It was a moment to savour. Hot Press editor Niall Stokes presented President Michael D. Higgins with a framed photograph of Philip Lynott and Rory Gallagher, the only shot taken of the two seminal rockers together, signed by Colm Henry. One could imagine this iconic photograph, taken at a gig promoted by Hot Press back in 1982, on the walls of Áras an Uachtaráin, as the President held it symbolically above his head, in a gesture of solidarity.
It was a touching moment that capped off what had been an appearance of real significance from the ninth President of Ireland, and a true highlight of the weekend. For a man with a background in left-wing and human rights politics to be one of the most feverishly anticipated faces at a show dealing with music first and foremost is a clear indicator of the enduring popularity and charisma of the man. He didn’t disappoint.
Never less than inspirational in his addresses, Michael D.’s speech on the “long history of the relationship between music and social change” and the wondrous ways in which it can positively influence society came across as a stirring call to arms for an industry struggling through a particularly dark time. In a fine example of the wonderful juxtapositions The Music Show conjured time and time again, the stately speech was prefaced by a performance from bodhrán-toting, up-and-coming Dublin rapper Temper-Mental Miss Elayneous, herself blending street-wise verses with more traditional Irish stylings.
Greeting her warmly, Higgins then turned his attentions to the expectant crowd, and admitted that he had been determined to come to the event. The talk drew on his time writing for Hot Press in the ‘80s (featuring a heartfelt reference to the late, great wordsmith Bill Graham), included memories of his experiences in Chile where the importance of culture to a community crystallised in his mind, and contained nods to the great theatre director, singer and songwriter, Victor Jara, Leonard Cohen and Gavin Friday. Recalling his work as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, he remembered overhearing a bemused colleague comment “the Minister is thinking of appointing a Mr. Thursday.”
The President, it must be said, clearly knows his stuff.
In conclusion, President Higgins affirmed his belief that music has the power to “see off several recessions” and, as he moved through the crowd to applause and elation, the positive feelings abounded.
“President Michael D. Higgins gave such a passionate and uplifting speech,” chairman of the Music Producers Guild Steve Levine said later. “I felt honoured to be in the same room. Our two countries (the UK and Ireland) punch substantially above our weight in producing quality music and artists that are appreciated and loved world wide. To hear your nation’s leader speak about the power and importance of music was moving. For musicians to be allowed to earn a living from their creative endeavours resonated with the entire room and hopefully his words will resonate around the world as our two nations’ music does.”
A remarkable statesman, President Michael D. Higgins enlivened The Music Show greatly, and left a lasting impression on everyone who was there.