I Got Two Ten X 9’s And A Mircophone

“There’s a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw, the lights turn low
The jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow

Pulling out jives and jamboree handouts
Two turntables and a microphone
Bottles and cans, just clap your hands
Just clap your hands”

( Simpson/ King/ Hansen )

Life is weird and most often wonderful. And there is an event called Ten x 9 where weirdness and wonder cuddle and 9 people get to tell true stories to the most generous and welcoming audience ever, ever.

Over the last two weeks I got to speak at Ten x 9 Nashville and Ten x 9 Belfast.

I know ! I am indeed a lucky sod !

I’ve spoken at the Belfast one a number of times and wasn’t even aware that there was one in Nashville until three weeks ago when I was looking up things to do in Tennesse while Tiny Ray and I were there to support our lunatic ultra running friend AnnaMarie in the insane Barkley Fall Classic. I emailed them to see if they had a spot free and they said that they’d be delighted to have me speak but that the topic every November was Nashville itself and would I have a story. I said yes, and you can read it below in the P.Ssss.

There are more similarities than differences between the two events. The format is the same , the generosity of the crowd is the same, and the stories are equally wonderous , and also told by lovely people, and both are hosted by gentlemen that I can only describe as ‘God’s Own Glue’. Michael McRay in Nashville and Paul Doran in Belfast make everyone welcome, put story tellers at ease, and encourage generous applause.

I would say that the beer in Nashville , from the Jackalope Brewing Company, is not quite as good as the Guinness in the Black Box Theatre, and that the American speakers were much more animated in their story telling than the Belfast crew, but maybe that’s just youthful colonial enthusiasm.

In Nashville Ray, AnnaMarie and I were made to feel incredibly welcome and lots of people came up to chat to us, offered to buy us drinks and invited us to see various things around Nashville. After I gave my talk and there was a small break a nice chap called Ben came up to me and as I’d referenced Monaghan as the True Centre Of The Universe in my talk, he said that he thought he had distant cousins in Monaghan in a place called Scotstown called Smiths. Bizarre ! I told him that I too have distant cousins called Smiths in Scotstown and that might make us cousins. I have research to do into a Philip Smith, a Patrick Smith and Sean and Marie Corr.

I was just starting to tell Ray and AnnaMarie about Ben when a lovely lady tapped me on the shoulder to say ‘Hello’ and introduced herself as Amy Bond ! Another cousin !

We met an incredible gentleman called Dan who had got involved in a peace initiative years ago and hosted kids from Fermanagh in Nashville.

AnnaMarie and I  promised everyone we met free drinks in Ray’s bar if they ever visited.

The next set of speakers were starting so we sat down again and laughed and cried with the flow of the stories.

We had a 220 mile drive back to Oak Ridge , through a time zone, and an early start for our flights home the next day, but we didn’t want the night to end. We tried to grab a word with each of the other speakers, get photos with Michael , and stop Ray telling the story of his last visit to Nashville.

These Ten x9 Nashville folk were really cool.

Almost as cool as the Belfast Ten x 9 folk.

On Wednesday I braved storm Agnes to drive to Belfast to tell a story , again buried below in the P.S.sss this time about music. It was a foul evening, but after treating myself to a pre-show Five Guys double cheeseburger and a banana milkshake, I joined a large queue outside the Black Box Theatre and started to get nervous. The topic , music, was an important one for me, but felt such a huge part of my life that 1,400 words and 10 minutes couldn’t do it justice. Paul Doran had asked me to cut it back from 1,690 words, not realising I’d already cut it from 2,400 to 1,690 already and felt it was starting to feel disjointed. And I was on first.

But the hall filled , there was a buzz, and it felt like coming home.

I gave my talk, sat down to applause, and the people sitting all around me, whom I’d not spoken to before, all turned smiled and nodded , whispering “Very good”, “Great story”, and “Are you seeing anyone ?” … or that might have been  “That was well done” it was hard to tell through his beard.

In the break a chap came over to say that he and his partner were from Monaghan, and she was from Ballinode. They told me that they’d only been to Ten x 9 once before and weren’t going to come this evening as it was too miserable out. They were going to light a fire and have a cosy night in , but remembered that they needed to get the chimney cleaned, and decided to go anyway, and the first speaker starts talking about Monaghan, they couldn’t believe it. It was a real thrill to meet them.

All of the stories were brilliant, and the last one perhaps got the greatest reception. Dave Thompson telling us about entering a song contest by the Orange Order for the centenary in 2012 of the signing of the covenant, and performing it in the Ulster Hall. As he finished, the DJ started playing The Sash, and everyone laughed and clapped.

I congratulated some of the other speakers and said goodbye to my new old friends from Monaghan and making my way to the door a tall gentleman started to tell me that my story was his favourite , that he could feel my emotions as I told it and that it would live long in his memory. I was glowing with pride and said thanks and shook his hand, and then he said “How you managed to sing to that crowd in the Ulster Hall I’ll never know…”

People in Nashville are quite cool.

People in Belfast are quite cool.

Ten x 9 people are the coolest of all.

Thanks Michael.

Thanks Paul.



P.S. This weeks song is Beck’s ‘Where It’s At

P.P.S I’m running in the Dublin City Marathon next month and have decided to turn Ray and my pain to some good use by raising money for Monaghan’s fantastically amazing  Crocus Cancer Care. Click here to donate.

P.P.P S This is the story I told in Nashville

I Hate Nashville

My name is Paul Bond, I’m from Monaghan, in Ireland, the True Centre Of The Universe, and I hate Nashville.

I should point out that up until today, I’d never been to Nashville, but I’ve always hated it anyway.

This deeply ingrained hatred does not stem from any religious, political, or historical reason.

No. This deeply ingrained hatred of Nashville stems from the fact that Monaghan, the true centre of the Universe, and my home, is 14 miles from Castleblayney, commonly referred to as Ireland’s Nashville.

Admittedly Castleblayney is referred to as Ireland’s Nashville almost exclusively by people from Castleblaney, but it has led to strange anomalies occurring, disturbances in the Universe, and fractures in the Continuum, the most egregious of which is the unnatural marriage of Country Music and Irish Music, which again, people from Castleblayney refer to as Country& Irish, but which I refer to as Cowshite.

Please don’t get me wrong, I have a huge appreciation and love of music of all genres…except jazz, I just don’t get a group of talented musicians getting on stage together and all deciding to play different songs at the same time. Even country music has a place in my record collection. Yes, its’s a small place,  mostly occupied by Johnny Cash, Lyle Lovett, and Emylou Harris.

But there is a HUGE difference to listening to Johnny Cash singing a song he wrote about a place he’s been, people he’s met , and a situation he caused, suffered from, or saved, and a guy from Castleblayney singing about waltzing a night in Kentucky, when you know that he’d never been further than Cavan, and the closest he’d come to a Harvest Moon, was a pub by that name in Ballybay.

My first real job was working in a shoe factory in Monaghan in the 1980’s. I worked in the dispatch department, sending out the orders, but a couple of times a year I was taken out on the road by Liam Stirrait, the company’s leading salesman, and introduced to his customers, so that I could cover for him  when he took his holidays. Liam was an absolute gentleman, was excellent at his job, loved by his customers, and a fabulous mentor to me. BUT, before he became this excellent, well loved salesman, he had worked as a roadie for Ireland’s largest Country & Irish star, Big Tom McBride.

Liam loved Big Tom.

Liam had an 8-track in his car.

In the 1980’s there were no motorways in Ireland, and the journey from Monaghan to anywhere was long. We listened to a lot of Big Tom !

In particular we could listen to Big Tom’s seminal album, Teardrops in the Snow, 5 times , back to back , travelling on a Monday morning all the way to Cork. During therapy I can list the tracks in order :

Until Someone Proves You Wrong

Old Pals of Yestreday

Fall Guy

Teras On The Windowpane

BeHonest With Me

Don’t Let Your Sweet Love Die

Hey, Mr.Lonesome

Lucille , Now’s The Time

The Honky Tonk Downstairs

What Reasons Do We Have

Breaking Julies Heart

Teardrops In The Snow

The Clones Cyclone

Long Lost River

And the bonus track Sunday’s Child.

Liam knew all the words to every song and crooned along. By the second week I also knew all of the words to every song, but chose not to sing along, I simply rocked back and forth in my seat, hugging myself tightly and emitting a low guttural moan.

One Christmas our boss , who had clearly never travelled in Liam’s car before, asked Liam to organise our Christmas Night Out. This is a long running work related tradition in Ireland where your place of employment organizes and pays for a dinner and drinks at a local hotel, along with lots of other companies, and there is some form of entertainment. People pull crackers, wear silly coloured paper hats, get very drunk, and tell their colleagues and bosses exactly what they think of them.

Liam arranged for all of us to a cabaret where the ‘entertainment’ was Philomema Begley sings a Tribute To Patsy Cline.

There were no fights that night. People just cried into their beer, and went home early.

Proximity to Ireland’s Nashville has scarred me, deeply.

And yet , here I am, in actual Nashville.

Don’t Panic, I haven’t come to burn it down.

Although Monaghan is indeed the True Centre Of The Universe it is rather small, with a population of some 7,000 glorious souls. So when Liam Stirrait and some kind hearted and well intentioned people got together a few years ago and decided to put on a festival, they decided to make it a Country Music Festival.

