2010; The highs and lows


There was much to grumble about this year, but amid all the doom and gloom and the 3D movies, our critics found some wonderful shows, books, bands and songs to lift their spirits

Donald Clarke


I revelled in the continuing ability of Alva Noto, master of austere German electronica, to create tours de force from bleeps, hums and warbles. For 2, a tribute to his heroes, and Mimikry, a jarring collaboration with Blixa Bargeld, were the two great unheard albums of this year.

On television, Mark Gattis ruled. The former League of Gentlemen stalwart excelled with his dazzling Sherlock, a wholly successful reinvention of Arthur Conan Doyle's hero, and his good-natured History of Horror. The brilliant fantasy novelist China Miéville came above ground with Kraken, the story of a squid-worshipping cult. Taking a few tips from Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise, Rob Young delivered a brilliant history of underground British folk music in Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music.

In cinemas, the mainstream flagged, but Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives confirmed that, at its edges, the medium is in rude health.

Red Dead Redemption on the Xbox 360: a nicely violent western game that might just be the perfect compromise between frustratingly unstructured role-playing games and linear games like Call of Duty. Red Dead: Undead Nightmare, arriving at the end of the year, successfully added zombies to the mix.

Biggest disappointment

The fact that 3D movies just won't go away. You can hunt high and low without discovering anybody who admits to enjoying the process, but Hollywood keeps churning out the murky things. It's the Tamagotchi that won't die.

I have seen the future and it is...

As ever, Hollywood is a bit behind the cultural curve. But the arrival of The Social Network (a history of Facebook), Catfish (dubious study of web deceit) and Fred: The Movie (adapted from a YouTube channel) suggests the movies have finally discovered the web. The superhighway is about to be paved over.

Glad to see the back of...

Novels in which figures from history or literature hunt vampires, zombies or sea monsters. Is it my imagination or did somebody publish a book entitled Lord Shaftesbury: Werewolf Slayer this year? The joke wore off two years ago.

2010 in three words

The wrong Wagner.



Breaths of fresh air from the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra: the new conductors (Alan Buribayev and Hannu Lintu), the new programme strands (late-night concerts with the new associate artist, Finghin Collins) and a new willingness to take repertoire risks.

The high plateau reached by the Irish Baroque Orchestra under Monica Huggett, on disc as well as in concert.

The sheer chutzpah of Sofia Gubaidulina's aural imagination in Repentance for cello, three guitars and double bass at St Peter's Church of Ireland in Drogheda and the daring of Gerald Barry's view of Beethoven in his Schott and Sons, Mainz for the National Chamber Choir. The quiet delights of the Morton Feldman celebrations at Imma. The gorgeously resonant singing of Tallis and Byrd from The Cardinall's Musick at Kilkenny Arts Festival.

Krzysztof Penderecki conducting a mixed orchestra of students and professionals in his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima at NUI Maynooth. Productions of rare and rare-ish operas, Gounod's Roméo et Juliette (directed by Annelies Miskimmon for Opera Ireland) and two works from Wexford Festival Opera, Smetana's Hubicka (directed by Michael Gielata) and Mercadante's Virginia (with Angela Meade unforgettable in the title role).

Anything outside classical music?

Ken Wardrop's His & Hers. The documentary gives a voice to Irish girls and women in a way that's utterly ordinary and utterly extraordinary.

The courage of Morgan Kelly in daring, again and again, to speak the unthinkable. Kelly is an outsider. The country needs some of his kind inside the corridors of power, too. I also caught up with, and got caught up by, the complete Thick of Iton DVD, with Peter Capaldi seeming to live rather than act the foaming profanities of Malcolm Tucker. Carl Jung's The Red Book, but don't ask me what it really means.

Biggest disappointment

The shilly-shallying over the new Irish National Opera company. Neither the Department of Culture (which now has primary responsibility) nor the Arts Council (which is also involved in what increasingly looks like another fine mess) seems to know how to carry this project forward.

I have seen the future and it is.. .

