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Dr JOHN COOPER CLARKE

CQAF Festival Marquee, Customs House Square, Belfast. May 3rd 2016

As he gets older, the Bard of Salford looks more and more cadaverous. John Cooper Clarke’s wry observation, “As you can see, I’ve been piling on the pounds” won one of the biggest laughs of the evening. Most folk I know have never heard of him, so I wasJohn Cooper Clarke pleasantly surprised to see the venue packed almost to capacity.

The huge audience in the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival Marquee had already been warmed up by another Mancunian poet, Mike Garry, who entertained them with a mixture of shrewd observational comedy and heartbreaking pathos. The most memorable item was Pay as you Go, a poem about a young girl who had been inveigled by a conniving boyfriend into ‘sexting’ him intimate pictures of herself. He then betrayed her trust by posting them on line. It was powerful stuff.

With a non-stop rapid-fire line of patter, John Cooper Clarke launched into a series of old favourites; Beasley Street and its gentrified update, Beasley Boulevard; Twat, ending with the full and unexpurgated version of Evidently Chickentown, made famous in an episode of the Sopranos (albeit in a toned down form).

Due acknowledgment was given to the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams TD, who a couple of days earlier had tweeted his appreciation of the Tarantino movie Django Unchained, by describing himself as a ‘Ballymurphy Nigger’. This storm of universal disapproval and outrage – some of it may even have been genuine – that broke over him was still fresh in everyone’s mind. To the delight of the audience, Cooper Clarke dedicated his upbeat rendition of Some Cunt Used the N-Word in the Sinn Féin president’s honour.

Cooper Clarke is rude, irreverent, iconoclastic and at times profane. He manages to be all this and also very, very funny – even when you can see a mile off where he’s going or what he’s going to say.

The Bard of Salford is touring throughout the UK and Ireland during the month of June. If he comes to your town, go and see this show.

**** Four stars.

David Kerr

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TRIGGER WARNING

triggerwarning cover

Trigger Warning: [free speech and offensive language]. This review contains strong racial and sexual slurs, discussions of –isms, or hatred of any kind (racism, chauvinism, classism, sexism, body-image shaming)

WHAT you have just read is a ‘Trigger Warning’. Increasingly common, a Trigger Warning is a notice at the start of any piece of writing, or audio or video to warn would-be readers, listeners or viewers that something potentially upsetting or offensive is on its way. The underlying implication seems to be look away, do not read this, or turn off your radio or television set.

This modern innovation has inspired Spiked-online editor Mick Hume to write an impassioned polemic in defence of freedom of speech which he claims is under threat, mainly because many of us don’t want to offend anyone. His new book, Trigger Warning, claims that politeness or fear of causing offence is undermining the hard-won rights of freedom of speech and thought that we like to think are the foundations of our society.

The Islamic gunmen who attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo acted not just as the soldiers of an oldish Eastern religion but also as the armed and extremist wing of a thoroughly modern Western creed… a creeping culture of conformism. The cri de Coeur of these crusaders against offensive speech is You-Can’t-Say-That.

The gunmen who shot up the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Copenhagen café just cut out the middleman in order to stop anyone reading the blasphemies in Charlie Hebdo or listening to a debate in Copenhagen on the nature of free speech and blasphemy.

Reverse-Voltaires

Western culture seems to have fallen out with its own core value of free speech. The author brands the crusaders in question as ‘Reverse-Voltaires’. The famous phrase, attributed to the French freethinker had him saying, “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Hume’s Reverse-Voltaires in effect say, “I know I’ll detest and be offended by what you say, and I will defend to the end of free speech my right to stop you saying it.” They don’t wish to debate or dispute arguments that they find offensive. They would deny the other person’s right to say it in the first instance. The author’s charge is that these Reverse-Voltaires’ personal emotions and feelings come first. They want to be protected from words.

