Running through the acronym (3) The Arts
First I should say that ‘the Arts’ are only included here because they helped the acronym. I am really not comfortable with the expression ‘the Arts’ and can never imagine using it in a serious way. It seems to me to be the preserve of Sunday Supplements and TV luvvies. A narrow view, I know, but it’s where I’m coming from.
That said, music, literature, photography, film and drama provide me with a huge amount of satisfaction and enjoyment and, it should be said, fascination.
My tastes are eclectic, though I do have friends who have claimed that’s a posh way to say indiscriminating.
In music they range from bubblegum pop, through classic rock to traditional folk and country rock. I never stop thanking my lucky stars that I grew up in the sixties and enjoyed the experience of Caroline under the bedclothes (we’re talking Pirate Radio here!) and the wealth of good music that was produced and became so central to our lives. In common with most friends in my age range, going to concerts, listening to music and discussing bands is still a major preoccupation, despite the advancing years. Not something we would have forecasted back in the sixties when even the Stones and the Beatles didn’t expect to be famous for more than a couple of years. There are those who say that popular culture should be disposable and tat the sight of the Stones or the Who still performing is in some way distasteful. Well, each to their own. I still get a lot of pleasure from revisiting the soundtrack to my youth, as well as discovering new music.
Music was always part of my family experience – whether irish traditional, Radio Caroline’s top fifty or West End musicals, and, in the same way, if you grow up surrounded by books and learn that they can be your window on to the world, and, in particular, give you a view into worlds you could never normally expect to witness, then you are liable to grow up with the kind of love for reading that I have maintained all my life.
As with music, my tastes are wide, but tend to reflect my other interests. John McGahern, who wrote of communities and their people, and was based in my family’s homeplace of Co Leitrim, is a particular hero for the calm and unadorned style of his prose, his careful choice of language and observation of ordinary people in their ordinary life. ‘When I start to write, words have become physical presence. It was to see if I could bring that private world to life that found its first expression through reading. I really dislike the romantic notion of the artist.’ The short Stories of O’Faolain, Frank O’Connor and Liam O’Flaherty have also great sway over me.
For anyone who loves characters and plot, it seems obvious that Dickens is the Governor and I suppose, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, I would think of Great Expectations as the great novel. The opening of Bleak House seems to me almost perfect:
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows;fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.
In poetry, I have to thank Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon for making me see that verse could be wonderful and relevant, and Wordsworth for representing romanticism so earthily. For marvelling at words and atmosphere, Patrick Kavanagh is king for me, and it’s a huge regret to me that I actually knew the woman who inspired Raglan Road, Hilda O’Malley, but never discovered who she was till it was too late. In those words Kavanagh, better than anyone, caught the hopeless optimism of lost love.
Of a deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s edge
the Queen of Hearts still making tarts, and I not making hay,
And I loved too much, and by such by such is happiness thrown away.
In Drama, the Scottish Plays of the Seventies whetted my appetite: The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, Willie Rough, The Bevellers, 7:84 and Wildcat, Galway’s Druid Theatre doing Synge, and in photography the work of Capa, McCullin, Doisneau and myriad others upholds my eclectic approach.
Sadly traditional in the moving picture genre, I still mourn The Wednesday Play and Man Alive and my film director heroes are David Lean, Bill Forsyth, John Schlessinger, Mike Nicholls and Ken Loach.
And that’s quite enough for an introduction!