Eamon Carr first came to 60s Irish prominence when he finished school and, zoot suited, moved to Dublin to work with one of the big advertising agencies - I think it was Arks - who then dominated the Irish scene in a manner inconceivable in today's complex media world. Carr was soon, with fellow Meath poet Peter Fallon, organising Ireland's original "bongos with poetry" troupe, Tara Telephone. They derived their name from Meath's Hill of Tara, allegedly home of the High Kings of Ireland in an epoch before British colonisation when Ireland was ruled by powerful and violent tribal chieftains.
Tara Telephone was the Irish equivalent to the Liverpool Poets. Deriving inspiration from the Beats and from the nexus which Dylan forged between poems and guitars, the Meath mob were amongst the first to take on board the notion that literature and rock music had much in common. Their magazine published work by countercultural/literary luminaries like John Lennon, Seamus Heaney, and Marc Bolan. Magazines and posters were illustrated by comic artist Jim Fitzpatrick who went on to do the covers of almost all of the Thin Lizzy albums - most notably the DC Comics-inspired Jailbreak artwork.
Tara Telephone readings brought together rock musicians and poets in a concrete way, and it was not unusual for the likes of Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) to show up at their happenings to bang a gong - as it were. They did shows on the rock circuit and, on a notably hirsute and macho Irish music scene, were one of the first groups to feature a woman.
The curmudgeonly Monk Gibbon - whose literary "old guard" connections stretched back into the world of Yeats and AE - wrote a measured critique of the young upstarts which conceded that their work dealt with, "justifiable disillusion with a technology decreed civilisation, some sexual tenderness, hastily linked to the appropriate cynicism, a delight in the mystifying phrase for its own sake; a lingering scorn for bourgeois values, and a bitter astringency which does not seem to be leading to any particular direction."
Peter Fallon remained in poetry publishing when, in the early 70s, Carr headed off in search of life's glittering prizes and even more glittering trousers. Tara Telephone grew up to be Gallery Press, which remains the pre-eminent Irish independent poetry publisher to this day.
Carr, with the Telephone's sometimes guitarist, the execrable Declan Sinnott, and pals from the advertising agency, formed a band called Horslips, who became conceivably the most culturally significant of all Irish rock groups. Sinnott was soon dumped in favour of Johnny Fean, a proper guitar hero. They were a well read arty lot; their many Irish fans tended to be arty and well read too.
Horslips transformed themselves, during the course of a dramatic 70s career, from being a glam-style psychedelic folk group into working the American guitar-rock arena circuit with considerable aplomb. Carr was one of the several driving forces within the band and was unusually active, for a drummer, in forging their songwriting and public profile. His artistic sway saw them investigate, through a series of dark influential albums, the mythological cycles which preceded the earliest semi-accurate chronicles of Irish history - a world of magic, myth, and sexual vision. This exhilarating mix found a ready audience with successive waves of Irish youth anxious to create a uniquely Irish identity which didn't derive solely from the country's freedom struggle or predominantly Catholic ethos.
Horslips lasted well into the punk era, Carr assuming a somewhat Keef-like persona. Their global cultural significance lies in the fact that they were one of those noisy acts which the '74/'77 punk generation listened to before they invented punk. This being the case, Horslips could certainly have survived the Punk Politburo but chose to implode.
Carr and Fean formed a new band, the Zen Alligators, which made a series of sharp snappy r'n'b singles while pursuing a sort of Mod trajectory which, ultimately, withered on the vine. It was at this stage that I got to know Carr - via white witches Stewart and Janet Farrar. I ended up working closely with him on a variety of projects, both zany and sagacious. I was loosely involved in the early stages of a record label, Hotwire, which issued a batch of significant tracks by the mushroom cloud of post-punk and art bands thriving in 80s Dublin.
It was a time of extraordinary Irish economic deprivation and the new music being made in the country reflected an acute alienation adrift in a damp dreamscape.
We came to a bitter parting of the ways partially concerning one of his bands called the Golden Horde. Dublin probably wasn't big enough for the both of us. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the time I hung out with him and he taught me a lot..
An era of imagined Irish prosperity was approaching and I was no longer in Ireland very much. The nation, once so appallingly self righteous and judgemental, seemed to mislay its moral compass. I'd never owned one of those items; I've always been content to navigate without one.
Carr, in his zeitgeistish way, pulled out of the music business to become a successful journalist for the Irish Independent empire. The Independent group, historically linked to strike breaking, fascism, and neo-Unionism, owns most of the widely read papers in Ireland. Carr wrote principally about sport and music. It was in his sporting capacity that he got handed the material which constitutes, just in time for his 60th birthday, his first book.
The Origami Crow, Journey Into Japan, World Cup Summer 2002 (Seven Towers) is described as a poetry book but it is partially poems, partially travel writing, and a little bit sports writing. As an Independent sports writer, Carr got sent to Japan in '02 to cover the World Cup finals. That was the year when Roy Keane, Captain of the Irish team, fought with the Irish manager, stormed out of Asia, and was next seen walking his dog outside Manchester. That was one of the many years, during the Celtic Tiger period, when Ireland got silly about sport, indulging itself in a collective delusion wherein the Irish were world beaters in any field of endeavour.
Carr's short book contains two parallel narratives relating to his Japanese trip. One concerns soccer matters and has, going through it, the notion that if Keane had stayed with the team, they might somehow have won the World Cup. This is the sort of optimism which sells tabloid newspapers but which has no basis in reality. Ireland couldn't have won a tournament at that level with three and a half decent players, a moron manager and a brainless FAI - no matter how warrior-like, gifted, and shrewd Roy Keane was.
The second narrative is the one which, tremendously successfully, gives the book its meat, veg, and two potatoes. When not hanging around the Irish training camp, Carr followed his own private Japanese journey - a lifelong quest to visit the shrines and places associated with the legendary poet Basho, maker of haikus. Through a series of ironical mishaps, very much caught up with his own thoughts and intimations of mortality, Carr ultimately makes his way to the spot where Basho began his poetry-writing adventures. Along the way he thinks about three people he knew who are no longer alive. Two of these - Phil Lynott and a likeable TV producer called Bob Collins - I get to meet many years ago in Carr's company. The third deceased is his mother, who died tragically young while Carr was still a child. He writes with great dignity and power about his lost mother.
It's been such a long time since Carr last worked as a literary writer that, despite his distinguished track record, he appears before us now as a virtually new voice. There is a satisfyingly autumnal air to this taut, tense, chunk of good writing.
When I first started travelling though the Moroccan backwoods nobody had ever heard of Ireland, no matter how diligently I explained its place on the map to them. Now when they ask me where I'm from I say, "Ireland." and they still say "Huh?" Then I say "Roy Keane." and they immediately go, "Ah! Roy Keane!" as if to say: "Now - there is a man!
The Origami Crow can be purchased from Amazon or directly from www.columba.ie.
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or