Groundhopping: Maynooth University Town (vs Malahide United, Rathcoffey Road)

Date: 5 August, 2020

Competition: Leinster Senior League, Sunday Senior Division

Result: Maynooth University Town 1, Malahide United 1

Tickets: No entry fee.

Attendance: circa 70

The game: A defence vs counter-attack contest in the main after Malahide United had a man sent off for a fairly vicious late slide tackle in midfield midway through the first half. Malahide United took the lead totally against the run of play with 70 minutes on the clock, after Maynooth pressure left them short at the back and Malahide took advantage on the break. Maynooth equalised with a cross/ shot from their right back that flew in from about 40 yards – I’m not sure he meant it – about five minutes later.

These two are first and fourth in the LSL Sunday Senior, which is historically high for both of them. Judging on the one game alone – always dangerous – Malahide are an extremely solid defensive unit and look really difficult to break down, while Maynooth pass the ball out nicely from the back but lack a bit of cutting edge (something to do with that Malahide defence, perhaps). That Malahide have conceded only 17 in 20 games seems to back this up. I’d expect both to finish below where they are now, as there are a huge number of games in hand for some sides below them, with St Mochta’s, currently in second, looking heavy odds on to take the title.

The ground: A nice open field with a couple of pitches next to the main road between Dublin and Galway (you’ll have to go round the houses a little to get there – it’s not next to one of the junctions). Very much a ‘stand around the pitch’ job, with a metal barrier and no stands; both ends are not really suited to spectators.

Snowgoose: “The Making of You’ feels a cohesive progression towards the subtly sinister”

Scottish indie mainstays Snowgoose are known for their emotional warmth, their songs representing an exploration of folky, 60s-style nostalgia with a little psychedelia along the way. New album ‘The Making Of You’, their second full-length, has drawn them the vibrant backing of novelist Ian Rankin, who’s a huge fan, and also saw the band backed – more literally, on several tracks – by much of the Scottish indie community.

The duo’s core – although there are many others regularly on stage – are former Soup Dragons guitarist Jim McCulloch and vocalist Anna Sheard, though members of Scottish indie royalty Belle and Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub are amongst those that appear on the new record alongside the songwriting pair.

“There’s a mutual respect in the music community that’s built around trust and integrity,” McCulloch says of the depth of collaboration. “Then all it takes is a phone call or email to see if and when someone is available to record. I’m not saying that it works for everyone and every time, but if your pals are the best at what they do then why the hell not ask them?”

Unlike their debut record, vocalist Sheard is heavily involved in the writing of this record, and that has contributed to the way it’s performed, and indeed its very feel, alongside all those big names. “In much of the new material, Anna isn’t having to sing words where she is second-guessing motivation or whatever,” McCulloch says of the change. “There is a much deeper connectivity with the material there, and she is much less the auteur or interpreter and more the artist… I feel this is a much more satisfying approach, both as a musician and writer.”

“From my perspective,” Sheard adds “‘The Making of You’ feels a cohesive progression toward the subtly sinister, where the recognizably hopeful spirit of Snowgoose shines amongst the eeriness. For me personally, it has been a very transformational time between records, both in becoming a mother and returning to my roots in Somerset. These experiences have been hugely grounding and inspirational, allowing me to find my confidence as a songwriter with greater focus and less fear.”

“Myself and Jim become immersed in lyrics,” she continues. “They provide another layer of artistic expression, tell our story and add to the emotion of the music. A favourite line of mine is “Strength in your sweetness, love in your blood, proud of your weakness, just follow what you know”.

Janet Devlin: A statement return.

If you remember Janet Devlin, you probably remember a softly-spoken Northern Irish girl who became a star of X-Factor. Notably shy at the time, Devlin’s performances were slightly outside of the niche of the pop-loving show when she wowed with her voice but was almost reticent in her showmanship as a 17-year-old back in 2011. But wow, what a voice.

The Janet Devlin who’s evolved on the music scene since is a very different character. Notably grown up from that almost reluctant-feeling early brush with stardom, Devlin moved to England, started tracking her progress with deeply emotive and personal YouTube videos, as well as the music, and developed and then got over a substantial problem with alcohol, one that she later unveiled in those videos.

In the course of our 20 minute chat she’s notably jovial – telling us that she’s doing the best she ever has – but equally, that she doesn’t regret X-Factor and its firm thrust into the limelight, or much of what followed. Her new album, ‘Confessional’, is something like an exploration of ‘seven deadly sins’ of her life so far, though mostly committed towards Devlin. She describes the process as being about “getting it all out in the open.”

