Patrick Freyne: From Kylie to Declan Nerney, a history of taoiseach rock
Leo Varadkar has been accused of trying to ‘get down with the kids’ via 1980s pop icon Kylie Minogue. Here’s how our former leaders rocked us in the Oireachtas
Charlie Haughey gets ready to recreate that Duran Duran video. Photograph: Don MacMonagle
Poor Leo Varadkar. He can’t even have a photo-op at a pop concert without falling backwards into a bin and then walking around with a bin on his head crying, “Let me out of this bin, you bin bastards!” just as the vicar, a wealthy dowager and his old army colonel arrive for tea.
First it was that LCD Soundsystem gig in 2017 at which he was challenged by the band about the eighth amendment. Now he’s after attending a concert by diminutive tune-wrangler Kylie Minogue, only to have to subsequently deny he’d accepted a “free meal” at the event.
Lads! Leave Leo Alone. Once upon a time no one would have begrudged our taoiseach a free meal. Charlie Haughey could have been photographed on a gold bier, eating the finest of Minogue’s swans and wiping his mouth with pages from the Book of Kells and we’d have been grand. “And why not?” we’d say. “Sure hasn’t he done great things for our country! And the ’Ra in the ’70s! If you hate him so much, why don’t you move back to Russia, you wife-swapping West Brit communist?”
Of course, such images of Haughey would have appeared on the cool, calm papyrus that newspapers were printed on. Varadkar, on the other hand, embraces the excitable digital world of viral selfies, social media and sock-related content.
The desired response to these celebrity photo bombs is, I think, “Wow, we have a taoiseach who likes hip young acts rather than country ’n’ Irish stars like Declan Nerney! ”
This worked on me until I realised Kylie Minogue is in her 90s (The Locomotion is about Watt’s new steam engine) and LCD Soundsystem are, basically, New York’s version of Declan Nerney.
I’m pretty certain the youngsters whose approval Varadkar craves don’t even know what music is anymore, being daily subjected to the anxiety-rattling sensory overload of social media. Music, to them, is just “that strange thing that happens in my ears when I’m looking at memes”.
It’s certainly no longer the cultural force it was back when UK politicians such as Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair tried to sucker the yoof with movements like Red Wedge and smooth-ments like Cool Britannia.
If Leo really wants to seem hip, he should make some unboxing videos or do a bit of sexting, not attend the performances of antipodean songstresses from the Edwardian music halls of his youth.
Anyway, here’s how other Irish political leaders engaged with popular music.
Dev and John McCormack
De Valera spent most of his career pretending that foreign culture didn’t exist and that those who emigrated were just playing hide and seek (“They’ll come out eventually,” he promised). The Eucharistic Congress was what passed for a pop concert then. The line-up, apart from the headliner, Jesus, included Count John McCormack, who was a “papal count”, and future theocrat John Charles McQuaid.
McCormack’s style of reverberant parlour singing isn’t too popular nowadays. You can hear echoes of it, however, in the strangulated way RTÉ newsreaders say Dún Laoghaire (like a beagle choking on a chew toy) or whenever someone over the age of 40 tries to sound posh on the phone.
Albert Reynolds and country ’n’ Irish
Country ’n’ Irish is the sound of the Irish people. The courts of the chieftains resounded with the music of the blind lap-steelist O’Carolan. If an Irish person sends their DNA away to 23andMe it will come back with the genetic markings for waltz time, accordions and Big Tom. It’s the reason James Connolly wore a cowboy hat during 1916. It’s the music Cú Chulainn sang as he beat that dog to death with a hurley (Irish mythology is beautiful). It’s why Irish people’s hips are so rigid they can only walk by moving their legs up and down into their bodies like Bod and not move their hips side-to-side like Ariana Grande. Anyway, Albert Reynolds helped the proliferation of country ’n’ Irish via his dance halls in the 1980s, and this ultimately led to him being taoiseach.
Charles J Haughey’s bards
There’s a documentary that I quite enjoy called Haughey’s Ireland. It starts with the former gun-runner on his yacht skirting the coast before going to his private island for tea. As he does this, he talks about how his interest in Irish heritage comes from the fact he owns a chunk of the country (seriously).
Haughey’s musical tastes were vague but he did establish Aosdána, intending to do for artists what the private zoos of Russian oligarchs do for animals. There must have been a few musicians in the bunch. I bet he had a blind harpist or two. That’s how he rolled.
You wouldn’t catch him denying getting a free lunch at a Kylie Minogue concert. He’d have denied doing far, far worse things and then he’d have winked at the camera and lit a cigar with a hundred-pound note and we’d all have said “Charlie, you rogue!” before drunk-driving home.
Bertie and music, an extracted transcript:
Interviewer: “You have ears. I can see your ears.”
Bertie, sighing heavily and raising his anoraked arms: “Sure, what would I be doing with ears? I’m just a simple man with no ears.”
Interviewer, wearily: “You have headphones on. You’re listening to a cassette tape of Maxi, Dick and Twink right now. We can all hear it.”
Bertie, holding up an ear trumpet: “The peace process? Is that what you’re talking about? You see, I can’t hear you for I have no ears.”
Brian Cowen having a bit of a sing
Brian Cowen had no truck with the pop musical combos of the day. A caretaker taoiseach on behalf of the globalists, he couldn’t afford a comb never mind a concert ticket. So he preferred, instead, to fist a pint, stick a finger in his ear and croon traditional songs about famine and emigration from the back of a flatbed truck. He really did stuff like this. “What charming behaviour!” we said, here in the Capital, little realising that the lyrics were actually detailed policy documents. That time he sang the The Great Hunger? That was the budget speech for 2010.
Enda Kenny and Bruce Springsteen
Remember the time the nation’s favourite eejity da went with all the rest of the nation’s das to the da-care centre (a Bruce Springsteen concert) and was filmed playing air guitar? As an aficionado of air guitar playing, I thought, “nice!” (Enda studied air guitar to grade 8; he’s qualified to teach), but I also said, “Is this a metaphor for your hands-off management of the country, Enda?” Which, I think you’ll agree, was really clever. And yet nobody here at George Soros’s MSM asked me to write a cutting opinion piece or even high-fived me. I’m still hanging.
Michael D Higgins at Slane in 1984
Look at him there, his shirt open to the waist, his connection to radical politics implied by the jaunty angle of his hips, his wind-strewn hair cascading from his bald patch to his collar like how the wealth will cascade from the rich to the poor when the revolution comes. He’s listening to In Tua Nua or UB40 or Carlos Santana like the dangerously sexy internationalist he is. There are no photos of Peter Casey looking like this. Peter Casey hates music and vows to put an end to it. There is no music in Casey’s ice palace and that’s how he likes it. It’s largely a talk radio station.