Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Thank You

MANY THANKS to all those who wrote, telephoned or spoke to me personally to pass on their sympathy on hearing of the recent death of my dad, Tommy Kerr. Thanks especially to those who were moved by my piece in the last Kerr’s Corner.

Typical is this e-mail from Tommy Thompson from LOL 533. “I had not heard, so when I saw the article in The Wizard it was with great sadness. I have known Tommy for a lot of years, through the Orange and Black. I can say that many a time he put the young ones to shame. Tommy has always carried the greatest respect from all that have known him. I now wish you and the family circle GOD’S BLESSING and peace, love and harmony throughout the rest of your lives. Many thanks for the article.”

Thanks Tommy. I don’t know you, but I’m delighted to hear from you. Thanks also to those who made donations to the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association and the Orange Widows Fund in his memory. This has been a difficult time for my sisters and me and the rest of the wider family circle, so we appreciate all your kind words, thoughts and prayers.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Radicals in Rosemary Street

A REGULAR FEATURE of early autumn in Northern Ireland is the European Heritage Open Days when we ordinary folk are able to visit private houses, public buildings, churches and gardens that are not generally open to the public.

One building which has always fascinated me, although I had never previously set foot in it is the First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street in the centre of Belfast. Presbyterians have met together on this site since 1695 although the congregation was founded in 1644. The present meeting house dates from 1783, which makes it Belfast's oldest surviving place of worship within the old town boundaries. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached there in 1789.

At one time there were three Presbyterian churches in Rosemary Street. The Second church stood behind the current building. The congregation moved to Elmwood Avenue in 1896. A multi-storey car park occupies the site today. The Third church had a fine building further down the street. This was destroyed by German aircraft in 1941. The Masonic Hall with its fine John Luke mural of the building of the temple of Solomon now stands on that site. This congregation now meets in a building on the North Circular Road - Rosemary Presbyterian Church. Despite damage from terrorist bombs during our own recent troubles, the First Church still thrives and keeps its building in good order.

The first thing to catch my eye in the vestibule was a magnificent marble 1914-18 war memorial by the sculptor, Rosamund Praeger. The inscription reads, “They whom we gratefully commemorate were, 'numbered among those, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passé out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others may live in freedom. II Sam X.12.”

Entering the main meeting area the most unusual feature of the church becomes obvious. The building is oval. Indeed, with its carved wooden pews it resembles a boat. The elevated pulpit gives a commanding view of every part of the building, so the preacher can be seen and heard from every space in the pews.

The sides of the building have a number of carved memorials and plaques to the memory of former members and ministers of the congregation. There appear to have been two William Bruces. A fine stained glass window showing jesus teaching children is in memory of Samuel Martin of Shrigley, Co Down, Founder of the Sick Children's Hospital, Belfast who died in 1872. A carved tablet of a man studying a book commemorates William Tennent 1759-1882 “A consistent advocate of free inquiry and rational liberty.”

This last inscription gives us a clue that the First Church was a major player in the political and religious controversies that engulfed Presbyterianism in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.

William Drennan of the United Irishmen was born in the manse of the church where his father was minister. He wrote a number of political pamphlets and became a founding member of the Society of United Irishmen. In 1794 he was tried for sedition, but was acquitted, whereupon he withdrew from the Society but without giving up his interest in radical politics, particularly the question of Catholic emancipation.

He wrote a good deal of poetry, largely forgotten today, but coined the phrase, "the Emerald Isle," his poem When Erin First Rose. He is buried in the Clifton Street graveyard. A blue plaque to his memory can be seen on the Central Hall, the site of the manse where he was born.
A major religious issue was over the subscription to a doctrinal standard known as the Westminster Confession of Faith. The orthodox 'subscribing' party was led by Dr Henry Cooke whose statue -the black man - stands at the top of Wellington Place. The champion of the liberal 'non-subscribing' party was Dr Henry Montgomery. He led seventeen congregations out of the Synod of Ulster to from the Remonstrant Synod in 1830. This merged with another body in 1910 to become the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church which has some 34 congregations, largely in eastern Ulster.

