Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bono gives "Elvis and Ireland" the thumbs up!

Ivor Casey, author of Elvis and Ireland and Bono in Dalkey
Irish rock star Bono and myself met recently at The Corner Note Café in Dalkey. When asked about his inclusion in the book, Bono, who has been reading his own personal copy, remarked that he was "delighted to be part of the whole thing". The book is set to be launched by Barry Devlin of Celtic Rock group "Horslips" on 10 May 2013 at The Corner Note Café.

"Elvis and Ireland" explores the life of Elvis and his influence and connections with Ireland. It is a social and historical study, documenting the evolution of rock and pop culture in Ireland, while simultaneously covering the entire story of Elvis's life, with some new fresh perspectives. Having been born over six years after Elvis died, my study of his life reflects a new generation of Elvis enthusiast.

Among the Irish influences and connections include Irish songs he sang and the listings of Irish singers who covered his work. It touches on his Irish genealogy and documents the Irish actors and singers he worked with and came in contact with throughout his life. It also details how Elvis and rock 'n' roll music was first received here by the establishment and how rock 'n' roll and popular music first formed in the country. There is also details about the movies of his which were censored and the Irish cinemas that first screened his films, as well as the Irish chart successes he had, among many many more interesting facts and trivia. "Elvis and Ireland" is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Easons and other leading book stores.

Comments about Elvis and Ireland by some top journalists:

"Genuinely original" ... "entrancingly idiosyncratic work" ... "startling, surprising and not without significance" - Eamonn McCann (Hot Press; Vol:37 Issue:08 - May 8 2013)

"Casey has to be commended for a rare feat: an original book on The King" - Barry Egan (The Sunday Independent, March 31 2013)


For a further read about the book, check out The Sunday Independent article by Barry Egan, titled "The King and Us: How Elvis Shocked The Irish" at the following link: http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books-arts/the-king-and-us-how-elvis-shocked-the-irish-29165281.html


Order through your closest Amazon shop below:
Amazon UK
Amazon USA
Amazon France
Amazon Germany
Amazon Spain
Amazon Italy

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Elvis and Ireland by Ivor Casey

Elvis and Ireland is the "Irish Biography" of Elvis Presley. It is the detailed story of Elvis Presley's life and career, combined with a timeline of events in Irish popular culture and the social changes brought on by his unique brand of rock 'n' roll.

What you will find here is just about everything to do with Elvis and his links with Ireland including anecdotes, entertaining trivia on Elvis's connection with Ireland, his Irish chart successes, as well as areas of censorship. You will also learn about Irish songs he covered and Irish singers who covered his work. Find out what many Irish personalities have to say about Elvis, as well as what was said about the star from the Dáil to the pulpit. 

Elvis and Ireland focuses on how Irish artists used Elvis and American popular culture for their own artistic efforts, from Ireland's earliest showbands and beat-groups to the rock legends Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott and Bono. It covers several decades of Irish popular music without ever losing track of Elvis's story. In brief this book is a view of Elvis Presley through Irish eyes.

Elvis and Ireland brings together the story of the global superstar from his birth to his untimely death, picking up the Irish connections along the way. To add a further Irish dimension, the book also features artwork of Elvis by three famous Irish artists. All music fans, and not just the Irish ones, will find this an exhilarating journey through the career of the universal music icon.

"Hundreds of Elvis books already exist but rarely does a new Elvis book have something to say from a totally different cultural stand point"

Elvis and Ireland is authored by Ivor Casey who has worked as a freelance journalist throughout Ireland for the past 10 years. Ivor also has a BA(Hons) in English, Media and Cultural Studies. For other Elvis Presley related posts by Ivor Casey click here: Elvis is dead, Long Live The King and Elvis and virtually no Suspicious Minds

Order through your closest Amazon shop below:

Amazon UK
Amazon USA
Amazon France
Amazon Germany
Amazon Spain
Amazon Italy

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Muppets: A Retrospect by Ivor Casey

HAVING recently seen the big screen revival of the terrific The Muppets I have discovered a whole new respect for the fifty plus old puppets. The big budget backing from children’s entertainment giant Disney has helped springboard the Muppets into a whole new generation with a reboot of the long loved franchise. It was a franchise which appeared to be fading into the depths of TV and movie history with the last big screen outing having not only happened thirteen years prior but having also proved to be a flop.

