Television Review: The Imelda May Show
The boogie man, the rocket man
It was Imelda May herself who declared that The Imelda May Show is a straight rip-off of the Jools Holland show. This was both brave and intelligent, not least because Jools Holland himself was in the room, playing boogie-woogie, and in all likelihood, he had already spotted a few points of similarity - the beginning, the middle, and the end, for example.
It is, of course, disgraceful in general that TV executives seem incapable of green-lighting anything that has not already been done in exactly the same way somewhere else, but in this case there's nothing wrong with it.
Certainly I am in no position to argue against a Jools Holland type show being made in Ireland, because I have indeed written on the need for such a thing in these pages, which suggests that they are ripping me off too - but there's nothing wrong with that either, or at least, not much.
In the past, I have held up the Jools Holland show as an example of something we have failed remarkably to do in this country, which is somehow to organise the genius of our innumerable musicians in such a way as to get them into a studio to make a half-decent TV programme.
Holland deals in what might broadly be described as roots music, and we have plenty of that too, but perhaps there is something in the nature of our roots music which has resisted Holland-isation. My best guess is that Irish traditional music, while it rightly reveres the musician, can be all about the musician, and not so much about the audience. Whereas Jools, though he presents us with musicians of the highest stature, is acutely aware at all times that he is also putting on a show, and that if so much as one member of the audience feels like a passive observer, a mere respectful witness to a gathering of virtuosos, then he has failed.
What we have perhaps lacked, is that sense of the Jewish tradition whereby there is no contradiction between the making of high art and the selling of it to as many people as possible. That it isn't enough for the players to be having a wonderful time, if the crowd is not also completely involved, and demonstrably so.
And if we have finally done it with The Imelda May Show, even with Jools Holland sitting there showing us how it's done, it is for the best.
This obsession with formats, with making programmes that have already been made, has the obvious drawback that outside of the sport or the news, you are hardly ever really surprised by anything on TV. It is too rigidly controlled to make you stop and stare.
So what about this? I am looking at a documentary about the late motorcycle legend Joey Dunlop, thinking I'll tape it and maybe have a proper look at it another day, when one of the participants, an old friend of Dunlop's, is seen feeding his cat.
He is coming out the back door of his house somewhere in Northern Ireland carrying a bowl of meat to the shed in which the cat is waiting for his dinner. But it is a rather large amount of meat, because it is a rather large cat. It is, in fact, a tiger.
The man, whose name is Sam Graham, takes a piece of meat in his hand and puts it through the bars of the tiger's cosy little shed, holding it there as the tiger nibbles, a vision of domestic contentment.
And the marvellous thing, is not just that this man has a tiger living out the back, but that the narrator makes no reference to the tiger. She just says that Sam Graham was a lifelong friend of Joey's, and was his mechanic for many years.
They are hard men up there, in the North. And the hardest of them all was the magnificent Dunlop, at once a simple lad from Ballymoney and a man of the most blinding sophistication, who would insist on constructing his own bikes part by part, to give him the confidence he needed to ride that machine at about 180 miles an hour down country roads, with no fear.
There is some profound significance in this, a man in a war-ravaged land who had conquered fear. A rocket man.
The Imelda May Show (RTE1)
Joey : The Man Who Conquered The TT (RTE1)