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Uplifting antidotes to the depressing January blues

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 John Murray. Photo: Brian McEvoy

John Murray. Photo: Brian McEvoy

John Murray. Photo: Brian McEvoy

THERE was much talk, this radio week, as there annually is during these days of sodden miserableness, about strategies for "beating the January blues". And, like every year, naive listeners were (no doubt) lured in by the promise of feelgood platitudes and self-helpy jollification. What they heard instead, of course, was radio disapprovingly bellowing at them like a furious headmaster.

And, like every year, naive listeners were (no doubt) lured in by the promise of feelgood platitudes and self-helpy jollification. What they heard instead, of course, was radio disapprovingly bellowing at them like a furious headmaster.

Yes, mid-January is, traditionally, the time when all traces of seasonal good cheer have faded, and radio begins to regard us with a withering look of mega-judgmentalness (or it would, y'know, if it had a freaky Sauron-like eye). Forget all that baloney about beating blues, the actual message is this: "Sort yourselves out you disgusting slobby failures!".

On Monday's John Murray Show we were tut-tutted at for our inclination to hoard, and our intolerable acceptance of cluttered squalor. On Tuesday's Pat Kenny Show we were promised a path to physical purity through the guzzling of olive oil. On Wednesday's Ray D'Arcy Show, Paul McKenna banged on about the obesity "epidemic" while promising to free us "from emotional eating". And on it went. By Thursday morning I had, to be fair, kissed the "January blues" goodbye. The only downside was that I'd replaced them with anguished howls of self-loathing.

MELANCHOLIC

"What is my wretched life? I am ashamed of the little I have done." Not my words, but those of Gerard Manley Hopkins (channelled by actor Will O'Connell) in No Worst There Is None, Sunday evening's Drama on One. Hopkins may have sounded like a man crushed by a week of preachy radio, but, it turned out, issues like suppressed erotic yearning, religious doubt, and impending death were more likely the causes of his melancholic funk.

The production, by The Stomach Box theatre company, promised us a "sonic journey" into Hopkins' mind during his final days. One that fused poems, letters, snippets of devotional writings, an "original choral score," and "electronic sound design" into a gloomy, but satisfying and atmospheric, whole.

We heard hints of Hopkins' unhappiness in Ireland ("Dublin itself is a joyless place"), his despondency with his lack of discipline ("No reading done or anything, evil thoughts"), and his discomfort with his own homosexuality ("Looking at a man who tempted me"). But it was left to Abbot Mark Patrick Hederman (of Glenstal Abbey) to put flesh on the bones of Hopkins' life, as a Jesuit and a poet, in a piece following the play. Hederman called Hopkins "one of the greatest innovators in poetry", but "a strange psycho-sexual mess as a person". A poet whose (so-called) "terrible sonnets" reflected a life frequently consumed by illness, frustration and depression.

This Hopkins double-bill may not have seemed the most obvious antidote to the blues, but it was compelling stuff, and curiously uplifting. At least nobody was having a pop at me about my physical unfitness and perma-cluttered gaff.

Further upliftment was to be found on South Wind Blows, whose host, Philip King, operates at a level as far removed from disapproving bellowing as it's possible to get. On Sunday, King was paying tribute to a seminal duo who, he soothingly whispered, managed to meld "country with the emerging sounds of 50s rock and roll . . . even more powerfully than Elvis Presley". The act in question was, of course, the Everly Brothers, whose close harmonies have been forever silenced by the recent death of younger brother Phil.

HARMONIES

Though King explored the harmonising siblings who'd proven early influences on Don and Phil (like The Delmore Brothers or The Louvin Brothers) the bulk of the programme was concerned with the Everlys' own influence on, what King called, "the DNA of pop music". We heard tracks where that influence was obvious (in the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies etc) and tracks where the influence was rather subtler (Elvis Costello's Indoor Fireworks), but the main draw was those gloriously rich Everly harmonies (showcased here in tracks like Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?).

Digging out those songs and re-listening to them, had, King said (or whispered) brought him "to feelings and to thoughts" that he hadn't "felt or thought for some time". Some "joyful", some "full of regret".

A delightful tribute, then, with just the right mix of nostalgia and wistfulness. A (genuinely) welcome balm for those "January blues".


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