Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Peter Camenzind by Herman Hesse

This was Herman Hesse’s first novel, published when he was 26, and like many of his others depicts a man who struggle to fit in to western society and is suffering from a spiritual crisis.
Peter Camenzind grew up high in the Swiss Alps, the son of a ‘peasant’, who in childhood is close to nature but whose intelligence earns him a scholarship and he moves to towns and cities to continue his education.
He is a loner by nature but craves companionship and a need to be accepted by the ‘civilized society’ in which he now lives rather than be branded as an educated peasant from the mountains.
Yet he seems destined to be alone – his best friend Richard dies in a boating accident and the women he falls in love with fall for other men. Hesse portrays his narrator as an often arrogant and solitary man, who drinks too much and although Camenzind attains some success as poet, story-writer and journalist his disillusion with society continues to fester.
“… it was in Florence that I first became conscious of the threadbare stupidity of modern culture. It was there too that I was overcome for the first time by the feeling that I would always be a stranger in our modern society and the impulse first awoke in me to lead my life outside it…” P82
He dismisses his successes as a writer and has the constant feeling that he has it within himself to write something great but that he is not ready for it.
“… I was conscious of vague stirrings within me, convinced that when my time came I would success in producing some valuable work and at any rate snatching a modicum of good fortune from this frail life of ours… I was conscious that latent sources of power lay dormant in me, still untapped. And I again examined myself to see what sort of obstacle or daimon was causing my spirit to stagnate and to increasingly weigh me down. I was obsessed with myself as an outsider, an imperfectly developed human being whose suffering no-one knew, understood or shared.” P95
Camenzind is spiritual without being religious in the orthodox sense and he sees artistic creativity as an expression of the divine.
“Art it seemed to me, has always been at great pains to find expression for true innate longing of the divine element in us.” P104
Yet he still distrust society and how it has moulded him despite his instincts:
“I was amazed to discover that what above all differentiates man from the rest of nature is a kind of protective coat of lies. I soon noted this same trait in all my acquaintances – the result of the fact that every person feels it incumbent upon himself to cut a well-defined figure, whereas the truth is that no-one knows his true, inmost self. It was with some misgiving that I observed the same trait in myself and I now gave up the attempt to probe the heart of people.” P129
He is a lifelong admirer of St Francis of Assisi and it is from his life that he learns about the true nature of humanity, abandoning the artistic set in which he had moved to keep company with simpler people and eventually to look after and find true companionship with a cripple called Boppi.
When Boppi dies, Camenzind returns to his mountain village to look after his ageing father and reflects that despite his bohemian rather debauched lifestyle that this is where he truly belongs and that despite his attempts to integrate with ‘civilized’ society he is still truly a ‘peasant’ at heart.
I don’t think this really works as a novel – for while it has some great passages and an intriguing narrator it is too self-consciously novelistic and full of little flourishes. But the theme was an interesting one – the idea that we have to compromise our true instincts to fit in with the conventions of the society in which we live.
Hess returns to the theme with much better results in later novels and perhaps Peter Camenzind is best read as an interesting insight into how an eventual Nobel Prize winner first limbered up with the novel form and paved the way for future greatness.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Stiff Little Fingers - The Academy, Dublin

‘IT’S Friday night in Dublin and we are Stiff Little Finger’. The soft, anglicised, spoken voice of Belfast-born Jake Burns is a jarring contrast to the guttural, snarling lead vocalist.
When he sings you feel you better pay attention to what he is saying in case he looks around and turns his venom on you, yet his stage persona and banter with audience and fellow band members is amiable.
The difference between SLF and other punk/new age era bands which have reformed in recent years is that the Stiffs are still a full working band, recording new material and debuting new songs.
Burns and bass-player Ali McMordie are the only two original members – and McMordie only rejoined in 2006 after a 15-year sabbatical – but Friday night’s performance suggested a band of equals who bounce of each other and were clearly having a good time.
Burns introduced two new songs – a diatribe about former US president George Bush and the tendency of British tabloids to create hate figures and demonise them.
However, these were cushioned among a generous delving into the Stiff Little Fingers back catalogue, focusing for the most part on their first two overtly punk albums, but with helpings form their third and fourth more mature albums and tracks from their post reunification days.
“Inflammable material is planted in my head/It's a suspect device that's left 2,000 dead”
The words of ‘Suspect Device’ – a refutal of paramilitaries and state oppression in the north – may have dated in terms lyrical content since it was written in the late 1970s as has the reference to “the RUC dogs of oppression/are barking at out feet” in their best-known song ‘Alternative Ulster’, but the punk sentiment of refusing to be classified or limited by the society in which we live is still valid.
Lyrics aside both songs have stood the test of time purely in terms of their ability to get 600 people jump around a intimate little venue just around the corner from the GPO in O’Connell Street.
‘Wasted Life’, ‘Barbed Wire Love’, ‘Tin Soldiers’, ‘Nobody’s Heroes’ were all given work outs and – proof that Irish bands can play reggae – the Special’s cover ‘Doesn’t Make it Alright’ and the epic Rita Marley-written (originally sung by her husband Bob ) ‘Johnny Was’.
They were the soundtrack to many of our youths but this concert proved that Stiff Little Fingers are not just playing on past glories and can still deliver a quality set that confirms to their audience why they loved them in the first place and challenges them to move with them into new territory.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Japanese Death Poems edited by Yoel Hoffmann