What has happened to the West’s liberal lobby in defence of free speech? They still speak up for oppressed dissidents in other parts of the world but at home, too many professed ‘liberals’ have gone over to the other side and want to restrict the ‘wrong’ kinds of speech. To many, censorship even seems cool.

Under King William III of glorious, pious and immortal memory, the need lapsed in 1695 for a Crown licence to publish anything. The recent Leveson Report called for a new State-sanctioned regulator to police press freedom. Even Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty gave public support for a new Royal Charter to limit press freedom.

Hume notes sadly that the remaining Pythons – who thirty-five years ago fought massive battles against Mary Whitehouse and quite a few Church of England bishops in order that everyone could go to see The Life of Brian – have effectively switched sides and joined a secular crusade for less press freedom. Illiberal liberalism now rules the roost so that black activist Jasper Lee rejoiced in closing down the controversial Exhibit B at the Barbican with the claim that censorship was a blow for free speech.

Today, free speech is attacked in the name of defending rights and freedoms. Even worse, there is now a blurring of the line between public and private spheres so that recently a large number of public figures and celebrities were monstered for thoughts expressed in private phone calls, texts or emails that were leaked, often by former friends or partners. As Brendan O’Neill of Spiked magazine put it, “there is surely only one solution to the alleged scourge of people saying bad things in private – put a telescreen in very home to capture our banter and alert the morality police to the utterance of dark or daft thoughts.” just as was the case in Orwell’s 1984 where people were encouraged to shop colleagues, neighbours and even family members. In 1984, Orwell’s Thought Police didn’t just punish those guilty of thoughtcrime but served to encourage others to practice ‘crimestop’ – the faculty of stopping short before embracing any dangerous thought.

Historical context

Hume puts the importance of freedom of thought and free speech in its historical context in a short outline of free-speech heretics, something we as Dissenters and Non-Conformists know – or ought to know – well. The right to freedom of expression and conscience was not handed down to us as a gift from the gods or from kings and aristocrats as an act of condescending beneficence. It had to be fought for and defended, over and over again.

We have heard a lot about Magna Carta in the past few months, given that its 800th anniversary was recently celebrated in great style. It did have a genuine role against arbitrary state power by establishing the idea that the Crown is not above the law and that free men have certain rights, most notably the right to trial by a jury of their peers. However, the Magna Carta had nothing to say about freedom of speech in a society where serfs were virtually owned body and soul by the lords of the manor.

After William Caxton introduced the printing press into England in 1476, the Crown sought to control it under a system of licensing. Today’s attempts to muzzle and control the internet are not entirely unprecedented. Nothing could be published without permission of the Star Chamber. Any criticism of the Crown was branded as treason or seditious libel.

One early free-speech martyr was the Greek philosopher, Socrates who, mirroring present-day Britain and America ‘just went too far.’ He was accused of corrupting the morals of Athens youth by saying things that ought not to be said. He replied that even if they went to spare him, he would keep on saying the unsayable and asking forbidden questions. Socrates posed the question; should there be a right to be a heretic?

As Hume notes, notions of heresy change as society changes in history. ‘Heresy’ is a label stuck on you by someone else. “From the trial of Socrates to today the big battles have been about the right to go against the grain, dissent from respectable opinion and question the unquestionable.” – in short, the right to be offensive.

In an age when many people dismiss religion as repressive and reactionary, Hume reminds secular readers that William Tyndale whose struggle to publish the Bible in English ended in fiery martyrdom, as well as the other religious heretics, came up against the censorious power of the political authorities. Their demands soon melded into calls for press freedom.

In 1689, after the Glorious Revolution which brought the immortal King Billy to the throne, the Bill of Rights wrote freedom of speech and debate into English law for parliamentarians. The system of Crown licensing for printers and publishers ended in 1695. The philosopher John Locke argued in A Letter Concerning Toleration against the State interfering in matters of conscience or faith but three centuries later, the government is still at it.

