It’s hard to know where to start with this blog, locked away in my sparse white walled hotel room, with no tv (thrown out the window, rock and roll stylie), no corgi trouser press (dismantled in a moment of boredom) and no complimentary fridge (emptied and out the window with the tv).
Hold on, no it’s not, it’s easy. I’m living the dream singing Ian Dury songs every night as a job!! And I’ve just been facebooked to say Time Out magazine have given Graeae's Reasons To Be Cheerful a four star review and is critics choice, get in!
I’ve been on the road (rehearsing and performing) now for 8 weeks, with a few breaks here and there. We’ve been running the show for the last three weeks, with 10 shows left and I love every minute. There’s honestly not been any down moments or hard times, it’s been a riot! We’ve had sell out shows and raucous crowd participation and I’m hungry for more too.
I’m not saying it’s been all easy, there has been challenges and the odd little panic here and there. It’s been hard work and keeping my nerves at bay has been a full time effort. However the sheer energy that we have collectively created in this little (actually sizeable) family, has whipped us all into an almighty whirlwind when we hit the stage and there is no sign of the winds dying out just yet. The dressing room corridors could be part of the stage for all the music and expletives pumping from room to room, it’s hilarious!
I’ve never had this level of experience for such a sustained period of and beforehand I was worried about my voice and my stamina surviving. Rehearsals were heavy and hard work, but even they were a joy to be part of and definitely a favourite part of my time. The beauty of working with Graeae is that they really work hard to support you, all the shared understanding around access and attitude go as a pre-requisite so you can rightly focus on yer job.
A word of warning in the current economic climate, I experienced the need to really have to argue the case for what was required in getting any “access to work” support. Dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't’s is a full time job in itself and thankfully Graeae helped me through-out the process. I think honestly I probably wouldn’t have got what I needed without that support. I’d have given up and continued struggling with day to day access issues.
I’ve always had the attitude of getting on with it whatever gets in the way, but that Access to Work really is essential to getting on with it. I think the Access to work powers that be, hope that by putting you through the interrogation of detail required will put you off and I reckon it works a lot of the time. Shooting yerself in the foot comes to mind Mr Cameron? Anyhow, I got it, but if your considering going for it, just remember they are putting barbed-wire onto their purse strings!
So for now, I’m going to keep it short and sweet whilst in this whirlwind. I’m living in the moment, every day and show, one at a time. I promise the next blog will be more reflective and calm. I really hope you get a chance to see what I’ve been writing about and if you do, let me know what you think?
Yours, “the ferocious” (Time Out) Rockinpaddy.
Four weeks of intensive rehearsals and to be completely honest it’s been a ball. We have had a real laugh. It’s been hard work too, with times where we've really had to think through how a particular piece was going to work.
This thinking through was often about how we were going to recover/survive from a fast past song with accompanying choreography to deliver the next critical line. Accessibility has been at the forefront of how we worked things.
The pace of the songs and the language used has been challenging but hilarious too. Let's just say Ian Dury's lyrics provide a colourful canvas to sign upon. It was great at the Liberty Festival to see people singing and signing back at us and we definitely want more of that at the shows please.
The show is also audio-described and these accessibility features are integral to our performance, an equal part of the delivery of the show. It’s worked in rather than bolted on. It is about access but it has a performance aesthetic too.
Reasons to be Cheerful has created a bit of a buzz with media interest surrounding Dury, Graeae and it’s relevance to now. It’s really nice to know friends far and wide are planning to come and see it. Graeae's beautiful and now 'award winning' (this week!!) Bradbury Studio's has been immersed in Dury attitude, Dr Marten Boots and walnut whips (all will become clear at the show).
I've had to do a few interviews where I've had to really think about my response in terms of Disability portrayal. What I mean by this is the realism of disability for me, challenging perception, being true to the need for comprehensive social change. This manifests in the question asked each time about the relevance of a show set in 79 and its relation to what's going on now.
I think its relevance is summed up in Dury's sleeve note on the banned Spasticus Autisticus
"My tribe knows no national boundaries
And pays no heed to race or creed.
I come among you as an example
sent by my tribe to portray them as they are,
As beautiful as I am.
