Monday, 2 October 2017

The Ten Best Pubs In Cork


* As a recent returnee to the City By The Lee - I've found a lot of changes - most for the positive on the pub (and food) scene - and lots of new, local craft breweries reviving Cork's ancient tradition of being a brewing, mercantile port, which exported it's beers & ales to the four corners of the world.
A Pub - In Cork 

But where to go when you are looking for a pint? Well, there are plenty of "Ten Best Pubs In Cork!" lists on various websites, and they are all, as the auld fellahs would say in Cork, Cat Malojean, like (or ....Not Good). 

Seriously - this is the only list you need - accept no other list of the Best Pubs in Cork. Pour scorn on them. Shun them in the street, your workplace and your place of worship. For they know not what of they talk about. 

Here - in descending but not too particular order - are the Ten Best Pubs in Cork - accept no feckin' substitutes. 

I have avoided the obvious - and stayed off the main drags. There are plenty more great bars and pubs around Cork - but most of these do not appear on other lists and I believe they deserve a wider audience.

Cork's Ten Best Pubs - By A Man With Bitter Experience 

10 The Castle Inn - South Main Street

Push through the slightly wonky door of The Castle on South Main street and say hello to 1952. Seriously. You can talk of "Time Warp" pubs, but it's rare to pass through an actual dimensional portal to the Pinting Past. The Castle - with it's blinding fluorescent strip lighting, scuffed floors, walls, ceilings and serving staff - plus advertising posters that somebody forgot to take down in 1962 - is not TRYING to be cool old school, it just found the right decade and decided to stay in it. There's often an open fire going, there's a snug that people go into and never appear to come out of and it gives you the feeling that you could locate yourself in here and survive a nuclear winter.  Or a bad break up. Reassuringly, unapologetically scruffy. The Proustian scent of ancient Beamish, yellowing fly-paper and Christy Ring's Brylcream. Lovely.

Pros - Real Old School - no fakery.

Cons - The fluorescent strip lighting. Like you are about to be interrogated by the Stasi.

Most likely to Meet - A man in a tweed jacket - perusing the racing pages.


9 The Idle Hour - Albert Quay 

Once a sailors & dockers pub, on the quays down where the city ends and ships still dock, The Idle Hour is a very traditional, plank-panelled Cork boozer that can get pretty lively at the Weekends but is perhaps best enjoyed when you have an actual idle hour of a lazy afternoon. A welcoming sanctuary, sitting on the quay, looking out over the docks.

Pros - Location - on the Waterfront.
Cons - Not a lot - can get very loud at the weekends but throw yerself in. 
Most Likely to Meet - God knows - a curious shop.

8 Tom Barry's - Barrack Street 

You can't compile a list of Cork pubs and leave out Tom Barry's Of Barracka. The joy here is the mix of a cosy, plank-panelled pub with a fine beer-garden out the back. Tom's sits close by the walls of a city centre, 17th century Star-Fort, on one of the oldest streets in the town. They also do fab pizzas from their own brick oven in the garden. During the day, they leave out copies of the Irish Times crossword. At night, it gets pretty lively with lots of students. 

Pros - Gorgeous cosy interior, cool garden.
Cons - Not a lot - pretty close to perfect.
Most Likely To Meet - Students. Locals. Sound heads.

7 The Abbey Tavern - Gillabbey Street 

A real hidden gem. A warm, welcoming pub, in the shadow of the soot-black gothic fantasy of St Finbarr's Cathedral. The Abbey is a little off the beaten track but well worth finding. Nice little smoking area and a great wine-list too.

Pros - A little quirky with lots of  dark comfy corners & banquettes.

Cons - Not exactly a buzzing neighbourhood - but that's part of the charm.

Most Likely To Meet - Student or professor from nearby UCC.

6 Abbot's Ale House - Devonshire Street - Northside, Like. 

Downstairs - it's a wildly well-stocked little craft beer off-licence. Upstairs, it's a really quirky little drinking den. Looks shabby - but the beers are fantastic, the guy behind the bar (Terry? we'd had a few at this stage) is very friendly and happy to let you sample before buying. This place is pure Cork - quirky, unexpected, not obvious - requiring you to take a little chance.

The decor is ...eccentric. Music is cool (old school Blues n'Rock) and the place is just....a little like a Hamburg or Boston dive bar. Worth finding.

Pros - Probably the best selection of beers in Cork.
Cons - You may find the decor and small space a little off-putting - don't.
Most Likely to Meet - Craft beer fiends.

5 Cask - McCurtain Street

Yes! It's a cocktail bar. And a little bling-y. But if you are looking for authentically good cocktails in a gorgeous setting, this converted Victorian wine-vaults on McCurtain Street is a little special. Hey, if I just gave yiz ten auld lad/craft beer bars I'd be letting ye down.

Cork doesn't really do bling - the aesthetic/vibe is more shabby than chic - but Cask is a recent and very welcome addition to the scene, adding something that had been lacking in the city. Very busy/Party vibe at the weekends. But not what you might expect. A lot of thought has gone into this gaff.

Pros - Gorgeous spaces - great cocktails.
Cons - If you were snobby, you might accuse Cask of being try-hard. But it's really not.
Most Likely To Meet - Dolled up Old Dolls, Lads who look like they've lifted a weight or two.

