Ulster Says Noir The Arts Show


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Ulster Says Noir

Marie-Louise Muir explores the explosion of Ulster crime-writing, Andre Rieu invites The Arts Show into his castle, and there is music from piano maestro Michael McHale.


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They say that art comes from a sense of place, an anchor for artists.

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On tonight's Arts Show, we look at the influence of here.

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Ulster says noir,

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we chat about the recent explosion of crime fiction informed by

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the Troubles and ask - is it a boys only band of writers?

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Belfast boy Michael McHale tackles John Field.

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From the witch's house in Islandmagee,

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screenwriter Ron Hutchinson has New York under his spell.

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Michael Longley returns to the site of his first good poem.

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And Andre Rieu on life as the king of the waltz.

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But first, artist and writer Oliver Jeffers

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on the art that turned him on to culture.

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One of the first books that made a real impact on me in the way that I

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read now and the emotional engagement

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that you get from reading a book

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that's unlike anything else was One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

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by Ken Kesey. I just got lost in it.

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I think I finished it at five o'clock in the morning

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because I couldn't put it down.

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Got through the last quarter of it in one night.

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It was just such an emotional roller-coaster

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and it affected me in a way that nothing else really could.

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Piece of art that really had a huge impact on me

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is called Action Painting by Mark Tansey.

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And it's a woman painting a still life

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of something she's observing and

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the thing she's observing is a car crash.

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And the car crash is depicted,

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you sort of see it happening off to the left,

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but then it's also on her canvas and it's this notion that you can

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paint impossibilities and it's a very,

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very subtle thing and just the suggestion, the power of suggestion,

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of that really came to personify itself in my work.

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The only one that jumps to mind is Jaws

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and the reason it jumps to mind is

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cos my dad let me watch it when I was six, which is way too young.

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I can go slow ahead. Come on down and chomp some of this shit.

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I remember him telling stories at dinner parties years afterwards,

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laughing about the fact that I came down the stairs and asked,

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"Daddy, can sharks climb stairs?"

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Traumatised.

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I went to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast when I was in my early 20s,

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I think, to see A Night In November by Marie Jones,

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performed by Dan Gordon.

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I won't be here in the morning. I have to go to Dublin.

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"Not available for work as out of the country."

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What?! No, I'm only going to Dublin.

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A wonderful...

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piece of writing. It talked about the multiple perspectives from

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the same place which is something I really enjoy exploring in my work.

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Watching this emotional journey, it's the power of theatre

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and it was a beautiful thing.

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The shoulders jutter as the tears come.

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He closed his eyes.

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Shh.

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Thomas' lips are soft against his ear.

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We'll be all right. I'll look after us, don't worry.

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The wailing comes close, falls and dies.

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The sound of tyres on the driveway outside.

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Car doors opening and closing.

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Ciaran opens his eyes, sees a blue light dancing on the wall.

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"They're here," he says.

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Noir basically is sort of fatalism, it's a bit of cynicism.

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If you look at it in terms of Ulster Noir,

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it's just anything that comes from Ulster

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that is pretty much put into

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the crime genre, the dark sense of humour, black humour,

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that's sort of what we're known for, sort of personality of the place.

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Do you see yourself in a genre?

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I don't know if anybody starts out writing a crime novel.

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I think we start writing about things that concern us and things

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that interest us. I think one of the things that crime does very well is

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it analyses a sense of identity.

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And identity and place are so often

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connected, and particularly in Northern Ireland,

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where identity and geographical location became so synonymous.

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But I think it was almost inevitable that this generation of writers from

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Northern Ireland, we probably move towards crime or noir,

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we probably are hoping to move forward,

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but we're also constantly having to look backward to work out how we got

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-to where we are now.

-But I just sometimes wonder...

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Cos I remember '70s, '80s airport novels...

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-Troubles trash.

-Troubles trash.

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-Yeah.

-And it always felt like a very easy hook.

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If you wanted your novel to have a bit of sex appeal and selling power,

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you know, just stick an Armalite into it and a gunman.

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But they were very rarely written by authors from here,

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that was the difference.

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It was just authors cashing in on

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the fact that this was a troubled spot,

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there was adventure here, there was danger here.

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And quite often they didn't really do their research very well and

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certainly they didn't get the language right and they didn't get

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the humour right. So these are all things the new generation

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of authors, I think, have brought.

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I was the writer who turned Gladiator down.

