Big Brother’s Jedward represent a new stage in celebrity evolution

Why are they doing this? The BBC probably wouldn’t allow them to kill Hammond. Hammond has three goes at creating his end-times-mobile, but each time his work is destroyed by bigger boys. The others are mystified by them and will, if I’m reading the archetypes correctly, eventually love them, follow them and finally crucify them. This year’s catchment of obscure goons has already been through the celebrity digestive cycle many times and through Celebrity Big Brother (Channel 5) at least once. I joke. The second is blown up by Clarkson and May in tanks. They conclude that petrol and fossil fuels really are the way forward. Over the weekend, someone released some Jedwards into the Celebrity Big Brother All Stars house. ADVERTISEMENT They also each have a go at creating their own car. “You are on an island surrounded by dolphins; one is called John and one is called Edward,” he tells her (John and Edward are the names of these particular Jedwards). ADVERTISEMENT But the best are undeniably the Jedwards. In the final segment, glorified monchichi and Clarksonian mini-me Richard Hammond creates a bespiked and armoured post-apocalyptic survivalist vehicle in which he drinks his own filtered urine (he pretends not to like it, but I imagine in real-life Hammond curates collections of his wee) and keeps a hen (this is gender diversity by the standards of Top Gear). That gag was, of course, a reference to The Man in the High Castle, a serviceable if clunky adaptation of Philip K Dick’s dystopian premonition of the Trump administration, also on Amazon Prime. “Biyonka,” Austin calls to Bianca Gascoigne, who is the fourth cousin of Paul Gascoigne or something. The reason I’m not 100 per cent sure it was real is that Clarkson and May ended the show by pretending that Hammond was in the vehicle when it was targeted. Here are some things that happen in particular: Coleen Nolan from Loose Woman does a lapdance for thin-skinned playtoddler Calum Best; James Cosmo from Game of Thrones guides a Shetland pony through the house declaiming “I am the Lord Commander and this is my steed!” (This is, to be fair, the best thing that’s happened in television, and possibly “life”, all year); Strictly dancer James Jordan teases the dimmer celebrities, like angry semi-nude American (I think that’s his job-title) Austin Armacost, who is cursed by knowing he is always right. It’s …

RTÉ Choice Music Prize announces shortlist

The shortlist was made by a panel of 12 judges. This is the 12th year of the prize. Tony McMahon’s Farewell to Music has gone down a storm, particularly in the traditional music world, but didn’t make the cut here. Tickets for the live event are now on sale at ticketmaster.ie. The panel is chaired by Tony Clayton-Lea of this newspaper. The winning act receives €10,000, and the prize is sponsored by the Irish Music Rights Organisation and the Irish Recorded Music Association, with RTÉ on board this year as a media partner. The event will be broadcast live on RTÉ 2FM, and an hour-long special on the programme will be broadcast on RTÉ2 a week late. A shortlist for Irish Song of The Year will also be announced on February 1st. As ever with awards shortlists, there are plenty of good contenders that didn’t make the final 10. ADVERTISEMENT Despite all of that, there is plenty of quality in the Choice list. The RTÉ Choice Music Prize has announced its shortlist for 2016. And quite a few quality electronic releases are outside the running, including Luneworks by Mmoths, Take Her Up to Monto by Róisín Murphy, and Cinema’s A Night Train to Budapest. The prize picks the best Irish album of the previous calendar year. This year’s judging panel is Louise Bruton (The Irish Times), Brian Coney (The Thin Air), Maire Dineen (Súgradh Productions); Suzanne Doyle (music and film consultant), Dan Hegarty (2FM), Paddy McKenna (Joe.ie), Cathal Murray (RTÉ Radio 1), Barbara Nic Dhonnacha (Classic Hits 4FM), Colm O’Regan (Hot Press), Niall Power (Beat FM), and Eva Short (Trinity News). There is no nomination for The Gloaming’s well-received second album; they won the Choice in 2014 with their debut. This year’s shortlist is: All Tvvins for IIVV (Warner Music); Bantum for Move (Self Released); Wallis Bird for Home (Mount Silver / Caroline International); The Divine Comedy for Foreverland (Divine Comedy Records); Lisa Hannigan for At Swim (Hoop Recordings); Katie Kim for Salt (Art For Blind Records); James Vincent McMorrow for We Move (Faction Records); Overhead, The Albatross for Learning to Growl (Self-released); Rusangano Family for Let The Dead Bury The Dead (Self-released); and We Cut Corners for The Cadences Of Others (Delphi). Among the more mainstream acts also excluded are Bell X1 for Arms and Cathy Davey for New Forest. And come March 9th, it’s likely to be an …