4 Henchy's -Wellington Road/ St Lukes

Everybody will tell you - St Lukes is the gentrified, hipster heart of Cork - which means they have ....a bakery.

But it is a lovely part of the city, climbing up the steep hill towards the Victorian terraces of Montenotte. And Henchys is a lively, cosy, welcoming shop. Lots of live music, a great crowd of locals and a very traditional Cork pub vibe. You can walk up here from McCurtain Street in ten or 15 minutes. Well worth it.

Pros - Lots of little snugs, nooks and crannies - a great place to get lost for an afternoon.

Cons - Can get loud at the weekend. That's about it.

Most Likely To Meet - The odd eejit back from Silicon Valley, banging on about the Victorian Terraced house he's renovating for buttons. But mostly locals.


3 El Fenix - Union Quay



Right on the river in the city centre - a great shop altogether, very Cork, tiny, quirky, friendly, great live music on a regular basis and just a fab place to lose a few hours in. A session pub.

Pros - Reassuringly under-lit.
Cons - Cork folks will tell you it's a bit of a trek from Patrick Street - we are not a people who like to walk much.
Most Likely To Meet - Old Punks, Indie-Heads, Rude-Boys, Crusty-Types, Struggling Musicians.


2 Coughlan's - Douglas Street

Pronounced "Call-ans" - A real survivor, Victorian bar that has been given a new lease of life as one of the best small music venues (or the best judging by its many awards) in Ireland.

By day, a great old pub with wrap-around beer-gardens, by night, lively music venue.

Again, a little hidden away - but well worth finding, especially if you love your live music.

Pros - Many & Varied.
Cons - None that come to mind.
Most Likely To Meet - Anybody, really.







1 Callanans - George's Quay.

If I had to pick one pub to represent the best traditions of Leeside hostelries, it would be the quintessentially Cork-esque Callanans. It don't look like much from the outside. It don't look like much from the inside. There's no real indication that it's changed an inch since 1966. But this is Cork. A plank-panelled, lino-floored pub, with simple bench seating, a tiny little snug, a friendly and welcoming family-owned vibe and always somebody to have a chat with.

It's the kind of place the creatives behind a beer ad would spend big money trying to fake and yet not get even close.

Right on the river, next to a bridge in the heart of the oldest part of Cork. Opens at 7.30 every night, cheapest and best pint of Beamish stout in town and an extensive food menu that runs all the way from Salted to Dry Roasted peanuts.

Pros - Perfection.

Cons - Only opens at 7.30pm but they do say hunger is the best sauce.

Most Likely To Meet - Literally anybody.


**** And that's it! Thanks for reading and feel free to tell me that I'm a ferocious langer for leaving your favourite one out****






























Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Magic Box Syndrome - Wizards & Websites


* Something a bit different from my usual run - this is about my work (or at least one of the things I do) and how Wizards and Warlocks are a big part of the digital content/biz website world.

So bear with me as I lay out some truth about digital content, Websites, Wizards and Magic Boxes of Mysterious Mystery.


Another Satisfied Customer 

You are in business, selling window-blinds, doll's houses, fountain pens or plumbing supplies.

You know you need a website, cool landing page, maybe an e-commerce platform, drop-down menus, snazzy UI interface, the whole nine yards! 

So what do you do? You find a Wizard.

What's the Budget?                 
I've been doing a lot of work recently in the area of digital content - from working on copy and content for established sites to getting stuck in at the start up phase, devising content & tone-of-voice, working up the brand-storytelling aspect, populating sites with copy and content - the basic building blocks of an online presence for any business or organisation. It can be very interesting work, and I'm able to call on more than two decades in newspapers and broadcasting to do it. 

But I am not - sadly - a Wizard. Nor do I know how to build a Magic Box of Mystery. 

Who are the Wizards? They are the guys who actually build/design the site. 

Often, the people who want a biz website have little or no idea how you go about actually designing or populating one - why should they? (although they suspect their teenage kids could do it for twenty quid). 

But they do know it's (probably) insanely complicated, requiring arcane skills, endless hours of dungeon-based toil and magic ingredients ranging from Eye of Newt to Toe Of Coder.

So they find a company or individual to design it for them. Now, the good ones will actually explain that it's really not that complex, take the client through a step-by-step explainer and generally try to take the mystery out of what looks like - to many "civilians" at least - like witchcraft. 

The less, er, straight-up or even clued-in Wizards will throw smoke-bombs, fling glitter into the air and incant magical phrases such as  "future-proof front-end flexibility", "Asynchronous JavaScript" and (seriously, this is an actual word I have heard used) "Automagically". 

Most of the time - it's not being done to deliberately bamboozle clients - this is just the way most of these dudes talk. 

And this is not, believe me, a rant against website designers - I'm kind of in awe myself of what they can do - having close to zero technical skills myself. 

But there is a disconnect. And it's not healthy. Clients go to website designers, they make their wish and the Wizard says; "Until I have have worked my magic, BEGONE, MORTAL!"

Your Typical Designer 
Six months later, after great time and expense, the client is presented with the Magic Box Of Mystery. 


"Great! How does it work!?"
"You don't need to know, it's a magic box".
"Er, ok, what abou...."
"MAGIC BOX!" 


