Billy Bragg at City Winery

How it’s New York: City Winery is a winery and music venue located in lower Manhattan.

How it’s Irish: Billy’s been known to play the old Irish folk song,“The Croppy Boy,” in which the narrator is a young Irish revolutionary in the 1798 rebellion. 

Singer songwriter legend Billy Bragg played two sold out shows at City Winery on Monday, October 16th.

In the early show, Billy played new songs from a just released six-track EP, “Bridges Not Walls”, slated for release November 3rd. Included on the new EP is his Dylan re-write, “The Times They Are A Changing Back”, and a new single entitled “Saffiyah Smiles,” both commentaries on our current political landscape. Billy also played “Levi Stubbs Tears,” “A New England,” and “The Milkman of Human Kindness” along with three tunes from his 1988 album, Workers Playtime.” 

Characteristic of his work, these songs emphasize the importance of bringing a new humanitarian spirit to our present times.

Billy brought the audience together with stories drawn from the road and his life and gave his considered take on our current political situation.  For him, his new songs are “my way of trying to make some sense of what’s going on. And there’s been a lot going on.” He stressed how we must all fight not to become cynical – that optimism, dogged and determined, needed to be the order of the day.

I was lucky enough to have traveled with Billy and Joe Henry as they recorded their album of folk songs, “Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad”, an album that went to number #1 on the UK’s Americana Albums chart after its release September 2016.

It was wonderful to see Billy again. We had coffee the following day and I had a chance to tell him what a galvanizing show it was and how much the crowd really needed to hear that reminder to keep fighting and to not give up.

Joe Henry, who recorded “Shine a Light” with Billy, has a brand new album, just released this week entitled Thrum.” On it, Joe sings: “Oh come let us be hungry in the world.” Billy Bragg and Joe Henry are artists who hunger for a better world. Both seek to remind us through their music that we are all united in song and in life.

Here’s that special film project I directed for Billy & Joe:

 

Here are some photos from the City Winery show:

 


Dylan Moran’s Wit and Wisdom at Theater 80

How it’s New York: Theater 80 is in New York’s East Village
How it’s Irish: Dylan Moran was born and raised in Navan, Co. Meath

Dylan Moran ended a 4-night run at theater 80 in the East Village on Saturday night, which I was lucky enough to attend. In short, my body heaved with laughter, a sure sign of a successful performance.
His big themes were politics, family, middle-age, millennials, technology, and the past, with a scattering of comparisons between New York, England and his native Ireland. (more…)

Queens Gets A Film Fest – The Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

 
How it’s New York: The movie extravaganza took place in Queens
How it’s Irish: The fest featured films from the Celtic Nations including Canada and The UK

 

 

Earlier this month, Queens played host to the inaugural Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. The Fest, which ran from August 4th-13th, screened over 150 features and shorts at the Queens Museum and Kew Gardens Cinemas, which is the borough’s only operating art-house theatre. There were free panels as well on subjects such as Women in Independent Film and The Dos and Don’ts of Distribution. With the Unisphere close by, it was fitting that the selections came from a veritable United Nations of countries like Canada, Romania, Pakistan, the UK and the US.

Although Ireland didn’t have anything in the fest, the Celtic Nations were well represented. I saw the Canadian feature “Grand Unified Theory”, which won Best Screenplay. In keeping wit the themed programming the organizers created for the fest – science and outer space were the theme for what I saw- was accompanied by a music video from the British band Jenny Got Famous called “Loneliest Hour”. The charming video is about an astronaut in a spaceship made entirely out of cardboard, which director Karl Dixon explained in a Q&A after, took three months to build. (more…)

Canada’s Genie Bouchard Comes To New York To Make Her World Team Tennis Debut

How it’s New York: World Team Tennis, which has a local team, The New York Empire, plays here
How it’s Irish: All the teams have players and coaches from a wide array of countries including Canada, Great Britain and the US.