Anyone curious to see what they're all about can attend Sunday services at 10:30am only. I understand that the building is now also open to the public on Wednesday mornings and is well worth a visit. The sedentary can check out www.firstchurchbelfast.com

Monday, September 25, 2006

Here's Looking At You, Kid

LAST TIME around I bemoaned the fact that my nephew, who is something of a modern movie buff, had never seen any old black and white movies. He was totally unaware of great films like Casaclanca, It’s a Wonderful Life or The Third Man. I went on to recommend a couple of shops in Belfast where it is possible to buy terrific old classics on DVD and video.

Browsing in a car boot sale in Whitehouse Presbyterian Church a few weeks ago, I picked up a brand new VHS tape of Casablanca for a pound. The tape inside the box was still shrink-wrapped. It had never been played. I told my nephew, “I saw this and thought of you” and presented him with it. Next time I see him, I hope to find him in raptures about it. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t like it.

Casablanca is one of Humphrey Bogart’s best and it’s arguably one of the best films ever made with its perfect supporting cast. It’s set in an atmosphere of suspense, intregue, excitement and love and black humour centred around Rick’s Café in Vichy-run Casablanca. Lots of phrases have come into the language from this movie. ‘Round up the usual suspects.’ ‘I’m shocked, shocked.’ ‘This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’ and ‘Play it, Sam’. Watch it for the first time and you’ll be amazed.

Warner Brothers have issued a special double DVD with a new digitally-enhanced print of the film. The second disc has some out-takes and deleted scenes, two documentaries hosted by Bogart’s wife, Lauren Bacall a Buggs Bunny spoof, Carrotblanca and a radio version of the story. All-in-all, terrific value. Warner have also prodeuced a box set of Bogart films. Volume One packages the two-disc Casablanca special edition with the magnificient High Sierra and the action adventure Dark Passage which also stars Bacall. This box set would make a splendid introduction to the best of Bogie for any newcomer. Fans like me couldn't ask for anything more - except for volume two!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kerr's Collector's Corner

BADGE COLLECTORS will be delighted to know that two new enamel badges have just hit the market. The first is a brand new seven colour Ulster-Scots cultural badge. It is absolutely fantastic. Its centrepiece is a highly stylised Scottish Thistle. An outer black band reads ‘Put Ulster-Scots First’ around the top and ‘Pit Ulster-Scots Tae The Fore’ around the bottom.
A new Rangers badge features the club crest surmounted by two 1606 Union Flags. This flag combines the English St. George’s flag and Scottish St. Andrew’s flag. (The cross of St. Patrick wasn’t added until 1801).

I also hear that the Sacrifice at the Somme 1916 badge – featured in the June issue of Kerr's Corner – is also available again. These badges cost only £2.50 (including p&p) each. To get your badge(s), simply send a cheque/Postal Order (made payable to Glenwood Publications) to: Glenwood Publications, First Floor, 316 Shankill Road, Belfast, BT13 3AB. Happy badge collecting!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Alan Rickman & Sigourny Weaver Exclusive!

IN THE last issue of The Wizard we featured an exclusive review of Snow Cake, a fantastic new film featuring Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver. (The film is a drama focused on the friendship between a high-functioning autistic woman – Weaver – and a man – Rickman – who is traumatised after a fatal car accident).

Sadly, it looks like the film will not be on general release in Ulster, but there’s a whisper that it may be shown at the Queens Film Theatre (Belfast) in early October. In the meantime, why not take another look at our exclusive review at: www.kerrscorner.blogspot.com Readers of

The Wizard might like to lobby the cinema chains here to ask them to show the film. Why not write to the manager of your local cinema and ask them to show it in their theatres?