The future on all fronts in Ireland seems to involve more from less. We're all going to have to deal with the fact that imagination has no price. But, cheap as it is, it still needs resources and nurturing.

Glad to see the back of...

Beyond the recession, the sick banks and the government that didn't know what it was doing? The battering of the country's self-confidence.

2010 in three words

Not the best.



Sitting in on a creative-writing class with the wonderful Prof Terry Pratchett. Lynda Lee singing songs from the Terezin concentration camp at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. Kayaking in Kerry and meditating on the Beara Peninsula. The consistently excellent ABC podcast The Philosopher's Zone, in which Alan Saunders manages to make the ineffable interesting and even, sometimes, amusing.

Paul Harding's exquisite Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tinkers, which nobody here seems to have read, probably because of the title. Patting the belly of a wolf (yes, a real one, not a two-legged one) at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust while he stood there, polite and patient, waiting for me to get over myself.

The breadth and wit of The Moderns exhibition at Imma, and the hugely informative audio commentary at the National Gallery's luscious Metsu show. The interview with the garden guru Monty Don at the Hay-on-Wye books festival, which has been shown several times now on Sky Arts 1. Every time I watch it I cry all over again.

Biggest disappointment

The third volume of Stieg Larssen's Girl with the Dragon Tattooseries, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I had another crack at it this year, thinking I must have got it wrong the first time around. I hadn't. It was stodgy, dull and repetitive. What happened there, guys?

I have seen the future and it is...

The disappearance of anything resembling an ecological agenda in public life in Ireland - and everywhere else. It makes me feel physically ill. The constant harping about digital media replacing real-world books and newspapers: ditto. (Although how come dozens of glossy - and ludicrously expensive - magazines are still on the go?)

Glad to see the back of...

The Go Compare man.

2010 in three words

Glorious. Grim. Gone.



The Rubberbandits' Horse Outsidevideo - crudeness made brilliant. ITV's excellent Downton Abbey, the eight-part upstairs-downstairs serial set in 1912, written by Julian Fellowes with a superb turn by Maggie Smith. Avatar in 3D: the nearest experience I've ever had to being kidnapped by aliens, so convincing was James Cameron's world of Pandora. Interviewing the travel writer Dervla Murphy at her home in Lismore, Co Waterford. She is a unique, remarkable and impressive individual. The marvel that is Open House Dublin, where you can go behind doors to see privately owned buildings and workplaces of architectural interest that you would usually never see. Anjelica Huston sending an e-mail of thanks after she read my interview with her.

Biggest disappointment

Missing Cúirt, my favourite Irish festival, in Galway in April due to being stranded in Texas by the volcanic ash cloud.

The only consolation was that the folks from the New Yorkermagazine couldn't make it over either.

Biggest surprise

The ability of the Irish to turn around satirical songs about our troubles with such speed and wit. The insanely catchy Whip My Hairby 10-year-old Willow Smith . The increasingly interesting political graffiti turning up around Dublin.

I have seen the future and it is...

The beginning of widespread interaction via Twitter between audiences and media that is broadcast live, turning audiences into participants instead of passive consumers.

Glad to see the back of...

The inescapable Harry Pottermovie franchise featuring three actors who can't act. What? The last film is a two-parter?

2010 in three words

Avatar. Bieber. Room.



Michael Gambon unfurling himself slowly at the beginning of Krapp's Last Tapeat the Gate - the beginning of an extraordinary performance. How, when the music industry is supposedly under threat, Irish music is in a golden age. Two Door Cinema Club's album Tourist Historywas an out-and-out joy (as was their Electric Picnic show). Watching the Irish documentary His & Herswith an audience that included some of its subjects. Every house should have a copy. Karl Marlantes's Matterhorn, about a unit in Vietnam, justified its 30-year creation by being one of the great war novels. Finally, the refreshing and restless DIY and street-art ethics that infused and invigorated the year. Maser and Damien Dempsey's "Greed is the knife & the scars run deep" graffiti at Dublin's East Point became an almost ubiquitous image in the media.

