Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mods and rockers in 2014

It might seem strange that a person who wrote his own music column for 15 years might need to be reminded of the power of music, but two gigs over consecutive nights did wonders to lift my spirits this week.

My life, post-redundancy, has not exactly gone to plan. I’m still seeing the Public Health Nurse every second day after undergoing surgery on my shoulder six weeks ago. Dreams of travelling the world or finding the perfect new job have had to be put on hold. It’s not easy to be virtually laid-up, unable to swim in the pool or go to the gym, in Galway at this time of year.

The cancellation of my former work-mates’ Christmas party allowed me to join a couple of old friends at a wonderful gig at the Roisin Dubh, before I hopped on a bus to Dublin for a show which brought me way back in time to my teenage years.

Ah yes, mods and rockers. In my teenage years, the two tribes did not get on. But, as you get older, you realise that good music is good music no matter what the genre. It pains me to recall that I didn’t appreciate The Who, The Specials, or The Jam when I was a kid, just because I was a ‘rocker’ and they were ‘mods’.

Back then, before I discovered the joy of punk at about 16, I used to go around in a denim jacket, with badges and long hair. Bands like Thin Lizzy, Metallica, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden provided the soundtrack to my life.
Sleaford Mods at the Roisin Dubh

When you are in your 40s, you don’t care about labels any more. And I have to admit I got a great thrill out of seeing a ‘mod’ band I knew very little about at the Roisin Dubh.

On a wintry Thursday night in December, it was great to see Sleaford Mods attract such an eclectic crowd. The audience reminded me of what a vibrant place Galway is for a city of just 75,000 souls, even in the depths of winter.

My friends, Hugo and Brian, were already enthusiastic fans of the two piece from Nottingham. And so were many others, by the look of things, judging by how warmly the audience greeted the duo from the moment they took to the stage. Many seemed to recognise each and every catchy, minimalist track, and some even sang along with the words.

After six years of austerity, it was refreshing to see a band rant about dole queues, corruption, and all the trials and tribulations of modern life. Singer Jason Williamson had the spleen of a Johnny Rotten or Mark E Smith, while his partner in crime, Andrew Fearn, conjured up some pretty hypnotic, if minimalist, beats.

Williamson’s lyrics address issues which few artists seem to touch these days. At a time when there is so much anger about the place, it was startling to see a lead singer with the courage to take on political issues on tracks such as ‘Jobseeker’ and ‘Black Monday’.

Sleaford Mods have seen their career take off over the past year and yet they remain a small, cottage industry. After the show, the band members sold their CDs and merchandise themselves. They mix punk, mod, and hip-hop influences, and travel light. I met them in Dublin with just two small cases on Saturday.

They got me thinking that Ireland needs a lot more artists who are willing to take on controversial, topical issues, at a time when people are up in arms over water charges, bailouts, property taxes, and bankers.

On the following day, given the all-clear by the nurse, I boarded a bus to Dublin for a nostalgic trip to see a band I worshipped at the age of 14. People can laugh all they want, but veteran metal act Saxon put on a phenomenal live show.

Sleaford Mods were in Dublin the same night but, given that they slag off rockers in one of their songs, they would not have been welcomed at this particular show.

Saxon will always have a place in my heart, because I used to headbang to their music with my two little sisters in the 1980s. Their music signified rebellion and freedom in the midst of a strict, Irish Catholic childhood.

When my sister Cliona died at 16, one of the songs took on a significance which has stayed with me for a quarter of a century. I still treasure how we used to rock out to ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, playing the track at full blast when my parents were out of the house.

I saw Saxon live in Dublin a year and a half ago, just before a trip to Spain, and was blown away by the power and melodies in their show.

On Friday night, they didn’t disappoint. They rocked the Academy with songs like ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, ‘Wheels of Steel’, ‘Frozen Rainbow’ and ‘Motorcycle Man’. 

Saxon live at the Academy, Dublin
It was truly uplifting to look around and see rockers aged from 20 to 60 going wild for a band who have been on the road now for 35 years.