Our Snow Cake review was not our first showbiz exclusive. In December last year, we brought the exclusive news that The Elvis Spectacular show was coming to Carrickfergus in March 2006. This turned out to be a brilliant show. (By the way, the word is that The King, aka Jim Brown, will make a comeback special appearance in the borough on March 16th 2007). And in May of this year we brought you exclusive news of Pete Cunnah (formerly of D:Ream) who was promoting his new band – Shane – and his new single, Under the Weight of This. We beat the establishment media by at least a week to bring you all of these exclusives. So don’t forget, if you’re interested in entertainment and showbiz news, you’ll likely to read it in The Wizard first!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Restaurant Detective – By Alan Thompson

Bar 75 at The Clarion Hotel
I FOUND myself in Carrick for The Restaurant Detective review this week and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

The prestigious Clarion Hotel was the setting for my gourmet review in the Hotel’s Bar 75. There were no less than nine starters on offer and after much deliberation I plumped for the Peking Duck Spring Rolls. These were served with Asian Salad and Hoi Sin Sauce. What a delight, perfectly crispy and superbly presented.

For the main course I wasn’t too adventurous, choosing a 10-oz Sirloin Steak. The steak was served as I ordered it (medium to well done). I say this because in my last two visits to other establishments in Carrick I’ve had to send my steak back to the kitchen to have it cooked the way I requested. However, there’s no such problems or hassle at the Clarion – the steak was cooked to perfection.

I had a side order of French-Fries, nice and chunky and tasty. Great! Fresh Fruit Pavlova followed (and it was fresh) washed down with a pot of coffee.

The setting was family friendly, excellent menu choice, good service and (I felt given the quality of the food) good value also. Total Bill: £26.25.

Clarion Hotel, Carrickfergus. Tel: 028 9336 4556.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Concert Review - The Elvis Spectacular

Waterfront Hall 9th September 2006
By Alan Thompson

THE ELVIS SPECTACULAR, starring Jim Brown aka The King once again lived up to all expectations and more.

Belfast singing sensation Jim Brown was on top form and if anything is getting even better as The King. The show simply explodes as The King takes to the stage in his gold flamed jacket taking us back to Elvis’ Rock ‘n’ Roll root, blasting out That’s All Right. Jim, backed by the four member TCB band and the three girl Sweet Sensations simply has to be heard to be believed.
The show takes us through the young Elvis period including immortal hits such as Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t Be Cruel and Teddy Bear. Jim then dons his GI uniform to perform Elvis’ greatest hits from the early sixties and his movies. This part of the show has Jim performing an unbelievable rendition of the classic It’s Now or Never. Jim Brown performing this particular number is simply outstanding.

Jim then changes into the black leather gear to perform The Comeback Special section of the show – the highlight of which is a mind blowing version of If I Can Dream. Jim and the band put their heart and soul into the number, which as the show entered the interval, had the audience shouting for more.

During the changes of costume the show was kept flowing by Sweet Sensations lead singer Diane McCracken. Diane, an accomplished professional in her own right, had a brilliant rapport with the audience and treated us to a few hits including a great performance of the Dusty Springfield classic, You Don’t Have to say You Love Me.

My own personal favourite part of the show, the Las Vegas era, then descended upon us as Jim took to the stage having slid into a magnificent white jumpsuit. The place went mental as The King belted out Burning Love. I thought the roof was going to lift off the auditorium! People rocked – and I’m not just talking about the younger element, pensioners in their Seventies went wild! Crowd favourites I Just Can’t Help Believing and The Wonder of You followed. The King dished out silk scarves to the adoring fans and a woman leapt on stage to collect hers!
Jim slowed things down a bit with the Jim Reeves classic, Welcome To My World (which Elvis performed at the greatest live concert ever – Aloha from Hawaii in 1973) and the Righteous Brothers classic, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. A powerful playing of My Way followed before The King once again upped the tempo with a medley of favourites including Blue Suede Shoes and All Shook Up.

A highlight of the performance then followed as Jim performed Can’t Stop Loving You following directly into Hurt. Only Jim Brown’s incredibly powerful and wide ranging voice could have transferred the finale of the former into the explosive opening of the latter. Fantastic stuff!
As if this all wasn’t enough it seemed the whole show had simply been a warm up for the breathtaking finale. As the band briefly left and returned to the stage the incredible encore followed – Suspicious Minds, American Trilogy and the traditional Elvis show ender Can’t Help falling In Love. WOW! I was left breathless, speechless and ecstatic. What an encore, what a show, what a voice!