In all my glory my tribe can generate
warmth and fear in people from other tribes:
Some people would stone my tribe
and cast them out:
Others foster and nurture we of my tribe.
The extreme members of my tribe
are killed at birth.
Without the aid of others my tribe
can only crawl slowly.
Hello to you out there in normal land.
We too are determined to be free.”
Spasticus Autisticus, August 1981
For me this is definitely a war cry, so let's do it loud. Let's be angry, let's have a laugh at the ridiculousness we sometimes/always experience, let's celebrate who we are.
Ipswich is pretty well sold out and London comes next (22nd October till 13th November). I really hope you can come along and have a fun night that's also in yer face and a bit naughty.
Next blog: My learning as an artist/performer, lover & fighter.
To see a promo for Reasons to be Cheerful go to http://vimeo.com/16200664
Reasons to be Cheerful is the new production from Graeae. Rockinpaddy (aka John Kelly) prepares to bring Ian Dury’s songs to life.
The significance of Ian Dury, a disabled man with lots to say is obviously important to my new journey. Yet I’ve been into him all my life and there is little doubt that he is an inspirational artist for many. Reasons to be Cheerful has a brilliant and strong narrative written by Paul Sirett and directed by Jenny Sealey, in which Dury’s songs play an integral part and provide the strongest backbone you could wish for.
In this production I’m the band lead vocal and we all give it large! A glimpse of Reasons to be Cheerful was seen at Liberty in Trafalgar Square, and had a real gig feel to it. Now with script in hand, we are into rehearsals proper. I’ve loved getting to grips with the characters and narrative and the inter-play with the songs.
One thing I know is that I’m definitely singing Dury’s songs with the clear aim of giving them the energy and justice they deserve in performance. I guess the line can get a little blurred and Dury himself talked about not really seeing himself as a singer, more a poet/performer. To me he was all of that and brilliant at it too.
Although I don’t play Dury in Reasons To Be Cheerful, I’ve been asked a few times to draw parallels between myself and him. There is no comparison to be drawn between his huge and influential success and my smaller influences and successes in my own backyard. But having immersed myself into everything Dury (not that difficult for a Blockhead as I) there are general comparisons (if not exclusive ones) with the great man that I have come to realise.
For example the importance of music that says something in our identity and fight; Irish family heritage; a dodgy (but beautiful) left arm (and or other bits); surviving a segregated education system; getting into teaching/facilitating; encouraging change and understanding through music; identifying in a proud Disability culture that sticks two (bendy) fingers up at traditional perspectives. Finally, I guess, being a bit cheeky here and there features in both our narratives.
Of course my influences are much wider than Ian Dury alone. I remember as a lad watching a Sunday morning disability programme (was it called Link?) about a band of guys who all played guitar on the trays of their chairs. That image was much more explicit of a musician that I could relate to and they have stuck with me throughout. It was this image which helped me realise that I could dabble on guitar.
Getting into rock, punk, ska, rockabilly and blues was another handy thing as I was self taught and these styles taught me that the rules of music were there to be adapted/ broken. Irish and country were always being played in the house, music has been at my side throughout.
I thank the genius who invented three chords, open tuning and the bottleneck. Since those early discoveries I’ve recorded but mostly played live all over, including New York, Memphis and Nashville. I’ve also gigged Russia, Germany, Estonia Poland, France, Greece, all over the UK and of course my family homeland of Ireland. This is where Rockinpaddy feels most at home and can be found belting out the tunes with a pint of Guinness and a quality plastic straw strategically placed somewhere on stage. We have fun and aren’t too serious, welcoming everyone to join in with the craic.
A civil rights demo in the mid 90’s became a bit of a key moment in my life. Sharing the front of a bus radiator with newly made friends, I still recall the chant of "hey ho, hey ho… and the steps on the bus must go," and they did sort of! Johnny Crescendo was one of those I shared that bus with and his strength & passion in song would definitely be another influence on me. We need some of that energy and danger back today as the latest regime begins a new attack on our rights. Hopefully the musical might give some energy to that. Spasticus is back!!
