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An Armchair Odyssey

My life as a ‘longish’ distance fan of Liverpool Part 1 (1988-94)

Introduction

Write about what you know some say. What about what you love? What sometimes seems unrequited love. Until you remember that a football team is under no obligation to love you back. The lessons of not only unrequited love are to be learned, but unconditional too; a love that humans do not give easily. 

I have some kind of marriage with Liverpool Football Club. I’m like an uncle who you rarely see back at the family residence, instead preferring to observe matters from afar. In the early days the temptation was there to go out for the proverbial pint of milk and never return but something always kept me coming back. 

Yes, that’s right I’m one of those fans. The long suffering Liverpool fan who’s never seen his team finish worse than 8th in the league and seen his team lift 14 trophies since their last title coronation. Charges of being insufferable rarely register on my side of the Irish Sea however. Certainly not with any substance.

My current place in the scheme of things is far away, watching on a dodgy laptop stream or nowadays maybe in an empty cafe if the time difference allows. Heading into my fourth decade with a routine steeped in well-being and sleep(the latter at least) I don’t know how often I’ll be getting up at 3am for matches. But this current crop of players are so damn exciting it’s hard to resist. 

How I connect is usually through social media forums. An often unfriendly place where I am as guilty as anyone else of being too partisan, engaging in long duels of ‘whataboutery‘ with trophy counting Paul Scholes’ lovers and Gary Nevillites. 

Ah Manchester United. Like Batman and the Joker, it seems one club can’t exist without the other. Despite only finishing 1st and 2nd in the same season about 5 times since the league began, the rivalry goes beyond football with the city’s economic interests actually what started all this enmity. A port town turned into an international city versus a landlocked metropolis with a canal dug out of the damp Mancunian soil. If football isn’t your thing the history itself could fascinate for hours. The fact that Man City and Everton can seem to get along pretty well would indicate a flaw in my theory. Maybe like two single women at a wedding wearing the same dress, this could be simply a battle over the colour red. 

For me the white hot hate of a M62 derby is not a direct part of my life. I have neither had to endure the austerity of Thatcher or witness the rebuilding of Manchester following an IRA bomb. So it is quite upsetting to see both sets of so-called fans engaging in songs of hate. The tragedies of Hillsborough and Munich greatly damaged not only both clubs but also both cities. Dublin was largely free of that, though we must remember Billy Whelan. 

This is football. See Buenos Aires, Athens, Glasgow or Moscow for much worse. In the Sky Sports Universe however this is the one. Armchair fans are drawn into the phony war a couple of times a year and for a few moments you actually think this ‘one’ will actually settle everything for ever. You wonder if they’ll run out of ideas for promoting the fixture. The game itself inevitably disappoints mind you. There hasn’t been a stone cold classic between the pair since September 1999.

In Ireland at least, fans co-exist peacefully, many with a nodding wink that above all else this is an English problem and they can go to work normally the next day without much fuss. The most significant arguments usually relate to annoying barmen with demands of increased TV volume and being annoyed by the occasional appearance of an unhelpful ‘neutral’ (insert City, Tottenham, Chelsea, Everton at your pleasure. Arsenal fans, thin on the ground, always seem to have something else much bigger going on in their lives) League Of Ireland fans are largely ignored or compromise by having an ‘interest’ in the English game. 

And that’s how it’s pretty much been for the past two decades. In a perfect world it would be a beautiful cacophony of sound and colour every weekend. Instead it becomes a wasteland of ripped up betting slips and crisp packets. I can only endure that from time to time which leaves me pretty much where I want to be. At home, in peace, not wanting to miss a second of the action, replays, angles, VAR and all.

I digressed from my analogies of marriage with the distraction of ‘them lot up the road’ and the culture of viewing football in Ireland, so let me get back to where I was. 

My love affair is many people’s definition of marriage. It started off happy, followed by some years of bitter, harsh, ill-chosen words with occasional glimpses of light. There was never a trial separation though the 1998/99 season was rough going. Right now I feel like it’s a second honeymoon.

Like most marriages the television plays a big role. Many say a key to a good union is to have two TV’s in your home. I was satisfied with one. And my armchair. For the past three decades I have contorted my body into some kind of position to watch my favourite long running soap opera. The travails of this magnificent club. Am I a real supporter? Not in the sense that I’ve ever had a season ticket for L4 0TH nor will I probably ever have one. But the hours spent reading, listening and watching must count for something right? While I mull over that rhetorical question let’s go back to the very start.

This story begins a few months after the birth of my footballing awareness. It is not exhaustive nor is it a list of the best performances we ever had. Instead I want to recall some of the matches and memories that stick out to me after 32 years with the same ‘bird’. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgcS_jcXWw0

Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool 1988/89

My earliest memories are a bit of a blur. I know for certain that my football rumblings didn’t really begin to stir until the Summer of 1988. Ray Houghton, Stuttgart and all that. I have some vague recollections of the season before. My Manchester United supporting dad cursing at the TV as his side disappointed yet again. Some crowd called Liverpool were just too good and wouldn’t let United win at all. I think my initial reaction was one of distress and then something approaching defiance. I was not going to have my day spoiled by a team that didn’t make me happy. The generational baton of supporting the same team was under threat in the Hyland house.

Into the following season and really my fascination was beginning to take shape. The magazines started to come thick and fast. Again, my long suffering dad returning from late work on a Thursday with a copy of Shoot or Match from Tuthills in Clonsilla. I was immediately taken in by the colours of those wonderful jerseys. Nobody really wore Irish green except for the goalkeepers. And if you looked quickly enough all of the Adidas keepers looked similar to the Ireland players. So I knew I was going to latch onto an Adidas team. 

The next parameter I was unknowingly adopting was again the Irish factor. United and Liverpool both had contingents at their club. And when I saw United draw at Everton I was immediately impressed by a Welshman, Mark Hughes. A fine number 10. He was surrounded by little else it seemed but then again I was only putting the pieces of a 90 minute puzzle together. It would take a few more weeks and ITV camera’s next road trip of consequence. Some place called Highbury.

In between that I was making my first steps towards my own footballing anonymity. On our big green around the corner from my house. A true field of dreams. A quick head count among my peers saw Candy and Crown Paints out numbered Sharp four or five to one. Goals were being recreated with questionable accuracy and it seemed like those who wore Candy had a lot of glory to recreate. Those older boys were advising me on my decision without realising it. But I still wasn’t quite there.

