Saturday, October 27, 2012

Simply the Fest...

I won't lie to you, I'm partial to a dodgy pun. But, if I may defend myself from myself, Colin Murphy did mention Tina Turner  in the Róisín last night.

Anyway, it's Comedy Festival time in Galway city. It kicked off on Wednesday, 24th October and runs until Monday 29th. My first port of call was Kelly's on Thursday night, where Tony Law was doing a show called Maximum Nonsense. Also on the bill were Benny Boot and Danny Dowling. Colin Murphy was the MC, and his affable rambling had people giggling and chilled from the get-go.

Now, let me say a few words about having a friend who does stand-up. You would imagine you spend a lot of time laughing - and you'd be right. Danny Dowling called me a few hours before his show  and asked me to be a plant for his show.  I said yes - I mean, what kind of world would it be if you didn't help your friends? So I take my seat in Kelly's, and Danny passes a baboon mask to me under the table. 'You'll be giving me a piggy back,' he says. 'That's what are friends are for' goes the song, and I'm sure Stevie Wonder would've let Dionne Warwick lep on his back if she needed to. Turn this one up, Danny.

Danny's set went down well - I really like his stories about his kids, some gems there. Up next, was Benny Boot whose bio says he 'does jokes - fifteen of them.' His loose-limbed and languid manner would make you laugh anyway, but he's a skilled joke writer. Have a peek here.

Then it was time for Tony Law , whose taste for the absurd is a trip for stand-up fans. It's hard to lift direct quotes from what he does, but this is classy stuff. He opened Maximum Nonsense by bellowing the word 'banter' and riffing off it, and if you've never heard bewildered giggles, then go to a Tony Law show. At times he would tell a joke and then start to deconstruct it. This might sound a bit too clever for its boots, but here's the rub - it's very, very funny. And anyway, if you want something mindless and unchallenging there's always Micháel Muck Intyre.


A technical hitch with the projector meant that Law didn't get to do the finale to the show. He may have been somewhat disappointed, but I'd certainly go to see him again. Two days on, I'm still smiling at some of his puzzles. Rare, well-realised stuff.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Better than a massage" - Neil Hamburger, coming soon to the Galway Comedy Festival

Neil Hamburger is some character. The beleaguered but dedicated comedian plays the Taibhdhearc for three nights as part of this year's Galway Comedy Festival. His nightclub-style repartee sees him aim barbs at his ex-wife, celebrities - and ,sometimes, the audience.
It's 7 a.m. in Los Angeles. Although that might seem an ungodly hour for a stand-up to be awake, Neil is usually on the road at this stage.
"If we've got a long drive, and a of times we do, normally I would get up and check the tires to make sure they haven’t gone flat during the night, make sure no-one has stolen the mirror off my car while I was asleep, make sure kids haven’t vandalized the car in any way," he says.
The 'we' could suggest that Mr.Hamburger has a chauffeur- but this isn't the case."Unfortunately, I do all the driving," he laments. "We don’t have any staff, we don’t have anyone else to do anything for me. It’s a one man operation."
Here is a comedian whose biog boasts of the LA lounge lizard doing 399 shows in one year. What are his tips for achieving success as a comedian?
"You’d have to ask a successful comedian – you've got an unsuccessful comedian on the line with you now."
So why break his back doing something that has no reward?
"If I don’t keep doing these shows, if I don’t keep earning money to pay the people I owe money to they’ll break my legs," he says. "I've got to pay these guys back, that’s the problem. When you've got lawyers, and ex-wives and these creeps that sued me – this idiot claims he slipped on an ice cube at a night club and broke his jaw."
"I owe money to pretty much anyone you can think of. I probably own you some money actually. Do I owe you any money?"
After telling Mr.Hamburger I may have to invoice him for the transatlantic call ("please do" he says), I return to the word 'ex-wives.' As in, plural?
"It feels plural because of the amount of money the one ex-wife I have has demanded from me. It feels like I’ve got forty. But I have only one ex-wife and it was many years ago, but you never get over this sort of thing, do you?"
Perhaps you don't. But even though there's acrimony over alimony, surely there was a time when he was besotted with the former Mrs. Hamburger?
"The first time I saw her I said ‘this lady, this beautiful young woman will one day be my ex-wife’" he recalls fondly. "I could just tell; she wouldn't believe in me. She didn't believe in the dreams that we shared, except that we never really shared them. I was trying to become some sort of success in the comedy world, and she was convinced it would never work."
So, he's in debt, he's divorced and he can't catch a break - how can Neil Hamburger tolerate such a joyless existence?
"At this point I have to say I’ve run out of patience, but I still have no choice," he says. "It’s like I’m on one of those treadmills and somebody has broken the switch that turns the thing off, because at this point I would like to rest.""
To call Neil's style uncompromising would be putting it mildly. One of his jokes ends with the Red Hot Chili Peppers pleasuring themselves into a pile of poo 'under the bridge.' This is not your regular ba-doom-tish material.
"We’ve had some folks that didn’t like it, I will not lie to you," he says. "This act is not for everyone.  Then we had some folks who not have been nicer or more enthusiastic, I’ve had some great fans there and it’s always a pleasure to get back there and entertain them with these distracting jokes."
Ah, distraction - something that's much needed these days. Can Neil's comedy provide the necessary uplift from these economy-obsessed times?
"I think there’s no better way for somebody to forget their troubles and cares - in the world - than to sit there and listen to someone tell a bunch of dirty jokes. It’s better than a massage, it’s better than therapy. You just sit there, throw a few drinks down your throat and before you know it, you’re having the time of your life, laughing your fool head off."
Apparently there's a ghost who haunts the Taibhdhearc, a woman who sabotages any performance that any artist or company wants to film. Does Neil have any experience in dealing with the supernatural?
"I think there’s a ghost that’s been haunting my whole career, wrecking things," he says. "Sometimes you’ll do a show and the microphone stops working, sometimes you’ll be on the road and you have to swerve to avoid a raccoon  and you end up running over some carpet tacks. These are all supernatural occurrences designed to ruin my day, if not ruin my life."
He may say his show is not for everyone, but Neil Hamburger is doing himself a disservice - it is. You've never seen a gig like this before. And though it may shock in places, Neil insists that this is exactly what people want.
"People are offended when you don’t tell dirty jokes," he says. "I would tell a joke about a birthday cake, or a joke about a slice of apple pie, or a joke about a kitten who met up with a puppy dog – ages type of jokes. And then people would come up to me afterwards and say ‘Neil, I'm offended. Where were your jokes about raw sewage, where were your jokes about bladder infections, where were your jokes about venereal disease all over Paris Hilton’s lips. That’s what we paid to hear; I'm offended that you would dare to tell us a joke about a happy puppy who got sick drinking too much warm milk.’"

