it’s Gregory Campbell who has now shot to renewed prominence as a cultural arbiter – using his bully pulpit to promote deserving artists.
His latest unlikely protégé is singer/songwriter Christy Moore. Christy is part traditional/part Irish Billy Bragg/part folkie/part Republican/part hippie. And fair play to Gregory, he didn’t let Christy’s Republicanism get in the way of giving the veteran musician a boost with his latest album.
Whimsical and erudite BBC Radio Ulster presenter Gerry Anderson (or here) played one of Christy’s new tracks on his daytime show, and Gregory was quick to see the potential for helping Christy along with even more publicity. The chirpy ramble – Weekend in Amsterdam - is loosely based on an older song – The Crack Was Ninety In The Isle Of Man. They both discuss the antics of a group of lads away from home, drinking and flirting. Almost identical really – except for fleeting references to coffee shops, drugs, transvestites, bordellos, sex shops and Queen Beatrix. She doesn’t get to the Isle of Man much.
Quick-thinking Gregory quickly raised a hullabaloo, complaining that the song was inappropriate. Next thing you know, the BBC are apologising and the “row” is getting headlines. I say “row” because Christy must be splitting his face grinning. I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that himself, Gerry and Gregory cooked the whole thing up between them.
Secondly, with former Northern Ireland Culture and Arts Minister Gregory Campbell championing new music north of the border, and Ireland’s new president Michael D Higgins - a poet and former arts and culture minster – settling in south of the border, I feel reassured the country is in the hands of those who will encourage imagination and creativity.
Still had some money – lots (thank you CNI) – left over. So, apart from Christy’s Folk Tale, it has gone on:
- Passenger – Lisa Hannigan’s new album (HotPress magazine are always going on about her).
- Know Your Station Gouger Nation – album by Dundalk punk poet Jinx Lennon.
- Mystery of Love is Greater Than the Mystery of Death - from the sorely missed late Jackie Leven.
- Creatures of Light and Darkness - Jackie Leven again.
- Long Player Late Bloomer – Ron Sexsmith (apologies if you’re reading that surname before the 9pm watershed).
- Anna Calvi - by the captivating Anna Calvi (Mack had the knife, but Anna was sharper.).
- Lost and Found – by the bewitching Lianne la Havas.
And some books too. Apart from Gerard Brennan’s The Point…
- The Dead Republic – Roddy Doyle (last in the trilogy – follows A Star Called Henry & Oh, Play That Thing).
- Orchid Blue - Eoin McNamee (I feel a shiver of anticipation any time I open a new book by him – would like to write like him).
- The Wings of the Sphinx – Andrea Camillieri (Another writing inspiration – great food, great humour).
- The Track of Sand – Andrea again. (Like Jackie Leven, Andrea Camillieri is a bloke.)
And I’ve still got a bit left. What should I spend it on? Suggestions? Meanwhile, here’s the offending song to offend you…