Sunday 23 October 2016

Barrytown's bleedin' rapid legacy

You know you're Irish when you can recall Italia 90, can tell King Crisps from Tayto, and know where the fictional Barrytown is.

Roddy Doyle's trilogy - The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van - have basked in the glow of widespread affection for decades. But this Sunday, a music and literary event in Vicar Street promises to bring the books to life.

With the help of Other Voices producer Aoife Woodlock, author Doyle has curated the Barrystown Meets Music Town event. And what a celebration it's poised to be: expect a mixture of music that inspired Doyle whilst writing the books and musicians that were influenced by his writing.

To be fair, only an author as venerated as Doyle could amass such a motley crew under one roof. Musicians as diverse as Richard Hawley, Imelda May, Damien Dempsey, Cait O'Riordan and Glen Hansard will provide the tunes: bringing up the rear will be Colm Meaney, Peter Coonan, Ger Ryan and Aidan Gillen. For a trilogy with a pulsing soundtrack at its heart, it's a fitting tribute.

A weird and wonderful night is guaranteed… but it does give the rest of us pause for thought about Doyle's divine marriage of music and words.

The trilogy was set in northside Dublin in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at a time when the rest of the world had an eye trained towards Ireland for the next U2. International A&R men like Muff Winwood and Ahmet Ertegun were flying in from the US into McGonagles and the Baggot Inn at the mere sniff of a guitar. For a town beaten about the ears by unemployment, poverty and emigration, it was a thrilling, bewildering about-turn.

Even without the ill-fated efforts of the fictional Commitments manager Jimmy Rabbitte, the Dublin music scene was still a pulsing beast. A small but tightly-knit crowd, everyone knew everyone, and this sense of camaraderie created its own inimitable energy. Some were seduced by the siren song of the major labels, but their moment in the sun proved short-lived and the A&R men went elsewhere for the next big thing. Look hard enough and you'll find a handful of Jimmy Rabbittes - men and women who swear to this day they could have been contenders.

Daydreaming of greatness in the Dublin suburbs: Doyle captured this bitter-sweet feeling perfectly. So much has happened our city since then, but for one night only, we can taste that feeling anew.

>Tanya Sweeney

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