Thursday, December 22, 2016

Such a Little Time - Remembering Ulster's James Young

Our Jimmy @ Saturday Buddha

The Ulster comic actor and theatrical solo performer James Young has been referenced many times on this blog in the past - this will be the third and final main post about him. He remains such an interesting character in Irish social history, gay culture and in the day-to-day back story of an Ulster at war in the Sixties and Seventies.

Young is remembered in the main for his connection with the Group Theatre in Belfast's Bedford Street, his bestselling vinyl records that were produced by the Emerald label and for the BBC Northern Ireland Saturday Night television shows in 1973 and 1974. On both record and stage he combined fast witted urban humour - particularly hysterical in the rambling main show introductions - with reflective monologues on life, hardship and death in working class communities.

The two most famous - and indeed saddest - of his monologues in the latter context are arguably I Loved a Papist and Slum Clearance. The first centers around a fateful love affair set fast against the tide of history as lived and the second about how eviction from a condemned house appeared to the elderly resident concerned as threatening to terminate a spiritual connectivity to his own family past.

Young's catalogue of work is so rich and varied in content. There is The Feud - arguably his finest dramatic performance - about how a sectarian grudge between two tough Belfast youths ended in both tragedy and revelation many miles away from Ireland's bitter shores. We Emigrated is another wonderful piece which recalls the experience of emigrants from Ulster in North America. It is somewhat hammy in delivery but at the same time terribly moving when he notes how within transplanted communities in the New World the Catholic-Protestant Christian divide stood as naught and how only distance can sometimes make one retrospectively embrace the positivities of Irish life - the rain, bigotry and everything. Indeed The Feud also references the garnering awareness of a Belfast father of his son's loneliness in New York  - more and more he talked of Ireland and the people that he knew, the letters sounded lonely  - which Young delivers to perfection.

The four monologues I have always found particularly interesting with Young are those that closed the live shows - they can be found on the Ulster Group Theatre performances captured on the albums Young  at Heart, Young and Foolish, James Young's 4th and The Young Ulsterman. To put these into context - the first political murders of the Troubles took place in 1966, civil disorder escalated from late 1968 through into 1969, full scale terrorist activity coalesced from late 1970 onwards and mid-1971 saw Northern Ireland teeter on the brink of civil war. The Young albums referenced were released in 1966, 1967, 1969 and 1973.

Why I Am Here from Young at Heart has the actor answering a question from a pedestrian on a Belfast street as to why he had not attempted to broaden his artistic horizons upon the London or New York stage. Young talks about the physical beauty of the countryside, the community and warmth of the Belfast people underneath the perennial political passions and the homesickness that so many emigrants have felt over the years. The piece ends with Young's wish to end his days in Belfast and his faith in how his talent can perhaps help Northern Ireland people weigh up the questionable rationale underpinning their religious animosities.

Salute to Belfast from Young and Foolish returns to this call of home when Young overhears a passenger on an airbus smugly allude to how easy Belfast is to get away from. In his reply he talks about the meetings he has had over the years with exiles from Belfast resident abroad, the memories they shared with him of places and characters from the past and how the light seemed to fade from their eyes when the conversation drew to a close.

This is Us from James Young's 4th discusses the onset of civil disorder and how the British media selectively ignored the everyday warmth and common sense of the Ulster people and their industrial achievements in their blanket focus on extremism, violence and the foregone collapse of what they presented as a grotesquely constructed and politically fallible Northern state.

We're Here For Such a Little Time from The Young Ulsterman has been discussed in an earlier post with Young juxtaposing the physical beauty of Ulster with the civic destruction and communal loathing now engrained in society to such a degree that it has turned his earlier faith in a core community base of shared labour experience and folk memory into a literal sick joke.

Young's work is well worth tracking down to this day. In the midst of terrible butchery - that is now being conveniently qualified as an essentially just war for civil rights by the credit-free mainstream media and pliant on-message academics - Young shone a light onto the existent bonds in Ulster society and the bridges that were yet to be burnt. He provided an extraordinary narrative of a society enduring years of directionlessness, confusion, brutality, disorder and rank strangeness and helps us to recall the people of those times - that communal backbone, capacity for endurance and an emotional energy that will never be seen again on these islands.

Also - for all the smug arrogance of the British elites in living memory - the Ulster Troubles actually do as an historical fact throw up endless examples of political intelligence that are going to be needed sorely over the course of the next calendar year. This to both resolve governmental and party political  mistakes of biblical consequence and to heal societal breaches that now appear beyond the influence of man or God alike.

Happy Christmas to all the regular readers of Saturday Buddha.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Saturday Buddha at Christmas - A Different Kind of Christmas

Several weeks ago came confirmation that the past decade has seen both a decline in national  living standards and a stagnation of social mobility in Britain not experienced since the 1820s. Analysis within this blog over the years of course has clearly pointed to these horrifying financial pressures on middle income Britain that have turned life into a daily struggle for millions of hard workers with neither fairness nor respite and indeed little prior warning of the scale of this grotesque fall.

