Ciarán Mac Mathúna was the consummate laid-back presenter. You would wonder if he was awake at times. He was very, very cool
He adds that he used to relish in what he called “the Sunday morning sequence” of RTÉ Radio 1’s Sunday Miscellany followed by Mo Cheol Thú, presented by the late Ciarán Mac Mathúna.
“I worked at RTÉ at one point, just, you know, kind of visiting, passing through,” he says. “Ciarán was the consummate laid-back presenter. You would wonder if he was awake at times. He was very, very cool. And I just loved that sequence of things. This is a formula that’s tried and true.”
The show has a “house band”, Rogue Oliphant, sometimes referred to as a “spoken word music group”. Muldoon is part of the band.
“It’s probably inappropriate to describe it as a band,” he tells. “It’s a group of musicians, quite a large group, a few of them will work on this, a few of them will work on that. It’s very various, again, and that’s one of its strengths, I think.”
Rogue Oliphant hardly ever repeats a song, often playing two or three new ones on a given night. “I think it’s great. A lot of people don’t think that’s great,” says Muldoon. “In the record business, they feel a band has to have a sound. And of course we understand what that means, that there’s something recognisable about them. On the other hand, far too often it leads to kind of a terrible monotonous feel which I just don’t like.”
Joining Muldoon for a leg of the upcoming Irish tour are musicians The Lost Brothers, Duke Special, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Martin Hayes, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Paul Brady, Declan O’Rourke and Camille O’Sullivan, the actress Lisa Dwan, authors Lisa McInerney, Anne Enright, Jennifer Johnston, Paul Murray and Patrick McCabe, and poets Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Eavan Boland, Michael Longley and Sinéad Morrissey.
“I think we always have a poet,” says Muldoon, who never reads his own work, but sees the show as a vehicle for poetry in general. “Absolutely,” he says.
I allude to Muldoon’s showmanship and he dismisses any suggestion that it is exceptional rather than normal. “My own view is if you’re going to stand up and read poetry, you’ve go to do something. You have to put some effort into it,” he says.
“There’s a performative aspect to it, and why wouldn’t there be? Many people in Ireland would have been familiar with this at the feis, in verse-speaking competitions. I was seven or eight when I first went to a feis and did my first verse-speaking. ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’. It’s not a bad thing at all.
“People understood that to recite a poem really demanded some kind of engagement. You only get back what you put in. It’s as simple as that. It’s one of the laws of all forms of entertainment, I’d say.”
Muldoon’s Picnic is governed mostly by this law. The incorporation of music, the investment in it on the night, too, further ropes in the audience.
“Music is a whole other component with, as you know, this emotional power,” Muldoon says. “One person playing has a kind of power. Several people playing together… I mean, it’s phenomenal… it doesn’t even matter if they’re any good, really. Go and see a band on the back of a lorry somewhere. They don’t have to be U2. All for the good if it is U2, but there’s an intrinsic delight just about the emotional impact that music has. It’s not that it doesn’t engage the mind, but it engages so much else.”
He pauses before continuing. “I think that’s one of the things that I’ve been drawn to myself, when I try to write songs, and I’d never really put it much more strongly than that. Although I wouldn’t put it much more strongly than that about the poetry, either. One tries, you know? One tries. One can but try. One’s almost certain — almost certain — not to succeed, but, one tries. And
that’s where the interest is.”
Muldoon’s Picnic will tour Ireland from August 26 to September 3. For locations, see www.poetryireland.ie