Yoel Hoffmann traces the tradition of writing a death poem by Japanese Zen monks and Haiku poets to the early part of the 9th century when Buddhism, already established in Japan, began to become much more influential. The Japanese already had their own indigenous beliefs, related to animism, which continued to develop side by side with Buddhism and which has its modern-day expression in Shinto. The two traditions influenced one another and Buddhism – which originated in India – owes its distinct flavour of Zen to the history and culture of Japan and the impact of its journey through China.
In his introduction Hoffmann writes: “The Japanese love for nature… precluded any escape into abstraction; that which is formless and colourless has no solace for the heart. The idea of transience, expressed in the Buddhist literature of India by the sight of putrefying corpses and rotten food, is conveyed by the Japanese through images of the changing seasons.”
Woven in to this is the Japanese attitude to death, which according to Hoffman “takes place in an atmosphere of serenity, with almost pleasurable expectation of the voyage to the next world”. Japanese culture has given us the concepts of hara-kiri and of course the Kamikaze of the Second World War who flew their planes, packed with explosives, into US war ships in the Pacific Ocean. Suicide in Japan, Hoffmann tells us, does not have the same stigma as in the West.
Hoffmann also traces the development of the Haiku, the 17-syllabel three-line nature poem expressing a poet’s experience that brings about an imaginative leap forward. The Haiku has its origins in Zen but has been adopted by secular poets throughout the world – there is even an Irish Haiku society which publishes the web-based journal Shamrock.
This the landscape in which the ‘death poems’ came to be written, incorporating the Japanese love of nature, Zen Buddhist philosophy of transience and the Japanese stoicism in the face of death. They were mostly written by a poet or monk who realised they were about to die and served as their last commentary on the world they were about to leave.
Japanese Death Poems has the subheading – Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death. Not all the poems by the monks are Haiku but they do all incorporate elements of nature, its transience and a revelatory insight. Many of the poems are accompanied by a brief biography of the poet/monk and the circumstances that led them to writing their poem.

For example:

‘Kozan Ichikyo, died February 12, 1360, at 77

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going --
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

A few days before his death, Kozan called his pupils together, ordered them to bury him without ceremony, and forbade them to hold services in his memory. He wrote this poem on the morning of his death, laid down his brush and died sitting upright.’

The Haiku are given in their ‘phonetic’ Japanese version to allow the reader to see the tight syllabic structures but the translations are kept simple, without trying to recreate the 17-syllabel structure (which many Haikuists do not believe is appropriate for the English language).
Hoffmann renders the Haiku death poem of a poet called Senryu, who died June 2, 1827 as:

Like dew drops
on a lotus leaf
I vanish

There are hundreds of Haiku and other ‘death poems’ in this compact little book and while the introduction is worth reading through to get the context and background the poems and the biographies of the poets and monks can simply be dipped in and out of.
Sometimes you are simply left with a poetic image but on others seem to be written in the true belief that their author felt they were really moving from one state of existence to another.