The interpolation of this domestic misery within globalist economic logic and human demographic shifts clearly underpinned the summer vote on Brexit - even to the mindset of a newborn lamb. With that populist wave now being copperfastened by the American Presidential result we find ourselves in an extraordinarily strange political atmosphere off the back of blanket mainstream media silence regarding the true catalysts involved and the reality checks now due upon various demented political agendas. Other important player-actors and troupes within this great drama are likewise saying naught and looking innocently skyward.

The alternative Irish commentator and broadcaster Thomas Sheridan recently discussed Brexit and the Trump victory and presented them as a deliverance from hell itself  - albeit into a form of purgatory as a clearly open-ended period of achingly slow yet common sense-driven political transition/salvation. I myself also see the political status quo at the turn of this year in similar purgatorial ways - albeit gauged on how the aforesaid civic silence regarding the true factors which drove this year to its historic end has now stonewalled all rational public debate outside adolescent social media hysteria.

We are living through days of morbidity, stasis and confusion because the biggest political questions affecting a raft of British generations lies buried behind a mound of media obfuscation that has even trumped the dark psychological masterclass of the Ulster peace process or the selective dumbness over the deconstruction of London as a capital city.

And meanwhile one terrestrial television station's weekday evening newcasts continues to scream forth hysterical cultural marxist diatribes at every juncture when clearly the British public in the main would clearly rather hear about lost cats in Devon being reunited with their elderly owners. The same channel broadcasting crass retrospectives of Seventies' television viewing to accompanying asexual nerdish comedians' faux distain of the racist, sexist and utterly vile Britons of the period. People like my grandparents who lived through the Blitz, two world wars, two civil wars and exploitative low-wages in the mills and factories of West Belfast.

Some days ago in turn I listened to a news and current affairs programme on another British broadcaster's Northern Irish radio output. They got into the festive spirit with their own version of Kids Say The Funniest Things by asking infants what they thought various diminutive names for local political parties meant. This included one party symbiotically connected to an Irish guerilla organisation responsible for the deaths of over 1500 people. I am wont to reflect upon the words from the Book of Revelation here - And in their mouth was found no guile for they are without fault before the throne of God. I am also wont to think of a young handicapped neighbour of my grandparents who was murdered 40 years ago this month by the same brave men - many of whose veterans are due to enjoy their turkey sandwiches in a few hours time. Such are the depths of pure degradation this country has sunk to.

A year of populist revolt thus terminates in an atmosphere of seething contempt for professional party politics - this alongside a quizzical communal confusion as to how this must now play out without any new and legitimate political grouping to mentor and guide the most explosive lightning bolt in post-war European history druid-like towards a positive earthly location.

As the celebration of Christ's birth and the winter solstice approaches the tide of history enters a brief, bewildered and idiot abeyance with 2017 promising a sobering and deeply serious denouement of all the above.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Day of the Tartan - A New Ulster History

Ulster Tartan Gangs @ Saturday Buddha

Just a brief year-end flag-up to one of the most interesting books I have read on Irish history for quite some time that was published earlier in 2016.

Gareth Mulvenna's work on the loyalist Tartan gangs of the early Seventies is a genuinely revelatory study of both the development of the Northern Ireland conflict and the significant role that working class loyalist youth played in Belfast's urban disorder in the very early days. The book clearly emplaces the Tartan phenomena against wider British teenage culture of the period  -  by way of glam rock, Richard Allen's scary Skinhead pulp novels and football hooliganism etc - and the road to subsequent paramilitary involvement.

Since the qualified peace in Ulster took hold in the Nineties there has been nowhere near enough left-field material of this quality coming on board. This aside from research firewalled behind expensive academic press prints that by all rights and all commerical logic should be widely accessible. I am thinking of the extraordinary Black Magic and Bogeymen: Fear, Rumour and Popular Belief in Northern Ireland 1972-1974 by Richard Jenkins to that end in particular.  I read this slack-jawed at the British Library in acknowledgement of the fact that this fantastic book was going to have to be a very expensive Christmas present to myself.

One other recent study of paramilitary loyalism in this context is retailing for a mere 82 pounds sterling on every digital bookselling outlet. Even though Mulvenna's work references a full-scale firefight in my own granny's street in North Belfast in 1971 I would not have paid that much money to read about it.

Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries is complemented by Geoffrey Beattie's autobiographical We Are The People and Protestant Boy memoirs about my own childhood locale (1992 and 2004) and the fascinating posts on the Belfast Stories blog - both offer highly recommended insights into barely contained Irish civil war, class fractures in Protestant Ulster, the long violent outplay of the British in Ireland and now decimated Northern British industrial communities.