Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Crosby, Stills & Nash pictures...

Stephen Stills (with an unfortunately placed microphone obliterating much of his face), onstage at the Marquee, Cork, 29th June 2009

Graham Nash and David Crosby, onstage at the Marquee, Cork, 29th June 2009

Irene (Dharmaraja), me and Graham Nash, outside the Marquee in Cork, 29th June 2009

A perfect day in the company of Crosby, Stills & Nash

What a day yesterday proved to be. Mars must have been in conjunction with something or other because here in Douglas it was almost possible to feel the great grinding cogs of the universe clicking into place.
First off, a call from Mercier Press. The Sunday Tribune ran a review of 'In Too Deep'... While it wasn't, I have to admit, all sweetness and light, I was in one of those rare moods that allowed me to wallow in the positives and ignore the more 'reserved' suggestions. And there were enough of those positives to keep me comfortably afloat. (In case anyone feels like a look, you can read it for yourself if you follow this link:


Then, minutes later, the phone rang again. Pat Cotter of The Munster Literature Centre, this time, inviting me to read at this year's Frank O'Connor Short Story Festival here in Cork. Now, reading in public is usually enough to turn even my best day to lumpy porridge, but again, a deep breath, and here I am, not only agreeing to it but actually, in a most peculiar way (at least for me) happy about the idea. Perhaps the most-welcome reading fee had something to do with this, or the fact that Friday, the 18th of September seems so far away as to be not quite real yet...

The sun was shining, and by three o'clock I'd had just about all that I could bear of my stifling attic. My sister and I decided to take ourselves over to the Marquee, several hours early, and try to take on a little bit of the concert vibe that, they say, is almost exclusive to Crosby, Stills and Nash. By four, we were sitting on a low wall outside the venue, by half past we were watching the boys arrive. The soundcheck was muffled but still, amazingly, quite lovely.
Then, a surprise. Well, a shock, really. Not the first of the day but not the last, either. By about five o'clock there were only a couple of other people milling around. Nobody was expecting Graham Nash and his family to come strolling out (in the company of a gentleman named Billy, a wonderfully authentic looking hippie/roadie with a great white ZZ Top style beard...) Graham chatted with us, signed by old Daylight Again LP, posed for a photo (which I promise to post very soon),and introduced us to his family. I'm not sure I have met many more personable people in my life. I had three copies of 'In Too Deep' in my bag, and I passed them along and it was all just thoroughly pleasant, the sort of experience that lights up any day.
The show itself lived up to my expectations and then surpassed them, leaving them wallowing in the gutter. The harmonies were truly not to be believed, even half a lifetime of listening to the albums can't properly prepare you for the beauty of their sound. I had managed to secure front row dead-centre seats (courtesy of some happy guesswork on ticketmaster's presale password) and we had the perfect vantage point. Stills played guitar like the damn thing had been invented with him in mind, Crosby might have the hair of a clown but he still has the voice of an angel, and Nash held it all together, through two-and-a-half incredible hours (with a short fifteen minute interval). They played all the old classics, Stills dug out some Buffalo Springfield beauties and there was a great smattering of covers (Dylan's 'Girl From The North Country' with Stills doing a terrific job on vocals, a juggernaut Grateful Dead cover, 'Uncle John's Band' and probably best of all, a version of the Rolling Stones' 'Ruby Tuesday' that was positively hymnal).
But my highlight was still to come.
Just before the midway point, Graham Nash took his place behind the keyboards. He spoke of meeting my sister Irene and I earlier in the day, he thanked me for the gift of copies of the book that I had given them, said that he had already started reading it and was really enjoying the first story, 'Love Sick', and told everyone in the place to go out and buy it! "We'd like to give something to you, and to Irene," he said, then launched into a beautiful version of 'Our House'!
That should have been enough, a thousand times more than enough, but there was one more little tip of the hat to my oh-so-positive oh-so-perfect heavenly gift of a day. Just before the stunning 'Teach Your Children' singalong encore, Mr. Nash wished everyone a safe journey home... (and don't forget to buy Billy O'Callaghan's book' he added, before kicking into the song).
Now, I have in my possession a copy of David Crosby's autobiography (a few years old now but still available on Amazon...). I'd been hoping, though not really expecting (given the petty nature of the marquee security) to get the book signed. Well, Graham saw me holding it up, came to the front of the stage and took it, then got Cros to scribble a signature. In this unexpected, incredible, beautiful way, one of the great nights of my life rumbled to a close...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Excuses... and Crosby, Stills & Nash

