What’s happened to RTE’s “Other Voices”?

St. James church in Dingle, co. Kerry.

What’s going on with the once great Other Voices? The first episode in this the 16th season began exactly as you would have expected, with BBC Radio 1 dj Annie Mac delivering an intro promising music from the likes of Perfume Genius (reviewed earlier here) and Django Django, with reports and footage from festivals in Berlin, Belfast and at the Electric Picnic.

The usual heady mix then of left of field, broadly indie fare mixed with the best in Irish music, and all set against the picture postcard-perfect backdrop of a church in Dingle. But that intro, it transpired, was for the series, not for the episode at hand which was considerably less auspicious.

Ibeyi, from Paris via Cuba.

First up were Picture This, who hail from Athy. If you’ve ever passed through Athy, you’ll know that at its centre sits Shaws, the drapers where every local mother brings her son and daughter to get fitted out for their first holy communion, conformation and debs. And which famously ran an ad declaring, gloriously, “Shaws, almost nationwide!” Which is all the more delightful in its refusal of the obviously correct “nearly nationwide”.

Had it been penned by a beard in Williamsburg it would quite rightly have been hailed as a brilliantly biting deconstruction of what advertising copy is supposed to do. Let’s just assume that’s exactly what was intended by whoever came up with it here. Well, Picture This sound exactly what you’d expect a band from Athy to sound like.

Wyvern Lingo.

Next up were a couple of numbers from Sigrid, an oh so earnest Swedish would-be teen queen whose dreary synth pop is obviously going down a storm with the pre-tweens, and who was clearly as surprised to find herself on stage singing as we were to see here performing on it. No doubt she’ll have a host of hilarious stories to tell her class mates once she goes back to college to finish her degree in architecture or interior design, before settling down to bring up her kids.

After the break we had a couple of songs from Wyvern Lingo, a genuinely compelling trio from Bray who set their mellifluous melodies to glitchy indietronica, very much in the mode of Sylvan Esso – who themselves are made up of one part of Mountain Man, who Wyvern Lingo were compared to when they started out.

Katie Kim performs at the RTE Choice Music Prize 2016, by Kieran Frost

After that, we were given a haunting performance from singer songwriter Maria Kelly, and it looked as if the programme was back on track. But immediately after that it was up to Belfast, and who did they find to record there? Only Picture This. And, sure enough, after Belfast it was back to Dingle we were treated to no fewer than four further tracks from Athy’s finest, and another three from Sigrid, the very much not Stina Nordenstam.

So three quarters of the programme was devoted to a pair of young-fogey, pub-rockers from the midlands, and the least threatening Swedish chanteuse you’ll ever hear.

There’s nothing wrong with devoting three quarters of your programme to just two acts, so long as the acts in question merit that attention. They could have focused on, say, Katie Kim (reviewed here), Lisa Hannigan, Brigid Mae Power or Rejji Snow from these shores, or, from further afield, on the likes of Cigarettes After Sex, Ibeyi (reviewed here) or Car Seat Headrest (reviewed here). Or, most obviously of all, they could have turned the show on its head, and given three quarters of it to Wyvern Lingo and Maria Kelly, and just the 10 minutes to Picture This and Sigrid, in total.

Car Seat Headrest’s brilliant Teens of Denial.

There’s nothing wrong with Picture This, but their debut album went to number 1 here (and there’s a prize of a Curly Wurly and a sherbet dip for anyone who can correctly guess what they called it), and there are any number of outlets where they play that sort MOR music wall to wall, night and day. The whole point about Other Voices is that the music it gives voice to is supposed to be precisely that, other.

Here’s the video for Wyvern Lingo’s Out of My Hands and the video for I Love You, Sadie also from Wyvern Lingo.

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Towering Gabriel Byrne can’t save BBC’s “Quirke”.

Gabriel Byrne as Quirke.

Gabriel Byrne as Quirke.

The must see television of the last decade or so, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire, or for that matter Buffy, Friends, The Simpsons, South Park, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls and Louie – even Letterman, early Conan or The Today Show  – all have one thing in common; their writing.

On the one hand it was their ability to draw you in with precisely delineated storylines that stretched across entire series and beyond. And on the other, it was the care and craft that was invested into each and every one of their episodes.

So it’s hugely disappointing that instead of prioritising the scripts for their collaborations on Quirke, RTE and the BBC invested all their time and effort on its sets and costumes. The first of the three feature length episodes had too much plot, the second not enough. The whole thing could be summed up by that advertising slogan from a few years ago;

“we won’t make a drama out of a crisis”.

A series of incidents happened one after the other, without ever amounting to drama. Some of them Quirke managed to piece together, others he all too easily chanced upon.

The eponymous protagonist – whose name was repeated endlessly in much the same way that old school salesmen begin every single individual sentence by repeating your name at its beginning – was played by Gabriel Byrne, who was by far and away the most impressive thing about Quirke. If anything, his towering performance somewhat imbalances everybody else’s.

Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold in Entourage;  happier times.

Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold in Entourage; happier times.

But it was the clunkiness of the plotting and the predictable manner in which each of the scenes unfolded that really bogged the whole thing down. It looked great, but to absolutely no end.