For tennis enthusiasts looking for a fix between Wimbledon and the US Open, there is courtside action to be found locally thanks to Mylan World Team Tennis, co-founded by Billie Jean King in 1973. World Team Tennis is like the tennis equivalent of minor league baseball, and offers fans a relaxed evening of on-court action, contest giveaways, amusing mascots, trivia and a lot of music. Literally after every point the announcer played a few seconds from a vast array of songs.  Last week the big news was the arrival of Canadian Eugenie Bouchard who joined the home team, the New York Empire, coached by two-time Olympic gold medal winner Gigi Fernandez.

Genie Bouchard

New York Empire Team Members Neil Skupski, Kirsten Flipkens and Coach Gigi Fernandez

I attended last Friday night’s match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing. There was a considerable amount of construction going on in preparation for the US Open at the end of August and the audience had intimate seats inside Court 17. The New York Empire faced off against the San Diego Aviators, the reigning champs. Along with Bouchard, the Empire, which is like a mini United Nations, included Americans Mardy Fish and Maria Sanchez, Brit Neal Skupski and Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.

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The Pictures of Dorian Gray

How it’s New York: Visit to a New York bar.
How it’s Irish: It’s an Irish bar named for an Oscar Wilde character.

In the East Village of New York City there is a bar called Dorian Gray and this week I made my inaugural visit. It styles itself as Simple, Cheery, and Charming—which it is, and that will have to suffice as a review as I was only there long enough for one beer. And therein lies a tale.

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Tribeca Film Festival: ‘The Public Image is Rotten’

How it’s New York: Documentary aired at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.
How it’s Irish: Focuses on the work of John Lydon, the London-born son of Irish immigrants.

He’s lived the life, of that there can be little doubt,  and the man at the forefront of Britain, no, the world’s, punk explosion back in the mid 1970s is still living it. Perhaps it’s not the ostentatious existence of obnoxiousness which representatives from other musical genres are, for reasons unknown, proud to display, but John Lydon, a man who shocked, even disgusted, most of the population while enjoying his heyday as the UK’s supposed public enemy Number 1, is still here, and has no plans on going anywhere. His supposed alter-ego, Johnny Rotten, may have been somewhat forced into semi-retirement many years ago, and while the attitude has softened somewhat, and the ironic sneer has metomphorphozed into a cheeky grin, the charismatic personality that some of us loved, and more loved to hate, is here, at Tribeca, and on the big screen.

 

Lydon, who fronted The Sex Pistols, Britain’s most outrageous musical act, for three years before they imploded in 1978, is no stranger to controversy, or indeed, documentaries, having been the subject of a number over the years, most notably 2000’s ‘The Filth and the Fury’, the director of which, Julien Temple, is one of those interviewed for this one.

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Tribeca Film Festival: The strain in Spain stays mainly in the brain in ‘The Trip to Spain’

How it’s New York: It’s a “Spotlight Narrative” entry in the Tribeca Film Festival – in New York City, of course!

Filmmaker/DirectorMichael Winterbottom on the Red Carpet with Suze (Ray Foley, photographer, NYIA)

How it’s Irish (and English and Welsh): Actress Claire Keelan (“Emma“) is “from Ireland by way of Liverpool.” The director, Michael Winterbottom, hails from Blackburn, Lancashire, England. Steve Coogan (“Steve“) is an English actor, stand-up comedian, impressionist, screenwriter, and producer from Middleton, Manchester, England. And Robert Brydon (“Rob“),  is an MBE and Welsh actor, comedian, radio and television presenter, singer and impressionist.

Road Pictures: a genre as old as Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, as ground-breaking as Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, as turned on its head as Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise, and as final (please!) as what-the-hell-my-agent-said-it’ll-be-good-for-my-career as Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, John Travolta, and William H. Macy in Wild Hogs.

In 2010, Michael Winterbottom contributed his homage  to road pictures as a British television-series-turned-feature-film called

I “squeezed the kids in” but “not doing a Mick Jagger”

The Trip. The premise was a paid food and travel article gig between two buddies, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, that turned into a culinary romp through Northern England. That film was so successful that Winterbottom repeated his efforts twice more: The Trip to Italy (his favorite cuisine) and, now, The Trip to Spain. (more…)

All the world’s a cell: Phyllida Lloyd’s ‘The Tempest’ at St. Ann’s Warehouse

How it’s New York: Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse is one of the hippest places in the city; it’s known

L-R: Erick Betancourt, Harriet Walter, Sophie Stanton ©Teddy Wolff

especially as an importer of acclaimed and innovative work from overseas. The new building has the most comfortable lobby in town, with chaise loungeand often live music in the bar.
How it’s (Irish) English: The show is the third in the trilogy of Shakespeare plays performed by women, with the conceit that they are all inmates in a prison, and hails from England’s Donmar Warehouse.

Of all Shakespeare plays to set in a prison cell, “The Tempest” makes the most sense. Prospero, a sorcerer and the rightful Duke of Milan, is living on an island from which he cannot escape, after having been usurped by his own brother Antonio. He seizes a chance to cause a shipwreck when Antonio and King Alonso of Naples, complicit in the crime, are nearby, and restore himself and his daughter Miranda to their rightful places. Most prisoners can only depend on clemency.

The Tempest” at St. Ann’s Warehouse is the third in a trilogy from the Donmar Warehouse in London, all directed by Phyllida Lloyd, all featuring actor Harriet Walter, and casts of women performing a play within a play. “Julius Caesar” and “Henry IV” were presented earlier this season.

“The Tempest” is fiercely successful, asking the audience when and how does the punishment fit the crime. In each production, an actor frames the play by introducing the modern-day inmate telling the story. In “The Tempest,” Walter shows that Prospero’s interpretation  is based on the story of Judith Clark, a 67-year-old woman serving 75-to-life in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. Clark drove the getaway car in 1981 for a bank robbery that resulted in the deaths of two

(L to R): Liv Spencer (blond, somewhat outside the frame), Leah Harvey, Harriet Walter, Sheila Atim, Jackie Clune, Sophie Stanton, Martina Laird, Jade Anouka
©Teddy Wolff

police officers.  (Andrew Cuomo has commuted Clark’s sentence this past December, according to press notes, and she will be granted a parole hearing this year).

It’s impossible not to hear her story at the top of the show and ask what justice means- and that was the point of the choice. One of the play’s most indelible moments comes at the end, as prisoners leave, calling “Bye, Hannah!” while Walter sits alone in her cell.

But thematic sincerity doesn’t always make for great theater, and this is great theater. It has everything– terrific performances, surprise, spectacle, insight. If you can nab a ticket (It’s sold out, performances through Feb. 19), even if you’ve seen “The Tempest” before, you need to go.

You’ve never seen it done like this.

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Overcoming the Competition

How it’s New York: It is catching up Tom Dunne’s old buddies across the pond, and they are fixing to hop across it for a visit!
How it’s Irish: Diddley, innit?

Irish music competitions sound like a nightmare to me, what with all the stories of young wannabe champions passing out and vomiting with the stress, and the bitter disputes over the scoring.  Yet there are good things that come from it. One of these is the camaraderie and friendship between old sparring partners. Two of Tom Dunne’s fellow contestants and subsequent buddies from competitions back in the day, namely Seamus Walshe and Patsy Moloney, have recently made albums which are well worth your attention.

seamus-trad-coverSeamus Walshe plays the box in a very personal style. In the liner notes of one of Seamus’s previous CDs Traditional Irish Music on the Button Accordion  Joe Burke likened his approach to that of an architect (Seamus’ chosen profession).  At the time, I considered that notion fanciful, preferring to just savor the luxurious experience of having that CD on repeat for a leisurely drive across the Canadian Rockies. Now I get the architect thing. There is definite evidence of a stately, elegant and logical form, yet lyrical and emotional touches abound.

seamus-turas

There are many examples of this on the new CD Turas: on the “Long Drop” Seamus shapes the first tune with phrasing and dynamic subtleties; as Eimear Reilly’s fiddle comes in for “Fred Finn’s Reel”, the stricter tempo and the “sit up and beg” figures enhance both the swing and the sadness in the tune; “The Torn Jacket” works as the release with a more straight-ahead approach (albeit with outstanding unison triplets).