Lately, I've been very lazy about blogging. The sun is shining again in Cork and I have been stumbling my way through a new story that just doesn't want to finish, and that's about it, really. Excuses.
I've got tickets for tonight's concert at the Marquee. Crosby, Stills & Nash. I've been lucky enough to have seen most of my favourite performers over the years but this particular trio has always eluded me. Half a lifetime ago, I picked up a copy of their first album and was hooked. The harmonies were truly a thing of beauty, the songwriting ethereal and evocative, the playing always immaculate and at times even breathtaking. Stephen Stills can wield a guitar like few others, I think. Since that first listen, I've tried to keep tabs on them, in all their various incarnations and combinations. It hasn't been all sweetness and triumph, but it has always made for an interesting journey.
Actually, they fascinate me as characters too. Crosby's much publicised addictions and arrests, Stills's rage-games and unfortunate health (and hearing) problems, and Graham Nash, the peacekeeper, caught in the middle, trying to keep the boat afloat. Add to the cauldron the brittle genius of Neil Young (who last year blew the Marquee away with a stunning set of rock God-speak) and you happen upon a volatile mix. At their best, at their peak (and Woodstock was, incredibly, forty years ago this summer), to herd them on stage together must have been like trying to juggle dynamite. With four such disparate personalities, and four such enormous egos, you had to be prepared for virtually anything. These days, of course, age and circumstance must have tempered them, at least somewhat, but I'm certain that a glimmer of that noxious essence still survives. I'm hoping for fireworks tonight!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book-Of-The-Month at the Book Centre

Some good news... 'In Too Deep' is to be named The Book Centre's book-of-the-month for July. The Book Centre is a chain of bookshops around Kilkenny, Waterford and a few other east coast towns (not sure exactly where else, but will find out). Last year, they ran 'In Exile' as their book-of-the-month and evidently did well enough with it to want to repeat the experiment. I'm thrilled to bits!
Actually, I find the idea of strangers walking into a bookshop or going online and buying my book to be astonishing and not a little incredible. It's a little easier to understand people you know going out to buy it, but for a stranger to do so is slightly mind-boggling!
The book got a nice bit of coverage in the Evening Echo (Cork's nightly gossip-Bible) on Monday night, and hopefully there will be some more to come. It stands to reason that people will never buy the book if they are unaware of its existence. A few cringe-worthy pictures of me have already surfaced, though, so there is a price to pay...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ray Davies In Kinsale - A partisan review...