Up until the last few decades, liberty of expression and free-speech had widened in the UK. The last prosecution for blasphemous libel was in 1977 when Mary Whitehouse took a private case against Gay News for a poem she didn’t like. The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in 2008. However, Hume argues that this has been replaced by a form of ‘blasphemy-lite’ – the new censorship of ‘hate-speech’.

Proponents of old orthodoxies now find themselves in the dock – often literally. This might make some folk smile a ‘slap-it-into-you’ wry smile but as Hume remarks, heresy-hunting still threatens free-speech even if the person on the receiving end is a bigot. Today, a myriad of unofficial and shifting speech rules and codes apply and woe betides anyone who falls foul of them.

The internet front

In China and Turkey the State authorities are open and honest that they censor opinions that they don’t like. But the internet is today a major front in the silent war on free speech. Here in the West we don’t censor in order to enforce political repression – perish the thought – but to protect the vulnerable against harmful and hateful words.

We hear a lot in the media about internet ‘trolls’ although there is no firm definition of the term. This hasn’t prevented a government minster threatening to quadruple prison sentences for writing words based on a shaky definition of what a troll actually is.

Some people on the internet are really horrible but ‘trolls’ have just as much right to say what somebody else doesn’t like as anyone else. Like everyone else, however, they have no right to be taken seriously. In case anyone was wondering, threats of rape, violence or murder are already illegal, so no new anti-trolling laws are necessary. Not only words, but the context in which they are used should determine the credibility or otherwise of any alleged threat.

The rise of the troll has led to the emergence of professional self-appointed ‘troll-hunters’ who seek to track down and punish these people. One recent tragic case concerned Brenda Leyland who killed herself after she was exposed on television as the women who posted a serious of online accusations against the parents of a missing child.

Another threat to internet free-speech emerged after a 2014 European Court of Justice case on ‘the right to be forgotten’. This led to a pianist demanding that the Washington Post take down a three-year-old critical review of one of his concerts and many others seeking to cast stuff about their past into an Orwellian memory hole.

Universities

Two centuries ago, the poet Percy Shelley was banned from Oxford in 1811 for publishing The Necessity of Atheism. Today, universities are all supposed to be about the search for knowledge, truth and free expression; what Disraeli called, ‘a place of light, of liberty and of learning.’ That’s no longer true in the US or in the UK where often students fight for freedom from speech. Berkley University in 1964 was where students founded the Free Speech Movement. By a twist of irony, students at the same university petitioned to ‘disinvite’ the comedian Bill Maher in order that they might feel safe.

Bizarro World has come alive in many universities so that self-professed liberals or radicals are in the forefront of campus censorship campaigns. In recent cases, people have been told that ‘people who do not have uteruses’ have no say on the abortion debate and various speakers have been banned under widening cowardly and reactionary ‘no platform’ rules. Once it was ‘no platform’ for racists and fascists. Now it is ‘no platform for racists, fascists, Islamic extremists, Islamaphobes, rappers, comedians, Israelis, climate-change deniers, Christians, atheists or UKIP members. Hume says that this would be better phrased as ‘no arguments’ as their proponents refuse to countenance any ideas other than their own.

Hume excoriates the use of ‘Safe Space’ and ‘Free Speech Zones’ in many US universities which restrict opinions to the zone and make them off-limits everywhere else and turn the rule into the exception.

Trigger warning migrated from a therapeutic took to help sufferers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to many books on the university syllabus and even to things like Downton Abbey. This misuse undermines two freedoms; the right to speak or write what you want or the right to read, listen to, or watch what you want.

Football and comedy

Free speech is for (allegedly) fat and (mostly) white, male, working class football fans too.” In recent years, as money has poured into the game, there has been an attempt to ‘socially cleanse’ football terraces of its working class fan base, ostensibly to make the game more acceptable to the middle classes and ethnic minorities and more ‘family friendly’. While the thought appals many folk, a large part of the appeal of the game is winding up supporters of opposing teams by singing offensive songs. In Scotland, this can get you locked up under draconian legislation which is supposed to outlaw sectarianism. People have even been fined for singing God Save the Queen.

