Sorry to hear about the death of Tony Curtis. I got the chance to meet him face to face a few years ago. I was asked to interview him on stage in the Ulster Hall when he came over for the Hay in Belfast festival. I had read his memoir "American Prince" and was struck by just how beautiful he had been as a young actor and also how many people he had slept with!! It seemed no one was immune to the Curtis charms.
Just before the event started, I was shown into the dressing room to meet him. The small room was packed; his wife was there, her mum, his agent. And then suddenly the room was empty, as they all went to look at the stage and the ramp for his wheelchair.
He nodded to a chair beside him. I sat down, opposite a wall length mirror and for the next 10 minutes we faced each other's reflections, not speaking. I had attempted to discuss the format of the interview but he just nodded and went back into what seemed like a semi trance. It was weirdly calming. Usually I babble in the presence of someone so famous. But he wouldn't entertain one word.
When he came out onto the stage of the Ulster Hall later, and I had said please welcome Tony Curtis, I was worried he wasn't going to say anything. But then a light went on in his eyes, and he literally danced out of the wheelchair and performed. In fact he started talking and after about 15 minutes turned to me and said "are you going to ask me anything?". His eyes were twinkling and you could see that Tony Curtis charm that had made Marilyn Monroe fall for him!
I'm so glad I met him. And, best of all, spent those moments in silence with him.
I was speaking to Richard Bean earlier today about his new play "The Big Fellah" which opens in the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith in London next week. And I remembered a summer job there, *cough* in 1987 in the theatre cafe. I got to serve dinner every night for six weeks to Kenneth Branagh . He was the lead in a thriller he had written set in Belfast called "Public Enemy". He had written for his newly formed Renaissance Theatre Company. I got a ticket one night. Even then he was getting a name and there was a real buzz around the theatre, but all I could think was that I knew what he'd had for his dinner. The spaghetti bolognese. Richard tells me the cafe has had a make over but doesn'tknow what the menu is for the run of his play! Could I suggest the Ken Branagh special?
Loving this band from Derry - The Wonder Villains. 17 year olds Cheylene Murphy and Eimear Coyle with Ryan McGroarty and Eimear's brother Kieran (a medical student apparently!).
They're being managed by Rocky O'Reilly (ex Oppenheimer) and are making their mark through radio coverage (Across the Line a big fan) plus social networking sites from their own Youtube channel to Facebook and MySpace.
However, I admit I come to them after the in crowd has been there, done that and tossed the tee shirt to one side. But hey I know their dad! Ok, now I feel even older and completely uncool. But it's true. Cheylene's dad Kevin Murphy was in the Western Education and Library Board Youth Orchestra with me back in the day. He played clarinet, I was in the back desk of cellos. I was 12, he was one of the older boys, at least 14!
If only Kevin and me had ditched the clarinet and cello and got our hands on a Casio keyboard and drum kit, it could have been a different story!
On a more current note, as part of Belfast Music week this week, Wonder Villians feature on a new album "Oh Yeah - Contenders". It's a new CD of 12 upcoming acts from Northern Ireland. The launch date is September 16.
Now I think I might re-string my cello.
A farmer and his son discuss why the arts are worth saving in David Shrigley's new animated film. It was released earlier today as part of a campaign called Save the Arts.
Locally, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has just met Stormont's Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee to spell out what the arts cuts would mean for the industry here. A figure of 18% cuts is being talked about, with up to 100 jobs set to go. Nick Livingstone of the ACNI said there was a "real fear that Northern Ireland would become a no go zone for artists".
A no go zone? What do you think?
I've been listening to the snippet of Nadine Coyle's debut single, "Insatiable",
which she's launching in Tesco in November. Not that she's launching it in her local Tesco, but rather her own record company has signed a deal with the supermarket chain to distribute it. It sounds great, the 0'40 secs that has been released so far. But I've always known she could sing.
I've known Nadine since she was about 7. Her dad, Niall ,always played the Dame in the local panto in Derry's St. Columb's Hall, and Nadine began her now famous career in the fairies line up.
Her big break came when she was about 9 or 10, the year we did "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". Circa 1994/1995. I was Snow White. She was either Happy or Bashful.
