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Monday 9 December 2019

The Commitments are back but, sadly, they're not the only ones

The Commitments together again. Photo Collins
The Commitments together again. Photo Collins

'The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud."

With these words, Jimmy Rabbitte cemented his place in the pantheon of Irish fictional characters, and Robert Arkins' impassioned delivery in the film version of Roddy Doyle's The Commitments ensured big screen immortality.

Released in 1991, The Commitments became a cultural touchstone -- a pre-boom, pre-Riverdance sensation that charmed a nation, although perhaps not the critics.

It was inevitable as we approach the 20th anniversary of its opening that the principal cast members have announced the reformation of The Commitments, the soul band that lent the film its name.

Be prepared to see a lot of Andrew Strong, Maria Doyle Kennedy and the aforementioned Arkins next year. Be prepared too, for the rather obvious newspaper feature: was the recession of 1991 worse than the one today? By the end of next year, chances are you'll wish you never heard of The Commitments or any of the people in it.

Maybe I should speak for myself. Perhaps it's been a long-held dream of yours to see the collective back in action. But I don't think I'm the only one already sick of all the bluster that surrounded the news they are getting back together once more. In some quarters, the announcement has been greeted with the sort of enthusiasm one might reserve for a reformed Beatles -- with a reincarnated John and George in tow.

My irritation isn't so much to do with The Commitments per se, it's more about the relentless sludge of reformed bands plying their dubious trade right now. Hardly a week goes by without another big name, also-ran or never-were announcing that they are going back on the road for "one more time only".

Usually, their urgent need to tour again has something to do with the fact that their debut album -- which limped to number 19 in the local charts -- is, say, 15 years old or, for the bigger names, the royalty cheques have started to dry up.

I've lost count of the times in recent years that I've been to a concert from a reformed band I used to love and left decidedly underwhelmed. Too often, you can see the joins -- and it's not pretty. Especially if the musicians in question are doing it for money. And more often than not, that's their sole reason for shaking off differences.

Why else would The Eagles -- a band as famous for the fractious relationships of its members as it is for music -- continue to tour so frequently?

In many ways, it was that same band that kick-started the reunion craze. Their 1994 tour was called Hell Freezes Over, a reference to the Don Henley quote of 14 years earlier about the impossibility of the band ever reforming. Every tour they've done since then has offered little more than a nostalgia trip. I don't know anybody who goes to an Eagles show to hear their latest material.

The Sex Pistols are even more tragic. In 1996, it was the turn of Johnny Rotten and friends, on the road again to mark the 20th anniversary of their formation. No doubt, they thought it would be a good idea to display their punk credentials by walking on stage to the sound of Abba's 'Dancing Queen'. But rather than emerge to a chorus of boos, the crowd were dancing and singing along. The set went downhill from there.

When you see a gig that lives up to the billing -- Lloyd Cole and the Commotions' masterful concert at Vicar Street, Dublin, some years ago comes to mind -- even the most cynical of us can be led to believe that future reformed shows will be as special. But that's rarely the case.

Take Blur. I spent most of the 1990s obsessing about their music, but their appearance at Oxegen last year didn't thrill me the way I thought it would.

Sure, there were some fantastic moments, but the whole thing felt contrived -- a vanity exercise to show that frontman Damon Albarn and once-estranged guitarist Graham Coxon were really best buddies after all. The fact that there's been just one oh-so-ordinary new single from them to date and no plans to record further material reinforces my sense of disappointment.

Maybe my frustration was borne out of the fact the band hadn't been apart that long and the huge hype surrounding their reunion would have been better served on a group that really had been torn asunder.

We live in the age of nostalgia, a time where even the very recent past provokes rosy-tinted recollections. A new season of RTE's excellent low-budget series, Reeling in the Years, will focus not on the far-off days of the 1940s or 1950s, but the 2000s, a decade that ended all of 10 months ago.

Any day now, I'm expecting Oasis -- apart for 12 months or so -- to announce that they are going to hit the reunion circuit once more.

There is no doubt that there is a huge nostalgia market to be tapped into and promoters have engaged in pitched battles to sign up the biggest names. Yet, it heartens me to say that for some bands, the prospect of getting back together is to unpalatable to bear, irrespective of the financial inducement.

The world will truly shift on its axis if Morrissey ever decides to re-form the original incarnation of the Smiths and Abba have persistently refused offers of €100m-plus to tour once more. And thank heavens for that -- for me, at 35, they will be forever trapped in aspic, their violent eye shadow and garish outfits summing up an unremembered 1970s.

If only The Commitments would leave well enough alone. After all, we have one recession to deal with, thank you very much!

Irish Independent

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