When Kieran Stewart’s new play, The End Of Pirate Radio, for Stagemad Theatre Company, opens on 19th June at Garter Lane, I think people will enjoy the almost nostalgic memories about the growth of pirate radio in Ireland and Waterford in particular. And pirate radio is already part of the folk memory of Waterford’s baby boomers and Simon fans. In preparation to interview Kieran Stewart about his play, I asked people for their memories of the early WLR, ABC and Suirside and these memories are tied into people rather than the music of the time. The late Eddie Coady (there’s a guy down our chip shop thinks he’s Elvis), Tony Weldon (down there in the feathers), Bill Fitz who shared the family story of his late son with listeners in a caring almost ordinary way. There was the famboyance of Rick Whelan, the homeliness of Paddy Nolan; arts matters were covered by John Walsh and Clodagh Walsh and Hospital Request shows had a significant listenership.
Although Kieran Stewart doesn’t want to see himself as the next Jim Nolan, or the next Pat Daly, it is possible that The End Of Pirate Radio will generate the buzz that The Gods Are Angry, Miss Kerr did for Jim Nolan.
Stewart credits Larry Fanning as being the inspirational force that led him into theatrical involvement, back in the early seventies. He grew up in Marian Park near the Fannings and Larry gave his own son Niall and Niall’s friend Kieran Stewart a few bob to distribute posters and flyers for Theatre Royal shows. Stewart also got tickets for shows and while he became an apprentice in the motor trade he became involved with Waterford Dramatic Society, with Davy Condon and Anthony O’Neill (father of the Forum’s Ciaran O’Neill). Without knowing it, there was a spirit of experimentation and he worked with Jim O’Meara, a seminal influence in Waterford Youth Drama, and with Paul ‘Hamish’ Hennessy on Anti-Nuclear plays (Hennessy is now Chair of Wexford Festival Opera).
The End Of Pirate Radio is the story of Manus Mythen who fell in love with the small-town dreams of being a somebody in local radio and of getting the chance to play the kind of music he loved and wanted to hear. When radio went from pirate to legit, some disc jockeys or presenters made the transition and the era of personal music choice went from dj’s personal choices to play lists and station favourites. Stewart’s play catches well the hopes and dreams of the era and the lessons one dreamer learned in the process. Other characters in the play tell the family story and the commercial change from folksy community radio to conglomerate media buyouts.
Stewart is definite that he wants to tell people’s stories with an immediacy that might seem like social relish. He himself had a taste of pirate radio with ABC based near Tramore where the makeshift transmitter was located in the toilet. He read the Sports results.
He is reluctant to talk about ambitions or comparisons but he has the concerns of any young parent trying to rear a family, work at a demanding job as a Youth Trainer with Manor St. John Youth Services and complete degree studies in Galway and Cork. He is married for the last 18 years to Annette and they live in Listrolin, Mullinavat with their two children, Ceire (10) and Daire (7).
Stagemad Theatre Company are like Kieran Stewart, poised on the edge of going professional and both could do with significant Arts Council support, but most of all they need the support of a Waterford public who appreciate good theatre and want to see aspects of their own lives told with honesty, humour and to be as entertaining as possible.