Biggest disappointment

Putting big names into big theatres might be good for the box office, but Stockard Channing's off-key Lady Bracknell was no more than a depth charge to the production. Whatever about the ill-judged performance, her physical appearance was distracting. Maybe Lady Bracknell would have had some work done if the chance had arisen, but . . .

The other disappointment was the they-were-dead-all-along ending to Lost. Six years invested in the show, and it went all Highway to Heaven at the end.

Biggest surprise

The dancer Ríonach Ní Neill delivering a captivating performance in the midst of an arts conference in UL. With such wonderful use of projections and imagination, it was a piece that would wow anyone (and there are many) with a fear of modern dance.

I have seen the future and it is...

eBooks. Many of us have a sentimental attachment to printed books, but it is the words that matter. In November, through my iPhone, I read a newspaper article about the comedian Stewart Lee's book and had it downloaded to my Kindle app a minute later. In Ireland we're behind the curve on e-readers, but a tipping point is coming.

Glad to see the back of...

I would love to see the back of unnecessary intervals in the theatre. Circa at Dublin Theatre Festival had one after 45 minutes, for a show that had no set change. The Gaiety is the worst offender, but not the only one.

2010 in three words

Do it yourself.



The really encouraging thing about several big, first-rate exhibitions is that they originated in Ireland rather than being imports. They include Sinéad McCoole's Passion and Politics on Sir John Lavery at the Hugh Lane Gallery; Adriaan E Waiboer's Gabriel Metsu at the National Gallery of Ireland; and the survey of modernity in 20th-century Irish art and culture, The Moderns, at Imma, curated by Enrique Juncosa and Christina Kennedy.

The sculptor Michael Warren's Unbroken Line at the Visual Centre for Contemporary Art in Carlow and Janet Mullarney's dual shows, Things Made and Things Done, at the RHA and the Taylor Galleries, were outstanding, career-defining events.

Particularly striking solo shows include Cristina Bunello at the Cross Gallery, Gary Coyle and Ollie Comerford at the RHA, Susan Tiger at the Ballina Arts Centre, Dennis McNulty at Green on Red, Maggie Madden at Roscommon Arts Centre (pictured), Róisin Lewis at the Ashford Gallery, Mark Swords at Wexford Arts Centre, Lucinda Robertson at Grennan Mill and Kathleen Delaney at the Berkeley Gallery, Hughie O'Donoghue at the Oliver Sears Gallery, Barrie Cooke and Stephen McKenna at the Kerlin, David Crone at the Hillsboro, Jackie Nickerson at the Butler Gallery, Maria McKinney at the Lab and Ronnie Hughes at the Hugh Lane.

Anything outside visual art ...

Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: A Life of Montaigne: good book, great subject and springboard to the complete essays, available in a fine Penguin Classics edition.

Three albums stood out. Never Stopis the first album of entirely original material from jazz trio The Bad Plus, who built their reputation with brilliant deconstructions of pop and rock songs. Charlie Haden's sequence of duos continued with the excellent Jasmine with Keith Jarrett. Frazey Ford of Po' Girl­and other projects went solo with the lovely Obediah.

Biggest disappointment

More of the Bank of Ireland collection should have gone to public collections. Not even that much: maybe about a dozen pieces at most.

I have seen the future and it is.. .

The erosion of conventional boundaries, with younger artists working across and between a range of roles, disciplines and technologies.

Glad to see the back of...

Perpetual uncertainty. It has impacted badly on the contemporary art market, stymying hopes for a modest recovery.

2010 in three words

Running on empty.



In a tiny Kerry church The National had just finished a blistering set for the Other Voices TV show. Ringmaster Philip King told everyone they could pop out to a local hostelry and "we'll ring the bell when we want ye". Those lucky enough to get one of the golden tickets got to see Rich Hawley and Jarvis Cocker banter their way through a cracking set of covers, Ellie Goulding showing her mettle, and Anna Calvi and John Smith proving why they are the rising stars of 2010. And if you didn't get a ticket? You could pop over the road to Benner's Hotel and prop up the bar with the musicians in person, with not a velvet rope or fussy clipboard person in sight. Magical.

