Here in Derry on Easter Saturday midday. Today the ancient city walls are the temporary home of street market stalls. The leaden skies and insistent rain mean it will be a lonely vigil today for Man of Aran and his packets of home-made fudge. No one is abroad in the sodden air, though the indoor markets seem to be thriving.
We drove from Dublin last night and our first gig is tonight in the Millennium Theatre. Rehearsals went well. We’re all vaguely excited and rarin’ to go. Resting in my room in the bus and reading ‘The Song Before It Is Sung’ by Justin Cartwright, I stop at the juxta-position of Art and the real world at the end of the first chapter and consider.
I often wonder about the artist’s vocation and whether it is mere ‘folly and self-indulgence’ in the face of the ‘real world’ of the surgeon and his caesareans, his chemotherapy, the farmer and her 4am lambing, the VAT inspector, the teacher of children. The periods of ‘enlightenment’ where I feel that making ‘Art’ is the only honourable thing a human should be about, the only reason we evolved at all….and that the rest is just sticking plasters on a chaotic existence and stuffing that chaos into separate cupboards…come less and less frequently and when they do, disappear sooner. An artist all my adult life, I have a healthy disregard for us artists and these little ‘torrents of banality’ we get so excited about. I less and less feel justified in expecting anyone to take a blind bit of notice.
Yet tonight I’m told this hall will be full of fellow humans who, in these scary times, have handed over money they worked hard to get…for what? They’re not fools. They’re getting something out of the experience that justifies the loss. Standing on this side of the artistic divide it’s hard to understand the dynamic. Increasingly I feel that my performance, my ‘art’ is just a medium, a catalyst to allow people to access their own imagination, creative impluse, romantic urgency, latent lunacy and that the specifics of what I do, the songs, the voice, the sound are beside the point.
Fair enough! I can live with that. It makes it easier to do what I do, to believe that people aren’t there to take me seriously, to seek out my weak points, to pounce on the jugular, to even listen all that committedly to my particular outpourings…more to join in a collective celebration of our own glorious existential dillema. I feel lucky to be, for a short while, chosen as the focal point for this instinctive human response.
Tonight when things go ‘wrong’ on stage as they will, I’ll hopefully care that little bit less and quietly attend the gentle tug of the opening parachute.
Looking out my porthole I see Man of Aran has attracted a few fudge fanciers, rain or not. Why worry?