Thursday 17 August 2017

Television: An earnest Christy profile was nothing to sing about

Partial view: Christy Moore: Journey was too indulgent of the singer.
Partial view: Christy Moore: Journey was too indulgent of the singer.

John Boland

The English critic Cyril Connolly once ­remarked that George Orwell "could not blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry".

By the same token, Christy Moore is clearly unable to get up in the morning without feeling righteous indignation about the injustices of the world. Does this make him the Richard Boyd Barrett of the Irish folk scene?

Consider the causes that the Kildare-born singer-songwriter has espoused and sung about, as documented in the two-part Christy Moore: Journey, which RTÉ1 screened on successive nights this week. They include anti-nuclear power stations, hunger strikers, ex-prisoners, Stardust victims, Ann Lovett, anti-Ronald Reagan protests, Dunnes Stores strikers, Nicky Kelly, the Birmingham Six, Concerned Parents Against Drugs, Letterfrack inmates and the victims of clerical sex abuse.

Noble campaigns, most of them, but there's also been his support for the IRA, both in song and in person.

"I began to lend my voice to the Republican movement", Christy said halfway through this profile, "I began to do fundraisers".

Indeed, it was only with the Enniskillen massacre in 1987 that he started to find it "very difficult to accept the legitimacy of hitting innocent people".

Very difficult? Hitting people? Indiscriminate slaughter is how I've always viewed the IRA's murderous campaign, and indeed many of us had been appalled at IRA atrocities long before Moore, at the age of 42, had his road-to-Damascus realisation. And nowhere throughout the two-hour film did he actually disown the IRA - beyond saying of Enniskillen that he "couldn't stomach it" and "no, I can't go here".

In general terms, he conceded that "there's two sides to every argument", though that's not the case with his own agit-prop songs, some of which are passionately persuasive, though others come across as either hectoring or preaching to the converted. Indeed, the humour that lifts some of his best songs wasn't much of a feature in an earnest profile that gave no voice to anyone other than its subject.

I'd have liked, for instance, to hear how he's regarded by his peers, and I was puzzled by the fact that no mention was made of his time with Planxty or Moving Hearts, two bands that were formative to his career. In fact, such was the emphasis on his own material that Jimmy McCarthy and other songwriters who were crucial to his success, and whose songs he performed so beautifully, never got a look-in.

Moore's an articulate man and he had interestingly candid things to say, not least about the decades he spent "slaughtering pints" and "drinking myself into oblivion", but this over-long profile was too indulgent of him and too partial for the viewer's good.

Neither is detached analysis a feature of RTÉ1's obituary series, Cloch le Carn, which this week screened a profile of the late broadcaster and Fine Gael PR guru Bill O'Herlihy.

"A man of immense passion, humour, knowledge and fun" was how Eamon Dunphy recalled him at the outset and the half-hour tribute got no more forensic as it proceeded.

"He understood the media perfectly", said fellow Fine Gael national handler Frank Flannery, who might welcome some good PR himself after his mention in the leaked Panama files, while at the programmer's end, Dunphy assured us O'Herlihy was both "a pleasant man and a curious man". The film itself, though, was as bland as that observation and as uninvolving, too.

Nor did I feel involved in Ireland's Fittest Mum (TV3), the first instalment of a new series that accompanies 35-year-old Malahide single-mother Louise Quinn in her attempt to become WBFF champion in Los Angeles.

That stands for World Beauty Fitness Fashion and from what I could detect, it involves prancing around a stage in a bikini from which large feathers sprout. That probably wouldn't be a good look for me, but Louise has been wearing it so well that last year she came third in the Las Vegas final.

She's also a dab hand at rhetorical questions. "Who on earth doesn't want to be happy?" was one of them. "Who doesn't want to compete in Hollywood?" was another, though the one I liked best was "Who doesn't love a selfie? C'mon!"

A fourth one, which she didn't voice, was: Who'd want to watch this tosh? But good luck to her in her bid to conquer the world.

"That's what dreams are made of", she assured us, and who's to say she's wrong?

Nightmares, though, were the stuff of Abused: The Untold Story (BBC1), a harrowing 90-minute documentary in which a number of Jimmy Savile's victims spoke to camera about their ghastly experiences.

These, according to the voiceover, were the people "who broke their silence and changed a nation", which is more than can be said for the BBC, which harboured this vile man for decades and then shelved a Newsnight programme about his crimes - instead screening two tributes to him in the year of his death.

It doesn't bear thinking about, though the testimonies here were properly terrifying.

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