The one where forty-three different people performed on stage in Mulligans over the course of a single evening

I turned forty last month. My birthday fell while we were visiting my extended family in Ireland, so it was lovely to catch up with my three sisters (with “middle Meave” putting in a surprise appearance all the way from Singapore), my parents and a plethora of nieces and nephews.

The big celebration was back in Switzerland, where I marked the occasion with an evening of music. Ten years earlier I had tried to get 30 different people up on stage in the course of an evening to mark the previous big birthday. I fell short by two that night, so with another decade of finding friends (!) and a bit of extra preparation I decided to go for 40 this time.

The venue was, once again, Mulligans pub, which is the closest thing I have to a spiritual home in Geneva. And it was… well, words can’t really capture it. Maybe the photos below will.

The evening surpassed all my hopes and expectations, and we managed to surpass the target, hitting a total of 43 performers on the night. I was fortunate that my good friend and musical compadre David Graham flew across from Dublin to add some much-needed and appreciated guitar and vocal support to many performers.

I opened the proceedings myself with my own song Have No Regrets, and then David and I got warmed up with our old favourite Weather With You.


First up, a family affair. Geertje, Frans and their kids re-wrote a recent French pop hit, Andaluce, with lyrics in French and English about my tendency to talk a lot and to switch careers often. An amazing effort, and very touching!


Emmanuel was next up, delivering a sweet and heartfelt Fields of Athenry.


Nadine (not “my” Nadine) sent me a long list of all sorts of wonderful songs from which to choose. I picked Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors, partly because it’s a great song and I knew she would do it justice, and partly because I knew David could play along, which took a little pressure off me!


Mike seemed right at home on the stage, taking up a classic folk-singer pose with pint in hand. We eventually managed to get Rebecca to step out of his shadow and together they contributed a rousing Wild Rover to the proceedings. It was the perfect opportunity for Maurice to make the first of his many appearances on keys.


Karin brought a soupçon of punk to the occasion with her Patti Smith-inspired version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. David again did the necessary on guitar.


Caspar’s classy double bass playing was certainly a highlight for me. Our first tune together – Van Morrison’s Moondance – was probably the best of the three we played together, with Caspar really getting stuck into it and David laying on some nice lead guitar licks. We also played The Joker and Tainted Love together during the course of the evening.


Nadine and I worked on our Frank’n’Nancy duet for many weeks before the big night and got it just about right on the night. We followed Something Stupid with one of my own songs, a duet called Dear Liza…and she popped up on two or three further occasions in the course of the evening. There’s so much more I could say about her here, but she knows it already. 🙂


My neighbour and friend Christian would not usually be the first person to step into the limelight, particularly when it comes to musical performances, so I was delighted when he suggested joining me on what is the only Swiss song in my repertoire, Stéphane Eicher’s Déjeuner en paix. We weren’t far off nailing it.


Mandy’s Karma Chameleon raised the roof, proving a very popular singalong choice. You could tell she’s a bit of a karaoke queen!


The roof was raised even further with that ultimate of singalong songs Country Roads. Tonya and Mia led the pub choir, while Maurice vamped along on the keyboard.


Chantal and I have duetted on More Than Words quite a few times now. She sang her part with aplomb, as usual. (And I sang my part with a Plomb! Kind of an in-joke I guess…)


Next up, Sarah gave the tiles of Mulligans a battering as she high-stepped her way – unaccompanied – through an Irish dance called St Patrick’s. Very impressive!


Becky and I go way, way back, so I was thrilled when she told me she was flying across from Ireland for the party. (As it happens, David and I had provided the musical entertainment at her 40th in Ireland last year, so in a way she was repaying the favour.) Having worked our way the previous evening through many possible songs for her to sing, we finally settled on Britney’s Baby One More Time. A great choice and she did a fantastic job!


Becky was then joined by her husband Maurice for a reprise of a song I first heard them singing together at their wedding, the Johnny and June Cash song Jackson. David drove it along nicely on the guitar.


When Bram and Helen told me ahead of the night that they planned to sing the Keane song Everybody’s Changing, I thought it was, for them, an odd choice. All became clear when I realized they had rewritten the words for the occasion: “…he tries to stay awake when he gets on the train, he drinks a lot of beer and then goes to Nadine, now Eoghan’s turning forty and will it stay the same”. Sounds nothing like me!!


