The Commitments: Saviors of Soul
Happy St Patrick's Day!
This si the day of the year where we all get our Irish on, whether we are truly Irish or not. It's just a lot of fun and basically an excuse to venture into the world of the emerald Isle and all the libations it has to offer. Plus we get to wear green clothes, say "Gobshite", eat corned-beef, and perhaps drink a little Guinness or some fantastic Irish Whiskey (see the post below if you need a suggestion).
One thing I always like to do is dive a bit deeper into the Irish experience. Even though my name is Mitchell, and is probably more English in origins, there are a few Celts in my family tree, which extends across Scotland and into Ireland. My Nana was a Maher, and I have a wife who is half-Irish and my kids all of two N's in their names - Quinn, Brennan, Aislinn - a lot of Irish there any way you look at it.
So, getting some deeper cultural connection is always helpful to remind of us of where we come from and what it took to get here. One way for me to do that is through movies, and a long time ago I became very fond of The Commitments, which combines both my interest in Irish culture with my love of great American music.
Directed by Alan Parker, this 1991 release details the quick rise and even quicker fall of a band based in the northern neighborhoods of Dublin in the late 1980s. The movie is detailed with back scenes that frame the real life experiences of the place and time, and what is took to not only survive, but not get perpetually stuck in the endless Irish-experience - something much of the band ultimately fails at. One scene in particular that is a favorite of mine, is when two of the main characters are walking through and along a long alleyway, and in the background are dozens of children just trashing the place. Throwing rocks through windows, setting trash on fire. Basically mayhem. But the characters walk through all of this on a long descending shot, talking about the promises of what this new band could be, seemingly oblivious to the destruction around them. It's a great shot, and other similar shots are interspersed throughout the movie with kids just playing in and making best use of the decayed industrial materials that seem to dot the landscape.
As one of the main characters says, "they come together, form a brilliant band, and then tear each other apart due to the curse of the Irish and an unwillingness to believe..."
The main theme of the movie is centered around the use of American R & B - and specifically Soul music - as the theme and style of this band, with the argument that this is the true, working-man's music. It is the music of the factory. It is the music of sex. It is honest and there is no bullshit in Soul. It comes straight from the heart. "Soul takes you somewhere else and lifts you above the shite." This is the statement that the main character - Brother Rabbitte - really use to coalesce the band to get in line with the music style.
I found this movie back in the day (I even had it on VHS for a while) and have been a fan since the early 1990s, but it is a movie that is kind of hard to find and seems to have fallen out of the mainstream. The movie actually enjoyed a good amount of success back in 1991 and 1992, with the soundtrack album selling well and even a second album produced, and tickets sales doing well, globally. The success though was perhaps a bit more from outside the US than within - not sure why.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that it takes what is essentially an American, and to be honest a Black American, style and uses it for a story with an all white cast and setting. Today we would call this cultural appropriation - a term I am not sure I ever even heard of back then. But, I do think the movie does make an attempt to pay homage in a way to the roots of this music and does not fail to mention the many artists that created the sound and style - even to the point of the honesty and the everyday nature of the musical roots. It is a music style that comes from a certain experience and I think there are correlations that are attempted (at least to a certain level) in the movie to the Black American experience. Obviously Ireland is different from America, and the experiences are/were not the same, but I think Alan Parker tries to use the honest American music to convey the same sense of lift, life, hope and truth that the music give and is hopefully shared in both countries.
In one of the final scenes, "Brother Rabbitte" is told that he succeeded. Not in building a band that would go on to make records and play shows - that would be "predictable" - but instead, for the band members, he "raised their expectations of life and lifted their horizons", and for this he should be proud. Did he beat the Irish Curse? Who knows, but if you are looking for something to do tonight, other than going out and raising a pint, give The Commitments a try.
And don't forget, everyone say - Testicles!
One of my favorite whiskies to enjoy anytime (but especially on St Paddy's Day) is Green Spot by Mitchell & Sons of Dublin. This is a Single Pot Distilled Irish Whiskey, so the flavors are a bit more bold and round than your mass-market whiskies, which are often triple distilled in large columns to accommodate their commercial production sizes.
