Happy New Year!

I’ve been rubbish at getting time to blog this year, but I had to make sure to write a post before the end of the year. I hope anyone who still reads this has a great Christmas. I did!

Nicky came up for Christmas for the first time, and it was great to have him around. It was probably busier and noisier than the Christmasses he’s used to, but quieter than usual for us since my brother wasn’t home, and my very Christmassy cousin Leah is working in Hong Kong so two of my aunts were visiting her. I stayed in my house on Christmas eve for the first time, but I had a very excited phone call from my nephews in the morning telling me what Santa had brought them. We had dinner in my sister’s on Christmas day and boxing day, and it was great to spend the time with the boys. They make Christmas special for me.
I got some great presents, even though part of Nicky’s and one from my sister which were both bought in River Island didn’t arrive. Nicky gave me a Cool Discs voucher that I have spent in my head already! The most unexpected present that I got was from my parents, who gave Nicky and I tickets for Arcade Fire and The Pixies in Dublin in June. They never get me tickets for gigs, so it was a big surprise for me.
We spent the next few days with friends, either in their houses or on nights out with them. One of my friends got engaged which made things exciting. There was an event in Scoil Mhuire as part of the gathering, so we all spent a couple of hours in the school looking at photographs and meeting teachers I hadn’t seen in years. There was a disco on that night, and it was really good. Two nights later, our year, (the class of 2003) had our own ten year reunion, and I loved seeing people I hadn’t talked to in years. Some people’s accents have changed, which was a bit confusing for me!

This time last year Nicky and I were enjoying Darragh and Emma’s wedding in Drogheda. I’m in Carlow now, and it’s hard to believe the year is over already. That wedding seems like six months ago! Since then we were invited to seven weddings, and went to five of those. We’ve had a very busy but brilliant year. A few highlights I can think of from 2013 were:

Visiting my cousins in Scotland and finally getting a chance to visit my uncle’s grave.
Spending lots of time with the girls at weddings and hens, and having so much fun.
OJ working well, being his usual happy self, and staying healthy, apart from one time. Let’s just say he was sick enough that day to make up for three years!!
I’ve been lucky enough to have had work all year, and a chance to expand the disability training I do to an older age group. Will spend the second half of next year job hunting for definite, but I’m thankful for the work I’ve had and the great people I work with.
I loved our graduation in December, especially since it seemed like we were never going to get to Maynooth at times.
The musical highlight of the year had to be David Gray in An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny. It was probably my ideal dream gig in that theatre, so when it happened, it was so brilliant.

I hope everyone else had a great year, and that 2014 is another happy, healthy and fun year. Thanks for reading, and to the people who leave comments, thanks for all of them. I want to keep blogging until O.J retires, and the people who read it will help to motivate me to do that.
Happy new year.
Jen x

Graduation

Last Saturday, myself and eight of my classmates went to the university of Maynooth to graduate from the disability studies course that we completed in May this year. We had an early start, and were in Maynooth for less than 24 hours but it was worth the trip.
I traveled with another student, our lecturer and a personal assistant who came to help. The others traveled in a van we had borrowed which was able to accomodate a few people who had wheelchairs. O.J. came too of course, and he got lots of attention during the day.

The graduation ceremony itself was really relaxed and informal, with only my class and another group who did the same course in Dublin graduating together. This meant that we didn’t have to wait forever for lots of students to get certificates, and what was even better was that we didn’t have to go up on to a stage. The nicest part of the afternoon was when a few people had been asked to speak about their experiences on the course and what they gained from studying on it. We got some photos after, before going back to our hotel for food and drinks. It was lovely to spend the evening meeting the other students, as well as having a relaxing time with our own class, not having to discuss work or assignments. I was one of the last few people to go to bed, and we were up early next morning for breakfast and a quick tour of the university before heading home.

Organising the graduation wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever been part of, and some people would have been happy to just have it in Letterkenny where we did the course. It wouldn’t have meant as much to the students, and the fact that we could come to Maynooth and graduate properly made all the hard work and studying worthwhile. This course has changed how I think about, and interact with people with disabilities for the better, and if the diploma that’s planned for a couple of years time goes ahead, I’d definitely consider doing it.