I became more involved in equality training by listening and learning from other disabled people. Reading Paulo Freire’s notion of Education for liberation was another realization. I was also lucky enough to spend a short but enlightening time learning from the great Augusto Boal. I’ve explored, facilitated and written about inclusion in youth work and it is definitely the way of the Jedi!
My life, music and work are all one really. My own material is strongly motivated by a personal belief in a Social Model; my passion for young people to have real opportunity to reach their potential. I also firmly believe that we can find and celebrate ourselves through the Arts.
I’ve got blue eyes & take size 5 Dr M’s. I’m definitely a bit of rough amongst this diamond bunch that I’m getting to know and love in the production of Reasons to be Cheerful. I’m gonna give this tour every ounce of energy within my lovely bendy body in order to give every brilliant Dury song the justice they deserve… oh yeh, final bit on my background, I’m a lover and a fighter, and I can sing/shout (delete as applicable) a bit too. Visit the Reasons to be Cheerful website to enter competitions, get the latest news and most importantly to get tickets to come see, join in and enjoy!
Ideas for my next blog are welcomed below, but will probably include stories on my current adventures with Graeae, a short guide through my collection of fine & purposeful sticks and humorous anecdotes about drinking straws from around the world and much more.
Oi Oi! And thanks to DAO for inviting me to join the prestigious band of bloggers. To be honest I’m a little over-awed by it. As a reader of DAO I’m an admirer of many of the featured artists and now I’m blogging here too.
I’m a musician/singer and have been gigging since a wee lad. I grew up surrounded by music heavily influenced by the proud Irish roots of my family. That Irish passion for music and enjoying the craic has stayed with me throughout and is evident in my repertoire. I take performing seriously but try not to let it permeate into taking myself to seriously too. Listening, appreciating, playing and performing, music has been my life.
I strongly identify as a disabled person and this is intrinsic to who I am, what and how I perform. My identity and music go hand in hand reflecting something of myself. Like many, I also try to use my experiences, understanding and music as a tool for change.
I’m passionate about my music and work with young people and endeavour to support and encourage change whenever and wherever I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity. I’ve worked in Youth work for over 20 years.
As I started to learn to play and perform music I also began to learn about myself. At that time I rebelled against anything to do with the negative stereotypes of disability. I started a band (Another Dead Rabbit, may it RIP) gigging whenever and wherever I could. I wanted to learn more and took on the guitar, bass and keyboards… pleased to say I’m still dodgy on them all so I mainly concentrate on singing.
In December I was invited by Graeae to attend two script development days as a vocalist. After a further music development day earlier this year I am now to play lead vocal in Graeae’s new production Reasons To Be Cheerful.
For the second time in this blog, if honest, I’ve always been a bit in awe of Graeae’s work too. I feel they have played an important part in our rich creative history, articulating and celebrating our narrative, and now to be involved in working with them is a bit of an amazing turn in my life journey.
Graeae’s website has described Reasons To Be Cheerful as their biggest production to date and I’m excited and petrified about the next few months all in one big swoop. This blog will plot my time as I learn and grow. I certainly see this opportunity as a step up in my work as a musician and inevitably, I’ve got loads to learn and I’m very open to that. I will endeavour to map the progress of the show from my personal perspective.
Reasons To Be Cheerful will include many of Ian Dury’s biggest hits and at this time, I’m eating and sleeping Dury. One of the closest encounters I had with him was in perhaps the more unusual setting of a scout camp. All the sub-camps were named after influential/famous disabled people. I got into trouble for sneaking from my sub-camp, the rather un-cool ‘Bader’ into the much cooler sub camp ‘Dury’ to see the man himself. This chance meeting happened the year after Spasticus had been banned. If I new then what I know now, I don’t think I’d have ever returned to Bader camp!
The period in which Reasons is set is around 1979 and it’s all a bit uncanny to what’s going on now. So I hope to explore some of the parallels and contrasts that this experience is generating; for instance the role of music in articulating disability and our culture; the political feelings now (2010) and then (1979).
The late 70’s saw the beginning of a new Tory government, Thatcher’s Britain. Disabled people felt attacked, scape-goated, excluded and threatened. The backlash to this was the on-going struggle to fight for our dignity, rights and equality. Sound a bit familiar to now?