Monday, May 15, 2017

Ancestral Voices, Bad Blood and Contested Shores in Ulster

Some considerably edgy kulturkampf over the civic funding of Gaelic in Northern Ireland of late - a fascinating subject in its own right with regard to the reach and endurance of the languages in modern Ireland and Scotland, where it sits linguistically alongside Welsh within the British Isles' Book of Invasions, the undeniably politicised dynamics of its usage in modern Ulster and the logic behind the current outreach to learners from the Protestant tradition in the North.

Yet there is still so little comprehensible clarification in the midst as to the actual linkage between Irish and Scottish Gaelic as it relates to the history of the Irish Gaels' footprint in Western Scotland, King James I's Protestant Plantation of Ireland or even the concept of a Pictish settlement in Ulster back in long ago and far away ancient times. A member of the public tried to comment intelligently and analytically on this last week on a BBC Radio Ulster phone-in I was listening to and obviously exhausted the presenter's 21st Century attention span very quickly.

Certainly whereas the promotion of Ulster Scots dialect since the Eighties may well have proved an essentially mischievous driver of cultural regeneration for northern Unionists  it is quite clear in the outplay of Brexit that the concomitant notion of a specific Ulster Scots identity was significant, timely, underplayed and alas unappreciated. This particularly with regard to the role of Ulstermen at war and in North American history or even the role of Francis Hutcheson in the Scottish Enlightenment (born in Saintfield in County Down in 1694). Indeed the rebranding of The Troubles as an intra-Celtic/Irish-Scottish conflict (in however qualified remit) could have fundamentally redefined the bitterness in time between two peoples who essentially rub along "okay" in the scale of things.

Interesting book I have just finished on Northern Ireland history by the way was Richard Bourke's 2012 Peace in Ireland: The War of Ideas - not an easy read but an incredibly important contribution to the political debate in his presentation of the Ulster Troubles as a consequence of competing yet essentially legitimate conceptions of democracy as opposed to more routine readings of ethnic and religious fractures.

Will definitely look forward to similar enlightenment in years ahead as to what the previous decade of my London life was all about - how exactly the biblical demographic shifts, the Ponzi property scamming, the infrastructural collapse, the lack of a serious party political choice in a fundamentally flawed electoral system, the garnering urban aggression, faking of news and the frozen salaries together somehow positively underpinned my financial well-being from my considerable labours, my core liberality and my big scary grown-up faith in a better (albeit medium term) future.

Either way I will be reading such analysis at that point from a different location  - the lack of both a vanguard and a rearguard in our national political culture (as referenced some posts ago) have succeeded to such an extent that my thirty year sojourn in London now comes to an end. Saturday Buddha will commence World Broadcasts again soon from another place and a better tomorrow.....

Friday, May 12, 2017

Stewart Parker - High Pop

Stewart Parker @ Saturday Buddha

This month sees the release of Hopdance by Ireland's Lilliput Press - the Ulster playwright Stewart Parker's autobiographical novel that he had worked upon in the Seventies and Eighties but was uncompleted at the time of his death from cancer in 1988. It is in turn centered on his experiences of having a leg amputated from the same disease while at university in Belfast.

The book is edited by Marylinn Richtarik whose long comprehensive overview of the artist's life I have just completed reading this evening. Alike Johnny Rogan's biography of Van Morrison the work is grounded on genuinely fascinating narratives of Irish social history alongside the profound changes affecting the commercial constructs of stage performance, broadcast media and cinema production during his lifetime.

I was very lucky to have seen Parker's final play Pentecost at the Lyric Theatre in London's Hammersmith in 1989 - it remains for me the finest piece of drama I have seen on stage in my life. The eleventh hour political detente witnessed in Ulster following the death of Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness certainly resonates with the religous undertones of the play's melancholy denouement. Set during the 1974 Ulster Workers' Council strike - yet the most successful industrial stoppage of the European working class since the Second World War - it in turn reflected the desperate zero-sum game political turmoil in Northern Ireland in the wake of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Parker is remembered in the main for his stage plays Spokesong and Catchpenny Twist, the BBC Play for Today productions of Iris in the Traffic Ruby in the Rain and The Kamikaze Ground Staff Reunion Dinner, the award-winning ITV Playhouse feature I'm A Dreamer Montreal, London Weekend Television's Blue Money with Tim Curry, the Channel 4 series Lost Belongings and his extraordinary Northern Star telling of the 1798 United Irishmen rebellion leader Henry Joy McCracken's life and execution. Further to his work being so heavily grounded in Irish history - and the perennial cultural fractures that impinged so strongly on community and personal relationships - Richtarik's biography also noted further projects that never saw dramatic fruition including works on the 19th Century Land League campaign and the internment of Allied and Axis servicemen in Eire during the 1939-45 Emergency.

Will just take the opportunity here to especially flag up Parker's High Pop rock and folk album reviews for the Irish Times which were compiled some time ago by Belfast's Lagan Press. This is an utterly exceptional collection of vintage music journalism - Parker's reviews being tight, funny, enthusiastic and highly informed. It includes many albums recorded by Parker's personal favorites which clearly included Steely Dan, The Band and Joni Mitchell but the critques cover a huge amount of artists and styles in the 1970-76  period from The Incredible String Band to Dr Feelgood. His reviews of Lennon's Some Time in New York City and Dylan's Self-Portrait in particular are utterly unreserved. This is an incredibly warm, interesting and witty book in itself and merits many a return reference - do find a space for this on your bookshelf if you are a music fan of the period.

Parker grew up in Sydenham in Protestant East Belfast across the dual carriageway and railway line from the modern day George Best Airport. His funeral took place there too though he had lived the latter part of his life in South West London and previously in Edinburgh. Parker's ashes were to be scattered from the Larne-Stranraer ferry in the middle of the Irish Sea - an irreverent yet deeply symbolic farewell to the restless natives of Britain and Ireland from a true radical and a man of profound intelligence and heart.