Tag Archives: University Observer

Like A Bird

Like A Bird

Wallis Bird discusses condoms, coke and travelling, and reassures Sally Hayden that she’s not ALWAYS happy.

Wallis Bird is hyper. “Too much coke”, she declares. “Coca cola that is!”

This Meath-born Wexford-bred ball of energy has just turned thirty. A modern-day nomad, she is permanently in flight. Her wandering lifestyle is reminiscent of Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air, encased in the paradox that change can be similarity. “I think the constant thing is that you always keep moving, that’s the only thing that has really been solid in my life since I was a child.” Bird is just back from Holland, a “really cool country, very open-minded system and beautiful landscape”, flying in to support Rodrigo y Gabriela in the UK before coming over to Ireland.

Though she mentions a home she seems, somewhat admirably, to lack the standard human feelings of attachment. “It’s kind of part of the game to be on the road really… It’s kind of incredible to be able to get out of a train or get out of a bus in a different country every day, in a different town, different currency, different language, you know it’s incredible. Travelling around, seeing all of this different culture, yeah I mean, what’s not to love?”

But at least she has an entourage. “Ah yeah, I have my person who lifts me up stairs and who drinks my tea and makes sure it’s stirred! No, I think it’s just us the band, and a tour manager. Entourage, like people hang around that make us look cool? No. We always pick up a few people along the way, but it’s not really an entourage. We just kind of hang around, do our own thing, play the gigs, meet people after the show, party and go on to the next one. I suppose it’s a temporary entourage all the time, yes.”

Signing with Island Records six years ago brought her to London, for better and for worse. “The scene is excellent, it’s kind of the epicentre of the music business as such, but that doesn’t mean that it’s anywhere better than anywhere else, I prefer jamming at house parties as opposed to big serious gigs or going around and networking, all of that shite that comes with London.”

Three albums down, she describes her music as “the basic rhythms of a nation”; a genre-neutral nation that is. “I would describe it as a healthy mixture of many, many different styles ranging from rock to jazz to reggae even. It’s, oh fuck, you explain it for me, you’re better, you’re the journalist. It’s very style-blind.”

Musicians overcoming adversity seems to be par on course with the emphasis on today’s X-factor sob-stories, but Bird is an authentic example. At just 16 months old she was in a lawnmower accident, which led to five of her fingers being chopped off. Four were sewn back on, and as a result the originally-left handed songstress plays a right-handed guitar upside-down. “Because I wasn’t allowed to do it after the accident, you know you have to rest your hand. That made me want to do everything double the amount more… It shaped me as a person, definitely. I work harder at a lot of stuff based on the fact that I grew up just wanting to prove people wrong.”

She’s also one of a rare breed of musicians that will unashamedly reference their ego. “Mostly my success is quite simplified down to just wanting to just play music for the rest of my life and live my life by that. That would be the only success that I wish really to have, but you know because of my ego I like to have that massaged every now and again, so I suppose I’m probably like most musicians in that way.”

Bird’s glee radiates from her music and her voice. It is infectious and undeniable. If there’s a secret to eternal happiness, Otwo believes she’s the keeper. “I do of course have a lot of sadness and elements of deep-rooted depression, I think everybody does, to be able to allow myself to get down and low, but I tend to work myself out of it, and I think the positivity is just the allowing to allow myself to feel any way that I want to feel, and I think that’s where I get my energy to be positive.”

Her life advice to students is to let loose, get practical experience and “always have condoms. Yes, always have condoms, that’s handy.”

And with such a pun-friendly moniker, Otwo asks her can she bear the the inevitable associated quips. “Do you know what, out of all the interviews that I’ve had there haven’t been as many as I thought there would be. I think people might have found that a little bit too lazy or something. But no, it’s cute. Like a lot of people call me Birdy Bird. I’m sure for the release of the record there might be quite a few ‘this bird will fly’ or something to that effect.”

“Birds tend to sing to themselves and enjoy their own life, don’t they, and share it with us a little bit. That’s alright.”

Originally published in the University Observer in March 2012

Hunger for Knowledge

Sally Hayden asks whether recent revelations about the 1981 hunger strikes warrant a new investigation into what really happened.

Six years ago I was unlucky enough to get caught in the Dublin riots, a backlash to the scheduled Love Ulster march. At the time I also volunteered in Oxfam. Every Friday at four o’clock a friendly young man would come in and donate part of his paycheque to the charity. The 25th February 2006 saw this same man in the midst of the fighting, throwing bricks and smashing windows. I realised then how deeply anger can lie, and how utterly it can engulf one.