Or - the job of overseeing the actual build gets left to "one of the lads in marketing, that's their kind of area". 

And here's the thing from the point of view of the copy/content side of things - it's often a case of budget is no object for building and designing the site, after all, Wizards and Magic Boxes don't come cheap! Seriously, if it looks really complicated, it MUST be really expensive! 

But words? Anybody can knock up a few sentences on a lap-top! Sure I could do that myself! It's not as if you are bringing me a Magic Box!

However, think of the actual copy/content on your website this way. You go to a fancy restaurant, great decor, designer table-ware, comfy seats. But if the food is flavour-less or worse, over complicated, will you be recommending it to your friends or rushing back? 

What can happen is the budget (and 90% of the time and effort) gets spent on the design and the actual content is an afterthought.

To torture my restaurant analogy to death - you don't spend all the money on hand-blocked wall-paper and then hire some guy off the street to grill fish-fingers.

Good website design is an art. And there are some incredibly skilled people doing it. But the actual words, content, copy, the ability to create an engaging tone-of-voice and tell your story, they are just as important. Probably more important in the long-run, given the way attention spans are going. 

It's great to have a snazzy magic box. But you don't want your audience watching it open, only to reveal a dead rabbit inside. 

* Hey, thanks for reading! 

ENDS  
















 


 




Thursday, 27 April 2017


My Cork Manifesto - Part II - How We Do It 


My last Blog was Cork City and how its people have forgotten our story...... now I want to talk about ideas for the future. 

Down By The River - Cork City Centre 
As a recent arrival home after many years away, I've looked at this most idiosyncratic of Irish cities, not really Irish at all, but a old mercantile port, an Atlantic City with ancient (and now renewed) connections to the rest of the world.

Road Bowling - A Cork Sport 
You can marvel at that staggering work of insight by clicking Here. But now I want to talk about re-branding or re-imagining Cork - and respond to those who have (fairly) put it up to me; "Alright, Genius - how do we do it?"

I've come home at a very interesting time for Cork. There's a real sense of change in the air, a buzz, an energy. But are we poised for a Great Leap Forward or (yet another) left turn into a dead end?

I'm Barrack Street born and bred. City Centre, South Parish. I've come back and see how Barrack Street is a perfect microcosm of Cork now - a bit shabby, a little stuck-in-transition - but with amazing history (a spectacular 17th Century Star Fort, right on my door-step) and lots of green shoots - such as three great bars and one great coffee shop. It could be poised for take-off, like the rest of the city - with smart investment - of the cash and imagination kind. 

I wouldn't claim to have all the answers. I do care.I want to stay here, see my daughter grow up here and play a part in seeing Cork city survive, thrive and reinvent itself as what it should be, a great destination city, a great place to work or start a business, a fantastically livable, compact, culturally-rich and energetic place.

I look to cities like Barcelona, Porto, Hamburg - thriving cities with a lot in common with Cork, Second-City mercantile ports that suffered for years after losing their trade, their way and their sense of themselves, only to be renewed and to find their mojo again. 

In 2004, as Berlin struggled to reinvent itself following the fall of the Wall and reunification, it's Mayor Klaus Wowereit declared; "Berlin ist arm, aber sexy!"  or - "Berlin is poor, but sexy!". 

It was a brilliant piece of branding in many ways. It turned the city's perceived problems into pluses and acted as a rallying cry for Berliners. Sure, we've been battered by history. We're shabby, we are not shiny and rich and modern like Frankfurt or Munich. But we are Us. And we have a story to tell.

So - what do we Leesiders do? (and by the way, this is not some great, unique wisdom from a genius prodigal son. I've had many conversations since I have returned, I know a LOT of people are thinking along these lines and there is already a whole lot of energy and activity going on).

But! I suggest we start by; 

Telling Our Story

We are an open, diverse, connected, culturally rich, sometimes quirky, always surprising north Atlantic port. We have always welcomed outsiders. They built the place, for feck's sake.

But we have not been great at projecting our worth and our assets. The city has tended to leave "The Tourists" to West Cork and Kerry, and held itself above such tawdry pursuits as drawing in people to stay and spend a bit of dosh. Thankfully, this is now changing with some strong initiatives coming down the track. The rapid growth in the number of cruise ships coming into the harbour is a very positive sign, even if the jury is out on how much the day-trippers actually spend in the city.

We have so much to offer as a top tier, compact destination city. Look at the great restaurants, pubs, cultural attractions and the, er, characterful people that we have. Let's all agree to tell a new story. Confident (and not chippy), open, ready to welcome all and show them a great time or a fantastic place to stay, live, work, play, start a business and raise a family. 

Write the fecking thing down (I already did, see my last blog), Agree on a style-book for every Cork institution that has any dealings with the outside world whatsoever. Tell the One Story. Project the One Brand, We are not the "Real Capital" - we are Cork, we're not better than anybody but nobody is better than us. And we have an amazing story to tell. Come and see for yourself.

(Also - help our schoolkids to learn and explore the true story of Cork. A module for all primary school kids telling the great, surprising history of their city and county. Start with the upcoming generation, make it a focus for regional confidence, and yes, pride). 

Loving The River

Sunset On The Quays, Cork
The two channels of the Lee surround us and embrace us. Our energy has always flowed down the river, past the docks and out through our epic harbour. It is our history and our destiny.

