What’s another year? It’s a bitter-sweet question for Shay Healy

Radio

Winning team: Johnny Logan and Shay Healy

Winning team: Johnny Logan and Shay Healy

Sat, May 11, 2013, 01:00

What’s another year? That was the plaintive question posed by Shay Healy when he wrote Johnny Logan’s winning Irish entry in the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest. The answer is that it’s an unwelcome reminder of getting older, if one is to go by Healy’s interview on Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday).

Having recently turned 70, the songwriter, performer and broadcaster was the subject of a surprise tribute on Saturday’s programme. Although he sounded happy bantering with old friends, he was less pleased with the milestone that prompted the reunion.

“I don’t like it. I don’t like seeing it written down,” Healy said. “It’s just hard to imagine, because you don’t feel even close to 70.” His body wouldn’t let him forget he was ageing, however: “Take this seriously pal, it’s not going away.”

It was only one of several moments that lent a melancholic air to the supposedly celebratory occasion. Even if one didn’t know that Healy was afflicted by Parkinson’s disease – a condition he described, with some understatement, as annoying – it was obvious from his occasionally halting speech that all was not well corporeally.

From a selfish listener’s point of view, these bittersweet instances were preferable to the matey bonhomie that otherwise dominated matters. The affection that the likes of Phil Coulter and Paul Brady had for Healy was clear, but unless you had an avid interest in the showband scene of the 1970s the anecdotes being swapped were less than enthralling.

Some of the personal reminiscences teetered into parody: the singer Maura O’Connell admitted that she couldn’t remember the first time she met Healy, “but I’m sure I was very impressed”.

There was also a redeeming tartness, however. Some of this came courtesy of Billy Connolly, who punctured any maudlin sermonising – on hearing his late singer friend Gerry Rafferty described as a hopeless alcoholic, the comedian said he himself had been a “hopeful alcoholic” – while avoiding any pretence of redemptive contrition about recent controversies of his own.

Asked by Finucane if he regretted his profane insulting of a photographer in Killarney, Connolly was forthright: “Certainly not, I’m proud of it.”

If Connolly was cussed, Healy was altogether more wry. When his friends waxed lyrical about Healy’s recent interpretations of his Eurovision song, he undercut the teary atmosphere.

“When you have somebody with something wrong with them there’s the certain kind of prurient interest,” he said, “that maybe they’ll fall over in the middle of it.”

All in all, the item was the kind of open-ended, gently compelling conversation that can still distinguish Finucane’s show. The
presenter may have occasionally lapsed into her default moralising fuzziness, but she allowed the temporal and emotional space for Healy’s deceptively complex personality to breath.

Meanwhile, Ryan Tubridy (RTÉ 2FM, weekdays) was fretting about a landmark anniversary of his own. With his 40th birthday beckoning, RTÉ’s one-time young fogey canvassed the opinions of those who had already crossed the Rubicon, holding conversations of feather-light triviality with the presenter Maura Derrane and the actor Simon Delaney. He even threw a party on Wednesday night for those reaching the same age this year.

The tone was all very jolly, but when Tubridy spoke to his RTÉ Radio 1 colleague Derek Mooney existential angst proved impossible to avoid. Mooney was ostensibly interviewed about his new TV show (see Television, right), but the conversation took on a deeper hue. He recounted to Tubridy how the deaths of his mother and his brother had convinced him to seek assisted suicide should he become terminally ill.

Though Mooney was initially reluctant to talk about the issue – as a presenter with the national broadcaster, he didn’t want to force his views on people – he spoke movingly about the impact of his bereavement. “Towards the end they had no quality” of life, he said, “and that’s not for me.”

Tubridy got into the swing of things, asking his guest if, as a single man with no children, he worried about being on his own “at the end”. “I could say absolutely, I don’t want to die alone,” Mooney replied, but he rightly added that it was impossible to know how one would react when the issue arose.

It was an intriguing denouement to an interview that had started with Mooney coyly musing whether he was “too gay” to ever reach the pinnacle of broadcasting.

By the end, Mooney came across as humble and reflective, Tubridy as sure-footed and serious, characteristics too often absent from their public personas. Show-business banter doesn’t always need to be backslappingly vacuous.


Moment of the Week: You head it there last
Football punditry is a fallible trade, but, even so, the former Manchester United player Paddy Crerand’s interview on Wednesday’s Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays) was a masterclass in getting it wrong.

Asked by the station’s sports correspondent Oisín Langan about the widespread speculation that Alex Ferguson was set to retire as manager of the Manchester club, Crerand was emphatic.

“I think it’s a load of rubbish. I can’t believe it for one minute,” he said, fulminating at the unfortunate Langan that it was modern football journalism at its worst. “People must sit up at night and think what makes a sensational story . . . I don’t think there’s a word of truth in it,” Crerand concluded. “The manager has given no hint of it.”

An hour later, Ferguson announced his retirement.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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