Think gig-going is costly? Wait till you see how the other half rock’n’roll…

The National Concert Hall, Ireland’s equivalent venue, offers Patron Circle membership from €1,000 per annum. The latter allows complimentary tickets to fringe events, members’ parties and a welcome reception, though no tickets to the festival concerts themselves. It also offers the priority renewal of their subscription seats, as the only exclusively reserved seats are for Michael D Higgins, the actual Patron. Pocket money stuff? But that’s small-fry compared to the venue’s 1878 Club, whose name alone suggests it’s the most expensive concert membership in Ireland. Of the 5,272 seats in the hall, about 1,300 are privately owned. Not even the corporatest of corporate clients can purchase them. Although that’s as likely a purchase for some of us a Nasa spacecraft, the rake of benefits ensures the lucky buyer gets their money’s worth. ADVERTISEMENT Meanwhile, the Wexford Festival Opera, which takes place every October, invites memberships at various levels, from the Ensemble tier at €80, to the Bravura tier at €2,000. Rarely does an opportunity of this magnitude arise, but this week, a 12-seater box went on sale to the public at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London – just with a £2.5m (€2.9m) price tag attached. A new top-tier €8,000 package for 2017 is being formulated, which is likely to include a set of prime Circle seats and access to the club lounge, plus VIP extras, if their current €1,500 package for four people is anything to go by. The 3Arena in Dublin has a couple of options for flush arts lovers, as well as corporate clients – €3,000 a year Premium Club membership includes four top seats a year, priority purchase for every show and access to the swanky Premium Club. The venue is also on hand to resell tickets if the owner chooses not to attend, though the standard of their shows means it would be a tough call; recent concerts include Kylie Minogue, David Gilmour, Take That, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the annual BBC Proms. For €11,500, deep-pocketed music lovers receive 24 complimentary seats across all shows throughout the year, priority purchase for four seats every show, free parking, Circle Club membership of the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, plus pre-and post-access to the highly refined club. It involves full ownership of Box No 35 in the Grand Tier, a coveted mid-level section in popcorn’s throw of the Royal Box, for the remainder of its 849-year …

Adieu Enzo Macleod: Peter May on his crime-solving alter ego

And as always, Enzo took me on yet another tour of France that was well off the beaten tourist track. I wanted to write something in the crime genre that would fit neatly into current interest in forensics and cold cases, but would also give me the chance to explore the culture and history of my adopted country, France. He even dressed like me, in cargo pants and baggy shirts and sneakers – an old hippy, as I had often been called. We got into a legal wrangle, the biggest casualty of which was the Enzo series itself – and all his readers, who were denied the sixth and ultimate book which was to have resolved the final two murders. When, at the end of 2015, I finally came to write Cast Iron, it was like being re-acquainted with an old friend. I had written five of the books when my then US publisher attempted to sell the series, and all my other books, to a nascent UK publishing house without my permission (as required by contract). The most unusual location was the Lannemezan high security prison which nestles in the lee of the Pyrenees, a stone’s throw from the Spanish frontier. To describe Enzo as having been created in my own image is not so very far from the truth. There is an inherent danger for every writer of fiction that he or she might develop a God complex. God saw that it was good and so embarked on Chapter One. He had long hair tied back in a ponytail, just like me. He is a lover of music, and as a teenager played in a band – which I had done. Enzo is probably one of the most popular characters I have ever written. And it turned out to be Cast Iron. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply!” And that pretty much describes the genesis of Enzo Macleod, forensics expert, lover, bon vivant, an expat Scot living in France having left his wife and lost custody of his daughter. The interview was part of the research for a book which I never wrote, but I was happy to recall and make use of the encounter many years later, and imbue the character in Cast Iron with at least some of McVicar’s extraordinary characteristics. Cast Iron by Peter May is published on January 12th by Riverrun …

The Brontës’ very real and raw Irish roots

She wrote that “His strong, passionate, Irish nature was, in general, compressed down with resolute stoicism”, as if it was a virtue to try to be something you are not. Both their parents were strangers to Yorkshire. He had come a very long way from the mud cabin in Drumballyroney, Co Down where he had grown up in a large and very poor family, the son of a farmhand, fence-fixer and road-builder called Hugh Brunty. Some fans had imagined the literary sisters speaking RP. She saw him oppose capital punishment, work tirelessly for the poor, and even call for revolution against pernicious legislation, urging people to “obey God rather than man”. But it was their father Patrick who really felt foreign. Instead, from the margins, she mercilessly scrutinises her callous, entitled employers. When Branwell started drinking, they snidely said he was reverting to type. One of the oddest reactions to Sally Wainwright’s recent (brilliant) TV drama about the Brontës, To Walk Invisible, was an objection to the Yorkshire accents. The heroine of Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, is also an outsider. Later the villagers burned Branwell in effigy, a potato in one hand and a herring in the other. They were pictured, stick-thin and desperate, dressed in rags, with shocks of unkempt hair – images that may have inspired Emily to create her anti-hero Heathcliff. When Anne met the woman he had tried to help, she made Patrick’s startling advice the engine of her most radical novel. This was, after all, an era in which the Irish were always being characterised as childish, lazy, primitive, dirty and alcoholic – in 1850, the novelist Charles Kingsley disgustedly called them “human chimpanzees”. I wonder what they’d have said if Wainwright had focused more on the Brontës’ childhood, when Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne still had Irish accents, inherited from their father. ADVERTISEMENT She might also have visited Ireland. Patrick’s job for life, and his solid stone house didn’t stop him feeling like “a stranger in a strange land”. ADVERTISEMENT Patrick’s daughter Charlotte always tried to downplay her Irish roots. As a clergyman, he might have been expected to tell her to stay, to talk about abstinence, to talk about forgiveness. Her first biographer Elizabeth Gaskell reinforced this, claiming to find “no trace” of an Irish accent in Patrick’s voice, that his face was “all Greek lines” and that he …

