Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Why sensitive singer-songwriters and reviewers will never be friends

They never forget, you know. Never. By any standards, Chris De Burgh has had a remarkable career. For the last 40 years or so, ever since he started out busking for customers in the Captain America’s burger joint at the …

Thu, Sep 10, 2009, 09:32


They never forget, you know. Never.

By any standards, Chris De Burgh has had a remarkable career. For the last 40 years or so, ever since he started out busking for customers in the Captain America’s burger joint at the top of Dublin’s Grafton Street, the dude has been making music, selling out shows and having huge chart hits. Sure, he’s not as popular now as he was in his “Lady In Red” hey-day, but he’s still trucking. The bank-balance is healthy, the wardrobe is bursting at the seams with leather jackets, the wine-cellar is full.

Yet all this time, Chris has been hoarding other things aside from these expensive trinkets. Every slight and barb which has come his way from the reviewing peasants who have been in the audience has been filed away in his memory. Even when he was selling out the largest arenas in town and enjoying Top 10 hits around the world, the dude did not forget those horrible reviews from the loathsome critics he had to probably let into his shows for free. He probably had a photo of legendary Irish Times rock critic Joe “The Assassin” Breen on his dartboard. But he kept it all in usually. He was dignified for the most part. He played his piano and wrote more songs. They weren’t, sadly, as popular as “The Lady In Red”. But Chris kept his game-face on.

However, if you keep poking the bear, the bear will eventually bite. And Peter Crawley was that one poke too far. A few weeks ago, Peter toddled along to the show in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre and filed his review for this newspaper. A few days later, standing in his beautiful kitchen in his palatial gaff, Chris read the review. And Chris went fecking ballistic. Then, he emailed Peter. It’s the email of the year. Forget Zip Up Your Mickey, this is Chrisgate!

At this stage, reaction to the contents of the email will go one of three ways depending on who you are.

Reviewers and critics will chuckle loudly that, yep, Peter got him good and proper. A response like that to a review is always priceless. There’s Chris going on about how newspapers are dying out and that reviews don’t matter yet, he’s still piqued enough to spend a few hours investigating the reviewer, putting a dossier of facts on the chap together and firing off an email with plenty of CAPITAL LETTERS. Peter should get a pay-rise or, at the very least, a work experience kid to help him transcribe interview tapes. Bravo, Peter, bravo!

Singer-songwriters and musicians, meanwhile, will raise their glasses to Chris and say “hurrah”. Now, that’s how to deal with snarky, cynical critics and reviewers who go along to shows with the reviews already typed up in advance. “Creepy Crawley” – why didn’t we think of that first? No wonder Chris wrote “Don’t Pay The Ferryman” with wit like that! What a lark! Bravo, Chris, Bravo!

And punters who are or are not fans of the great man will chortle at the whole storm in a teacup and how worked up poor Chris sounds over a review that very few people probably read anyway. They will also probably note with a sense of wonder that there are people out there after all who refer to others as “Impressarios”.

Of course, Chris’ reaction does raise a few points about how a reviewer can go along to a show and have a totally different reaction to what he or she hears than the rest of the audience. Talking to Hot Press about the whole brouhaha and asked if this was “just another case of the age old debate about how objective/subjective reviewers can/should be”, Peter notes that “there’s no such thing as complete objectivity. You can’t really have a structuralist reading of a concert! So everything is subjective but must be argued. You have to back up a position…The alternative is criticism which is nothing but unmitigated praise and I don’t think that’s especially helpful either”.

From Chris’ point of view, he played a show to a fanatical audience (or as fanatical as a Chris audience can be – damn, there we go again) and had them eating of his hand. Then, he reads the review by someone who was also in that audience but didn’t see things in the same light. Naturally, he was going to be annoyed and peeved.

But surely, Chris should also note that everyone is entitled to an opinion. At this stage of his career as a 60 year old veteran, with all those hits and sellout shows under his belt, Chris should have learned that is the case – and should also know that a negative review is not going to matter a damn to his audience. Yet Chris still lets fly and in a manner which is every jot as viterupative and abusive as he perceives the review to be. In football terms, Chris played the man AND the ball. Steaming and angry, all those negative reviews of old come to the fore and poor Peter gets the kind of email which stops you in your tracks.

Interestingly, there’s an invitation from Chris at the end of the mail to meet Peter for a chat. Peter says he’s up for it. We await Chris’ response with interest. Hell, you could probably even sell tickets to the event if it comes to pass. Any impressario interested in promoting it?