Oct 30, 2012

Nothing To Prove – Seamus Bradley

Last Thursday afternoon was spent mooching about Temple Bar – a fave pastime of your whimsical reporter. First stop was Siopaella, my current top fashion hunting ground. Watch out for their charity sale on Sunday 4th November in aid of A Dog’s Life. Next up was a book launch at Connolly Books on East Essex Street, Seamus Bradley’s debut tome “Nothing To Prove”. Welcome refuge from the cold.

Connolly Books is best known as a peddler of radical literature, a treasure trove for lefty readers. It’s also the lobby for the totally alternative New Theatre and I’ve always found it a very creative space to be in. Vino, salty snacks and oatmeal cookies were on hand to celebrate Seamus Bradley’s opus on capitalist culture. In “Nothing To Prove” he explores our wants and needs in a world dominated by profit.

Questioning society’s obsession with material wealth, Bradley goes back to basics by looking at our simple needs – food and shelter, as the bedrock of happiness. Already examining his own relationship with status and career, it was an overheard conversation in the pub that inspired Bradley. “Nothing To Prove” was born of the frustration that many of us feel in the wake of the global economic meltdown.

A sort of “what’s it all about?” Bradley breaks down societal norms, like giant supermarket chains and food exporting. How did such changes in attitude grow from our traditional ideals? He explained how consumer competition has damaged community and on a worldwide level how it has divided nations. Bradley says this has led to an unbalanced world where the natural order of living is consistently defied.

The new order encourages a lack of independence and the adoption of a herd mentality. This was evident in the Celtic Tiger property bubble that brought Ireland to dire financial crisis. Common sense and a responsibility for ourselves was forgotten about in the trample to be upwardly mobile. Now in the aftermath, Bradley says we have an opportunity to redress the situation and explore new possibilities.

I’ve only begun reading “Nothing To Prove” and I’m struck by Bradley’s positivity. He is minus the scaremongering and lamenting of high profile tomes by well known pundits, as he’s not just talking money. But spirit, pride and the freedom to enjoy life. One of the biggest modern killers is stress so it really is in our personal interest to reject lifestyle aspirations, and the mad rush to the so called top.

As far as my own two pence in concerned, I think we’re on the brink of the Age of Aquarius. Upcoming generations are not buying into marketing hype as we did, and the implosion of organised religion in the western world has seen people looking to their inner strengths for sustenance. Bradley joked that he might be preaching to the converted in Connolly’s but “Nothing To Prove” has something to say to all.

Nothing To Prove – Seamus Bradley. Connolly Books, 43 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 1

Oct 30, 2012

Ha’penny Flea – The Grand Social

A market in a pub, you say? Well yes! That is the unique beauty of the Ha’penny Flea. Recently re-opened after a Summer holiday, the market features plenty of vintage clothes and accessories, old records, handcrafts and of course a bar. So you can have a pint while you shop. But I must admit I’ve seen more than one bargainista deposit her fella at the bar, while she gets down to serious business!

The Ha’penny Flea has a huge offering of stuff, with regulars and newbies setting up every Saturday. The vibe is a bit San Francisco, a lot artsy nouveau Dublin. The Grand Social is one of those places that captures the capital’s post tiger spirit and runs with it to great success. Shabby chic is the name of game, the perfect afternoon hangout, with gigs on upstairs afterwards if you’re out for the long haul.

As a girl I always dreamed of being a shopkeeper (boutique owner?) and now I have my own little corner of the Ha’penny Flea. Selling my wares is super fun – dresses, handbags, shoes and jewellery at “Love” – as I can chat to people all day long. Bliss! The social aspect is what makes this market stand out from the crowd, as the intimate setting of the pub puts punters at ease and open to a good old mingle.

Charming stalls are dotted all around, not just mine! There’s Junk Orr Gems for vintage clothes and accessories, Lily Loves for quirky cake stands made with antique plates. Hegarty Hats for beautifully feminine handmade head wear, Magpie’s Nest for antique, vintage and modern jewellery. There’s lots of Sixties and Seventies fashion, which I love! The Ha’penny Flea is an antidote to blah high street shops.

Music from DJ Wild Child Will fits in with the carefree feeling – Motown classics and underground Disco. Bazaar life is rewarding too, as I get to recycle and pass my lovely pieces onto happy new owners. As a second hand style maven myself, I appreciate that flutter one gets on discovering a diamond. A silk blouse or a sparkly hat. A Bowie record or a Kafka book. There’s something about the Ha’penny Flea!

Ha’penny Flea – Saturday 12 to 6pm.  The Grand Social, 35 Lower Liffey Street, Dublin 1

Sep 30, 2012

To Arthur! The Mezz Knows How To Party

Stepping into the jaws of Temple Bar, from Westmoreland to Fleet Street, I entered into a full swing party. Last Thursday was Arthur’s Day and the rarified Dublin air was infused with Guinness. The whole area was body to body, the pavement was wet, not with rain but the black stuff. Folk complain of the commercial side to Arthur’s Day but I must say those who were out to play got the best of our fair city.

All those revellers got me in the mood, so I made a beeline for The Mezz. Rock ‘n’ roll Baby! This live venue has been serving up fresh musical talent for almost 20 years, it’s deep dark cavernous atmosphere perfect for showcasing bands. The vibe is down and dirty with walls covered in images from rock history and a busy bar running the length of the room. The place was already locked and loaded.

I pulled up a stool by the stage, DJ Glenn Brown was spinning the discs – everything from Bowie to The Clash and The Jam to Oasis. Pint of velvet in hand, and there was plenty flowing from the Mezz’ taps, I was ready for some entertainment. First up was The Covers – yes, you guessed it, a tribute band spanning rock, pop and indie. A slick operation, The Covers belted out classics to get the crowd going.

The La’s “There She Goes”, “Coffee and TV” by Blur and The Smiths “Bigmouth Strikes Again” all went down a treat with the burgeoning audience. Lead singer Davey McGuinness then teamed up with sweet singer Caroline for a duet of the Zutons’ “Valerie”, famously revamped by Amy Winehouse. They kept the crowd a-swaying with a stomping version of “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher” by Jackie Wilson.

Morrissey and his NHS specs have a lot to answer for as these muso boys wound down to raucous applause. The Covers made way for Randy Rarely And The Scuds, a punky bunch who ramped up the richter scale. The Rolling Stones “Paint it Black” was sleek and sexy and it was lighters out for, all indie boys’ heroes, The Smiths “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”. Singer Andy Early was a dynamo!

These kids were what every young band should be – a gang of lads having a good time. Their raw energy filtered into every sweaty corner of the Mezz, guitars blaring at top volume. I was pogo-ing like my heyday, to The Jam’s “Town Called Malice” and “London Calling” by The Clash. It was hot and heavy as Randy Rarely And The Scuds ripped off their shirts to a baying mosh pit. More Genius. To Arthur!

The Mezz, 24 Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

Sep 25, 2012

Pugwash – Love At First Sound

Ever go to see one of those bands that you’ve never heard of only to find yourself totally familiar with their tunes? Well that’s what happened to your fave reporter at the Grand Social last Friday night. Pugwash was the band. They’ve been around since my school days. Been on my radio. Singer Thomas Walsh even said hello to me before he got on stage and only then I realised he was the main man.

Now I can’t get their songs out of my head. Lucky me! Pugwash are the sort of accomplished band that need no red carpet nor champagne kisses, having earned their musical stripes over the years. The Loft upstairs at the Grand Social is a great little venue. Cosy with good acoustics and a vaulted ceiling that feels almost like a festival marquee, bunting and all. Pugwash filled the place up with feelgood vibes.

There were some proper gems in the set like “Fall Down” from their new album “The Olympus Sound”, a nice slice of holiday pop that rolled in melodic waves. Walsh’s ability to distill faraway feelings into his music and lyrics brings whimsical thoughts and solid sounds together so perfectly. The magic of songs is what he’s all about. “Answers On A Postcard” was another sweeping guitar sway along foot tapper.