Perhaps I was expecting too much. After all, the man they got to write it, Andrew Davies, is the BBC’s go to man for sanitized and securely safe versions of Jane Austen, And the chap ITV turned to for its replacement for Downtown Abbey, with the monumentally dull Mr Selfridge starring poor old Jeremy Piven, who deserves so much more. Next up, Davis is applying his middle brow metrics to War And Peace. Oh dear.

And the source material is just John Banville in mufti. I suppose really it was exactly the sort of thing one ought to have expected to find at half past nine on RTE1 of a Sunday eve. Not to much The Sopranos,  more the Onedin Line.

Quirke was little more than a slightly darker Downtown with a bit  more swearing and whiskey with an E.

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Irish Pictorial Weekly, Shock Horror, an Irish Comedy that’s Actually Funny.

Irish Pictorial Weekly.

Irish Pictorial Weekly.

Comedy programmes on Irish television have a long and shameful past. There have been many, many of them, each one, mesmerically, even more unfunny than the one before. From Upwardly Mobile, the Big Bow Wow – which I think was a comedy… – right up to the current, execrable Republic Of Telly.

Paths to Freedom was a rare and lonely beacon of light – you can see Rats and his brother in alms in Belfast here. But even they stumbled when trying to deal with the middle classes instead of sticking to Rats and his drinking class buddies.

So it’s something of a culture shock, to say the least, to see a programme on RTE that’s genuinely funny. I was trying to think of a simile. But it’s actually a simile in its own right. When next confronted with something that’s grotesque and unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented, you’ll be able to say that whatever it is is rather like finding a comedy on RTE that’s actually funny.

What they were up against.

What they were up against.

Irish Pictorial Weekly is made by Blinder Films and written and performed by, amongst others, Barry Murphy, Gary Cooke, Eleanor Tiernan, John Colleary, Paul Howard, Alan Shortt, Colum McDonnell, and Tara Flynn. It manages to foreground sharp political satire against a succession of wonderfully surreal backdrops in a mixture of doctored clips and sketches. The results are both reliably consistent and brilliantly funny. And as such, it’s something of a revelation.

Poor Swift can at last stop spinning in that grave of his. We can it seems produce satire aimed at viewers with a triple digit IQ. Our talents do stretch beyond The Phoenix after all.

It’s on RTE1 on Thursdays at 22:15. Here are a couple of clips. A Gerry Adams clip here. An Eamon Gilmore clip here. A Pat Rabbitte clip here.

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RTE’s “Love/Hate” is Not Like Real Life At All.

RTE's Love/Hate.

RTE’s Love/Hate.

There’s been an enormous amount written about how realistic and true to life (or not(!)) the RTE drama Love/Hate is, with many people complaining about the factual errors on it.  And I have to say, on watching series four I too was left similarly perplexed. To pick just three of the many, many glaring and inexplicable inaccuracies:

Oh come on, would anyone really wear a wrist watch like that?

Oh come on, would anyone really wear a wrist watch that garish?

There’s a scene in episode 3 as the Gardai are keeping surveillance on a warehouse. To celebrate the successful hiding of the cameras and mikes there, one of the guards lights up a cigarette. In an enclosed place of work! Which is against the law!

So, what, we’re being asked to believe that a serving member of an garda siochana would knowingly breaking the law?!

But that’s just the start of it. In another scene, a number of criminals are having a discussion and, as you’d expect, the lightbulb above their heads gives off an abundance of light, clearly indicating that they’re using a conventional, standard (probably 100w!) incandescent lightbulb.

But when we cut to the Gards at their headquarters, they seem to be in a room lit in exactly the same way! Suggesting that, instead of using a Halogen, CFL or even LED bulb, as I’ve no doubt you’ll find installed in all police stations throughout the country, they are every bit as environmentally irresponsible as the people they are up against in the criminal underworld!

Totti by name...

More TV Totti.

And then again, in another scene, in a brothel – which by the way are illegal in this country, so where’s this scene supposed to be taking place! – one of the bystanders is wearing a Roma FC soccer jersey. But if you freeze frame it just before he scratches his nose, you can clearly see the words “Asa NIsi MAsa” tattooed on his knuckles.

Obviously, this is a reference to Fellini’s appropriation of Jung’s “anima” concept, which he translated into the Rimini dialect for 8 ½, and which we hear being whispered in the dream-like flashback scenes depicting his childhood. But why would somebody who went to the trouble of having that tattooed on his hand, clearly indicating he grew up in the East coast seaside town of Rimini, be wearing a Roma FC jersey?!

Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini's 8 1/2.

Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s “8 1/2”.

How can you possibly get involved in the story being told when there are all these woeful inaccuracies just leaping off of the screen at you at every turn?

Naturally I’ve forwarded this on to the Director General at RTE, together with a full list of all the factual errors (1,036 in total) that I managed to find in just the first three episodes. I’ve no doubt he’ll be keen to sit down with the writers and the production team in an effort to stamp this out. And I confidently expect to be receiving a reply from him on the matter in the very near future.

After all, and I really didn’t want to end on this note, but; is this the kind of thing we’re being asked to pay our license fee for? Because, I regret to report, Love/Hate isn’t remotely true to life. It’s all made up. The whole thing’s a complete fiction.

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