Friday, October 27, 2006

The Bottom Of The Hill

For any San Francisco readers out there - I will be playing in Lindsey Boullt's Musician's Showcase, at the The Bottom Of The Hill, tomorrow afternoon. Doors open at noon, and we go on from 1:30 - 2:30.

Follow this link for the address and directions to The Bottom Of The Hill.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


De Young Museum_20061019_0048

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Autumn in San Francisco

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San Francisco spends so much of its time shrouded in fog that those of us who live here sometimes forget what a gorgeous city we live in. Then autumn arrives - the fog is banished and the balmy sunshines reveals San Francisco in all it's kooky glory.

The new, and controversial, De Young Museum is worth its own post. I think it's beautiful. The main building is a huge, low, copper-clad structure, with a twisted tower looming over it, keeping a watch over the city. The top floor of the tower has a 360 degree observation deck, with incredible views of the city. It's a stone's throw from where we live, and last weekend, Tash and I finally wiggled enough free time to visit. It's amazing what a little elevation can do. Life really is all about perspective - change your perspective and you're reminded of the stunning beauty that surrounds you.

This shot is looking north west over the Richmond district, to the mouth of San Francisco Bay and over to the Marin headlands.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Waiting For The Train

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Mother and Child Reunion...

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Happy Birthday Tash!

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Don't Think Twice.....

Seeing a great live band is a joy, seeing a transcendent live band is a rarity, and seeing all of the above, fronted by one of your heroes, is beggaring belief. I got all of that, and more, last night when Bob Dylan tore the house down at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, gamboling gleefully through his back catalog. His classics were brilliantly reinterpreted by a cracking backing band, who plundered the history of American music to create a sound both simultaneously new and familiar. Their sound was all ringing guitars, galloping drums, and deep bass, augmented by fiddle and lap steel, and coated with liberal doses of Dylan's harmonica playing, punctuated by gorgeous, short, rich guitar solos.

After a few songs, one of my friends tapped me on the shoulder and commented on the broad demographic around us. It ran the gamut from old hippies and middle-aged corporate types to high-fiving frat boys and tattooed girls. Three albums into a creative streak that matches his best, the latest a number one smash, Dylan is at the top of his game, and a lot of people are going along for the ride.

As a musician, the best live shows send me rushing home to my guitar, filled with the joy of music. I have a show coming up on the 28th at the Bottom of The Hill, and am completely inspired after seeing this fantastic concert.

Check out The San Francisco Chronicle's great review here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Noses, Violins, and Surgery

“In the town of Cremona, in Italy,” Dr. Shindler began, “lived a violin maker, called Antonio Stradivar. His violins are widely recognised as the best ever made.”

I knew all this but I didn’t want to be rude, so I kept my mouth shut.

“Despite all of the capabilities of modern science,” he continued, “we still don’t know exactly what makes these violins so good. Some think it was the varnish, some the glue, some the building techniques, and one of the newer theories is that he was using wood that had gone through a mini-ice age and had tighter grain, meaning denser wood, leading to a sweeter tone.”

This last piece of information was new to me, and I was duly fascinated. I filed it away in the part of my brain (read: all of my brain), which stores useless trivia. I figured I could drag it out when my friend David and I have one of our uber geeky musician chats (although he probably knows this already.) However, I wasn’t in the doctor’s office for a lesson on the science of violin making. I was here about my nose, an endless source of irritation to me. These are not aesthetic problems. My nose is long and thin, a little French, courtesy of some Norman genes from the Reales - my mother's side. I quite like it and it suits my face, so no rhinoplasty for me. It’s the internal plumbing that’s the problem. Between blockages, post nasal drips, infections, and sore throats I am driven demented by it. THIS I get from my father's side (cheers Dad!). All the McD’s have nasal issues, and I am not the first to consider a surgical solution. In my case it had been prompted by a sudden onset of allergies on the arrival of spring. Up to a few years ago I'd never had allergies , but for the last three years as soon as March rolls around, my eyes start to drip and I need a vise grips to open up my nostrils. I invariably get an infection, and a rash of sore throats. But, beside the discomfort, it's totally screwed up two recording schedules.

“What I am getting at,” the good doctor explained sagely, “is that despite our advances there are still some mysteries out there. Although we know how the human voice makes sound, we don’t know exactly what makes a particular voice pleasing to the ear, so any surgery could potentially affect your singing voice, negatively or positively.”

Dr. Schindler is an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and I was in his office discussing some surgical procedures that might relieve my nasal problems. I have a deviated septum (sliotar straight into my nose, back in the day), so straightening that would help relieve the blockage and shaving cartilage on my turbinates would help. The mini-Stradivar lesson was prompted when I mentioned that I sing. There is no comparison between the quality of my singing voice and a Stradivarius, but what little ability I have came from a few years of lessons and hard work, and I don’t particularly want to lose it. BUT, I do want some nasal relief. Also, I know from listening to recordings of my voice that there is a nasal rumble caused by a constantly semi-blocked nose. The learned doc’s final recommendation was that if I had to have surgery, I should shave the turbinates first and see if that provides relief, but first I should buy some Afrin, an over the counter nasal decongestant which would have the same effect, albeit temporary, as the surgery, and test my singing before and after. So far I can’t hear any difference, but to make sure I am going to record myself and check.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

You Got the Silver, You Got the Gold...

BW Irving Street Shane_20060930_0033

This is another Irving Street photo. I'd guess that it's been a long time since this place actually bought silver, gold, and bullion - for the highest prices. It's always empty, a counter point to the buzzing Chinese hair salons on either side. The hair place on the left is where my kids get lickety-split hair cuts from middle aged Chinese women. Like all good sales people, they try to upsell: "Daddy also wan' haihcut? