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Reasons to be Cheerful is the new production from Graeae. Rockinpaddy (aka John Kelly) prepares to bring Ian Dury’s songs to life. / 23 September 2010

photo of singer at Liberty Festival

Rockinpaddy (aka John Kelly) gives it large at the Liberty Festival 2010

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The significance of Ian Dury, a disabled man with lots to say is obviously important to my new journey. Yet I’ve been into him all my life and there is little doubt that he is an inspirational artist for many. Reasons to be Cheerful has a brilliant and strong narrative written by Paul Sirett and directed by Jenny Sealey, in which Dury’s songs play an integral part and provide the strongest backbone you could wish for. 

In this production I’m the band lead vocal and we all give it large! A glimpse of Reasons to be Cheerful was seen at Liberty in Trafalgar Square, and had a real gig feel to it. Now with script in hand, we are into rehearsals proper. I’ve loved getting to grips with the characters and narrative and the inter-play with the songs.

One thing I know is that I’m definitely singing Dury’s songs with the clear aim of giving them the energy and justice they deserve in performance. I guess the line can get a little blurred and Dury himself talked about not really seeing himself as a singer, more a poet/performer. To me he was all of that and brilliant at it too.

Although I don’t play Dury in Reasons To Be Cheerful, I’ve been asked a few times to draw parallels between myself and him. There is no comparison to be drawn between his huge and influential success and my smaller influences and successes in my own backyard. But having immersed myself into everything Dury (not that difficult for a Blockhead as I) there are general comparisons (if not exclusive ones) with the great man that I have come to realise.

For example the importance of music that says something in our identity and fight; Irish family heritage; a dodgy (but beautiful) left arm (and or other bits); surviving a segregated education system; getting into teaching/facilitating; encouraging change and understanding through music; identifying in a proud Disability culture that sticks two (bendy) fingers up at traditional perspectives. Finally, I guess, being a bit cheeky here and there features in both our narratives.

Of course my influences are much wider than Ian Dury alone. I remember as a lad watching a Sunday morning disability programme (was it called Link?) about a band of guys who all played guitar on the trays of their chairs. That image was much more explicit of a musician that I could relate to and they have stuck with me throughout. It was this image which helped me realise that I could dabble on guitar.

Getting into rock, punk, ska, rockabilly and blues was another handy thing as I was self taught and these styles taught me that the rules of music were there to be adapted/ broken. Irish and country were always being played in the house, music has been at my side throughout. 

I thank the genius who invented three chords, open tuning and the bottleneck. Since those early discoveries I’ve recorded but mostly played live all over, including New York, Memphis and Nashville. I’ve also gigged Russia, Germany, Estonia Poland, France, Greece, all over the UK and of course my family homeland of Ireland. This is where Rockinpaddy feels most at home and can be found belting out the tunes with a pint of Guinness and a quality plastic straw strategically placed somewhere on stage. We have fun and aren’t too serious, welcoming everyone to join in with the craic.

A civil rights demo in the mid 90’s became a bit of a key moment in my life. Sharing the front of a bus radiator with newly made friends, I still recall the chant of "hey ho, hey ho… and the steps on the bus must go," and they did sort of! Johnny Crescendo was one of those I shared that bus with and his strength & passion in song would definitely be another influence on me. We need some of that energy and danger back today as the latest regime begins a new attack on our rights. Hopefully the musical might give some energy to that. Spasticus is back!!

I became more involved in equality training by listening and learning from other disabled people. Reading Paulo Freire’s notion of Education for liberation was another realization. I was also lucky enough to spend a short but enlightening time learning from the great Augusto Boal. I’ve explored, facilitated and written about inclusion in youth work and it is definitely the way of the Jedi!

My life, music and work are all one really. My own material is strongly motivated by a personal belief in a Social Model; my passion for young people to have real opportunity to reach their potential. I also firmly believe that we can find and celebrate ourselves through the Arts.

I’ve got blue eyes & take size 5 Dr M’s. I’m definitely a bit of rough amongst this diamond bunch that I’m getting to know and love in the production of Reasons to be Cheerful. I’m gonna give this tour every ounce of energy within my lovely bendy body in order to give every brilliant Dury song the justice they deserve… oh yeh, final bit on my background, I’m a lover and a fighter, and I can sing/shout (delete as applicable) a bit too. Visit the Reasons to be Cheerful website to enter competitions, get the latest news and most importantly to get tickets to come see, join in and enjoy!

Ideas for my next blog are welcomed below, but will probably include stories on my current adventures with Graeae, a short guide through my collection of fine & purposeful sticks and humorous anecdotes about drinking straws from around the world and much more.