I first saw The Elvis Spectacular starring Jim a couple of years ago and the show remains as fresh as ever. Jim came ‘out of character’ more on this occasion having great crack with the audience. He emotionally told how he had loved Elvis as a young child and each of those present had a part to play in keeping the memory and music of Elvis Presley, the greatest entertainer of all time, alive.

The show was founded almost ten years ago by The Elvis Spectacular’s musical director and TCB Productions dynamo, Mervyn Boyd. What began as a ‘one off’ tribute to mark the Twentieth anniversary of the tragic passing of The King has evolved to become the world’s premier tribute performance. The show, with Jim’s incredible voice, goes from strength to strength. 2007 will mark the Thirtieth anniversary of the untimely death of Elvis. The Elvis Spectacular promises to be at the forefront both locally and nationally in marking that special milestone.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

DVD Review - Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism

THIS DOCUMENTARY film starts with some thought-provoking questions about the nature of American democracy. It makes it clear that, as citizens, Americans are reliant on the media to provide the information needed to make decisions. Jeff Cohen (a former MSNBC/Fox News Contributor) puts it like this:

"Media is the nervous system of a democracy. If it's not functioning well the democracy can't function. We're heading toward an election where most people are never going to be in a room with Kerry or Bush. What they learn about the candidates is what the media shows them or tells them or decides not to show not to tell."

David Brock (President/CEO of Media Matters for America) backs this up:
"People are faced with critical choices about the future of the country when they go into the voting booth and I go in and I have been in the course of the campaign cycle subject to false, distorted, caricaturing... and I may not even know where it's coming from because often there's an echo of fact off places like cable and like radio. Those wrong pieces of information are repeated and repeated. By the time it reaches me I don't even know what the source was. This is the environment we are living in. It's fundamentally undermining democracy, which is based on knowing some good, and solid information so that I can make some good, informed choice.
Rupert Murdoch is singled out by the documentary because he has so much power and because he is so partisan. The 'Today I own' graphic sets out the scale of Murdoch's media empire:

# 9 Satellite television networks
# 100 cable channels
# 175 newspapers
# 40 television stations
# 1 movie studio

#Murdoch's US television network reaches 280 million
# Asian satellite network reaches 300 million
# Cable channels reach 300 million homes
# Magazines reach 28 million people

Frighteningly the total audience is 4.7 billion people (3/4 of the population).

The documentary provides some witness testimony from contributors and former employees but most damning are cuts from the programmes themselves. The Orwellian slogans 'Fair and balanced' and 'We report you decide' are constantly flashed on Fox screens but the Truth is very different. Executive John Moody (senior VP for news) sends a message of the day, a political device that sets the tone. One internal memo from Moody of 28 April 2004 read "Let's refer to the US marines we seen in the foreground as 'sharpshooters' not snipers, which carries a negative connotation." In another, Moody urges staff not to make the 9/11 Commission report into another Watergate. "This is not 'what did he know and when did he know it' stuff.
Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let's not desecrate that," Moody wrote. He orders reporters to tout Bush's "political courage and tactical cunning" throughout the day in another. While on Sen. Kerry, Moody urges his staff to concentrate on the "flip-flops" and that Kerry's "perceived disrespect for the military could be more damaging to the candidate than questions about his actions in uniform."

Through hundreds of hours of research, Greenwald assembled a good array of clips to prove his point that Fox is anything but fair and balanced. Outfoxed details the propaganda techniques used. Fox stands accused of blurring news and commentary: encouraging off the cuff adlibs of a right wing nature, character assassination of liberal opponents and selection of ineffective or unknown liberals or those who in fact support conservative Republican policies.

Outfoxed also looks at the stories they cover. The 'good news from Iraq' pieces are remarkable in their complete denial of reality.

The O'Reilly Factor is probably the most blatant propaganda. He interviewed Jeremy M Glick whose Father was killed at the World Trade Centre and who Signed a 'Not in my name' advert. O'Reilly was like a Judge at a Stalinist or Nazi show trial. He distorted the views of Glick and sort to aggressively beat him down with emotional abuse.