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sanctuary, Blue Teapot Theatre Company, Galway Theatre Festival 2012

It's a funny thing. We all have our own concerns, worries buzzing around our heads; financial, personal - whatever it is, it's fairly constant. Yet, sometimes there are fundamental issues in people's lives that we are completely unaware of.

Did you know that, in Ireland, if you are an adult with an intellectual disability it is illegal to have sex unless you are married? I will admit that I was unaware of this until I went to see Sanctuary, the remarkable new play from the Blue Teapot company.

Blue Teapot's stated mission is 'to effect a positive change in public consciousness concerning people with intellectual disability through the medium of theatre by allowing our members' inherent talent and creativity to speak for itself.'  It is hard to say, without resorting to hyperbole, how successfully Sanctuary achieves this.

Christian O'Reilly's measured script gradually moves from humour to pathos, while Petal Pilley's direction allows her cast to shine. On a cinema trip with people from their training centre, Larry (Kieran Coppinger) and Sophie (Charlene Kelly) sneak off to a hotel room, aided by their conflicted carer Tom (Robert Doherty). It's their first time alone together. One of Larry's questions to Sophie begins with the words 'if we were normal...'

Normal - what an absurd concept, really. But for the characters in Sanctuary it encapsulates things like intimacy, freedom and privacy - none of which they have. The frustration Larry and Sophie feel is palpable - Sanctuary asks the audience : if this was your life, how would you feel?

But this is not a play that is delivered from a soapbox. It's a show of rare warmth, genuine humanity - and a whole lot of laughs. Frank Butcher and Paul Connolly bring an infectious delight to their portrayal of mischief makers William and Matthew. Playing the lovestruck Sandy, Emer Macken creates a character you can't help rooting for.

It falls to Patrick Becker to voice the rage that is quietly brewing during the play. Playing the jilted Andrew, Becker brilliantly captures the utter lack of power his character feels. Why can't he be loved too? Why can't he have the life he wants? How can he be held back from striving towards happiness?

Sanctuary is a play that challenges its audience, but also celebrates the redemption of love. It runs in the Blue Teapot theatre on Munster Avenue, Galway on Oct 9th (11am), Oct 10th (11am and 7pm), Oct 11th (11am and 7pm), Oct 12th (7pm) and October 13th (7pm)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Alejandro Escovedo & The Sensitive Boys, Kelly's, Galway, 29/06/12

Man, what a gig!

I've just come in the door from the most raucous and raw rock 'n'roll gig I've been to in a long time. Alejandro Escovedo & The Sensitive Boys absolutely tore it up tonight. I'm a very recent convert to this guy's work, so most of the songs I heard were unfamiliar - but they were so well played, so assured, that I'm mad to hear them again.

