Catching Up With…First Fornight’s J.P. Swaine

Tonight, First Fortnight and Bluestack Records launch There Is A Light, a compilation album featuring some of Ireland’s most exciting new acts, at Whelans, in aid of the Green Ribbon campaign, which is raising awareness of mental health issues. First Fortnight co- founder J.P. Swaine talks about growing up in Tallaght, his favorite and much- missed record shop and how looking forward to the next event is one way of winding down.

Image: Facebook

First Fortnight co- founder J.P. Swaine.


What’s been the highlight of your year so far?

Has to have been January and the 39 events First Fortnight produced. It has hectic, epic, amazing, exhausting. One moment that particularly stands out for em happened in the Project wathcing the audience reaction to Sorcha Kenny’s play DOLLS. An exquisite mix of wonder and discomfort.


When did you first realise you wanted to be involved in the arts / event management?

I didn’t /haven’t realised that; I keep waiting for it to stop!!! I’m driven by acts that lead to social change; I find myself in the arts because of that.

In three words, describe 
There Is A Light

Music for minds.


How do you wind down after a gig?

Start organising something else! I don’t know…I tend to operate in alternate cycles to the events themselves, usually by the time it starts my attention is on the next thing. My week has been totallly occupied by stuff thats happening in September, the event this week has to be sorted long before so I suppose im already wound down. I run and play sports is another way of answering also.

In three words, describe the live scene in Ireland.

Low cost excellence.


Whose career do you envy and why?

Bob Geldof: he has managed to stay relevant in so many fields for such a long time.

Vinyl or digital downloads?

Digital all the way.


What is your favourite record shop anywhere in the world?

The sadly departed Final Vinyl on Camden Street, Dublin 2.


Name one rare record you don’t own, but you want more than anything.

To have organised the worlds largest table quiz (I assume this what you meant?!).


Name one piece of music memorabilia that you wish you owned.

Gabriels Obo (the actual obo).


What is the one thing in your life that you couldn’t go without?



Name one record, one book and one film that everyone should hear / read / see.

The Wickerman; The Maribou Stalk Nightmares by Irvine Welsh; Massive Attack’s Blue Lines.


Name one overrated TV series and one underrated TV series.

Over rated: The West Wing. Under rated: repeats of The Crystal Maze.


Pick the director and lead actor for a biopic about your life.

Christopher Nolan and Channing Tatum (I have some secrets and surprising twists…)


Describe the perfect night in.

Watching The Sunday Game after watching Dublin win in Croke Park earlier that day.


Describe the perfect night out.

Sunny evening with pints and friends standing outside on Dame Lane.


Where did you grow up and what are the best and worst things about that place.

Tallaght. Best thing was friends, family and school. The single worse thing was the lack of a live music venue.


What is your biggest fear?

Hurting people I care about.


Who is the person in your life without whom your life wouldn’t be the same?

Paddy Swaine.


What is the most important lesson life has taught you, so far?

Not to fear death, welcome it with a belly full of experiences.

If you could give one piece of life advice it would be…

Home is the place you rest so you have energy for the wonders that lay outside, not a place to hide from them.

God Hates Haters: Why we shouldn’t celebrate Fred Phelps death

Finally, a definition of homophobia on which we can all agree, but we shouldn’t take an eye for an eye by celebrating the recent death of anti- gay Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps, writes Philip Cummins

The late, homophobic Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps (84), pictured here in 1998 in Capser, Wyoming, picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year- old University of Wyoming student, murdered in an indescribably brutal homophobic killing.

“Resist celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher, she was NOT a Peacemaker but it is a mistake to allow her death to poison our minds.”

WHEN SINN FÉIN’S MARTIN MCGUINNESS posted the above sentiments on his Twitter account, in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s death in April 2013, it was difficult not to think of the North’s Deputy First Minister’s long history in bitter opposition to Thatcher. The abstentionist MP for Mid Ulster’s tweet was indicative of the distance that both he and the republican movement that he represents have traveled since the deepest, darkest days of the Troubles. Alleged to have been the Provisional IRA’s Chief of Staff from 1978 – 1982, during which time ten PIRA prisoners died during the 1981 Hunger Strike, McGuinness loathed Thatcher and vice- versa, I’m quite certain.

