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James Joyce's Playlist

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 09 June 2012

James Joyce had a fine singing voice and earned money singing professionally as a young man. All his life he sang for friends; he sang to his desperately sick young brother, dying of typhoid; he sang to his mother on her deathbed. He sang to Nora, and she sang to him - their songs becoming a part of their courtship and marriage. He wrote songs, and set them to music; and certain special songs are repeated again and again through his fiction.

In this programme, recorded in James Joyce's Martello Tower near Dublin, we discover and recreate James Joyce's favourite songs. We also find, and hear, Joyce's own guitar. At one point in his life he had a plan to make a living travelling round Ireland playing it, as a wandering minstrel.

The songs include sentimental classics like 'Love's Old Sweet Song', which appears seven times in 'Ulysses'; the bawdy music hall ballad 'Those Seaside Girls', one of Joyce's favourites (his most erotic scenes are set by the sea); and a hauntingly sad farewell he wrote to his wife Nora, 'Bid Adieu'. We end with the rollicking 'Finnegan's Wake', an Irish song about a drunken wake which gave its name to the novel.

The contributors are Declan Kiberd, eminent Irish scholar and author of 'Ulysses and Us: the Art of Everyday Living'; actor Barry McGovern; and Katherine O'Callaghan, who has spent several years researching Joyce's music.

The presenter is David Owen Norris, pianist and music Professor, who has also arranged the songs which are sung by Thomas Guthrie and Gwyneth Herbert.

The setting is the Martello Tower near Dublin where Joyce lived as a young man, and which becomes the setting for the opening scenes of 'Ulysses'.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus Production for BBC Radio 4.


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