2011 may have brought us the Queen, donned in emerald and proving genuinely adorable all around, but its closing days also brought new revelations about the historical relationship between Ireland and our nearest neighbours.

On the 1st March 1981 using a scrap of toilet paper as his manuscript, Bobby Sands wrote; “I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul.” Sixty-six days later he died, causing a surge in IRA activity and an escalation of extremist attitudes and violence on both sides. He was only the first of the hunger strikers to succumb to starvation. Ten political prisoners ultimately lost their lives.

The strikes were a reaction to the loss of political status for paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland, abolished during the policy of “criminalisation” by the British Government in 1976. This meant that the republicans were treated like normal convicts, having to wear uniforms and do prison work, among other differences. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher later stood by this decision, stating that to grant them special status would be “tantamount to saying that they had a licence to kill for political reasons”.

Secret British files just released by the National Archives in Kew dealing with the 1981 hunger strikes reveal that secret discussions between Downing Street and the Provisional IRA leadership occurred during the weekend before the death of Joe McDonnell, the fifth protestor to die. The documents contain details of eight phone calls between an MI6 officer and a Mr Brendan Duddy, and suggest that the Thatcher government were willing to make concessions provided the strike was called off first.

This is notable because of Thatcher’s insistence that she would not negotiate with the republicans, tied to the denial to recognise them as political actors. The projected hard-line British position was for a myriad of reasons, including worries about angering Unionists, controlling international opinion, and fuelling more press. “Better to let them fade into obscurity”, said one Conservative MP, John Farr, but due to the staggered nature of the strikes and deaths this was becoming increasingly impossible.

International attention, both sympathetic and critical, was turning on Northern Ireland and the Thatcher government’s way of dealing with the situation. The Hong Kong Standard said it was “sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe’s religious wars”. In Oslo demonstrators threw a balloon filled with tomato sauce at the visiting Queen Elizabeth. Iran sent an ambassador to Sand’s funeral.

Among the refused proposals coming from the IRA prisoners was that senior republican Martin McGuinness be allowed in to visit them. However the documents show that the more extreme yet “unpalatable” idea of complete withdrawal from Northern Ireland was considered by the British government.

That the Prime Minister was directly involved in talks is now certain. One statement sent to the IRA was altered in her own hand. The alleged concessions are not unlike those that were ultimately accepted months later when consultations with the strikers’ families led to the hunger strike being called off on October 3rd, seven months after it had begun.

The aftermath of the peace process led to bitter debates on where blame lay at specific times during the Troubles. Accusations that the strike was deliberately prolonged by the IRA leadership and that the prisoners were not in complete control of their fates have been made, and possibly substantiated to an extent. Others say that the British were attempting to stop the strikes by controlling who the hunger strikers were permitted to see, the suggestion of which was also evidenced by a released letter from Humphrey Atkins, the Secretary of State for the North.

Could things have been done differently? Probably. Are we mature enough to deal with what may emerge from an investigation? I don’t know. With conflicts like the Troubles idealistic intentions precede evil actions on both sides, and few emerge innocent. Though anger remains dormant in many, the Queen’s visit was noticeable for the tolerance displayed, and a willingness on both sides to begin the long process of moving on. If blame cannot be determined, we must not dwell on the idea of finding it. Let us not forget to learn from the past. But let us also remember that the past can’t be changed like the future can.

What’s on in the National Gallery?

Sally Hayden discovers where nature and light hide in January

With the Christmas trees abandoned, work resuming, a money spending hangover and the nights still enveloping the days, you’d be forgiven for believing January to be the most depressing month of the year. It is fitting, so, that the National Gallery of Ireland’s annual Turner exhibition is entitled ‘A Light in the Darkness’.

This exhibition is a commemoration of two men; the creator and the collector. Henry Vaughan bequeathed the gallery this watercolour collection in 1900, stipulating in his will that it was only in January that Turner’s works could be displayed, because it was the month when they were least likely to be damaged by the presence of any natural light.

Though electricity has done much to make sunlight completely avoidable since Vaughan’s day, the gallery still honours his last request. Niamh McNally, assistant curator in the NGI states that “it has become something of an occasion in people’s annual calendar to come and see the Turner watercolours.” This makes sense. Turner’s works focus on the beauty of nature, which visitors must find uplifting in the darkest days before spring.