I do sympathise with the view that Thatcher’s policies inflicted unnecessary socio- economic affliction that has been felt by generations of British people and that her unwillingness- as well as that of the Irish government- to engage constructively with all sides of the political divide in the North achieved nothing only to effectively prolong the Troubles. It wasn’t until 1997 / 1998 that New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first British PM to sit at the negotiation table with all sides of the Troubles to deliver The Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Martin McGuinness, though, was right: to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s death, as many millions did, was utterly tasteless, immature and inexcusable.

Unfortunately, McGuinness’ remarkably mature and responsible remarks about his one- time sworn enemy, who the PIRA had attempted to assassinate in Brighton in 1984, didn’t deter those in their millions who sang and danced their way through Thatcher’s passing, downloading ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ in their droves to bring that song to the top of the charts.

These were my very thoughts upon learning of the recent death of Fred Phelps Sr. (84), founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. A disbarred lawyer and the leader of a far right church of which all 40 of the church’s members are Phelps family members, Fred Phelps had a long history of spewing his vile and retrograde rhetoric while picketing the funerals of American soldiers. Indeed, two US Presidents enacted law into Congress to prevent Phelps from picketing at funerals of fallen soldiers: George W. Bush signed the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act in 2006, while Barack Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act in 2012, both of which ensured 150 foot and 300 foot buffer zones, respectively, around the funerals of serving US soldiers.

By all accounts, Fred Phelps Sr. was a individual of an utterly grotesque character; a homophobe, a bigot and a bitterly angry man who dedicated his life to a hatred of people for a part of their identity that they could not- and should not- change.

From an Irish point of view, Phelps was certainly no friend of ours, founding the now- defunct website, as well as lambasting both Senator David Norris and former President Mary Robinson in a sermon in which he responded to his invitation to take part in a debate on gay adoption by UCD’s Literary & Historical Society in February 2008. Suffice to say that The Good Pastor declined on the occasion.

Over the past 20 years, Phelps’ infamy and his perceived status as a leader of a cult made him an ideal subject for documentarians. Michael Moore and Louis Theroux both focused their attentions on Phelps, the latter of whom made two documentaries on the Westboro Baptist Church and, at times, seemed genuinely taken aback by intense level of the church’s bigotry.

Homophobic thugs murdered 21 year- old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard (pictured) in a brutal hate crime.

The funeral of Matthew Shepard

Difficult as it is to select the single lowest point from Phelps’ infamous role as Pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, the picketing of the funeral of Matthew Shepard might just be the lowest possible level of depravity demonstrated by Westboro Baptist Church, showing it up to be the bigoted institution that has been profiled by highly respected journalists.

A 21 year- old gay man who was later discovered to have been HIV positive, Matthew Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming. Murdered in the most indescribably gruesome of circumstances by two bigoted thugs whom he had met in a bar , Shepard, undoubtedly, was a victim of a hate crime and a homophobic murder.

In the above picture, Fred Phelps is picketing Matthew Shepard’s funeral in Shepard’s hometown of Casper, Wyoming, with placards that state “No Special Laws for Fags” and “Matt in Hell”, typifying Fred Phelps’ hatred towards homosexuals and his homophobic agenda to suppress gay rights.

Again, drafting legislation against bigotry in American society- sparked, no doubt, the Westboro Baptist Church’s vile rhetoric- President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill expands the 1969 United States Federal Hate Crime Law to include crimes motivated by gender identity, sexual orientation or disability, making it the first Act in the history of federal law that allows crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation prosecutable as hate crimes.

Nate Phelps

Fred Phelps had two estranged sons: Fred Phelps Jr. and Nate Phelps (55). Nate Phelps, who now lives in Canada and is both an atheist and a LGBT activist, issued a statement in the wake of his father’s death. Posted on his Facebook page, Nate Phelps’ remarks were remarkably tempered and considered.

“Unfortunately, Fred’s ideas have not died with him, but live on,”, lamented Phelps. The standout comment from Phelps’ statement, however, was his mourning not of who his father was, but of “…who he could have been”.

“I ask this of everyone: let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.”, continued Nate Phelps.

That Fred Phelps Sr. and his son Nate chose two completely different paths makes this story all the more remarkable: a father devoted to hatred and bigotry, a son dedicated to building bridges and encouraging tolerance within our society.