The Haiku written by Mitoju, who ‘Died on the eighteenth day of the seventh month, 1669 at the age of 82’ was:

The foam on the last water
has dissolved
my mind is clear

or Sodo who ‘died on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, 1716 at the age of 75’ wrote:

Full autumn moon:
my shadow takes me with him
and returns.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

John Lennon, The Life by Philip Norman

The life of John Lennon must be one of the most chronicled in the world with extensive film footage, radio recordings, written material and of course song lyrics to draw on. And as lives goes Lennon’s was an intensely varied and often controversial one crammed into a relatively short period of time.
Being a member of the most successful rock group ever was not enough for Lennon and he was constantly trying to reinvent himself. Looking at pictures of him pre-1965 with his cherubic face and mop-top haircut and comparing him to later versions when his hair was longer and he was wearing glasses is like looking at two different people and even after that his appearance seemed to dramatically change right up to the emaciated figure whose hooked nose is more pronounced than ever who was shot dead in New York nearly 30 years ago.
Given that so much is already known about Lennon a biographer faces a daunting task in coming to his subject and trying to find something original to say. Previous biographies by Ray Coleman and Albert Goldman came from the two extremes. Coleman’s was awestruck and prepared to forgive Lennon’s sins as the foibles of a genius while Goldman’s was savage and unforgiving, pouncing on every negative rumour that was ever aired and reporting it as truth.
Philip Norman’s takes a middle route, repeating many of the rumours – such as that Lennon violently attacked Stu Sutcliff in Hamburg and blamed himself for his friend’s early death and had a sexual liaison with Brian Esptein. He even airs a few new titillating stories (apparently given substance by Yoko Ono) that Lennon almost had a sexual relationship with his mother and regretted that he had not pursued it, that he had a sexual crush on Paul McCartney and that he had contemplated having affairs with other men.
Despite this Norman’s book is more forgiving that Goldman’s and he is generally in the camp that portrays Lennon as a tortured genius, plagued by insecurities and traumas from childhood. It is a large book, running to more than 800 pages that sometimes gets bogged down in detail – such as the social make-up of post-war Britain and the society that produced Lennon – and then skips over other periods. The mid-1960s chapters when that first big metamorphosis between fab-four John and psychedelic John took place, were I thought quite weak.
Norman does try to get under Lennon’s skin, carefully analysing lyrics to try to analyse what was going on in Lennon’s head and the portrait that emerges is much fuller than the ones painted by Coleman and Goldman. He is more than generous to Ono but although she gave him numerous interviews while he was researching his biography she refused to endorse it, saying it was “mean” to Lennon.
The problem for Ono was that Lennon was not a particularly nice person. He may have liked to portray himself as a man of peace but he was also nasty and vindictive, holding grudges against former allies and friends. That might have been because of his troubled childhood and insecurity but the accusation stands, particularly in relation to his first wife and their son.
Despite his flaws he is a fascinating person and even if he had never achieved success as a Beatle he would probably have found some creative outlet. Reading this biography I was constantly thinking how weird it must have been to be him – to have that level of adulation that he had with the Beatles and then hatred following his “Beatles are bigger than Jesus comments” and the public ridicule that he endured after taking up with Yoko and trying to reinvent himself as a peace activist and alternative artist. Then there was the campaign to deport him by the US government which went right up to Nixon and which saw him being kept under constant surveillance.
Norman seems to believe that Lennon did find some contentment during his years as a recluse in New York and was ready to emerge into the public eye, rejuvenated and filled with new creative energies when he was shot dead in December 1980. However, a subtext seems to suggest that despite the intimate film footage shot of them in the weeks before he died and a continued creative spark between them that he and Ono had drifted apart and were living almost separate lives.
It can only be speculated upon what would have happened if Lennon had lived and if the Beatles would have performed again and possibly even recorded new material. However, given the evidence of what Lennon was producing just before he died and what subsequently was produced by McCartney and Harrison it was probably a good thing that we were left with the existing cannon, although according to the Beatle’s producer George Martin, Lennon was unhappy with those recordings.
During their last meeting in 1979, Martin reports that Lennon said: ‘“You know, George, if I could, I would record everything the Beatles did all over again’. I blanched. ‘Blimey John, rather you than me. Everything?’ He said: ‘Everything’ I searched my mind for all the wonderful things that we had done and said: ‘What about Strawberry Fields?’ He looked at me over his specs and said: ‘Especially Strawberry Fields’.”