In 1999 Muppets From Space was apparently rushed to get a Summer release and despite its budget of $24m it only managed a return of about $22m. This seemed to mark an end for the felted figures of frolicking fun with only a few middling to fair TV movies subsequently made over the next six years. These included Kermit: The Swamp Years, It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas and The Muppets Wizard of Oz. This was a far cry from when The Muppets had dominated TV ratings during the late 1970’s with their series, The Muppet Show. However, the Muppets have had an enduring legacy going as far back as 1955 when characters such as Kermit The Frog first graced television on the Sam and Friends show.

Created by Jim Henson, who was also later involved in Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, the characters began to emerge gradually on various TV shows and specials throughout the 1960’s and early 1970’s with the lead being Kermit The Frog, voiced by Jim Henson himself. However, what would become a defining ensemble of characters was yet to appear. In 1974 a pilot called, The Muppet Valentine Special and another pilot the following year titled, Sex and Violence, set the stage for a brand new series. With much offbeat and madcap good cheerful humour, often aimed at adults as well as children, The Muppet Show began a series run in 1976.

Other than Kermit, the main characters which took centre stage included Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, The Swedish Chef, Rowlf The Dog, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, as well as the cynical yet hilarious pairing of Statler and Waldorf. The shows usually revolved around a variety style TV broadcast, with many musical numbers, a glimpse behind the scenes and the regular appearances of a famous guest star. These guest stars often included some of Hollywood’s leading and legendary performers such as Peter Sellers, Peter Ustinov, Vincent Price, Sylvester Stallone, John Cleese and Roger Moore.

The format was set and the Muppets saw themselves mixed up in adventures and obstacles in which to overcome, combined with the on and off romance between Kermit and Miss Piggy which goes on to this day. The show ended in 1981 but the Muppets had already lit up the big screen at this stage with their first celluloid appearance in 1979 with the The Muppet Movie which was followed by The Great Muppet Caper in 1981 and The Muppets Take Manhattan in 1984. The movies were great successes and continued to bring the Muppets to new generations, entertaining both children and adults alike.

Jim Henson sadly passed away in 1990 at the age of 53 and some thought this would mark the end of the Muppet franchise and the voice of Kermit. Nonetheless, puppeteer Steve Whitmore proved an excellent replacement for many of the characters which might have died with Jim. 1992 saw the release of The Muppet Christmas Carol in a wonderful retelling of the classic Charles Dickens novel. The Muppets kept on going and in 1996 they reunited for TV with Muppets Tonight. However, this was when the future of the loveable creatures began to go awry. The same year saw the release of Muppet Treasure Island and while it did get good reviews and a reasonable box office draw, the TV show was soon cancelled after two seasons, failing to prove to be as big a hit as their original series. With some faith still intact, a further movie went into production (Muppets From Space) but this proved to mark the end of their big screen appearance for the time being.

It would take a decade before a dedicated fan, actor Jason Segel, involved himself in a pitch for a new Muppet movie. Along with Nicholas Stoller he wrote a script for a reunion, simply titled The Muppets. It was considered a bit of risk, with critics unsure what to expect but it was a chance worth taking. The film marked the big return of the cuddly characters to the big screen and it was received incredibly well by both critics and fans. The movie itself proved to be a huge financial success, raking in over $150m making it the most successful Muppet movie of all, sparking renewed fascination with decades old good family entertainment.

The most recent film saw The Muppets reuniting to save their old studio by staging a telethon. It makes for the most ideal reunion as the muppets bond and collaborate in the face of adversary. The film itself is also more than just a nostalgia trip and reflects the modern humour of today while still keeping within the realms of acceptability for the target audience. As somebody less in favour of computer generated images I also found it deeply refreshing to see a new movie relying on good old fashioned puppetry. The Muppets, new and old, are everlasting and timeless. They help remind us of a time of innocence which in these turbulent times is something a lot of us desperately seek. They are cheeky, charming and cheerful with a strong message of togetherness, friendliness and happiness. With plans of a sequel already having been announced I am hoping to see a whole new age of Muppet madness roll in, to entertain, amuse and delight us all.

- Ivor Casey




Saturday, December 10, 2011

Westmeath's link to the 1916 Rising by Ivor Casey

Westmeath is not usually considered when it comes to remembering the 1916 Rising but there is certainly one Westmeath man linked to the fight for an independent Ireland who had much involvement. In what is the 30th anniversary of his death, the man I refer to is Tomás Malone. Born in 1896, in Meedin, near Tyrrellspass, Tomás was the son of William and Máire Malone. He was educated at the Franciscan College, Multyfarnham and became qualified in Greek and Irish. However, his family’s deep Republican nature saw him take an interest in the struggle for Independence. In 1912, Liam Mellows, founder member of the Irish volunteers, enrolled him in ‘Na Fianna Éireann’ (The Republican boys movement) and the Malones would become a driving force of Republicanism in Co. Westmeath. 