Yes, the flooding that strikes the city centre has to be addressed. But leaving politics aside, are giant concrete walls really the answer?

One of my favourite spots in the city is the little boardwalk outside the Electric bar & restaurant - where you can sit with a coffee or a pint, look down the river towards the docks or up towards the Gothic excess of St Finbarre's Cathedral. We should have ten, twenty spots like that along our open river quays. Seats, tables, greenery, cycle lanes, walks.

Build housing and hotels on the docks (I know this could be about to happen) - open marinas, put greenways down the banks to the harbour - use the rivers as transport arteries. Bring them back to life.

It's shocking how little we use our great river, port and harbour. Think of the Ras Mor - the mad dash down the river by hundreds of little boats every year as part of the Ocean to Sea festival. Is the city ever more alive or more in touch with its maritime heritage, its true beauty and soul? 

We should embrace the river, play along its banks, boat, sport and swim in it. In  1992, using the Olympics as the impetus, Barcelona - then dowdy and pretty overlooked - reinvented itself by turning back to its port and re-developing it's docklands - Cork needs to do the same. Urgently.

He's Not Really c
Get The Word Out  - We have traditionally been terrible at networking with our Cork diaspora - and they are everywhere, in London, Berlin, New York, Silicon Valley and on and on. Get them involved and energised. If they are true born sons and daughters of Cork, they are going to be patriotic, they are going to want to back there city & county (if only for the simple reason that they might want to come back to a better place). Here's a simple idea. A website for Cork ex-pats - "Cork Connects" - give them a place to talk and network, and - a practical and easily doable step - give them a information pack that talks about their home place, why it's such a great place to visit, to invest in, to live in. If you have a Cork guy working high-up in Silicon Valley - give him this simple tool, a digital package with details on investing and living in Cork, testimonies from the companies and entrepreneurs already here - so he can say to his boss, his colleagues, LinkdIn contacts whatever; "Here you go, look at this great place, It's my hometown and here's all you need to know about it".

Feck The Politics - As JFK (probably) said - there's two types of people in the world - those that want to move forward, and those that want to sit in the pub moaning; "You can't beat City Hall". We've had more than our fair share of the latter down the years. Stay where ye are, lads, we're moving on.

A Crowd In Town - JFK, Patrick Street, Cork June, 1963
Regionalism - Recognise the Real Enemy - Limerick.

Regionalism is happening fast in the UK - they are about to elect a powerful new mayor for the new "Metro Region" or the West Midlands. There is the (admittedly stalled) Northern Powerhouse, directly elected and increasingly powerful Mayors in many regions. It will happen in Ireland - it has to, given the ridiculous/destabilising gravitational pull and over-crowding of Dublin.

The new reality is that Dublin is not our enemy, or or rival. It's Limerick (and possibly those feckers in Galway). The Treaty City has come on in leaps and bounds recently, thanks to some smart thinking and progressive institutions like UL. This will be a fight to be the capital of Munster, or the South. Of our Atlantic Coast. Cork must be ready to position itself as the natural claimant, the entry point for everything from the Wild Atlantic Way to major FDIs, and the Tech sector.

Visible Branding - Street Furniture

When you are in Cork City Centre - there's not a lot to tell you that's where you are.

We already have some great, striking imagery/brands associated with the city - the UCC Skull and Crossbones being a pretty good example, Groups like Re-Imagine Cork/Mad About Cork have done great work in putting interesting/colourful imagery around the city centre. But we really could do more - more colour, more graphics, more murals & distinctively Cork Branding. Also - uniform, prominent signage - such as the obelisk style street maps they use in London.

We need to see murals/street art of Michael Collins, Christy Ring, Road Bowling, Hurling - Cork "brands" (if you pardon the marketing speak) across the city - open up sites and invite artists to do their thing. Use the city as our wide canvass, tell our story, splash some colour.

Spend enough time in Cork City and you will see bemused tourists wandering around gazing at maps and trying to work out where the hell they are (the two rivers don't help). It wouldn't be hard to fix, but it needs to look good.



Bit Mad - Looks Great - Cobh Colour 

And Finally -  Make Cork Beautiful - Conserve and restore the Huguenot/Georgian/Victorian and even Art Deco fabric of the city (again, look to the Electric Bar as a great example of repurposing a building while keeping and enhancing its character . Make more people aware of the Living Cities Initiative and schemes like it (seriously, 90% of the people in Cork I've talked to have not heard of this). Come up with a unified style-book for our streets, buildings and public places. This should not cost a fortune, but
make it more financially attractive for people to do the right thing by the fabric of our city. And more importantly, tell them how to do it.

When I think of Cork (city, Cobh, County and villages) I think of startling colour schemes on houses (such as in the village of Ballydehob) which are actually visually interesting and pretty unique (if a little bonkers).   

And we could start by bringing in a special grant to tackle the worst thing to happen to Cork since Collins was assassinated - Pebble-Dash.

* Hey Thanks for Reading










Getting A Crowd in The City Centre - People Wait for JFK On Brian Boru Bridge - June 28th 1963 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

My Cork Manifesto - Put It To The Testo

Solar Eclipse & Shandon, by Marcin Lewandowski


* So - a little something different - and perhaps madly niche - unless you know and care about my home-town, the southern Irish port city of Cork.

