My Blog – June 2019

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It’s almost Summer, yay! For me, that doesn’t mean better weather because we remain in a yearly/monthly/daily state of grey, but for most people you get to head to the beach or eat ice cream naked or whack on the AC and take another few years off the planet’s future. But sure, it’s all good fun. It’s the time to take a break, to finish off your exams and give the middle finger to another year of school, and plan for an ill-advised holiday romance or finally get around to painting that damn fence. In Northern Ireland, we’re almost into what is referred to as ‘The Marching Season’. That means that a bunch of idiots take it upon themselves to essentially shut down every city, town, and village so that they can don ridiculous outfits, get pissed, and march through the streets beating drums and playing music that nobody has ever wanted to hear at apocalyptic levels of volume. Why? Tradition. And if anyone dares take it away from us – families, kids, schools, politicians, cops, military, then by God we are gonna to fuck shit up for the next three months, set fire to every shop or car within five miles, before complaining about foreigners taking our jobs or something. Why? Tradition.

I say ‘we’, but naturally I don’t include myself in such activities. Today’s post isn’t a lesson about the dumb tribalism and bullshit patriotism which diseases this patch of earth we just happened to have been born on, no, but I did intend today’s post to be some sort of cultural brochure. If there’s one thing we’re good at here, aside from needless murder and carnage, it’s self-deprecating humour. And so, I found some things on the internet which range from ‘sort of funny to me’, to ‘meh’, but maybe they’ll be interesting to people unfamiliar with or interested in Northern Ireland. I’ve no idea who wrote the list originally as it has been shared thousands of times in the past ten years. Now, there was 60 of these things, so I’m only going to post the first 20 and add my thoughts in red below each, sort of as an explanation. Have a read, and if anything is weird or if you want to ask me anything, I’m always lurking in the comments. Enjoy!

You know your from Belfast when …….

1. You’re never cold but sometimes Baltic.

Yes, everyone uses this term – ‘it’s fuckin Baltic today’. Not me though.

2. The sight of 12-year-olds smoking is normal.

I smoked when I was 12 – isn’t this normal elsewhere?

3. Castle Court – the traditional and best – is well better than that Victoria Square place.

Castle Court is a tiny shopping mall in Belfast City Centre. It is filled with Chav scum, steeks, and millbags. Victoria Square is a more upmarket and newer tiny shopping mall in the City Centre. It used to have a place to buy DVDs, but doesn’t anymore, so there is no reason for me to use it, other than as a shortcut to get to somewhere else. 

4. You have owned a pair of Nike Air Max at some stage.

Can’t say I have.

5. You will fight anyone who claims Callum Best’s Da wasn’t the best footballer EVER.

I will fight anyone who claims he wasn’t an abusive drunk and played for the scum.

6. You’re passionate about an English or Scottish football team.

English yes, couldn’t care less about Scottish football (people in Northern Ireland traditionally only support Rangers (Protestant) or Celtic (Catholic). Northern Irish football is atrocious and I have no idea what the South is like. Scottish is like 2nd Division English. 

7. You know what real rain is like.

I assume ‘real rain’ is something Belfast people say, but I’ve never heard it.

8. You think if you can’t see the Harland and Wolff cranes from your bedroom window you’re a culchie.

A culchie is a farmer/someone who lives in the countryside/someone who doesn’t live in Belfast. Harland and Wolff cranes are two huge yellow cranes you can see from basically anywhere in Belfast. They were not used in the building of The Titanic. 

9. You remember when it was OK to smoke (anything) in the KFC in Corn Market.

Or any of the KFCs.

10. So it is

Nobody says ‘top of the morning’ or ‘begorah’ or any muck like that. Everyone says ‘so it is’. Not me though, I had an education.

11. You know what the word Ball root means.

We have many wonderful and colourful insults. This is one.

12. You use the word ‘sweet’ and ‘powerful’ as a substitute for almost any adjective.

Yes, you hear these most days. Powerful not so much, that always seemed like an auld boy or culchie thing to me.

13. You are a half decent pool player and know your way around a snooker table.

This is true. 

14. You know what the words ‘space-cadet’ and ‘rocket’ really mean.

More insults. Except ‘rocket’ is usually pronounced ‘racket’.

