National Gloaming Day

The new album is out today (it’s sublime), they’re taking over the National Concert Hall for a week (it’s going to be incredible) and, with all that going on, two of them still found time to chat to little old me for State. Here’s how it went…

***

The Gloaming: Space, Time and the Science of Play

A SENSE of timing does not necessarily equate to a handle on time itself. Or so you’d first think talking to two fifths of The Gloaming. Vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird and hardanger d’amore supremo Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh snuggle on a couch like brothers reunited after years apart. It’s only been six weeks, I point out.

“Ah yeah,” shrugs Ó Lionáird. “But sure that’s a lifetime ago.”

He’s probably right. Time is a relative concept, after all. Six weeks ago was December. Christmas was approaching and the most discussed Irish music outfit in years had wrapped recording on their second LP at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Wiltshire. The Gloaming 2 lands in all good record stores this Friday and sees lightning strike twice for a group who with every song and sold-out show seem to rewrite the periodic table of traditional music science. If they seem delighted to see each other again it is because the atoms that make up Iarla and Caoimhin – and their chemical brothers Martin Hayes, Thomas Bartlett and Dennis Cahill – like to be around one another. This reunion on a hotel couch metres from their spiritual home of the National Concert Hall is a quantifiable response of that.

“Really cool” is the phrase Ó Lionáird today uses to describe the “shared headspace” the band very quickly click into when they converge. It is in this place that the unpredictable is given licence. Essentially, the former Afro Celt Soundsystem man says, all five are “solo voices swimming around each other, reacting on the fly”. “When I think of other acts I’ve been involved in, this has a lot more ‘active variability’ because we don’t make records using lots of overdubs or anything like that. It’s all ‘played’. And to be frank, it always surprises me what we’re able to do together.”

More spacious and hard to hold than its 2014 predecessor, The Gloaming 2 is an astonishing collection that will do the hyperbole surrounding the quintet no favours. ‘Fainleog’ trembles with the dark, passionate energy the Spanish call duende. A stunning guitar intro by Cahill on ‘Oisin’s Song’ gives way to breeze-blown string serenades by Hayes and Ó Raghallaigh and Bartlett’s rich ivory foundation. ‘The Booley House’ recalls the extinct house dances and “fun” spirits of Clare tin whistle legend Micho Russell and fiddle institution Junior Crehan that Iarla today speaks wistfully of. Like, say, the guitar playing of Andy Gill, things become conspicuous by their absence only to make dashing entrances once again (see the thrilling late surge of ‘Mrs Dwyer’).

The road-written songs were recorded in five days, the same time it took to pen that self-titled debut. Back then everything was “fuelled by a sense of the unknown”. If they now knew that anything was possible when they convened, what replaced that energy this time around? Without wishing to get all Rumsfeldian, did any new “unknowns” reveal themselves?

“Well there’s always unknowns,” Iarla counters. “There’s still a huge amount that just depends on the day and what decisions you make. I think especially with Caoimhin’s music, Martin’s violin interplay with him and Thomas’s piano, there’s a lot of improvisational language.”

“Absolutely,” beams Caoimhin. “I’m always looking for the unknown. There’s an energy that’s very important in terms of what the music carries rather than just ‘executing the plan’ accurately, whether you’re performing on stage or recording in the studio. It’s hard to quantify but it’s microscopic, a difference in feeling that you can’t explain. The word ‘unknown’ certainly hasn’t gone away from what we’re trying to achieve.”

For a collective of such lofty abilities – a “super group”, perhaps, but never a “supergroup” – to sit in a confluence where critics, audiences and even heads of state bow in reverence is a rare thing these days. Opera houses and Proms palaces would only do, and if an Uachtarán should shuffle in to Earlsfort Terrace one night (as he swore to me during a recent encounter that he would), he will be as likely to sit next to a world music buff as he would a Fumbally beardstroker or a lover of contemporary classical.