A few weeks later and on a cold winter day I settled in to Elton Welsby and Brian Moore’s latest broadcast. It looked rough enough. The pitch was not yet the carpet we’d come to appreciate at Arsenal Stadium. Certainly nothing like the immaculate turf seen in Germany during the summer. That wouldn’t matter much 40 minutes later.

Whatever about United’s number 10, Liverpool’s counterpart was seemingly on another plane. John Barnes. Digger, named after his namesake from the Dallas TV show. Watching him in glorious grey-silver slalom in from the left past an Arsenal back four I knew I had my mind made up. I was a Liverpool boy. 

The season ended with the corresponding fixture. Again Barnes and Houghton involved in the final denouement as the Gunners grabbed glory after an epic battle. I was in tears watching from the bar stool of the Grapevine in Dunboyne Village. As we went home, the wise old man promised that Liverpool would win it again. It wasn’t just the comforting words of a father to his son. He’d been putting up with Anfield based success for the previous 16 odd years at this point.

On reflection I should have been grateful that the team had kept going at all. Hillsborough had been less than six weeks before. This group of men had gone back to work, perhaps still shellshocked by that fateful day. Even won the FA Cup. As a stupid kid I couldn’t appreciate that.

1989/90

Liverpool 1-0 Tottenham 

The new season started with a neighbour having lovingly printed out a full photocopied journal for me to keep track of the season. I wish I still had it now( sorry Fiachra) but I remember watching the highlights on UTV that first Saturday of the season. Liverpool had easily beaten City. It wasn’t really newsworthy however. The biggest story was Man United’s potential new owner. Michael Knighton came onto the pitch not in a black Pontiac Trans Am but instead with a full kit( actually a half kit and fetching German-esque Adidas sweatshirt) and proceeded to play keepy uppy before knocking one into the Stretford End. I didn’t know it was called the Stretford End. I probably called it the Wonderfuel Gas end at this stage. 

United won that day 4-1. An impressive result against the champions. I remember watching the report on BBC and being utterly confused and impressed in equal measure. There appeared to some detente between the two terrestrial giants. BBC 2 news carried it on their seven o clock bulletin.

The more I read, the more I was fascinated. Arsenal had come from nowhere to win their first league since 71. My initial fears of Gunner dominance had apparently been unfounded. They were a flash in the pan. I studied all the league tables in the years previous and they had barely bothered the top 5 since 1971. They’ll slip away, I thought. Besides half the team are alcoholics, whatever that means. 

Indeed for one season I was half right, Arsenal did put some form together in the autumn but never really threatened to retain. That season the real rival for Liverpool was the team after the Gunners in the sticker albums. Aston Villa. 

But rewind to October 89 when Spurs rolled into Anfield for another episode of the ITV’s Big Match. We’d just come off a shellacking at the Dell and Villa were going along nicely.

I was intrigued by the regard in which Spurs were held. Many had them on the same level as Liverpool. Imagine my outrage. But they did have Lineker returning from Barcelona. No matter. Liverpool dispatched them. Houghton and Barnes. I remember thinking on the day that Ray H didn’t get enough credit for the assist. I was right. I also remember thinking that Barnes was a little bit greedy at times and he missed a lot of chances. I was wrong. This was his season. And in turn, our season. Our last at the top for many years.

1990-91

Forest 2-1 Liverpool 

A lot changed very quickly between the summer of 1990 and the following year. King Kenny had abdicated the throne. It was quickly becoming clear to me that Liverpool were nursing many wounds. As a city as well as a club. The players looked a bit older with only a few maintaining the standards of that already legendary 87-88 season.

As a lifelong pessimist I could see what we no longer had. In the previous season’s FA Cup semi, Palace had shown the world we could be got at. Ablett and Hysen were not going to be able to cover for the madness of Bruce like Lawreson and Hansen did. Nicol was struggling to stay fit from the waist down and didn’t appear to be getting any slimmer from the waist up. Beardsley who had mysteriously fallen out with Kenny, was rumoured to leaving in the summer. He had been in and out of the team despite an early season hat trick against Man U. David Speedie was signed from Coventry and even an equaliser at the Wonderfuel Gas end did little to convince even me he was the real deal. Barnes too, worryingly showing signs of being human after a long run without injuries. 

What we did have now was a literal tugboat in Jan Molby, trying manfully to steer his teammates around the pitch. The man who Liverpool had brought in to replace Souness on the pitch was now the same said Souness’s leader on the pitch. He had been brilliant in late 1985-86. But now was different. He was still nerveless from the penalty spot and poised on the ball. But to borrow Shankly’s parlance there weren’t enough piano carriers in the team to accommodate him. We were brittle. And Forest proved it. 

The Tricky Trees would have one more hard slap to give us at the start of the ‘whole new ball game era’ . 13 years after knocking Liverpool out of Europe, they knocked us out of our stride on the opening day of the 1992-93 season. We had some bad days at the City Ground. Blew a 2 goal lead in the title winning season too. But Forest, like so many other Midlands and Yorkshire based sides, would not survive the new dawn with any kind of prosperity.

Another league title for Arsenal then. While they were more imperious than in ‘89, they operated without the brilliant Rocastle for much of the season and the team does not seem to be as fondly remembered. George Graham had built from the back. Seaman, Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Dixon. If Liverpool didn’t sort themselves out, they looked set to be THE team of the 90s. Though a shock in Rotterdam in the European Cup Winners Cup final proved to be more prescient when discussing the decade’s possibilities.

The Reds meanwhile, faced an uncertain 1991-92. Allowed back into Europe, we all hoped ‘Souey’ could bring us back to the top. And to be fair, maybe a lot of us assumed it. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMJK7uHvqYs

Liverpool 3-0 Auxerre

November 91 and by the time this match was played Liverpool looked a mile off the top of the English first division. Though we had the most expensive player in Dean Saunders we didn’t look anything like United who looked like they were playing a different sport. The Red Devils now had an imposing (and annoyingly loud) goalkeeper as well as two speed demons on either wing, Giggs and Sharpe. Three if you count Kanchelskis. I remember almost gasping in awe as Schmeichel arrowed a 55 yard throw towards Giggs in Bramall Lane. Grobbelaar could barely manage that with his right boot. Other additions to the back line included Torben Piechnik with Nicky Tanner getting more first team action

Much like Adidas’s efforts with the new kits we were trying to evolve. Hansen was long gone now as was Hysen, Beardsley too, sold to Everton. Barnes a long term injury. It was all doldrum stuff, with little to look forward to post Christmas. One ray of light did break through however. Mike Marsh. Well he scored a great header. But I’m talking more about Steve McManaman. 

This was one of the first occasions to see him in full flight. And oh how he flew. In an era where wingers built like welterweights was now en vogue we had ours. Trouble was United had three of them. In the end this season brought us the solace of an FA Cup. Officially the end of a great era, the last knockings of a proud generation. By the time we’d get another trophy only a few from this season remained. 

Souness had seen the squad needed to be refreshed but made some bad judgments, arguably staying loyal to those he played with almost a decade earlier ( Nicol, Whelan, Grobbelaar) when the slightly younger players might have been a better bet ( Houghton had a solid three years at Villa, Beardsley excellent at both Everton and Newcastle). It was not all his fault of course. Player contracts can be tough to sort out, especially if there are seven or eight players all around thirty years old. Either way we had not seen the changes coming in time. 

Still though, this was a nice show of defiance. One of the last great nights at the old Anfield, with the Spion Kop still in situ. I watched this at home. Judging by a three quarter full stadium so did a lot of other people.

Aside from Liverpool the season ended with Leeds winning the last traditional 1st division, thanks to an assist by us. Much had been rumoured about the forthcoming Premier League but many just assumed it was a rebrand a la Canon or Barclays in the 80s. Maybe a new trophy and that’s it. People wouldn’t be arsed getting satellite dishes and it would be back on normal telly after a year. Right? RIGHT???

1992/93

Spartak Moscow 4-2 Liverpool

Watching football was getting trickier for me at this point. Our household hadn’t yet gone all in with Sky and that wasn’t really surprising. It was expensive for one thing. But there were still one or two trips to Caffrey’s in Batterstown for a Super Sunday. Title wise, Liverpool were very much a bit part player. It was United now, facing down a 26 year wait for a title, with their only resistance coming from Norwich and Aston Villa. I had yet to reach the levels of resentment history obliges me to have and so I wished them well on their success. Just like so many United fans have done with me recently (haha…If only)

BBC did have a contract for Liverpool’s European games and it was on a weekday afternoon I recall rushing back from Corduff to watch us get educated by a wily Russian outfit. Speaking of outfits Barry Davies actually had to clarify we weren’t in red. Spartak having a virtually identical kit. 

The green away didn’t bring much success for us. Bar a fine Old Trafford debut by Rob Jones and a delicious Barnes backheel against Crewe the previous year, it was witness to tonkings at Highbury, here in Moscow plus of course the infamous Rosenthal miss at Villa Park. Another notable incident from this game was David Burrows ending up in nets. Though a league medal winner, for me he was more part of the rot setting in than a nice new coat of left back paint. He wasn’t much use as a keeper either sadly.

1993-94

Swindon 0-5 Liverpool

These are tough days to look back on. United were imperious in this season. Though the foreigner rule did for them nicely in Barcelona. Who in turn were even more nicely cooked against Milan. European football was showing me all I needed to know about life. Sometimes staying in your bubble is the safest, least embarrassing option. 

Of course it started so brightly for us. An eye-catching new away kit and a hammering of Swindon Town that had many pundits giving us the ‘contender’ kiss of death. Ronnie Whelan had managed to avoid the Souness cull and scored a rare goal. New signing Ruddock bludgeoned another into the net and would repeat the feat later in the year against United. Another new signing, Nigel Clough would score that night too but neither men’s careers are recalled with much fondness sadly.

But in early Autumn it looked promising. I remember watching this in either Collinstown or Castlepollard. It was a nice road trip with the folks. A late summer break, before the school term began. By season’s end Souness would be gone and I had finished my first year in Secondary school. I just assumed things were going to get better.

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Recent Reads

Tributes to dentist who defied mutilation by '˜Border Fox' O'Hare ...
The INLA, seen here, were the ‘brains’ behind the kidnapping of dentist John O’Grady in 1987.

I have recently soothed any lingering feelings of homesickness by reading some Irish based books. Here’s a list of my favourites over the past few months. They are all available on Amazon though I’m sure other outlets will see you right too.

Amazon.com: The Guarding of Ireland: The Garda Siochana and the ...
  1. The Guarding of Ireland-The Garda Síochána and the Irish State 1960-2014: A History of the Irish Police Force. ( Conor Brady)

This is a book that will whet the appetite for further reading. It serves as a timeline of sorts, illustrating the evolution of the force over the past 55 years or so. Essentially the timeline is ; 60-70s paramilitary activity and the border, 80s government interference and drugs arriving, late 80s onwards high profile kidnappings, mid 90s The General’s various heists, 2000s onwards internal corruption. Specific cases are briefly recalled with the subsequent fallout and changes in policy listed thereafter.

My favourite sections involve the numerous ministers that served in the justice department during these years. Few if any come through it unscathed. I bought this as something I might use for reference in my own stories and I think it will serve its purpose quite well. At the end of each chapter there is a helpful listing of sources that you can dig out for further reading. It might sound quite dull to describe it as a mere document of reference. I would say it’s a fine starting point and paints a very good outline of policing on the island. 

Kerrigan, Gene / Hard Cases - TheBookshop.ie
  1. Hard Cases – True Stories of Irish Crime: Profiling Ireland’s Murderers, Kidnappers and Thugs. ( Gene Kerrigan)

This book is an anthology from the excellent Gene Kerrigan. A collection of stories that he would have worked on himself at the time. Some of the most serious crimes ever witnessed alongside some of the most amateur. There is actually some crossover with Brady’s Garda book ( the death of a man in a holding cell in Cavan and the Border Fox kidnapping a dentist) as well as some other tragic ones ( the Kerry babies)

One of my favourites was the presidential visit of Ronald Reagan. With his lineage to the country more tenuous than the ‘O’Bamas’ of Moneygall there was consternation enough before his Irish holiday caused the Gardai Siochana and Army to fall under a state of paralysis for a couple of days, taking their orders from American Secret Service officers despite being in their own country.

