Obama wins the day, but Philo delivers the 'waaooow' factor

Sat, Nov 10, 2012, 00:00

Fiachna Ó Braonáin's programme was a valuable reminder of Lynott's immense talent

With the crowds clamouring for him, he struck a charismatic chord when he appeared on stage. There he was, the peripatetically raised son of a black father and white mother who transcended racial boundaries to inspire millions, at the peak of triumph, transfixing those in attendance and beyond as he intoned his rousing opening lines. “Tonight there’s going to be a jailbreak . . .”

When it came to electrifying audiences, Phil Lynott had few peers. Last week the late rock star’s stage magnetism came under the spotlight in Poetic Champions Compose (Today FM, Sunday), Fiachna Ó Braonáin’s noteworthy series on classic Irish albums. The show combines pop history with personal interview, as musicians assess their favourite homegrown disc. This time out the singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey sang the praises of Live and Dangerous, the seminal 1978 concert album by Lynott’s band Thin Lizzy.

The programme jumped between Dempsey’s reminiscences and first-hand accounts of the album’s recording, with the latter element providing most of the interest. Far from being a true record of a moment in time, Live and Dangerous was taped over five or six gigs and then partially overdubbed in the studio.

The result, admitted the group’s manager Chris O’Donnell, was a “patchwork” that created “an incredible aural quilt” – not a metaphor normally associated with guitar anthems such as The Rocker or The Boys Are Back in Town.

Dempsey’s contributions were more prosaic. “I heard it and went waaooow,” was as lyrical as he got. But he was alive to the casual sexism of Lynott’s query on the album whether the females in the audience “would like a little Irish in them”. “I’d say he got some slap off his ma for saying that,” Dempsey said.

The programme was also dotted with the worthy but largely inane testimony of sundry rock stars on the album’s enduring influence. Bono proved the exception, delivering an inadvertently silly tribute that characteristically conflated truism with profundity. “It was the blueprint for a live record that would have a beginning, a middle and an end.”

Ó Braonáin capably handled his duties as host. Best known as the guitarist with Hothouse Flowers despite his increasing forays into broadcasting, he came across as likeable and engaged by his musical subject matter, no matter that his own band’s output does not feature in too many lists of timeless Irish albums. And although it sounded padded out at times, Ó Braonáin’s programme was a valuable reminder of Lynott’s immense talent, often obscured by the tragic circumstances of his death.

Otherwise there was little escaping the man of the moment. Barack Obama’s re-election to the US presidency dominated the week’s airwaves, with news reporters and talkshow hosts alike decamping across the Atlantic.

Proximity to events does not necessarily result in greater clarity, but on The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays) the US location made for invigorating spectacle, thanks to George Hook’s much-trumpeted affection for the US and his relish for robust argument.

On Wednesday Hook delighted in baiting the right-wing US presenter Michael Graham, a regular guest, about Obama’s win while lambasting the Republican Party’s drift to extremism. His guest ultimately put Mitt Romney’s defeat down to the candidate’s ideological malleability, reasoning that a more dogmatic contender would have rallied the party to victory. Graham’s baffling logic later drew an astonished response from another of Hook’s habitual foils, the broadcaster Tom McGurk: “It’s one thing to be on the Titanic, it’s another not to know the iceberg has struck.”

A man who seems even more fond of his voice than his host, McGurk warmed to his theme with entertaining alacrity, decrying the “inverted racism” of the US right and describing Graham as a “cappuccino Ku Klux man”. McGurk had some intriguing insights, such as suggesting that Obama’s win in 2012 was more significant than in 2008, as his electoral coalition held firm. Embracing diversity was the key to the future, he believed, rather than appealing to the fears of a shrinking white electorate.

Intolerance is not confined to the US, of course. Speaking to Eoin McDevitt, presenter of Off the Ball (Newstalk, weekdays), the Wexford hurler and footballer Lee Chin talked about the racism he has met. Chin reacted to insults with admirable equanimity, not even reporting offenders to referees, but admitted that such slurs played on his mind and were “hard to deal with”.

Embarrassment was his main emotion in the face of such “ignorance”, but he was irritated by the GAA’s relatively lax reaction to such offences – two players who insulted him received only eight-week bans – urging authorities to emulate the more severe injunctions for racial abuse that apply in Irish soccer.

Chin came across as unflappable, stoic even, but there was an undertow of sorrow when he said he would always have to deal with racism. It made for revealing if depressing radio. On sport’s supposedly level playing field as elsewhere, race matters more to some than talent.

Moment of the week: Pat Kenny's confusion

While Gabriel Byrne’s broadside against the Gathering grabbed the headlines, there was another striking moment on Wednesday’s ‘Today With Pat Kenny’ (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), during an otherwise exemplary analysis of the US elections. Talking about Obama’s clarion call to unity, Kenny got his quotes badly tangled. “That the sum of our parts, um, the sum is greater than, eh, the parts of our ambition. Whatever the phrase was, I can’t remember, it was a wonderful phrase.” Wonderful maybe, but clearly not especially memorable.

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