They closed traffic to the centre of town, put up a large stage, opened mobile bars, and …people came in their droves. The town was packed. You couldn’t get a hotel room for love nor money, some people even camped, in Monaghan ! And we don’t have a campsite. They pitched their tents on a slope opposite our local swimming pool, such was their love

Everyone enjoyed them selves thoroughly ,jiving away, wearing straw cowboy hats, and cowboy boots.

It was AWFUL.

And yet even I couldn’t help but admit that it was a great event for the town and people spoke about Monaghan in terms other than ‘ its that little place with the wee hills between Dublin and Donegal’, now it was also the place with the great wee country music festival.

I was impressed, and admitted as much to Liam.

“Ach sure maybe you’ll go yourself next year ?”

“Maybe I will Liam…”

And I did.

And I have to say that it was absolutely dreadful !

I left after the first performer, a chap called Declan who sang , poorly,about an ‘Old Log Cabin For Sale’. This vexed me for three reasons, namely that I knew for a fact that he lived at home with his mother in a perfectly adequate three bedroomed , semi-detached house, and secondly and more ominously, that as soon as he started singing I knew all the words, and lastly, but worst of all, I  actually said to a fella beside me, “Big Tom sang it better…”

I had become the very thing that I despised….

And yet, here I am in Nashville.

I’m in Nashville with two of my best friends from home, AnnaMarie, and Ray. AnnaMarie is a lunatic ultra runner who is here for the Baby Barkley run, and Ray is here because I was very ill last year, and he is constantly coming up with things we must do, and after I was ill I decided to stop saying ‘No’ to his ideas…he also owns the Squealing Pig bar in Monaghan town , where we discuss these plans.

I told him that this event was on and he immediately said “We have to go.”

So here we are.

So I get to ask him to stand up and I ask all of you to join me in saying “Thanks Ray !”.

My friend Liam would get a real kick out of the fact that I’m here in Nashville. Sadly he passed away a few years ago. But I know he’s sitting down there in the back somewhere giggling to himself and saying that he knew I always secretly loved country music. I would protest that it’s just a coincidence, and he would say that there are no coincidences.

He would say that even though I think I hate country music, he knows I smile and think of him anytime I hear a twang of a Big Tom song.

And he’d be right.

So here I am.

There are indeed no coincidences.

Nashville…thank you.

P.P.P.P.S And this is the story I told in Belfast

Music is Magic

Music is spiritual, emotional, enables time travel, and is simply magic.

My magical  music career has had three distinct phases.

My Granda, Frank Sally, was a naturally gifted musician. He’d had no musical training whatsoever , when , aged 21, at a ceili in a neighbour’s house in Scotstown he picked up a fiddle and played the song that had just been played perfectly.

When he had children of his own he was convinced that with music lessons and encouragement from an early age they would surpass his musical talents. He bought them all tiny fiddles , paid for lessons, and was hugely disappointed to discover that my Mother and her siblings did not have a single note in their heads between them.

Then we came along and he convinced himself that his musical talent must have skipped a generation, and that my brothers and I would be musical prodigies.

I was 9, John was 6, and Stephen was 3. It was 1976 and our familiarity with music extended only to Top Of The Pops, and my favourite artists were Mud, The Bay City Rollers, and The Wombles. I didn’t even know what a fiddle was, and after being presented with one, rather wish that I still didn’t. That winter of ’76 will be remembered for Wednesday night music lessons in Ballinode Hall, and forced practice immediately before the next lesson, most of which we spent rosening the bow…we were great bow roseners.

Thankfully my Mother recognised our frustration and complete lack of ability and the little fiddles were quietly slid under the bed in the spare room.

 This concluded phase one. It left no physical scars, but I twitch now whenever our cat Tuna cries as it makes the sound I did playing the fiddle.

My parents’ record collection extended from Abba all the way to Demis Rousseau with nothing in between except a now very un-PC Black & White Minstrel Show album. It was in our neighbour’s house with my friend Adrian, and the older Turley girls, Kitty and Denise, that I discovered The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, and The Human League.

At school Fr. La Flynn introduced us to Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene , and Bruce Springsteen’s The River, which we loved , as it meant we weren’t singing hymns. My schoolmates introduced me to David Bowie and Led Zeppelin, largely thanks to their own older brothers, and I discovered The Police all on my own and bought Regatta de Blanc, my very first album, and all subsequent Police and Sting albums. My parents bought a new super duper record player with a built in tape deck AND an FM radio , and in celebration bought two more albums, Boney M’s Greatest Hits, and Gerry Rafferty’s Baker St. This meant I could have the old Pye record player in my room, and I would play Led Zep IV on repeat.

Two of my friends, Milo and Shane had a band called Rain, consisting of Milo on guitar….and Shane …also on guitar. They listened to The Eagles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Don McClean, and wrote their own songs…usually about Shane’s latest unrequited love…’I Love You Karen’ , and ‘Oh My Lorraine’ being particularly memorable. Singing ‘I Love You Karen’ on stage in the St.Louis Convent Christmas concert as a surprise for Karen, surrounded as she was by 300 convent girls did not endear Shane to her in the way that he’d hoped.