Outfoxed was made with the help of various grass-roots organizations; one of them being MoveOn.org, and the last ten minutes of the film examines what an outraged viewer can do to take action against this kind of dirty journalism. The documentary is weakest here. I would have liked to see consideration of the need for alliances to build platforms for alternative media such as Internet TV, Podcasts, Vidcasts and Internet Radio. Media monitoring and complaints are certainly worthwhile but essentially reactive.

Inevitably Outfoxed will be compared with other radical films. Unlike Supersize Me and Moore's films, the filmmaker is off-screen. This helps add to the effectiveness of the documentary - a major criticism of Moore's films is that he constantly intervenes with his opinion. Instead here, we have no comment, just the facts - plenty of Fox News footage and interviews with former employees of the channel.

Outfoxed is part of the backlash to Fox News and reactionary dominance of media It's frightening how blindly FNC's viewers buy into the propaganda. Greenwald points to surveys that show 67 percent of FNC viewers believe there's a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks! It should be required viewing for anyone seeking to understand why the US public seems so unaware and alienated from opinion in the rest of the world.

- Patrick Harrington

Friday, September 08, 2006

Movie Review - The Wickerman

THE WICKER MAN Some Sacrifices Must Be Made

Directed by Neil LaBute. Certificate 12A; 102 minutes

Plot Outline: A cop who investigates the disappearance of a young girl from a small island discovers there's a larger mystery to solve among the island's secretive, neo-pagan community
SOMETIMES film masterpieces are better left as they are. Neil LaBute’s ‘tribute’ to the 1973 British classic is a perfect demonstration of this maxim. It’s a real pity as the cinematography in the aerial shots of the beehive area and the crowd scene prior to the film’s fiery dénouement are superb. Everyone will be impressed by the natural beauty of Summersisle in widescreen. The same is that the film is pretty dreadful.

Nicholas Cage is Edward Malus, a troubled cop who is traumatised by his inability in a pre-title sequence to rescue a child trapped in a burning car. In this vulnerable state he is persuaded in a letter by his old flame Willow Woodward to come to the isolated little island community where she lives to find her missing daughter, Rowan.

Malus bribes a local seaplane owner to take him to the island, where he receives a frosty welcome from the local sisterhood and their strangely silent menfolk. No-one has ever seen or heard of Rowan. His attempts to find out anything about her are frustrated at every turn.
The agrarian island community is run by Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn), where they produce organic honey. Sister Summersisle runs the place like a Queen Bee.

The whole thing seems quite pointless in comparison to the 1973 original. Cage’s character goes on about ‘the law’ but has no real point of difference with the island community – just his frustration that they are hiding something from them. In the end his fiery death as ‘a willing sacrifice’ in the wicker man is pointless. He just dies screaming in agony.

In comparison Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) in the original Wickerman came to the island as a representative of the Crown but also as a conservative evangelical Christian. He was repelled by what he regarded as the blasphemous pagan religious practices, he struggled against erotic temptation in the form of Willow, the landlord’s extremely attractive daughter (Britt Ekland). He told Lord Summerisle, (Christopher Lee) ‘I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ’. Lee’s character replied, ‘That is good, for believing what you do, we confer upon you a rare gift these days – a martyr’s death’.

Howie goes to his death singing the twenty-third psalm as the pagan revelers sing one of their harvest songs. LaBute’s film misses this clash of civilizations entirely.

By all means watch this film in the cinema or hire out the DVD from your local video shop. Save your hard earned cash for the director’s cut double DVD of the original film.

- David Kerr.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

British Original is Better !

SPEAKING OF the double-disc DVD version of the original Wicker Man starring Christorpher Lee, Edward Woodward and Britt Ekland, this is now available at most record shops and even in some supermarkets at a reasonable price. At least the release of the remake has kindled some interest in the superior British product, once voted by Empire magazine as the best British horror film ever. The first disc carries the original theatrical version, an interview with Christopher Lee and a 35 minute documentary as well as some trailers for the film. Disc Two restores some lost footage in a director’s cut together with a full-length commentary from Lee, Woodward and the director, Robin Hardy.