A small island between two rivers running into a vast natural harbour. Picture the Venice of The North, but with slightly fewer Renaissance palaces.

I have recently returned home after many years abroad - in Dublin and most recently London.

And in the great tradition of prodigal sons just returned to their native lands, I am now the world's leading expert on everything regarding the town I haven't lived in for half my life.

For those that don't know Cork, or just think they know it, my hometown can be a peculiar place. It's people are often traduced as arrogant, difficult or just plain delusional.

But what outsiders (mostly Dubliners) see as "typical Cork arrogance" is (as more thoughtful Leesiders would tell you) a disguised insecurity, A defence mechanism. And it's not us. It's the result of a city that has forgotten its true history. And a people who have, despite being world-class talkers, struggled to recall and to tell their own story.

So in typical Cork style, I'm going to confidently lay out my grand vision, my Leeside Manifesto, a flight of fancy or the story Cork needs to tell about itself.

You don't have to agree. But thanks For Reading.


* Cork - in fairness, like - is not an Irish city. Never was.


That's not a conscious choice or a state of mind.

It's a fact dictated by geography and history.

Look at a map of southern Ireland and you will see Cork County, bordered on almost all sides by mountains. The city itself is in a steep river valley backed by more mountains, way down on the south coast of the island. .

Cork City Quays Circa 1950s 


Cork's history, since it started trading with France and Spain in the 14th Cent and then, later, with the wider world, made it a mercantile port, a place which exported the bounty of rich land behind it, with more in common with ports like Hamburg and Porto than Irish cities such as Kilkenny or even Galway.

The energy and destiny of the city has historically flowed down the river, out through the huge harbour and by centuries old sea-lanes to the far corners of the world.

Through it's long history, even though we have recently forgotten, Cork has not been an Irish city. It has always been an Atlantic City.

When sail ruled the waves, Cork exported vast quantities of the staples - sea-biscuits, butter, salt pork and beef - which sustained countless numbers of merchant and navy sailors for hundreds of years. And - in a darker chapter of our history - also made vast fortunes for the merchant clans who victualled the slave ships sailing the Atlantic.

At one stage, Cork butter was a world commodity, internationally traded, prized and priced in the same way grain, pork belly and beef futures are today.

Corkmen were sailors and sea-traders. It's in our DNA - so many Corkmen served in the British Navy that in the pre-WWI era of the fearsome Dreadnoughts - the British navy was said to be "steel on the outside - Cork on the inside".

For most of its long history, going back to the Vikings who settled and traded where the river meets the sea, Cork has been a city of outsiders coming in, to build, trade and define what this port was.

It's architecture and streetscape is a mish-mash of foreign influences. A faint echo of Viking, traces of Elizabethan Planter, the distinctive doll houses of French Huguenots and later, and most profoundly, Quaker, Presbyterian and Protestant merchants, sea traders and servants of Empire. These "outsiders" built the city. And for hundreds of years ships sailed up the river and docked right in the heart of the town.

The City Floods Regularly - A Chance to Make Your Own Entertainment
So Cork was always an open, diverse, welcoming city. It had to be. Open your front door of a morning and you would find a ship in from Holland, France, South America or anywhere in the vast British Empire parked there right in front of you. You had to get used to seeing strangers around the gaff.

But that all changed with the worst thing that ever happened to Cork - Irish independence. Overnight Cork was cut-off from the Empire. (And by the way, the Rebel County thing? It has nothing to do with Tom Barry or Michael Collins and the fight for Irish freedom, but all to do with the Derek Zoolander of the War of the Roses - for more on that bizarre, Very Cork slice of history - see Here)

Ireland retreated and turned inwards, established trade, cultural and psychic barriers against the outside world. Cork City and its port went into its long decline and the once great mercantile city turned inwards on itself, literally, putting its back to the river and the increasingly sleepy docks and losing the energy and connectivity that once flowed through the river, harbour and the wide Atlantic Ocean.
Jack Lynch ; Hurler, Footballer,  Politician, Male Model

We became a little bitter. We made grim jibes about being the Real Capital. How dat lot up in Dublin never did nothin' for us.

We left. Or worse - we forgot.

So the story of Cork became the story of lost mercantile greatness and fading, shabby grandeur. Slow, inexorable decline and the bitter word. Or worse, a chip-on-the-shoulder, put-on arrogance that has annoyed the rest of the country and baffled anyone from the wider world.

We still retained that distinct sense of Corkness. Our customs and language have always been a little....off. We have Bonfire Night in the middle of the Summer (St John's Eve, a strange echo of pagan times that we share with those on the Celtic fringes of Northern Europe). I could do a whole other blog on how Cork people have a weird way with language, syntax, vocabulary. Have a conversation with a Leesider and you will be doing a lot of; "Wait, what!?" The humour is surreal. The attitude is a little ...Mediterranean? Anarchic? Individual?

But we lost a lot. We held on to the small stuff, the little quirks, but couldn't retain the real sense of ourselves. Our story.

However, now, if we can only see it, we have come full (or full-ish) circle.

How's this for a symbol? The Hibernia Express undersea cable - the most modern fibre optic cable connecting north America & Europe and the first new one in almost a decade - came ashore in Cork in 2015. Another one is on the way.