David Gray’s Sounding Out Tour

About a month ago, David Gray put a message on his website and social media sites telling fans about an interesting tour he had planned. He’d been rehearsing with a band and writing new songs for the last year, and he wanted to test them by playing them to Irish audiences in small intimate venues around the country. The route of the tour was decided by the fans, who chose where they would like to see David play. On 18th November, eleven venues, one of which was
An Grianan Theatre
In Letterkenny were announced, and people could apply for tickets through a lottery system, and buy them if they were chosen. I was lucky enough to be one of the approx. 380 people in the venue to see the gig last night.

Before I attempt to describe last night’s gig, I should probably put my own love of David Gray’s music into context. Like most people, I first heard of him through the ‘white ladder’ album in 1999. Listening to his lyrics and hearing him talk about song writing completely changed how I listened to music myself, and I learned to appreciate the work of a songwriter, whereas before that, I had probably always just listened to melodies and tunes. I first saw David play live in Marley Park in Dublin on July 19th 2001. I went with my sister and two friends, and we’d been looking forward to it for months. An hour before we left for the gig, my sister told me that we were going to meet him the next day. Imagine the shock! I was fifteen, and I was getting to meet my musical hero. They say, (whoever “they” are) that you should never meet your heroes, but in this case, it was definitely not true. David couldn’t have been friendlier, taking 15 or 20 minutes to talk, and he was so relaxed. He signed a CD cover and all our tickets, His PR person took pictures and gave us tickets for the gig again that night. I remember everything about that day like it was yesterday.
Since then, I’ve seen David Gray four more times, but last night was very different and completely amazing on a whole other level.

The gig opened with a set from Lisa O’Neill. She’s from Cavan, and she has a very unique voice and a fantastic personality and sense of humour. My cousin Laura noticed David standing at the side of the stage to watch most of her performance, which I thought was a nice touch. Lisa was also part of the band of guitarists, string players and vocalists who joined David when he went on stage at about 9 P.M. The band, which was especially put together for this tour included Robbie Malone, David Kitt, Caroline Dale and Niamh Farrell. Seeing him play in such an intimate venue like An Grianan Theatre felt a bit surreal for the first few songs. The gig began with four or five new songs, which sounded really dreamy and beautiful. ‘Ain’t no love’ was the first song I recognised, and it wasn’t until then that it started to sink in, that David Gray was on stage, two metres in front of me, in my favourite theatre in Donegal. This seemed like the most unlikely situation ever, especially twelve years ago, when I sat talking to him and he asked many questions about where I lived in Donegal. If I could have seen him play anywhere, it would have been in that room, and now it was actually happening. Next he played ‘gathering dust’, a personal highlight of the gig, which my cousin said was obvious from the look on my face. The band left the stage, leaving David to a solo set, where he alternated between guitar and piano. Working his way through his earlier albums, the quiet attentive audience were treated to versions of ‘shine’, ‘falling free’, ‘coming down’, a cover of ‘in the morning’ by the BGS, and ‘every time’ with a bit of Van Morrison thrown in at the end. The band gradually joined in for the rest of the gig, which included (in no particular order), ‘Kathleen’ with Lisa O’Neill on backing vocals, ‘from here you can almost see the sea’, ‘the one I love’, and probably a couple more that I’ve forgotten. He played a gorgeous version of ‘this year’s love’ with violin accompaniment, and before he had left the stage, the audience were on their feet for an encore. This consisted of a brilliant new song called ‘the incredible’, which he described as a bastard to play! The band high fived each other and seemed delighted with their performance of it by the end. A girl in the audience asked him if he’d like a cup of tea after that! They played an impressive, extended version of ‘nemesis’ and the night finished with ‘Babylon’ and ‘sale away’, with a happy audience singing along.

Laura and I were one of the last people to leave the theatre, partly because I had to collect money for tickets, but in fairness we took longer than we could have. Our persuasive pleas to meet David didn’t work. A girl gave me a plectrum when she took a couple from the stage, so that was as close as I got this time. The theatre staff were great, and should be proud of such a well organised gig. They were asking where O.J was, and I considered taking him, but wasn’t sure if it would be too loud. It wouldn’t have been, apart from lots of falsetto and some whistling which he might not have approved of. I didn’t want to risk him being unhappy, because I’d have to leave with him and miss part of the gig myself. That was not happening!! And if he was there, I’d have had to sit in the wheelchair section, and we wouldn’t have got the great seats that we got up the front!

It’s easy to think of the success of ‘white ladder’ when you hear David Gray, but if you really know his music, you’ll know there’s a lot more to him than that one album. Last night showed a real maturity and depth in his music that I’ve never seen before. The harmonies and new sounds were beautiful. I hope when this new material is recorded, it captures much of what the band performed live, because it sounded perfectly fine to me. Overproduction would just kill it and take all the magic away.
The idea of the ‘sounding out’ tour was to give something back to the people of Ireland who have been so supportive of David Gray’s music over the last twenty years, and he definitely did that last night. It’s going to be a really special tour, so anyone who has tickets is in for a real treat.

Yay For Helpful People

I meant to post this during the week, but it’s been a busy one! Better late than never I suppose.

Last Saturday morning I got the bus to Dublin, and the plan was to get the train to Carlow and be there at 2 PM. I must have jinxed public transport by writing my last blog post, because we had an interesting journey that took 2 hours longer than it was meant to. The bus was diverted two or three times, and we drove around the back roads of Donegal for what seemed like ages. I missed my train, so had to get a bus instead. We were delayed by a girl trying to take a bike on the bus and refusing to get off. I don’t really know exactly what happened, but she ended up being arrested, and we eventually left for Carlow. The rest of the weekend there was relaxing and straightforward, when I finally made it!

On Monday afternoon Nicky and I, and the two dogs got the train to Dublin to see Glen Hansard in Vicar St and stay in Dublin. We were there for almost 24 hours, and the thing that stood out a lot was how helpful people were, and how much they went out of their way to give us directions and make things easier. We stayed in the Upper Cross hotel which is often used by guide dog trainers when they are in Dublin. Because of this, they are very aware of the dogs and how to help. This makes things a lot easier.

We got to Vicar St before half seven, and met Jake on the door who looked after O.J the last time I was there. Himself and Hugh had organised assistance for us, and it was like we were celebrities! Jake and a guy called Kevin took us into the bar where we got a drink before the gig. I went to the merchandise stand to get the new Glen Hansard EP (which has an amazing cover of Springsteen’s ‘drive all night on it’, definitely worth checking out!) I met the frames manager Claire for the first time. Ive emailed her and talked to her online before, so it was great to finally meet her. Jake waited patiently while we chatted, she gave me the EP free, and gave O.J lots of cuddles which he appreciated.

Orrin and O.J stayed with us during Mark Geary’s performance. He had a drummer in the band so it was louder than I’d expected but O.J just slept. A staff member sat near us and if we wanted a drink or anything at all, she was ready to help. Before Glen and the band came on, we took the dogs to a store room where they could relax while the gig was on. They seemed to settle down no problem, and O.J wasn’t too excited when I came to get him three hours and 20 minutes later, which means he was quite happy staying there.
The gig itself was brilliant. The band was similar to the one we saw last year in Belfast, but I think they are all sounding even better together. The new songs are sounding great. The gig was a charity fundraiser for the
Simon Community
and the
Peter MCVerry Trust
two charities which help people who are homeless in Ireland. Sam from the Simon Community and Peter McVerry himself came on stage to thank Glen and everyone for their support. It was a nice touch, and gave us a better sense of what the money was for. It’s nice when musicians raise money for organisations that they are actually involved in and know something about.

The next day, Nicky and I walked around a bit before a relaxing breakfast in Bewleys before we got buses home. I haven’t been there in years, and it started to make me feel a small bit Christmassy.
There’s so much talk of recession and negativity and bad news these days, so it was lovely to come to a busy city like Dublin and see it in a completely different way. People couldn’t have been more helpful. As a guide dog owner who doesn’t know one end of Dublin from another (I just follow Nicky everywhere), this was very useful. It was lovely to see staff working in their jobs, whether it was the hotel, restaurants, security people, or the amazing staff in Vicar St just taking time to chat and help, without going overboard or being patronising or annoying.
I’m tired, and not explaining myself very well. It’s very hard when you’re not in the mood to write. But basically the kindness of people last weekend really impressed me.

So, to connect music and helping people, if you’ve got a spare euro, go and download a song called ‘Christmas biscuits’ by Mark Geary and Glen Hansard. It was released last Friday, and proceeds go to the society of St. Vincent De Paul, helping people who might be struggling or alone this Christmas.

So there’s two music recommendations for you. Let me know what you think.