Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sinead O'Connor vs The Ulster Orchestra

I wasn’t a fan of Sinead O’Connor before going to see her performance at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on Monday night, but I was prepared to be won over. After all, the union of a seasoned artist of some notoriety with the Ulster Orchestra would surely be something special. Sadly, it wasn’t.

The orchestra performed splendidly in reinterpreting a selection of O’Connor’s songs. The only problem was the singer herself. For the entire performance, she remained moored within a three-foot radius at one end of the stage, shuffling lazily back and forth with no attempt at communication with the audience. Such was her detachment, that I felt she might as well have situated herself behind one of those plastic noise-reduction screens that stood across the stage.

Towards the end of the performance, O'Connor stated she hadn’t talked because this wasn’t just her gig, but everyone’s. Yeah, but we came to see you Sinead, even if it was for free. Maybe you have to pay to get a glimpse of the energy that tore up the Pope’s picture, riled against imperialism and converted to the priesthood. You could be forgiven for thinking an impostor had been wheeled on stage. At one point, I couldn’t work out if O’Connor was nervous, bewildered, bored or embarrassed. Maybe, she was all of these things.

As for that voice… Well, where was it? She whispered her way through Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and croaked through Nothing Compares 2 U with the occasional yelp echoing former glories.

Yet, perhaps as a testament to O’Connor’s lack of prowess, both these songs were the strongest of the set. The Emperor’s New Clothes seemed to act as an unwitting sub-title to the tone of the evening. Her own material seemed to just amble along, although the reggae influenced Lamb’s Book of Life acted to lift the torpor towards the end of the set. I couldn’t believe she got a standing ovation. I remained firmly rooted in my seat.

“Oh, but she’s all grown up now and has three or four kids,” said an equally nonplussed friend afterwards, seeking to excuse Sinead’s lack of vitality.

Yeah, but so has Madonna, and she was writhing away like a mad thing on the TV the other night.

That’s entertainment!

In The Penal Colony

Last night, BBC Northern Ireland exceeded its usual banal standards and served up a programme entitled 'NI WAGs'.

Narrated by a worryingly over-enthusiastic Christine Bleakley, we were presented with Northern Ireland’s WAGs. WAG is shorthand for Wives And Girlfriends and is a term normally attributed to the android-like empty-heads wedded to premier league footballers. In the Northern Irish sphere, I wasn’t quite sure who these WAGs were associated with, although a couple of lump-faced dopes in fashionable clothes were paraded across the screen to stamp these twittering fools with some sort of questionable credibility.

This peek at the aristocracy of emptiness was delivered without irony and with the apparent aim of showing just how transformed, glam and cosmopolitan the Wee Province has become. I found myself wishing the war would come back as one vapid empty vessel after another squeaked about the importance of hair or style as they shopped on the Lisburn Road, which was laughably described as both “Millionaire’s Mile,” and “Northern Ireland’s Bond Street.” Who were they trying to kid?

“I’ve got shoes in Hollywood and shoes in Dublin,” gushed one of the WAGs in a chiding mill voice.

“A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do,” cheeped another rather ordinary-looking twit. Referring to an associate, she continued, “Lisa has everything. She’s totally high maintenance!”

The camera crew, obviously burdened with more money than sense, followed the faux creatures on a shopping trip to Las Vegas and back to a dull looking awards ceremony at Belfast’s Café Vaudeville. Here was the pinnacle of local WAG life.

“Anyone who’s anyone in Northern Ireland is here tonight,” gasped the breathless Christine Bleakley as the camera roved over a parade of dressed-up nobodies.

I was reminded of Kafka’s In the Penal Colony where criminals are assaulted by a horrendous torture machine that carves the names of their crimes and sentences onto their backs. I feel that such a device should be permanently installed in Café Vaudeville, with the WAGs the first to be thrown onto it, followed by the production team at Waddell Media, who birthed this vile programme, and the shallow dolts at BBC Northern Ireland, who think this kind of nonsense passes for good TV.