15. Your friends still call you by your childhood nickname.

Yes, depending on when I knew the friend, if I see them today they will use that specific nickname. And so will I.

16. You cringe when you hear someone from your city speak on national TV.

Definitely. Our accents can be horrific. I quite like mine though.

17. You been told wha’ at least once in your life.

Ha ha. Ha. 

18. You know at least one person called Mackers.

Yes. Yes I do.

19. Ballycastle is your most frequented holiday destination.

See, I never got this. Why would you go to Ballycastle when Portrush is close by? Then again, I rarely went to either as we had Kilkeel. Which is worse than both. I live near Ballycastle now. 

20. Your Granny had a framed picture of the Pope or the Queen in the living room but not both.

No, none of my grandparents had this. Must be a Belfast thing.

Now you know a little more about Belfast and its people. Feel free to comment!

*Note – I wrote this post in January, well in advance of publishing. I had to stick that pic on at the top in place of the usual general blogging pic. YNWA!

Goodbye, Dublin Road Cinema

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So, I was reading a well-written and passionate post by Jason over at Jason’s Movie Blog which just so happened to coincide with a recent trip to my nearest Cinema and the less recent news that Belfast’s famous Dublin Road Cinema is due to close. Cinema closures in Northern Ireland, and throughout the rest of the world are no big thing, but this one is personal to me. The Cinema will soon shut its doors as of the time you read this, caused by a number of factors including lower attendance figures across the industry, and viewers in Belfast seemingly preferring to go to Cinemas in either the more suburban areas or those on the outskirts of the city. Belfast is a tiny city, even by UK standards, but it does house quite a few Cinemas, although sadly most are carbon copies of each other bringing little more than the latest chart blockbusters – there’s The Odeon in Victoria Square Shopping Mall, Odyssey Cinemas in The Odyssey Complex, Movie House Cinema at Yorkgate (sister to Dublin Road’s Movie House Cinema, as well as Short Strand Cinema and one in The Kennedy Centre – neither of which I’ve been to. Throw in a few notable smaller ventures – the QFT at Queen’s University where I frequented, and Beanbag Cinema which is exactly as it sounds.

Beanbag and QFT offer alternatives – Indie and Local movies, documentaries and Art films, take part in festivals, and also show films long since out of screening. I’ve posted before about my ideal Cinema – read that here – it’s essentially a huge complex which offers all the latest movies, but also movies from around the world along with regular seasons on a certain theme or by a certain director/actor etc. Not living in a big city like London or LA or wherever, where it seems you have unlimited choice, we basically have to take what we can get, so it’s difficult to get the full Cinema experience while also broadening your horizons. Most of my horizons were broadened by VHS, DVD, and watching late night TV.

Nowadays, it’s so easy to stretch those horizons – a few clicks of a few buttons, and you have anything. It’s one of the reasons why many Cinemas are closing their doors – why go out, when you can stay in? Why spend all that money when you can catch up on the other thousand movies you haven’t seen, then in a few weeks the one you passed over on the big screen will be on your small screen? Why get ripped off on popcorn and drinks prices when you can get a month’s worth at your local store for the same price as a single Cinema outing? Why deal with other people talking and chewing and laughing and looking at their phones and existing, when you can close your doors and curtains and sit butt naked on your sofa? All the old reasons for going to the Cinema are gradually fading away, or are gone together. In the past it took years for a film to come to VHS and TV; now it’s a few months – or in some cases the same day. You can easily make your own Slushy drinks and Popcorn at home now. TV Screens are much larger and of a much greater quality than ever before. So why even bother going to the Cinema now?

For some people, it’s because they have to be first – they want to see it first so that they can avoid spoilers, so that they can be part of the conversation, so that they can tweet about it, or write a blog post about it. I only go to the Cinema now if it’s something I desperately want to see on the big screen (which is precious few films these days), or for something to do with the kids (which is only a handful of times a year). And yet, when I had a Cinema on my doorstep I was there every week, watching whatever was on. That’s where Dublin Road Cinema comes in… but more on that later.