The great thing about Pugwash is that all the band are involved with lots of layering going on between the boys. Their unique rollercoaster of Rickenbacker guitars and punchy lyrics had the crowd surfing the same high as the band. Between his singing and the banter Walsh brought the whole thing together into a Dublin love in with laughs and some serious jams. Pugwash make for a most mellow moshpit.

Support band on the night were The Urges, who I didn’t see as me and the Bloke had left just enough time for a Guinness to settle. Fashionably late! But my sources tell me that they come from the same school of music as Pugwash, channeling the original garage sound through psyhedelic rock ‘n’ roll. Pugwash bring echoes of The Beatles and ELO – Walsh spoke of his delight of a letter from Jeff Lynne.

The fine numbers played on with “Be My Friend Awhile” and “Nice To Be Nice” – the kind of songs that stick to your heart. Onstage, Walsh exudes the same easy romance as his songs and it’s plain to see that he’s in his element with lots of guitar changes and a great camaraderie with band members Tosh Flood, Shaun McGee and Joey Fitzgerald. They’re a tight knit yet beautifully fluid bunch of musicians.

“Dear Belinda” was dedicated to a friend and “Apples” from the album “Almanac” was a winding yellow brick road of a song. But my absolute fave was the delicious debut single “Finer Things In Life” from their first album “Almond Tea”. I’ve heard it before in daydreams. “Age Of Revolution” was a stomping sing along, from their Duckworth Lewis Method collaboration with the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon.

Sharing the last of their Friday night with us Pugwash finished up with “Two Wrongs”. I could see why everyone in the place loves them as Walsh gives as much as he gets. With words like “seasons pass faster than fruitflies, decades disolving like Solpadeine” what’s not to like? We were now four and rocked on to Sweeney’s, then the Foggy Dew for a glass or three. Pugwash had certainly put us in the mood.

Illustration by Glenn Brown

www.pugwashtheband.com / The Grand Social, 35 Lower Liffey Street, Dublin 1

Sep 18, 2012

Queen Of Tarts – A Royal Treat

What else on a bright sunshiny afternoon but go for a mill around Temple Bar. I was in a sweet mood so when the Bloke suggested Queen Of Tarts, I thought what’s Kate Middleton got to do with it? Alas, he was talking about the quirky cafe on Cows Lane. Lunch time trade was in full swing when we took our seats in a cosy corner. The place is warm and buzzy with a homespun feeling and plenty of space.

Queen Of Tarts serves a selection of rustic fare, with wholesome sandwiches, hot savoury tarts and homemade soups for lunch. Himself went for the Tuscan bean soup which came with two different slices of farmhouse bread. Slurp! Being me, I went straight to the cake section of the menu. Queen Of Tarts’ USP is its baking after all. What to choose? I ordered a chocolate pear tart and we shared a pot of tea.

My cake was just what the doctor ordered after a couple of nights on the razz (who me?), a warm gooey sugary hit. So impressed was I by this delicious morsel, I’ve made it my mission to test out everything – New York raspberry baked cheesecake, old fashioned Victoria sponge cake, tangy lemon meringue tart. The list goes on… Queen Of Tarts obviously put great love into their cakes and boy, does it show.

We were well looked after by the lovely staff and it was nice to squirrel away in such homely surrounds. A giant pot of tea went down well and I got a laugh watching the Bloke get his mitts around a vintage china cup. How dainty! Queen Of Tarts is a great spot, central yet far from the madding crowd. The perfect pit stop or for a bigger bite at breakfast or lunch, it also has a quaint twin sister on Dame Street.

Queen Of Tarts, Cows Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 / Queen Of Tarts, Cork Hill, Dame Street, Dublin 2

Aug 15, 2012

Accents Coffee & Tea Lounge – Home Comfort

Nothing beats a surprise scorchio in Dublin, so I decided to flick on the shades and go have some fun in the sun. Grafton Street was jammers of course, just the way I like it, and I was hot but not bothered. Cake based refreshment was deffo on the agenda – now where to? I’ve been hearing a lot about Accents on Stephen Street Lower lately, so I wandered that-a-way and found an absolute gem of a cafe.

