Tag Archives: music

National Anathema

Watching the Irish rugby matches over the past few weeks I’ve been reminded of just how awful our national anthem is when compared to those of other nations. Considering Amhrán na bhFiann is all about soldiers, conflict and beating back hordes of thieving Saxons, you would expect it to be a bit more rousing and exciting. As it is, the monotonous dirge that is usually droned along to in a half-hearted fashion couldn’t be any less inspirational. Apparently Yeats was right; romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary…who didn’t even make the squad. To be fair, our anthem is still significantly better than that Phil Coulter abomination that we have to sing to placate the Ulster lads, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

Written in 1907, the song soon became a popular marching tune for the Irish Volunteers. It was also sung by the rebels in the GPO during the Easter Rising. Funnily enough, the song wasn’t translated into Irish until after 1916. The image of young, rebellious Irish freedom fighters singing a nationalistic war tune in the King’s English seems a bit incongruous. Then again, that entire conflict was basically a suicide mission dreamed up by some deranged homosexual poets who wanted to die a bloody and glorious death and bring as many innocent, impressionable Irish kids with them as possible. So I suppose it wasn’t the strangest part of those few days.

Among other rugby nations, in particular, our anthem falls disappointingly short. The Six Nations tournament boasts some seriously impressive anthems. God Save the Queen, while inherently akin to fingernails on a blackboard for Irish people, does in fairness have a certain bombastic quality. The lyrics may be imperialistic nonsense that belongs in the dark ages, but it’s a catchy tune. The Welsh anthem is similarly pleasing to the ear, helped greatly by the fact that every Welshman is blessed with an incredible singing voice. And the fact that Katherine Jenkins is often the one singing it.

The Scots touch on similar themes to us, but in a much more violent fashion. Flower of Scotland is basically a history lesson and an Anglophobic hate crime rolled up into a Highlands tune, which is why everyone loves it so much. The French have La Marseillaise, possibly the catchiest anthem of them all. It’s a stirring and upbeat tune that is always sung with great gusto and passion, and best of all it ensures that two whole minutes can pass without the French booing their own players. Finally we have the Italian anthem, which, while a little dated at this stage, is still a great sing-along tune, and accurately encapsulates the Italian personality.

Our own national song definitely needs some updating if it’s to compete with its contemporaries. A competition to find a worthy replacement would appear to be in order, and could take the place of our ridiculous annual search for new victims to send to the Eastern Bloc love-in that is the Eurovision. I’ll give you a heads-up lads, if we’ve never had a genocidal dictator then we’re not going to win. Those depressingly generic landlocked Soviet abortions of countries have it all sewn up. They all give each other douze points every year, and in return they have a free trade between themselves in worker donkeys, landmine detectors and framed photographs of Stalin that they can hang over their cooking pot and spit on whenever they pass by. That’s what the Western European media tells me anyway, I don’t see why they’d lie.

If we couldn’t find a suitable entry from Ireland, we could always get some professional help. Perhaps we could pool together what little cash we have left and pay Hans Zimmer or John Williams or the like to compose a dramatic new piece that would be the envy of the anthem community. Although the Garda band might have to expand its ranks a little in order to do it justice. Walking all those cellos onto the Croke Park pitch every weekend would be a bit of a chore.

The other alternative, of course, would be to adopt an existing song as our new anthem. Something that reflects the direction we’re heading in, like this Talking Heads number. Having it sung at national occasions would hardly be uplifting, but at least it would show a realistic approach to our current situation. In a few years we’ll probably be forced into adopting some sort of happy-clappy pan-European anthem anyway, so we might as well enjoy our autonomy while it lasts, and have a bit of fun with our new anthem. Just make sure nobody tells Phil Coulter about it.