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They said to me in DreamWorks, "We've got this wonderful story,

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"Ridley Scott wants to do this movie."

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Free the prisoners, go!

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What a load of old tosh.

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Who would be interested in a story

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about gladiators in this day and age?

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And I don't believe the underlying story anyway,

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so I turned down Gladiator.

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Otherwise, I would have come here today by helicopter.

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I was born in Lisburn

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and we lived in Belfast briefly, then my mother went mad.

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She had a nervous breakdown.

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And we moved out

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to Mullaghboy on Islandmagee. I grew up in the witch's house.

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I'm writing a movie about this.

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It's where the Islandmagee witches lived, eight witches,

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who were arrested in 1711, 20 years after Salem, for witchcraft.

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In prison in Carrickfergus Castle,

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three of them were tortured to death to make them confess,

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five of them were tortured, but not to death.

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Tortured to life, if there is such a thing.

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Something about that house stayed with me.

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Something about that strong feminine white magic

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of that place stuck with me.

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And then eventually moved, unfortunately, to Coventry.

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There were some particularly awful, horrible things in the Troubles and

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it was probably when McDade blew himself up

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at the post office in Coventry,

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15 foot away from me, and that kind of shocked me into thinking,

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"What do I think about that?"

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And I started to write and, for the first time,

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I wrote in an Irish voice.

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I assumed that mask of being Irish.

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And then I discovered it wasn't really a mask.

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I had things inside me that were...

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..debating with themselves about who I was, what I felt about that.

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I was just splashing around in the shallows, you know.

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I'd see something I wanted to write about, a detective story,

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a love story. But until the Irish thing

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became what I wrote about, I actually didn't find any truth,

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any granite, any bottom to my writing.

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Look, I'm the last window cleaner in Belfast, I can't let them down.

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That's him, he's yours.

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Sammy MacMurtrey. Computer prediction,

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target terrorist of the month.

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I wrote the first thing that the BBC, I think, seriously tackled the Troubles with.

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It was called The Last Window Cleaner.

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And it was very tendentious, they didn't want to touch that subject

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and that was one of those Play For Today things.

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I'm not too sure about the parka either.

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And it was like a comedy about the Irish Troubles.

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Not a genre, you know, that was vast.

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I wrote a play called Rat In The Skull.

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Again the last thing I wrote about Ireland, about the interrogation of a young Irishman

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during the mainland bombing campaign in London.

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I went to Los Angeles and the first thing I wrote, I won an Emmy.

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And when you get an Emmy, you have, like, a licence for five years,

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it's like winning an Academy Award.

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I thought you got off the boat and they gave you an Emmy.

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I was able to write for HBO, had a deal at DreamWorks.

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I wrote, you know,

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or rewrote, 13 movies for HBO, an industrial amount of work.

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One day they'd give me a thing about the Tuskegee Airmen,

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the black air crews in the Second World War.

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This ain't your country.

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Your country's full of apes and gorillas, malaria,

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-missionaries.

-Ain't no gorillas in Harlem.

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The next day they'd give me a thing with Raul Julia about the rainforest

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destruction in Brazil.

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That would not have happened if I'd stayed working for the BBC or ITV in

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England because I think I was already pegged as a working-class writer and

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as an Irish writer and as a Troubles writer.

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And it'd be very comfortable to be the voice of working-class Midlands life,

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you can get a couple of plays out of that.

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The Irish situation,

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you could actually probably look in your own navel and pick four or five

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plays out of that. I've always actually had a sensibility that I won't do rubbish.

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I won't actually do

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Falcon Crest. I won't do something that embarrasses me.

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And it's a kind of faded scrap of gentility or else it's a...

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..commitment to why I started becoming a writer in the first place.

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And I think Irish writers at their best are ones who, like, just go,

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"Let's get out there and see what that wonderful unholy mess of a world is

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"and bring a story back from it."

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Catherine, you're not only a consumer of crime fiction,

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you commission it as well.

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-I do.

-So can you give us a precis

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of these two guys' work and what they do?

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Colin came from a different time, we'd moved on.

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I don't like the sound of that. I come from a different time?

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You trying to say he's ancient?

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Well... He's been around for a while.

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What he did was very different.

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If you look back, previously, Troubles throughout '70s, '80s,

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but also if you look to somebody like Bernard MacLaverty, 1983, Cal,

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Deirdre Madden, Hidden Symptoms, 1986,

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Brian Muir, 1990s debut.