Running alongside this is another exhibition, ‘Fables and Fairytales – Illustrations from the Collection’, featuring prints and drawings dating from 1870-1920. This was “a golden period in children’s book illustration”, according to McNally. Goblins, elves, fairies and dragons are all represented, as imagined by John Butler Yeats, Harry Clarke, and Richard and Charles Doyle (Arthur Conan’s brothers) among others, and thus far has “proved extremely popular with the public”.

The ongoing presentation Masterpieces from the Collection, featuring “the cream” of the gallery’s collection, is also on display. This focuses on a selection of European art from the early Renaissance to the twentieth century, which is rotated on a regular basis, and currently includes works by James Barry, William Orpen and Charles Jervas. Also to be seen here is a range of Byzantine and Russian icons dating from the 1390s to the 1550s, which demonstrate an alternative and interesting approach to religious art in the West.

The National Gallery is the ideal January destination. Your wallet won’t mind because entry to all exhibitions is free. Your spirit won’t mind, because inside you can escape the cold and gloom. With the natural world in hibernation embrace the artificial light, and use this time of darkness to admire the works of man.

Further information on exhibitions, free talks and tours can be found on http://www.nationalgallery.ie.

Turner: A Light in the Darkness will run for the month of January

Fables and Fairy Tales – Illustrations from the Collection runs until the 25th March

Colm Tóibín Interview: Tell me something that you are sure is true

Prior to his appearance in UCD, novelist Colm Tóibín talks gay babies, Dana, emigration and Starbucks with Sally Hayden.

It’s not every day you get the chance to chat to one of Britain’s top 300 intellectuals. Apart from the eternal question of Rice Krispies versus Coco Pops, this was Otwo’s first notable thought this morning. Even more notable because this intellectual is most definitely Irish.

Colm Tóibín is rankled about the recent Observer list too, but for a different reason. “I thought 300 was a lot of people, and some of the other people were not very smart at all. If they had said I was one of fifty I would have been happier. They should have ranked us!”

It is twenty-one years since Tóibín wrote The South. His first novel dealt with the topics of immigration and sense of self, themes that are recurring throughout his subsequent works. It is set in Barcelona, where Tóibín himself moved in 1975, immediately after graduating from UCD. A cyclical market and an unprecedented global downturn have ensured that our generation are fleeing the fatherland just as hastily. At the recent Irish Economic Forum Tóibín called this a “tragedy.”

Whilst noting the mind-expanding benefits of spending anything from a year in Sydney to two weeks in Costa da Brava, he points out the serious detriment of the “disaster” of relocation in the longer term. “The entire business of permanent migration, of losing your roots and your relationship to the place you were brought up in, and you suddenly think twenty years later that everyone drinks in the same bar as they did twenty years ago. You think everyone at home is the same age as they were when you left, when in fact they’ve got two kids.

“Your dream of home now doesn’t equal the reality. Your entire relationship to your peer group and your family begins to dissolve and change fundamentally, and you end up a decade later coming home less and less, and having less and less connection to home.”

Upon his return to Ireland after three years he found it backward in every way. “To give you one small example, in 1978, when I came back to Dublin, there was one coffee machine in the entire city.”

Now Dubliners are besieged by the epitome of the American coffee dream itself, in the form of Starbucks and its various competitors. However for Tóibín, modern Ireland is still founding wanting. “I think in most families there’s an absolute innate racism where you learn not to say things, but if your son or daughter came home with somebody from a different race you would be very concerned about that”.

The same applies to sexuality, negative attitudes to which still lie latent, the explicitness of which, according to Tóibín, we’ve learnt to “disguise”. “There’s no overt homophobia in political discourse, or the newspapers, or on radio, but it doesn’t mean that anybody longs to have a gay baby.”

Tóibín’s laugh is as infectious as his books are miserable. During our brief time talking Otwo chuckled, giggled, chortled and guffawed. His latest work is a film script. “I can’t write comedy. This really was a comedy, I swear to you. But I looked at it yesterday and thought ‘we’ll have to get sad music for it now.’”

As a patron and producer of the arts, he is delighted about the recent election of Michael D. Higgins to the Presidency. “He is stylish, he is cultured, he is articulate, and as he said himself, being old was not a secret he was keeping. So [I’m] very pleased with the result, I think he’s a most civilised human being. Perhaps more civilised than most of the people who elected him.”

Having said that, he did wonder if these voters deserved Dana instead. “I think it was a good idea to accuse Martin McGuinness of something, but it was hard to think up of the others. Dana had American nationality, who cares? Mary Davis was on some state board. Yeah, well, I’m on the Arts Council, I was appointed by Fianna Fáil. They needed someone competent, they appointed me. She didn’t defend herself enough by saying ‘would you shut up’.”