Why we should not celebrate Fred Phelps’ death

LGBT activists the world over will no doubt be delighted that Fred Phelps Sr., a man who personified every fibre of the bigotry and hatred that gay people have had to endure for decades, is no longer alive to spread his vile rhetoric.

However, to celebrate Phelps’ death as distastefully as did those who celebrated Margaret Thatcher’s death, or perhaps more pertinently, as distastefully as the Westoboro Baptist Church celebrated the deaths of the many homosexuals, AIDS victims, American soldiers and celebrities whose funerals they picketed, would be stooping down to the utterly depraved and unequaled level that Fred Phelps Sr. and his family have set for themselves.

Instead, we- and by we, I mean all sound- thinking people of all genders, orientations, race and creed; all of us who believe in creating a tolerant and fair society for our fellow person and a society where people are be entitled to live their lives as they choose- should educate our children that hatred of others fulfills no positive outcome in one’s life.

Phelps’ death in an Irish context

With the fires slowly burning out after the recent heated debates regarding homophobia in Ireland, sparked initially by Rory O’Neill’s, AKA Panti Bliss’, unfounded allegations of homophobia against two high- profile journalists as well as conservative Catholic lobby group The Iona Institute on Brendan O’Connor’s The Saturday Night Show as well as O’Neill’s claim on the Abbey Theatre stage, in which O’Neill suggested that “we’re all homophobic”, we can now look at Fred Phelps Sr. as a picture- perfect example of a homophobe- that is, someone who holds attitudes of extreme hatred of and an aversion to homosexuality and homosexuals- on the outrageously bigoted level occupied by the Westboro Baptist Church, which, thankfully, remains unequaled in Ireland.

To put it simply: I don’t ever remember David Quinn, director of The Iona Institute, or anyone else involved in The Iona Institute, publicly instructing young children that “queers” are evil- the product of Satan himself, no less- and that they should be treated with utter contempt; I don’t remember The Iona Institute printing signs and brochures insisting that “no special laws” be drafted to protect “fags” in Ireland.

Though I don’t fully agree with The Iona Institute’s stance on same- sex marriage, I do believe that The Iona Institute are legitimate in their opposition of same- sex marriage. The idea that a person or a group of people who oppose same- sex marriage are inherently “homophobic” simply because they view marriage as a gendered institution between one man and one woman and, for this reason, oppose same- sex marriages, is a complete misnomer.

True: if that opposition to same- sex marriage expresses extreme levels of hateful opposition, such as those levels demonstrated by the Westboro Baptist Church, then a charge of homophobia is fair and unequivocal. However, Ireland, in my opinion, has yet to experience those outrageous levels of bigotry demonstrated by the Westboro Baptist Church.

It will be this time next year when the Irish people go to the polls for the impending referendum on same- sex marriage. In the mean- time, however naïvely, we can only hope that, in Nate Phelps’ words, the teachings of the Westboro Baptist Church go the way of Fred Phelps.

Stephen Fry Pledges Support For First Fortnight: Ireland’s Only Mental Health- Based Arts Festival

Stephen Fry Pledges Support For First Fortnight: Ireland’s Only Mental Health- Based Arts Festival

STEPHEN FRY is many things. The ultimate Renaissance Man, Fry is best known to the public as an actor, comedian, broadcaster, director and an author of far too many books to mention.

Fry, however, is also an  activist; for many years, he has been vocal about mental health awareness. Diagnosed with bi- polar disorder, Fry is one of a few high- profile figures  who have been instrumental in raising awareness of mental health issues. In 2006, Fry made ‘Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive’, a documentary that chronicled his struggles with bi- polar disorder.

Unsurprisingly, then, Fry was unequivocal in his support for First Fortnight, Ireland’s only mental health- based arts festival. The yearly festival, which started on January 2nd and runs until January 11th, aims to challenge the stigma and prejudice surrounding mental health through the arts. Fry sent this tweet to his 6.5million followers:

Just last year, Fry gave an insight into his condition: “I have a condition which requires me to take medication so that I don’t get either too hyper or too depressed to the point of suicide.”, adding that he “attempted it [suicide] last year.”

The story of Fry’s endorsement of First Fortnight has since been picked up by RTÉ, the Irish Independent and the Herlad.

