Keane on screen
Liam McGrath’s fantastic programme on Dolores Keane was a lesson in the power of a well made documentary
There are times when you have to give RTE their due. The national broadcaster usually takes a lot of digs from various quarters when it makes a hames of things on a semi-regular basis, but there are some times which it gets things spot on. Last night’s searing and compelling documentary A Storm In the Heart on the Galway singer Dolores Keane was one of those occasions. This is why we have a national broadcaster, this is why we pay our licence fee, this is why we still turn on the box at a certain time and tune in. Not for Eurovision or Derek Mooney or coverage of the IFTAs, but for stuff like this.
Of course, it takes more than just a broadcaster willing to pay the bills to make a truly magnificent and honest documentary like this. You need a really good, strong, sympathetic team led by someone like Liam McGrath at Scratch Films who knows how to get the most from their subject and their story (he was the man behind that brilliant documentary on John Sheahan from last year so he has form). And, above all else, you need a character like Keane.
This truly was one hell of a story, the tale of a woman with a remarkable voice who became part of the country’s musical fabric through her work with De Dannan, “A Woman’s Heart” and her solo work. We can still recognise that voice a mile away, but we probably didn’t know as much about the woman behind the voice and that’s where A Storm In the Heart came in. It’s a story which we recognise from so many narratives on creative, exceptional people, one where personal tragedies and setbacks in the shape of alcohol, cancer and depression coloured the text.
Keane didn’t hold back on any of this. She faced the cameras with that fierce head on her and talked about what had happened in the past and what was going on now. Remember this was a woman who’d probably kept or had been taught to keep all her troubles inside her noggin all her life. Yes, there was redemption and hope and a future, but the past was also a country which had to be visited again to get to this point and one which many people just don’t to go to. Getting someone like Keane talking openly and honestly about all of this – and making it all appear so effortless on screen – is a skill and a half and that’s what made A Storm In the Heart such a fantastic piece of work.
It was also a reminder that arts, culture and entertainment are full of similar stories waiting to be told. So many times, the arts are covered on TV in a glitzy, unreal way with a narrative which bears no resemblance whatsoever to what happens in real life. It focuses on the winners, those who’ve sold more records or flogged more tickets or topped more charts or have written more books who are there to reap the spoils of their victory. But there are a lot of other characters in the cast with equally colourful and engaging stories to tell and it’s reassuring to see Keane put in this spotlight.
The best moment of last night’s programme came at the very end when you’d Keane listening to a recording made by Ciarán Mac Mathúna of herself at the age of eight singing for the man from the radio. Keane stood by the tape machine with her daughter Tara listening to a voice, shy while speaking but bold while singing, from 50 years earlier chime away without a care in the world. A lot of water under the bridge since that recording was made in a Galway kitchen, a lot of life lived. No need to look back in anger. The camera faded to black.