For me, the problem is an equation made up of time, money, and distance. My nearest Cinema is a fifteen/twenty minute drive away – admittedly that’s very small and any US readers are probably wondering what the problem is. Well, for one I don’t really like driving, and for two I’ll almost inevitably get stuck behind a tractor/slow driver/idiot/cyclist/all of these. Plus, when I get to that nearest Cinema it only has so many car park spaces because it isn’t just a Cinema – it’s also a Crazy Golf joint, a bowling alley, a pile of restaurants, an arcade, and an indoor playpark. It’s busy – all the time, and parking is a pain in the arse. So, a twenty minute drive becomes leaving twenty minutes early to account for parking and idiots on the road. Factor in a 2 hour movie, padded out to 2 and a half thanks to all the ads and trailers, then 20 minutes driving home – you’ve quickly chopped 3 or 4 hours out of the day. So time and distance go hand in hand. Money then – if I’m going by myself it’s not such a huge deal. A single ticket is probably five quid, and I stash my own food and drinks inside my coat/pockets. Going with the family – our trip a few days ago to see The Secret Life Of Pets 2 cost thirty quid, which is much less than what I thought it was going to be, but again we’d stashed some of our own grub away. It’s usually closer to forty or fifty quid and to spend that sort of money on a few hours of entertainment when we could get the same at home for nowt, seems frivolous and wasteful.

This all sounds like I hate going to the Cinema. I don’t – I love it. I love the big screen, the seats, the volume thronging through my body, the smell, the trailers, the anticipation, even the communal experience. When I was younger I would have movie nights with friends, but those just don’t exist for me anymore. While Cinema can’t replace the banter and comfort of watching with friends at home, the home can’t replace the uncertain excitement of the Cinema. This post has had a long gestation – I heard about Dublin Road Cinema closing months ago from a colleague who worked there, before it was officially announced. I’ve lived in my current Cinema-less town for almost eight years, and in each of those years I’ve asked why it doesn’t have a Cinema. It’s not a big town and it wouldn’t need a big Cinema, but given the sheer amount of people that my nearest one gets, one in my town would mean that it was another option. There are so many smaller villages around my town that it makes financial sense – people already come here to shop, let them come to watch a movie too, and shop some more, and have something to eat. Like I say, it doesn’t need to be huge – three or four screens would suffice. Five would be nice. If there was a Cinema in my town, within walking distance, I would never be out of it.

Because I love the Cinema experience. Some of my best times have been in front of the big screen, and some of my favourite movies (as well as many not so great ones) were seen in Dublin Road Cinema. I saw the last two Matrix movies there, I saw the last two LOTR movies there, some of my first dates with my wife were there. I went to Queen’s University which is about a ten minute walk from Dublin Road Cinema, and because my lectures were spread through the day and week, my only options between times were going to the pub, going to the library, and going to the Cinema. Two out of three of those were more frequent than the other. When I moved in with my then girlfriend, we lived off the Ormeau Road – fifteen minutes from the Cinema. On Fridays we would get drunk in The Errigle Bar and on Saturdays we would go to the Cinema – if we didn’t, I would dander down the road myself on Sunday morning and hang around until the Cinema doors opened and go in myself to enjoy the latest torture porn. It was the perfect place for a Cinema – within walking distance of most of my favourite bars and beside a little square where I would sit and ‘do things’ to girlfriends before my wife came along. It was on the main road walking to University from the Bus Station, meaning I could check out all the posters adorning the outside, then on the rest of the walk I would work out which movies I would see that week. The layout and decor of the interior I’ll never forget – when I imagine my ideal Cinema, it’s always Dublin Road I think of.

So, how do we stop this from happening? How do we keep our Cinemas open? It’s a complex question with complicated answers. We have to do our part – even with my excuses, and your excuses, even with our distractions and other options – we have to keep going. It’s still a one of a kind experience. It’s up to the Cinemas to accentuate those unique positives they have to convince us to keep going. It’s up to the big chains to allow the smaller ones to keep breathing. It’s up to the entrepreneurs and smaller companies to follow their dreams and create niche alternatives, and it’s up to governments, towns, cities, investors to fund those dreams and allow them to become reality. I still say the Cinema Experience can be heightened by having chat rooms and bars installed – places people can go to talk about the movie afterwards. I still say that that we should exit through the gift shop – have posters and shirts and memorabilia and toys and junk from each movie on display, so we can buy or peruse on the way out. I’m clearly no Businessman, but why no go Blue Ocean on Cinemas? Exploit what is unique about them and find those ways to increase revenue that haven’t been tried or considered before. Calm the hell down on your current pricing, because that will be your death knell. Give us something we can’t get anywhere else, and give us a reason to sacrifice our time and money for it, aside from big ‘splosions and a Marvel or Disney logo.

