When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

By Keith Clarke

If the blog sounds a bit louder this week it is probably because it has moved 400 miles in your direction, leaving London for the verdant pastures of the Emerald Isle. The draw is the wonderful West Cork Chamber Music Festival – a full report will appear at the front end of this site in due course.

Ireland has always been a place that likes to put a smile on everyone’s face, largely through its inhabitants’ propensity for lateral thinking. Ask an Irishman how to get to Ballylicky and, in legend, he will always reply: “Well, to be sure, if it was me, I wouldn’t be starting from here now.”

This different way of viewing things has become a marketable commodity. You can buy a postcard showing a rustic door bearing the advice: “This is the back door. The front door is round the back.”

The jokes have been a bit thin on the ground since the Shamrock Economy took a serious dive, but one wonderfully enlivening constant has been the chamber festival. Only in Ireland, you may think, could a dairy farmer start a chamber music festival in a remote rural town and expect an audience to beat a path to his door. Full respect to Francis Humphrys for doing just that, and despite a perilously hand-to-mouth existence, managing to turn the event into something that has become one of the country’s most glittering cultural assets.


 Another music festival, an event known as the BBC Proms, was out on the promo trail last week, playing a free concert in Europe’s largest urban retail mall, conveniently situated just up the road from the BBC . The event set out to attract new audiences, in the hope that they might be tempted into the Royal Albert Hall during the summer.

It is not the first time the Westfield mall has played host to the concert, but this year there was a new idea to make the BBC Symphony more user-friendly: the players were identified by blue tees, declaring “Sam – Tuba,” “Donald – Double bass,” “Dan – Trombone,” etc. The promo team had managed to round up the entire orchestra with the exception of one young man in the percussion section who clearly didn’t know who he was.

Seeing the happy smiling faces of the children watching Sam, Donald and Dan etc go through their paces, I couldn’t help thinking that this was an idea that could be applied to advantage elsewhere. Think how it could take the sting out of international talks if the US team turned up in natty tees labeled “Barack – President,” “Hillary – Sec of State,” “Bob – Defense Chief,” etc. It has to be worth a try.

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