Trace the line of these cables and they follow the copper telegraph cables that first spanned the Atlantic. Trace them back further and they overset the sea-lanes and trade routes taken by ships sailing to and from Cork for centuries.

In recent years, home-grown and international tech, pharma, agri-biz and bio-science companies have brought an incredibly diverse population back into the city and county.

Cork is connected once more. Diverse once more. Open once more. It's a compact, brilliantly livable city. We need to get that message out to people in Dublin, London, San Francisco, Paris and Berlin. Imagine a compact, open, affordable city where you can live, work and play on the most beautiful, uncrowded, unspoilt Atlantic Coastline in Northern Europe. With the best food, the best schools and the best quality of life you could hope to find.

It should also be a great destination city for those looking for something a little different, a little intangible, a little eccentric.

And that, my fellow Leesiders (and ye children of a lesser God) is the story we need to tell about the city today. Shout about Cork. From the rooftops, with one, clear, unified voice.

An Atlantic City, open and connected to the world. A port city where the energy and focus flows in and out with river and tide through the harbour.

It's time we defined ourselves once again. And told our own story. It's a good one.

And by the way, New Rule. The next Langer who utters the phrase "De Real Capital" gets strung up by the balls from that Goldie Fish atop of Shandon.

HEY! If you loved this (and why wouldn't ya) Read my Cork Manifesto Part Deaux - The Mainfestoing!Here


**** Hey! Thanks for reading.  




Thursday, 14 January 2016

Original Ziggy - The Doomed Brit Rocker Who Inspired Bowie

* The death of David Bowie, coming like a lightning bolt from the blue, has gotten the world talking about his influence and legacy.

It's made me think about the people who influenced him - and in particular, a long forgotten British Rock n'Roller, one of the originals, who was the inspiration (or at least partly) for Ziggy Stardust.

This is the story of  Vince Taylor. And I think the story is worth telling.





Vince Taylor is from the Stone Age. The least fashionable era of British Rock and Pop Music, when the early pioneers who heard  the very earliest Yank Rock N'Roll - often on radio stations serving US servicemen in Europe - came up with a weird, mid-Atlantic take on the music.

They they look and attitude of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent and came up with a strange, ersatz copy, in the way the British-made cars of the era aped the Fins and Chrome look of Yank cars of the era on a smaller, more homely scale. 

They were the likes of Cliff Richard and Johnny Kidd. And one of the biggest at the time - Rock n'Roll wildman Vince Taylor - is now virtually forgotten.

But every time you hear Bowie sing Ziggy, you are hearing the story of Vince, the Black Leather clad, chain-swinging maniac who was the first British Rock star, exploding at that moment between grey, post-war austerity and the birth of Beat Music and the Liverpool Sound.


Good Rocking Tonight - Vince Taylor in '59

And when David Bowie created Ziggy Stardust, he had in mind the long-forgotten Rock n'Roll star called Vince Taylor, the original Live, Fast, Die Young wildman of Brit Rock.

As he explained in a BBC Documentary in the '90s - Bowie used to hang out with Taylor in London in the mid-60's when the singer was well past his brief, blazing hey-day. 

By this stage, Taylor was pretty much out of his mind on drink and drugs. Bowie recalled how, Taylor would always carry maps around with him. And one day in a bar close to Charing Cross Road, Taylor took out one of the maps and started pointing to locations where UFOs would soon land.

The old Rocker had formed a theory that Jesus Christ was really an alien. Taylor had started doing gigs in old pubs dressed in white robes and telling bemused, sparse audiences that he was, in fact, Jesus Christ.  Taylor was convinced that there was a strong connection between himself, aliens and the Lord. 

Bowie resurrected Vince Taylor in the early 70s, when Taylor’s flipped-out Rock n'Roll religion became one of the main ingredients of Ziggy.

Taylor was born in London, raised in the US and returned back home as a teenager just in time to catch the Rock n'Roll wave. As the wildly gyrating, black leather clad front-man for Vince Taylor & The Playboys, he shone very brightly, very briefly. His later life was a sort of slow descent, booze, drugs, bankruptcy, bad choices, ever diminishing crowds.



Vince, real name Brian Holden, was born in Isleworth, Middlsex just before the war. His father moved the family to the US in 1946 and in 1955, his sister married Joe Barbera, one half of the animation duo who produced huge cartoon series such as Captain Caveman and Wacky Races.

They moved to California, where the teenage Brian was exposed to early Rock n'Roll and started singing in bands. Inspired by Elvis and Gene Vince, he changed his name to Vince Taylor and decided to move back to Britain.

It was perfect timing. The late '50s saw Rock n'Roll explode in the UK and Vince, with his Black Leather & Swinging Chain Wildman act, was soon enjoying the first of a string of hits. With Elvis, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochrane on the other side of the Atlantic, Vince Taylor was as close to the real thing as most teens and the music industry could get.





He was a big draw during the brief heyday of British Rock n'Roll. But saw his career fade in the UK. He remained popular in France and The Netherlands, as a sort of Anglophone Johnny Halliday, a throwback to the glory days of black leather and greased back hair.