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Noterbooks of Don Rigoberto by Mario Vargas Lloss

This often erotic novel is a manifesto for individualism and the power of art to lift a human being caught up in the rat race to imaginative heights. The narrative often blurs the lines between real-life and fantasy and mixes in high art with slapstick comedy.
Don Rigoberto is a Peruvian insurance exectutive who is separated from his second wife following a much-hinted at but never fully revealed liaison between her and Don Rigoberto's son from his first marriage. The son, Fonchito, is a precociously intelligent adonis who has become obsessed with the paintings of the Austrian artist Egon Schiele who died in 1918 of Spanish Flu. Schiele's sketches and pictures of female nudes are almost pornographic and he was arrested on indecency charges.
Despite their past liaison, Fonchito, begins visiting his stepmother, Lucretia, at her home and confides his obsessional fascination with the Austrian painter and his belief that their lives and destinies are somehow linked.
Lucretia is suspicious of Fonchito but attracted to him and can not turn him away despite blaming him for the break-up of her marriage to the youth's father. She also finds herself drawn to his obsession with Schiele and even agrees, with her maid Justina, to pose (fully-clothed) in some of the positions Schiele depicted his models in.
Don Rigoberto, meanwhile, trys to recreate his wife in his imagination, often putting her into scenarios where she is seduced by other men.
Each chapter is broken up into a series of themes, starting with an encounter between Fonchito and Lucretia, followed by a letter written to by Rigoberto setting out some aspect of his personal philosophy of life or critique of modern society. Then will come a scene in which he imaginatively casts Lucrecia in some new sexual adventure.
Rigoberto believes art is the highest expression of the human condition and it is through art that he sees life, particularly in paintings.
He is contemptuous of the vulgarisation of society and anything that approaches a mass concensus. Any attempts to supress individuality horrify him - to the point where he admires a peeping tom who he read about in a newspaper who was caught on a neighbours roof and spying her in her bath because he had a fetish about under-arm hair.
While Rigoberto abhors under-arm hair, he has more sympathy for the peeping tom than the society which jailed him and mocked him in its newspapers because his fetish was a mark of his individuality for which he was prepared to suffer humiliation and ultimately imprisonment.
Rigoberto's reference points for life are usually a painting, piece of music, a poem or novel - through art he believes that humans articulate their most vital experience and he sees this styalised reworking more valid than the raw and unfiltered real thing. He regards a painting of a pastoral scene more valid than the countryside itself.
He comes across as an arrogant character, contemptuous of most of his fellow humans, but somehow remains likeable.
My version of this novel – inscribed by Varga Llosa following a lecture in Belfast eight or nine years ago, contains outlines of some of Schiele's works – but the author name checks dozens of other works and you can often be left floundering and struggling to keep up with his wide artistic frame of reference.
The reader is expected to abandon all expectations of a linear narrative and submerge themselves in Vargas Llosa's world where the dreams and fantasies of Rigoberto weave in and out with reality and at times it is not clear what is real and what is imagined but then that is part of the charm of this novel.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Road to Silence by By Seán Dunne