Whatever picture wins the Oscar, it will be seen as a comment on Trump

Don’t forget that Avatar, the most financially successful film of all time, was really “about Iraq”. Yes, Lonergan’s film is set in Massachusetts, a very blue state, but it goes among the constituency that voted most vigorously for Trump: working-class white men. Despite being conceived before the scandal reached maturity, Chinatown, The Conversation and The Parallax View – each released in the year of Nixon’s resignation – are now seen as key Watergate texts. You heard it here first. Jenkins’s film, which came from leftfield to win raves at the Telluride Film Festival, comprises a triptych detailing a gay African-American’s coming of age in and around Miami. But descent into violence and incarceration proves irresistible. ADVERTISEMENT The picture that most persuasively argues for a swing towards the right is Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge. Natalie Portman is beautifully shocked as Jackie Kennedy. The body of the film sees him fuming around a seaside town in a state of simmering depression. All facetiousness aside, a win for Moonlight really would feel like a fightback by those who can’t accept Trump as their president. Who stands up for such blue-collar Americans? True, the nominations will not be known until January 24th. Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who, despite refusing to carry a weapon, won the Medal of Honor as a combat medic in the second World War. Review aggregation sites, such as Metacritic, rate them as the three best-reviewed US films of 2016. Patriotism. In the wake of her husband’s assassination, she is forced to organise the transition from a glamorous youthful court (Richard E Grant lurks wittily as William Walton, the abstract expressionist painter who advised on cultural matters) to an older, brasher administration characterised by Texan swagger. If Manchester by the Sea wins, then we can all write about a study of the overlooked Americans who helped Trump into the White House. La La Land, which stormed the Golden Globes, is, of the three most likely winners, the most ideally suited to post-Trump opinion-page rationalisation. Never mind that. Mel Gibson. The child of an exploitative, drug-addicted mother, the protagonist finds comfort in friendship with an unexpectedly responsible crack dealer. The film begins with Casey Affleck, playing a bereaved caretaker, losing his temper with the upper-class inhabitants of a Boston apartment building. The film has been ecstatically reviewed, but it is just a little too muted and eccentric to …

Is Dublin finally getting a Handel on the ‘Messiah’?

In the end, though – even in spite of a stylish contribution from the NSO – it was the choral singing that will remain in the memory. And the line-up of ensembles involved a different combination of players for string quintets by Mozart, Boccherini, Dvorak, Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms, one of Brahms’s string sextets and the Octet by Mendelssohn. ADVERTISEMENT Although RTÉ has not generally been in the business of presenting Messiahs, it was the promoter of two very special performances. It was as if someone had lifted a veil and then re-done the lighting, so that every strand in the choral writing sounded clear and true. The second was at the NCH last Friday, when Mark Hindley, chorus master of the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, stepped out of the shadows and mounted the podium in front of a reduced RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, for a supple and splendid performance that reinforced the Philharmonic’s status as the leading large-scale chorus in Dublin. It’s been a paradox for more than 30 years that Dublin’s best large choir has been kept away from Messiah. Before the National Concert Hall opened in 1981, Our Lady’s Messiah was a peripatetic event, and the choir once even hired the main hall of the RDS, a venue that would comfortably swallow up the entire three-night audience at the NCH and still have seats to spare.  Dublin takes pride in being the city that hosted the first performance of Messiah, conducted by the composer back in 1742, and Our Lady’s mark the occasion every year with an open-air performance on Fishamble Street, where the original venue once stood. Our Lady’s Choral Society is leader of the pack in Dublin, just as the Belfast Philharmonic Society is in Belfast. The Gathering took advantage of the fact that a range of players who are based abroad were home for Christmas. Short-lived affair There is no comparable throughput of great interpreters of Messiah through Dublin. For all the strength of the association of Messiah and Dublin, the city’s tradition in performances of the oratorio is not exactly what you would call world-leading. The first was given in 1988 by the sadly long-defunct RTÉ Chorus and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra under Harry Christophers at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. The delicacy he achieved also impacted at the other end of the scale. The Irish public, it seems, can never get enough of Handel’s …