How do you think Cinemas can be saved? Do you think they need saving? Has your favourite Cinema closed down? Let us know in the comments!

Manic Street Preachers – Ulster Hall, Belfast, 21st September 2013

Great Scott!
Great Scott!

I’m getting old; That’s the message of the downbeat new Manics album Rewind The Film and it’s also the message of the concert, and of this review. The band is at that point in their careers, and their lives, where regrets are overpowering ambitions, and the past is glorious when compared with the tedium of the present and the futility of the future. However, that has never been a reason to stop great artists from producing some of their greatest work – Rewind The Film may not be the band’s best work, but it is certainly not a dip in form from their recent well-received albums. The music is deliberately quiet, not as hugely produced as Postcards or as bombastic as Journal so I was intrigued by how these new tracks would work on stage, played to raucous fans by a band known for their high kicking, high energy performances. Would the crowd react well? Would those songs be used as an excuse for a toilet break? Read on for the startling conclusion!

It had been a few years since I had last seen the Manics, after their excellent show at The Ulster Hall for the Journal tour and their Tennant’s Vital show (which I watched for free from my bedroom window). Since then I’ve had 2 children, moved out of the city, and entered my 30s, kicking and screaming. Getting old. Looking back. It’s difficult for me getting to concerts, or out of the house these days, what with looking for babysitters, thinking about the hour-long drive there and back, parking, justifying forking out the money when it could be spent on the kids etc, being arsed to actually get up and do something rather than living to fall asleep. You know what I mean.

I made it to the city around 6pm, and met a few friends from school for drinks beforehand. Naturally, talk turned to school, who we had seen recently. I learned another guy from my year had killed himself. He wasn’t the first. I didn’t know him well, but the old useless cliché of ‘he didn’t seem the type’ was straining to come from my lips. I was the type. I met an old friend from work. I met my best mate from Primary School (for those who don’t understand, the school we attend from age 5 – 11 roughly).  As I looked around at the crowd I saw a majority of older faces, older at least than me. I’d never seen this before at a Manics gig, or at least I’d never noticed. I did notice a lack of feather-boad, mascara-smeared, slashed and burned Richey/Nicky devotees. Maybe they were at Dublin.

As idiot detractors are fond of pointing out, The Manics are now a Radio 2 band. I’m sure they have their Radio 1 moments too (I haven’t listened since Mark and Lard left) but that may point towards a new group of fans; previously, you had a rough split between the Richey era diehard fans, the Topshop wearing crowd who only know a handful of the singles, and the people like me who love everything. Now we have a new subset of older fans who enjoy… I don’t know really – any ideas? They were swaying their arms during A Design For Life, and looked bewildered during Revol. I wonder if that crowd is listening to the lyrics as well as the music.

Apologies to Cate Le Bon (no relation to Simon…) but I decided to stay outside the main hall near the booze and merchandise area chatting with friends. We could hear you though. I didn’t know anything about you before the album was announced, but you sounded nicely tormented at the show. I headed for my seat once Cate left the stage (yes, I know, sitting at a Manics gig is a fairly serious crime, but with driving to the show I had my coat, wallet, keys and other assorted crap on my person and I didn’t want to be standing in a feverish crowd for a few hours, melting. So I withdrew, retreated from my friends, and was assimilated into a crowd of older people to the right of James, and waited for the first song to hit.