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You've got all these people that came before that were writing.

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Glenn Patterson. And they were building a foundation for what Colin

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then came and did, which was smashing it out of the ball park,

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the nun with a gun, bringing it out of where it had been strictly

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serious fiction and sort of saying, "We can play with this,

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"we can use the black humour,

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"we can look at what the area is that we live in,

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"look at what's happening and we can push people,

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"push the boundaries of what we are as a culture."

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And what you see now, with people like Stuart Neville, with Brian,

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is bringing it very contemporary, looking at social-economic factors,

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looking at... It's very post-Troubles, it's very - where are we now?

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I think crime particularly is...

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It allows that kind of vicarious experience of things that we fear,

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it allows us to tap into our fears,

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it allows us to tap into the things that concern us.

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In the real world, clearance rates for crimes are minimal.

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They're tiny. Murder clearance rates are frighteningly small.

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What do you mean by clearance rates?

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The number of people who are actually caught for crimes,

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where there is a successful prosecution.

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Whereas, in crime fiction, that happens all the time.

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How could she explain?

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She couldn't. Was she really going to do this?

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It didn't seem real.

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She glanced uneasily at the clock.

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3.17pm.

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Getting dark already.

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He should have rung by now.

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He promised to ring, tell her what to do,

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say when he was coming to take her somewhere safe.

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Where are the women writers?

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-They're all down south.

-Yeah.

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There are very few female crime-fiction writers around from the north.

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I can think of three - please jump in if I'm missing anyone -

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it would be Liz Nugent, Kelly Creighton and Claire McGowan,

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who has done particularly well.

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What happened in the south, which is quite interesting,

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is that the first generation of crime writers were all male,

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with one or two exceptions, I mean,

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you had somebody like Arlene Hunt and Alex Barclay

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and then Tana French starting writing at around 2007,

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the same time. Both our debut books came out the same month, actually.

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But now you've Louise Phillips and Liz Nugent and Catherine Howard,

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there's just been this kind of plethora of...

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And I suspect the same thing will happen in the north.

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I suspect we will see more female voices.

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Is there something innately squeamish about crime fiction that...?

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I'm only being... You know.

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Some of the darkest things I've read are by women.

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-So the fairer sex CAN do it.

-Absolutely.

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I mean, Liz Nugent's writing about looking at

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sort of the Troubles psyche on

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very sort of low income and, you know, it's very much, like you said,

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Kelly, about the voice.

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Is Ulster Noir at the moment a boys' club?

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It is through no fault of any of ours.

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When you're doing readings now and workshops,

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it's mostly women who are attending.

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Particularly the writing workshops and I know a couple of younger women

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writers who are writing crime novels at the minute.

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I mean, there is more women readers, actually.

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-Absolutely.

-The vast majority.

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It's called post-Troubles crime fiction.

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Well, they always tend to refer back to the Troubles.

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It's part of the background, part of the fabric.

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-Yeah.

-So I think it will always be there.

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Your work is...

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for want of a better word, taking the mickey out of a lot of what happened

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here as well. Are you ever concerned about how you were addressing

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the political side of Northern Ireland?

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No, I think because, certainly with the first book,

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the worry is that this will never be published.

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You're writing with a complete freedom.

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You never, ever think about, "Oh, this might offend someone."

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Maybe that comes a bit later on.

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I would argue that with the exception of something like what Colin was

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doing with humour, there wasn't really a need for crime fiction

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during the Troubles. I mean,

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crime fiction is about that vicarious experiencing of fear.

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You don't need to experience fear vicariously

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if you're actually experiencing it.

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Do you know what I mean? If it's there on the streets.

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I think there was an element of postponed pain as well.

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I think after the Troubles ended,

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we kind of had the honeymoon period when everybody was happy and there

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was new hope. And I think that's why that kind of explosion of fiction is

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happening now, because people are beginning to register that pain

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of, "Oh, we had to give up this.

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"We were promised this and it never happened.

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"It didn't deliver." I mean,

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I don't think that is specific to Northern Ireland.

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I mean, I think Donald Trump being elected in America was the pain that

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people were feeling, the Brexit was the pain that people were feeling.

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To dismiss that or to say that that pain's not real would be silly.

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What I think's great about the Ulster Noir is that we all have very

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distinctive voices.