Tomás’ motivation was influenced largely by his mother. She had been a national school teacher, dismissed from her job for teaching children their prayers in Irish. She staged a sit in but was removed by the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) and the local Catholic priest. As a result she ended up teaching Irish to children in her home at night. Tomás’ connection with 1916 began when he heard of the events that were transpiring in Dublin. With his brothers, Séamus and Seosamh, and other Irish Volunteers he barricaded his home when police came to carry out a search. The defeat of Irish fighters in Dublin caused Malone to withdraw from his rebellion and he was arrested. Serving a sentence at three different jails including Kilmainham Gaol, he came in contact with other like minded Irish Republicans. After release from prison he was elected to the Army Council of the Volunteers and in 1918 combined this occupation with the native tongue as he began teaching Irish while he travelled the country. Malone was deeply affected by the ideals which inspired the Irish language movement. As well as preserving, arguably, the country’s most important source of identity from Great Britain he used his teaching of the Irish language as a method of recruiting other "freedom fighters". 

Tomás took on the alias of Sean Forde, as he became deeply involved in the Republican movement, arranging and committing ambushes on British forces. He eventually became a Commandant, based in East Limerick and he helped establish the first Flying Column in Ireland. Tomás played a major part in bringing about the surrender of Ballylanders RIC barracks on 27 April 1920. He felt it was ‘the biggest such attack’ undertaken by the column. It lasted several hours, in which two RIC men were killed and eight wounded, while one Republican was killed and two were injured. Tomás also headed the attack on Killmallock barracks, in which it was burned to the ground. His column also succeeded in an attack against military forces at Grange, between Bruff and Limerick City. 

In December 1920, Malone was caught and sent to prison on Spike Island off the Cork coast, but the prison authorities were not aware that they were detaining such a notorious Republican on the island. Although a fellow prisoner let slip who Malone was, the British needed a formal identification of the Republican and sent for someone who could pinpoint the IRA man. Nonetheless, their only source of uncovering the truth was executed by the IRA before he reached the island. In the meantime, General Liam Lynch, of the Cork No.2 Brigade, became aware of the circumstances. Lynch sent Malone a message stating, ‘we will get you out of there - it will only be a matter of time before they identify you’. The Cork Brigade HQ instructed that a plan of escape be organised from the island. The three men to be rescued were Tomás Malone, Sean Twomey and Sean MacSwiney, the brother of the martyred Cork Lord Mayor, Terence. On 29 April 1921, Tomás Malone and the two fellow prisoners, were outside working on the prison grounds when they overpowered the guards and achieved a victorious and dramatic escape as an IRA boat, marked with a union jack, awaited them in the harbour. 

At a later point, Tomás took the anti-treaty side and was again put in prison, now at Portlaoise, then known as Marysborough Jail. Here Michael Collins visited him requesting he use his influence to bring an end to the Civil War. Collins suggested a peace meeting between Malone and Commanding Cork born Republicans, Tom Hales and Tom Barry. This was one of the last movements of Collins as he was soon assassinated on 22 August 1922. Portlaoise prison was burned down by prisoners and Malone was transferred to the Curragh where, in 1923, he made his last ever prison break, hiding in a cart that was removing kitchen waste. By now Independence had been declared and in 1925 he took a job as a school teacher in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, eventually becoming Principal. Nenagh would remain his home until his death in 1981. Although Tomás Malone was a man whose adventures to overthrow Crown forces brought him to various spots around Ireland, he will always be a Westmeath man. Tomás Malone's attempts to rebel against Britain in 1916 marked Westmeath as the only county between Dublin and Galway where bullets were fired in the attempt for Ireland to become an independent nation. 

- Ivor Casey 

(Amended from article previously printed in The Wesmeath Independent, The Westmeath Examiner and Ireland's Own)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Che Guevara: The anti-Gay "icon" by Ivor Casey

He is called a revolutionary. He is a cherished hero to some, a simple face in an iconic photograph to others. His image is used by fashion designers for marketable kitsch, which ironically goes against the politics he stood for. His legacy is used as a symbolic force for political goals but is also used by hardcore socialists as propaganda to manipulate angry young people. Turn a corner on any city street in Ireland and his image dons the face of a t-shirt, usually worn by somebody convinced it highlights their liberalism. However, Che Guevara, the man worshiped for fighting the capitalist system to try and instil what he saw as a fairer and generous left-wing socialist system, was also the purest embodiment of far right wing bigotry when it came to human rights and most notably gay rights. For decades his history has been misinterpreted and misunderstood by mostly misguided anarchists who seem to turn a blind eye to the safety of minority groups with regard to this historical figure.


The initial and watered down rhetoric of Guevara’s story, carefully chosen by his supporters is one which revolves around a young man from Argentina, who on his travels in Latin America witnessed the extreme poverty and starvation of one section of society while the other side basked in great wealth and riches. From here the story escalates into a narrative of a man trying to dismantle the capitalist structures which can be argued to cause such economic inequality. His story tells of a guerrilla fighter who subsequently constructed a socialist regime. He set out on adventures to overthrow American supported leaders in Cuba, was supported by insurgents and became a key figure of the Cuban revolution, working with Fidel Castro under a new government. His ethic of fighting and supporting class struggle is one to be easily admired but is unfortunately used as a knee jerk reaction for reverence towards him. What is deliberately left out of the Guevara glossary is not just a man who randomly executed countless people in cold blood but a man who used this new found government to inflict tyranny on vulnerable people who had nothing to do with this specific cause.


Under the new Cuban revolution, a revolution which was supposed to be about bringing about socialist principles of a classless society and true equality, various groups of people were singled out for persecution. Having fought his way into power Guevara now abused that power and along with Castro created a world of their own vision and excluded what they desired. This notably included, among all things rock ‘n’ roll music and homosexuality. This thinking immediately aligns them with the conservatives in America who also opposed these things. However, unlike the American right wing, Guevara had past leaders within his political spectrum whom to learn from such as Vladimir Lenin, whose new acts in 1922 decriminalised homosexuality. This had been a daring move, later overturned by Stalin. Under the Cuban revolution, however, the system fought for by Guevara and his associates, established ‘labour camps’, known as the UMAP labour camps, to incarcerate gay people, among others.


These were Cuba's new concentration camps, set up so the new socialist government could rid their nation of homosexuality, which was somehow believed to be a product of capitalism. Gay artists were censored and gay people in government lost their jobs. The UMAP camps subjected homosexuals to brutal torture and some inmates committed suicide. Not only gay men were incarcerated but effeminate men were also imprisoned to make way for Guevara’s scheme of the “new man” which was a hideously pathological homophobic ideology. People who did not fit into this fascist vision were imprisoned without charge or trial and forced to adhere to his notion of masculinity through slave labour. In these camps gay men who had been rounded up were subjected to rehabilitation and re-education. An argument that “the times” were different is nullified by the fact that Guevara was setting out to change “the times” but whatever he did, gave no thought or consideration to minorities. If socialism was supposed to be this greater, fairer advancement on capitalism and human rights, where was the advancement for homosexuals? It appears the price paid for an improved social welfare system was the freedom of a minority. A claim that Guevara was not in Cuba during the existence of these camps, therefore excusing him, holds no weight as it didn't take him to physically be around for the ideology to be enforced. The fact that he had enormous power over the way Cuba operated, holds him responsible as an important part of this brutal treatment.


While the pre-revolution Cuba was no safe haven for gay people, the man who would go on to be so revered for being a revolutionary was incapable of going the distance with a fight for human rights. It was not until after Guevara was killed in 1967 that these camps were closed by Castro due to their negative attention worldwide. Some progress for gay rights began to make way and in 1988 some homophobic laws were repealed. Castro has even expressed regret for the treatment of gay people during this period. Nonetheless, in the fifty years since, there has been very little revolutionary practice on behalf of human or civil rights for gay people. Gay clubs and organisations are banned and to date, gay people are still refused to enter military service, are not allowed either marriage or civil partnership and there are no laws prohibiting discrimination. For all the differences claimed and fought for between socialism and capitalism, one thing is for certain and that is that gay rights seem to be insignificant, even within the system that parades itself on being egalitarian and revolutionary. Che Guevara may have revolted against corrupt capitalists, making him an iconic symbol of social change. Nevertheless, while mostly young people don the face of who they think was some noble warrior (or a rock star), it must be remembered that his stringent homophobia is very much a defining part of his character. On the other hand, an entire section of the consumer market may have no idea who this face belongs to, accepting it as some random mass market pop culture figure, something Guevara himself scorned.