“There’s a fair proportion of people who come to see us who don’t have much knowledge of traditional Irish music,” Iarla nods. “I have a feeling it’s much larger than one might think. People respond to the energy rather than the surface form. It seems to bypass those stereotypes. And it’s nicer to operate just on the basis of ‘music’. Just the thing itself. It’s a blindness worth having sometimes.” He turns to Caoimhin.

“Old traditional music has things in it that are extremely powerful that we don’t understand,” Ó Raghallaigh adds as if pondering black holes. “But they’re there and you can speak that language or take the essence of it and tap into it without understanding how it works. If you ask what Irish music has to offer the world, it’s this incredible richness and depth of feeling that you’re not manipulating, you’re not using. It’s just there and it’s coming out.”

The more the two speak, the more aligned the dimensions of arts and sciences become. There is a reason for this. While seeming to dwell in the elusive musical world of feeling, sensation and harmony, both men are actually – whisper it – scientists.

Ó Lionáird has been a “passionate” lover of science throughout his life and keeps an eye on advances around the world. Ó Raghallaigh, meanwhile, worked at a particle accelerator in the US in 2000, if you don’t mind. Surely they therefore love plans, designs and equations, I protest. How do they square this with songwriting that is so instinctual, unplanned, unscripted?

Iarla nods and points approvingly at the air the question sits in. A knowing look is conspiratorially exchanged. “Caoimhin is a physicist by training,” he frowns, “I’m just a gobshite who likes science.”

“A Trekky,” hoots Ó Raghallaigh before straightening himself. “There’s a couple of things,” he begins cheerily. What follows is a perfectly reasoned, join-the-dots deductive argument from one of the world’s most experimental fiddle players. He speaks of science being analogous, and that where one aims to get to in music is the same as where one aims to get to in science. Convergent play. Divergent play. Locating breakthroughs by building logically on what went before or else via something that nobody else ever thought of. The only difference in what musicians do and what visual artists do, he claims, is in the relationship to time.

“Which is extraordinary!” he finally gasps. “You think of a writer or a painter or a scientist who can give 70 years of their life and not get that audience-artist interaction. I always thought of it as a point of infinite sharpness where things come into being. That’s where you want to be.”

“It’s the sense of wonderment,” Iarla sighs. “I love reading about how a scientist dealt with something or their lifetime pursuit of something. And I agree with Caoimhin that we’re fortunate when we’re on stage that we can create these long passages of focus on just wonderment or ‘bliss’. I’ve tried it before with different outfits but The Gloaming seem to be able to do that more effectively. Music is incredibly powerful at generating this unusual relationship with time, creating and sustaining that place where people can drift into wonderment. It sounds very pretentious but that’s really what music is for, in my book. It helps you then to achieve other levels of feeling and understanding because you’ve opened up that space.”

Space. Time. Active variability. Theories of evolution. Bricks and mortar to The Gloaming’s creation of the intangible. But the pair then slot a keystone into the algorithm that shifts in meaning with each utterance: “Play”.

Ó Lionáird speaks of not being “a player” and how the music his cohorts make is “played into existence”. Ó Raghallaigh, meanwhile, uses the word in its leisurely sense, echoing Damien Hirst’s argument that all art is childish.

“That’s what ‘play’ means,” he avers. “This childlike delight in finding new possibilities in the same backyard that you’ve known your whole life, and it’s all utterly transformed every time you step into it. It is a space that you know intimately but it’s full of surprises and infinite variety. And to play in that is to treat it like a playground, to romp all over the place and have great fun and kind of hang out, or sometimes just sit down in the middle of it or sometimes go on rollercoasters. It is that sense of joy that’s very important. That can be high-energy joy, or it can be very quiet, repetitive joy. Inherent freedom in every moment. There’s still a lot of space to explore. We’ve by no means exhausted what the five people in the band can produce, and I think that’s quite exciting.”

The two share yet another look. Atoms dance. Potential energies fire. Scientific theory has rarely seemed so supernatural.

The Gloaming 2 is out today on Real World Records. The Gloaming play five sold-out shows in Dublin’s National Concert Hall on February 27th and 28th, and March 1st, 2nd, and 3rd 2016.