 

The strong windswept melody of “Margaret’s Waltz” is stated with bold accordion and fiddle lines, leading into “Louis’ Waltz”, a staple of New York sessions (also known as “Dermot Grogan’s Favourite”). Here it is given a totally different treatment with the harp, fiddle and accordion creating a dense texture with the fiddle adding harmonic variations. The Poppy Leaf is another commonly recorded tune (twice by Tony DeMarco , and a stunning interpretation by Brian Rooney) which still gets a fresh treatment by Seamus and Grainne Hambly on harp. They take a relaxed pace, resisting the temptation to stuff the high part with notes, and smoothly transition into Charlie Lennon’s Rossinver Braes with its exquisite interplay of box and harp.

Turas means trip or pilgrimage and this album echoes that reflective note.  While it doesn’t have some of the exuberance of Seamus’ previous recordings it is an album of great sensitivity and maturity. It is also noteworthy that he has brought along some famous musical friends for this particular journey, including Alec Finn, Charlie Lennon, Noel Hill and Steve Cooney.

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Murray Defeated Dimitrov In R4 Of US Open – Then Why Did The Scot Clutch Her Head?

September 7, 2016 - Andy Murray in action against Kei Nishikori in a men's quarterfinal match during the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Andrew Murray at the US Open (Courtesy of Garrett Elwood/USTA)

How it’s New York: This article covers a Men’s Round 4 (“R4”) at the US Open, which took place in Flushing, Queens.
How it’s Irish: Celtic – Andrew Murray, the No. 2-seeded player representing Great Britain, is Scottish!

At the US Open R4 Monday night, I saw Andrew Murray (Great Britain) get his own back from Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria) – who had beat out Murray in the Miami Open this spring.

 

And Murray took control with his serves, firing off a personal-best, 141-mph serve that had commentator John McEnroe jumping out of his chair. 

…firing off a personal-best, 141-mph serve that had commentator John McEnroe jumping out of his chair.

“I did go up in [racket string] tension a little bit from the last match. Maybe that allowed me to feel like I was able to swing a little bit harder.” (Which also explains why Dimitrov halted the game to have his racket restrung.) Murray added, “I didn’t give him an opportunity, once I was ahead, to let him back in the match.”

September 7, 2016 - Andy Murray in action against Kei Nishikori in a men's quarterfinal match during the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Andrew Murray at the US Open (courtesy of Garrett Elwood/USTA)

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Kids of All Ages Welcome

How it’s New York: It features an interview with Kevin Crawford, leading light of the Irish Trad scene in New musictonyYork, where he talks about his rambunctious musical beginnings in Birmingham, England.
How it’s Irish: It is the latest in a series on the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School in Digbeth, Birmingham 

Pat Molloy understood kids. He knew how to get them engaged but also ,when they were under too much pressure, to just let them be kids. Some knew the tunes they wanted straight off the bat; others needed a little prompting so he used “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as an introduction. Of course the idea grew into a jig version, a reel version and a hornpipe version (I’m sure he had barn dance and mazurka versions up his sleeve as well). For those who needed a bit of theatre he also had a party piece of a 4-part manoeuvre before putting the fiddle to the neck (think of a fun version of the military “present arms”). At the other end of the scale he used to also relish the senior student – if I recall correctly his oldest first-time student was 80 years old and full of self-doubt, but still walked out of Hendon Road with a tune.

This spirit is at the core of the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School, about to run for its 5th year on the weekend of 23rd and 24th, 2016,  a welcoming place for all interested in traditional Irish music, whatever your current level or age.

We have noticed at previous summer schools that those attending or teaching could be split up into different categories: the Little Kids, the Big Kids and the Adults.