Kinsale, on a warm summer's evening, is simply breathtaking. The harbour full of boats, the water glistening in the sun, the narrow streets happy with casually strolling tourists - it's the way all seaside towns are meant to be but so rarely are.
I arrived early, expecting quite a crowd. After all, we were about to experience a living legend (a phrase not to be used lightly, but one that is surely apt in this case) up close and personal. The show was limited to four hundred. Initially, Ray Davies had requested no publicity, but when the tickets weren't shifting the organisers had to leak word of the show, and then, of course, it was a double-quick sellout. People were advised to come early, etc. etc. But this is Cork, where nothing ever happens in too much of a hurry, and by seven there was just me and a lovely girl from Muswell Hill named Jane, a real dedicated follower of Kinky fashion, having attended more than a hundred of Ray's shows. Still, no crowd meant a prime spot, front and centre, about two and a half inches from the stage...
Ray, accompanied by Cork-born guitarist Bill Shanley, arrived to great cheering about ten minutes after the scheduled nine o'clock starting time, looking casual cool in a grey sports jacket and faded jeans. What followed was a tight and sweaty ninety minute set, fully, I suppose, of the usual suspects. By that time, the place was packed, and the bar was doing a roaring trade. At the front, we found ourselves standing alongside Ray's daughter - the whole reason for this night - and it was wonderful to see Ray direct so many lines at her.
He was quite talkative during the show, and seemed in good humour, though the night was not without its difficulties, and the noise of people chatting at the bar did tend to intrude on the music. Ray took it all with smiles, though. He spoke about Kinsale, where he has a house, about the people and the surrounding area. He spoke a little about the place being the inspiration behind 'One More Time', and he dedicated 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' to the head of his daughter's school, expressing his admiration for the way she refused to take no for an answer in getting the gig arranged and organised. One amusing moment, early on, was when someone, already souped up on porter, shouted out 'Waterloo' as a request, and Ray offered up a very mocking snippet of the Abba song!
Recognising that he had something of a battle on his hands, he tried his best to turn most of the songs into singalongs. Some, as you can imagine, worked better than others. Particularly well received were 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion' (which he introduced as an English Folk song but with the twist of a long Irish instrumental intro, courtesy of Bill Shanley), 'Sunny Afternoon', 'Tired Of Waiting', and 'Set Me Free', which the crowd kicked into before Ray did, much to his obvious delight. Actually, that's the sort of night it was... With the noise from the bar swamping the quieter songs, I suppose he knew he had to keep it loud. 'Let's try to raise the roof,' he said, and that, more or less, was what he did.
As he was leaving the stage, I was close enough to hold out a copy of X-Ray for him to sign, and I was also able to present him with a copy of my new book, 'In Too Deep' (which - hint, hint - available from amazon, if anyone who reads this happens to be curious enough to want to buy it.. just search under Billy O'Callaghan and it should pop right up...).
Ten minutes of cheering followed his departure, the crowd seemingly certain that he'd return for a few more, but to no avail. So, we got no 'Waterloo Sunset', no 'Days', no 'You Really Got Me'. But then, Ray could probably have played another full show and still not satisfied all the requests (personally, I had been hoping for 'Don't Forget To Dance'...). What we did get was a full blown 90 minutes of wonderful music, and Ballinadee school made somewhere in the region of sixteen thousand euros for their building project, not counting what they brought in with raffle ticket sales (the five prizes were signed copies of the new choral album, which alas I didn't win).
Great music, nice people, a lovely town. On the whole, that is pretty close to the perfect recipe for creating a truly enjoyable night.

In case you are wondering, some of the songs performed (and in no particular order, my memory not being what it should be) were:
I Need You
Where Have All The Good Times Gone
I'm Not Like Everybody Else
Dedicated Follower Of Fashion
All Day And All Of The Night
Celluloid Heroes (truncated version)
Dead End Street
The Getaway
One More Time
Set Me Free
Sunny Afternoon
Tired Of Waiting For You
The Tourist
20th Century Man

My sister, who is seventeen and was seeing Ray for the first time, took a few pictures at the show. I'll post these as soon as she works out how to upload them to this blog!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ray Davies In Kinsale

I opened last night's evening paper to a big surprise... Ray Davies, singer-songwriter extraordinaire and founder of seminal 60s rockers, The Kinks, is to play a special fund-raising concert in Cork (well, Kinsale, a few miles from Cork) tomorrow (Friday) night. A surprise, a thrill, a rare treat!
As quickly as I could dial, I put through a call to the advertised number, and booked my ticket. Limited to just 400 hundred, the show should be all that I expect and probably more. Fantastic!
Ray, for those not too familiar with the man, ranks high on any list of the world's finest songwriters, famous for penning such genuine classics as 'You Really Got Me', 'Lola', 'Sunny Afternoon', 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion', 'Days', and the beautiful 'Waterloo Sunset', amongst many other. He is also responsible for one of the greatest albums ever made, The Village Green Preservation Society, a trippy slice of ye-olde British nostalgia and a truly artistic triumph. I've never really understood why the Kinks aren't ranked on more of an even keel with the likes of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. It is true, I suppose, that their music was not quite as polished as their more famous contemporaries but, listening to it now, it seems just as incendiary and as insightful.
One thing I do know: In concert, Mr. Davies doesn't disappoint. It has been a few years since he last played in Cork, when he brought his acoustic Storyteller show to the Everyman Palace back in 2000. I had second-row seats that night, and the show, a brilliant two-and-a-half hour combination of songs and excerpted recitations from his then-recently published 'pseudo-autobiographical' masterpiece, X-Ray, was as good as any I have ever seen. Here's hoping for something approaching the same tomorrow night!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In Too Deep