I came to this book via a series of correspondence with my blog mate Fionnchu and some correspondence with the New York-based poet and Zen teacher Ben Howard who mentioned it in an essay on Buddhist themes in recent Irish poetry.
Seán Dunne was a poet and journalist who was born In Waterford and lived in Cork but died before he was 40 in 1995, the year after The Road to Silence was published.
It is subtitled an Irish spiritual odyssey and explores Dunne’s sense of being left in a spiritual vacuum after he abandoned the Catholicism of his childhood.
The same theme was explored by journalist John Waters in his book Lapsed Agnostic and interestingly enough on the RTE news last night there was an item about an upturn in the numbers of people visiting pilgrimage site such as Lough Derg in the wake of the economic crisis.
Dunne takes on quite a personal journey and he doesn’t try to offer any answers or try to persuade us that we should start believing in God, or anything else for that matter but he did seem to have found a place within himself where he could retreat to.
Much of the book details his experience at Mount Melleray in Co Wexford where he initially went to research a news feature he was writing but found himself returning to in subsequent years.
While Dunne continued to reject institutionalised Catholicism, the life of the monks, their routine and introspection appealed to him and while they were once seen as one of the pillars of Catholic society in Ireland the secularism of the last 50 years has for Dunne now turned them into an almost fringe group whose members are able to gain insights in to the human psyche that are denied to the rest of us so-called individualists who are participating in all the sensual offerings of our consumer society.
“The spirit of monasticism is utterly unlike most of what seems to drive the everyday world. Like certain writers, the monks live at an angle to that world, but are not contemptuous of it.” P53
He challenges the perception that those who choose to live a life as contemplative monks or nuns are escapists who have chosen an easy way out to avoid having to deal with the complexities of modern life.
“… the monastic life not an escape from life but a deep confrontation with it. Applying this to myself, I saw that I was refusing to allow such a confrontation to take place within my own life. There is something bare about the life of a monk. All the props and scaffolding have been removed… monks do not dodge the world but face it at its very centre which lies at the core of each person’s life… it is a difficult life in which one faces one’s own particular demons head-on.” P61
“… the monk’s life demands physical and mental fitness and it is not for escapists… monasteries are poor escape hatches for eventually one is forced to meet one’s self in darkness and silence, and that can be an unpleasant experience.” P77
Dunne quotes the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton who in a speech just a few weeks before he died said: “In speaking for monks I am really speaking for a very strange kind of person, a marginal person, because the monk in the modern world is no longer an established person with an established place in society… Thus I find myself representing perhaps the hippies among you, poets, people of this kind who are seeking all sorts of ways and have no established status whatever… are monks and hippies and poets relevant? No, we are deliberately irrelevant. We live with an ingrained irrelevance which is proper to every human being.” P76
During one of his visits to Mount Melleray Dunne recounts the difficulties he faces in adapting to the monk’s life for even just a short period of time.
“The guesthouse had no television or radio. There seemed little to do except go to bed, yet I felt eager for distraction. I began to wonder exactly what I was doing in such a place. I was unable to sleep and lay awake listening to the fountain, bemused at myself for the absurdity of my attraction towards silence and my inability to practise it. I wanted to be distracted from the questions that rose in me like troublesome yeast.” P57
Dunne seems to fit in to the sort of peipheral, slightly mystical group of writers who I keep coming across and who chose to live at the fringes of society and there were passages that reminded me of Manchán Magan’s life as a hermit, described in the opening chapters of ‘A Journey Through India’ and John Moriarty, who constantly refers to the duality of modern day Ireland.
In a Morairtyesque sentence Dunne writes: “I have always been affected by landscape but here I was affected in a particularly intense way. I understood what the of Celtic monks meant when they spoke of two landscapes, one physical with rocks and mountains; the other sacred and intensely connected with spirituality.” P46
And again towards the end of the book when he compares himself to the Japanese poet Basho “…whose works are a mixture of prose and poems as he recounts his journeys across Japan. Basho’s solitude and work became one. He lived as a hermit in a small house on the edge of Tokyo in 1693. I connected this house with an imaginary ninth-century cell or hut inhabited by an Irish monk on the coast. In the shattered abbey at Timoleague in Co Cork, I walked among the walls and thought of Basho visiting a ruined Japanese temple. I felt again that monastic connection between temperaments from different cultures, between the ruined shrine in Japan and the ruined abbey in Co Cork and between them both an Melleray.” P77
Dunne comes to the conclusion that “there is a monk in everyone: solitary, silent, faced with questions of belief and eternity”.
You can read Fionnchu’s review of The Road to Silence here and visit Ben Howard’s Zen meditations here.

