RTÉ goes on the rails for Big Music Week
Three-carriage train departs for tour of the country with 150 musicians and a blessing
Luan Parle performs at Connolly Station in Dublin for the start of RTÉ’s Big Music Week. Photograph: Brian McEvoy
At Bray train station shortly after 8am yesterday, folk singer Luan Parle does her best Dolly, ripping into country classic 9 to 5 beneath the RTÉ Big Music Week bunting. Anyone who does work nine to five in Dublin city centre is cutting it fine, dashing through the barriers to make a “real” train, as what’s left of the Hothouse Flowers sing Don’t Go.
The RTÉ Music Train is not a real train, but one festooned with paper lanterns and fake lavender and hungry musicians. “We’ve borrowed it,” says Ann-Marie Power, editor of entertainment, music and comedy for Radio 1. There are some Iarnród Eireann staff thrown into the bargain, obviously – Derek Mooney is not driving this train.
It’s the fourth annual RTÉ Big Music Week, and the most ambitious, with the nationwide itinerary culminating in a charity concert in Vicar Street on Saturday. Not that budgets are limitless. “The less you have, the more creative you are,” says Power.
The three-carriage train is taking a clockwise route around the country, reaching Waterford for a bit of a gig on Monday evening, then carrying on with its assortment of 150-plus Irish musicians. They perform in a carriage converted into a makeshift recording space – you cannot really broadcast live radio from a moving train – and also do turns at schools and pubs and stations. This is RTÉ’s public service remit on the tracks.
The first stop is Connolly, from where Radio 1’s The John Murray Show, hosted until the end of the year by Miriam O’Callaghan, goes on air with artists including Damien Dempsey, Luka Bloom and Kodaline.
It helps if you can sing a song about a train. Bronagh Gallagher tackles Midnight Train to Georgia. The retro-styled Bugle Babes, all Victory Roll hairdos and seamed stockings, bring a welcome touch of kitsch with Chattanooga Choo Choo, written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren on a train in 1941.
Singer-songwriter Lisa O’Neill has a more plaintive refrain. “There’s no train. There’s no train going home. There’s no train where I come from.” O’Neill is from Cavan and her song is called No Train to Cavan.
RTÉ director-general Noel Curran, at Connolly for the duration of O’Callaghan’s show, describes his musical tastes as “eclectic”. He name-checks of-the-moment Kodaline and old-timers Scullion and says his wife (Eimear Quinn) has got him into classical.
O’Callaghan, meanwhile, plays classical piano. “I was thinking about it as a career, but I wasn’t good enough,” she says as the train rumbles on to Co Kildare. Music’s loss is the Prime Time Seanad referendum debate’s gain. Speaking of which, her boss had instructed her to squeeze in a plug for the debate at the end of her broadcast. Every viewer counts.
O’Callaghan happily acknowledges her failure to give the hacks showbiz gold to write about. No, the mother-of-eight has no advice to impart to pregnant colleague Claire Byrne on the subject of ideal family size. “I’m not here to order people to have loads of kids.”
At Newbridge, small children with trumpets and some even smaller schoolchildren with bagpipes parade to the Patrician School, where local hero Christy Moore opts for a singalong to The Curragh of Kildare. Music in school was different when he was a boy. “When I went to school there were no instruments. The nun played the piano and that was that.”
But nuns are tasked with more important duties during Big Music Week, with one member of the religious orders blessing the train as it departs Newbridge for Carlow. En route, Newbridge schoolkids are entertained by RTÉ “big kid” Colm Flynn and another batch of Irish musicians. Flynn explains that “cacophany” means “lots of noise”, and the kids fill in the brief lulls with word-perfect renditions of One Direction songs. Well, they are one-fifth Irish, after all.