The deaths of four close friends in the past year have left Cork broadcaster John Creedon with a changed outlook on life. “You could spend forever preparing for retirement and then you mightn’t get a crack at it. So if I’m not smelling the roses now, or feeling the sand between my toes now, then when?”
If you listen to John Creedon on the radio, you already know him. What you hear is what you get. He’s naturally friendly and generous, a gregarious, witty conversationalist who is very interested in other people. So it is with some regret, he says, that he finds himself of late saying what he calls the hardest word – “No” – far more often than he would like.
“I’ve five designated charities,” he says, “and I do what I can for them. Sometimes I’d love to do more but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. So when other people ask me to do charity gigs now, I just have to decline. It doesn’t always go well with me, to be honest, but there you go.”
Likewise, he says, he has to draw the line when, at gigs with his partner, Mairead, people start following him into pub toilets to give him CDs.
“I’m genuinely a social kinda guy,” he says, “I love meeting people and shooting the breeze. But I can only do so much and sometimes I get frustrated at the lengths to which some people will go to get what they want from me. Whether it be free advertising on the show (which we don’t do anyway) or playing their CD on the radio show, or insisting I meet them to discuss their agenda, when I don’t have time to catch up with my own extended family, many of whom are musicians and artists, but never expect to be played by their Uncle John!”
The father of four grown-up daughters says he knows how fortunate he is. He opens the curtains every morning and counts his blessings. He loves his job but says he has to have some private time too.
“I’ve just had to find ways of streamlining what I do so that I’m not overwhelmed,” he says. “These days, I have to tell people that all music for playlist consideration should be sent to RTÉ Radio 1 Music Department, Dublin 4.”
In his quarter century with RTÉ, Creedon has done every shift from early morning to late at night. “I’ve literally rocked around the clock,” he says. “I’ve stayed on-air during a break-in, I’ve waded through three feet of water during the recent floods and once, despite a suspicious package which led to an anthrax scare with army bomb disposal personnel sealing the building, the show still went on!”
He thinks his relaxed style probably suits his radio show’s timeslot (8pm, week-nights, RTÉ Radio 1). If he visualises his audience, he says he sees people in cars, travelling home long distances or sometimes people at the end of their day, crossing off their lists, preparing for the next day. “It’s a time for reflection, it’s grown-ups and for the most part it’s their down-time. I can imagine, maybe a Friday evening, people driving say from Dublin to Dingle and when they meet Newlands Cross and get out into the countryside, they loosen the neck-tie. Or a taxi-driver, in a cab, waiting for a fare. It’s that time of day when very few people are racing anywhere.”
Sometimes, he jokes, if he does something brilliant, he visualises the DG listening. “Or if I really cock up, I say ‘Shur there’s no-one listens to the show anyway!’”
That last claim is certainly untrue: JNLR figures for the show are very healthy and increasing all the time. Given its growing international listenership, it might well be called “Creedon’s Diaspora”.
He has recently embraced Twitter. “For a lot of Irish people,” he says, “there’re ideas flying around in our heads all the time. Concepts, thoughts, one-liners, notions. Twitter appeals to me in its brevity and levity. That’s what we should put on the coat of arms: Brevitas et Levitas! Keep it light and keep it moving and don’t get too profound or you’ll be caught out!
“I was always a talker. It’s a family affliction that comes from my father’s side. I see it in my cousins. They don’t use full stops, commas, nothin’! Just keep on going! I thought it was only me until I came back to Cork and realised, Jesus, half of my clan can’t shut up!”
Creedon says his father, Connie-Pa, was a great man for storytelling and word-play, happily weaving allusions to classical mythology and Latin phrases into tall tales and slaggings. The apple didn’t fall far.
With four daughters, two grand-daughters and eight sisters, he jokes that he is “blessed amongst women”. Maybe it’s no coincidence that his fellow RTÉ Cork broadcaster Lilian Smith calls John Creedon “my favourite feminist”.
When relaxing at home, Creedon listens to John Coltrane or Miles Davis or orchestral music from French impressionists like Debussy, Ravel and Fauré. “I’m so grateful to the composers, singers and songwriters who ‘got me through the night’ at different points in my life. Van Morrison, The Smiths, Rory Gallagher, John Martyn, John Grant, Hada to Hada, Tom Waits and so many more.