Mercier Press asked me to post this on the blog. It's a link that will take anyone interested in purchasing a copy of my new collection, 'In Too Deep' straight to their website. Orders are dealt with in a prompt fashion and postage is free for Irish customers.


Also, for the Cork-based (or Cork-bound), signed copies can be purchased in both Waterstones and Easons...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

In Too Deep

Yesterday morning at 11 a.m., at The South County pub in Douglas, my new book, 'In Too Deep', published by Mercier Press, was launched onto an unsuspecting (and probably uncaring) world. We had a nice little get-together, very informal, tea and scones for a crowd of about twenty (mostly press), losts of pictures taken and hands shaken.
Thank God it's over...
Actually, even though I've had some copies for the past few weeks, it is only now beginning to feel real. The book came out really well, and I'm thrilled with it. Now, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do. The local papers were all in attendance at the press launch, so hopefully I will get some much needed publicity, but other than that, I suppose it's just a matter of sitting back and waiting for some (hopefully good) reviews to appear.
In a strange way, I feel a little detached from it all. 'In Too Deep', as far as I am concerned, was done and dusted six months or so ago. Now, I'm already neck-deep in other things, other stories desperate to be written.
So, if anyone feels like buying a copy (PLEASE DO!!!), the book should be available from all good bookshops. Alternatively, and with the absolute minimum of fuss, you can get it from Amazon:


Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A couple of gripes

Well, the winners of this year's PJ O'Connor RTE Radio Drama Awards were announced last night and, yet again, I missed out on the prizes. A high standard, they said, yada yada yada, difficult choices but in the end ...
The winners? Oh, yeah:

1st - Dylan, Thomasina and Me, by John Austin Connolly
2nd - Elvis Is Dead, by Shea Healy
3rd - Happy Hour, by Ashley Taggart

Mr Connolly is a retired clinical psychologist who, in 2007, won the prestigious David C. Horn Prize, presented by the Yale Drama Series and selected by no less a theatrical luminary than Edward Albee. Impressive stuff indeed, and congratulations!

Of course, I was gutted to miss out, though at this stage, I must confess, not terribly surprised. RTE, let's face it, are a peculiar lot.
Gripe #1 - Last night, half of the Arts Show was given over to the announcement of the award, though of course they didn't bother with such trifling formalities as actually announcing the shortlist. Trimmed to fourteen from more than two hundred, it would have taken mere seconds to do so, and it would at least have offered a glimmer of satisfaction, however tiny, but no matter...
Gripe #2 - The manner in which RTE consistently and persistently reward their own. I know this will sound like bitterness in defeat, but well, what can I say? I AM bitter. Well, a little, anyway. Look, I'm not trying to say that my play was so much better than the others. Losing out is lousy, yes, but I can live comfortably with that, having had more than my share of practice. But, usually, when you enter a contest, whether for a literary prize or for something in the local newspaper, or even for something that you find on the back of a Corn Flakes box, you will see the usual disclaimer and rules of conduct. No employees, or family members of employees, shall enter ... etc, etc.
Shea Healy, last night's second place winner, is, yes, the Shea Healy of RTE's Nighthawks fame; the Shea Healy who, back in about 1980, penned a Eurovision Song Contest winner; the Shea Healy with the seemingly wide-open walk-on-anytime-you-feel-like-it invitation to The Late Late Show; the Shea Healy who has been an RTE staple for as long as I can remember. I have nothing against the man, he is clearly a talented writer and has very likely penned a wonderful play, but honestly, this sort of thing does stick in my throat a little bit.
Now, if this was just a once-off, maybe I could shrug it off as simply one of those things. But it's not a one-off. Last year, to offer another example, the winner of the RTE Francis MacManus Short Story Award was Joe O'Donnell, another RTE-lifer, who was not only the creater of 1970s Ireland's most iconic children's phenomena, Bosco, and former head of Young People's TV in RTE, but who had also made a career of writing for some of RTE's signature shows, like The Riordans and Glenroe. Furthermore, he was a former winner of the award and had something like fifteen stories and over sixty plays broadcast on radio.
And the really amusing (or galling) thing about all of this is that both the PJ O'Connor and Francis MacManus Awards mention on their entry forms that they are in existence to encourage new and emerging writers!
Oh, take no notice. This is just me blowing off steam. The fact is, there is no beating the system. Welcome to back-scratching Ireland in all its crooked glory, where no act is considered too shameful as long as you play it out with a straight face and a brass neck. The government do it, the banks do it, even education fleas probably do it!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Writing in the Sun