All this week, First Fortnight, currently talking place in multiple venues around Dublin, will host a series of arts and panel discussions. If you have any vague interest in the arts or mental health issues, I sincerely recommend that you check their program of events at #FFfest14

Health: What we can all learn from Jenny Lauren’s air rage incident

Predictably, the Irish media has cynically focused on Jenny Lauren’s pedigree as Ralph Lauren’s niece, rather than focusing with even the smallest degree of empathy on Ms. Lauren’s long history of battles with mental health issues

Jenny Lauren leaving Killaloe District Court, which sits at the Brian Boru on the Hill pub, Ballina, Co. Tipperary

TALKING about mental health issues in Ireland has never been fashionable. Land, property, personal wealth, pension pots, pedigree, what school did you attend? and who’s son or daughter are you, now? have always been the dominant trends in Irish conversation.

And so it has been over the past number of days in the media coverage of Jenny Lauren’s- that’s Ralph Lauren’s niece, to you and I- air rage incident last Monday on Delta Airlines flight DL477 from Barcelona to New York, which diverted to Shannon Airport for “safety concerns” after Ms Lauren was found to be “breaching the peace” on board the flight.

Ms Lauren was charged with threatening and abusive behavior on- board the flight and being intoxicated to an extent that could cause danger to passengers. The court heard that she abused three airline staff, including two air hostesses whom she each labelled “f***ing ugly blonde b***h”. She has since been fined €2,000 for the incident.

Sharon Curley, Ms Lauren’s solicitor, told the court that her client had a number of medical conditions and was extremely sorry about the trouble she had caused. Judge Patrick Durcan said he accepted that her behavior was entirely out of character, but he had to also recognise the upset and disruption that had been caused, not least the costs of $43,158 (€31,718) incurred as a result of the flight diversion and the inconvenience that the diversion caused to passengers and crew, which the court heard.

On yesterday’s edition of Mary Wilson’s Drivetime show on RTÉ Radio One, during which Wilson interviewed Clare FM’s John Cooke, the focus, again and again, was on Ms Lauren’s pedigree and on her ownership of a jewelry shop; not just any plain ‘ol jewelry shop, mind, but a “high- end” jewelry shop. There was also a discussion regarding the rumors that Ms Lauren had flown- in a team of hot- shot lawyers from her native New York.

Most remarkably from Wilson’s interview with Cooke, however, was the mention that court reporters at Killaloe District Court had been paying a lot of attention to what Ms Lauren- Ralph Lauren’s niece, in case you’d forgotten- was wearing (she was dressed almost entirely in black, if you must know) during her court hearing in Killaloe District Court, which sits in the function room of the Brian Boru on the Hill pub in Ballina, Co. Tipperary. Cooke also mentioned that Ms Lauren wasn’t wearing any of her own “high end” jewelry.

Let’s not talk about Kevin

Jenny Lauren’s Homesick: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Finding Hope

Few journalists, if any, covering Jenny Lauren’s air rage incident have mentioned Ms Lauren’s 2004 memoir Homesick: A Memoir of Family, Food and Finding Hope. In that book, Ms Lauren discusses her troubles with an eating disorder, anxiety and bi- polar disorder. Aged 10, Ms Lauren attended her first appointment with a psychiatrist. It was during that time that Ms Lauren’s low self- esteem issues and eating issues first started to appear and, over the course of the next 15 years, developed into starving, binge- eating, purging and compulsive exercising, to the point that her small intestine herniated.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that any of these facts excuse Ms Lauren’s potentially dangerous behavior on- board an aircraft. What I am saying is that, once again, we have allowed a focus on social class and pedigree to over- shadow an opportunity to speak about mental health issues and how, socially, mental health issues can affect anyone of us.

Ms Lauren’s unfortunate mixing of alcohol and prescribed medication- which no- one should, ever, ever, ever mix- didn’t trigger a mature and open discussion about how mental health issues never pick their victims; that even if you are the niece of a man whose personal wealth is estimated at $7.7billion and whose company reported revenues of $6.9billion that you can still be affected by depression, anxiety, panic disorder and eating disorder as much as someone on welfare.

Instead of focusing on the unfortunate fact for us all- that is, again, that mental health issues never choose their victims- the media allowed itself, typically, to get caught up in Ms. Lauren’s social status and pedigree, thereby side- stepping a discussion about mental health.

All this week, First Fortnight, currently talking place in multiple venues around Dublin, will host a series of arts and panel discussions. If you have any vague interest in the arts or mental health issues, I sincerely recommend that you check out their program of events at #FFfest14