A Bottomless Well Of Music On Dublin’s Mean Streets [15Sep2013]

Suppose I told you I had found a radio station that I had listened to for over a decade, and that in all that time it had never repeated a track? Or that this station had inspired me to many new artists and album purchases, and helped me discover tracks from well known artists so long buried and forgotten that I barely remembered them. Would you believe me?

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Of course, there is no radio station that good . . . even the best repeat their tracks over the weeks, while the worst have a handful of tunes on 2 hour rotation.

But there is a place, on the streets, rather than the dial, where I have had this experience . . a backstreet barber – one of those small little havens of masculinity in an increasingly feminised retail zone that is the modern city centre..  There are many of these, often noted for their haircutting or conversational skills, but seldom for their musical depth, but Jack’s is different.

Hidden down a back alley running between Camden and Harcourt Streets, I first discovered Jack’s Barbers way back in 2001, when I was working in Phantom FM, then still a pirate station, based above Wheelans of Wexford Street. Needing a haircut one day, I spotted the barber’s pole down a little sidestreet almost opposite our studio, went in on a whim, and have been a regular ever since.

The haircuts and general barbering is well up to standard, and the staff are fine, but it’s the music which keeps bringing me back. There is musical memorabilia all over the walls, but that can be found anywhere. No, it’s the music they play that makes each visit a new adventure.

Most barbers or hairdressers will play generic pop or the safest commercial stations, but Jack’s plays its own selection of music, and it is never, ever, the same. If you visited once, you might think this was a shop where a eclectic brand of lesser known reggae was the thing, but a second visit would give you fresh indie rock, soulful jazz, R&B, bluegrass, classical or perhaps vintage pop, or mixtures ranging across all of those and more. I literally never know what I am going to hear when I walk in the door, and once heard, I have never, ever heard the same selection or tracks again, no matter how many years worth of visits I clock up.

And it’s not some vast library lumped onto an iPod and left to shuffle – far from it. On any given visit the music has obviously been crafted not as a series of tracks, but as an musical arc of mood, theme, style, genre, or aspect. Time and thought has been put into the selection every time.

I have made many purchases in iTunes which were the result of my enjoying something so much in Jack’s that I have committed a few lyrics to memory, so I could Google them later, discover the artist, and buy either the track or more often a whole album. I rarely come home from Jack’s without some kind of musical reward in my head.

Quite often they are new to me, but sometimes, as with my visit yesterday, they are old, old pieces of music, so long unheard by me that they had passed entirely out of my consciousness. (yesterday’s gem was Madame Butterfly by Malcolm Maclaren).

And they do a damn fine haircut too.

Jack’s Barbers is at Montague Street, Dublin 2. 

(note: I have no commercial or personal relationship with them other than as a customer, and they are unaware that I am writing this piece, or even that I write at all)

Steve


8Radio.com On Air [30Mar2013]

Tonight sees my first show with 8Radio.com, and my return to the Irish airwaves

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Simon Maher’s new Irish station 8Radio.com launched at midnight Friday, and is live online, as well as on FM in three cities – Dublin (94.3), Cork (106.7) and Limerick (105.5).

It’s been great today to hear it blasting out as I’ve driven around the capital, listening to voices old and new go through the excitement of first shows.

It’s just over an hour to 11pm when I myself will take the helm for the 11pm-2am slot, my first time on FM in Ireland since I left Phantom 105.2 two years ago.

During the intervening time I’ve been a regular presenter on Radio Caroline (and still am) but nothing quite beats the thrill of being live in your own market.

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Steve Conway Joins 8Radio.com As It Launches On FM In Dublin, Cork, Limerick

Delighted to return to the Irish Airwaves – Steve Conway “thrilled” to be joining “interesting and passionate team at 8Radio.com

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Steve Conway is to join the team at 8Radio.com, Ireland’s brand new online radio station, which will also operate on FM in Dublin, Cork and Limerick for 15 weekends starting this Saturday.

8Radio.com is the brainchild of Simon Maher who was previously a founder presenter and General Manager of Phantom 105.2 from its early days as a pirate station through to its days as a fully licenced operation.

Following his departure from Phantom in early 2011, Simon has been working on putting together a group of like-minded individuals with a love of music and radio. “I’ve been asking people what they listen to for a year now and so many people have deserted traditional radio altogether which is a great shame” Simon comments.

“People still love music though so they have replaced their terrestrial radio listening with online radio/spotify/deezer and their own playlists which are by their nature a bit less structured than traditional radio. So, when we started putting the music for 8Radio together, we have gone for a much more random selection. Think Tom Waits followed by Dutch Uncles followed by The Blades at lunchtime!”

From studios in Dublin, 8Radio.com will broadcast live online through its website http://8radio.com, as well as stylish apps for Android and iPhone.

From March 30th though to July 7th 2013 8Radio.com can also be heard on FM every weekend in Dublin (94.3), Cork (106.7) and Limerick (105.5).

Steve, who will be be heard every Saturday night / Sunday morning from 11pm to 2am says:

“I am really thrilled to be joining this exciting project, and to be working with such a passionate and dedicated team to bring this new station to life. In particular it is great to be working with Simon Maher again, a man for whom I have huge respect. I worked for him at Phantom for 11 years, and his drive and enthusiasm never failed to inspire me

Simon Maher (left) 8Radio.com founder, with Steve Conway (file photo)

Simon Maher (left) 8Radio.com founder, with Steve Conway (file photo)

Steve continues “Over the years I have worked for some wonderful radio stations, including Caroline and Phantom, and not forgetting South East Sound the rock pirate in South London where I started my career 28 years ago. I’ve always been very picky about the places I choose to broadcast, as I feel that I do my best work in environments where I feel really enthused and inspired by the team around me. So I’ve leapt at the the chance to work for 8Radio.com, because here is a station that is born out of genuine enthusiasm for music and radio, with a brilliant team made up of a mixture of all ages and backgrounds, but all believers in how great radio can be if it is made with passion

For more information on the station visit 8Radio.com.

Steve will be on air every Saturday from 11pm through to 2am Sunday morning.


Live Reading, Dublin, Thursday 14th March 2013 – “Television”

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After a short break from the live scene due to a hectic schedule last year, I am delighted to be returning to public readings as part of a special themed event at The Workmans Club, Wellington Quay, in Dublin City Centre.

Hosted by Seven Towers, this is a short evening event kicking off at 6.30pm, with writers and poets including Orla Martin, Phil Lynch, Eamonn Lynsky and myself exploring the theme of “Television“.

Full details at www.seventowers.ie

Steve


More on Fairy Tree & Forbidden Ground

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Amongst the response to my post on things seen in 2012, the Fairy Tree and the Forbidden Ground sign have elicited the following query from a UK-based reader, the always inspiring Christopher England (whose own blog can be found here).

Chris says:

“I’ve never seen fairy trees before. I guess it’s an Irish thing. It reminded me of the Tibetan wind-prayer flags that are placed alone and forever, right up in the remote parts of the mountains. Although they do wear and come to pieces in the wind, many remain there long after the person originating the prayer has died. That always makes them something special, imho”

The fairy tree, while not exclusive to this island, does seem to have a long connection with Irish superstition and folklore.

Although I was unaware of them myself before coming across this example in a Dublin park, according to this site they can be found at many locations around the country.  There is certainly a lot of fairy folklore in Ireland, and I remember my father pointing out to me the fairy rings and fairy forts in rural Cork and Tipperary when I was very young, and noting how farmers would avoid ploughing or disturbing the ground at these locations.

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Perhaps more common in Ireland is the Holy Well or Holy Bush – these can be found in many rural locations, and to this day you will still find strips of ribbon and clothing tied to trees at a “holy” location on a roadside.

The only time I ever saw anything similar in the UK was at Barnes Common, where the tree that killed Marc Bolan is still visited and decorated regularly by his fans, despite the passage of four decades.

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

Chris goes on to comment on the “Forbidden Ground” sign I photographed in Co. Kerry.

“Also, possibly an Irish thing, is the phrase ‘Forbidden Ground’. An interesting choice of words I’ve not seen before, being more used to ‘Restricted Area’ or the like”.

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This one is certainly not Irish, and I am as baffled as Chris by its usage to cordon off a closed pathway in Reenagross Park, Kenmare.  I have never seen the phrase “Forbidden Ground” used in a civilian context, and the crime-scene style tape makes it look even more curious. That forbidden zone is just begging to be penetrated if you ask me!

Chris goes on to comment:

“with regard to the many ‘Do Not’ signs in the Dublin Dockland, and mindful of it being an area with an ‘Explosive Atmosphere’, they do seem to have missed out a pretty obvious one of ‘Do Not Smoke’”

Just down the road from the original sign here:

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

there is another one, on a presumably similarly explosive compound, which does caution against smoking, as well as “spark ignition vehicles” (petrol engines to you and me)  – the first time I’ve seen that warning., although apparently if you make a prior arrangement, they are not dangerous . .

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As for what is hidden behind the fence, well that also has some interesting signage:

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The “Stripping Pumphouse” eh?

Now THAT’S what I call “forbidden ground” in goold old catholic Ireland!

Steve


The Things I’ve Seen

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Hidden gems and forbidden ground – things I’ve seen walking in 2012

A year ago this week, I mentioned here that I had started to walk regularly as part of a pathway back to fitness.

My approach to this was to be fairly utilitarian – using walking as a means to fitness and sometimes a means of transport. My friend Chris who commented encouragingly on my efforts suggested that walking might introduce me to things I’d never seen before, but I didn’t really accept that. After all, most of my walking would be in Dublin or other places I already knew well, and what would there be to see that I’ve not already seen?

I also commented in my post, mindful of how new year efforts often peter out, that we would see at the end of the year if I managed to continue the daily walks. Well I did, barring a couple of weeks here and there when I was caught up in some pressing domestic matters.

Perhaps the best way to update you on my progress in the past 12 months, and to illustrate how wrong I was – the walks quickly became as much about discovery as utility – is to share some of the interesting things I stumbled across over the last 12 months (bearing in mind that what is interesting to me might not qualify as interesting to everyone!)

Included below are pictures of things taken only on my walks – not my day to day life – which otherwise would have been unseen by me.)

All of these pictures can be viewed in larger, high-res detail by clicking on the photo.

Abandoned army firing range in the Dublin Mountains . . with interesting artwork

Abandoned army firing range in the Dublin Mountains . . with interesting artwork

A closer look shows that under the grass, a bare-breasted woman is holding up the surface of the hillside.

A closer look shows that under the grass, a bare-breasted woman is holding up the surface of the hillside.

A Fairy Tree in Marlay Park, Dublin

A Fairy Tree in Marlay Park, Dublin

Pin your wish to the fairy tree

Pin your wish to the fairy tree

Travelling from Dublin to Cork I set off earlier so I can stop for a walk en route, and see sunrise over a frosty Curragh

Travelling from Dublin to Cork I set off earlier so I can stop for a walk en route, and see sunrise over a frosty Curragh

I'm determined not to let the weather stop my plans for a walk across Hampstead Heath, and am rewarded with a fine winter view of London

I’m determined not to let the weather stop my plans for a walk across Hampstead Heath, and am rewarded with a fine winter view of London

 . . and instead of a snow man, a snow bunny.

. . and instead of a snow man, a snow bunny.

On each of my three visits to London this year I have walked a section of the Thames Path . . here the old London Transport Lotts Road power station stands against a winter sky.

On each of my three visits to London this year I have walked a section of the Thames Path . . here the old London Transport Lotts Road power station stands against a winter sky.

Graffiti under a bridge in London

Graffiti under a bridge in London

 . . and on a hoarding in Dublin Docklands.

. . and on a hoarding in Dublin Docklands.

For nearly 50 years as I haved travelled toe Dublin to Cork road I have always looked at the steep wooded hillside outside Fermoy, with what looked like a stone cross on top. This year I stopped and climbed it . . and it's higher up, and the cross far bigger than I realised.

For nearly 50 years as I have travelled the Dublin to Cork road I have always looked up at a very steep wooded hillside outside Fermoy, with what looked like a stone cross on top. This year I stopped and climbed it . . and it’s higher up, and the cross far bigger than I realised.

 . .and from the hilltop could now look down at the Dublin to Cork road far below. No longer down there thinking "Maybe one day".

. .and from the hilltop could now look down at the Dublin to Cork road far below. No longer down there thinking “Maybe one day”.

Below ground - walking through the Rotherhithe Tunnel in east London. I'd always wanted to do this walk too!

Below ground – walking through the Rotherhithe Tunnel in east London. I’d always wanted to do this walk too!