This is a sipping whiskey, typically made from a blend of 7 to 10 year old spirits. It is not so much intended as a shooter; I like to enjoy with a couple of ice-cubes in an Old Fashioned glass. The ice will slowly chill and mix, softening the alcohol, but also allowing the subtle wood and sherry-cask flavors and aromas to come forward.
Green Spot was originally produced exclusively for the Mitchell family. They were traders in Dublin in the early 1800s, and some of what they dealt with included the trade of whiskey and wine. Much of the wine being traded at the time was port and sherry, and almost all of that was traded exclusively in barrel. This meant there were a lot of barrels available to be filled and used for aging whiskey or for trade going outbound. By selecting certain barrels the practice of finishing the whiskey with a particular flavor meant that you could achieve a style. Since sherry barrels have a lot of flavor that will work well with pot stilled whiskey, these barrels have been favored for many years. The Green Spot, while aged in new and ex-Bourbon barrels, gets its power in part from being finished in ex-Sherry casks.
Four generations later, the company is still in the wine and spirits business, under the stewardship of Jonathan Mitchell and his son Robert. This is a complex and delicious Irish whiskey, but one that is still generally widely available - if you know the right store. I recommend that if you need a wee bit of whiskey tonight, maybe while watching the movie above, then this could be a great choice in your glass. As always, though, please keep your consumption to a reasonable and moderate level.
I spoke with my friend and wine industry associate Elod Adam, today. Elod and I have known each other for a number of years as he once lived in Connecticut and we worked for the same company. He now lives with his family in Romania, just a few hours from the Ukraine border. He is a wine importer, a wine judge and a MW Candidate.
A few days ago, I reached out to see how he and his family were getting on and what they were seeing with the crisis - they are very close to the war in Ukraine. The conversation very quickly turned to a number of topics related to people and organizations with connections to the wine trade. The information was so personal I felt it would be helpful to share some of this and we agreed to get on a zoom and help spread a bit of what he is experiencing. We discuss the current situation and what he is seeing with the refugee crisis, as well as how his community and some associates of his are stepping in to help as best they can. Please check out the video above with our conversation. I am also posting some additional notes and links below related to what we discussed.
We are all feeling the pinch at the pump and watching the news with disgust, but keep in mind we are a very long way way from this disaster. There are many people in the zone and beyond who are impacted, and many, many people who are helping. As Elod says, it is heart warming to see the massive response by ordinary people across Europe to step up and step in to help those who have basically lost everything in just a few short days. It has truly been an all hands in effort to help.
The links below are just a few examples of where you can lend support. I do not think that it really needs mentioning, but anything, anything is appreciated as just about everything is needed. I am not endorsing any one in particular, just bringing these avenues to light for anyone wishing to help in their own way.
During our conversation, Elod mentions his friend and associate Zoltán Szövérdfi-Szép, who is a support person with Ceva de Spus. Below is the follow-up email that Zoltan sent to us after our conversation, yesterday - I think it is pretty clear about what he is doing...
I write this e-mail in English in case you want to forward it to your international friends/partners.
I had a zoom meeting with the representatives of people with disabilities and their families from Ukraine. The VGO Coalition (I am in contact with Yuliia Klepets) has 118 local NGO's all over the country which are active in the disability field and they are supporting around 14.000 families with children/adults with disabilities.
Also I am in contact with Danulo Kapral from Dzherelo Center for children with disabilities from Liov. They need money for medication because one of the biggest issue is the lack to access to medication. Their monthly budget is around 8-9000 eur.
We also offered to the ngo's the possibility to rescue families and accommodate them in Timisoara and assuring access to therapies for their children with disabilities, but the families don't want to leave yet. On one hand it is hard for them to move, on the other hand they are afraid that if they leave the country they won't get the disability allowance and the fees for personal assistants. So they are living in basements and bathrooms, because those are the safest places.
I have the permission to attach the document with the photos.
So basically as a first step they need money to be able to buy the very necessary things. The needs are different, medications are different, this is why the most effective way to help them is with bank transfer.
