Wednesday 16 October 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Lyric FM's big mistake was to be too good for its own good'

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

If this Diary had a crest, it would feature this statement: "Anything That Is Any Good In This World Is In Constant Danger."

In Latin, perhaps, because it is possible that this has always been the way of the world - that in ancient Rome too, there was this irreducible urge on the part of the managerial classes to identify that which was good, and to seek its destruction.

Rome itself was good once - indeed it was very good - and they even succeeded in destroying that. And yet though an empire itself could be annihilated in those days, with the right attitude, somehow the modern world offers more opportunities.

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It is just endless, really, the war on goodness, it is more than a habit, it is a kind of executive obsession. So when RTE starts to speak of great changes which must be made, naturally one of the first things to be mentioned is the possible ending of Lyric FM.

I mean, you might think they'd mention some of the bad stuff first, just to make us feel better about it, but no… because when you're trying to save your broadcasting life, obviously the first thing you do is you cut out the quality, right? You don't need that stuff, really.

There was a forewarning of this at the start of 2016, as listeners tried to make sense of the vanishing of presenters such as Tim Thurston from the beloved Gloria programme, and Donald Helme of the beloved Jazz Alley, and Eamonn Lenihan and later Carl Corcoran of the beloved The Blue of the Night.

Beloved as they were, nobody had ever wanted them to stop, least of all themselves - yet the signs were there, because they were good, therefore they had been in constant danger. Even if they didn't know it.

Listeners, too, had not been paying attention, they thought it was ridiculous that Lyric would shed good people, because of course it is ridiculous - but it's still going to happen, because, as I may have mentioned here and there...

You see how it works now?

That particular episode had a special feature attached to it, because it involved what is now regarded by scholars in the field as the single most meaningless re-branding in the entire history of meaningless re-branding.

The Blue of the Night had become a classic of Irish and indeed of international broadcasting, and inspired by this, RTE decided that it should be reduced to four days a week, with the weekends given to a different version of the show, to be called... The Purple Vespertine.

You see what they did there? They took "The Blue" and changed the "Blue" to "Purple". And then they took the "Night" and changed the "Night" to the "Evening" or to a posh version of it, the "Vespertine".

They've since dropped the "Purple", and ideally they would drop the "Vespertine" too, because the programme is still essentially The Blue of the Night, except without the good name - and for the other four days the "Blue" is still the "Blue," mostly presented by the excellent Bernard Clarke.

What a day's work that was, in the executive boiler-room, where they toil incessantly to fix whatever is not broken.

And while naturally I have started to worry about Bernard Clarke when I hear him playing an uninterrupted side of a Led Zeppelin album, just because it's good, the whole of Lyric FM is now in danger, as was always its destiny.

Perversely, I was never entirely comfortable with the idea of a whole station dedicated to good music, because I think it goes against the idealistic traditions of public service broadcasting to have "the arts" sealed off in their own ghetto. I would put all the good stuff on the main station, enabling listeners to stumble across it by accident, as it were, the way that such life-changing discoveries would be made on the old BBC.

But I will not let ideology get in the way of goodness - I can hear you thinking, that it's a pity there aren't more like me in that regard.

And Lyric is not entirely good either. There's that classical muzak wafting away like the hellish soundtrack of some dreaded waiting room - but perhaps without this essential badness they'd have abolished the station a long time ago, so maybe the old elevator music is the only reason we still have Marty Whelan and John Kelly and Liz Nolan and Bernard Clarke and Aedin Gormley.

And as Lyric loyalists signed their petitions last week, even those who argue that this is the most middle-class of protests, can see that there are things on Lyric which can indeed change someone's life in that crucial public service tradition, or even save someone's life.

Which is a cultural achievement on the part of RTE of some magnitude - that it has created something of aesthetic value which is also making a significant improvement to the mental health of the country, is no small thing.

Indeed given the things they do which are quite bad for our mental health, you would hope that if they were trying to save a load of money, they would arrange it in such a way that Lyric would be among the few things left standing, one of the really essential public services.

But then... you know yourself.

Don't bet on it - but maybe our name is on the World Cup!

We’re always up for a World Cup here — even if we’re not across some of the finer points, we’ll make the best of it.

And while this particular World Cup doesn’t involve the world, as such — just certain parts of it and certain parts within those certain parts — the game has broadened enough for me to say that I went to the same primary school and the same secondary school as Robbie Henshaw.

No doubt they remember him, too.

It has also embraced the culture of gambling to the extent that the first scandal of the tournament involved the sending home of the Wales legend Rob Howley for an alleged breach of the rules in that regard — everybody in the game seems to regard Howley as a good guy too, so this is a sad story.

Rugby Union is probably not the most popular sport for the average punter, yet it has the potential to be massively lucrative for the bookies, due to the high net worth of those who do tend to get involved.

Not only are the guys from some of our most prestigious institutions pretty seriously loaded, they have tremendously high levels of self-esteem which convince them that they are right about everything. That they are making the right calls. That whatever they’re doing is the smart play.

Which is precisely the state of mind that can quickly turn a high net worth individual into a no net worth individual. Certainly after six weeks, or six months, or however long this tourney is lasting, there may be guys looking to avail of re-financing facilities towards the latter end of Q4.

Of course the alleged gambling scandal threw us a curve ball, because we’d all been thinking in terms of alleged doping scandals. When you look at some of the pictures of guys and how big they are, it would seem extraordinary if we got through this six weeks, or six months or six years or whatever it is, without some sort of doping scandal.

And yet the BBC is able to get through two weeks of wall-to-wall Wimbledon without one mention of either doping or gambling, so the human capacity for denial can be quite startling too, it can grow and grow and it can keep growing until it is unbelievably huge.

As for old Ireland, the state in which our guys are approaching this event, is almost a form of cheating in itself — never have men seemed so broken, never have they travelled with such little hope. Which is exactly how it should be, and ideally Paddy would somehow invent a drug that could induce this attitude in all our sports people. The rugby guys have got themselves into that zone naturally, by being so bad — allegedly.

Moreover the Minister Shane Ross went to Rugby School — not a rugby school, the actual Rugby School where William Webb Ellis, after whom the World Cup trophy is named, invented the game.

Hard not to think that some things are just meant to be.

Fans of The Atrix know we're truly part of cultural history

page12_pair.jpg
Deep thinkers: The fateful pair

I had the signal honour of writing the sleeve notes for The Atrix 1979-1981 — a compilation CD of the band’s work which was launched last week at a gig in the Sugar Club. Once more tracks like The Moon Is Puce and Treasure on the Wasteland were emerging from the pages of Irish rock’n’roll legend.

Like me, most of the people in the hall have grappled with this sense that we are different to other people in one respect — whereas it is normal for anyone to cherish the illusion that the years of their youth were also the most exciting years in cultural history, for those who were “out” at the time of punk rock and new wave, it is true.

In fact, there’s nothing truer, and of course it wasn’t all about music.  At the Sugar Club, along with a set from the band, we had poems by Paula Meehan, a childhood friend in Finglas of The Atrix frontman, the late John Borrowman. And funnyman Kevin McAleer, another also a big fan of the band, was as funny as he has ever been, funnier even.

I was particularly glad to be there as McAleer mentioned that he’d been on the Oprah Winfrey Show — he made no big deal about it, just that he was on it, and that he is now a big name in the mindfulness game, a visionary in the style of Deepak Chopra.

And why was he telling us this? Especially as it not true?

Well, the point of the story, was that Deepak Chopra was also on Oprah — and according to McAleer (again, this is not true) in the green room afterwards he had made a proposition of marriage to her.

But here’s the thing... Oprah could never marry Chopra because then she’d be Oprah Chopra.

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