Today, for the first time in probably a week, the sun has dimmed a little over Cork. Not a bad thing, actually, if, like me, you can take flaming air only in small doses. The gardens are majestic in the sunshine, life blooming in all its glory, and when a breeze brushes by it carries with it the scent-memories of the sea. Lovely weather for sitting out with a book, or a notepad...
I've been very disciplined, this past week, getting up early to put in four or five or six hours at the computer, pecking away, deleting and pecking anew. The story I've been working on is done. I nailed it yesterday, then shut it down. In a fortnight or so, I'll read it again. Maybe then I'll see its flaws. And in the meantime, I've started in on something new, a nice surprise and one that has grabbed me from the very beginning. Today's writing has been a thorough pleasure.
Generally I call a halt to things once I've put down a thousand words, a thousand that I can live with, that is. As a guide it's good, gives me something to aim for, gives me the discipline that I need.
Today, and a thousand words in to my new story I didn't really want to stop. So I didn't. I rambled on, opening up the story, putting together the skeleton bone by bone, knowing that I can always go back and add some flesh. This evening, I'm happy...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Sun and Dandelion Wine

Cork is currently basking in a bit of a heatwave, which is my excuse for the recent lack of posts. Actually, it has been wonderful, invigorating, inspiring, and a host of other superlatives far too boring to mention. Last night was barbecue night, which meant hamburgers and cider, crisps with dips, wine if that happens to be your tipple of choice, lots of chat, and quite a few greenfly (or maybe that should be greenflies ...?). Anyway, good times.
I've been reading Dandelion Wine for what seems like the hundredth time. I really can't express how much this book means to me except to say that Ray Bradbury is music to my soul. This is perfect sunshine reading. Dandelion Wine recounts the story of a young boy losing himself in a beautiful long-ago summer and, in the process, discovering life. Bradbury adores words, the feel and the taste and the shape of them. He's not Hemingway or Joyce, but he's not 'just' the science fiction writer that many consider him to be, either. I have read a massive amount of his writing, and only a fraction of his output can, in my opinion, be labelled. He's a fantasist, yes, perhaps, but only in the most beautiful meaning of the word. Those who overlook him, or who choose to dismiss him, are doing themselves a great disservice.
At the moment, I'm working on a new story. I was excited when I started in on this idea a week or so ago, and I'm still excited now that I can see the finish line in sight. I've been working and slaving over it, putting down the sentences and then picking them apart, and my heart is beating with such joy over this one that I'm not sure I really want it to end (though of course I do, because it won't be a story without an ending). As the hours drift by, though, I find myself glancing with an increasing sense of longing towards the great empty blue of the sky beyond my open attic window. A thousand words today is good enough, I think. Outside, the sunshine is waiting, with gallons of dandelion wine. Tomorrow will have to be another day ...