When walking the Rotherithe Tunnel, best not to hang about. I was certainly a petrol-head by the time I got out the other side . .

When walking the Rotherithe Tunnel, best not to hang about. I was certainly a petrol-head by the time I got out the other side . .

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

The Day The Earth Stood Still? It's high noon on a saturday, and the docks are deserted as I walk the long, long Alexandra Road.

The Day The Earth Stood Still? It’s high noon on a saturday, and the docks are deserted as I walk the long, long Alexandra Road.

A solitary bird stands guard at an abandoned fortress in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

A solitary bird stands guard at an abandoned fortress in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

On the Thames Path again, and I came across the old Harrodds Furniture Depository which I remember seeing in the 1980s falling into disrepair . .

On the Thames Path again, and I came across the old Harrods Furniture Depository which I remember seeing in the 1980s falling into disrepair . .

. . but which now has a new lease of life as ultra-smart apartments.

. . but which now has a new lease of life as ultra-smart apartments.

Sometimes I am walking over my own family history. This manhole cover in Dublin Docklands was cast in my grandfather's Iron-foundry at Inchicore where my uncles and father worked for many years, and where I also worked in the school holidays. Judging by the date, I might even have had a hand in making this one!. The foundry is long gone, but hundreds of Conway drains and covers remain on Irish streets, and will for many years to come.

Sometimes I am walking over my own family history. This manhole cover in Dublin Docklands was cast in my grandfather’s Iron-foundry at Inchicore where my uncles and father worked for many years, and where I also worked in the school holidays. Judging by the date, I might even have had a hand in making this one!. The foundry is long gone, but hundreds of Conway drains and covers remain on Irish streets, and will for many years to come.

Another river walk, this time The Rhine in Germany, yeilds an especially moody sky.

Another river walk, this time The Rhine in Germany, yeilds an especially moody sky.

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

The curling of the warning tape in the breeze makes the message seem even more sinister. Is this perhaps the Garden of Eden? Is the Tree of Knowledge just beyond?

The curling of the warning tape in the breeze makes the message seem even more sinister. Is this perhaps the Garden of Eden? Is the Tree of Knowledge just beyond?

So there we have it, a few of the the interesting sights I would not have seen if I hadn’t kept up walking throughout 2012.

Below are my stats for the year from the wonderful “Walkmeter” app.

I hope to do even better in 2013.   Steve

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The Melting (short story)

In addition to the new books I am working on, I have written and continue to write a number of short stories which are based around my own life experiences or things I find interesting.

This story was written in June 2012, and had its debut at the Last Wednesday Series writers open-mic in Dublin on the 27th of that month. I’m presenting it here for your enjoyment, and hope to include it in a collection of my shorter work later in the year.

I’m not sure if you would classify this story as biography or fantasy, but it’s certainly a real-life account of how my mind was working on two perfectly ordinary days . . .

the fall of an empire

THE MELTING

by Steve Conway

It’s freezing cold, and it’ll be several long minutes before the car begins to heat up, and the window de-ices enough for me to move, but I don’t mind really. I am too busy watching the collapse of an empire.

As an introvert, I live a rich inner life, and as a writer, perhaps even more so. It could be that the introspective nature and the gra for writing are linked in some way, but whatever the reason, I find it amazingly easy to tune out of the everyday world around me and retreat into a rich and colourful inner fantasy life.

Or maybe I’m not retreating from the world at all, but just looking at it with other eyes.

The iced over car windscreen is, you see, not a windscreen, but an overview of a fantasy land somewhere beyond reach, it’s people ground down and subjugated in an icy totalitarian regime, frozen in its leaders cruel idology.

Like all such tyrannies its must be resisted and overthrown, but choice of how to do so carry consequences. Oh, I could send in the shock troops – the windscreen wipers or the plastic ice scraper –  to hack away ineffectively at the frozen landscape, but think of the casualties of such brutal action. There is death and destruction in the rasp of wiper-blade over still-frozen window.

No, I prefer the revolution to happen from the grass roots, as the whispered idea of freedom issuing forth from my heater blower, slowly infiltrates and changes minds, causing the tyrant to lose his grip, one ice crystal at a time, as his empire crumbles.