Experimental fiction: revelling in the wonder of words

Again set in Mayo, this time near Louisburgh and Westport, it features the recently-deceased Marcus Conway as narrator. Marcus was an engineer who worked for the local council and his life was exceedingly ordinary, dotted with professional frustrations and personal mistakes, simple pleasures, real loves and complex family ties. The novel moves to London, or “the city”. As John Berger once said, writing is like getting very close to something and then coming back. This simple desire becomes a Sisyphean quest, wherein Lennon is brought face-to-face with the skeletons in his own closet, as well as the homespun philosophies of the locals. All three books share this outsider’s perspective, and together they suggest there is no true way to tell the story of a place from the inside. (The odd one out, Ali Smith, is Scottish.) Eimear McBride, Kevin Barry and Mike McCormack won the prize for their first, second and third novels respectively. It couldn’t be straight-forward. There is a moment in the middle of the book that is telling. A voice that is nowhere settled. They share, too, an approach to form and language that is playful, exuberant, even at times indulgent. Up to this point the novel has been told through a fluid mix of dialogue and description, sometimes closer to a play than a novel, but the contours of the plot are clear and it zips along nicely. What kind of voice emerges from this constant back-and-forth? Instead he finds only the ghosts of his past; his mother and father, rising to meet him like screams in the dark. More importantly, it is a novel about someone who does learn to live within the structures of Irish rural life. It seems at times to be made primarily of full stops. These are three writers who luxuriate in words for their own sake, who take immense pleasure in both their sound and their power. Free now from the religious stricture of her upbringing (“her in her rosaries”), the girl does what any unleashed 17-year-old would do and rushes into every opportunity for sex and booze she can find, a lifetime’s worth of repression spilling out into the pubs and parties of London – “Nicer is not what I’m after.” It’s a path many novels, particularly first novels, by Irish authors have followed; the bildungsroman of the youth from the country getting an education (in school and out …

And the winner will be . . . the movie commentariat

If Manchester by the Sea wins, then we can all write about a study of the overlooked Americans who helped Trump into the White House. Just think of those films that, despite their being about something else altogether, were really “about McCarthyism”: Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, High Noon, On the Waterfront, Rio Bravo. For longer than I have been alive, pundits have been arguing that popular culture responds to grim times with glossy, escapist distraction. Don’t forget that Avatar, the most financially successful film of all time, was really “about Iraq”. But descent into violence and incarceration proves irresistible. Who stands up for such blue-collar Americans? Everything is in place for a piping-hot take on theUS’s re-engagement with traditional values. Yes, Lonergan’s film is set in Massachusetts, a very blue state, but it goes among the constituency that voted most vigorously for Trump: working-class white men. Nothing looks likely to catch up with them now. One of three films is going to win the Oscar. In perfect, elegant contrast, a win for Moonlight could be read as a triumph for the constituencies excluded and alarmed by the rise of Trump. These are the Americans of Black Lives Matter. Nine hundred words by lunchtime? These are the LGBT Americans who worry about a retreat into repressive puritanism. The film begins with Casey Affleck, playing a bereaved caretaker, losing his temper with the upper-class inhabitants of a Boston apartment building. La La Land, which stormed the Golden Globes, is, of the three most likely winners, the most ideally suited to post-Trump opinion-page rationalisation. But we already know enough to outline essential hot takes on Hollywood’s uncanny ability to bottle the zeitgeist. The most likely winner of the Oscar – odds on at time of writing – is an airy musical that flits between Stanley Donen’s Technicolor America and the French version of that world pastiched in Jacques Demy films such as Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. Fear not. Let’s save ourselves some time and declare that this year’s Oscar winner for best picture has much to tell us about Donald Trump’s America. You heard it here first. True, the nominations will not be known until January 24th. Jackie is not going to win best picture. All facetiousness aside, a win for Moonlight really would feel like a fightback by those who can’t accept Trump as their president. The child of an exploitative, drug-addicted …

U2 delay new album due to Donald Trump’s victory

Speaking to Charlie Rose in September, Bono said that Trump is “trying to hijack the idea of America”. “It feels like we’re right back there in a way.” ADVERTISEMENT The Edge also suggested that the group may write additional songs as they reconsider whether the album’s content is “really… “It was a period when there was a lot of unrest,” he said. Guardian service Speaking with Rolling Stone, The Edge said U2 were placing the album’s release on hold and taking some “breathing space” to consider what they wanted to say following Trump’s ascension to the White House. The Edge described Trump’s win as if a “pendulum has suddenly just taken a huge swing in the other direction”. He explained that most of it was written in early 2016 or earlier. The 40-year-old group had been set to release its 14th studio album, Songs of Experience, which the Edge said was completed towards the end of last year. “We just went, ‘Hold on a second – we’ve got to give ourselves a moment to think about this record and about how it relates to what’s going on in the world’,” the guitarist said. U2 have decided to delay their upcoming album after the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, according to a new interview with The Edge. He also told a virtual Trump, “You’re fired”, at an October benefit concert. The Edge said that things have somewhat come full circle since the album’s release during the Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher era of transatlantic politics. At the iHeartRadio Music Festival in September, Bono used lyrics from their song Desire to make pointed remarks about the then presidential nominee. The guitarist said the band plans to reconsider certain songs on the album in the wake of a Trump presidency. what we wanted to say”. David Bowie remembered: What we’ve learned since his death David Bowie: something happened on the day he died David Bowie: 70th birthday marked with release of four songs “Now, as I think you’d agree, the world is a different place,” he said. New tour The group is gearing up for a tour to celebrate the 30th-anniversary of its album The Joshua Tree. The group has made its views on Trump known.

