bap220Bap Kennedy had experienced tough times and lived through an awful era in Belfast. It was not cool to show your feelings so much then. Many people chose to be gruff and inward-facing and there was an aspect of that with Bap. This was compounded by the fact that he was involved in the music industry, where the game face and the shtick were expected. That wasn’t his way.

So he may have seemed awkward at times. Back in the ’80s he sometimes joked on stage, clowning his way though the preacher routine on ‘Pain Heartache And Redemption’. That was less common. His default was tenderness. That’s when he left the restraints of place and circumstance and instead he was lit with grace.

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late-night220Late Night Tales: David Holmes
(Late Night Tales)

‘Johnny Favourite’ was a David Holmes release on the Warp label in 1994, a clanking, 15 minute descent. The title was a nod to Mickey Rourke in the film Angel Heart, a private investigator hired to find the elusive entertainer Johnny Liebling. The journey took Rourke to New Orleans, where he encountered blood and bad magic, lashing him into a voodoo loop, a Faustian buy-out. At the end of the film, Lucifer repossessed his soul and the elevator took him on a terminal ride to Hell.

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cave105Alfredo De La Fé was born in Havana, and then active in the New York clubs from the age of 12. He played with Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. The boy was part of the birth of salsa and his drugs career began at the same time. Ultimately, he was so pinned before a scheduled performance in front of the Pope that he missed the gig. That was 30 years ago and he’s been off the drugs since.

We meet in Bogotá, his adopted home. “Be careful when you visit Colombia,” he says with a wink. “I came on a visit 14 years ago and I’ve never left the place.”

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seamus-heaney200I once spent a messy, dawn moment on the slopes of Dingle with Steve Cooney. The Australian guitarist had been initiated into the ways of Aboriginal mysteries and he explained some of the benefits between puffs on a roll-up.

He said that he was able to experience the spirit and the energy force in the mountains and the rivers and other parts of the landscape. In the Australian Outback, he explained, it felt massive. In Ireland, he said, it was a bit less intense but it was there, absolutely, pulsatingly true.

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Darkling180Come on in if you favour a piece of elegantly cloaked heartbreak, a spooked-out waltz, a deal of silence and maybe some looping fatalism. The Darkling Air provide all this on their debut album, ‘Untamed & Beloved’. There are strings and sense of scale. The vocals are measured and sorely present. The stories often take place offstage, but that won’t stop you becoming absorbed. You will hang with the pauses and hold out for a decent resolution, for a chance that the light may win over.

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66days250

May 17, 1986 and I’m at the RDS Stadium in Dublin for Self Aid, Ireland’s response to Live Aid. Many of the big acts are present, including U2, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello and The Pogues. There is talk about the endemic of unemployment and the evening will end in a woozy farewell to Phil Lynott who had died in January. But the moment I recall most vividly is when Christy Moore performed ‘Back Home In Derry’.

It seemed like everyone was singing that chorus and Christy had the presence to encourage the thousands of voices as they lifted into the spring evening. It was yet another song about Irish rebels being deported to Australia. The tune was borrowed from Gordon Lightfoot but the inescapable truth was that the lyric had been written by Bobby Sands, IRA hunger striker.

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gerardEven when Gerard Dillon is absent from his own paintings, there is still a blue moon, a lonesome Pierrot, misty essence of the man. That’s the Belfast painter in the sky, illuminating the Connemara Lovers who recline under the expanse of indigo, unaware of that looming feature with the lost smile. In the later paintings like Brothers, the carnival is emphatically over and the fraternal bones hold no comfort for the survivor with his head on the soil.

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John Dee312Dr. John Dee brought drama, anxiety, knowledge and thrills to the Tudor court. He was a seeming authority on the planets, geometry, the navigation of major land masses, cryptology, language and alchemy. He advised the royals with his horoscopes and he proffered Queen Elizabeth a channel into the otherworld.

He was across science and magic before the terms were divorced. He massed up a huge library at his home in Mortlake, much of it esoteric. He is a likely model for Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and was later mocked by Ben Johnson in The Alchemist when his reputation was in decline.

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doherty1Shallogan, May 1964 and the American songwriter and archivist Pete Seeger is in a caravan during a rainstorm. Fortunately, he is in the company of John Doherty, an iterant fiddle player from south west Donegal. The latter was born in nearby Ardara in 1900 and while he has rarely travelled far from the Bluestack Mountains, his reputation has gone further.

Seeger is joined by his wife Toshi, who films the encounter. Dr. Malachy McCloskey, a patron and supporter, is helping to manage the conversation and the musical flow. Peter Kennedy, the English collector is recording the audio and pushing for content.

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Layout 2It’s at the chill end of 2006 and I’m at Macfin near Ballymoney with Henry McCullough. It’s not exactly a country spread, but there’s a tidy porch out front and space behind for a few hens. Henry and his partner Josie look content as they fetch out tea for the guests and set more wood in the pot belly stove. It might be a rural scene from any number of places in County Antrim but we’re also in the company of a guitarist with an outstanding reputation, a master of tone and emotion, internationally travelled and feted.

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