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From Neuve Chappelle to New York – Songs and Poems of World War I

How it’s New York: At The Irish Arts Center in New York City
How it’s Irish: Irish Artists sharing words and music from and about World War I

Neuve Chappelle curtain call

It was fitting that on the night following the centenary of the death of World War I activist and unionizer Joe Hill, The Irish Arts Center presented a lively show of songs, poems and stories from and about the war entitled “From Neuve Chappelle to New York“.

The brainchild of singer/songwriter Declan O’Rourke, with a script by Myles Dungan, the show is a raucous and touching journey through the years of the “Great War”.  The show featured songs both old and new, stories read by actor John Keating and poetry read by renowned Northern Irish poet Paul Muldoon. (more…)

You say Sow-een, I say Sah-wen: The Feast of Samhain, and the Gaelic Roots of Halloween

How it’s New York: Well, hey, who in New York doesn’t like Halloween?
How it’s Irish: Samhain, lots of discussion of interesting foods and activities, and a quick mention of Bram Stoker.

Hween picWell, it’s Oct. 31, so maybe you’re counting the hours until it gets dark so you can head out trick-or-treating. Or maybe you’re planning to sit the evening by the fire with some apples or cider and tell a few ghost stories.

In honor of Halloween, we’re going to take a look at some of the Irish (and English, Scottish, Welsh, Manx, etc.) influences on the day.

The end of October and the start of November coincide with the feast of Samhain, one of the most important feast times in the year for the ancient Celts. Samhain was, and still is for modern observers, a time for gathering in the harvest, heralding the arrival of winter and awaiting the return of summer.

A lot of traditions we associate with Halloween, particularly in the United States, were adapted in part from ancient Celtic traditions and rituals – quite a few of which had been co-opted over the centuries by Christianity – as well as some more recent traditions from around Britain and Ireland.

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Her Majesty is majestic in “The Audience”

How it’s New York: New York actors have taken some of the roles that were originally done in London, and of course, it’s a Broadway play, with a hot elizabethallticket.
How it’s English/Irish/Scottish: It’s the Queen of England. And she drinks a hot whiskey! (she calls it a hot lemon). And a lovely scene takes place in Balmoral, Scotland.

A lot of English accents were heard online for people waiting to get in to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre to see Helen Mirren play Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Gordon’s play, “The Audience.” No wonder: it’s a play about the meaning and future of the British monarchy, and it was a big success in London (that’s how it has quotes on the boards even before it’s opened here).

Americans don’t care as much about that going in, nor do we know without reference to the program (and  larger handy stock-card with Prime Minister names on it inserted) who is who. But we do care about great acting, and in Mirren, you get lots of that.

The conceit of the play is to trace the queen having a private audience with 12 different PMs, as they’re called. It’s really to the play’s credit that it skips around in time and doesn’t pose an obvious linear question. Instead, we start in 1995, then flash back to before her coronation, and then basically skip around.

elizabethscotlandYet the play never seems to ramble. There’s an urgency about it and a beauty, too. This queen is regal, yet still a person, lovable and occasionally mischievous. Mirren’s sly smiles at a little teasing witticism are irresistible.

Mirren pulls off a tour-de-force  (she won an Olivier Award for Best Actress for the role in England, and an

Think being a princess is fun? Think again.

Academy Award for the role in “The Queen”).   

The play is adapted from the movie “The Queen,” also written by Morgan– but it’s somehow more powerful as a play. Having the sets described rather than shown, by the Queen’s Equerry (Geoffrey Beevers) forces us to enter into this world. It’s a world with more at stake in the end than what seems to American eyes an obsolete symbol. Monarchy by the end of the play is shown to be something more, something that embodies a national spirit, when governments come and go. Stephen Daldry’s direction is clear, forceful, and fun. He brings us into the world of the play at once by having the Equerry explain its conceit. Two Beefeaters stay onstage during intermission. It’s tempting, just as it is at Buckingham Palace, to try to make them laugh.

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