Elaine came fully prepared for her performance of Yellow Submarine, joined by Philippa, no stranger to the stage. It was a canny choice of song, ensuring a pub-full of backing vocalists. More piano from Maurice completed the package.


Mairéad, as I expected, kept things Irish with her choice of the Christy Moore classic Ride On. One of my oldest Geneva friends, and a constant supporter of my musical activities, it was a pleasure to accompany her. Maith an cailín!


Marc (looking as dapper as ever) arrived on stage with a sheaf of song sheets for me to choose from. I picked Can’t Stand Me Now by the Libertines. Our performance was probably a bit rough around the edges, but that’s entirely in keeping with the spirit of the band. (Thanks to David for music stand duties.)


“Is there anyone in from Manchester?” shouted Bob by means of introduction to the James song Sit Down. There was a steely determination to his singing, but it was a good thing that he had Nadine and Lisa there for back-up. There were chaotic scenes by the end as Nadine led a move to have everyone actuallly sit down in from of the stage, with mic stands and mixing desk almost pulled over in the process.


Another unexpected gem on the night was Charlotte’s version of Pharrell Williams’ Happy on her viola. Amazing! Great job from David on the guitar too, with me having thrown this one at him at the last minute.


Dan sang his own song, Brave, which is the the debut single of his band The Flocking Murmuration. It was a definite highlight of the night – many friends have singled out his performance in the days since. He also invited me to join him on Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, ensuring he didn’t bring along his harmonica in vain.


It was only very recently that I discovered Liv has been hiding considerable singing talent. We’re both big fans of James Taylor, so it was a delight to accompany her on Fire and Rain.


John and Yvette are two members of local Irish folk’n’trad band The Emigrants. They’ve been gathering quite a local following, which won’t be a surprise to anyone who heard their stunning performance of Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore and Gleanntáin Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair, the two songs sharing the same melody and sung as a kind of live mash-up. Another highlight!


Sheena and I have a dirty little musical secret in common, which is our shared appreciation of the music of Chris de Burgh. (There’s more to him than Lady In Red…seriously!!) Well it all came out into the open with her dramatic delivery of Patricia the Stripper, with Georgina performing an accompanying dance that didn’t go quite as far as the eponymous heroine of the song. (I was too busy trying to read chords off a smartphone to follow the dance in any case.)


Adrian was an unexpected addition to the list of performers, having only found out about the party during the rugby matches earlier that day. Usually a trad fiddler, he borrowed and (I think) re-tuned Charlotte’s viola to accompany me on a song I chose solely on the basis of his attire: Delilah.


Damian and Ruth came to the stage not knowing what they were going to sing. We quickly zoned in on the Beatles and chose another surefire singalong classic, Yesterday. Damian’s mic may or may not have been switched on, which may not or may have been a good thing! Ruth kept the show on the road in any case.


Gabe’s most significant contribution to the evening up to this point had been fulfilling his role as temporary glass collector. Little did we know that he was itching to join us on stage and demonstrate his impressive vocal stylings on Van Morrison’s My Brown Eyed Girl. Another welcome surprise on the evening.


Esbjorn joined us rather late in the proceedings but his performance was worth the wait. He chose I Will Survive and delivered it in his own inimitable style.


One performance that friends who were at my 30th birthday all seem to remember was The Final Countdown. They put the team back together again, perhaps with a small change or two, for a raucous but enthusiastic rendering. On stage were Paul and his ladies: Sheena, Jodi, Mel and Tonya, with Maurice on keyboards and David conducting us all with his guitar. It was messy (but not quite as messy as the Bohemian Rhapsody that followed it, led by Nadine – somehow we made it to the end in one piece).


Maurice left the keyboard behind to join David and me for the traditional towards-the-end-of-the-night outing of It’s The End Of The World As We Know It. We then rounded off the party with a Hey Jude / 500 Miles (I Wanna Be) combo, with guitar strings breaking left, right and centre.


And just when I thought it was all over, Kiwi Matt commandeered the mic to lead my wonderful friends in a chorus of Happy Birthday. Thanks Matt. A perfect ending to a wonderful evening.


Much respect and gratitude also to Félix, our trusty sound engineer, who somehow managed to keep up with the chopping and changing all night.