The larger festivals delivered some thrilling weekends, but it was the smaller organisations that really shone this year. Other Voices, Kilkenny Arts and the Immrama Travel Writing Festival were terrific events, and it was fantastic to see independent promoters putting on intricate events, which very often were non-profit or fundraising. The likes of Kaleidoscope, Young Hearts Run Free, Theatreclub and the Centre for Creative Practices deserve to be celebrated.

And the most stand out, too-cool-for-school moment of the year? Hearing the theme from Bullitt performed by Lalo Schifrin and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra with effortless swagger. Outta sight.

Biggest disappointment

Seeing white-elephant arts facilities and buildings sitting empty because funding for the arts to put in them has dwindled or disappeared.

The end loading of the line-up at Electric Picnic. Atrocious weather meant hanging around for The National and Massive Attack became an exercise in endurance that few people were up to.

Biggest surprise

Late one evening I arrived home and found myself mesmerised by a short performance piece on RTÉ. Mother and son Madge and David Bolger (the artistic director of Coiscéim) performed an astonishing display of dance that was filmed entirely underwater.

An elegant, spare idea that was terrifically executed and made for a very moving piece at the most unexpected of times.

I have seen the future and it is...

Anna Calvi has already been tipped hotly as the rising star of 2011, and after her performance at Other Voices, believe the hype. She also has something of an Irish counterpart in Jennifer Evans.

Glad to see the back of...

The X Factor. But, like a malignant disease, it will unfortunately keep coming back.

2010 in three words

Independent, inventive, aggressive.



It was a vintage year for strong, impressive music releases, home and away. A quick glance at iTunes tells me Villagers, Janelle Monae, Flying Lotus, Kanye West, Sleigh Bells, Gorillaz, Not Squares and two songs with "blood" in the title - Squarehead's Fake Blood and The Naked & Famous' Young Blood - got most plays. On the live front, the arrival of a couple of new small Dublin venues was a welcome development (the huge number of bands this recession is going to produce will need somewhere to play) and there were great shows from LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Gorillaz (right) and Janelle Monae.

Anything outside music?

On the bookshelf, Paul Murray's Skippy Dies and Mark Halperon and John Heilemann's Race of A Lifetime stand tall. On the small screen, I really enjoyed Eastbound & Down, Southland, Treme, Justified and Breaking Bad. On the big screen, A Prophet was mesmerising, The Town was excellent, The Social Network was another great Aaron Sorkin yarn and Winter's Bone stayed with me for days. I also enjoyed the Mixtapes exhibition at the Glucksman Gallery in Cork, the Offset festival in Dublin and the Picturing New York exhibition at Imma.

Biggest disappointment

The National. Their new album High Violet was good, but they should be well past the good stage by now. Also, I thought their Dublin Olympia show in November was well below par. I hope it's not a case, as we saw with REM previously, that commercial success acts as a brake on creativity and ambition.

I have seen the future and it is...

The future will be small. A focus on local, community and micro-endeavours will apply as much to the arts and culture as to business and economics.

Glad to see the back of ...

I hope the day is coming when my Twitter feed on Saturday and Sunday nights will not be full of sane, smart, creative people losing their reason over The X Factor.

2010 in three words

Phew! Okay, next.



Dublin becoming Unesco City of Literature; Leonard Cohen at Lissadell; Bach's Mass in B Minor at the National Concert Hall; Ite O'Donovan's ever superlative Lassus Scholars performing Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli in honour of the now blessed Henry Newman in University Church; Opera Theatre Company celebrating Schumann's bicentenary with the mezzo-soprano Imelda Drumm and the baritone Julian Hubbard in a touring programme of Schumann lieder; continuing quality performances from the Irish Baroque Orchestra - including the vivaciously musical Messiah with an inspired Resurgam in splendid voice; soprano Celine Byrne's beguiling opera debut; the deceptively profound Toy Story 3; US virtuoso Hilary Hahn playing Beethoven's Violin Concerto at this year's BBC Proms.

Anything else?