Billed - with his band - as "Vince Taylor et ses Play-Boys", he lived much of the the rest of his life in France and Switzerland. By the '80s, he had largely kicked his drink and drug problems and was working as an aircraft mechanic, a period which he called "the happiest days of my life".

He died of cancer in 1991, aged 54 and is buried in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Vince is now virtually forgotten, except for those - like Bowie - who remembered him in his heyday.

A b-side of his from '59 - Brand New Cadillac - has been covered by many artists - including The Clash on London's Calling.

But as Van Morrison put it in his 1999 song "Goin' Down Geneva": "Vince Taylor used to live here/No one's even heard of him/Just who he was/Just where he fits in".

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Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Have A Very Cool Yule - 10 Christmas Songs That Won't Embarrass You (And You Might Love)



It's Christmaaaas! As The Man Once Sang.......


The Noddster

And if you're one of those people who thinks; "If I have to listen to that basterin' Mariah Carey song one more time, I'll strangle every last person in this Tescos" - you might appreciate some of these Christmas songs - that range from the indie-tastic to the just lovely. It's a very personal selection, but you might find a few you haven't heard before and appreciate. 

So, in no particular order, My Cool Crimbo Choons Selection includes.


*16 The Wexford Carol - Alison Krauss + YoYo Ma 

Just....gorgeous - an old Irish carol - brilliantly done by Alison Krauss and YoYo Ma - gives "all the feels" as The Kids are fond of saying.

* 15 Bob Dylan - Must Be Santa

Croakin' Bob goes kinda Polka/Zydeco - great rollicking song that will put a smile on your face.



* 14 Gaudete - Steeleye Span 


Very haunting. This sacred carol is believed to have been written in the 16th Century and Gaudete is ecclesiastical Latin, meaing "rejoice". English folkies Steeleye Span had a top 20 hit with this in 1973 - a very strange song to hear in amidst the glam-rock. This acapella version is from Steeleye's 30th anniversary reunion concert.   



* 13 Solstice Bells - Jethro Tull 


Great bit of '70s Proggified Christmas tunage from Jethro Tull.





* 12 Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight No More) - The Ramones 


Lovely blast of Christmas cheer from the lads. 


* 11 - Father Christmas - The Kinks 

"When I was small I believed in Santa Claus - Though I knew it was my dad.."

Another rocker of a Christmas song - great for Parties - a classic from the Kinks. 


* 10 - Frosty The Snowman - The Cocteau Twins 

'80s Indie heroes The Cocteau Twins did a jangly version of this classic back in the '80s - with a b-side version of Winter Wonderland. Vocalist Elizabeth Fraser and guitarist Robin Guthrie came up with a slightly woozy but very sincere take on this classic. 



* 9 Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses 

Another '80s indie-classic - from early '80s Akron, Ohio New Wavers The Waitresses (best known for I Know What Boys Like) - any Christmas song that starts with "Bah Humbug" has got the right Christmas Spirit - but the lyrics capture a kind of love-hate relationship with the festive season - and the brass bits are gorgeous. One of my all-time faves, 


* 8 A Christmas Duel - The Hives And Cyndi Lauper 

Again - a great opening line to this sort of indie-rock take on the spirit (at least) of Fairy Tale of New York; "I got no gifts this year - and I slept with your sister". 

What follows is a rowdy, very Phil Spector/Motown Christmas song - lovely stuff. A real Midnight In The Pub Christmas Eve sing-along. 


* 7 Back Door Santa - Clarence Carter

He's a bluesy, back door Santa - he makes his runs about the break of day - Ho, Ho, Ho. Smutty Santa - he don't come but once a year. One for the office party


* 6 Santa Claus Is Ska-ing To Town - The Granville Williams Orchestra

A very rock-steady take on the old fave, with Granville Williams doing the honours - check out the great Trojan Christmas Box-Set for a whole load of Ska/Reggae etc Christmas Songs. Including Yellow Man's Santa Claus Never Comes To The Ghetto and Johnny Clarke's great version of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. 


* 5 Troika - from Lieutenant Kiije - Prokofiev 


This VERY Christmassy song was actually written by Prokofiev for a 1934 Soviet Propaganda movie  about a soldier - go figure. I love it. 



* 4 - I Believe In Father Christmas - Greg Lake 


A lovely Christmas song from '70s Progster Greg Lake - this is a song with a message, but pretty subtle. It was also once chosen by the Archbishop of Canterbury as his fave Christmas Song, thanks to what he thought was its very Christian Message. And he should know, in fairness. 



* 3 The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York 


C'mon! I'm hardly going to leave it out?! It's just about perfect. 

* 2 Christmas In Hollis - Run DMC 

This is just a bit of a nostalgia trip - remember hearing this a LOT the year it came out and Run DMC were very, very cool. 




* 1 2,000 Miles - The Pretenders 

If Santa put a gun to my head - this would be the one Christmas song I would choose as my favourite, a beautiful pop Christmas Carol, dedicated to (and about) a band-mate who had died way to young. It's got everything about Christmas, family, yearning, nostalgia, the bitter-sweet thing. It's just perfect. 