First published on State.ie

Prairie scary

What do you get if you cross a moustache-chewing western, absurdist Coens-esque dialogue and a dash of unflinching body horror? A darn fine cult classic is what. See below.

***

Bone Tomahawk
Cert: 18

IN KEEPING with the idea that the best use for Kurt Russell these days is in talky, blood-letting westerns, Bone Tomahawk would appear to be a familiar proposition for anyone who survived Tarantino’s bloated The Hateful Eight. And yet while writer-director-polymath S Craig Zahler’s film outdoes Tarantino both for absurdism and gore, it is far superior.

Playing out like some kind of high-class B-movie genre clash (offbeat Coens-esque dialogue, period western setpieces, a sharp swerve into body horror and wilderness dread), Zahler’s debut is certainly not for the feint-hearted despite its relatively frivolous tones early on.

The “Kurt Russance” continues apace. Still sporting his Hateful Eight handlebar, he plays Sheriff Hunt, called to the village saloon one night when a bedraggled stranger (David Arquette) turns up and unsettles the peace in the sleepy outpost.

Once the drifter is behind bars and night has fallen, the town doctor (Lili Simmons) and a young deputy are mysteriously kidnapped. It turns out to be the work of a savage, cannibalistic tribe of natives (referred to only as “troglodytes”, bemusingly). Hunt sets out with his doddery remaining deputy, Chicory (the ever-brilliant Richard Jenkins), the doctor’s injured husband (Patrick Wilson) and a dapper fast-shooting playboy (Lost’s Matthew Fox).

Off they ride into the heart of prairie darkness on a rescue mission, a journey as beset with misfortune as it is with wry wit. Awaiting them at their destination is some of the most laughably shocking movie gore you’ll see this year. That it still somehow feels an essential part of the overall tapestry is incredible and part of the reason Zahler is a talent to watch closely.

Bonkers, bloody and oddly brilliant, this is destined to have a long and fruitful cult life ahead of it.

4/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Playing its cards right

Erika Swyler’s debut works a treat for any one looking for a bit of magical realism. Irish Indo re-voo down below. (Warning: Contains feisty Russian tarot-card readers). 

***

The Book of Speculation
Erika Swyler
Corvus

SIMON WATSON’s life has been eroding underfoot for years. Nature has taken a toll on his family, consigning his mother to a mysterious watery grave when he was a child before grinding his father’s life away through subsequent heartache. Even their family home, a crumbling pile perched precariously on a Long Island clifftop, is being gradually whittled away by the elements.

Simon is a librarian. His sister Enola, meanwhile, did what any right-minded individual would do under such circumstances and ran away to join the circus. She was drawn there by a family affinity with phantasmagorical performance arts – she inherited both her mother’s ability to hold her breath under water and read tarot cards. Bookish and apologetic, Simon is nothing like her and begins to struggle with impending jobcuts at his local library and the mammoth repairs the groaning house requires. Distraction arrives out of the blue in the form of a strange antique book he finds on his doorstep one day.

The handwritten and illustrated volume recounts the saga of a travelling circus two centuries ago, in particular the romance between two of its most arcane performers – a “wild” savage mute called Amos and a mermaid called Evangeline. Around them are forces, both spectral and tangible, that become woven into the fabric of their fates; the kindly and camp circus manager called Hermelius Peabody; Madame Ryzhkova, a formidable Russian seer to whom Amos is a tarot assistant and son figure; a dark secret that brought Evangeline to the circus and into the hands of Amos.

This is the world of Erika Swyler’s imagination, a place of medicine shows, water nymphs and intergenerational curses. Chapter by chapter, The Book of Speculation oscillates between Simon’s detective work and the folkloric murk of the musty annals in his hand. The two stretch to meet one another as Swyler’s debut novel saunters along, one half reaching back through Simon’s family skeletons in the cupboard, the other looming out of a past full of black magic and foreboding. They begin to intersect more and more as Simon seeks to find out why the female members of his family have all drowned themselves on the 24th of July. That ominous date is only days away, and with Enola home visiting, he is frantic for answers.