This tour has seen the band walking out to new instrumental track Manorbier. The band have been dabbling with instrumentals for quite a few years now, but I haven’t heard one I would rate highly yet. Horse Under Starlight is probably my favourite, and it was recorded many years back. Still, it’s a nice idea to come out to your own music, but I’m still waiting for someone to use music from the Conan The Barbarian soundtrack. Still, the intro merged nicely with the first song, the eternal Motorcycle Emptiness. A fan favourite, even for fans who have never heard it (whatever that means) it’s always well received live, and makes for a great first song. Even better, it was followed up with one of my personal favourites (and my favourite from TIMTTMY) Ready For Drowning. The most perfectly circular song ever written, I’ve never understood why more fans don’t hold it in high regard. TIMTTMY contains Nicky’s best lyrics, and some of the most overtly emotional playing from James, and that cascading pre-chorus riff if like the walls of a decade of pain crumbling away. It’s another track well suited to the live arena.

After a strong one-two intro, the band powered into a duo of pop anthems with Your Love Alone Is Not Enough and new single Show Me The Wonder. Both received an encouraging reception from the crowd, and it was wonderful to see the band and audience relishing the back and forth lyrical turns. Anthem For A Lost Cause was up next, a song which critics had been unfairly trying to compare to A Design For Life before the latest album was released. This one did quiet the audience down quite a bit, not surprising as the album had only been out a week and only the most hardcore of fans would have had time to get to know it with any level of intimacy. The band once again picked things up with a pair of hits, with the string bombast of (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love and the ever-popular You Stole The Sun From My Heart. I always moan about the latter when I see the band live, as they always seem to play it. Naturally it’s a crowd-pleaser, with a chorus begging to be screamed to a sigh, but there are a few singles I’d dearly love to see life before the band (or me) call it a day (Life Becoming A Landslide at the top of the list). However, I’m always first to leap about like a broken Ian Curtis when it’s played, moaning or not.

The band slowed things down once more with a pair of new tracks which feature guest vocal talents on the record. Cate Le Bon joined Nicky live on stage for a tender 4 Lonely Roads while James tried out some fantastic deeper vocals with Rewind The Film. I did notice a large number of people making their way out for a booze/fag/piss break at this point. By recent Manics standards this is a long song, and depending on my mood it either overstays its welcome, or just about manages to not drag. I do love the melodies, and I do love that twiddling guitar part, but it feels like there is a little too much repetition in there, or some seconds which could be cut. Having said that, it was good fun to see James, one of the most underrated vocalists there has ever been (and one who manages to remain unique in rock music) doing things a bit differently here.
You Love Us was up next, and built the crowd into a frenzy as always – even the statuesque, close to throwing herself off the balcony, goth beside me cracked a smile in the opening chords. I think. If You Tolerate This… followed and ensured the crowd had a chance to stretch their vocal cords a little. This led to the obligatory James solo set, starting with my favourite song from the new album This Sullen Welsh Heart a song which belongs in a Shane Meadows film, or at least the Welsh equivalent. If there’s one song that has been haunting my wife over the recent weeks it’s ‘I don’t want my children to grow up like me’, as I sing it whilst making lunch, wandering from room to room, moaning about how much Great British Bake-Off she has on the free-view, blocking me from recording Film 4. It would have only been a stronger moment had more of the crowd known the song, not the case for Can’t Take My Eyes Off You which James played next as a bonus for messing up a lyric. Rounding up this set was The Everlasting, a much derided song by certain sections of fans but one which I’ve always adored thanks to the swarming strings and a tugging, stretching guitar solo. The whole thing is so desperately sad and true.
Another personal favourite was up next, arguably their best album opener Elvis Impersonator. The sudden change from acoustic to LOUD is a classic moment in the band’s history, and played here it signalled the end of the acoustic set and the move into the final series of hits. Revol was the only entry from The Holy Bible played all night which likely will have annoyed some, but most of those songs would not have fit well with the mood of the night, or the tour. Tsunami continued the crowd-pleasing anthems and Kevin Carter threatened to cause irreparable damage to the balcony area due to copious pogoing. 30 Year War got a fairly strong response, a call to action which hopefully some of the crowd took out of the venue and home, hopefully a few were still asking themselves ‘what is to be done’ the next day.
Finally, the band gave their triumphant send-off with a guitar-hero intro to Motown Junk, and a typically stonking Design For Life which had the drunks in full, awful voice outside the venue as they slouched towards their next target. Apparently some in the crowd were shouting for an encore. Youngsters, eh?