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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

No Gods, No Masters - The Remarkable Margaret Sanger

* If you follow US politics, you might have heard of Planned Parenthood – the nationwide women’s health agency that is now under huge attack by the Republican Party, militant pro-life activists, Fox News, the Christian Right and assorted other wingnuts.
What you may not know is that Planned Parenthood can trace it’s lineage back to a remarkable Irish-American woman, a suffragette and early advocate for women’s health rights and family planning.
She was the redoubtable Margaret Sanger, the daughter of two Irish emigrants. Her father Michael Hennessey Higgins, left Ireland as a child, served as a drummer-boy in the Union Army fighting the Civil War at 15 and grew up to be a radical free-thinker, socialist and “Walk Away” Catholic.
She was born Margaret Hennessy Higgins. And 99 years ago, on October 25th, 1916, she was arrested for operating a birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York (America’s first). Convicted and sent to jail for a month, she was totally unrepentant and went on to devote the rest of her life to women’s health. 
Today - at least two candidates for the US Presidency have added their names to a letter - signed by 25 Republican Party law-makers - calling for a bust of this great woman to be removed from America's National Portrait Gallery's "Struggle for Justice" exhibit. 
They make spurious, nasty claims that she was a racist and a "baby murderer". What they really hate about Margaret Sanger is that she stood up against ignorance and religious dogma, to fight for the rights of poor women. 
Sanger's legacy has come under attack from the extremists who want to deny women birth control and access to affordable health care today - that's right, in the year 2015.

The men (and they are all men) who want to destroy her name and erase her legacy today are the direct descendants of those politicians and law-makers who put Margaret in prison in 1916, to silence her, to intimidate her, to punish her for daring to stand up for the health rights of ordinary women.

The woman born Margaret Hennessey Higgins refused to be silenced back then, those who honour her work and her life should show the same strength today. 
* Born in 1879 in New York, Margaret was one of 11 surviving children to her Irish catholic parents (both had fled to North America as children during the Great Famine). Her mother underwent 22 pregnancies and died (a devout catholic) aged 49. 
Sanger's Father - Irish-born Michael Hennessey Higgins
Her father Michael was a remarkable man, a boy-soldier with the Union Army in the Civil War, he had tried to become a doctor before having to settle for being a stone-mason (his speciality was angels for fancy tombs). Michael Hennessey rejected the Catholic Church, became a radical, a free-thinker and encouraged his children, including Margaret, to think for themselves, work for social justice and reject dogma and ignorance.
Margaret became a visiting Nurse, working with some of the poorest families on the Lower East Side in New York, in 1911. She also threw herself into radical politics, campaigning for social justice, for voting rights for women and for access to health care. 
It was whilst working amongst the poor that she came across cases of women who were facing severe health problems due to multiple births, and also women who died because of back-street abortions. 
Margaret had already, in 1914, launched a regular newsletter, titled That Women Rebel - No Gods, No Masters - promoting birth control and women's rights.
She wanted to provide information for women - but also to provoke a challenge to the federal anti-obscenity law that banned any promotion or mention of contraception. 
In her work day life as a nurse, it was after one particularly harrowing case in 1915 that she resolved to import contraceptives from France and distribute them through the first family planning clinic in the US. She set it up in 1916 and was arrested after a month. A book she published on the issue of family planning was also banned and led to another prosecution. 
Sanger had witnessed a young women she knew personally die from the affects of an attempted self-induced abortion. 
Later on, she wrote of that night; "I threw my nursing bag in the corner and announced ... that I would never take another case until I had made it possible for working women in America to have the knowledge to control birth".
A few years earlier, she had written a series of extremely frank and informative sex columns for a popular left-wing magazine, titled "What Every Woman Should Know". 
Sanger (she had married and had kids herself several years earlier) refused to be silenced, refused to be barred from what she saw as her life's work. 
She did dabble in the fashionable (at the time) theories of population control and the quack science of Eugenics, the belief (then very widespread in intellectual and scientific circles) that you could "breed" superior human beings through selection based on race, IQ, physical characteristics etc. This is the stick that is now being used to attack her legacy, the implication being that Sanger wanted mass sterilisation and the elimination of "inferior" races.

Eugenics - viewed from a modern perspective - is gruesome, quack science. It was widely championed at the time by scientists, politicians, intellectuals (GB Shaw was a big proponent) and even religious leaders such as the Catholic Archbishop of New York, Irishman Patrick J Hayes, who hosted an international conference on Eugenics in NY in 1921. But it was used by Hitler and the Nazis to justify the mass sterilisation or euthanasia of people they considered sub-humans,

Everything that we know about Margaret Sanger - her humanity, her devotion to the health and well-being of all women, her promotion of science and knowledge, her rejection of crushing dogma and the many hypocrisies and shibboleths which were designed to keep women ignorant and powerless, tell us her belief in Eugenics was, at worst, as mistaken and misguided with her as it was with the many other prominent figures who briefly embraced its dubious promise.  
Sanger lived a very long life, worked with trade unions, on worker's rights, on social justice, on health provision for the poor and for the rights of women. 
She was instrumental in changing laws, in changing attitudes and changing the lives of millions of women for the better, whether that was in getting the right to vote or opening the way towards affordable, available contraception. 
Her life was far, far too long and eventful to go into here, but there is much to read online. 
Margaret Sanger was by any measure a remarkable woman. If anybody deserves to be remembered in their country's National Portrait Gallery, especially in a section titled "The Struggle For Justice", it is her.
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