It is too trite to call this “a book about a book”, although Simon’s fetishizing of the manuscript and the weight he affords its every detail do provide a vital sweat-tinged edge to the otherwise flat protagonist. Nor is this straight-up fantasy fiction or a genetic relation of other uncanny fables such as Patrick Suskind’s Perfume or Louis de Bernieres’ more fanciful realms. It exists instead in a very pleasing “elseworld”, a dimension of magical realism that can both reference internet search engines as well as tell a secret history through flamboyant antiquarian prose and occult dramatics. Tim Burton would kill for such silken weirdness.

Swyler’s background as both an actress and playwright fail to catch hold of her characterisation though, particularly in the present day chapters. Simon feels underdeveloped, passive and hard to get behind, as if Swyler just needed someone, anyone, to tell the tale through. More time should have been spent fine-tuning his voice, you feel.

Mind you, The Book of Speculation is in many ways just a family analogy dressed up in magical clothing – abandonment issues, affairs, disapproving in-laws and the sturm und drang of nature and nurture battling it out over generations. Instead of alcoholic or depressive genes, the taint of ruin travels via tarot cards “like a curse and the thoughts they contain seep into you like venom”. Simon wants rid of the weight of family history but to do so he must first be smothered in it. None of this feels too far from the lot of any medium size family after time and tragedy has had its way. This could well be Swyler’s most dazzling illusion.

First published in the Irish Independent

Die, Alvin, die!

Nothing beats a surreptitious rant dressed up like a film review. This time around, I decided to use reviews of Oddball And The Penguins and Alvin And The Poxing Chipmunks: The Road Chip to highlight my profound views on children’s entertainment. See if you can spot the subtle commentary in the following two Sunday Independent reviews. Sigh…

***

Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Road Chip / Cert: G

THERE are certain inevitabilities in life: Taxes will rise; age will impose itself; and animated creatures in big-budget CGI kids’ films will sooner or later start rapping and gyrating along to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s I Like Big Butts.

The fourth instalment in the bafflingly successful Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise – hilariously entitled The Road Chip – dares not toy with the natural order of things and serves up exactly what you’d expect from a film designed to prey on the wallets of addled parents. Consistency is a virtue, some say. Though perhaps not when something is consistently awful.

Jason Lee looks as tired as the brand itself as he returns for a fourth slog as Dave, the human guardian/big brother/father figure to the three squeaky voiced rodents.

Despite spending most of his days addressing empty spaces where blobs of colour will soon be edited into existence, he has managed to find love in the form of the lovely Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and marriage could be on the cards. While fine with Samantha herself, Alvin, Simon and Theodore are loathe to admit her bully son Miles (Josh Green) into their lives. The feeling is mutual, so the four set out on a roadtrip to Miami to intercept Dave and Samantha and stop the proposal going ahead.

Director Walt Becker (who gave us 2011’s universally panned Zookeeper) believes kids’ entertainment needs are best catered for by primary coloured squibs bouncing inanely to trite pop songs for 90 minutes. Frankly, your children deserve better.

1/5

Oddball And The Penguins
Cert: G

SWAMPY (Shane Jacobson) is a chicken farmer in Warrnambool, Victoria who is as Australian as a schooner of VB. His daughter Emily (Sarah Snook) is a wildlife ranger on nearby Middle Island, a sanctuary for endangered Little Penguins. The species has been hammered by local foxes and if the endemic population slips below 10, funding will be cut and the reserve – once under the care of Swampy’s late wife – will be given up for development. That in turn could lead to Swampy losing both Emily and beloved his granddaughter to a move overseas.

Salvation arrives in the form of Swampy’s beautiful but naughty sheepdog, Oddball. While showing little talent for protecting the farm, he does emerge as an excellent island guardian for the penguin population. Foxes, however, are not the only threat to the prime real estate.

Ask yourself this: Would you prefer your little ones watch an adventure with a strong environmental message, or just noisy, pacifying bubblegum? If the former, then Oddball and the Penguins is just the ticket.