- Ivor Casey


Bibliography:

  • Bejel, Emilio. Gay Cuban Nation (University of Chicago Press, 2001)
  • Dore, Elizabeth & Carrie Hamilton. Sexual Revolutions in Cuba: Passion, Politics and Memory (Envisioning Cuba) (The University of North Carolina Press, 2012)
  • Goldman, Dave E. Out of Bounds: Islands and the Demarcation of Identity in the Hispanic Caribbean (Bucknell Studies in Latin American Literature and Theory), (Bucknell University Press, 2008)
  • Improper Conduct, (Dirs. Néstor Almendros & Orlando Jiménez Leal, 1984)
  • Lumsden, Ian. Machos, Maricones and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality (Temple University Press, 1996)
  • Tatchell, Peter. 'Gay Rights and Wrongs in Cuba', http://www.pinktriangle.org.uk/glh/213/cuba.html

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Thought on Becoming a Stronger Individual by Ivor Casey

One of my deepest felt philosophies in which I'll always adhere to is to remember those friends who were there for you during your darkest hours and just walk away from those who appeared to be giving on one hand, but taking with the other. What this ultimately means is to, without complete devotion, simply never forget the people who expressed concern for you without any manipulation to get something in return, whether it was some superficial desire to pry into your private life for personal satisfaction or to rally support for a clique in which a hierarchy exists. What needs to be done to find a better sense of who you are is to not fall subservient to these groups. 

In times of doubt and anxiety always be careful not to trust too many people who claim to be your friend, as some will take advantage of your vulnerability. Avoid the cliques in times of sorrow as they will chew you to bits by delving into this vulnerability and extracting the information they want to toss about as gossip. Always keep in mind the individuals who were there on a personal and considerate level and who, no matter how many times you might have repeated yourself, still stood by and kept you strong as you found your path. Just walk away from those who have used your depression or personal issues for gossip and never be intimidated into believing you need a clique. Through sensitivity, depression and vulnerability people often collapse into cliques, which only prove to be a false sense of security.

When you are still maturing, finding your own sense of identity and finding your sense of place in the world it is very easy to get caught in a clique out of peer pressure and societal expectations. Those with depression and anxiety issues often sustain a deep sensitivity where they will lose a lot of self respect and self esteem. Maturity has no age limits. Maturity will only become more prevalent the more a person strengthens their confidence and the more they find their place in the world. This can manifest itself by finding other "individuals" and finally somebody who genuinely loves you. Cliques by their very nature exist to keep people thinking the same thoughts, to keep the same frame of mind and strengthen an insular world without room for growth, diversity or change. As a team, their power over others can strip the more impressionable members of original thought and individuality, by pushing ideologies and belittling individuals who have different ideas.

It can be difficult to remove yourself from this but the pressures of a clique will only have a damaging and negative impact. Those in cliques have political agendas and their foremost personalities are not of an artistic, sensitive or emotionally intelligent nature. They want everybody to stay the same to push the ideology of the hierarchy. However, human beings are not mere pawns, we are individuals who can survive with other individuals, not groups of random faces. Always remember to be an individual, for it is by being an individual you will discover who you are and not what is expected of you.

If you are ever being bullied, threatened or intimidated, don't think you are the problem for being bothered by it and don't let any assumed superiority tell you otherwise. Don't let anybody who has not shared your experiences tell you how you are to live your life. Remember that nobody has any idea what is going on in the life of another person and there is no justification to judge. Just walk away from the people who are a negative force in your life as you do not need them. And never let the cliques manipulate you into thinking you have done something wrong by "deserting". The cliques have each other but as an individual you need to save yourself. Invest your energy in those with whom you can bond to make life somewhat more productive, cheerful and positive.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Remembering the Seductive Soul of Barry White by Ivor Casey

IT has been 50 years since a petty thief suddenly decided to change his ways after listenting to Elvis Presley sing "It's Now or Never" while in prison. This thief would go on to become one of the most cherished love singers of all time. His voice has often been compared to the feeling of melting caramel. A description of the lustful, lascivious and libidinous sounds of Barry White who became known as ‘the Guru of love’ for his lush bass and velvet voice. A silky smooth, sultry voice highlighted in such sexually charged songs as “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Babe” and “Just The Way You Are”. Sexually flavoured and deliciously romantic numbers, which instinctively set the scene for dimmed lights, candles, slow undressing and body contact.