“You know, there are things in the natural world which give rise to awe: maybe it’s turning a bend on a road and seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in twelve months and it’s beyond words. Just… Wow! All troubles just fade to insignificance. Or the birth of a child or a baby’s smile, something that could melt even a frozen heart. What is that magic, what is that energy, that essence?
“My own definition of art is something made by humans that gives rise to that same awe or understanding or revelation or just… Wow! There’s a lot of cleverness which trades as art and it’s not really, it’s of the mind rather than of the heart or the soul. I think when you get a genuinely transformative idea, it’s when the mind is in neutral and sometimes things just reveal themselves.
“I once read Mozart’s letters. He said ‘If I am of good humour, say in a carriage, heading home after a good meal, music will come to me, not one note at a time, not even one movement at a time, but in its entirety. Finished.’ He said ‘If no-one disturbs me, I can get it down’.”
“I get that from artists like Julie Feeney. There’s an aperture through which stuff comes to her. Same with Van Morrison.”
Creedon has been busy lately, travelling to London for ‘Céilúadh’ at the Royal Albert Hall, to Dublin to present a charity event at Áras an Úachtaráin and outside broadcasts at Cork Opera House, Westport Festival and Sligo. His new TV series “Creedon’s Four Seasons in a Day” has taken him all over the country, from Belfast to Black Sod to Bantry and beyond: to Florida, Tenerife and Italy.
He is fascinated by his new show’s TV premise: how Ireland shapes, and is shaped by, its climate and he is delighted that RTÉ has commissioned a follow-up Christmas special. Creedon is very proud that his past collaborations with RTÉ Cork have found an international audience. Last year’s ‘Michael Collins’ Last Day’ has featured on Australian television, the History Channel and on Aer Lingus trans-Atlantic flights.
Next he heads to Sligo for the Fleadh Cheoil to film a 6-part TV series with Aoibhinn Ní Shúileabháin for RTE 1. Then it’s on to Galway for TG4’s ‘Glór Tíre. He looks forward to finally get to take his summer holidays sometime in the winter, when he will get to see his daughters Martha and Meg in Australia.
As a man who grew up in the centre of Cork, Creedon thinks that despite our current hardships, Cork has never been a more vibrant city. “We have thriving late-night live music venues and, while we were never really a tourist destination before, that’s changed. Whether it’s the Queen’s visit or the Lonely Planet’s recommendation, all of a sudden we have tourists the whole year around. For what it’s worth, I also think it’s high time we had an elected mayor. We really need to see a fresh vision at work for Cork.”
“Creedon’s Four Seasons in a Day” begins on Sunday 10th of August on RTÉ1. The John Creedon Show airs week-nights at 8pm on RTÉ Radio
I tried hard to do John justice in the piece I wrote for The Evening Echo but even with two pages, I wasn’t able to fit everything. I really liked this exchange. Think of this, if you like, as the DVD extras.
John Creedon: I remember I got a very, very, nasty review about ten years ago. Look, I know if you put your head up there then you’ll have to be prepared to take it on the chin. This review said ‘Creedon is a third-rate presenter’.
My daughter Nanci, who was then about 12 or 13 or 14, (she’s a strong character,) she said ‘Are you okay Dad?’ and I said, ‘Ah no, sure look, you’d want to be a stone not to get a lump in the throat but, no, I’m grand’. And she kinda thought about it and then she said, ‘Well, Dad, do you know what I was thinking?’ And I said ‘No, Nance, what?’ And she said ‘I was thinking I’d rather be a third-rate presenter than a first-rate critic’.
I’ve kept that one in my back pocket, d’you know?
Donal O’Keeffe: Something I remember about you, it must be about three, four years ago, someone had texted in some pretty mean stuff to you. If I remember, it was ‘You’re playing hackneyed tunes, Creedon, Tom Waits’ Martha: we’re all sick of Tom Waits’ Martha.’ That sorta thing.
I remember texting you after you read that out to say (a) It might hackneyed to you, Mr Texter, but there’s someone out there listening who has never heard Tom Waits’ Martha before, and who has maybe never even heard of Tom Waits at all; and (b) John Creedon was the first person I ever heard to play Tom Waits’ Martha. A long time ago.