“It took me five years,” she explains, “but it’s been a good thing. When I decided to do the book as well, obviously I had to write that. That took a wee while. I knew when I finished the last album that I wanted to tell people about the things that I’d been through. I realised that everything felt really self-indulgent, when I was trying to write these really heartfelt songs. So I decided to go down a more metaphorical approach.”

“I realised that I could write this metaphorical album, this piece of work, and write a book to go alongside it, so I’m not isolating the listener. It’s still an album, full of conceptual stuff, but if you want it to have a more personal journey, you’ll find that in the book. It allowed me to get everything I wanted into that space.”

The album runs chronologically to Devlin’s life, starting even before those X-Factor days, but it’s hard hitting, touching on anorexia, self-harm, bullying, depression, assault, fraud and alcohol abuse, though those stories come out more deeply in the text than the music.

Aston Villa 2019/2020 – My Season Review

Wow, what a hairy one. It’s been a weird season all in, and I think every Villa fan knew from early on that if we stayed up, it would be a very close run thing. It was evident from the utter euphoria that accompanied that home win against Everton early in the season, which I watched through Now TV in a hotel room in Munich. The reaction showed we knew even then that wins would be hard to come by.

The end of the season has been at the opposite extreme to those ‘eyes from abroad’ early days for me: locked in our houses with the games played out in front of nobody at all, and, oddly, they’ve brought most of the year’s highs (and been a fantastic distraction), though I’d be lying if I pretended I didn’t think it was over with four or five games to go.

The season’s really had its moments, from the ‘ghost goal’ we conceded against Sheffield United (which I have a feeling Bournemouth fans might be talking about a while) and general VAR controversies, to the power and passion of Grealish and Douglas Luiz, and the defence finally coming together for those final few games that saw Villa edged to the narrowest of 17th places. Relegation could have gone the other way if West Ham had conjured a single late goal on the final day. What a rollercoaster.

A heads up before I start: this is a long one.

A good season, or a bad one?

This is a genuinely difficult question. I don’t think there’s much doubt that if Villa had conceded a late losing goal at West Ham on the final day, this would be classified as really quite a bad season, with relegation back to the Championship. That said, I think most Villa fans – and I certainly put myself in this category – would consider staying up, even marginally, a really quite good season. Beating the drop on the last day was totally euphoric, and a fantastic end to the year in a game we probably should have won.

Cynics will point to the money spent in the summer (which was substantial), though it has to be noted that a substantial chunk of that money was spent on players that were on loan last year, and took the team to only 5th in the Championship. Almost none of it, bizarrely, was spent on established premier league players. There have also been significant injury issues throughout the team.

In fact, it’s hard to argue the team this year was any stronger than last year’s all things considered: sure, the defence probably looked a little bit better on paper (though it performed poorly for most of the season), but we bought two relative flops up front and lost a far better striker in Tammy Abraham back to Chelsea, and even the goalkeeper position’s strengthening disappeared when Tom Heaton was injured for the second half of the season (round of applause for Pepe Reina’s cameo, though).

This was a team that was at best only just good enough for the Premier League, and that’s how it went, so by that measure it went well. We also got a cup final back in February and gave the money boys from Manchester City a real game in it, too. So all things considered, a pretty good season, but only because it went the way it did on the final day. I’d give it a 6/10. That said, there’s plenty to worry about, with next season just around the corner…

Imelda May: “I wouldn’t be a musician or a writer if it wasn’t for The Liberties”

Since writing and launching her debut, but especially since sophomore album ‘Love Tattoo’, the biggest selling record by any Irish female artist ever, Imelda May has been part of the folklore of a certain distinctive part of Dublin city.

The Liberties has its own special character, and Imelda, despite having moved to the south of England with her daughter, still holds the place in the highest of esteem. “My heart and soul is in The Liberties, and I’ll be coming back,” she tells us. “I wouldn’t be a musician or a writer if it wasn’t for being from there.”

“It’s so pervasive and colourful, a place where eccentricities are really encouraged. I used to put my demos in the fruit and veg store on Meath Street, and they’d make everyone who came in keep quiet and listen to them. You never forget that kind of support.”