Debra Granik's magnificent film version of Winter's Bone, beautifully shot and intelligently acted by a masterful cast headed by 20-year-old Jennifer Lawrence. John Finucane's new recording, Clarinet Variations. Jacques Audiard's remarkable movie A Prophet. Gramophone presenting a lifetime-achievement award to the Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel; a magnificent legacy remains, including majestic recordings of Beethoven, the Brahms concertos and Schubert's late piano works.

Laura Marling's second album, I Speak Because I Can. John F Deane's breathtaking poem Night on Skellig Michael. Emerging Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang's recent recording of Sibelius's violin concerto. Renaud Capuçon's new recording of Beethoven's complete violin sonatas on Virgin. Rene Jacobs achieving perfection with Mozart's The Magic Flute, when conducting Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. Mitsuko Uchida's new recording of Schumann's Davidsbündertänze, Op 6 and Fantasie, Op 17 on Decca. The German baritone Matthais Goerne's gorgeous Schubert Heliopolis on Harmonia Mundi.

Biggest disappointment

Martin Amis's The Pregnant Widdow: limp, messy satire from a gifted stylist; I rent my garments and tore my hair in despair at its superficiality. The Man Booker panel inexplicably ignoring Jon McGregor's outstanding third novel, Even the Dogs. Further shame on the same judges for leaving Skippy Diesoff the shortlist when it could have, should have, won. The embarrassing failure of officialdom to appreciate the innovative, collective genius that is Opera Theatre Company.

I have seen the future and it is...

A more discerning Irish public. It demands great theatre, great books, great music, great art-house films. The writing of history and memoir is becoming an art form. Early music and baroque repertoire are attracting a wider audience. Libraries and galleries are providing a lifeline and opening imaginations. More than ever the arts provide the great salvation.

Future greats:the US actor Jennifer Lawrence; the Peruvian writer Santiago Roncagliolo; the Norwegian virtuoso Vilde Frang.

Glad to see the back of...

Aside from Fianna Fáil, the hype machine that irresponsibly manipulates information, creating false standards that all too often obscure superior if less-hyped work.

2010 in three words

Heaney's Human Chain.



Pan Pan's The Rehearsal: Playing The Dane found a new way to inhabit a classic, as magnificently overthought, witty and directly involving as Shakespeare's protagonist. Druid's fetchingly designed Penelope snagged on your mind and let Enda Walsh's surreal spin on the bit-players in Homer's The Odyssey become a haunting dialogue on love and mortality. Ontroerend Goed provided thrilling, unnerving and constant talking points with their "intimate trilogy" of works at this year's Dublin Theatre Festival. The Company's As You Are Now So Once Were We and Anu Productions' World's End Lane were bold and dazzling works in form and substance within an outstanding Absolut Fringe Festival.

Anything outside theatre . . .

The Irish documentary His & Hers. This was a moving if undiverse study of relationships and absence. Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher's intelligently propulsive collaboration on The Social Network, not to mention Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's superb soundtrack. Every record and dance move Robyn issued this year. Fergal McCarthy's arch and eloquent installation, LiffeyTown, which used floating Monopoly properties to reflect and transform Dublin.

Biggest disappointment

The premature collapse of the new Dublin venture Theatre Upstairs, which had barely discovered its identity before the pub that was its home went out of business. Mercifully, its creators plan to return next year in a new venue.

I have seen the future and it is...

Working together. After a year spent struggling for new ways to make work - big-name stars in bankable titles on one end, resource sharing and rough aesthetics on the other - co-production and compromise will come to define theatre for a few years to come, making identities porous. New plays will still have writers. But if the Company, Theatreclub, Thisispopbaby and Anu Productions are anything to go by, the next generation of Irish theatre increasingly will address its audience as members of an ensemble, who have built ideas up from the floor in collaboration with each other.

Glad to see the back of...

Any lingering suggestion that the Abbey should, or even could, move to the GPO.

2010 in three words

Shocking, galvanising, transformative.