Central Perk came to mind and it’s the comfy leather sofas dotted around, colourful bookshelves and friendly service that work the NYC vibe. Owner Anna greeted me with a smile and a chat, telling me about their new range of savoury fare. The goats cheese rosti looked delish but I was in a sweet mood and put my name on the last piece of chocolate profiterole cake. A serious slice of sugary goo…

I found a cosy corner and got stuck into the library as well as my creamy latte. Accents is home to BookCrossing, an international book swapping thingy, so there are loads of pre-loved tomes to choose from. “Karma, Destiny and Your Career” found its way into my curious mitts, which is funny as I think Accents might be my new writing hub. Spooky… Free WiFi and tasty snacks made up my mind too.

Downstairs is a fantastic lounge area, which is popular with Dublin’s night owls, as Accents opens ’til 11pm and 10pm on Sunday. Anna told me that she opened the place as an alternative to the pub as she noticed a culture shift in post-Tiger Ireland. Accents plays host to book clubs, a comedy night, tarot reading and many other creative groups, making it the ideal place to pop in and meet new people.

Music is also a big draw here with the Live Lounge acoustic sessions, Coffee & Chords, every second Friday. Night bites include a cheese board or hummus with bread and tortillas. Or one of their yummy cakes! Gluten free and vegan options mean there’s a treat for everyone. This place is a real home from home and I saw plenty of regulars coming in and out. Accents – where everybody knows your name!

Accents Coffee & Tea Lounge, 23 Stephen Street Lower, Dublin 2 / www.accents-lounge.com

Aug 8, 2012

Lisa Joyce & John Sheehan – The Full Irish

Twas a mellow eve in Dublin tonight and our city had the warm glow that makes her so welcoming to natives and strangers alike. I had a leisurely kick around the streets before heading to the International Bar for a few laughs. Up and coming comedians Lisa Joyce and John Sheehan are off to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of “The Full Irish” at Finnegan’s Wake, a showcase featuring six Irish comics.

Joyce and Sheehan were enjoying a pint when I rocked up and told me that they’re looking forward to their first Edinburgh shows. Both doing new material, tonight and tomorrow night’s preview shows should ease them in nicely. It was down to funny business as Sheehan took to the stage. The Tullamore man explained that his deadpan voice sometimes gets him into trouble, but it’s a Midlands thing y’see…

Sheehan got into his stride with gags about his ex girlfriend and job – stuff everyone can relate to, but he brought humour to the mundane with his quirky angle. Quick fire one liners worked well dotted in between stories and Sheehan built up good rapport with the audience, joking back and forth with a group of lads. He made me laugh with a cheeky Sex and the City joke – one for ladies d’un certain age…

Next up was Lisa Joyce, a slip of a thing whose first gag was to make fun of how young she looks. She does a great line in self deprecation and it’s her ability to keep a straight face the whole time that makes it even funnier. Joyce talked of the joy of tea and dodgy internet chat rooms and, like Sheehan, it was her clever, but loaded, little jokes that knitted her set together. Dry wit at its best – short and sharp!

Both comedians have been on the Dublin stand up circuit for a while now but tell me that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is an exciting highlight because not only is it new territory, but comedy Mecca. All laughed out, tonight wrapped with an impromptu acoustic session from one of the boys in the crowd. That’s the beautiful thing about this town – random happenings, talent and creativity all in one room.

The International Bar, 23 Wicklow Street, Dublin 2 / www.edfringe.com / www.laughinghorsecomedy.co.uk

Aug 6, 2012

First Thursdays Dublin – Art of Summer

It was another day in paradise on Thursday and I decided to enjoy the sunshine by joining in First Thursdays art gallery tour. With half an hour to spare before showtime I had a mini mooch in Le Shops and a suck on a Zumo smoothie – banana and peanut butter, yumsters! Then I met a pair of cohorts at Gallery @ No. Six on Anne Street South for the kick off. There was a good gang of people there already.