David Bowie remembered: What we’ve learned since his death

In the early 2000s, he started work on a musical production that would revolve around aliens, the poet Emma Lazarus, a mariachi band, and a “stockpile of unknown, unrecorded Bob Dylan songs, which had been discovered after Dylan died,” wrote novelist Michael Cunningham, the primary collaborator on the project, which trailed off in 2004 after Bowie suffered a heart attack. But music critic Simon Reynolds, author of Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, spotted more grim parallels between America’s president-elect and Bowie’s mid-1970s predictions of a “strong leader” who would “sweep through” the western world with “a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny”. That he was set to appear in this year’s Twin Peaks reboot , reprising his role as agent Phillip Jeffries from the 1992 spinoff film Fire Walk With Me. Instead it reappeared as they were conceiving the Blackstar artwork. The idea of mortality is in there, and of course the idea of a black hole sucking in everything, the big bang, the start of the universe, if there is an end of the universe. These are things that relate to mortality.” The vinyl sleeve is die-cut, exposing the record. But, as director Johan Renck explained in the BBC documentary, David Bowie: The Last Five Years, he came up with the concept for the video a week before doctors told Bowie that they were ending treatment after a period of remission. The Weeknd named his bloated new album Starboy as a tribute, and Bowie emojis were introduced. “A happy surprise was that he never used his power, he was collaborative. Get some man balls’.” – (Guardian Service) In the wake of David Bowie’s death, the impulse to treat Blackstar like a puzzle to be solved was understandable yet seemed to defeat the point of his luminous, liminal final statement. There’s also “a long list of unscheduled musical releases that Bowie planned before he died,” a source told Newsweek. Seven from Blackstar plus four from No Plan means there are potentially five to come, though Bowie’s assiduous fans have tracked more. “The fact that you can see the record as a physical thing that degrades, it gets scratched as soon as it comes into being, that is a comment on mortality too,” said Barnbrook, who called Bowie the artist responsible for bringing art-school thinking into the mainstream. But, just for one day (sorry), they were united in their praise …

National Gallery of Ireland to reopen refurbished wings in June

In March 2011, the oldest part of the gallery, the Dargan Wing, which dates from 1864, was closed to the public for refurbishment. “As I went through 20 minutes ago, the first work of art went on the wall,” said Mr Rainbird. The strategy includes a commitment to invest further in capital infrastructure and the national cultural institutions and Mr Rainbird said that, while he knew directors of other institutions would be seeking investment, he would also be seeking financing for the final phase of the gallery’s master development plan, now more than a decade old, which proposes refurbishing and integrating all four wings of the complex. A small number of rooms, mostly in the 2002 Millennium Wing, have been used to show selections from the main collection and temporary exhibitions during the lengthy refurbishment period. Mr Rainbird said the Creative Ireland strategy represented a “broad platform” which the gallery would be responding to. ADVERTISEMENT Admission to the gallery will remain free, but admission fees of €15 (concession €10) will be charged for the Vermeer exhibition, and for the upcoming Beyond Caravaggio exhibition, which opens in the Beit Wing on February 11th. Certain activities, such as major temporary exhibitions of a high international standard, were not possible to mount without an admission charge, he said, but such charges would be pegged to a level comparable to those found at publicly-funded theatres, cinemas and other cultural bodies. “This year, we’ve had almost three-quarters of a million visitors, with 90 per cent of the gallery closed.” First hangings The refurbished wings were finally handed back to the NGI by the Office of Public Works in December, and are being prepared by gallery staff, with the first hangings of paintings taking place this week. The National Gallery of Ireland will finally reopen to the public in mid-June after being largely closed for more than six years, gallery director Sean Rainbird has announced. The gallery, most of which has been closed for a €30 million refurbishment by the Office of Public Works, will reopen with a major international exhibition, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, in collaboration with the Musée du Louvre, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. That project was extended in 2013 to include the early 20th-century Milltown Wing as part of a larger refurbishment announced by then minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan, who said then …

David Bowie: The Last Five Years – a final flourish that was a lifetime in the making