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I think if you went into a supermarket and went to the shelves and picked

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out seven or eight crime novels at random and ripped the covers off and

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started reading them, you couldn't tell the difference between them.

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Because they're kind of written to a template and there aren't very

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many distinctive voices. But if you look at the different authors that

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are coming out of Northern Ireland,

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whether it's me or Brian or Adrian, Stuart or Claire, they're all

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very, very different and distinctive voices.

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The streets were dark with something more than night.

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Was that waltz music I could hear faintly on the edge of sound?

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I needed a drink.

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What I had was a coat, a scarf and a microphone.

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I mean, a girl's got to be prepared to meet Andre Rieu in his castle.

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What is it about you that has made you transcend being another jobbing

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classical violinist?

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I very often have the feeling with classical music that the soloists

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and the conductor and the orchestra,

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they are standing there and, in fact, they don't want the audience.

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They don't play for the audience, they play for themselves.

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And I play for the audience.

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I couldn't...

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..play without the audience.

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It's so nice to have this connection.

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I want to grab their hearts.

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You talk about the violin as a very sensuous instrument.

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You talk about it almost as if it was a woman.

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It looks like a woman.

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It's, for me, personally,

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the best instrument I could play because it's so...

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-together with you.

-What does Marjorie, your wife and your manager,

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-make of that?

-Oh, she's not jealous at all of my violin because...

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..you must not see it in that way.

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I mean, it's a violin.

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I mean, my wife is my wife.

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That's a different thing.

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We don't have a manager who tells us what to do, what to play,

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where to go.

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We do it ourselves.

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But how liberating is that?

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It's fantastic. I could only

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tell all other artists, "Do it yourself,

0:22:100:22:12

"leave the managers at home because they do it only for the money."

0:22:120:22:15

We earn a lot of money but a lot of money goes out because I have

0:22:150:22:20

100...110 people on my payroll.

0:22:200:22:25

You can imagine when we travel to Belfast, with the whole crew,

0:22:250:22:29

everything has to be paid.

0:22:290:22:31

But I don't complain. It's OK.

0:22:310:22:34

I am my own boss.

0:22:340:22:36

People very often ask me, "What do you do with your money?"

0:22:360:22:40

I buy my freedom.

0:22:400:22:42

Did you love music or was it the fact that your father was a musician?

0:22:420:22:46

Both.

0:22:460:22:47

-Both.

-Sometimes you worry that if you are the child of somebody who's

0:22:470:22:53

very musical, you inherit it because they want you to.

0:22:530:22:56

Yeah, yeah. They did. They did. So it was difficult.

0:22:560:22:59

A difficult time. And I think I've found my own way by doing what I do.

0:22:590:23:05

By opening the classical music for everybody in the world,

0:23:050:23:09

not only for a small elite.

0:23:090:23:10

-Yeah.

-So that was, I think, my way to escape.

0:23:100:23:15

They were very severe and not very loving, so...

0:23:170:23:20

From the moment I met Marjorie, my life was opening.

0:23:210:23:26

Yes.

0:23:260:23:27

That was a creative partnership that has brought...

0:23:270:23:31

Yes, a loving and a creative.

0:23:310:23:33

She had respect for me and she believed in me.

0:23:330:23:36

But there must have been classical-music snobs who did,

0:23:360:23:40

and probably still do, look down on what Andre Rieu does.

0:23:400:23:44

Yes, yes, they are still there but, you know...

0:23:440:23:47

I'm sure I do my job with all my responsibility,

0:23:470:23:52

I have a beautiful orchestra and we make beautiful recordings

0:23:520:23:56

and, you know, for me, there is no classical music and

0:23:560:24:02

light or pop music, it's all...

0:24:020:24:05

For me, there is only good and bad music.

0:24:050:24:08

-You talk also about making eye contact with the audience.

-Yeah.

0:24:080:24:12

-With everybody.

-How many people would normally be at one of your concerts?

0:24:120:24:17

10,000.

0:24:170:24:18

How can you make eye contact?

0:24:190:24:21

I look them in the eye.

0:24:210:24:22

Everybody. And it's true, I recognise a lot of people after.

0:24:220:24:28

I say, "Oh, yeah, you were sitting there and there and you were doing

0:24:280:24:31

"that and that." "How can you know that?"

0:24:310:24:33

-"I see it."

-I know you're on the road and you're touring,

0:24:330:24:37

but have you got more ambition for the Johann Strauss Orchestra?