 This is a must for anyone who has a fascination for modern Irish history or true crime. It perfectly illustrates a number of truths about us. That we were flat broke for years(Ballyporeen might be still paying off the debt to the state), that religion seems a long way away from the Ireland we now know and that behind closed front doors there are a thousand great stories, often true and very violent.

Gill Books - Politics & Current Affairs - Paddy Machiavelli
  1. Paddy Machiavelli – How to Get Ahead in Irish Politics: An Entertaining and Irreverent History of Irish Politicians. (John Drennan)

The libel laws of modern Ireland stopped this book from being a complete warts and all tale but using a Renaissance character as our hero’s alter ego gives us a suitable platform to imagine all the backstabbing and ‘talking out of the side of your mouth-ing’ that goes on in Irish politics( note; this device is a little bit annoying for the first ten to fifteen pages but you should be able to get used to it)

The idea of it all is to show how you get from the backbenches of a political party to the promised land of a ministerial position and subsequent ascension to the throne of Taoiseach( this is shown to be only possible as a member of the big two, sorry Labour).

 Those who have long since been jettisoned out of the lifeboat of anonymity are suitably impaled on the rocks here. Haughey, Burke, McSharry, Ahern all get it. Not that it is a blueshirt love-in either. Garret Fitzgerald gets it too. With Enda and his modern version of cronyism nicely explained. I hope we see an updated version of this in a few years time.

some fiction titles

Skintown by Ciaran McMenamin

Skintown (Ciaran McMenamin)

I remember listening to the writer getting interviewed about this with Sean Rocks on the RTE arena programme. I found him to be very down to earth and promised myself I would get around to reading this one. It tells the story of a youth in 90s Northern Ireland who ends up doing some Class A courier work for paramilitaries on the other side of the fence. The pace is kept up with nice reminiscences of the era; music references and football play a key part. I found it to be quick and enjoyable read.

The Chain: The gripping, unique, must-read thriller of the year ...

The Chain (Adrian McKinty)

Not an Irish based story but rather an exciting story about a sick game being played out in the outskirts of New York State. The premise being that a child is kidnapped from a family and the only to get them back to kidnap another child from another loving family. My worst fear about stuff like this is that some bright spark will get the idea to replicate it in real life. 

McKinty himself is something of an inspiration. Having tried his hand at the thriller genre previously, he had a moderately successful career before having to slum it with gigs in Uber and other places. It was only a stroke of luck and a phone call from popular crime writer Don Winslow that got him back up and running. 

This book has already been optioned so expect someone like Emma Stone playing a terrified mom driven to desperate measures very soon.

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Some films I have watched recently

Aye, Corona. Normally I would relish the prospect of extended isolation. I guess when it’s forced upon you it feels a little less liberating. I tried to make the best of it, did some reading, did some writing and watched a lot of old films. Here are some of them.

Lone Star (1996)


  1. 52 Pick Up ( John Frankenheimer 1985) This is a fairly decent thriller with Roy Scheider as a philandering husband, trying to put his life together while dealing with a John Glover’s highly charismatic blackmailer. Ann-Magret also makes an appearance as Scheider’s beleaguered wife, trying to maintain her dignity while playing the role of a prominent politician’s campaign manager. Her job precludes Roy from being able to go to the police for help and so sets up our plot.  Adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel, it has some really good moments cinematically. There are a couple of crane shots in particular that look out of time but stand up now amidst the usual by the numbers stuff of the era. Frankenheimer had been out in the cold for a while at this stage, but this was a step in the right direction and he would go on to work for another few years, to varying levels of quality.

2. All That Jazz ( Bob Fosse 1979) Again Scheider stars, this time as a theatre director who’s on the brink of death by exhaustion. We are in contemporary Broadway where the line between erotitism and jazz handed high kicking theatre is barely visible. Scheider is trying to survive as the king of the jungle, propped up by shagging, hard liquor and prescription drugs. Jessica Lange appears as an angel ( fine by me!) who invites him to reflect on his behaviour. Look out for a charming dance routine by Erzsébet Földi and Leland Palmer. There’s also a really good subplot where Scheider’s character is trying to salvage a film with a stand up comedian via some frenetic editing…I feel your pain man! Interest in Bob Fosse has recently been rekindled by a TV series starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams. I would consider this to be a suitable companion to that.

3. The Postman Always Rings Twice (Bob Rafelson 1983) REWATCHED I still haven’t seen the original but I have read the source material since my last viewing. In the passing of time I still am failing to see the criticism levelled at the two leads as fair. It’s well mounted, and the chemistry between Jessica and Jack is tangible. The drama in this is well posted however; you really see it coming from a mile away. I don’t think the director could ever have surprised an audience with this story however, re-adapting a 50 year old best selling novel, he was almost on a hiding to nothing. As it is David Mamet gave it his best shot in the screenwriter’s chair. Angelica Huston also makes an interesting cameo as a lion tamer in a travelling circus.

4. Ironweed (Hector Babenco 1988) To me this is almost an unofficial sequel to Postman. It’s not a stretch to imagine Jack living a few years longer and falling on hard times. The timelines wouldn’t really match up as we are still in depression era America here. But we’re certainly in a universe where his character’s past has consequences on his conscience. Here he is a homeless drunk, palling around with the likes of Tom Waits and Meryl Streep; all well past middle age and living on God’s good grace. Their only objectives in this film are finding a place to sleep, something to eat and staying warm. Streep’s character has also been unable to get past earlier disappointments. She lives now with a slight haughty accent and memories of a singing career that didn’t quite work out. It’s miserable enough stuff. But I’d recommend it

5. Silkwood (Mike Nichols 1983) This is a film that I never quite got around to until recently. I had seen it so many times in video shops, with the box’s artwork typically disappointing for the era. Streep, Cher and Kurt Russell work in a chemical plant, where in 1980s Oklahoma the one horse town has been replaced by the one factory town. She is a roguish presence, slipping between talking about plans for the weekend and trying to arrange a time to visit her estranged children. She also finds time to become paranoid(and subsequently spot on) about the safety standards of the factory and whether the production area is detrimental to the staff’s health. Russell plays her patient but underwritten love interest; It is quite noticeable when the shoe is on the other foot. Cher plays a lesbian character in believable but quite broad strokes. 