It’s a question that might have entertained the man, whose views on celebrity mutated through his career, from a fascinated aspiration, to an arch regard, to a jaundiced dismissal. Fame puts you where things are hollow. Hence, the magisterial sadness of Where Are We Now? For obvious reasons, Bowie’s participation is less than forthcoming, compiled instead through decades of interviews. If there’s some overreach in this argument, it’s understandable, partly encouraged by the artist and shared by many critics: namely that the seeds for Bowie’s later work were all there in the beginning, like a grand plan (the documentary is borne back frequently to the 1970s) and that even Bowie’s death was managed like a performance event. It’s fair to say he achieved both. “I would love to feel that what I did actually changed the fabric of music,” he says early in his career. (the lead single from The Next Day) prompts a fluid précis of his time in Berlin, shirking fame and drugs, while moving towards making Heroes. That may be why one speaker, the Lazarus video director Johan Renck, should seem so oddly surprised by Bowie’s reaction, as the singer admitted he had cancer and not long to live: “I thought for a brief second he looked scared, actually.” It seems easy for his collaborators to forget that he was human, actually. Newton, Major Tom, and myriad other characters are being laid to rest. Whately recognises it, book-ending his documentary with two of Bowie’s outlined ambitions. ADVERTISEMENT Director Francis Whately may not want to get in the way here, convening Bowie’s collaborators to recreate their sessions on the records, and, even more affectingly, letting Bowie’s isolated vocal tracks play out raw and unaccompanied. “I’d love people to believe that I had really great haircuts,” he says later. The second, an album that in substance, tone and images, is all about departures. It was a pithy summation of superstar death and iconography. But Whately does shape an argument, guided along by helpful quotations, as though composing a committed grad student essay. “I’d never expect him to look back,” says producer Tom Visconti, “this was a new thing for him.” Others see him looking forward, into the hereafter, in Lazarus and Blackstar. Bowie’s opening-night remark, following the premiere of Lazarus, that they should get to work on the sequel, suggests, more reassuringly, someone quite mortal. This said less about …

Rules are made for breaking, especially for writers

Frankie Gaffney at TEDxWexford I’ve never been one for slavishly following rules. Language is whatever we make it. In the definitive style guide of the new millenium, The Sense of Style, Pinker puts it better than I could hope to. Orthographical autocrats who decry “wrong” spellings. The so-called grammar Nazis are usually just punctuation pedants, appalled by misplaced apostrophes. And they are certainly not the stipulations of some governing body, like the rules of Major League Baseball.” There is no central authority in charge of the English language. Yet an anti-authoritarian mindset has also stood to me. The term “Grammar Nazi” has become a buzz word. It amazes me how many people in all walks of life remain in thrall to rules they’ve never even thought about. Surprisingly, it’s been of most benefit to me in studying and writing literature. Steven Pinker is a true language expert, a cognitive psychologist and linguist who has dedicated his life to the scientific understanding of what language is, and how it works. He explains that the so-called “rules” of English “… are not logical truths that one could prove like theorems; nor are they discoveries one could make in the lab. It’s an ideology that is applied to every variety of writing, without respect to the very different aims and needs of distinct genres and media. The only constant is change. Many identify themselves as such as if it were a badge of honour. They are obsessed with “rules” – but here’s the secret: these “rules” are a figment of their imagination. As James Joyce put it, “non serviam”. But these people are rarely concerned with grammar in the true sense – ie syntax, or word order. ADVERTISEMENT This has sometimes caused trouble for me (some might say I am the trouble). Even the Oxford English Dictionary simply observes and records the words that are actually used. Those who are actually qualified to make pronouncements about language – linguists such as Pinker – are almost always descriptive, not prescriptive in their task. But now autocorrect is determining how we spell words. Acronyms, abbreviations and rebuses facilitated brevity, and expedited typing in new forms of two-way written media that demand immediacy. Dialect spelling conveyed the local and familiar forms of language we are used to in speech. In this TEDx talk I take a look at these areas in turn, and discuss my own …

The Great Irish Sell-Off – turning the spotlight on Ireland’s vulture capitalists

It’s hardly surprising that few people are willing to defend vulture funds, the global private equity firms and hedge funds that swooped in to acquire billions of euro worth of distressed assets and debts in Ireland, then squeezed them for profit. Because when you learn the actual names of some of these the vulture funds, they hardly radiate approachability and understanding. (I would like to hear Noonan’s PR rebrand for the excellent guarding facility of three-headed dogs or the admirable depth-tolerance of vampire squids.) “When you say the government could do nothing, that means the public did nothing,” says a stern Noam Chomsky. And in the unlikely event that citizens lack sufficient antagonisms, the documentary will gladly supply them: take the UCD School of Social Policy’s finding that 15 examined private equity firm subsidiaries, controlling €10.3bn in debt between them, pay just €250 a year to the State in taxes, or Finance minister Michael Noonan’s comment that the term “vulture funds” is a “compliment”, because vultures “carry out a very good service in the ecology”. But economic documentaries these days move with the tropes of thriller movies, and director Máire Kearney conspires with him to add some sheen to the crisis, writing startling facts and figures on a pane of glass, as they are now obliged to do in films about maths and paranoia. Still, there’s potential in activist organisation, and from Tyrrelstown to the Four Courts to Barcelona, the programme concentrates on the efficacy of public resistance. Ehrlich points out that, unlike these deplorable, so-called vulture funds, who pick the carcass of loan books clean as quickly as possible and swiftly move on to the next carrion, Ires is here for the long haul. Even vultures can eventually be shooed away if you don’t take things lying down. “I hate that word, whenever I see it in the newspaper, that term,” protests David Ehrlich, chief executive of Ires Reit, the Canadian investment firm that now finds itself Ireland’s biggest commercial landlord, where rents are as sky-high as their properties. Markets are heartless, they say, but some profiteers come close to psychopathic. Sure, you may have seen an overnight rent increase of nearly 30 per cent at one of the city-centre apartments they acquired for knock-down prices, as one former tenant attests, but Ires now provides a 24-hour phone line to handle complaints. “The government are under the control of …