Players find themselves hung out to dry too. John Terry from Chelsea Football Club was found not guilty in court of calling another player, Anton Ferdinand of QPR a ‘fucking black cunt’ but nevertheless was sentenced by the English FA to a huge fine of £220,000 and forced to undergo re-education in etiquette and speech codes because of his ‘racism’. He was cleared in court of any offence but treated as guilty anyway on the grounds that he ought to have been some sort of ‘role model’ to young impressionable football fans. In today’s society, role model rules overcome the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Hume mourns the passing of the Jewish-American comedienne Joan Rivers. Loved and hated in equal measure, she never apologised to anyone who claimed to be offended by her acerbic brand of humour. Who, he wonders, will slay all those sacred cows now? The censors once were conservative politicians, policemen and priests. Now protests are led by illiberal liberals in the media, other comedians and activists.

The alternative comedians of the 1980s have created their own alternative comedic conformism. Most recent examples are the comic character ‘Dapper Laughs’, who was killed off by an illiberal liberal lynch mob. Interestingly, the West Belfast Festival, Féile an Phobail, is under pressure from some of the same circles to disinvite the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle because they disapprove of some of his recent material. Nobody, Hume observes, “is against free speech for comedians. Until, that is, they decide somebody has gone too far in offending their own views and hurting their feelings.”

Many opponents of free speech borrow – and distort – an argument first aired by Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes in an American court in 1919 that people have no right to cry ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. Holmes said that there was no freedom ‘falsely’ to cry fire in a crowded theatre. His ruling against a US socialist activist assumed that Schenk could be punished after the fact for what he wrote in a leaflet against military conscription in wartime. He didn’t try to prevent its publication beforehand as Gordon Brown’s government did with the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders when he was banned from entering the UK in 2009. That was prior constraint and State censorship of an elected representative.

This raises the question, who decides? How can we make an informed decision if we cannot hear what a person has to say? The fire-in-a-theatre argument has generalised from a specific set of circumstances in order to shut down ideas that the offended person doesn’t like and doesn’t want anyone else to hear. Hume offers another quotation from Holmes, made in 1929. “If there is and principle in the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought – not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.”

Words will always hurt me

We used to recite a wee verse that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Today that has been turned on its head. Recently, Katy Hopkins – a B List attention-seeking celebrity motor-mouth who has re-invented herself as a professional troll – faced a petition to sack her from her Sun column because of ignorant and stupid comments she made about would-be migrants from North Africa drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact there was more outrage and indignation over her shit-stirring article than there was over the actual deaths of would-be migrants.

Hume blames the rise of what he calls identity politics as a major cause of the modern outbreak of thin-skinnedness. When someone identifies with a particular identity group, they become fixed in it and will not accept any challenge to their worldview. It’s not only you-can’t-say-THAT, but YOU-can’t-say-that! The result of this is that we have privatised blasphemy and virtually criminalised criticism. Identity activists consciously and conspicuously go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. They look for something to be offended by. They stifle public debate by their insistence that speech is policed to protect hurt feelings of the few who claim to have been offended.

Taking offence has become the acceptable face of political censorship today. Of course, anyone is entitled to take offence at anything said or written by someone else but taking offence does not give them any right to take away that other person’s freedom of speech.

Hume attributes one ‘-ism’ as the most powerful factor in this outbreak of self-righteous umbrage – narcissism; I feel superior by my sense of outrage and offence at what these dreadful people are saying. It’s an outrage. It upsets me. It shouldn’t be allowed. The 2008 EU ‘hate-speech’ laws were drafted in order to promote tolerance and equality. One EU commissioner admitted that they were actually intended to “preserve social peace and public order” by protecting the “increasing sensitivities” of “certain individuals” who “have reacted violently to criticism of their religion”.