Similar to Frankenheimer with 52 Pick Up, Nichols hadn’t made any films for a few years. While John F had been battling alcoholism, Nichols had been based on Broadway( maybe him and Fosse had a few drinks and this whole blog could be tied up in a pretty little bow).

6. Save The Tiger ( John G Avildsen 1973) The one that finally got Jack Lemmon over the ‘Oscars’ line. Here Jack plays a middle aged fashion house manager, negotiating contracts with buyers and trying to appease his pretentious designers. He is suffering from PTSD but it being the early 70s and him being too proud to visit a doctor, this has not yet been diagnosed. His coping mechanism is to remember old baseball games with admirable detail. The game nowadays has changed he thinks, and not for the better. It’s a subtle but beautiful performance.

I remember watching Billy Wilder’s Avanti, which was made around the same time. This is in the same wheelhouse but superior. A little bit of comedy but a lot more wistful. It’s an excellent study of the generational gap in America at that time too. Lemmon’s character drives the same way to work every day and decides to pick up a young hippie who wants to screw him straight away. Fans of Tarantino’s most recent OUATIH will immediately recognise the sequence. Avildsen is better known as the man who helped guide Stallone’s first Rocky film into the stratosphere. He isn’t a particularly showy director but there’s some nice photography of downtown L.A that historians will definitely appreciate.

7. Lone Star ( John Sayles 1996) Described as a neo western film by Wikipedia this can also be classed as pretty damn great. The 90s and the 70s of American cinema are to me at least, friendly cousins. Scripts are generally beefy and over exuberant cinematographers need not apply. This one has plenty of beef, taco flavoured and spicy. Hell, even the opening credits look like a menu board for a lowly Tex Mex.

And that’s exactly where we are. On a Texas Mexico border where three communities co-exist peacefully, often ignoring past indiscretions for the sake of harmony. Chris Cooper plays the sheriff of the town. He is a reluctant copper, stuck in the shadow of his respected father. He harbours thoughts of leaving the force, but is stoic and quietly determined to get to the bottom of an old case before he does so. We are educated on this old case via flashback. Here Kristofferson and a post Dazed and Confused McConaughey play out the scenes with an understated aggression. 

Of the seven I’ve listed here, this is the one I’d recommend the most. Keep an eye out for Clifton James ( he of Sheriff JW Pepper in James Bond) fame. 

Really good stuff folks, get on it!

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The Irish Times Top 50 Irish Movies

What’s currently available and where…

There was a little bit of consternation when this list was released at the beginning of May 2020. Many felt that some films had been unfairly overlooked. Rumours of a Damo and Ivor protest outside 28 Tara Street have yet to be confirmed but there were some controversial omissions.

Conspicuous by its absence is The Field, an excellent John B Keane adaptation. I Went Down would be a better bet than Intermission if you’re trying to secure the Tarantino type voters. I would have also said ‘In the Name of the Father’ and ‘The Snapper’ are arguably more beloved than ‘In America’ or ‘The Commitments’. Also you could argue that In Brugges is more Irish than The Killing Of A Sacred Deer. Or that ’71 is more Irish than The Dead.

My chief concern however, was whether I would be able to watch the 24 films that I haven’t gotten round to yet.

There has often been difficulty in purchasing old Irish produced TV shows or films. Usually this comes down to the production company not seeing enough of a potential profit, not being able to secure licensing rights for music or quite often, said production company no longer existing.

The IFI in Temple Bar is a decent source of old Irish cinema, though I cannot say for sure what they currently have in stock. Likewise Tower Records has a respectable World Cinema section. After that you are down to online shopping. Volta is an Irish website which has tried to find a niche market in independent and arthouse home cinema. Like so many others they are probably struggling against the might of the Jeff Bezos juggernaut so if you can, support them.

Anyway, after a couple of hours of research I made a list of the 50 and their availability. Many are available right now online. Others will be trickier. I am unable to access Prime Video from where I am. Don’t know what it’s like for you folks back home!

50. Korea Cathal Black, 1995: haven’t seen it and could not find it on any notable shopping sites (Volta)

49. Cardboard Gangsters Mark O’Connor, 2017: seen it (available on many platforms)

48. Intermission John Crowley, 2003 seen it (available second hand)

47. Snap Carmel Winters, 2010 haven’t seen it ( listed on Volta)

46. Kisses Lance Daly, 2008 seen it (available second hand on Ebay)

45. Good Favour ,Rebecca Daly, 2017 haven’t seen it (available on prime video)

44. Saviours, Liam Nolan, Ross Whitaker, 2007 seen it (difficult to find, maybe some rights issues with music) 

43. Kings, Tom Collins, 2011, haven’t seen (there is a listing on Tower Records)

42. Hush-a-Bye Baby, Margo Harkin, 1989 haven’t seen it (no record of it on DVD . There is a VHS listing on Amazon for £85! )

41. The Secret of Roan Inish, John Sayles, 1994 haven’t seen ( DVD listed on amazon for $45)

40. Shadow Dancer, James Marsh, 2012 seen it ( available on many platforms inc Prime Video)

39. Maudie, Aisling Walsh, 2016 haven’t seen it ( available on many platforms inc Prime Video)

38. Silent Grace, Maeve Murphy, 2001 haven’t seen (DVD on amazon for $40)

37. In America, Jim Sheridan, 2002 seen it ( should be able to pick up a copy on Ebay quite cheaply)

36. The Commitments, Alan Parker, 1991 seen it ( available on many platforms inc Prime Video)

35. Flight of the Doves, Ralph Nelson, 1971 seen it (should be able to pick up a copy on ebay quite cheaply, also there’s a good chance RTE will show it on a bank holiday)

34. The General, John Boorman, 1998 seen it (DVDs available on Amazon and Ebay)

33. Waveriders, Joel Conroy, 2008 haven’t seen ( should be able to pick up a DVD on Ebay quite cheaply)

32. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Kim Bartley, Donnacha Ó Briain, 2003 haven’t seen (It’s on Youtube though)

31. Gaza, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, 2019 haven’t seem (available on Prime Video)

30. The Secret of Kells, Tomm Moore, 2009 seen it (Volta)

29. December Bride, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, 1991 haven’t seen (currently available on Ebay)

