Friday 9 December 2016

Remembering the Rising, and the fallen

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 12/04/2015 | 02:30

LADY DAY: Billie Holiday was born 100 years ago this week
LADY DAY: Billie Holiday was born 100 years ago this week

Bowman: Sunday: 8.30 is a reminder that the sound of Irish radio was once much more diverse than today's carousel of idle chatter, celebrity gossip, relationship advice and the relentless drone of politics might suggest

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Last Sunday's edition concluded a two-part tribute to Mervyn Wall, described by John Bowman as "a master of the radio talk", as illustrated by a clip from one broadcast in which Wall recalled the older generation bemoaning the encroachment of modern life, including "ill-mannered motor cars" and young ladies who, "freed from the tyranny of long skirts, no longer behaved like young ladies".

Elegant, amused, amusing, with an obvious delight in words, would there be any place for him nowadays?

The History Show on RTE Radio One continued its ongoing quest to make all of us experts on 1916 in advance of next year's centenary, with a programme devoted to the widows of the Rising.

There were some fascinating details, not least James Connolly's wife and daughters hiding their needlework when the Labour leader approached, as the man who publicly supported women's rights felt it was "beneath them" for the women in his own family to do paid work.

Seeing leaders "in their domestic setting as well as the political" adds to our understanding of them, as historian Sinead McCoole, author of a book about the 1916 widows, pointed out.

Also being marked this week was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday. The artist also known as Lady Day was the featured artist on lyric fm's Blue Of The Night, though there was nowhere near as much of her music as might have been hoped. Even Jazz Alley on the same station was a tribute to trumpeter Clark Terry, who died in February at the age of 94.

There'll be no criticism of presenter Donald Helme here, but it did seem an odd choice.

Billie Holiday: Fine And Mellow on BBC Radio 4 redressed the balance with a timely appreciation from saxophonist Andy Sheppard. His contention that "jazz musicians would make great politicians" because they only care about what brings people together, not what drives them apart, was possibly a little optimistic.

As Holiday's biographer recalled, the singer was surrounded her entire life by "thugs" who abused and misused her; jazz, tragically, wasn't enough to protect her.

Harold Bloom was born only 15 years after Holiday, but thankfully the literary critic is still going strong. Monday's Arts Tonight featured a welcome interview with the man himself - even if too much time was spent asking if he'd ever visited Ireland, and so on, rather than discussing his ideas about political correctness, multiculturalism, Shakespeare. It's not all about us.

What really jumped out was Bloom's blunt description of the suicide of poet Hart Crane in his early 30s as "absolutely unforgivable".

It's hard to think of anyone else who'd get away with that choice of words in these over-sensitive times, but plain speaking is always better than platitudes. The airwaves can cope.

Sunday Independent

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