High on charm, spirit, excitement and live-animal magic, Stuart McDonald’s real-life tale is a breath of fresh air in a world of gloopy, sterile CGI mulch animated by people who’ve never set foot outdoors. Sure, its rhythm is slipshod and the performances patchy, but this is hale and hearty fare that your kids may one day thank you for.

4/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Numbskulls

In many ways, the big problem with Concussion was that we’d just seen a masterclass in telling a real-life story through the medium of feature film. If only it had taken a similarly uncluttered, clear-lensed approach to what is otherwise a rollicking yarn. Look ye below.

***

Concussion
Cert: 12A

FUNNY that a film about the insidious risks of head trauma in contact sports should get released here hours before an Ireland-France rugby match. It is repeatedly against Les Bleus that out-half Jonathan Sexton has suffered concussions, to the point that some have been calling for the 30-year-old to consider his health and retire.

Even more timely is that it also comes just days after the Superbowl, the biggest sports event in the US. The NFL, the body that oversees all things American Football, come out as a corrupt and self-serving corporation in this film by Parkland director Peter Landesman, even if in the last five years it has made some assurances that it is taking chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) very seriously. This probably has a lot to do with the NFL settling to the tune of $1billion with thousands of players who allege that it concealed the truth about head trauma risks.

Central to the lid being blown open on the condition was Nigerian-born Dr Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a forensic neuropathologist. After a former football star is found dead from suspected suicide, Dr Omalu notices microscopic brain wounds during his autopsy. He sets out to publish his findings with help from Alec Baldwin’s ex-team doctor and his boss at the coroner’s office, Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks).

Naturally, the establishment is none too pleased that this outsider’s findings could potentially bring down a multi billion-dollar entertainment industry and the cornerstone of the US heartland. As Omalu’s evidence increases, so too does NFL resistance.

Concussion outwardly appears to be a sports drama about brain injury but it is actually a hagiography of Dr Omalu, and this weakens it. Landesman’s screenplay (based on Jeanne Marie Laskas’ GQ article, Game Brain) tacks on a soppy romance story (Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays wife Prema) and writes Omalu as a loveable, twinkle-eyed immigrant counting his lucky stars to be in the glorious US of A. Regarding Smith and the recent “Oscars so white” fiasco, his iffy Nigerian accent fully exonerates the Academy’s perceived snub.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Wade to go

The works I review are occasionally high-brow but I never said I necessarily was. Thus I feel no shame in saying that I found Deadpool a worthwhile venture. This Sindo review hopefully explains why. 

***

Deadpool
Cert: 16

IT CAN seem like we live in a Marvel world these days, one where film franchises from the humongous comic-book corporation break box office records. However, last year’s The Fantastic Four and Ant-Man underperformed comparatively, hinting that not all Stan Lee touches turns to gold.

The problem may be the pompous, spandex-clad self-regard of these films. What a delight then to find an anti-superhero romp made on a comparatively tight budget of $50million that not only kicks ass but riles sensibilities and jabs a much-needed pin into the swollen ego of its genre.

Like its source comic, Deadpool is an exercise in fourth-wall sledgehammering. The wise-cracking, devil-may-care mercenary would show up to cause havoc to any Wolverine or Daredevil, all the while winking at the reader. A longtime fan favourite, efforts to give him the big-screen Marvel treatment have been stop-starting since 2000.

On board early as both star and producer, Ryan Reynolds is born to play Wade Wilson, a fast-mouthed mercenary who volunteers for a shady medical experiment he hopes will cure his cancer and ensure a long life with stunning squeeze Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). He’s left disfigured, warped and equipped with mutant healing powers.

This origins tale is gaily drip-fed to us as Deadpool seeks revenge on Ed Skrein’s sadistic scientist. What matters most to director Tim Miller are the core values of the brand – violence, sleaze and a quick-fire comedic opportunism that happily gives itself and its cast both barrels.

Low-down dirty fun.

4/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

So much sheer spirit

The Sunday Indo asked me to reflect on my meeting with late, great Irish broadcasting Goliath Terry Wogan back in 2011. This is what they published.