Sensing a prime chance to shape the political future of Ireland, Otwo slyly suggests President Tóibín for 2018. “You think I would tour around the country telling everyone that I thought I had qualities that were presidential? I think self-deprecation is actually fundamental to citizenship. I would hate the National Ploughing Championships. I would hate getting into wellies!”

Three times a Booker Prize potential, Tóibín also has no interest in the “theatre of cruelty” that are awards ceremonies. “I actually knew Anthony Burgess, and he wouldn’t go to the Booker ceremony unless he was sure he had won. It was that year that his wonderful novel Earthly Powers was beaten by some novel by William Golding, and Burgess just said ‘why does anyone think I’m just going to go and travel all the way over from Monaco and sit there and not win?’”

Though never previously renowned as a breeding grounds for British intellectuals, with the year of the Queen, the times they are a-changing. “UCD is a great place. I kneel down every morning and thank God I didn’t go to Trinity.”

Otwo tells Tóibín to not give up on the comedy.

Colm Tóibín will speak to UCD’s English and Literary Society on Wednesday 23rd November in Theatre O (Newman Building) at 6:30pm

Helping Others Help Yourself

Published on 1st November by the University Observer.


With a growing number of organisations offering students the chance to do volunteer work overseas, Sally Hayden examines who really benefits from these initiatives

At some stage even the most hardhearted amongst us feel the urge to better the world we live in. While societies such as St. Vincent de Paul offer opportunities to volunteer in Dublin on a regular basis, more and more students are being drawn to bringing their goodwill overseas. Sun, sea and service can appear to be a winning combination for an alternative summer.

Each year droves of unskilled idealistic students head from the West to the developing world for between two weeks and two months. Tour operators have recognised growing demand for the feel-good factor, and ‘voluntourism’ trips, combining sightseeing with charity work, are becoming much more prevalent. Cynics call it ‘poverty tourism’. Building houses or teaching in orphanages can certainly feel very rewarding, but is such a short period of time long enough to make this much revered ‘difference’, or are we simply adding to existing problems?

UCD Volunteer Overseas’ (UCDVO) auditor Sinead Hughes recognises that there are positives and negatives to having such a limited time abroad. “I think short-term volunteering is more intense. You get a lot more done in a short time, I think if you were there for longer it would be more relaxed so in that way it’s good to go out and be efficient with your time,” she says. “But then I guess if it’s a case where you’re going into a country for four weeks and then not coming back then it has negative effects on the whole community, but with VO, I think the way we’re coming back year after year has a positive aspect.”

After working in a centre for children in Delhi the summer before last, third year medical student Rachel Rynne-Lyons admits she did consider whether it was unreasonable to become close to the children when she was only going to leave them again. “I thought, ‘was it fair?’ But I think a lot of the places that VO sends people to have a continuous system of volunteers and they’re used to it, and it’s really exciting for them because they get to meet new people, and new things to teach. We’re such a different culture and I think we try to be really caring with kids, I think it’s just natural instinct, to girls especially, and then to become really close to the kids and then leave isn’t fair but I think it’s good for both of us to have, to make a connection even if it’s just for a month. You see that they do have someone all the time. And also the kids are really clever and as much as you think that you’ve made them fall in love with you they’re very smart kids and they kind of know how to win everybody over, they’re really cute.”

During the course of their studies at UCD approximately twenty-five per cent of students undertake a course in some area of development, a statistic that demonstrates a legitimate and commendable interest in the field. However, Dr Patrick Walsh of the UCD Development Studies Department sees volunteering overseas as an extension of this education, more of a benefit to the student who embarks on it than to the locals that are their target.

“I think it is what it is, to give relatively privileged students in Ireland the chance to see firsthand the conditions people have to live. It’s an important thing for people to see. When we’re giving money to students to do that I think we understand that this is for the development of the UCD student,” Dr. Walsh explains. “It’s not just about having an impact in Africa; it’s also about the education of the UCD student to have a more global mind. You could have views on a person’s trade and whether aid works in a big macro sense but this is not about that, this is just about UCD students broadening their horizons. I think you’re looking at a different return to the money.”

Foreign aid has arguably caused more harm than good in many regions when benefactors fail to properly research the local economy and examine the potential knock-on effects of their efforts. There are arguments with a sound basis that suggest that free volunteer work can lead to local unemployment, or free food to an exaggerated inflation of local farmer’s prices, and thus result in far-reaching negative impacts for the local community. Dr Walsh also notes that aid volunteers are setting the required spending, rather than letting locals or a government do it themselves. “You’re enforcing a curriculum, a kind of value setting in the way you do things.”