“Poetry was everywhere, too. People have been asking me recently if I think poetry is elitist. It absolutely is not. My dad used to read me Spike Milligan. I have an uncle who was a taxi driver and a poet. Another guy did beautiful oil paintings and drove the delivery trucks, and my aunt used to dance. The place is so creative, it’s part of its spirit.” Some of May’s own work is used in support of the Penny Dinners in the area, with the poem ‘Liberty Belle’ a particular dedication.

Groundhopping: Bluebell United (v Crumlin United, Capco Park)

Date: 23 July, 2020

Competition: Leinster Senior League, Sunday Senior Division

Result: Bluebell United 2, Crumlin United 2

Tickets: No entry fee (they have charged a fiver in the past, which I believe is normal, but seemed to be waving people through after taking names for contact tracing at this game).

Attendance: circa 90

The game: A first game back after corona for me (though the second for the teams). A cliched game of two halves, in which Crumlin United utterly dominated the first half winning two penalties, the first of which was saved by the charismatic Andy McNulty in the Bluebell goal. They scored the second and then added another, and then seemed to fall apart in the second half.

Crumlin looked like getting the win anyway, but Bluebell’s very late scrambled equaliser tied the game. Strangely, that was the same result as the last time I saw these two play at this ground, a final day of the season contest for the LSL top-tier title which saw Bluebell win, as Crumlin needed to win the game to overtake them. They’ve typically been at the top of this league, though both have faded to upper mid-table in recent years, which is a shame, as the rivalry is intense, making for quite aggressive-feeling and argumentative games – always entertaining.

R.S.A.G.: “There was an excitement in the unknown and where this could take me”

R.S.A.G. – the apt descriptor for Jeremy Hickey’s inventive and textured electronic act Rarely Seen Above Ground – is something of an icon in a certain segment of the Irish music scene. Known for his subtle textures, startlingly impressive drumming and clever production.

His latest, ‘Chroma’, is an unusual concept album, based on ‘Colour’ pieces that chart Hickey’s day-to-day life in musical form. He describes it as being about struggle and emotion, frustrations and regression, but also about concept and creativity.

“I think on this album the songwriting has gone to a different sensitivity, a more thoughtful space. I also decided to mix the album myself which was a very interesting and fulfilling exercise.”

“The process really started when I moved out to the country about 10 years ago and set up my new studio. I decided that whatever I was going to do next it had to be an honest reflection on how my life had changed and was continuing to do so.” 

“There was an excitement in the unknown and where this could take me. I was also struck by the wondrous colours and sounds nature had to offer from my studio view. There was an interesting correlation between nature and the recording process. I sat down with my co-writer Jamie Walsh and we talked about the album being a more colourful piece of work and that we could document it through a musical diary. Going back and forth with sketches until the right lyric fitted each musical mood.”

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 129

There’s something so psychologically weird about an invisible enemy. It’s added to by the kind of ‘lag time’ involved in the virus – it doesn’t show symptoms for several days. It’s hard to handle: you know that you’ve been somewhere slightly risky (the supermarket, for example), and you don’t know if you’re now a risk to yourself and your family.

Of course, it’s entirely impossible to avoid any level of risk at all: if you’re locked up in your house, you’re at the very least requiring someone else to supply you with food and essentials, and that in itself is a risk. Life is also a constant risk, I accept that, but at least life’s risks typically manifest immediately, rather than hanging over you like an anxiety axe, waiting to fall, or not.

It’s been 129 days since Ireland went into lockdown, and probably a week longer than that since we started to have serious concerns about how coronavirus was going to impact us personally and directly, as opposed to in more abstract and distant ways. It feels like it hit hard, and while things have improved substantially since the worst times (for Ireland) back in April and May, things like ‘second wave’ and the daily check on the number of cases have become everyday language, and hovering worries.

The consequences come out in a number of waves other than the obvious illness itself – the current death count is somewhere north of 1,700 here, but now, thankfully, creeping up only very slowly. The effects are huge economically, of course, but the social consequences are substantial, too, as is the general sense of malaise, which has played out to some extent in the media and in public dialogue in looking for people to blame.

Some of those people should, legitimately, have been far more careful. American tourists giving interviews on national radio from Dublin Airport as they land from some of the worst-hit areas and telling Ireland that “the risk is exaggerated” quickly become pariahs, and anger at them is understandable, in my opinion. Videos of young people leaving large house parties show not enough care is being taken, but blaming young people and Americans (or China, as the point of origin of corona), just seems a little ridiculous and overblown.