0:24:370:24:42

In fact, I have only one ambition,

0:24:420:24:44

that is staying in good health and go on like this.

0:24:440:24:47

Because that is my dream.

0:24:470:24:49

I always dreamt of travelling the world

0:24:490:24:52

because I love to see the world,

0:24:520:24:55

but not as a tourist, but with my orchestra,

0:24:550:24:59

making music for the people and looking at them into the eyes.

0:24:590:25:02

That's what I love about the world.

0:25:030:25:06

Because we are all the same, in fact.

0:25:060:25:08

The Irish people...

0:25:090:25:10

..they are a little bit higher.

0:25:120:25:14

-A bit of an edge.

-A little lever higher.

0:25:140:25:16

Have you got anything to say to the fans in Belfast?

0:25:160:25:20

Yes, I would like to say that when you come to the concert,

0:25:200:25:23

the people in Belfast, bring your heart, I'll do the same,

0:25:230:25:27

and we will have an evening together we will never forget.

0:25:270:25:30

Memory.

0:25:360:25:37

In the bedroom above the post office, now demolished,

0:25:400:25:44

on the Lisburn Road,

0:25:440:25:46

I wrote my first poem that was any good.

0:25:460:25:50

Epithalamion.

0:25:500:25:52

Rhyme words dancing down the page ahead of the argument.

0:25:530:25:58

And the closing image of king and queen, inspired by you and me,

0:26:000:26:07

in Nassau Street.

0:26:070:26:08

Waiting for Kennedy's loud cavalcade,

0:26:130:26:18

split seconds, Kennedy,

0:26:180:26:22

de Valera.

0:26:220:26:23

I phoned you and recited my new poem.

0:26:270:26:31

Then I dined with my mother, who had baked cod in tomatoes,

0:26:320:26:37

onions and breadcrumbs.

0:26:370:26:40

Was that the night I sat up late to hear

0:26:420:26:45

Clay beating Liston on the radio?

0:26:450:26:49

As the city sleeps and your imagination wakes,

0:26:570:27:00

it's time to say goodnight.

0:27:000:27:02

And if you've a hankering for yet more culture,

0:27:020:27:05

here's what's not to miss.

0:27:050:27:07

It's the must-see minute.

0:27:070:27:08

She may be a he, but in our increasingly gender-fluid society,

0:27:090:27:14

there is nothing like a dame.

0:27:140:27:16

May McFettridge is the longest serving

0:27:160:27:18

at over a quarter of a century at the Grand Opera House.

0:27:180:27:21

Oh, yes, she is!

0:27:210:27:23

While William Caulfield cross-dresses his way

0:27:230:27:25

into a second decade at

0:27:250:27:27

the Millennium Forum in Derry-Londonderry.

0:27:270:27:29

Do check out your local press for a panto near or, indeed, behind you.

0:27:290:27:33

He created one of fiction's most magical worlds, Narnia -

0:27:350:27:39

CS Lewis, or Jack, as he was known to his friends.

0:27:390:27:42

His first imaginative landscape, East Belfast,

0:27:420:27:45

celebrates the local boy done good in a wide-ranging arts festival and

0:27:450:27:49

you don't need a wardrobe to get to it.

0:27:490:27:51

And it's no mystery that Ian Rankin loves Northern Ireland.

0:27:540:27:58

And after being caught one more time

0:27:580:27:59

up on Cyprus Avenue for Van the Man's birthday bash,

0:27:590:28:02

he's back on our streets for another celebration,

0:28:020:28:05

30 years of Inspector Rebus.

0:28:050:28:08

Can we expect falling crime rates as Rebus retires to Belfast?

0:28:080:28:12

I'm sure the PS and I can spare him a desk.

0:28:120:28:14

And The Arts Show is on BBC Radio Ulster

0:28:170:28:19

and BBC Radio Foyle Tuesdays to Fridays

0:28:190:28:21

at half past six or find us online or on social media.

0:28:210:28:24

Why is there such an explosion of Ulster crime-writing? Join Marie-Louise Muir as she gets under the skin of 'Ulster Noir'. In advance of his Christmas concert at the Odyssey Arena André Rieu invites us into his castle. Ron Hutchinson, Lisburn's Emmy-winning screenwriter who turned down Gladiator, tells us about growing up in a witch's house, and Michael Longley takes a journey into his memories of Belfast's Lisburn road. With music from piano maestro Michael McHale