If you’ve read this far and were not there on the night, you should by now have a good sense of what happened. If you were there, the photos may have given your memory a necessary refresh! To everyone who came along, and especially to the performers, I can only say THANK YOU. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday party.

Finally, it was Becky’s excellent idea to get every performer to sign the poster. It’ll have pride of place in the music room, a special memento from a special night.

 

Snowfolk

It snowed a lot here last weekend. I don’t recall ever seeing so much snow down at the level of Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman, to use its official name), with the possible exception of one year around 2006 or so when Geneva itself froze up for a week. In our village of Vich, just above the lakeside towns of Nyon and Gland, we had 20 to 30cm of snow fall throughout last weekend, with more falling on Monday.

Snowfolk

Robert (now 3 and a half) and I rushed out to the back garden for some snowman action on the Saturday morning, but the snow just wouldn’t clump together. It was probably too cold. We made do with some sledging beside the village school. The following day, however, with slightly higher temperatures and a fresh dump of powdery snow, delivered perfect conditions for the building of snowfolk, hence our little snow family above.

DSC_1140

I took another photo before heading to work on Monday morning. “Nadine” had toppled over and my own likeness was looking a bit wobbly too. All facial features had either fallen off or were covered by the previous night’s fresh fall.

DSC_1169

Today, one week later, the aforementioned wobbly me remains standing at a gravity-defying angle, and Declan’s minimalist facial features have revealed themselves again as some of snow dropped away. (The carrots were cooked eaten last weekend!)

Temperatures barely rose above zero all week and a bitterly cold bise has been making it rather unpleasant to venture outside for the last couple of days. Let’s see how much longer our little snow family struggles on.

A living statue actually worth seeing

Having lived in Amsterdam for a couple of years and witnessed the influx of really bad “living statues” on Dam Square, I’ve grown to dislike this form of street theatre greatly. (It annoys me even thinking about those con artists in Amsterdam. I know people are desperate sometimes, but they made life very difficult for legitimate artists.) So when I headed downtown in Geneva at lunchtime on Thursday and saw a gold-suited, gold-painted guy limbering up on his plinth on Place du Molard I tutted to myself and quickly moved on.

It was only when I passed by again a little later that I realised this guy was a bit different.

Living statue, Place du Molard, Geneva 24 July 2014

I’m still not sure whether he was somehow fixed to the plinth or just had incredibly strong calf muscles. Either way, he deservedly gathered a little crowd. I’m always happy to throw a few coins in the hat for good street artists, but it’s a very long time since I did so for one of these living statue merchants.

Writing about this subject reminds me of a video that amused me greatly a few years ago. This prank took advantage of the big scene in Barcelona for this kind of street theatre. Enjoy.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

I’ve posted photo blogs here following various trips and holidays in the past, so I thought I should also do so after last week’s family holiday on the Atlantic coast in France. There’s not much to report however, partly because we didn’t take many photos, but also because we did pretty much the same thing each day, i.e. go to the beach.

Immobile home

We picked the location by drawing a line directly west of Geneva, the idea being to find somewhere by the sea that wouldn’t be too hot in July. We settled on a campsite close to Soulac-sur-Mer, just across the Gironde estuary from Royan. We rented a mobile home at Camping le Royannais, a small-ish site that emphasises its eco-credentials. The owner, Pascal, is proud to be the only French campsite participating in the 1% for the planet scheme. Eco or otherwise, it was perfect for our needs: leafy and quiet with a swimming pool, a place to buy basic provisions, and a playground for Robert.

Perfect beach

The biggest attraction us was the campsite’s proximity to the beach. A leisurely five minute cycle brought us to the foot of a tall, steep sand dune. The reward for scaling it was a perfect, almost empty sandy beach. Great for swimming at high tide; and with rock pools teeming with life when the tide went out.

Swimming

I really enjoyed my daily dip in the ocean. It was perfectly safe for swimming, with waves that were more fun than dangerous. You can just about see me in the middle of the photo above, with Robert trying to decide whether he wanted to join me or not. (Not, as it turned out, but he eventually did a bit of splashing about in the shallows.)