Born into a humble environment on 12 September 1944, in Galveston, Texas, Barry moved to Los Angeles where he spent the rest of his childhood with his brother and single mother. White explained that he was shocked by his unusually deep vocals, which emerged over night when he was still a teenager. From a young age he discovered an enthusiasm for music and began performing with a Baptist choir. However, as a teenager his musical interests took a back-seat to his life in petty crime and in 1961 he was sentenced to five months in prison for stealing tyres.

It was while in prison that Barry was once again inspired by the allure of music when he heard Elvis sing. The song was a calling and reached out to young Barry who suddenly realised that it was time for him to do something special with his life. Throughout the 1960’s White tried desperately to succeed in the music business and began writing love songs. He became a record producer for the group “Love Unlimited” but discovered the talent to sing his own songs with his mellifluous voice, which lead to his first solo hit in 1973, “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Babe”.

It was his butter smooth vocals which helped create the sensual charisma in his stimulating love songs “Let The Music Play” and “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything”. The soulful, suggestive and sensuous performer sold over 100 million records and had a career that spread further than three decades. He became a master of 1970’s disco and funk with the hits, “Love’s Theme” and “Never Gonna Give You Up” and his effortless but distinctive talent mesmerised millions of lovers across the world. It has been claimed the orgiastic sensations of his music helped influence the baby boom of the 1970s across America. His music’s overtly sexual connotations were extremely high pitched as the tantalising, thrusting and throbbing erotic power in both the lyrics and his vocals created a salacious, sensual and steamy sensation. Songs such as “It’s All About Love” and “Oh Me, Oh My, I’m Such A Lucky Guy”, with the deep breathing and gentle groans of satisfaction, were highly representative of passionate sexual intercourse in the most romantic, virtuous and celestial ways.

Barry’s career took a downfall in the 1980’s and his attempts at staging a comeback failed until his 1994 album release of “The Icon Is Love”, which became his next great hit. He enjoyed a return to concert performances and the charts throughout the 1990’s and appeared on the TV shows The Simpsons and Ally McBeal and performed a duet with Luciano Pavarotti. Unfortunately, too much touring took its toll and he was hospitalised several times for exhaustion. His health began to decline and he had severely high blood pressure. Between September 2002 and May 2003 he suffered from kidney failure and suffered a stroke which affected his voice and the left side of his body. He had been undergoing dialysis treatment and was awaiting a kidney transplant when he suddenly died at Cedars-Sinai medical centre in Los Angeles on 4 July 2003.

Barry White produced a genuine understanding of sensorial music by being a natural, instinctive and suave performer. His recordings have enjoyed great success to this day and while testosterone levels remain rampant and consenting couples with high sex drives desire seductive songs, he will continue to be a tremendous and timeless talent, never to be forgotten for those provocative, permeating and penetrating sounds.

- Ivor Casey


Monday, January 31, 2011

Film Composer John Barry dies at 77 by Ivor Casey

FILM music composer John Barry has died at the age of 77 from a heart attack. For over forty years the alluring strings to the dramatic brass of his resplendent compositions lit up the silver screen. In 2008 he was invited to host a concert celebrating his music at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. I was very fortunate to have been in attendance on this occasion and it is an event which will resonate with me for the rest of my life. What follows is an amended version of my report on that concert in June 2008.

'John Barry: The Man with the Golden Touch'

This was John Barry’s first time performing in Ireland, having been invited to be the guest of honour by RTE Lyric FM’s Aedín Gormley, for the channel’s Movies and Musicals programme. As the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra took their places, Ms. Gormley opened the show, introducing the evening’s line-up, followed by John Barry himself. The composer walked on stage cheerfully to a rapturous and passionate applause, took a bow and without hesitation, guided the orchestra into his sensational theme to Goldfinger. Keeping, at first, to the James Bond films, which catapulted him to fame, he followed this performance with We Have All The Time In The World from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Unfortunately but understandbly as the guest of honour, John Barry departed the stage to view the rest of the evening from the balconey with his family. He was replaced by the excellent conductor Nicholas Dodd, who took over for the rest of the night. Dodd is also associated with the movie business, having conducted the orchestral scores for the last four James Bond films, as well as other Hollywood hits such as Independence Day and Godzilla. He has mastered a deep understanding of the music of John Barry and was the ideal candidate for the concert, as he energetically conducted the orchestra through many of the exquisite compositions from the great composer.