Gallery @ No. Six is a contemporary space tucked in beside Empty Pockets. Opened last year, its purpose is to give Irish artists a city centre showcase and a place to sell works and meet clients. Featuring paintings and sculptures by twenty seven emerging and established artists, the gallery is spread over two floors and there’s a New York-y feeling with the mezzanine level and steel staircase.

We had a talk about some of the exhibitors and were introduced to up and coming sculptor Eric Liddell who is showing for the first time. Gallery @ No. Six aims to make art accessible and says prices have come down since their 2005 high, making art less of a luxury but something to enjoy in anyones home. My fave artist here is James Mongey, who paints the Dublin I know and love in bold technicolour.

Next it was follow the leader with Temple Bar Cultural Trust’s Aine O’Hara, a lovely guide indeed, taking us to Dawson Street and the Sol Art Gallery. It was the launch of their Summer show and gallery director Martin Davis was on hand with vino to welcome us warmly. The building’s impressive rooms and high ceilings make an excellent home for the eclectic mix of work on display by international artists.

Aidan Harte’s bronze “Minotaur” is an eye catching centrepiece, as are Franz Joseph Rittmannsberger’s smooth sculptures made from a beautiful green marble. The mix of disciplines and materials at the Sol Art Gallery create a great talking point for the group and it’s nice to share my thoughts aside from appreciating works of my own taste. An Elaine Hoey light box had me intrigued, its clean lines just so.

Our next port of call was The Doorway Gallery on South Frederick Street, a quirky building housing many alcoves of painting and sculpture. The colourful work of Lucy Doyle dominates the front room, with girly pinks and purples imprinted into vivid floral scenes. Denise Donnelly, who runs the gallery, told me that Doyle’s paintings are always uplifting and that one buyer designed her interior around a piece.

The basement houses more work from “A Summer Selection” with Chris McMorrow’s atmospheric city scapes and Mark Ryan’s almost photographic painting being popular with the gang. My top piece here is William Stevens’ “Las Palmas” a graphic town depiction with a pleasing order to it, bathed in sunshine and exotic wanting. I escaped to the secret garden out back, with my Mediterranean dreams.

All three galleries were delighted with the First Thursdays turn out, as it’s a great way of getting word of exhibitions out there. While one might be intimidated by roving a gallery alone, or simply unaware of the city’s hidden artistic gems, it’s nice to go as part of a tour. I must say it was highly enjoyable and informative. Thirsty work indeed, as me and my amigos retired to the Bull and Castle for a round of ales.

www.templebar.ie / Gallery @ No. Six, 6 Anne Street South, Dublin 2 / Sol Art Gallery, 8 Dawson Street, Dublin 2 / The Doorway Gallery, 24 South Frederick Street, Dublin 2

Aug 2, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera – Angel of Music

Last Friday was sunshine and showers but I was in perky form despite a killer headache. The show must go on as they say! And what a show – The Phantom of the Opera at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre. I found my mate dangling his legs over the side of the Grand Canal basin. Just kidding… But there was a gang of boys diving into the water and it looked like such fun! Next, KC Peaches for bites.

The deal is that you can pick any size plate – small, medium, large – and fill up with whatever you fancy. The food here is scrummy, especially for salad fans, and we went for beef curry, stuffed chicken and mixed greens. Even better are the cakes – don’t worry we kept room! Passion fruit cheesecake and peanut butter jelly brownies were washed down with creamy coffee. I was feeling better already…

The Bord Gais Energy Theatre, though slick and modern, has an intimate feeling. There’s a lovely party atmosphere – everyone’s here for a good time. But it’s the great staff that make the place. We were well looked after from the moment we arrived. I’ve seen Phantom once before, at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London and I can still recall that spine tingling performance. The passion, the sorrow. The music.

The show opens on a magnificent set, the Paris Opera House, with the ensemble cast limbering up for a top performance. The scene is opulent and the costume fine, but lurking beneath in the shadows is the Phantom. Shamed by his physical appearance and feared by all he soon comes to the surface, his love for his singing protege Christine Daae too strong to control. She is at once repulsed and fascinated.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hallmark musical is in Dublin for the first time after twenty five phenomenal years. The original players, Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford, are of course legendary but the actors in this show are very impressive indeed. Katie Hall gives her all as Christine, her glorious voice filling every corner of the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, matched only by rival Carlotta for high notes.