That went well, didn’t it? Hume argues that the hate-speech laws seem to have inflamed things by sanctioning the notion that offensive speech is a crime that ought to be suppressed or outlawed if it upsets someone, so speaking disrespectfully of Mohammed or of other Islamic symbols deserve punishment. By this reckoning, the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo staff privatised the penalty due for causing such offence. Thomas Jefferson argued that the State should keep out of religious disputes. “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods on no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Today people can be locked up or fined in the UK and Europe for expressing an opinion deemed insulting or offensive to someone else’s religion or identity group. Ask Pastor James McConnell of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast, who is awaiting trial for a sermon in which he claimed that Islam was spawned in hell and was of the devil. It looks like the State will be wading into religious disputes in future, if somebody makes a complaint.

Liberals used to campaign for disadvantaged groups to share equality with the rest of us; not special privileges for a self-identified group. Anyone can be and has the right to be offended but not to use that feeling of offence to curtail the rights of the rest of us.

Mind your Ps – Qs – Ns & Ys

Hume recounts a Football Association dinner he attended that was entertained by the black American comedian, Reginald D Hunter, who told amusing stories of how soccer baffled ‘this nigga’. A huge media shitstorm saw Hunter pilloried for racist language and behaviour. The FA’s anti-racism lobby group, Kick it Out now ‘condemns racial slurs, irrespective of context’. According to this idiocy, Hunter calling himself ‘this nigga’ is just as outrageous as a Klansman shouting ‘lynch that nigger’ at him. Fans of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club have similarly found themselves in trouble for calling themselves the ‘Yid Army’.

A similar storm of outrage burst over the head of the award winning actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a January 2015 interview when he referred to ‘coloured actors’. Never mind that he was speaking out against racism. He used a slightly old fashioned term to describe people of colour and was denounced on both sides of the Atlantic for his use of these dreadful words of power. According to the theorists of ‘irrespective of context’ Cumberbatch might as well have gone around whipping slaves and forging new chains for them by reminding their descendants of the bad old days of segregation and slavery. He was forced to make a grovelling apology for his hate-speech.

We are entering a cultural age where people like Hunter, Cumberbatch, the Yid Army or any one of us can be sacked, censured or censored for saying the wrong word, regardless of where they said it or what they meant by it.

Liars and holocaust deniers

Hume describes the recent trend for people who question the dominant view or current orthodoxy to be branded as ‘deniers’. ‘Denier’ is a religious term just as ‘witch’ was in the seventeenth century. To brand someone as a denier alleges a moral failure. That person is not just wrong but has no right to be heard. You don’t debate with deniers; you shut them up or lock them up or burn them. That’s what happened to Michael Servetus who was burnt at the stake in Calvin’s Geneva in 1553. He denied the Trinity. In Scotland, Thomas Aikenhead was hanged in Edinburgh in 1697 for denying the Trinity and the deity of Christ. All questioned the unquestionable and denied the prevailing orthodoxy – the ‘accepted version of truth’. All were regarded as subversive, dangerous and morally debased.

Holocaust denial is now the biggest thoughtcrime in the West. It has become a crime in almost twenty countries in the past two decades since the Holocaust became transformed from a historical event into a pseudo-theological universal symbol of absolute moral evil that must be taught in schools. The best way to deal with such nonsense is not to shut it down by locking up its proponents but to expose its fallacies and errors to the light of day. It”s not as if there’s any shortage of evidence.

Like all heresy hunters, the defenders of orthodoxy don’t just want to silence their opponents but to punish them for their secular blasphemy. Denial is meant to be “a refusal to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion, or to admit it into consciousness.” A ‘denier’ is someone refusing to acknowledge what everyone knows is the undoubted truth, not a sincere doubter but a despicable liar.