The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, lead by Alan Smale on violin, were also at the top of their league, as their renditions of the music were orchestrated flawlessly. Performances included the histrionic score to Zulu, the poignant theme from Somewhere In Time, the moodiness of Midnight Cowboy, the wondrous melody of Born Free and the sensuous sounds from Body Heat, to name just a few. The audience were left enraptured as the music ventured through a range of emotions, inspiring adrenaline and melancholy. The highlights of the event could be found in two of Barry’s greatest works, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves, delivered in all their lush and thrilling grandeur.

John Barry was born in York, England and now lives in Oyster Bay, New York. He was the son of an Irish born cinema owner and it was the experience and atmosphere of being around movies which inspired Barry, who decided early on that he wanted to compose movie music. He studied music under Stan Kenton and after a three year stint in the army, he began the ‘John Barry Seven’, a rock ‘n’roll band in the 1950’s. Having become acquainted with the rock ‘n’ roll musician Adam Faith, who went on to star in the film Beat Girl, Barry was granted the opportunity to make his movie soundtrack debut.

This lead a couple of years later to an offer of working on the music for the first James Bond film Dr. No, in 1962. This was to be his breakthrough moment as he went onto compose the music for a further eleven Bond films, which helped elevate him to the legendary status which he hails today. However, it is outside of the James Bond recordings in which Barry’s accolades and genius have reached their highest levels. He is the winner of five academy awards, two for Born Free and one each for The Lion In Winter, Out Of Africa and Dances With Wolves.

Unfortunately Barry has been somewhat misplaced by Hollywood in recent years with its drift away from the melodic splendour and feeling, as found across all of his work. Barry feels that many, often wonderful, film composers today fail to compose melody, which he finds important in a great soundtrack composition. While his work not only incorporates some of the greatest melodies ever written, the emotion behind his music takes on a mythical quality of special symbolic significance, with a deep resonating narrative of passion, pathos and poignancy. Barry exudes the rare ability to strike at the very core of human emotion.

At the climax of the evening, John Barry was invited back on stage, more than once, to another resounding applause and standing ovation, where he conveyed his gratitude for the wonderful reception and was presented with a crystal bowl on behalf of Lyric FM. Although movie music history has many great composers who have created spectacular melodies, it is the combination of melody and tenderness which nobody has perfected quite like John Barry.
_________________________________

John Barry is a musician who goes beyond the realms of the movie business, to being possibly the greatest classical composer of our day. It is such attributes that John Barry retained until his death today which indeed make him the man with the golden touch on music.


- Ivor Casey


Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Return of TV's Super-soap Dallas! by Ivor Casey

Today it may seem like one of those old shows deliberately avoiding an integral examination of society and class or the subordinate. However when the oil-baron super-soap Dallas first hit TV screens over 30 years ago it did manage to break down barriers for popular culture, besides bringing its audience into unequalled escapist fantasy. Now almost twenty years since it last aired, it has been announced that a new series of Dallas, focusing primarily on the next generation of characters, is in the pipeline. Once again, TV viewers confined to their homes due to the recession, just like in the 1980s, will be brought into a surreal world of glamour and absurd yet delicious drama and plot lines. 

In Spring of 1978, a five episode pilot was screened and after proving popular the first season was commissioned to begin in September. Lasting 13 years Dallas became the most successful television series of all time, gaining over 350 million viewers world-wide. Its plots and success made news headlines and it became one of the most talked about entertainment sources for a decade. Especially with the “Who Shot JR?” plot which set the trend for all TV cliff-hangers since.

It is now seen as the foremost example for academic critique of American cultural imperialism and hegemony, with its original series referred to as 'a cheap TV show dumped on developing countries'. Nevertheless Dallas did and still does manage to help people put aside their troubles for an hour and see the fun side of extreme wealth, or maybe even the actually unglamorous side as the wealthy constantly appeared to be up against some troubling experience after another. Nothing like it had ever been on television before and never had a weekly series been an event. Revolving around the feuding Ewing and Barnes families Dallas incorporated everything desired for a passive entertainment TV show, with greed, power, murder and deceit. It was clearly politically incorrect and it certainly favoured chauvinism, but it managed to break some social barriers, even if it didn’t use the platform it held for many positive and constructive reasons. In Ireland conventional parents and priests ridiculed its content as blasphemous for its high pitched sexual innuendo, too liberal for TV. However, its massive popularity here conveyed an ever changing Ireland. Its main reason for such hype and controversy was the sexually rampant and shrewd businessman, JR Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, who is reported to be reprising his role in the upcoming series. It was JR and his company, Ewing Oil, that became the centre focus for the show as it emphasised how successful businesses can achieve. With ferocious greed, back-stabbing, ruthlessness, walking over your own mother to get ahead, the show detailed key ingredients of corporate success. JR was a corrupt, evil and manipulative womaniser but this made his character all the more appealing.