After Globes wins, ‘La La Land’ dominates Bafta nominations

Jones, Adam Valdez Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Neil Corbould, Hal Hickel, Mohen Leo, John Knoll, Nigel Sumner BRITISH SHORT ANIMATION The Alan Dimension – Jac Clinch, Jonathan Harbottle, Millie Marsh A Love Story – Khaled Gad, Anushka Kishani Naanayakkara, Elena Ruscombe-King Tough – Jennifer Zheng BRITISH SHORT FILM Consumed – Richard John Seymour Home – Shpat Deda, Afolabi Kuti, Daniel Mulloy, Scott O’Donnell Mouth of Hell – Bart Gavigan, Samir Mehanovic, Ailie Smith, Michael Wilson The Party – Farah Abushwesha, Emmet Fleming, Andrea Harkin, Conor MacNeill Standby – Charlotte Regan, Jack Hannon EE RISING STAR AWARD (voted for by the public) Anya Taylor-Joy Laia Costa Lucas Hedges Ruth Negga Tom Holland The heavily garlanded Seamus McGarvey, an Armagh man, did, however, receive a nomination for best cinematography for his work on Nocturnal Animals. After a period of Irish triumph at major awards, Bafta delivered disappointing news for the domestic team. So, this morning’s nominations can be seen as a reasonable guide to what will happen when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 24th. John Carney’s much-admired Sing Street was also ignored. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the blockbuster J K Rowling fantasy, competes with Persian horror Under the Shadow and docu-drama Notes on Blindness, but the favourite must surely be Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, seen as La La Land’s main competition for the Oscar, received just four nominations, but, crucially, one of those was for best film. There will be mild surprise at a total shutout for Martin Scorsese’s Silence, but, despite warm reviews, that grim film has not been faring well with awards juries to this point. La La Land is now looking like an unbackable favourite for best picture at both ceremonies. Gong watchers will have been more surprised by the films following in La La Land’s wake. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, the other big Oscar challenger, picked up six nominations. In a notably mainstream selection, Bafta found space for Emily Blunt, star of The Girl on the Train, and Meryl Streep’s turn in the bouncy Florence Foster Jenkins. Morrow, Andy Nelson SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS Arrival – Louis Morin Doctor Strange – Richard Bluff, Stephane Ceretti, Paul Corbould, Jonathan Fawkner Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Tim Burke, Pablo Grillo, Christian Manz, David Watkins The Jungle Book – Robert Legato, Dan Lemmon, Andrew R. As …

Bafta 2017: ‘La La Land’ nominated in 11 categories

Manchester by the Sea received six nominations, while Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and I, Daniel Blake have each received five. Overall, Arrival and Nocturnal Animals both received nine nominations. The film received a nod in the Best Film category, along with Arrival, I, Daniel Blake, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight. Donald Trump dismisses Meryl Streep as ‘Hillary lover’ ‘La La Land’ pushes Golden Globes rivals into the dust Negga’s ‘Loving’ performance already generating Oscar buzz In the Leading Actor category, Andrew Garfield received a nod for his role as an army medic in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge. Those who made the list were: Amy Adams (Arrival), Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train), Emma Stone (La La Land), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) and Natalie Portman (Jackie). Also on the nominations list were: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Jake Gyllenhall (Nocturnal Animals), Ryan Gosling (La La Land) and Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic. The nominations for this year’s ceremony, to be hosted by Stephen Fry, were announced on Tuesday morning in London. Irish actress and Bafta hopeful Ruth Negga was not nominated in this year’s Leading Actress category. The full list can be seen here. La La Land, the film which broke Golden Globes records this week with seven wins, has been nominated in 11 categories in this year’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) Awards.

The John Berger album: a 50-year photo-essay

And he pointed out that to paint, say, a pastoral landscape, or a flower, was no less valid or less political than to tackle an explicitly political agenda. There is a novelistic sweep to John by Jean, with friends, family and neighbours appearing periodically as the decades pass. It seemed to offer an analytical path to engagement with the real world of social and political issues. Close friends Jean Mohr and Berger had been close friends since 1962, when they met by chance in an artist’s studio in Geneva. But they clicked, became partners for life and had a son, Yves. He retained, he said, a painter’s eye, and he remained a lively, insightful, opinionated writer on painting. That approach was consistent only in its unpredictability and unconventionality. An exceptionally vital, independent-minded, clear-headed, opinionated and charismatic figure, he was never constrained by orthodoxy and always capable of coming up with the unexpected. Each life, as Berger observed in Here Is Where We Meet, involves the intersection of an incalculable number of other lives, and he had an enhanced capacity for drawing people into his emotional orbit. On the face of it, Berger’s remark that he had himself given up painting – he went to art school, not university – because there were more important things to do indicated his advocacy of more politicised modes of artistic practice. He has certainly succeeded in doing that. And, in the midst of a number of high-profile publications celebrating Berger’s 90th birthday, Occasional Press had a scoop on its hands: John by Jean, an extended biographical photo-essay covering his life from 1962 to 2014. Some years ago, Berger responded with typical generosity to a proposal from a small Irish imprint that it publish an anthology of his writings on drawing. Surprise decision In the mid-1970s, after quite a nomadic decade during which, nominally based in Geneva, Berger had moved restlessly around Europe, he and Bancroft made the surprise decision to spend time in the rural Alpine setting of the Haute-Savoie, eventually settling in a house in the small village of Quincy in 1980. John Berger was, to borrow the title of one of his collaborative books with the photographer Jean Mohr, a fortunate man. As with much of the rest of his writing, they decline to accept conventional constraints and approach the question of how to tell a story or tackle a subject – …