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Lives of Others

The major theme in The Lives of Others is that of an oppressive government's attempts to control the activities of its citizens under the auspices of an ideology and the impact on those who are watching on its behalf.
The artist being spied on is an East German playwright, Georg, who is suspected by the Stasi of dissident activities, although they are not sure what exactly he is doing. Never-the-less at the instigation of a government minister Georg's apartment is bugged and Captain Gerd Wiesler is put in charge of the case.
For most of the film Georg has no idea that he is being watched and so lives his live naturally, talking freely with his partner Christa-Maria and visitors who come to his apartment. The act of spying takes its toll on the Stasi agent Captain Wiesler who soon realised that Christa-Maria, a drug addict, is having an affair with the government minister who ordered the surveillance.
While at the start of the film it is clear that Captain Wiesler has no qualms about spying on and using intense interrogation techniques on those he believes are dissidents the fact that his skills are being used at the whim of a senior official as part of a personal vendetta gnaw at him.
He becomes involved in the drama in which he is supposed to be simply observing and looking for signs of dissent which the Stasi can use to discredit Georg. He starts by helping to alert the playwright to Christa-Maria's affair and one point confronts her directly and urges her to return to Georg when she has left the apartment for a assignation with the minister.
His sympathy for Georg is aroused because it appears that the writer is happy to work within the rules of Communist East Germany and write plays that are creative but that do not undermine the system, however, the suicide of a director who has been blacklisted by the state radicalises Georg and he agrees to write an article critical of the Communist government for a West German magazine.
The Stasi agent who is listening in becomes even more caught up in the drama as he tries to protect Georg from his senior officers who are gunning for the playwright. He falsifies the reports he makes of what is happening and being said at the playwright's apartment, even when he is being visited by known dissidents and discussing the subversive article.
Other films have tackled the impact of state oppression on those who dare to think for themselves and articulate those thoughts - The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for example, but The Lives of Others adds a new layer by getting inside the mind of the Stasi officer Captain Wiesler whose cold, impassionate attitude to his job is challenged as he is confronted by the injustice that is being done to Georg.
The writer also undergoes a dark personal journey as he faces up to the loss of his friend, fear as suspicion grows that he wrote the subversive article and ultimately betrayal by his lover. However, it only years later that he realises the extent that he was betrayed and benign role played by Captain Wiesler that probably saved his life and cost the Stasi officer his career.
The final sections of the movie jump forward in time to after the fall of the Berlin Wall when we see Georg suffering from writer's block being confronted by the minister who had the affair with Christa-Maria and who supplied her with drugs and who indicates that he Georg had been under far more surveillance than he had ever thought. Georg uncovers the full story of what had happened when he gets access to the Stasi files that were kept on him and realises the full extent of his betrayal and how he was protected by Captain Wiesler.
The revelation helps Georg recover his ability to write and gives him a theme for a new novel which he dedicates to his protector.
This film is full of nuances and subtexts, such as that of the imaginative writer flourishing in a totalitarian state and the redemptive role that art and music can play in healing human despair and humanising even the coldest of people. Although it was released in 2006 I only saw it on Saturday night and it is one that I expect will reveal new layers with a second viewing.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Moving Hearts - The Ulster Hall, Belfast

The Storm by Moving Hearts is on my list of favourite records and I have been listening to it since I bought it as a present for myself on my 21st birthday back in 1986. I had seen the band several times before in concert in Belfast, Dublin and Lisdoonvarna and already owned their previous albums where the emphasis was on the songs song by Christy Moore and later Mick Hanley.
However, The Storm was an entirely instrumental album that somehow seemed to combine Irish traditional music with a global outlook… uilleann pipes and jazz saxophone marrying with the Eastern European rhythms of bouzouki and the rock backing of guitar drums and bass.
The lead instruments were played by Davy Spillane (pipes and low whistle), on sax was Keith Donald, originally from Co Derry and who grew up in Belfast, while the bouzouki player was Donal Lunny, veteran of two of the most influential Irish trad bands of the 70s, The Bothy Band and Planxty. The three of them were back on stage last night in the Ulster Hall in Belfast with most of the other original line-up from The Storm days, although minus bass stalwart Eoghan O'Neill.
In some ways Moving Hearts have a lot to answer for – their sound went on to be imitated, usually poorly, by a host of other trad bands with a ‘contemporary’ backing, culminating in the abomination which was Riverdance, which actually featured a number of former Hearts. However, listening to them live last night, and on The Storm (live album released in 2007) it is clear that there is some element in their collective playing that lifts them to levels that their imitators can only crane their necks and gaze wistfully up at.
In terms of pure musicianship you could put Spillane up on a stage by himself and he would hold and audience enthralled, while Lunny’s often manic playing of the bouzouki kept a counter rhythm going. Normally if you put a saxophone player on stage I would be the first one to make my way to the exit, it is an instrument I can’t abide and jazz is a style of music that I just never got, but Keith Donald’s contributions are an elemental part of the overall Moving Hearts sound and possibly what makes them unique.
The introspective bass-sax into of Finore sets the aural landscape for Spillane’s low whistle lament. The combination of contemporary jazz and Irish trad are given their most remarkable workout in McBrides, a tune that dates back to their first album when Christy Moore was still in the line up. Other highlights included Tribute to Peadar O’Donnell, Lake of Shadows and The Titanic. However, the highlight, as always, was The Lark a 12-minute set of jigs linked together combining mellow foot tapping moments that builds into a pounding percussion-driven crescendo.
The band only reunited two years ago and I saw them playing last year in Newcastle, minus Lunny. I’ve pasted below my review from that gig, as Gaeilge, which appeared in The Irish News An tEolas pages.