The X Factory

The UK version of The X Factor returned to our screens this week, without Simon Cowell or Cheryl Cole, but replete with new, even more annoying judges such as ‘that girl from N-Dubz’ and ‘your one from thingy who isn’t Beyonce or the other one’. Cowell is busy overseeing the expansion of his brand across the water, where the show is replacing American Idol as the most important element of Midwestern American culture after Billy Ray Cyrus and calling Obama a socialist.

The phenomenon that is The X Factor has come a long way, and has really settled into a rhythm over the last few series. Each episode follows pretty much exactly the same script. First we have a hyper-edited intro set to an upbeat pop song by one of Simon Cowell’s bands, consisting mostly of fat contestants crying, flamboyant contestants flicking their hair, and close-ups of Louis Walsh’s tiny, dead shark eyes as he splutters his way through whatever icy put-downs the producers have assigned him this week.

This is followed by a slightly more substantial montage, usually backed by one of those six or seven classical music pieces that even poor people know from watching movie trailers, in which the most dramatic parts of the episode are shown to us before they happen. The pattern is identical each time: clip of a judge saying that a performance was amazing/average/a pile of steaming shite; close-up of a singer looking suitably proud/confused/incandescent with rage; stock footage of crowd reacting by cheering/booing/braying like a herd of wild donkeys.

The rest of the show unfolds mainly through additional montages, interspersed with about three minutes of actual auditions that showcase the different types of contestant. There are the token lunatics who try to stab the judges when they’re told they sound like a bag of cats, and don’t look much better. Then you have the bereaved middle-aged men with average voices whose sob stories are told to the camera over the dulcet tones of ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay, and who will receive pity votes and eventually finish in the top ten or so in an attempt to convince viewers that the producers actually have souls. Eventually, after toying with your emotions for three quarters of an hour, the show will finish with an unassuming young girl who has the voice of an angel, and an appearance and cultural background that will appeal to the biggest demographic. The crowd goes wild, Louis’s eyes actually become visible, and about seventeen more montages are needed just to close out the show in a suitably dramatic fashion.

Despite all the obvious manipulation I really have to confess a grudging respect for the show’s creators. It is quite possibly the finest example of exploitative theatre for the masses in existence. The beauty of it is that no effort is required. Thousands of people offer themselves up as contestants, to be judged, mocked, celebrated or whatever the producers decide they want to do with them. No amount of actors or scriptwriters could ever come close to emulating the depths of pathetic delusion displayed by the deluge of untalented people who genuinely believe that they have a shot at stardom. Or at least a shot at a Christmas number 2 and an appearance on next year’s Celebrity Big Brother, where Sylvester Stallone’s postman and Amanda Holden’s plastic surgeon will smile emptily at them and pretend to know who they are when they enter the house.

At this stage the entire programme is basically just a manufactured algorithm, in which just the right amount of variables has to be entered each week: crazy people, likeable people, poignant music, uplifting music, good judge, bad judge, pliable crowd, and the most important element of all, people at home wilfully being drawn in by the whole thing. The show is such a car crash of human experience that they even pull in the more discerning viewer who can claim to be watching in an ironic way, but is secretly hooked just like everyone else.

Shared experience is one of the most important facets of the human condition, and it is no surprise that something as all-consuming as this light entertainment show continues to grow in popularity. Everyone has an opinion on it, and it is something that everyone can experience together, whether it is in the form of criticism or adulation. There is also a perverse pleasure to be taken in watching people humiliate themselves, which is one thing that the show is never lacking.

The X Factor is about as artificial and contrived as an entertainment show can be, and every part of it is made specifically to exploit and to manipulate. The feelings it elicits in people, however, when witnessing the full range of desperation, sadness, delight, despair, viciousness, generosity and cruelty of humanity, all pre-packaged in a neat little bundle, are as real and tangible as can be. If you think you could never do as the Romans did, and watch the bloody and barbaric sports of the Colosseum, stick on the telly this Saturday, have a look at the judges seated in front of an audience baying not for blood but for humiliation, and think again. I’d rather be thrown to the lions than that lot.