Dr Walsh believes that if small projects are undertaken and tackled effectively, these can be far more useful than trying to surmount grand tasks. “Obviously the volunteer work is very community based, it can be very so-so, but they’ve done clever things. [UCDVO] brought second-hand computers, they fixed them, they’ve shipped them into Tanzania, and they brought them up to Eritrea. They have the skills. These are probably relatively small projects but they do them very effectively.”

Dr Walsh says that avoiding negative consequences can be best done by keeping your aims measurable and targeting those who need it most. “In general, if you go to an area [that] is the poorest of the poor, they genuinely have nothing. Nobody’s coming to build the road, nobody’s coming to fix the hospital. It’s more about going inside a community where you do this little job. It’s like going to an old person’s home, and you fix the shower or you fix the gate for them. It was not going to be done by someone else. And I think once the project is careful that you’re not displacing people, that you’re doing something that was otherwise not going to be done then I think it’s ok. [With] any development project, or any intervention, you should be very careful that you’re not causing unintended bad outcomes. You should test yourself against these kinds of questions.”

Auditor of the UCD World Aid Society, James Mac Mahon reiterates the need to take care when picking your project and says “you can’t blame someone for being optimistic and wanting to help, but people need to know where they can apply themselves and where they are needed”. The World Aid Society is a well-known supporter of fair trade, and are also currently in the foundation stages of their own alternative travelling scheme, an exchange option with Africa. Aeshi University in Ghana encourages African graduates to remain in Africa, an anti-brain drain that is vital for sustainable development. “It’s encouraging Africa from the inside and promoting things like the middle class, and working it up, helping establish companies and businesses.” Bringing their students to UCD for a term could be very empowering, giving them experiences and skills that they could use later to enhance their own region, whilst UCD students attending Aeshi could likewise learn a great deal from their African counterparts.

Changing attitudes and enhanced understanding are essential for global interaction and sustainable development. Hughes points out that in the long term a student can be suitably moved to dedicate further time, or even their profession, to improving the areas they’ve witnessed. “There are so many of our past volunteers who have focused their career on it, which greatly benefits that country. That’s really positive. And as well sending the money across could create a dependency that you don’t want to create in the country. If you just feed money into them, when you stop what happens then?”

UCDVO holds information evenings annually, encouraging applications and holding interviews to guarantee they have the best teams possible. Eagerness, diversity and skills are all components that can secure you a place on a future project. As Hughes says, “Things like enthusiasm, people who can work on their own initiative. Obviously people who have done construction or teaching before would be a benefit, or if they’ve got languages, exposure to working in hard conditions. But I think the main thing is to get a diverse group from different schools and characters.”

Finding the money necessary to fund a student’s time abroad is another issue with temporary volunteerism. A lot of providers will often charge inflated prices, with no encouragement or suggestions to aid potential volunteers. However, with UCDVO there is a lot of support in place. “They have to raise €2,500 and there’s the student committee that provides support for them so I think it’s daunting at the start, but once you get going it’s fine. People do bag packs, we have Rás UCD, we did the Wicklow 200 cycle and got sponsorship for that, so there are a lot of generic events that they can latch onto, and then they can do their own things as well so it’s very doable. Most people reach beyond their targets.”

Most volunteers recount a similar tale of gaining a new insight and understanding of the plight of others. Rynne-Lyons’ experience taught her to focus on a more global picture. “It sounds a bit ridiculous but you become more realistic about things you would have usually worried about when you come home. It puts things into perspective a little bit more.” This sentiment is echoed by Hughes. “I think on a personal level it teaches you a lot about yourself. How to deal in situations that push you outside your boundaries, and you appreciate everything once you come home.”

Though it is noble and commendable to want to change the world you live in, opportunities to volunteer abroad should always be tested for unintentional harms. Sustainable projects that operate on a manageable scale without displacing locals should be focused on, and volunteers should always be aware of keeping their agenda in line with what is best for the locality. Meanwhile a willingness to learn as much as you teach will ensure that you gain the best personal return on your investment, and realise that the difference you aim to champion will be as much to do with yourself as with anyone else.

Forever Loose: Republic of Loose Interview x2

Published on the 4th October 2011 by the University Observer

2001 was the year that changed global politics forever; the first cloned monkey was born, George Harrison died, Ireland didn’t win the Eurovision and (luckily for the compilation of this sort of unsystematic list) Wikipedia was launched on the internet. It was also the year that “a huge metaphysical overturning” of Mick Pyro’s value system provided the catalyst for a young troop of fortune hunters to become united with the aim of creating beautiful, funky music.