Labyrinth

It had been years – decades in fact – since I spent any time playing about in the sand. I had great fun reliving my childhood, carving moats around sand castles, building dams, digging big holes and all that. But what Robert enjoyed most, and me too if I’m honest, were the labyrinths I drew in the sand for him to navigate through. (In the photo above he’s just made it through one of them.) This will definitely become a thing for us on beach holidays to come.

PGVS Train

Aside from mornings at the beach and afternoons at the swimming pool (not really my cup of tea) we did just a little exploring in the area, which lies at the top of the Médoc wine region. Another definite highlight, aside from the beach, was the tourist train that runs along the coast from Pointe de Grave, the tip of the peninsula, to Soulac. It chugs along at about 20 kmph, running through the forests and sand dunes and providing views of the iconic Cordouan lighthouse out in the bay.

Soulac itself is really quite nice as touristy towns go. The shops selling trinkets and tack are limited to a single street with plenty of other businesses to soften the blow. It’s worth a visit to see the hundreds of pretty little stone and wood villas (and a basilica that was completely buried by the sands in the 18th century).

We took two days for the drive both there and back as we needed regular stops for the kids. Actually, both Declan and Robert were great throughout the holiday and the cross-country drive wasn’t too much bother at that relaxed pace. On the way over we had a very pleasant overnight stay at Hotel le Chatel, just off the motorway about an hour after Clermont Ferrand in a village called Combressol. We’d recommend it if you need a stop-off point in the middle of France.

We followed a different, mostly off-motorway route for the return and ended up staying overnight in Aubusson, a thriving little town in the heart of the Limousin region. The tapestry capital of France apparently…but we were happy just to stretch our legs wandering through it’s streets built in a steep-sided valley. The Hotel le France looked impressive, but our room was quite noisy due to the cars labouring up the hill outside our window. Still, not bad given that we booked it an hour before we arrived in the town – we were lucky to get a room at all.

Oh, and Declan played with his toes a lot!

 

The Vich Herald

As Robert’s birth was announced two and a half years ago in The Geneva Bugle, we couldn’t let the birth of his little brother Declan pass without a sequel. Having moved from Meyrin to Vich in the meantime a new masthead was required.

The Vich Herald

He’s almost five weeks old as I type this and is doing really well. Sleeping for decent stretches at night, feeding well (with Nadine doing a super job) and generally a content little lad. Robert has taken on the mantle of big brother without too many problems. He pushes the boundaries with us a bit more than before, but with Declan he’s been very gentle and loving. He’s also alive to the fact that he now has a captive audience for his performances:

Two happy and healthy boys who have the best mother in the world (who also happens to be the best wife in the world). I’m a lucky man.

Before his brother arrives

With Robert’s little brother due to appear in the next couple of weeks, I thought it would be nice to post a selection of photos from his first two and a half years. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve looked through the photos chronologically – it’s interesting (for me) to see how he’s developed.

In case you’re wondering why he started wearing glasses from February 2012, he was diagnosed at that stage with strabismus, affecting both eyes. They also picked up that he had astigmatism.

Recently, following a year with the glasses and daily patching of his eyes, he had an operation to correct the strabismus. It went smoothly and his eyes are well-aligned now. He’ll continue wearing glasses, with custom-made lenses, to treat hyperopic astigmatism. Apparently treating these things at a young age can be very effective, so hopefully the long term effects will be no worse than having to wear glasses. In any case it doesn’t seem to have bothered him at all.

(Click on the images for big versions and captions.)

 

Memories of Mulligan’s

Packing for our upcoming move I came across a printout of this great photo of Mulligan’s Pub, Geneva, that my friend Marc sent me when we were living in Amsterdam. He stumbled across it online when searching for inspiration for his basement makeover. It was taken just before a night when I played there in 2008. If you click for the big version you can make out my name beneath that of Gus Glen on the blackboard in the centre.

Mulligans Irish Pub, Geneva, Switzerland, July 2008

The photo was taken by a guy called Tim Dempsey who has a bunch of good photos on his Flickr stream.

As for Mulligan’s, well I don’t get down there so often any more. It was the scene of many memorable nights for me, musical or otherwise. I’m hoping to find a reason to sing there again soon-ish. Watch this space.

In the meantime, here’s a song I forgot I had written until YouTube suggested it to me at the end of one of my own videos.

What Julia did

About five years ago my friend Julia bought a rundown property on some land close to the village of Alegrete in eastern Portugal. Last weekend we paid her a visit to see how the project is progressing.