John Creedon: Get away. Get away! Really? Ha! Well, that’s the thing about it.
You know, one of the fulcrums upon which the show rocks, or even in my head, rocks to the left, a bit to the right, is I try to listen with my heart rather than my head. As a younger man of course I would have written off Cliff Richard as naff but now I think if Livin’ Lovin’ Walkin’ Talkin’ Livin’ Doll got you through the night when you were twelve, it serves a function… and how bad? My kids were into boy bands and some still are. It’s no issue. I mean, what’s the bloody deal? Do you like hamburgers or pizzas? Pizza fans looking down on hamburger fans! To me they’re missing the point completely.
Obviously you have to have some shape on what you do, and the standards you employ, but I will sometimes play stuff based on the premise that it’s naff but it might bring a kind of a ‘Jeeesus! Do you remember when…?’ Really, I’m not trying to impress anybody. Maybe I am trying to enrich somebody’s evening alright but I wouldn’t be hung up on being the coolest or on being first with a new album or a preview copy or who gives a–
Equally, who produced what, I don’t know, I don’t care! Do you know? I’m not letting on to be Dave Fanning or John Peel. Nah! It’s just that I’ve been around this long and I’ve travelled that much and I’ve had that many kids and I’ve had that many disappointments and that many laughs in my life and here’s what I’m bringing to the table. I’m not sure you can hang a label on it, like ‘It’s the definitive rock show!” Shur, Jesus, some days I would drift away over toward Doc Watson and the Appalachian Mountains for a while and then the following day it’s The Human League or Spandau Ballet. (How bad were those years?!) I think at a certain level, the vast majority of people are wide open to that.
Sometimes I will get people who will expect me to only play cutting edge music, you know? Why, like?
The word ‘honey’ is not honey, if you know what I mean. Getting bogged down or getting academic about what’s cool and what isn’t is pointless. It’s about a mood. That’s one of the reasons I would sometimes favour Caribbean music, South American music. Because it’s a mood. The lyrics might not mean anything to us – “My little calf is going to the fair” – but we get the mood. But equally then you might play John Prine singing ‘Hello In There‘ and have a taxi-driver saying ‘You might give my uncle Dan a shout’.
So it’s not this and it’s not that, as the Buddhists say. I dunno what it is!
Donal O’Keeffe: Is there anyone you wouldn’t play? Or any style of music you wouldn’t play?
John Creedon: Do you know something, this is going to seem a strange notion but I think there’s a certain amount of bad medicine carried by some music. I’m old enough to have lost friends… I can see how some people who were going down a slippery slope with their addictions could find solace in some music. For example, there’s a lot of country music that is awash with sentimentality, about cheatin’, drinkin’ and bar-tenders sure understand. Bar-tenders don’t actually understand.
Donal O’Keeffe: Trust me. As a bar-tender myself on occasion, most of the time we don’t even care…
John Creedon: Exactly! Also, maybe there are times when – this is going to sound awful – it could be, say, Leonard Cohen lyrics playing tricks on people’s heads. They enter this romantic notion, this world, where life could be this groovy and they look over at the person on the couch beside them and it only adds to their discontent. Does that make sense?
Donal O’Keeffe: Yes, it does.
John Creedon: Or equally there were songs that prompted riots on the disco floors of my youth… Sometimes there can be bad medicine in music, I think. Whether it be racist, skinhead stuff or, okay, without naming any of the musicians who have taken their own lives, but there have been some people who have seen only darkness and they have promoted that and sometimes people who are feeling that can pick up on it.
Every so often I’ll come across something and think ‘I can’t play that’. Don’t mind non-PC, I have no problem with that. In fact, I played Billy Stewart’s version of “Summertime” the other night, but he also did a song called “Fat Boy“. And there’s a lot of stuff out there like that. Political incorrectness wouldn’t bother me. I’d draw attention to it and say ‘Can you imagine, there was a time this was acceptable’ but then I’d play it anyway!
But no, sometimes there are moments when I just think, ‘I can’t stand over that lyric’. I just feel it’s bad medicine. I don’t want to pour it out there.