Ten years later and Republic of Loose are still very much together. Bono has called them “trailblazing sophisticated soul bootboys”, and Gary Lightbody, “the best band in the country.” Sinead O’Connor asked could she abandon her solo career to become a member, and Irvine Welsh said ‘Comeback Girl’ was “one of the greatest songs ever recorded”. With four albums and fifteen singles behind them, their fervour shows no sign of abating. However, it would be easy to see why, perhaps, a decade without properly progressing beyond the Irish market might create some level of despondency amongst the band.

“The hustle never stops”, as Benjamin Loose puts it to Otwo. “I think we’re going to release ‘Comeback Girl’ in the States in November and we’re looking to release another single around February and then to go over around Paddy’s Day and tour the east coast.” In addition to these plans, they’re soon creating a compilation album, to be available worldwide online and physically in France and Germany, along with recording several new songs in Ireland with the aim of releasing another single here in October.

Grand designs aside, the band are also currently promoting their involvement in the First Fortnight Student Tour, which has been organised by First Fortnight, a non-profit charity aiming to challenge mental health prejudice and discrimination through the arts. Loose doesn’t claim that the band are in any way experts in the area of mental health, but emphasises that their support for the cause is sincere.

“Well it was an exciting idea to play a bunch of colleges in a short period of time. And it is a good cause, so it’s something to be involved with. It’s not something that we know a whole lot about but it’s a crazy world we live in so anything that wants to give help to people or give solace to people has got to be a good thing.”

Their gig at the Student Bar next week marks a regular return for the lead singer to his alma mater. “Mick and one of our guitar players both went to UCD for years. Mick did a Masters in Renaissance Literature and, I think, English and Spanish”. Loose, however, studied theology in Trinity. “I try not to mention that too much.”

With competing ideas, growing egos and close quarters, many musicians fail to find the perfect working relationship within their bands, leading to tumultuous public break-ups that can put Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston to shame. “We hate each other,” Loose laughs. “I’m only kidding, we’re pretty tight. It’s kind of like a family. You get so used to each other that you don’t even need to do the usual things that friends usually do, you know each other that well.”

Loose also admits that the State of Loose isn’t always a democratic republic but then again,  democracy isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. “We know when someone’s got a vision for something, whether it’s a song, or a gig, or an idea for a link in a live set. Sometimes democracies don’t work. Sometimes you need visions and sometimes visions can’t be compromised and can’t accommodate another opinion. I remember reading an interview with your man from Bell X1 saying that their band is very democratic and as a result he feels that an idea can be compromised. Sometimes things need to be unadulterated and seen through to their bloody end whether for good or for bad.”

Internal politics notwithstanding, is there life outside of funk-rock for this musician? “If I wasn’t making music, I’d be in trouble,” Loose declares emphatically. And Otwo has to agree; if you have someone to listen, there are certainly worse ways to spend ten years than playing in a band, whether your location be Belfield, Paris or Miami.

Wherever the next decade takes them (Loose thinks a duet with Cee Lo Green would be cool), Mick, Ben and their confusingly assorted associates will always be counted among our own, but hopefully they’ll have more of a chance to escape their poor meteorological luck once they’re abroad. “Usually when we play outdoors it rains, it’s the ‘Curse of the Loose’. It’s happened to us in every country.” Sounds more like the curse of the Irish to Otwo.

Republic of Loose play the Student Bar on October 10th as part of the First Fortnight Student Tour, which aims to challenge mental health prejudice and discrimination. For more information see Firstfortnight.com

Don’t Mention the War

Published on the 13th April 2010 by the University Observer

The recent exit of George Lee from Dáil Eireann sparked huge amounts of commentary from irate politicians about his lack of stamina, apparent arrogance and inflated sense of self-worth. It also ought to have raised additional debate, however, on the role our politicians play, why we elect them and their duty to us as their constituents.

Lee’s departure has begged the question of what personal qualities one needs to be a politician. Must one have a natural popularity, charisma and baby-kissing charm? Is it an ability to smile and answer hazily in the face of thorny questions? Or is it the association with a political party which identifies itself by its original side in the Civil War? The skills that cause one to be elected are not necessarily the skills that are vital to run a country effectively, and therein lies some of the issues that Ireland currently being forced to recognise, given the situation in which we now find ourselves.