We asked readers of Jim Carroll's On the Record blog to tell us their cultural highlights and lowlights. Here's what some of them said


The Gate continued to excel with Arcadia, Krapp's Last Tape and a superb Death of a Salesman [ below], featuring a remarkable performance by Harris Yulin. Its Beckett-Pinter-Mamet mini-festival was excellent, not least Mamet's Boston Marriage with the wonderful Fiona Bell and Justine Mitchell and Pinter's A Celebration with the ever-reliable Nick Dunning. Jane Eyre rounded off the year with an enjoyable night of cosy winter theatre.

Pop culture moment of the year Willow Smith's pop hit, Whip My Hair, as performed by Jimmy Fallon as old-school Neil Young (with uncannily accurate voice) and 2010 Bruce Springsteen as 1975 Bruce Springsteen. Genius.


Cultural highlight Glastonbury. Five days of sunshine, surrounded by arts and music.

Biggest surprise The hype surrounding Janelle Monae. Do not get her.

Biggest disappointment Cut Copy at Tripod. Awful rubbish.


Banksy's documentary was hilarious. I thought Inception was a pile of drivel.

Looking to 2011 Hopefully we'll get to hear the Rubberbandits on Liveline more often . . . Regular slot I reckon wouldn't go amiss.

Robert Mitchum

Two nights of the behemoth Einsturzende Neubauten in Prague. Still relevant and still compelling after all these years. Fell for Joanna Newsome's Have One on Me after previous resistance. Closely follow that by one of those occasions where I go to see a film without reading a review or having seen the trailer beforehand. Step up Winter's Bone. Laughed my ass off at Coogan/Brydon's The Trip, in particular the Michael Caine- impersonation face-off. Season four of Mad Men, the best thing on TV. Discovered the fiction of James Salter thanks to the republication of his novel A Sport and a Pastime. This year's Richard Yates?

Disappointed by Inception - all puff and bluster with ludicrous dialogue and an OTT score.

I want a reduction in my TV licence fee on foot of Fade Street.


Return to form of the year Après Match. Comedian of the year Reginald D Hunter.

Hopes for 2011 The demise of Fianna Fáil, the demise of Michael McIntyre.


HighlightsThe amount of fantastic free music given away by Irish artists, from the Cast of Cheers to Not Squares to the Brilliant Things and the Holy Roman Army, every taste was catered for. Phenomenal. Series three of Breaking Bad - last few episodes were especially great. John Grant in Toronto - about 20 people in an old chapel - amazing. Snoop Dogg at Glastonbury - great weather, great party atmosphere.

LowlightsWatching Ireland fall to its knees from afar. Mistakenly giving Piranha 3D a chance. Even on a wet Sunday afternoon with a hangover this was just unbearable rubbish.


Best album was Flying Lotus's Cosmogramma by a country mile. For me, Ellison is light years ahead. Best gig was Tindersticks at St Canice's Cathedral for Kilkenny Arts Festival. Free ticket got me there, knew little about their music. Their white-boy gloom-soul in a church was a pretty religious experience.

Fiona Kearney

So many Irish cultural moments to savour this year. Among them: Druid's production of Enda Walsh's Penelope at the Everyman Palace. Much hilarity pepperered with poignant insights into love, desire and ageing. Brilliantly staged.

Choreographer Jerome Bel at the Cork Opera House. The enfant terrible of dance took Cork audiences on a mesmerising journey of sound, light and performance. Mindfield/Janelle Monae/food stalls at Electric Picnic. The magic of hearing Richard Hawley live at the Pavilion. The comic tenderness of Emma Donoghue's deservedly Booker-shortlisted The Room.

Nevan Lahart at the RHA. Thrilling solo show that was political, playful and personal. Visually stunning. The creative marvels sent daily to my iPad by Flavourpill via Flipboard, and the global cartoon genius of cagle.com.


HighlightIn the days of movies being made for $200 million, an amazing film was made for $15,000: Monsters.

LowsEvery reality TV show there is dumbing down the nation. The Script.

Biggest disappointmentRoad Records closing and the bloody volcano cancelling gigs all over the shop.

Biggest surpriseDerry winning the UK City of Culture for 2013. Should make for an interesting cultural year on the island.