Thursday 17 October 2019

Allez France, allez Lawro et allez la musique

Mark Lawrenson. Pic: BBC
Mark Lawrenson. Pic: BBC
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

It's finally here. The moment dreaded by sports fans has arrived. After weeks of thrilling action, wonderful colour and a sense that this was the higher side of mankind on show… the hurling championship is down to its final three games.

The World Cup has ended, too, after a very entertaining tournament. Off the Ball (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 7pm, Sat 1pm, Sun noon) began their review with the groovy sounds of French musical legend Serge Gainsbourg and then - I think I'm right on this one - Parisian rap star MC Solaar: a suitably cross-cultural nod to the multi-racial team who won the cup.

According to ex-Ireland great Mark Lawrenson, France deserved victory, dodgy penalty or not, and Didier Deschamps had "changed the team completely" by including Olivier Giroud. The Chelsea man may be castigated as a (relative) donkey but, according to Lawro, was "the glue that held the side together", offering contrast and variety up front.

Deschamps, despite unparalleled success as a player and coach, seems for some reason to be begrudged due credit by many. Lawrenson didn't, and on that theme - he deserves more credit himself. His chat with Joe Molloy was informative and told me things that hadn't occurred to me. And Lawro's a likeable old geezer; a little pantomime-y sometimes, but so what?

Sports analysis on radio can often be crushingly dull, with self-important clones spouting the same waffle. Lawrenson has a bit of personality, he's chatty and inconsistent and bitchy and funny. In short, fun to listen to.

So what if we don't always agree with him? We can all watch the games and make our own minds up. What we need broadcasters to provide is some entertainment.

It was nice, also, to hear on Team 33 (Newstalk, Wed midnight, Fri 11pm) - Off the Ball's soccer-only spin-off - that "narratives (in sports media) are bullshit". We love to put a structure on events, give them shape, make them seem more orderly than they really were; whereas in sport, even more than anywhere else, randomness and chaos generally rule.

Enthralling as that France-Croatia face-off was, I was even more gripped by The Ryan Tubridy Show (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 9am) interview with Steve Lillywhite. The Englishman has, since the 1980s, produced records for so many huge acts that it'd fill the rest of this column to list them all. In Ireland, he's probably most famous for his work down the years with U2.

And how fascinating it was to hear the laid-back Lillywhite tell stand-in host Dave Fanning about that work, especially his creative toing and froing with that nonpareil genius of popular music, Brian Eno. He recalled: "Brian's job was to destroy U2 - by doing that, you then replace it with something else that will become the next U2."

So Eno would basically strip out whatever sonic elements had given the latest iteration of the band its sound. Then Lillywhite's job was to sort of wrestle it back to the centre, finding somewhere that Eno's bolts-from-the-blue ideas might fit in the overall U2 aesthetic.

There were lots of charming and funny stories, too, about a raft of stars. But personally, I could listen to musical experts giving insights into their craft all day long.

Marian Finucane (Radio 1, Sat-Sun 11am) also had a humdinger of an interview: Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist and academic described as "the most influential intellectual in the world today". Whether you agree with Peterson or not, he's an important voice of dissent against the dismal identity politics which increasingly shape public discourse. This was sometimes illuminating, sometimes tetchy, never less than interesting.

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