Before we ridicule the cries to position Michael O’Leary as Taoiseach, and revitalise the Irish economy to the extent that bathrooms nationwide have a PAYG (pay-as-you-go) tax on their usage, we must admit that there is an argument to be made for leadership experience, independent of the political party or the Oireachtas. A recent Eurobarometer poll showed that the Irish have the fifth-lowest level of public trust in their political institutions of the 27 European countries surveyed. Currently Cowen and company are spending €1m per hour more than is being earned through taxes. The Irish citizens’ new attainment of a depraved bank and two building societies – along with further stakes and  €81 billion of property loans through Nama – is costing four times what the UN estimates to be the total cost of rebuilding Haiti

Looking at a government where ministerial positions can be awarded to candidates without background or interest in their appointed departments, it is easy to see how areas like health and education are suffering. Observing a situation where the government’s head honcho earns the fourth highest salary in the world for a government leader – all while preaching frugality and cutbacks – we see a palpable demonstration of a clear disconnection from the voters and citizens of Ireland. We have suffered from the deficit of democracy: that what wins elections is not what runs a country.

To install a minimum requirement of workplace experience – say, ten years – would mean that ideally politics would become less about a lucrative power-wielding career path, and more about a desire to change the world one lives in. To pay ten years of taxes would be to understand the wish that your tax actually gets used for something constructive. In the judiciary, one must have ten years of legal practice behind them to qualify for a post – merely to facilitate an ability to be fair and rational and make good, connected decisions. To run a country, where judgements are being issued to govern all aspects of life, surely this connection is all the more important. Surely ambassadors with experience of all facets of living are vital, rather than just the expertise of politics.

But is a lack of experience the only concern? There is a blatant shortfall when elected TDs like George Lee fail to have their expertise and knowledge harnessed by a government in crisis, and instead are criticised for failing to play the political game – a game which seems to involve sitting pretty while waiting your turn. The Dáil has long been an assembly point for certain professions; barristers, teachers, and at one stage an auctioneer.

When catastrophe calls, it’s up to the people in a democracy to make a change. It’s the citizens’ job to demand experience from politicians, and it would be in the citizens’ power to call a constitutional referendum to limit the salaries of TDs, so as to attract candidates with an interest in the issues at play rather than the money to play for. Those who can make a difference should be encouraged to try, and the government should be inviting ideas from not only their followers, but the opposition, who by their very nature are supposed to object to what is going on.

The Irish political system is failing, and it is failing because our two main parties have essentially identical aims and goals. Instead of the standard split on outlook of issues (normally left and right-wing), they’re split only because of a disagreement that happened ninety years ago. The Irish people need to start judging by experience and results, and remembering that political promises are empty, and regardless of party, all we can be sure of is what has already individually been achieved.

You Can Make Sound

Published on 30th March 2010 by the University Observer

Whether you love them, loathe them or remain wholly indifferent to them, you’ve probably seen them play live. otwo spoke to Delorentos guitarist Kieran McGuinness just before the European release of the band’s second album, You Can Make Sound.

The forthcoming promo tour of Europe is a mammoth cry from the band’s position a year ago. “It wasn’t that we almost broke up,” McGuinness explains, “it was more that we felt we couldn’t go on the way we were going. We pushed ourselves very hard and we were getting a bit careless with looking after each other. The first year we got tons of amazing reviews and played tons of amazing gigs and all, but we kind of expected it, we didn’t sit back and enjoy it, but now we’re able to sit back and go, this is what we want, this is great.”

Their regular association with the UCD Student Bar also holds related recollections. “The first gig after we decided not to break up was there last year, and we announced on the stage that we weren’t going to, and everyone went a bit crazy. It was great! Whenever we play UCD we go down, get a doughnut and have a cup of coffee before we go on. One of our first brushes with A&R came at UCD too – we ended up getting to record our first release through that, so the student bar always holds good memories for us.”

otwo asks whether McGuinness usually enjoys relative anonymity when he goes out or whether he’s besieged by hoards of screaming girls. “Sometimes I get recognised on the street. There was a time I was in a rough part of town and some guy came up behind me and punched me in the back of the head, completely floored me, then walked away. So I was lying there and another guy walked up and asked if I was OK, and then he was like, ‘Oh my God! It’s the guy from Delorentos!’ He was looking at me like he wanted me to sign something and I was there lying on the ground…”

Exceptionally modest about the band’s success so far, Kieran can’t see anything else he could possibly be spending his time on. “I would always be doing music. I mightn’t be in this band, or I might be playing a different instrument but I’d still be doing music. Music is what I was always supposed to be doing.