28. Bloody Sunday, Paul Greengrass, 2002 seen it ( not currently available on amazon but Ebay have a copy)

27. Garage, Lenny Abrahamson, 2007 seen it ( Volta)

26. The Image You Missed, Donal Foreman, 2018 haven’t seen (Vimeo)

25. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017 Seen it (available on many platforms inc Prime Video)

24. His & Hers, Ken Wardop, 2010 haven’t seen (DVDs available second hand on amazon)

23. The Butcher Boy, Neil Jordan, 1997 seen it (available on Prime video and dvd)  

22. Odd Man Out, Carol Reed, 1947 seen it ( DVDs on Amazon)

21. The Rocky Road to Dublin, Peter Lennon, 1967 seen it (available on Prime Video)

20. The Farthest, Emer Reynolds, 2017 seen it ( available on many platforms)

19. Good Vibrations, Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, 2013 haven’t (Blu Ray available on amazon)

18. Silence, Pat Collins, 2012 haven’t seen (Volta)

17. The Magdalene Sisters, Peter Mullan, 2002 haven’t seen (available on Prime Video)

16. Once, John Carney, 2007 seen it (available on Prime Video)

15. The Fading Light, Ivan Kavanagh, 2009 haven’t seen (volta)

14. Song of Granite, Pat Collins, 2017 haven’t seen (available on prime video)

13. Mise Éire, George Morrison, 1959 seen it (DVDs available on Amazon)

12. Brooklyn, John Crowley, 2015 seen it (available on many platforms)

11. The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015 seen it (available on many platforms)

10. My Left Foot, Jim Sheridan, 1989 seen it (available on Prime Video)

9. The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Ken Loach, 2006 seen it (available on Prime Video)

8. Adam & Paul, Lenny Abrahamson, 2004 seen it (DVDs available on Amazon)

7. The Quiet Man, John Ford, 1952 seen it ( available on Prime Video)

6. The Crying Game, Neil Jordan, 1992 seen it (Blu Rays and DVDs available on Amazon)

5. Hunger, Steve McQueen, 2008 haven’t seen!! (available on Prime Video)

4. Man of Aran, Robert J Flaherty, 1934 haven’t seen (youtube)

3. Anne Devlin, Pat Murphy, 1984 haven’t seen (unknown availability)

2. The Dead, John Huston, 1987 haven’t seen (DVDs and VHS available on amazon)

1. Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick, 1975 seen it ( available on many platforms)

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My favourite Soundtracks

After my last dalliance with a blogpost on cover artists I decided to show you all just how much of a square I am when it comes to music. I’ve pretty much been listening to the same stuff for 20 years and I’m quite happy in my rut!

These are some of my favourites plus some well thought of others

Once Upon A Time in the West

Ennio! When you get the composer to make the music first and then direct the film to said music there really isn’t much more you can say. This feels like the story itself, perfectly entwined. 

I could have chosen at least four other movies that Morricone composed on. The Mission, OUATIA, work he did on the Dollars trilogy with Leone, various stuff he’s done with QT. Spoiled for choice really. I chose this because it is my favourite.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

I will return to Bond in more excruciatingly boring detail some other time but this soundtrack deserves to be singled out for extra praise. Although he had been there since the beginning, John Barry only really hit his stride in Goldfinger, when the producers were able to match his full orchestra ambitions. There were some truly great moments before OHMSS but this was THE one. 

As so often has been said with a new Bond in the role, everyone had to up their game. There is the instrumental title track( which hasn’t happened in the 51 years since) then wonderful pieces such as Try and Journey to Piz Gloria. Barry was getting to grips with one of the coolest machines ever made; a moog keyboard. These are still quite popular in certain circles but at the time it was cutting edge and a risk. Much like the casting of George it wasn’t without its criticism either. People of course, can and often are very wrong.

Also, did I mention Louis Armstrong ..

Saturday Night Fever

This film was in the public consciousness for so long it’s easy to forget how adult the themes in it actually were. Then again there was a specific PG version aimed at gentler souls in the US market. 

Music wise, this is very much a Gibbs brothers’ production, with only a couple of tunes not coming from them.

Three tunes in particular shot them right into disco superstardom and a wealth they had never known before. Staying Alive obviously, You Should Be Dancing and How Deep Is Your Love. Bell bottom tastic. 

Also a note on A Fifth of Beethoven. Very funky remix. Not the first time that decade had seen Ludvig Van modernised. Which is almost a segway to…

Barry Lyndon

Kubrick had better films and arguably better soundtracks but this is lovely Sunday afternoon, do some pottering around the house stuff. 

Much like its Irish setting there were unheralded pieces Sean O’Riada with Women of Ireland as well as more European fare with Sarabande from Igor Kipnis. 

It felt really authentic. For period pieces you can either go one way or another. Stanley wanted it to be paired back as his lighting set-ups.

Bronson

A movie built on style, about one Britain’s most notorious criminals of the 20th century. There was a lot of things that could have gone wrong here but Tom Hardy is uber charismatic throughout. 

He is accompanied by some choice pop music from the Pet Shop Boys and New Order as well as more classical staples from the likes of Verdi and The Flower Duet. And not forgetting The Walker Brothers either.

Also Glass Candy, Digital Versicolour is (insert picture of a chef really happy with his work)

Grosse Pointe Blank

John Cusack makes good on his 80s teen threats to grow up and be the consummate adult anti-hero. In a film where there are so many silky smooth edits, an 80s era pop tastic soundtrack with the likes of Bowie, A-Ha and The English Beat is all fine but the real heroes are Joe Strummer and the Violent Femmes.

Trainspotting 

So good they needed two volumes. The Orange and the Green. A who’s who of 90s Britpop means that the strictly literary setting of the 80s is compromised, but look what you get in return.  Pulp, Blur, Elastica, Sleeper( doing a very decent Blondie cover) to add to the likes of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. But that’s not even counting the dance music. Underworld, Bedrock etc. 

Also full disclosure/ honest opinion; I really liked the sequel. You can @ me if you want to discuss that. I really hate when people say dont@me, so rude!

Jackie Brown

And boy will I get pelters for this. My QT choice was not to go with the obvious Pulp Fiction, which is great but instead the film directly after it. I always felt that both albums summed up each movie perfectly. Pulp Fiction is super cool but doesn’t make me think too much, I just enjoy it. Jackie Brown oozes danger, disappointment and redemption. 

