Roddy Doyle Questions Commitments Tour
'It's called a reunion, but they were never actually a band,' says the Dublin author at the Belfast Festival at Queen's
It starts off on a bum note at the Elmwood Hall, at least from a spectator’s point of view. Roddy Doyle enters stage left, walks direct to the lectern and introduces himself deadpan. ‘I’m going to read from this book, The Dead Republic… anyway I’ll shut up now and I’ll just read.’
I’m not sure what I was expecting. A burst of ‘Mustang Sally’ as the bespectacled Dublin author slides on to the stage Gerry Lee Lewis style? A group of kids in Ireland football jerseys handing out burgers? A joke or two? It’s a silly, naïve expectation, and it only takes a passage from The Dead Republic before I start appreciating Doyle for what he is: not a comedian, a writer.
Several times during the reading I wonder, is Doyle’s Henry Smart trilogy the Irish equivalent of John Updike’s Rabbit trilogy? As Doyle narrates from the final part in his series – with Smart now working as a janitor in a comprehensive school, punching a particularly despicable teacher who beats on kids and feeling momentarily guilty about it - I’m reminded of those excruciating moments when Updike's Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom gets himself into similar situations.
Both works are epic in scope, spanning generations, and explore the changes in a nation through the changes in a man. Perhaps, in the end, the Henry Smart trilogy - A Star Called Henry, Oh, Play That Thing and The Dead Republic - are the works that Doyle will be remembered for the most.
After reading for around 30 minutes - his prose devastatingly emotive and nostalgic - Doyle sets down the book and invites questions, as down-to-earth, witty and confident as I had always hoped he would be.
The first question is something of a relief for Doyle - he's glad to get it out of the way so early. 'Have you heard that The Commitments are reforming for a reunion tour? And will you be going to see them play?'
Doyle is obviously a little peeved by the affair. He has great respect for one or two members of the original cast who have gone on to forge careers for themselves, particularly Glen Hansard of The Frames. But, as for the reunion tour: 'I don't want to sound demeaning or mean-spirited or anything like that, but calling themselves The Commitments, which they had no right to do... It's called a reunion, but they were never actually a band, they were pretending to be in a band. One or two of them forgot that.'
With the audience warmed up, the questions come thick and fast. Doyle is chock full of anecdotes, and talks about everything from disliking the movie business to tackling the short story later in life and the importance of teaching creative writing in schools. Listen to the full Q&A session in the podcast above.