Similar terms are now being used to refer to persons who doubt the current orthodoxy on man-made climate change. As the debate is settled and the question closed such doubters should be silenced. This is contrary to the opinion of John Stuart Mill who wrote, “To refuse a hearing to an opinion because they are sure it is false is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility. That’s for popes, not scientists.”

Elitists believe that the ‘sheeple’ – ordinary people – need to be protected from the media. Their lack of faith in free speech reflects and reinforces their lack of belief in humanity. Hume argues that this is the main reason why there was an official cover-up of the scandal in Rotherham where gangs of Asian men abused white girls with impunity. The story was not suppressed by the authorities for years because it was false but because it was true. Social workers and officials feared accusations of racism and that community tensions would be inflamed if the full truth came out.

Today those who think of themselves as enlightened often demand less free speech and want to restrict press freedom. The puritans of the past look like open-minded humanists compared with today’s misanthropic illiberal liberals.

The right to free speech is not sectional. It has to apply to everyone – no matter how obnoxious – or it becomes undermined for others. Once media freedom is made out to be a problem the ‘solution’ offered is more state intervention and regulation. Orwell wrote that “A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

The crux of Hume’s argument is that free speech is not the problem but that fear of it is. “Without fighting for the heretical right to offend against society’s consensus views and to question the unquestionable orthodoxies of the age, many of the great political, cultural, scientific or artistic breakthroughs that we now take for granted would have been hard to imagine.”

Reverse-Voltaires claim that we will gain is a safer, more civil society where people will have to respect each other. Hume argues that we are all in danger of losing the meanings of words. Rules and codes shift and narrow the terms of debate as Benedict Cumberbatch learned to his cost. In fact, they close down any chance of debate which prohibits any proper discussion on the important issues of the day.

David Kerr

Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? by Mick Hume. William Collins Books ISBN978-0-00-812545-5 £12.99

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Austerity Pleasures

austeritypleasuresVenue: Espionage, Kasabar, Victoria Street
Until 24th August

This free, hour-long lunchtime show features Ben Morgan, Robyn Perkins and Declan Kennedy along with a guest appearance by Eddy Brimson, who was there to give a taster of his own show.


In common with most of the smaller shows at the Fringe, the cast have to turn their hands to publicising the event so as I walked down Victoria Street I was handed a leaflet by Robyn, (who was pleased to hear that I was planning to attend), and having crossed the street to the venue I was shown to the lounge by Ben, where the audience were gathering before the performance room becoming available.

First on was Ben, who made use of an envelope marked ‘EMERGENCY JOKES’ whenever he felt audience attention was flagging, although his act flowed well and his punning went down well with the audience.

Next, Robyn spoke about her transition from coming to the UK from the USA to gaining British Citizenship and the quirks involved in the process.

The third member of the cast was Declan Kennedy, who invoked a bit of audience participation by getting half of the audience to call out “SAY” and the other to call “TON”. Taken together, the audience ended-up calling out something that sounded scarily like “Satan”, which, Declan explained, he hoped would alarm people sitting in the floor above!

In the final minutes of the show, Eddy Brimson gave a preview of his own show “Windy Piss”. Hopefully another member of the Counter Culture team will be able to attend and review Eddy’s show as from the taster we got it sounds well worth a look.

This was the third year that “Austerity Pleasures” has featured at the Fringe and hopefully it will be back again next year. While it was seldom laugh out loud funny, it more than made up for this by having some thoughtful, intelligent observations. The performers were likeable and there seemed to be a good rapport between them and the audience.

Reviewed by Andrew Hunter

 

 

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Good Vibrations

Good Vibrations PosterAnyone in Belfast who plays in a band, appreciates music or even who buys records regularly will probably have come across Terri Hooley. Terri would admit that he is an unlikely businessman. He certainly can’t claim to be the most successful record shop owner in history, but then again, the Virgin Megastores, Zavvi, Tower Records and Our Price have passed into history and HMV is in deep trouble but Good Vibrations manages to hang on in there, despite it all.