I didn’t rush out and buy a bunch of motown records right after this, but the door was opened and I definitely had a good peak. Delfonics, Four Seasons, Bobby Womack, Bill Withers and Randy Crawford (with a strange but welcome outlier in Johnny Cash). I always felt this was QTs most focused film. The only one to date adapted from a novel. I don’t know if he enjoyed the experience but I think he should consider doing that again.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Ridiculously long and over the top, but hey, last days of Rome and all that. The playlist on youtube stands at 42 tracks( quite a few of which are unfortunately deleted now)

I don’t know where to start with it. Scorsese is relentless in his pursuit of breakneck energy throughout this film and very few songs get more than 30 seconds. Which is fine, he had a similar rule with Goodfellas and Casino and that worked out fine. 

This setlist is almost like a mini history of 20th century American Music, going from Howling Wolf and Lee Hooker all the way through to the Foo Fighters and The Lemonheads. Bizarrely in his cokiest film ever he actually discards The Rolling Stones. But that’s okay. This album is very cool if a little bit inconsistent in tone. If you played it at a poker game or something you might get compliments. Give it a go..

Honourable mentions

Here are some movie soundtracks that have excellent music but are often very short pieces or simply title tracks.

The Graduate: Simon and Garfunkel greatness

McCabe and Mrs Miler: A couple of cracking Leonard Cohen tunes on this epic frontier film

Bullitt: Lalo Schifrin is so cool. Actually just buy a greatest hits of his to get you started(Mission Impossible, Dirty Harry etc)

The Conversation: Ridiculously cool instrumentals by David Shire. He’s had some great stuff. Check out All The President’s Men too

Get Carter: See above, unfortunately too short to rate but the opening tune is class. He also did a kicking tune for the low budget but well regarded SAS film Who Dares Wins

Taxi Driver: Hermann’s music is class but again the album is very short. I bought a special edition CD in HMV one time and it was all kinds of weird funky nonsense.

Sorcerer: Tangerine Dream

Superman: Again , a John Williams compilation album is a sound investment.

Rocky IV: Yes, yes YES! America 1 Russia…didn’t ! 

O Brother Where Art Thou: A delightful compendium of everything from Gospel to cajun

The Royal Tenenbaums: A very solid selection ( Dylan, Nico, Elliott Smith) accompanied by chunks of film narration. Some folk like that.

Garden State: Zero 7, The Shins, Nick Drake, Simon and Garfunkel again and yes.. Coldplay

Into The Wild: Plenty of life affirming Eddie Vedder goodness.

Inside Llewyn Davis; lovely stuff.

Would love to hear from you and tell me what I forgot!

I never saw Purple Rain but Prince is great. I have watched Guardians of the Galaxy and acknowledge its existence. Good soundtrack but like me, is probably trying too hard to be cool.

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Cover Tunes

Like most things in Irish culture, I guess my interest in cover versions probably can be traced back to a pub. Cover bands have been a staple of the local speakeasy’s entertainment offering for almost as long as rock and roll itself, always with varying levels of quality and/or accuracy.

I often recall local bands paying quality tributes to the likes of Pink Floyd and The Verve, wondering if it was a tad bittersweet that audience appreciation might be fleeting and that their own writing would never be appreciated. Still though, the bills have to be paid.

This is not an exhaustive list but rather just a selection of songs that I think sound good. Some are from famous people, some are not. I’d like to hear your thoughts and hopefully get a few other suggestions on some songs that you enjoy listening to in their non original form.

The Arctic  Monkeys- Feels like we only go backwards

Effortless mastery of a song that sounded totally different originally. The Arctics have form in the covers department having released(or indeed not released) a bootleg album with stuff from The Strokes, my beloved Girls Aloud and a Bond tune. Speaking of which..

Katie Melua- Diamonds Are Forever

I will always have a soft spot for Katie. She soundtracked some nice moments in a box room in Phibsboro’ and her voice has a nice sincerity to it. This pips the Arctics to the post, because ultimately it’s a girls anthem

Father John Misty- The Suburbs

Like the AMs, Mr Tillman could easily develop a cotton industry of covers. He’s done Cat Stevens, Johnny Cash and many more. But this…is…stunning. Again he takes a song and turns it on his head, slowing it down and simplifying it with just one instrument, though retaining his trademark falsetto. That line about having a daughter gets me every time.

NB: The music video for the original Arcade Fire version is well worth a watch.

Sarah Eagleson- Gypsy

This lady has a ton of covers on Youtube. Take your pick but this is my mine. This song cannot be forced. There is a very lame version in series 2 episode 12 of the original Knight Rider…I’m not sure if the original broadcasts had Fleetwood Mac but the box set certainly doesn’t. Anyway, back to this. Lovely stuff and the banjo accompaniment by her brother is very sweet.

Honourable mention Sarah Eagleson-Do I wanna Know

Europe The Final Countdown

Europe covering themselves …in glory!

This is class. Obviously not a cover but I wanted to make sure people discover it if they haven’t already. An acoustic version of their big haired 80s classic

Luis Betancourt- Sexy Boy 

Air are the band that rebuilt a lot of bridges between European electronica and mainstream pop in the late 90s. One of those bands that people are always happy to hear. This is from Moon Safari, an album full of potential for ‘covery/coveredness’. I went for this. A very low rent, do it at home type of deal. The artist doesn’t bother with replicating the lyrics, preferring to tinkle the artificial ivories of his dual keyboards while he duets with his Macbook.

Stereophonics- Gimme Shelter

What’s often forgotten when talking about the Welsh boys when people do talk about them( sadly not often these days) is how professional they are. I’ve seen them about five times live and they always give it sox, providing a louder but mostly in tune version of what you hear on the album. As a man none too fond of stadium/festival produced music, this suits me fine.

Here they are in a TV studio, now a four piece. Perfectly solid, like a Seiko SXZ to the Stones Rolex Submariner….That’s a compliment by the way

Phyllotaxis Rooster

This song always sticks with me. A real crossover hit between grunge metal and hard rock. Metallica have had their Vietnam related moments and here was Alice in Chains time. I really like the very beginning of this. The singer strums to find his rhythm, takes a breath and readies himself for the challenge of trying to match Layne Stanley. If he fails, he fails with honour.