At first there is no change, and then, gradually the dark stain of change creeps upwards from the bottom of the windscreen.  The initial defences are down, the lands in the far south unfrozen, and soon whole chunks of ice start detaching from the mass and sliding down the screen accelerating their fall towards the heat, like defecting troops fleeing their routed armies.

And that tight knot of extra hard ice in the middle of the window? That is the seat of government and it is besieged and falling, and the ruler and his minions are fleeing north to that part of the top of the land still in the grip of winter, but there will be no escape, for my warm ideology will waft its way to there too, by and by.

And while all this is flashing through my head, I am far too busy and entranced in my own imaginings to mind the cold of the morning, or the delay to my journey, and by the time the last castle falls the car is warm and I’m ready to be on my way.

dusty road to nowhere

Another time, a different place.

It is baking hot, and I am walking down a dry dusty road, and straight into a 1950s movie.  The dust road is arid, it runs through the desert alongside a railroad, and my destination is a forgotton, tumbleweed-infested station where no one ever gets on or off.

In my mind I have wandered into the world of the 1955 Western Noir classic A Bad Day At Black Rock, one of Spencer Tracey’s finest, in which, for the first time in twenty years, the train stops in the eponymous town, a stranger alights and trouble ensues.  Maybe I’m the stranger, maybe I’m the secret he’s searching for, but I’m certainly in the middle of a dusty wilderness.

Actually, in real life, I am in South Dublin, walking alongside the Green LUAS line extension to Cherrywood, at a place where it runs for a mile or so through a semi-razed wilderness, a bulldozed land now returning to nature, a site of several hundred acres where a vast new town was planned, but which never got under way before the boom ended. The LUAS trams go whizzing by every few minutes, and I’m getting close to the ghost station of Laughanstown, where the trams stop, but no one ever gets on or off. There is nothing at Laughanstown but a tiny country lane and a single house, and the tram stop built in anticipation of the vast new development rarely gets any custom. There isn’t actually any tumbleweed blowing past, but it wouldn’t look out of place if it did.

Next stop – nowhere

Normally on my lunchtime walks when I exit the high tech office building where I earn my bread I stick to the nearby roads, and wander through a local park, lush and green. But I spy an opening in the fence that has previously sealed off the dirt road through the abandoned wilderness and I am onto it like a shot, wanting to explore pastures new, and silent.

The sun is baking, the rubble-strewn track is rough beneath my feet,I am sweating copiously, but I’m in the bliss of absolute solitude. No one ever comes this way because there is nothing to come for, who in their right mind would walk through this rubble on a scorching day, heading alongside the LUAS line for a ghost station that no one uses? And as I walk I seal myself into the world of the western, the 1955 film keeping me mentally far away from the work-day reality  I’ll have to return to in an hours time.

And then, shimmering in haze ahead of me on the dusty track, there is a flash of brilliant pink.

For a moment it is impossible to define any form or purpose, but eventually it solidifies into a feminine form, far in the distance, coming towards me as I am coming towards her. The heat haze makes her seem to float, and immediately I am in a different space in my head, the film gone, I’m now living in the lyrics of the Talking Heads song “And She Was” watching this mirage-like woman as she seems to glide this way and that over the ground without really touching it at all.

I wonder idly if there is a song playing in her head as she sees me moving inexorably towards her . Perhaps she hears an indie  beat from The Automatic asking her what kind of monster is cresting the hill ahead of her.

More than likely, of course, she doesn’t notice me at all.

She is so vividly pink, the two of us alone in this desolate landscape are such utterly opposite magnetic poles as we come towards each other, that surely there must be some sort of explosion if we touch.

She is female, young, brightly clad and long of hair, blonde, I am male, older, dressed in black and grey, hair short and greying.

But we pass without any chemical reactions or explosions, and after a while she is swallowed up into the landscape behind me.

There is nowhere she can possibly be going. If she was heading to any destination the LUAS would have been quicker, and this track was not usually accessible. She was walking into that wilderness for the sheer joy of it, and as we passed I could see through her smiled greeting the same dreamy look in her eyes as I must have had, and I loved her for it.

I am not the only loner in the desert today. And that, somehow, just the seeing of her, and the realisation that she is there for the same reasons as me, reconnects me with humanity, and makes a difficult work day more bearable, and all this without a single word spoken.

A bad day at Black Rock.

But a good day at Laughanstown.