The crazy thing is that Terri Hooley opened his shop in Belfast in the mid-seventies in the city’s most-bombed street above a dusty whole food shop run by the Guru Maharaj Ji’s Divine Light Mission. The city in the 1970s was a bleak place. Belfast city centre emptied at 6 o’clock of all but the brave or the foolhardy. The conflict – which Ulsterfolk euphemistically call ‘The Troubles’ – was at the height of its random tit-for-tat viciousness. People retreated in the evenings to the ghettos where they lived in search of some security. They socialised where they could; in local clubs, pubs, parish halls, Orange halls or illegal sheebeens. They rarely – if ever – met with people from ‘the other side’.

The novelist Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry have conjured up a film script that really captures the nature of this anarchic mould -breaking larger-than-life character. Their script buzzes with dark Belfast humour and a soundtrack that brings everything to the mix from Hank Williams’ I Saw the Light, Phil Spector’s girl bands, through to Rudi’s Big Time and of course, the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks. The action was intercut with contemporary footage of background events. This gave an immediate reminder of the very real dangers stalking the city then. Many folk of a certain age would have been delighted to see one-time Scene-Around-Six news anchor Barry Cowan, (sadly no longer with us), on-screen again.

Terri’s mum was a devout Methodist and his dad was a revolutionary socialist. He never quite fitted in to Ulster’s divided society. In the Sixties, he protested against the Vietnam war and in favour of nuclear disarmament, but as the Troubles took hold many of his contemporaries forsook protesting for peace in favour of violence.

His first love was music, especially reggae, but he became enthused by the energy of the growing punk movement which drew young folk from both communities to the rundown Pound Club on the edge of the city centre to hear bands like Rudi and the Outcasts. This led him into launching a record label to introduce Rudi to a wider public. Other bands followed. The ‘big one’ was The Undertones from Derry whose single, Teenage Kicks went stratospheric after it was taken up by the influential Radio One presenter, John Peel.

Despite its bleak environment of bombs everywhere, soldiers on the streets, officious cops and random, casual violence, this is a real fun, feel good movie. Dormer’s Hooley often messes things up, not least his life and his relationship with his wife, Ruth. He’s more interested in the music than making money from it.

Some scenes will haunt the viewer for life. I was struck by the scene where Terri hears ‘that’ Undertones song for the first time and fell about laughing at a scene where a bemused British soldiers stops Hooley and the band in the van only to discover that they are both Protestants and Catholics from north, east and west Belfast. Terri had never asked them what they were.

Coming out at a time when old divisions threaten to open up again in Belfast, this movie reminds us that we can do better. In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Roll on the DVD release. One Love!

PS.  The DVD is now available,

By David Kerr

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The Boat Factory

The Boat Factory

Happenstance Theatre Company

Hill Street Theatre, Venue 41

0131 226 0000

For more than a century, East Belfast has been dominated by what writer Dan Gordon calls ‘the Boat Factory’ – the Harland and Wolff shipyard.  In this centenary year of the sinking of one particular product of the Boat Factory, Happenstance Theatre Company have given the writer and actor Dan Gordon the opportunity to tell the world how the heritage and history of the shipyard and how it made him what he is.

After Davy Gordon’s (Dan Gordon) da ‘spoke for him’ he met a whole range of characters on his first day as an indentured apprentice in the Boat Factory, most notably that ‘cheeky wee shite’ Geordie Kilpatrick (Michael Condron).  Wee Geordie had been partly crippled by polio, so he had a bit of a limp.  He was inspired to sail the world once his apprenticeship finished by reading Moby Dick. In the Boat Factory everyone seemed to be either ‘big this’ or ‘wee that’.  There were no in-betweens.