Honourable mention to UpChurch for the same song ‘plugged in’

Unplugged 7x- That joke isn’t funny anymore

Lovely almost note perfect stuff by this lad. It is rare to find someone who can replicate Morrissey’s yokel like warbling. Here’s a free lesson

Hero- Nathan and Eva Leach

Another brother and sister team-up. This was their moment of fame. Perfectly impromptu, with the laundry still showing in the background. Kitchen music is great.

Young and Beautiful- Alice Kristiansen

Of course there had to be a Lana reference stuck in somewhere. I went for this one because it offers a real alternative to the brilliant if massively produced original. Whereas Lana’s sounds like it should be heard in Carnegie Hall , Alice takes up her usual spot on the floor (she’s got hundreds of these videos, all really charming) and gently questions her suitor’s staying power.

And that is that. If you got this far without questioning totally my taste in music, I applaud you. But I likes what I likes, so there you go!

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film of the week: The Lobster

I often like to walk along a busy thoroughfare, taking for granted the happy faces, either with friend or lover. What brought them together and will they last? Who can say, we must trust that they actually appreciate each other’s company at least.

This well established trusim is somewhat challenged in the Lobster. A film that although set in near contemporary times, takes on a dystopian reality, where spurned lovers choose to check into a isolated hotel to find another special someone. The duration of their trip is to be forty five days. That’s how long the guest has to find a lover. If they fail they are to be ‘turned’ into an animal of their choosing. David (played by Colin Farrell) chooses to be a lobster if things don’t turn out for him.

We see David stripped of his individuality and personal affects, one arm tied behind his back to ensure no personal relief is attained in his small single room. Thankfully he is allowed retain his dog, which is quite important in the context of the story but I won’t spoil it. He is soon introduced to some of the fellow guests. Ben Whimsaw and John C Reilly with a particularly good lisp.

The only means of increasing the length of your stay (and subsequently, the chances of finding courtship) is by catching one of the loners who live in the woodlands. Loners are those currently living off the grid, preferring to take their chances in the wild, away from the functioning cities of normal people in normal relationships.

The social scene at the hotel is limited. The entertainment is provided by the husband and wife couple ( Olivia Colman, great as always) but despite his best efforts David doesn’t see anyone he likes enough.

It is a film that offers the viewer plenty of time to think about the world we live in now and how while we feel connections are often difficult, forcing the issue in some 1960s style resort with succinct East German style small talk hardly makes for a better option.

The term visually stunning is thrown around far too often these days. Especially in the ea of digital filmmaking and the advantages it offers. However d.o.p Thimios Bakatakis works very well here, often utilizing Kubrikian style wide shots to compliment the eery dated premises of the hotel.

It’s not what you’d call a melodrama either. The actors deliver their lines in a cold, matter of fact fashion, drawing attention to the fact that we often spend so much of our own lives speaking in a routine cadence, trying to convince a stranger that we’re just about normal enough.

As time goes on, the film manages to portray perfectly so many traits of the modern meat markets, be it discos or online apps. Women throwing themselves at men despite their better judgements, men pretending to be something else to impress women. In the film the mission appears to be find someone and move back to the normal life in the city. If you fail you get to live out your days like an animal. It’s fascinating stuff and not only because it’s the kind of swill served up by churches and governments ( and Western romantic comedies) for so long. It holds up the single person as someone been forced to comply for the sake of uniformity.

Eventually David, with time running out on him, decides to try and start something with an unnamed heartless woman. She sees through his falseness and he decides to flee, making his way into the woodlands. Here he meets the previously mentioned Loners and lives happily ever after…

….well not really. But I don’t think me outlining the plot can do this film the kind of service it deserves. Rachel Weisz also stars, as does upstairs in the mecca of Irish retail, the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre.

The producers must have paid a small fortune for that location

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Telefon

*Note: I’ve made a deliberate attempt to shorten these reviews. Less than 300 words is now the aim!

At first this film shows good promise. The set up is done quickly and the stakes are something we can invest in. Sleeper Russian agents living in America. Unfortunately we’re soon into the Hollywood version of the Kremlin. Anachronistic uniforms, Russian characters in either American or English accents (with respect to Patrick Magee who had that grand thespian presence). They discuss the matter of the sleeper agents and come to the conclusion that they have to bring down the rogue agent ‘Dalchimsky’ who is responsible for all this.

And so we have Charles Bronson, a Russian major who is charged with finding Dalchimsky. We are introduced to him coaching young ‘Russian’ ice hockey players. Upon hearing the accents, we are very much in the territory of suspending disbelief.

He heads to America to team up with Lee Remick. She’s enthusiastic and impossibly horny for a person trying to stop men from killing lots of people. We learn too that she’s been sent by the CIA who have a super computer that is trying to help them capture Dalchimsky.

This Dalchimsky chap is played by Donald Pleasance. Pleasance’s first appearance in this film is him sitting in a station wagon admiring the first of his agent’s handiwork from afar. We can tell he isn’t there on set because not only do we not have a cutaway establishing shot, we also have a very noble attempt of back lighting/green screen. I say noble because someone spent hours on it, even though it is simply doesn’t stand up now.

Anyway this film seems like the heart went out of it. Like as if they couldn’t afford the finale they wanted so they settled on something else.

I would have defended this a few years back. Urged people to see it. But there really isn’t a reason. Except of course to watch Patrick Magee. Tyne Daly is also in it and is completely underused as a CIA computer expert.

Anyway Siegel was no doubt saving his energy for the Alcatraz film. This wasn’t his baby and he came on board a bit later into production. There is some good stuff in here. As mentioned the initial scenes are set in Russia and some of these look good, despite being filmed in Finland. The Lalo Schifrin music is also typically class and well eh…yep that’s all I can think of!

*Roughy 400 words, I’ll work on it!

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Riffed: Full Movie

The 2014 film ‘Riffed’ is now available on Youtube for a limited period!

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All About Andy: Ten Years On

Yes, that’s right. Ten years. Don’t ask me where the time has gone, because I don’t have a clue.

I wanted to get this back out into the world after a long absence. I had grand ideas of a new colour grade and spectacular new graphics but alas, I have been unable to do this for a few reasons.

Nonetheless, here are the original four parts , all on YouTube. I will endeavor to get a new and improved version up this year but it might have to wait until I get back to Ireland.

All About Andy Part 1

All About Andy Part 2

All About Andy Part 3

All About Andy Part 4

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