Also if they will decide to come in Romania we are happy to find solutions for them.
All the money we will receive will be sent to the disability organizations or service providers from Ukraine and, of course, for the Romanian companies we can make sponsoring contracts.
Our accounts in EUR and USD are:
Asociația Ceva de SPus
EUR: RO36 BACX 0000 0009 4543 5001
USD: RO09 BACX 0000 0009 4543 5002
For RON we are waiting for the dedicated account, but we can use our current account as well:
RO63 BACX 0000 0009 4543 5000
All the donations will be sent to the NGOs in Ukraine.
Of course I can give the contacts of the VGO Coalition and they can send the money directly to them.
On Friday I will make the first transfer and I will let you know about the situation and how is it easier.
Thank you so much for your support
Asociația Ceva de Spus
0040 721 613 521
The Rovinhud wine show, scheduled for May 6-8, has been working for years to provide assistance to those in need. This year (and hopefully there is a show this year), looks to be a year with special importance and need for relief on the highest level.
If you cannot get to Romania, the event will be held in English on gotomeeting.com and will be broadcast on the facebook page as well - www.facebook.com/rovinhud.ro
The Red Cross is another organization making an impact.
Support both at home and abroad is of course well known.
Click here to view the red Cross page on Ukraine
And here is a link to an article I found about an 11 year-old boy that travelled 600 miles across Ukraine to Slovakia...phone number written on his hand. Not sure if it is the same as the one Elod mentions in our discussion, but why do we need more than one - actually, why do we need one of these to happen?
Click here to read the article on Sky News
Here is a link to the local website for the town he lives in. Attached is a short post about the crisis, but it gives you an idea of what they are working to do there. The town as well as many local people and local companies are supporting refugees by renting places for them to stay and transition through. Click on the English language link or use Google for the translation.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in an author's night with the Mark Twain House in Hartford. I was joined by Cecelia Tichi, whose book, Gilded Age Cocktails, was the focus of the discussion. This is part of a regular virtual series that the Twain House began near the onset of Covid, in order to maintain their audience and fund raising links. By the look of it, they have been successful as they have done nearly 200 events and we had well over 100 attendees online with use for this event. Mark Twain coined the phrase "The Gilded Age", btw - he wrote a book of the same name, so this all makes perfect sense.
For this date, I guess I was brought in as the drink "expert" (which of course I am!), but what wasn't really conveyed to me until just before we held the event, was that I was actually going to be the interviewer - and needed to fill about 45 minutes of discussion. This little nugget was dropped on me a day or so before the event, and I had to do a little scrambling to figure out what I was going to ask and say - initially I thought I was just making a couple of drinks to illustrate some recipes from the book.
Needless to say, my worries turned out to be unnecessary as Cecelia was more than happy to carry the conversation. She has written a book that is very quick and easy to read and is filled with stories about people of the time, especially women, who were key in the development of the cocktail during this period - the late 1800s to early 1900s - essentially before Prohibition.
I also made a few of the recipes from the book while we were on the interview, and we discussed the ins and outs of a few timepiece recipes as well as a few that have transgressed time, such as the Martini. All of the recipes in Cecilia's book are fairly easy to understand and most home bars will have the majority of ingredients - remember these were somewhat simpler times and just in the early days of real brand building for many liquor manufacturers.
If you would care to watch the broadcast, please find a link to the show here (I promise, its not that boring, really), and I might even suggest making a cocktail or two before you get into it - perhaps a great classic martini is in order!
And perhaps more important than listening to me talk about cocktails, if you would like to help the Mark Twain House and get yourself a copy of the book - I believe they have some copies left to acquire - please click here. You might even consider picking up a book or two from the man himself - I hear he was good with the pen.
Don't worry, I am not compensated for any sales of this book, just being generous with my time, and NEWA is not affiliated with the Twain House, either...
And just to make this official...
Programs at The Mark Twain House & Museum are made possible in part by support from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts, and the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign and its Travelers Arts Impact Grant program, with major support from The Travelers Foundation. For more information call 860-247-0998 or visit marktwainhouse.org.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With 30 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.