“The most important thing to do is write and play songs, and if you’re good at that, get gigs,” he concludes. “I don’t think there’s any rocket science to it. If you play well and love it, you’ll get better at it and then people will like what you do and come to your gigs.”

Delorentos played the Academy last week.

Causing a Fiasco

Published on the 30th March 2010 by the University Observer

Northern Irish three-piece General Fiasco prove that appearances are deceptive. Though you would be forgiven for thinking they were barely out of school, this band have been there and bought the t-shirt on the music scene. Brothers Owen and Enda Strathern and Shane Davey have been supporting themselves through music for the last 18 months, and have no plans of ceasing any time soon.

otwo meets Owen in the Odessa Club off George’s Street. The exclusive members-only establishment is a good indication of how far the band has come, and Owen tells me of the change that has happened.

“Back at the start when we first went on tour, we didn’t have any money so we had to sleep in a van; the clubs we were playing were so small that they had no showers so we’d go to a swimming pool before we played the gigs, have a swim and get a shower and stuff. But it’s all part of the experience – going from sleeping in a van to sneaking five people into a hotel room and gradually getting a few more rooms and a bit more comfort.”

Their debut album Buildings was released last week. “The album’s something we’ve been working on for quite a while now. We recorded it gradually, we were touring for about a year and a half and we sort of recorded whenever we were home between tours, so it’s just something that happened naturally. It’s some songs we wrote a few years ago and some songs we wrote a few months ago. We didn’t just get a record deal and then write a whole new album, some of the songs that people first got excited about are still there so hopefully people will still like them.”

Owen also has a novel take on the alcohol and revelry-laden teen years many inhabit. “Sitting in Belfast losing days and partying and stuff, it was just something to write about. Not being content with what we were doing, you sort of feel like you’re treading water, doing nothing and being aware that you yourself are slipping into the same thing as your friends are,” he supposes. “It was just something we experienced, something that everybody does no doubt about it. Getting a routine, going out and partying you sort of lose sight of the things that are important.”

Though Owen admits he finds being recognised awkward, the impression made when playing is essential to achieve. “People only get to make their first impression once so make sure when you get out and start playing to people that you’re the best band that you possibly can be. You’ve gotta be great before you do anything.”

General Fiasco’s album Buildings is out now

Up the Scruff?

Published on the 19th January 2010 by the University Observer

You’ll be forgiven if you don’t instantly recognise the recording name that is Mr Scruff, though the likelihood is that you’ll recognise some of the tunes behind the handle. Scruff (known to his mother as Andy Carthy) is a British DJ, artist and tremendous tea enthusiast. Speaking to him the day before he performs a series of gigs in Canada, we talk about music, hot drinks and horribly drunk students.

As a DJ, Scruff is renowned for his extremely lengthy sets, which can often last five or six hours. Scruff humbly downplays his stamina. “I get the energy from the same place all the dancers get the energy. I just stand there putting records on. I’m playing my favourite records on a great sound-system to a load of lovely people, I’m not going to be looking at my watch.”

A former shelf-stacker, Scruff clearly takes great pride in what he does, and expects others to do the same. “The only bad experience I had playing to students was playing a fresher’s ball once in Coventry – a club full of eighteen-year-olds who had probably never drunk before and were licking each other’s faces and getting drunk on alcopops.”

Scruff ensures there is a tea-stall set up at every performance he plays, and I ask him whether this is an anti-booze revolution, but he believes in both in equal measures. “It’s just about giving people an option. Normally if you go into a bar after 7pm they’ll tell you they can’t make you a hot drink, but then they’ll spend ten minutes making you a cocktail. That’s only for mainland Britain though; for overseas gigs I either bring my records or my teabags and I don’t think people would pay to come and watch me drink tea all day.”

Scruff also hails the arrival of the laptop and how accessible it makes music creation for all. “There’s an enormous amount of music being released because it’s so easy to do now. It’s lead to an inordinate amount of bad music but also an incredible amount of good music, there’s just more to wade through.”

Mr Scruff’s music videos and onstage performances are accompanied and characterised by his unique illustrations, usually involving a potato. “I’ve drawn in that exact style for twenty years now. On one level I’m really kind of geeky and trainspottery and nerdy about music so the little potato characters show the other side which is the kind of daft eccentric silly side as well. It’s good to present something which can potentially be very beardstroky.”

These images also help him combat the issue of being commonly recognised. “I think you’re famous when people who have no idea what you do start shouting at you across the street and that definitely doesn’t happen to me, because most people think that I’m a potato, and I’m quite happy with it that way.”