The second phase of my music career began in September 1983 when Shane and Milo tried to teach me how to play guitar. I remember carrying their guitar cases up  two flights of stairs to the school music room with wild enthusiasm.

My guitar career lasted 3 weeks. I was hopeless. But I had impressed the boys with my guitar carrying capabilities and they made me their manager. Management of Rain consisted of guitar case carrying and recording them on C-60 tapes.

Shane was a year older than Milo and I , so he left the school and headed off to be a priest in September 1984 and Rain was no more…

The third, most magical, and current phase of my musical career has involved simply going to concerts, or gigs, buying vinyl records again, despite not having a record player, buying band tees, which are now called ‘merch’, and collecting signed band pictures or music sheets. My Soulmate fears that I have made it my mission to single handedly keep the music industry going.

My tastes have evolved but if I hear Simple Minds ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ I immediately picture myself as the Judd Nelson character in The Breakfast Club rebelling against the tyranny of oppression in Monaghan by wearing maroon coloured slip ons and Dad’s Mackintosh trench coat to the school ceili.

Music is time travel.

My friend Micky and I made a mix tape which featured Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ and whenever it pops up on the radio I’m back with Micky , cycling three miles out the road to Scotstown where we’d spend the day trying to look cool, not talking to a single girl on the shore of Hollywood lake  and having nothing with us except chicken sandwiches, a portable tape recorder, that mix tape and an extra set of batteries.

New Order’s Blue Monday catapults me to the dancefloor of the Hillgrove Hotel on a Saturday night, and we’d be there as soon as it opened at 10.30 pm to get our money’s worth and because we wouldn’t be let in any where else in town, and most weeks Looby Smyth, Micky and I would be the only ones who would dance to that amazing 12” that no one could really dances to, but that didn’t matter because we couldn’t dance anyway.

My Soulmate and I have known each other since we were 16. We had interregnums in our relationship until we were 21 but have been together ever since. But during one of those early schisms George Michael released ‘Careless Whisper’ and wherever I was and who ever I was with, I’d have to leave immediately because I didn’t want them to see me cry , or explain why. I still shudder when I hear it.

Music is so incredibly powerful and wonderful.

I’m fortunate to have friends who are similarly very dedicated to it. My friend Baz regularly rings me or messages me and simply says, “Three Arena, Wednesday, 8pm.” And I go, sometimes not even knowing who or what we’re going to. This has led to amazing evenings seeing Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Radiohead, Public Service Broadcasting, Sigur Ros, and most recently Boygenius. I buy a tee shirt at every gig, and these now form large and very cool parts of my son Jake, and my daughter Robyn’s wardrobes.

Last year I underwent chemo and a wee operation or two and I listened to the most amazing playlist on Spotify, called SuperJetRobotDinosaurs, and wore a different band tee every visit, took photos and posted them online. People sent me new tees, concert tickets, and most special of all, their favourite songs for me to listen to. My friend Karl even painted a picture based on some of my favourite songs. It was magic.

Last week I was in Tennesse, where I ended up speaking at Ten x 9 Nashville, about why I hate Nashville, and I wore my Boygenius tee shirt, and in a coffee shop in Knoxville the girl behind the counter said “That is the sickest tee shirt!”, and as she was smiling as she said it, I took this as a compliment and felt about 10 feet tall.

My son Jake garnered a strange notoriety at Galway University for quoting Tom Waits in every one of his English and History papers. And I asked him where his love of Tom Waits came from and he said “You used to play Tom Waits ‘Martha’ all the time in the car.” And I felt irrationally proud of myself.

Our youngest son Elliott says his earliest music memory is my Soulmate ,  his mum, threatening to divorce me if I sang Friendly Fires ‘ Hawaian Air’ ever again.

Five years ago I got ….sorry…Santa got two priceless tickets to see Billie Eilish in London, which he gave to our daughter Robyn. I think I was a bigger Billie fan than she was. She opened the envelope and said “Oh MY God ! Tristan will love this !” Tristan being her boyfriend at the time. So I ended up taking the two of them to London to see Billie while I sat in a pub across the road with my friend Ronan drinking barely tolerable craft beer….a lot of barely tolerable craft beer, so many in fact that Ronan and I had a heated debate with the Uber driver about camels on the way home.

But earlier this month my Soulmate and I went to Electric Picnic in a campervan where we met up with Robyn, and we saw Billie Eilish together. It was magic.

A friend says that my writing  sometimes reminds him of Kurt Vonnegut. Kurt wrote this. I wish I had :

“Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God. It is so extraordinarily full of magic, and in tough times of my life I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.”

Thank you

Author: paul

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