‘Ag dul siar bóithre na smaointe i gcuideachta na Moving Hearts’

Ihí sé thiar i 1983 gur léim mé ar an bhus ó Bhéal Feirste go Gaillimh agus uaidh sin, ag siabsiúl trasna an Bhoireann go Lios Dún Bhearna I gContae an Chláir.
Bhí mé ansin le ceol Rory Gallagher agus Van Morrison a análú isteach ach eipeafáine ceart pearsanta a bhí ann nuair a tháinig Moving Hearts ar an ardán.
Ó shin i leith, chonaic mé iad i mBéal Feirste agus i mBaile Átha Cliath agus cheannaigh mé gach albam dá gcuid. Bhí mé le feiceáil féin sa lucht féachana nuair a scannánaíodh coirm dá chuid i mBéal Feirste!
Ainneoin go raibh mé doirte i ngrá leis an bhuíon tráth a raibh Christy Moore agus Mick Hanley ag amhránaíocht leo - ní fhaca mé iad le linn na tréimhse gairid sin a raibh Flo McSweeney ina hamhránaí acu- is é an t-albam deireanach a rinne said sa stiúideo, The Storm, an ceann is mó a éistim leis go fóill.
Le himeacht aimsire, tá dhá leagan vinil agus dhá leagan CD de The Storm meilte agam as siocar an ró-úsáid. Anuraidh, cheannaigh mé an t-albam Live in Dublin, ach ba bheaichte The Storm Live a thabhairt air, é a thaifead ag foireann úr athnuaite Moving Hearts.
Chóir a bheith gurb í an fhoireann chéanna a bhí ag seinm sa Slieve Donard Hotel ar an Chaisleán Nua oíche Dhomhnaigh seo caite mar chuid den fhéile Celtic Fusion, is an fhoireann a thaifead The Storm i lár na 1980í, seachas Dónal Lunny, ar an drochuair.
De ghnách. bheadh díomá mór ar dhaoine gan Lunny bheith i láthair. Tá Dónal, a bhí le The Bothy Band agus Planxty ar ndóigh, ar dhuine de na ceoltóirí traidisiúnta is mo tionchar in Éirinn - nó ar fud na cruinne féin ach is cuid de neart Moving Hearts é, nuair a ghlac Manus Lunny, ait a dhearthóra ar an bouzouki oíche Dhomhnaigh, go raibh daoine beagnach ar nós cuma liom.
Bhí an píobaire Davy Spillane ansin leis an tine a choinneáil lasta, agus threoraigh fear an tsacsafóin, Keith Donald - arb as Contae Dhoire ó dhúchas dó - an ceol traidisiúnta i dtreo an snagcheoil.
Bhá fear an doird Eoghan O'Neill - a bhí le pósadh inné (Dé Céadaoin) a dúradh linn - agus laoch na gcnaguirlisí, Noel Eccles, i gceannas ar an rithim. Bhí an boscadóir Martin O'Connor mar aoi speisialta agus chuir sé beocht breise in amhráin seanaitheanta na Hearts.
Dalta na seanlaethanata, thosaigh an bhuíon le píosa scaoilte snagcheoil a athchruthaigh turas fuaimeanna ó lár Manhattan i lár na hoíche go mala shléibhe i gContae Chiarraí agus away le Spillane agus é ag seinm McBride's.
Sheinn an bhuíon gach rian ó The Storm ar an oíche agus bunús an cheoil uirlise ó na halbaim roimhe, Lake of Shadows agus Category san áireamh.
Ar bhuaicphointí na hoíche, bhí tús aoibhinn Finore agus Keith Donald ag seinm go séimh ar an sacsafón, á leanúint ag Davy Spillane ar an fheadóg íseal agus é ag seinm leagan íoslach de May Morning Dew - ar a raibh Manus Lunny, Spillane agus aclaíocht O'Neill ar an dord - agus Tribute to Peadar O'Donnell.
Sin ráite, an bhuaic-phointe ba mhó a bhí ann ná an ceann céanna a chuir draíocht orm ag an chéad choirm sin ceathrú céid ó shin agus mé ag mo chéad gig Moving Hearts. Is féasta ceoil 12-bhomaite é Lark, ina dtig le gach duine den naonúr sa bhuíon mearbhall a chur ar dhaoine le feabhas a gcuid seinnte.
Tá sé á shíor-sheinm ar mo sheinnteoir CD ó shin I leith!