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Friday, 4 October 2013

Sinead - my Danny Boy...

Not since I had watched the Ramones with their defiant "this is me, so?" attitudes smacking the frets with a string orchestra behind them on Top of the Pops in the early eighties had I saw such societal twisting and bending till it broke. Norms we had been sold tangled, turned and thrown back at us to create new ground. New questions. New ways to see the world.  This time it was a woman - a woman breaking the bonds of the patriarchal male gaze.  A woman demanding people to listen.  A woman demanding people to look, but judge for who she was, not how she was packaged.

Photo by me - taken that night in the Europa Hotel, Belfast.


Before her, there had been Blondie. Debbie unabashedly strutting across stages, but unmistakably an all American poster girl, selling clothes and style as well as records. An all american icon, albeit one with attitude.

The Irish were biting back. Political and personal statements of "we are here and we are more than the conservative Irish catholic/protestant at loggerheads about whose unnatural, boxed up, disciplined ideology is supreme." In today's global kiss arse neo-con context, Bono is called a wanker, but for a Northern Irish boy questioning all he experienced in his unionist town, Sunday Bloody Sunday and waving white flags and singing about dead American Civil Rights leaders was pretty radical.

Teenaged visits to Dublin and partying across the wire in Belfast was my rebellion. I guess part of hers was singing in Belfast's most bombed hotel.

The shock of Sinead; the appearance, defiance, rebelliousness -truthfulness- was like the buzz around Boy George after his first appearance on TOTP. He bent gender. He looked incredible. The homophobic commentary from The Daily Mail and its nasty comrades bounced off his young, confident shell of self. Until it became too much.

Sinead stood, self consciously, beautiful and strong. "This is me. I don't do "Dana" nor am I Madonna. I am a woman with something to say. Listen or don't."

The shaved head. The subtle, if any,  makeup. The lack of ra-ra, jewellry or shoulder pads immediately set her apart singing Mandinka without Legs and Co and their nonsense. She bent the Murdoch, BBC, Rothermere, socialised, school view of what a woman should be.

But something about her seemed fragile. Glass. Breakable. In need of a friend, as we all are at 21.

Excited by Mandinka, we wanted to go to the Belfast show. There were threats after some would say, unwise words about our war wounded walled province – or was that a local media creation? A sense of “punk” Irish republican hysteria created to sell newspapers? Tickets? And a hastily rearranged venue. The Europa- protected like almost no other hotel in the world seemed a wise new stage.

Gareth, in the know, got the tickets. I smuggled my SLR camera into the show. The tickets expressly said in those days, “no cameras,” but I would sidle up to the press corp and slip the camera out of my jacket. This was well before the days of people watching live events through their phone screens. I used to watch through my camera eyepiece – trying not to waste expensive, valuable, finite film – waiting for the perfect shot. Hiding behind the camera; self conscious; not wanting to look someone so beautiful straight in the eye. I got few good shots that night – I was too mesmerised by this person.

And she took to the microphone, holding it tightly; looking around the small venue (most venues in Northern Ireland at that time were small). Her eyes scanned the crowd, and then, I felt, they rested on me. Or on my lense. The music was immediate; I couldn’t place it into a box along with my Toyah’s, Debbie’s or Kate’s. This was music with lyrics as important as my Curtis’s, Morrissey’s and Burn’s. The atmosphere she created was electrifying. This was a woman with something to say, but who was saying it through her music. Even the band - made up of ex-Smiths members, couldn't divert our attention from this performer. 

No grandstanding like Bono; no histrionics like The Jesus and Mary Chain. 

I remember being disappointed the concert was so short - but this was a young woman with new songs.  I longed to see her later in her career with more to say.  But that was the last time I did.

This was a woman as I experienced women. This was no media creation. This was someone with opinions; with blood, flesh, colour and nervous, darting eyes. No mannequin. This was someone who didn't demand to be treated like a man – this was a woman who demanded to be treated as a human being. Valued as a human being, and fallible like every other human being I knew. And I was hooked. This woman of truth, but so delicate, so damaged. So aware.

Sinead cried on film; she sang about her lost children. She sang about her lost childhood and the lost generations and scars in her Ireland. She raged at the down presser man. She raged at the tendrils of organised religion. She revealed her inner battles and physical scars. She was hated by the American right and the religiously pompous and patriarchal. Frank Sinatra threatened to “kick her ass” for refusing to play a concert if the US national anthem was played at the start in protest at US foreign policy. And she gave Cyrus advice – sound, motherly advice and was ridiculed in a dreadful way by the young woman whose rebellion has been packaged and sold back at her. A young woman sold as a commodity, but all the time, like all young people nowadays, told their rebellion is theirs while their money is spent or their bodies and minds are exploited. While corporations tell her do this; buy this- adults don’t like or "get" this. Miley’s rebellion has been packaged up and corporations make a mint. Sinead’s advice, the emporer’s new clothes, is thrown back at her.


“He thinks I just became famous
And that's what messed me up
But he's wrong
How could I possibly know what I want
When I was only twenty-one?
And there's millions of people
To offer advice and say how I should be
But they're twisted
And they will never be any influence on me…”



Sinead's My Special Child is my Danny boy - enough to reduce me to tears (in privacy - this damaged male holds the baggage of role models foisted upon him by capitalist stiff upper colonialist lips). 

My Patsy Cline. 

 But unlike Danny, her songs are hopeful, educational and unlike Patsy, she heals.

More music reminisces here

2 comments:

  1. Damn good writing, sir!!

    I never agree with all that she says, but i love her to bits for her courage, her integrity and her passion .... a voice that would make the hardest man cry, and a passion that could blister the paintwork!!

    Well said ... great wee article

    ReplyDelete

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