However, it is the Angel of Music who really captures our imagination. The Phantom, played by John Owen Jones, is as mesmerising as he is menacing. Jones’ voice is tremendous and his portrayal of the tortured recluse is heart wrenching. I can’t help being swept away by the tragic romance of this show, as Christine is torn between her lover Raoul and her mentor Phantom, to whom she remains loyal.

With songs like “The Music of the Night”, “All I Ask of You” and “Phantom of the Opera” the production is as fine as you’d imagine, but live these numbers simply soar through the air. The infamous crashing of the grand chandelier is a great moment but the drama reaches a crescendo as Phantom loses the plot and kidnaps Christine. John Owen Jones’ captivating tones wring out as madness unleashes.

But Phantom’s heart is melted by Christine’s kindness to him and he eventually releases her to Raoul, surrendering to his own lonely fate. He gifted her a voice and realises that is all he can give. The lesson of The Phantom of the Opera is that one must not love for oneself but for the other person. Raoul’s genuine concern for Christine is selfless and holds the mirror up to Phantom’s emotional black hole.

It is human nature to covet what you cannot have and that is why we sympathise with Phantom. I know he moves me to tears! But it’s the highs and lows of Lloyd Webber’s powerful arrangements that pull on the heart strings. Beautiful music. We breathed a sigh of awe as the final curtain fell and the cast took a collective bow. Truly one of the greatest shows on earth. Love never dies. Now home to dream…

Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Dublin 2 / www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie

Jul 24, 2012

Back to the Future – Disco Retro

Ah, that Friday feeling. I met Dad in town and we enjoyed a half an hour each in our fave shops – the best way for boys and girls to shop! Followed by a lazy lunch in the M&S Rooftop restaurant. The menu here is stuffed full of all that lovely Marks nosh that you can’t help putting in your basket – only it’s cooked for you! We had yummy fish cakes, chicken in Parma, chocolate brownie and lemon tart.

When I got back to the bat cave, it was a quick fire round of housework, followed by some scribbling and a flop on the sofa with a nice cup of tea. The girls were coming ’round for a screening of Back to the Future chez moi. The official show at the Sugar Club was sold out, but we planned to meet our pals who’d got their mitts on tickets, for the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Chardonnay time…

The movie night, run by Film Fatale, was a twist on their monthly classic screenings with both 50s and 80s themes combined. How clever! So while some of my girlfriends were dressed up all Madonna stylee in lace fingerless gloves and neon leg warmers, I went all demure in a dusky pink prom dress I’d picked up in Oxfam last week. Isn’t she lovely? The blokes went for a double denim and “life preserver” combo.

The Sugar Club had been transformed into an underwater paradise, just like the movie, with soap bubbles and balloons. The dance floor was jumping with kids jiving to Jaime Nanci and the Blue Boys, who were belting out rock ‘n’ roll gems. These cool cats had us tapping our toes to “Johnny B Goode” and “Jailhouse Rock”. Entertaining us after dark with a slick set was the Andrews Sisters Brothers.

We were whipped up into a frenzy on rum cocktails and high jinks with some top 80s tunes. These guys had their finger on the retro pulse with well chosen records – not too obvious, nor too obscure. It felt like 1986 again when I was gliding around the Top Hat roller disco, with my Mickey Mouse jumper and a Michael J Fox poster ripped out of Smash Hits proudly blue tacked to my bedroom wall. Good times!

Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Chaka Khan and, of course, MJ had us dancing ’til 3am. Film Fatale really know how to throw a party and event organiser Anna Taylor told me they were thrilled with the sellout night. It seems they’ve found a new niche with the 80s! I was fit for the scrapheap after a final flurry to New Order’s “Blue Monday” and headed home to bedfordshire, brow damp and feet burning. Like Friday night should be…

www.filmfataleevents.blogspot.com / The Sugar Club, 8 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2