David Bowie: something happened on the day he died

Communities – real and virtual – were created and recreated. Arising out of the first ever symposium dedicated to considering David Bowie’s work, our  book examines Bowie’s multi-faceted career up to the release of The Next Day. In Blackstar the figure of the spaceman referencing Major Tom in Space Oddity and Ashes to Ashes has been transformed into a jewel-encrusted skeleton. He utilised these influences and insights to create his own unique art. In both videos his eyes are bandaged, implying imminent execution. In the Lazarus video Bowie wears a striped outfit, which recalls one he had worn previously on the rear of his album Station to Station. As this collection demonstrates, in addition to being attuned to a wide canvass of musical influences ranging from industrial, punk, electronica, hip hop, drum and bass and jazz, Bowie was a well-read and informed artist who drew upon a deep well of wider influences such as Buddhism, German Expressionism, philosophy, communications theory, mime, oriental culture and Jungian psychology. ADVERTISEMENT David Bowie: 70th birthday marked with release of four songs David Bowie: Vote for your favourite song David Bowie: A life in Pictures Various versions of Pierrot, Ziggy Stardust and the Black Star icon were on display on the wall to the side of Morley’s department store on Tunstall Street, Brixton. ADVERTISEMENT David Bowie: Critical Perspectives co-edited by Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane and Martin J Power, of the Popular Music and Popular Culture Research Cluster, University of Limerick, is out now in paperback from Routledge Books Places, like Brixton, in south London, saw the creation of sacred spaces dedicated to Bowie. A recurring motif in the responses of older fans in the days and weeks following January 10th was the extent to which Bowie’s emergence in the early 1970s was truly radical. Like the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, Bowie had the capacity to intrigue and to keep fans and critics alike guessing. Over five decades Bowie managed to capture the zeitgeist (culturally, politically, spiritually) and to speak directly to millions of people. As manifestations of genuine grief, many fans engaged in the production of media and other forms of content. Many of the chapters in our book note how Bowie’s work engages with feelings of dislocation and alienation. In publishing this collection of essays our intention is to engage in a serious way with the creative outputs of one of the most important …

What to look out for in 2017 from independent publishers

One Star Awake by Andrew Meehan (September) A young woman has suffered some kind of severe trauma, and finds herself waking up on the floor of a Parisian restaurant in which she apparently works. Based on the experiences of real Syrian families, A Dangerous Crossing is a story of bravery and solidarity in the face of despair. The Last Summer was written more than a century ago. James Trevelyan Comma Press Protest! The Possessions by Sarah Flannery Murphy (March) Also released in March, literary thriller The Possessions is an exciting debut novel that has earned comparisons to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. This is a novel about a flourishing but hidden world, thinly concealed beneath a veneer of normality. An English Guide to Birdwatching by Nicholas Royle (May) Nicholas Royle’s magnificent second novel combines a page-turning story about literary theft, adultery and ambition with a deeply moving investigation into our relationship to birds and the environment. In his new graphic novel, a gloriously crayoned follow-up to his prize-winning debut, The Black Project, Myriam is seeing things (including Japanese soldiers marching down the street) and convinced that a child is being held captive in the house next door. It’s touched over a million people, selling that number of copies in 30 languages. Marta is a teenager; she’s been trafficked from Romania and forced to work as a prostitute in Edinburgh. UnAmerican Activities is also satire, but with the volume turned up high – it’s a hilarious, filthy, outrageous and razor-sharp novel of interlinked stories. Slovenian Autumn went down a treat with reviewers and readers in the UK and Ireland (Eileen Battersby reviewed Three Loves, One Death in The Irish Times), and will be followed this coming May by three award-winning Spanish books: Wolf Moon by Julio Llamazares; Inventing Love by Jose Ovejero; and Nona’s Room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas, a collection of short stories which have already won her the Premio de la Critica and the Premio Nacional de Narrativa in 2016. A nail-biting psychological thriller. Together, the three of them hatch a new plan to cross the border. Independent publishing now has a reputation for being at the forefront of scouting out new literary talent. Mensah by Gbontwi Anyetei (March) Mensah is like the US TV series The Wire but set in Hackney in the East End of London. We already have advance praise …