The property is on the edge of a national park, surrounded by wooded hills. Her plot of land is home to olive trees, cork oaks and various other plants, herbs and bushes.

The building itself wasn’t much more than four walls and a bit of roof when she bought it. It’s now the warm, welcoming home of Julia and Vitor, stretching across two two floors, with a guest bedroom, wood-burning stoves for heat, and plenty of space. Of course there will always be a To Do list – they plan to plaster the exterior wall shown above and there are some chimmney issues to address – but it’s already a very comfortable place to live now.

There are upwards of twenty olive trees on the property.It’s not enough to generate a significant income; nonetheless, they can take their crop into the local press and take home how ever many litres of olive oil they produce. And there are plenty of olives for eating throughout the year too.

Another useful harvest comes from the cork oaks, whose bark is chopped off every nine years. It’s not of sufficiently high grade to use for wine bottles but there are many other uses. The axe above is used to cut a seam down the trunk of the tree…

….and then the bark is prised from around the trunk. The tree itself isn’t harmed, and another thick layer of bark grows back over the years that follow. The trees are marked to indicate when a harvest was last cut from them.

Julia and Vitor have had to clear the land of quite a bit of dead wood, which now serves as a useful supply of firewood. The bark also has to be stripped from these cork oak logs, partly to prevent unwanted ash from clogging up the flue, but also as even these off-cuts can be sold for a modest sum.

It’s quite a labour intensive process. I was happy to give it a try under the guidance of Vitor on Sunday morning. Between us we stripped three wheelbarrows worth of logs in about an hour, generating a couple of big sacks of cork bark. (He, naturally, did the lion’s share of the work, but I felt like I held my own.)

They’re not just removing trees from the land – they’ve also planted lots of fruit trees, with a clever watering system designed by Vitor to help them get through the hot summers.

While they wait for the new trees to bear fruit, they have many generous neighbours who are happy to share. This pomegranate tree is just around the corner – we made fresh pomegranate syrup – and some quince fruits from a neighbour were made into jam over the weekend too.

The longer term plans revolve partly around the distillation of essential oils. For example, there are lots of rock rose bushes on the land, which can be used to create a sought-after essential oil. And that’s just one example of the many plants that can be used in this way. The still above was bought at the market in the nearby town of Estremoz and can be used to distill oils above a gas flame.

The steam travels through a long pipe, cooled by water, before ending up in a flask like this one, which can be used to separate the oil from the water.

What will all that hard work harvesting fruit and cork and distilling essential oils, it’ll be necessary to relax too. The ground between these three cork oaks has been earmarked for a spa pool, with the trellised entrance already taking shape. A return visit will be necessary I think!

We took a stroll up a nearby hill on Monday afternoon. I got to watch the sun set from close to the summit – and to look down on the valley where Julia and Vitor’s place is.

A bird-watching hide has been erected from which you can spot a multitude of birds of prey. We, however, just used it to keep Robert amused!

We had a wonderful time sharing a few days with Julia, Vitor, Zoe the dog, and Antonio and Lou the cats. Robert was tolerated by the animals and spoiled by Julia and Vitor.

When we got up on Tuesday morning they had prepared a plate of special treats for the birthday boy.

They’re living in a kind of paradise, in circumstances that many people dream about, but few have the persistence and vision to see through. I admire Julia very much for the way she’s made this work. We were neighbours on Rue Jean-Violette in Geneva for five years – nice and all as that was, she’s in a much better place now.

Oh, and I should point out that I won the winner-takes-all domino match on our last night in Alegrete, taking the golden fly swat as my prize!

To finish, here are a couple of other shots of us enjoying the Portuguese autumn sunshine.

Fields, flowers and mountains

I took a stroll across to the fields next to our apartment block with Robert when I got home from work this evening. The bright yellow rapeseed flowers in evening sunshine were begging to be photographed. (Click to embiggen!)

Rapeseed field and Jura.

On one side the snow was clinging to the Jura.

Rapeseed field, Salève and Alps

On the other the Salève and the Alps were visible in the distance.

Eoghan and Robert

And in the middle, father and son. (That’s not me posing for the camera by the way – it’s a look of concentration as I attempted the difficult self-shot with Baby Bjorn manoeuvre.)