***

Mourning the genial broadcasting legend who seemed indomitable

Underneath the effortless charm lurked an intellectual, well versed and supremely generous of spirit, writes Hilary A White

THERE are pillars in all our rear-view mirrors. Things that make up the vista of our lives and provide cultural cornerstones when adult life shifts underfoot. When they’re suddenly not there, it’s felt, sometimes deeply. Look at David Bowie and how his death caused middle-aged men to weep for teenage years of escapism and the unpleasant idea that a formative totem was now gone from the existential diorama.

The nostalgic reeling returned last week with the loss of Terry Wogan, the Limerick-born broadcasting aristocrat who’d always seemed indelible and death-proof. It’d be disingenuous to say I was principally mourning the loss of a very nice man I’d once met, but that was part of it. It was more that a presence over my 35 years, ubiquitous if not always apparent, had extinguished. A minor fracture in the grand scheme of things, perhaps, but a fracture none the less.

Growing up in the 80s meant two things in our house – Star Wars and Wogan. I arrived into the world and they were just there. Neither needed to be introduced, understood or contemplated. They were family, furniture and soundtrack, rolled into one. They just were. In hindsight, so much of that decade now seems disposable. Not, however, the recently revived space opera. And not the unforced, suave, irreverent Irishy-Englishy host with the toothy grin on TV every Saturday night.

When I got to interview him at his home on a cloudless July day in 2011, the then-73-year-old was exactly as I’d always imagined, if slightly less robust. He welcomed me into the Maidenhead pile he shared with wife Helen like an old friend. It was surprising, yet not. As we settled into chairs out in his sweeping back garden, I checked if he’d mind a photo when we were done. “Not at all,” he gasped before that trademark silken comic beat. “Mind you, there’s no such thing as a nice shot of me but there you are.”

Within five minutes, it had already become exactly the kind of experience that made me become a journalist in the first place. He was interesting and interested, candid, widely versed and supremely generous of spirit. There was no stopwatch, no “off-limits” preciousness and no PR person hovering in the background. The chat – and that was very much the cadence he sought – was that of a friendly, reflective man in the winter of his years who was grateful for a good chinwag.

“Hilarious” is the first word I find myself using when people ask what he was like. Wogan had a buoyant, breezy humour that was effortless but made me double over with laughter and lose my line of questioning a few times over those couple of hours. It was a twinkle in the eye, a flamboyant turn of language or some delightfully spry confection on one of his favourite sources of amusement – himself.

“God help us,” he quipped when I told him I’d read Mustn’t Grumble (his laugh-out-loud 2006 biography and one of many published books to his name). “I’m a tremendously lazy person,” he cheerily sighed. “I’ve never knocked on anybody’s door looking for a job. Anything that’s difficult for me, I just don’t do. It just shows you how deeply trivial a person I am that I only do stuff that comes easily to me! Except golf. I think I’m temperamentally wrong for golf.”

He didn’t want anybody, he chuckled, to call him “Sir Terry” but liked the idea of throwing any letters addressed to “Mr Terry Wogan” straight into the wastepaper basket. During a brief aside about his former BBC radio colleagues, he explained that he mostly only saw the back of Ken Bruce’s head in the adjacent studio. “The back of Ken Bruce’s head is much like the front of his head,” he then slipped in, parenthetically. I nearly spat coffee over my notebook.

What I quickly learned was Wogan only poked fun at people who he liked a lot, and this tonality was what ultimately saw him gain such vast purchase on UK public consciousness.

“I came over here [to England] and found there was far too much sycophancy going on,” he mock scowled. “People on the radio saying things like ‘we love your show’ etc. And I thought: ‘I can’t handle that because that’s not the way friends behave.’ Friends are more likely to tell you you’ve got a spot on your nose or you dress like the Pope’s mother or something like that. So that’s what I tried to generate, a kind of mutual badinage between us that was good natured.”

When he referred to Gay Byrne, his RTE mucker of yore, as a “poor old soul”, the mischief was edged with affection.

