went to see Luka Bloom play at the Theatre Royal last Saturday night. One man, one guitar and natural talent in abundance was plenty to keep a small audience enthralled for an evening. Luka Bloom has music in his veins. He has the combined gifts of wordsmith and musician along with a clear, soft singing voice; a rare trio of talents that make for a one man band that’s very soul satisfying. His line of friendly, sometimes humourous, self deprecating, laid back patter is possibly well rehearsed and punctuates the same spots at every gig, but it appears off the cuff and genuine which is another rare and endearing quality. As he weaved through his set he transported us all away from the recession and everyday woes; surely the very purpose of music and entertainment, more enjoyable than the psychiatrist’s couch and certainly healthier than drugs. It struck me that although the lower seating area of the theatre was almost full, it was still a modest crowd. It’s quite remarkable to think that people queued at the Forum recently from 3am (according to one report) to get their hands on Jedward tickets!
I don’t really have a problem with Jedward and they are exemplary role models. They don’t drink or do drugs and, if anything, they seem very innocent and sheltered for nineteen year olds. So there’s nothing wrong with John and Edward or nothing wrong with liking Jedward but, let’s face it, they can’t sing. We can only assume that their audience is young and doesn’t know any better but at least they are prepared to go out. Adults, on the other hand, can be harder to shift out of their comfort zones of the couch.
Artists like Luka Bloom and all the other jobbing musicians and songwriters are probably not about hoards of screaming fans anyway. They make a decent living by exploiting natural gifts and passions and the focus is on creativity rather than the career. While there has to be an intrinsic entertainment value they are also documenting a social backdrop that can be both valid and thought provoking. On Saturday night Luka Bloom sang two songs back to back about emigration. One from the point of view of the Irish in America, of which he himself was one, and the other was about a Muslim man from the Algerian dessert who has settled in Galway. Stitched together like that the obvious parallels between the two stories could be seen clearly. While the challenges of emigration are once again staring our country in the face, we have probably largely forgotten the experiences of the 1980s. While the whole world seemed to be flocking here during the tiger years we forgot that they were just us in reverse. While nobody likes a recession it might make us more compassionate to those that have come to settle here from other struggling nations. Suddenly we might be able to identify easily once again.
Milk and honey no more
This is no longer the land of milk of honey that some more cynical immigrants were told about. I have no doubt that news of our economic woes have spread quickly. Many have even chosen to leave Ireland and return to their native countries or other European destinations as things got tougher here. Those that have stayed are here now because they like it, not because of our generous welfare system. They are making real lives here. Their children are making friends as they work through the education system and coming out the other end still with surnames difficult to get your tongue around, but with Waterford accents and a passion for hurling. The financial gap between immigrant family and native family has also been narrowed significantly and the playing pitch has be naturally levelled somewhat. Without meaning to sound critical perhaps our arrogance is finally being replaced with humility. Suddenly we can appreciate the struggle it may have been to hang on in an environment where everything was very expensive, the natives appeared to be prosperous and all that was left were the jobs that nobody wanted to do.
Thankfully things have changed and relatively quickly when all is considered. I was served by a lovely Polish girl in the supermarket the other evening. It was close to 10pm and as I was buying some wine among other things I was anxious to get to the till before the alcohol sales cut off time. We were both laughing at the fact that it was a ridiculously early curfew on alcohol sales and she was explaining that even if it is one minute passed ten, the tills are programmed not to receive so there is little that the staff can do about it. We also agreed that the Sunday morning ban of alcohol sales until 12 noon was equally a nuisance and a nonsense. She commented that in Poland you can get alcohol 24/7. She added at the end, “I still prefer it here the Irish are much more friendly”. I walked away pleased. It’s always nice to here positive feedback as too often we read about the negative and unpleasant experiences of immigrants.
Then the occurrence of the earthquake in Chile also highlighted the Chilean community here. Who would have thought that there are almost two hundred Chilean families living in Ireland. We are a tiny, outward looking Island nation who have travelled and settled in every part of the globe. We see that as very natural and while we always tend to see ourselves as globally bigger because of the Diaspora, I’m still shocked when I here about the nationalities that have found us and made Ireland their adopted home. We were very used to going and we’ll have to get used to it again. Hopefully we will now adopt a different attitude to those that are coming. Surely we would hope that other nations will embrace our people with warmth and friendliness when they arrive, it is only right that we do the same.