It could be found that an ideology representing capitalism and self made millionaires, glorifying the so called ‘American Dream’, suggested to the viewers around the world that you could have whatever you wanted, once you worked hard for it under a Capitalist system. Dallas was followed by similar dramas such as Falcon Crest and Dynasty which followed a parallel pattern. With regard to social themes, while Dallas stayed away from racism it failed to ever include a main character of any minority group or race other than Anglo - Caucasian men and women. The main characters were the apotheosis of the white, heterosexual, western male. It can be argued that the series was mainly about the oil business but that it also managed to cover topics not common in TV dramas prior to this and included stories, if only ever briefly, involving homosexuality, affairs, mis-carriages, ill-health, down syndrome, divorce and extra-marital sex. A two hour episode in 1980 dedicated a story to the matriarch of the drama, Miss Ellie, played by Barbra Bel Geddes, being diagnosed with breast cancer and having to undergo a mastectomy. However, possibly the most ever current of social issues raised in the series was the alcoholism of JR Ewing’s neglected wife, Sue Ellen, played by Linda Gray. One particular plot line, which highlighted the effects of alcoholism at its very worst, showing its victims on the brink of death, helped raise the show above the candy floss delights of wealth and power. Sue Ellen was frequently shown as the down trodden and unfortunate wife of an evil man.

Nothing has replaced Dallas with its original and classy technique of mixing glamour and wealth with tension and grandiose suspense. Although most soaps are cheap and fatuous, with low production values, Dallas was shot like a movie. Dallas was expensive, hard-hitting and intriguing entertainment, with very little as equally stylish made since. What remains to be seen is if the new series will live up to the original, which has found a whole new generation of fans due to its regular repeats across TV and the successful sales of all its seasons on DVD. Besides Larry Hagman, the new Dallas is reported to have Patrick Duffy on board as Bobby, as well a possible return for Linda Gray as Sue Ellen. The show will also star Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe taking the reins of the new generation. It will begin filming closer to summer with a screening in Summer 2012.

- Ivor Casey

Monday, December 6, 2010

Silver Screen Sci-Fi by Ivor Casey


SILVER SCREEN SCIENCE (By Ivor Casey)

Sci – fi is a genre which covers futuristic speculation
Sci – fi is a style with fictional techno celebration
It is enjoyed through books, comics, art and games
But it’s the movies which help light its brightest flames

Time travel is presented with photos in La Jetee (1962)
Time fast forwards suddenly in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
A journey to fulfilment of desires is the basis of Stalker (1979)
Intergalactic battles form the adventures of Luke Skywalker

Old folks find youth with strange objects, in Cocoon (1985)
Amazon adventures meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Sci-fi shows us a face transplant in Eyes Without a Face (1960)
And a talking feline in Disney’s Cat From Outer Space (1978)

There are pessimistic predictions of a future city in Metropolis (1927)
Alien intelligence up to no good on distant planets in Solyaris (1972)
Bureaucrats and administrative errors in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985)
There are futuristic cities on other planets as in Alphaville (1965)

Sci-fi is a form of fiction which delves into the depths of imagination
Sci-fi can be defined as exaggerated reality or structural fabulation
A corporate controlled, violent future is represented in Rollerball (1975)
Cover ups, memory implants, an adventure on Mars in Total Recall (1990)

A cyborg killer as played by Arnie in The Terminator (1984)
Dead tissue used for bizarre experiments in Re-Animator (1985)
Horror makes its way in with the surreal Eraserhead (1977)
And flesh eating zombies in Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

There’s modern greats like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Or Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) and Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977)
A fantastical land where dinosaurs still roam in The Land That Time Forgot (1975)
All time classics like Blade Runner (1982) and Alien (1979) from director Ridley Scott

Sci – fi is built upon an expansion of scientific knowledge ascertained
Sci – fi is an incredible genre used in the movies to keep us entertained.


Copyright - Ivor Casey