One night I'm on stage lying in the glass coffin, having bit the poisoned apple. The Seven dwarfs are weeping at my demise, when I hear the whisper "Dopey's been sick...Dopey's been sick...." passed from dwarf to dwarf until Nadine whispers it to me. I half open one eye to see that indeed poor Dopey has been ill down the front of her costume and is looking kind of white and sweaty. But I can't do anything as Prince Charming hasn't kissed me back to life. In true panto tradition, the Prince was called Siobhan. When she got her cue, and bent down to deliver the "kiss" that would awaken me from the poison, I whispered "Dopey's been sick". And as I rose, to a gasp of joy from the audience, who by this stage were high on fizzy drinks and crisps, I managed to draw Dopey towards me and kind of hide the sick side of her costume behind my Snow White costume. Forget the smell of the greasepaint. It was a bit more pungent than that. But Nadine and I, Siobhan and the other Dwarfs sang our hearts out until the curtain came down and we reunited a shakey Dopey with her mummy.
I feel it's moments like this that shaped Nadine Coyle for greatness.
So when you see her next, just mention Snow White, St Columb's Hall, Derry and "Dopey's been sick" and see what she says.
Just been listening to an amazing singer songwriter. Isobel Anderson.
She's from Brighton but is living and studying in Belfast now. She's just released her debut album Cold Water Songs, in between finishing an MA in Sonic Arts at Queens University and about to start a Phd on Northern Ireland folklore which she is going to map using digital media.
I've been playing "Cold Water Songs" over and over since I got it this morning. Her voice reminds me of Beth Orton, that easy, effortless beauty combined with gorgeous songs. My favourite is called Seaside Suicide. She tells me it's not an actual death, but about the break up of a relationship. She had just moved over here, her boyfriend was still in London, and she was sitting on the beach at Newcastle (County Down) struggling with her life back in England and how much she was beginning to care about this new place. Shedding that life and love was like walking into the sea and letting it wrap its arms around her she told me. I think I'm just going to have to listen to it again with that insight from her.
Isobel is singing live on Arts Extra tomorrow by the way.
So the rumours are true about Field Day Theatre Company putting on a new production. It's happening in 2013 for the UK City of Culture. No word yet on what the play will be. Will Brian Friel, one of the founders along with Stephen Rea, write something new? Or should it be a new play from a new voice? There are some strong writers around, David Ireland, Abbi Spallen, Jimmy McAleavey, Dave Duggan? Quotes from Seamus Heaney's The Cure at Troy which Field Day premiered in 1990 provided the context for the Derry~Londonderry bid. Thirteen years later it's a vastly different cultural landscape. So it'll be interesting to see what play is selected.
It might even make it's way into the discussion on Saturday 2nd October in the Playhouse in Derry. Seamus Deane and Stephen Rea are hosting a workshop "Second time as Farce". I'm told it's to be a review of the work of Field Day. And hopefully a preview of the Field Day future.
Enjoyed seeing Paul Muldoon earlier today. He clearly loves the role of being the guest. His years as a BBC arts producer means he knows the behind the scenes mechanics only too well. Now he seems to relish the reversal!
I first met him a few years ago, with a recording machine whose batteries died 2 minutes into the piece. We decamped to the hotel hall way while I plugged into a mains socket and we perched on a window ledge. His radio producer instincts kicked in and he reminded me what my first question had been and pretty much said the same answer verbatim.
Today no recording glitches. He read from his new collection "Maggot". It's being published in October. I love hearing him read his poetry. It's pure performance, the word play, the cheeky cleverness, the humour, the puns, the rhythms and rhymes, the trademark Muldoon repitition which he mines for comic effect.
But behind the easy laughter of a rhyme are life and death issues. Poems about cancer, being a parent, his mother, lovers.
In the brilliantly titled "Balls" he writes about a personal brush with possible testicular cancer. A "sudden outgrowth/On my otherwise even keel" finds him in a doctor's surgery being asked "Please exhale". It wasn't a tumour.
He apologises to the home audience for calling a poem "The Windshield", rather than windscreen. Years of living state side he says. Anyway, Americans, he says, would think windscreen was sun protection. You can listen to him reading it on the 1st September Arts Extra here.
With Muldoon there is always a weave and turn in our chats. I start up one path and find myself coming back to meet myself and still laughing. He's acting the Maggot and loving it.
"Maggot" is out 7th October published by Faber & Faber.