Looking up at the stage, it was amazing to see the joy the band members themselves were getting from the gig. Rarely have I ever seen anyone who loves their jobs as much as the members of Saxon, still rocking after all these years. If only everyone could get such fulfilment from their careers.

Seeing the smiles on their faces, while a jubilant 60-year old metal head bounced up and down beside me, reminded me of the importance of just having fun.

Afterwards I met a couple from Milan who travelled to Dublin especially for the gig. There was a joyous atmosphere in the hall and the powerful, loud music seemed to banish my anxieties about the future.

Sometimes just shaking your head to loud music is the perfect tonic when too many of us are overcome by financial concerns or worries about what lies ahead.

(Just don’t tell the cynical Sleaford Mods that I went to see a bunch of old metal dinosaurs!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Treasuring the simple things

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”
John O'Donohue

Over the past couple of weeks, I have taken to making midweek arrangements to meet up with two of my former colleagues who left work on the same day as me at the end of September.

It gives a focus to our days, to meet up in Salthill once a week, enjoying a walk along our city’s wonderful seafront promenade, before adjourning for a leisurely lunch to swap information and share our experiences of joining the ranks of the newly unemployed.

The one hour walks along by the seafront have flown by, because we have so much to tell each other about how our lives are progressing since we opted for voluntary redundancy.

As one who has complained bitterly about Irish winter weather for way too long, I have been delighted by how much I have enjoyed our weekly walks in the cold and the chance to share our fears and hopes for the future.

Today, Galway Bay was flat calm. There was a serenity and peace about Salthill, which made me appreciate how lucky we were to have our health and to have such stunning scenery as a backdrop to our conversation.

Sometimes, it really is a good thing to focus on the simple things in life.

Both of my former colleagues, both younger than me, have inspired me with their positivity and desire for change.

Whereas I have faced the future with a degree of anxiety and dread, both of them have embraced change with an enthusiasm which has lifted my spirits during our weekly meetings. One of them has opted to return to college, while the other is in the early stages of setting up a new business of her own.

All three of us have helped each other, in terms of how we have dealt with bureaucracy or new clients now that we are out there in the big, bad world.

When you are in the same job for a long time, you don’t realise what is involved in seeking new clients or pitching for work. You learn that people can make promises and then let you down. 

And small companies tend to give very little support to departing workers even though a redundancy can become one of the most stressful events in a person’s life.

Both of my former colleagues have given me enormous support, and excellent advice, and I hope I have been able to reciprocate in my own way. We are learning from each other and, surely, that’s what life is about . . . learning, growth, and change.

Both of them have embraced change with open arms, causing me to question why I am so fearful of an uncertain future after leaving my job of 22 years. 

The weekly walks along the prom have taught me the value of celebrating the simple things in life, such as beautiful scenery, the benefits of a brisk walk, and the joy of good conversation over a cup of coffee.

Normally, after a hard year’s work, I would be soaking up the sun and scuba diving in Thailand, Egypt, or Nicaragua – on holidays – at this time of year. 

It probably still hasn’t sunk in yet that I can go wherever I want or opt for any one of a myriad of options as I face into an uncertain 2015. 

But, thanks to my colleagues, I am seeing new possibilities open up and I’m beginning to realise that I have confused excitement with fear.

Life changes every day, but too many of us grasp for the familiar and even hurt ourselves by resisting change. For me, this process of moving on or changing career might allow me to follow my dreams or passions in the long-term.

Each of us has a magic spark within us, but sometimes it seems hard to dance, or play, or live life to the full. It can seem impossible to turn our dreams or passions into rewarding lives or well-paid careers.

Too often, and for obvious reasons such as mortgages and young families, we settle for the familiarity of the 'comfort zone'.

But my two former colleagues are well on the way to finding the magic and today I found just a pinch of fresh inspiration as we talked along the familiar promenade I have walked 10,000 times. 

Even though I still have a way to go before I learn to live "like a river flows"!