How do you create an institution?

Tonight, the curtain will close on the final show of Coolera Dramatic Society’s 40th consecutive pantomime. This year alone, in a town with a population of 20,000, over 5,000 will have seen the show, and many more would have if they could have got tickets. Indeed a combined audience of over 200,000 people have now seen a Coolera Panto. There have been 3 generations of some families have been involved in the show over the years, and for many people in our area, Christmas doesn’t start until you have been to the Panto. Personally, I carried flax across the stage in 1991 (the last time the society put on Rumpelstiltskin), and have been involved on the music side of things for the last 13 years, and this morning I decided to reflect on how something becomes an institution in a town. Find good people. There are special people at the core of this society. I have heard so many comments over

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Learning from others.

I read today that one New Year’s Resolution you should make for 2019 is to surround yourself with people who know more than you, or people who are better than you at the thing at which you’re trying to improve. And I see the logic in it. And I am all up for learning from others. But instead of pinpointing certain people in whose company you want to spend more time, and somehow figuring out ways in which you can actually achieve that, why not open our mind to those in whose company we spend time as it is? If I wanted to focus in 2019 on becoming a better piano player, the New Year’s resolution mentioned above would not recommend me to spend more time in the company of either James Blennerhassett (bass) or Francie Lenehan (guitar – both pictured above). As far as I know, neither of them plays piano very well. Yet despite not playing with either

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The end-of-term show

If you are a parent, and your child has ever learned a musical instrument, danced, practiced gymnastics, gone to speech and drama classes, or even just gone to school, the chances are you have been to an end-of-term show. Huge time, effort and preparation can go into them. There are often big numbers of children involved, with plenty of parents required to look after them. From the teacher’s point of view, they are an opportunity to showcase the work done during the year, to show parents what the students have been learning, and perhaps to show prospective parents what their children could learn next year. From the student’s point of view, they are an opportunity to get up and perform in front of a crowd, often in a new environment, with more of an incentive to get it right than usual. Lots of positive things for everyone. There is a trap here however, and some teachers know it, which is

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All set?

It’s a great feeling. Being all set. The last rehearsal done, the setlist finalised, the music in order. All that’s left to do is play the gig, and enjoy every minute of it. It’s a question you hear regularly this time of year too – “all set for the Christmas?” It’s another great feeling – having the last present wrapped, the last card posted. All that’s left to do is enjoy the presence of family and friends. I’m not remotely all set yet (for either Christmas or next year’s Vicar St. gig – but that’s neither here nor there. Sending out the VIP tickets this morning to the many people who have bought them gave me a little teaser of what it will feel like though. We’re bringing almost 80 musicians to Dublin for the night, and so the gig literally would not be able to happen without your support – and so it’s a really important part of my Christmas to

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The Hawk’s Well Theatre

On this stage I have carried bales of hay, sung and played Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (with full band and orchestra!), soloed a size 5 and performed push-ups dressed as a gorilla, launched 2 albums and an EP…and played bodhrán and sang mildly insulting songs in a Kerry accent. In this building I have been in shows with my wife and dad, watched my brother and sister perform, made and cemented countless friendships, introduced my children to the concept of a theatre, and I will never forget the feeling of being clapped off stage once by my peers. In the last month alone I have been part of three different shows here, two of of which featured over 200 performers, the other more than 70. It is the ultimate community theatre, offering opportunities to lapsed artists to renew their interest in singing/playing/acting/writing, and opportunities to more experienced artists to further their career in various ways. But it hasn’t always

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Over the hump

Every year in the panto run there comes a hump. It’s when people get tired, when the novelty of performing has worn off and the excitement of the last few shows is too far away to make an impact. It’s like hitting the wall on mile 20 in the marathon, or that hour between 3 and 4am on the night shift. It’s like early in the second half of a big game, when you’re ahead but can’t afford to make any mistakes because they will be costly ones. In order to get over the hump, around the wall, through the shift or win the game you simply have to keep doing the right things, keep showing up, keep performing, keep making the tackles. Take each show, mile or minute one at a time and you’ll get there. Wherever there is.


If I was to hazard a guess – out of all the musicians I have played with in my life, I have gigged more with Sinead Conway than anyone else. She is an incredible singer in my book – versatile, powerful, passionate, polished, and has been responsible for countless musical highlights for me on theme nights and other gigs we have done together over the years. Apart from her voice, her instincts and ears make her someone whose opinions, suggestions and ideas I always listen to. In years gone by, we would have spent almost every minute of the days between the 27th and 31st Dec in each others company, travelling up and down the country from wedding to wedding. Only today we were recounting the time we finished playing our friend’s wedding at the bottom of Co. Wexford at 2am one night and had to be in the cathedral in Letterkenny for midday the next day. Madness in one

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Why are there so few women in bands?

Just over 1 in 5 TDs (elected members of our national parliament in Ireland) are female. I played some music at an event today to commemorate 100 years since the first one – Constance Markievicz – was elected, at which some impressive female politicians spoke of the struggles she faced, and the difficulties they themselves face in a male-dominated environment. And I wondered – what would the figures be if such a survey was done in the world of music? There will always be exceptions, but it’s my experience that ‘rock band’ instruments like drum/bass/guitar/keyboards/saxophone are more likely to be played by men, and women are more likely to sing or play orchestral instruments and the piano. Is it that women for some reason prefer not to play these instruments, or is it that like politics, there is something about the male-dominated world of bands that makes it harder or less attractive for women to get involved? I’d love to

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Owls and reputations

One of my favourite episodes of Winnie the Pooh contains a scene where Christopher Robin leaves a note for his friends saying that he would be back soon. Owl misreads the last two words as ‘backson’ and proceeds to make up a fictional monster by the same name who proceeds to scare the other characters. Owl was wrong in this case, but because he is an owl and is presumed to be wise, everyone believes him. It’s like the famous phrase “if you have a reputation for getting up early you can stay in bed all day”. I got caught once as an MD when a soloist with a big reputation failed to deliver the goods on stage. I believed the hype and failed to rehearse with him as I would anyone else, and the show paid the price. It’s a lesson I have never forgotten. Reputations are based on what has happened in the past…if you’re trying to shape

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I have been lucky, in my role as piano teacher, to receive many presents from students over the years. You can see one of my favourites in the picture below. I love it. It’s clear that a lot of thought and time went into it, and every time I play or hear this song I think of it. Teresa hit the sweet spot with this present – where her idea, combined with the talent and time to create it happened to be something I didn’t know I wanted, but now cherish. And you won’t hit the sweet spot every time. Especially if you are buying/making something for lots of people. Every year or sometimes more. But that doesn’t mean you can’t think a bit more deeply about it, or try a bit harder to get  it right.