Escovedo led his band through a set that took in all the vistas that loud guitar music has to offer. Hey, pull over! It's the blues! Look out the window, it's punk. Stop the car, it's....(screech this)... rawwwwwwwwk 'n' rollllllll!

Lyrics that spoke of heartworn highways, lives lived - but I can't quote them 'cos, like I said, I've just heard them. But they'll be living in my headphones tomorrow. A highpoint of the set (though the show was a series of consecutive ones) came when Alejandro played Sensitive Boys, a song he wrote for his brother. This melancholic tune held the room, and then Escovedo tore into a ripping number that most have put the drumkit in danger. It was the hallmark of a player who understands the dynamic of a gig - you can see why Springsteen is a fan.

Alejandro invited two members from support band The Mighty Stef (who played a great show) to join The Sensitive Boys for a run through Waiting For My Man. With The Velvet Underground acknowledged, they then launched into The Stones' Beast Of Burden. Escovedo was tipping his hat to the music that inspires him, but this was no nostalgic finale.

Rock 'n' roll is a pure, visceral thing, where the glorious din of the present trumps the past. Every time. Turn it up, Alejandro. Long may you run.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cover Me, Day Seven : Love Is A Stranger - Martha Wainwright

Some head-scratching has been done for the final day of Cover Me.  I wanted to pick something that's a bit of craic, that gets the toe tapping. So Lucinda Williams singing a Greg Brown song didn't make the cut, as brilliant as it is. The same goes for Elbow's version of Running To Stand Still - it'd be like saying 'thanks for reading the blog, here's a lovely song about heroin, wah-hey!'

Instead, I've gone with Martha Wainwright's giddy take on a Eurythmics classic. Martha comes from a family of gifted songwriters who sometimes write about each other in eviscerating but always brilliant ways. They are also interpretive singers of some note. Rufus recorded a version of Hallelujah for a little-seen art-house film called Shrek. Martha Wainwright joined Rufus and their parents for a sublime version of Irving Berlin's What'll I Do. It appears on an album called The McGarrigle Hour that's well worth hunting down.

And then there's Martha Wainwright's suite of Edith Piaf songs - what a voice! I was lucky enough to see her sing a few of them at a show in Sligo, accompanied by just her husband on piano and bass. An amazing performer - if Martha's ever in your town, don't miss her.

This version of Love Is A Stranger appears at the end of Wainwright's second album  I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too - surely a contender for best album titles. It's the work of a fan who just so happens to have vocal chords to match Annie Lennox. A tune to turn way up, to lep around the room to, to blast out your car stereo. Whatever you're doing, enjoy this one.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cover Me, Day Six : Once In A Lifetime - Kermit The Frog

The Muppets have really excellent taste in music. Blondie tore through One Way Or Another on the show, and Johnny Cash also made a memorable appearance. The Man in Black is smiling throughout, he looks like he's about to burst out laughing. Then there was the appearance Joan Baez made, singing a song by The Band that just looked like a proper session.

But I'm going with the frog. Kermit's take on Once In A Lifetime graced The Muppets Tonight, which ran during the nineties. It had me in knots and now forms the basis for my so-so impression of Ms.Piggy's paramour.  He seems to be freaked out by lines like 'this is not my beautiful wife' and 'well, how did I get here?' Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Can a talking frog have an existential crisis?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cover Me, Day Five : You Will Miss Me When I Burn - Soulsavers

Mark Lanegan is one of my favourite singers. His voice sounds like it was carved out of a cliff face, it's all rough edges and resilience. I first heard him sing on the Screaming Trees album Dust. That band imploded but in college a friend of mine gave me a copy of Whiskey For The Holy Ghost, Lanegan's second solo album. This song makes me think of walking on the Dyke Road, Galway with Lough Corrib to my right.

In the years since, Lanegan has kept himself busy, releasing more solo albums and becoming the go-to guy for bands who want to add a bit of mystique and edgy blues-ness to their music. He's appeared on several Queen Of The Stone Age albums and has also worked with UNKLE.  The two albums he made with Isobel Campbell are essential; have a listen to this gem, then go from there.

I first heard Soulsavers' version of You Will Miss Me When I Burn when I was driving out the Curragh Line. It was on Dave Couse's Today FM show (he picks some great stuff) and I would've pulled over, only that particular road out of Galway has no hard shoulder.

It's simply a song that knocks me out. Lyrically, it's very bleak but the music and Lanegan's voice combine to make, I think, a thing of beauty. There's real power in this singing, real life. You might only play it once in a while, but it'll always make an impact.

What do ye make of it?