As well as their portrayals of Davy and Geordie, Gordon and Condron carry a outstanding array of complex characters to this impressive production. Dan Gordon brings such an expressive face and eyes to the stage that he often doesn’t even have to speak.

This is a warm, witty, evocative, and often laugh-out-loud hilarious story of the men who built the Titanic and the Canberra. It’s not afraid, though, to look at the darker side of the Yard in the 1920s when Catholic workers were expelled for ‘disloyalty’. Nor does the script avoid the dubious tradition of ‘homers’.

Some of the best lines come from the repartee between the two main characters as they climb scaffolding and look out over the whole yard during their lunch break. The Boat Factory is a remarkable, vivid look back at what has become a forgotten time for most folk in Northern Ireland.

This play is due to go on tour once it finishes its run at the Edinburgh Fringe.  Catch it if you can. It’s superb.

***** Five Stars

David Kerr

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Baby Wants Candy

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2012

Baby Wants Candy

Assembly 3, George Square

Baby Wants Candy is your one-stop call for improvisational musical comedy.  Each evening the five cast members perform a never-to-be-repeated original musical show, using a title suggested by a member of the audience.  The lucky audience member whose suggestion is used gets a free t-shirt at the end of the show over-printed with the title of his show.

It’s impressive to watch how one cast member picks up cues from the others and runs with it, often in a total tangent to what went on before.  I get the impression that occasionally one member might playfully try to wrong-toot another.  Sure it’s great crack. This kind of ‘spontaneous co-ordination’ must take a lot of practice to perfect.

Aided by a wild bunch of frenetic musicians, this small team has put in a lot of hard work and are reaping dividends. They are playing to packed houses every night.

Baby Wants Candy is just the ticket for anyone looking for a bit of light entertainment at this year’s Fringe.

www.babywantscandy.com

**** Four Stars

David Kerr

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I, Tommy

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2012

I, Tommy

Venue 14, The Gilded Balloon, Teviot

0131 622 6552

Tommy Sheridan was the socialist activist who became the champion of a campaign against Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax in the 1980s.  While in prison for defying a judge’s interdict he was elected to Glasgow City Council for the Pollak area.  He went on to win a seat in the first Scottish Parliament for the Scottish Socialist Party.  By the second election his party gained another five MSPs.

Tommy was brash, opinionated and populist.  As this play demonstrates, he was also his own number one fan. He was vain and narcissistic and believed that he could charm his way out of anything; a minor league Bill Clinton or Tony Blair. The ancient Greeks has a word for this attitude; hubris.

I, Tommy is riotously funny, but this farcical treatment just underscores how one man’s arrogance destroyed his party and set back for a generation the cause he claimed to believe in. Tommy, who cultivated an image of teetotal responsibility, was always a ladies’ man.  His downfall was to visit a swingers’ club in Manchester – without his glamorous wife Gail – and lie about it.  He could have resigned as party Convenor, admitted a mistake, and moved on as did Paddy ‘Pantsdown’ Ashdown a few years earlier.

Tommy’s risky strategy was to brazen it out, perjure himself in court and brand all his comrades on the SSP executive as back-stabbing, lying, treacherous, ungrateful bastards. It worked, at first.  His initial court victory over the News of the World was at the expense of his comrades who found themselves facing up to five years in prison for perjury.

In the end, the onetime revolutionary firebrand’s house of cards came down on top of him.  Sentenced to three years for perjury, he served only one year before his release.  Today, left wing socialism lies helpless in the gutter where he left it and he has become just another celebrity, a tragic laughingstock.  The only person he has to blame for his predicament is Tommy Sheridan.

Des McClean captures Tommy’s mixture of passion and pugnacious bombast perfectly.  Colin McCredie, our narrator, has a sad, resigned look about him in the role of Tommy’s betrayed former friend and comrade Alan McCombes. Laugh loudly, laugh heartily, but take this message to hear, beware of charismatic would-be saviours, they may have feet of clay.

***** Five Stars

David Kerr

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