And yet Wogan would have been useless if were just some wisecracking loafer who was a conduit for kid-acting on the airwaves. Beneath the lightening wit, the massaging sing-song purr and the unreconstructed geniality lurked an intellectual. It fell all about him that afternoon in the recesses between punchlines, trinkets of wisdom and invention, literacy and an acute recall that are unquestionably part of the package. I still dwell on things he said.

Living overseas but in sight of his homeland, Wogan had a clarity of perspective on Ireland that I’m not sure I’ve heard since. The discussion turned to the landmark state visit of Queen Elizabeth just weeks previously. As a small insecure island nation, we patted ourselves on the back after the final exhale that came with her departure. Hadn’t we done well, we told ourselves. Wogan had a different take on it.

“Was I proud of Ireland?” he wondered. “Well I expected Ireland to rise to the occasion. I felt more proud of the Queen, really. She is a very nice woman. She’s a remarkable woman… And why wouldn’t the Irish behave well? Why don’t we expect ourselves to behave well? Why do we think we’re the only ones that history ever happened to? How would we feel if we were Poles or Jews? I mean, come on! Everybody has had a hard time from time to time.”

He was proud, though. You could see it still. He delighted in telling me he was “as Irish as the next man” and therefore got emotional “about all sorts of things”. It was clear he’d spent a lot of time considering the boom and bust, and had actively jumped in to defend his native land when onlookers in the UK asked “why didn’t the Irish realise this or that”. He called his fellow countrymen “resilient”, “intelligent”, “noble” and “probably a much better educated population than Britain”. “Corinthian” was how he described the respectful silences placekickers get from Irish rugby fans. “The principal of sportsmanship is stronger in Ireland than in England, in my opinion. Getting up and shaking hands with your opponent after a hard game – it’s true of nearly everything the Irish do.”

Sadly, it didn’t mean Ireland always afforded him quite the same regard. Before arriving back to Dublin in 2005 to receive a People of The Year Award, voices of idiocy questioned his Irishness on Liveline. “It’s nice to know the Irish haven’t forgotten me,” Wogan said during his acceptance speech. Did he really fear he’d been discarded in Ireland, I asked him.

“I thought about that because it was nice and an enormous surprise. I have the award on me mantelpiece. But why wouldn’t they have forgotten about me? I’m not there – forgotten but not gone!” he chortled, slightly evasively.

Looking back now, there is a sense that the accolades, lifetime honours and knighthoods sat uneasily with Terry Wogan. He laughed that day about how everyone reaches a certain point where people “confuse longevity with merit”. “If you cling to the refuge long enough, people will begin to think you must have some quality… No, it’s just that he’s not dead yet! It’s after you pass on that people tend to over-praise. Morecambe and Wise? They were great but really they weren’t always great.”

He had no real answer to the question of how he’d like to be remembered. All he could say was he hadn’t thought about it because he still hadn’t any “intimations of mortality”. He trotted out light-hearted analogies about speaking at so many friends’ funerals that he is now “Terry No-mates”, a joke he recycled in an interview last September with Ryan Tubridy. He’d probably roll his eyes at the countless tributes and hagiographies this week.

He’d been godless ever since losing first daughter Vanessa in 1966 weeks after her birth. This wasn’t public knowledge when we met but listening back to the interview, it explains why he found it “doubly worrying” when his grandchildren were ill. The atheism and the playfulness remained to the end, according to close friend Fr Brian D’Arcy. “You’d better say a few prayers if you have any influence up there, if there’s anyone up there,” he reportedly said to D’Arcy on their final meeting.

So much sheer spirit. It’s probably why we’ll continue to talk about him. That innate “sunny” disposition people have spoken of that granted him a passport to affections. That refusal to take himself too seriously when he easily could have. He was an optimist, he told me, but cautioned that an optimist was just someone who didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. “Nobody’s going to top that act,” Ruby Wax said during the week. She’s so right because it wasn’t an act.

“I mean I’ve just had the most extraordinary, pleasant life,” he gently laughed that day, almost in disbelief. “And now I’m, as it were, staggering towards the end of it but there you are. Make the most of it while I can.”

First published in the Sunday Independent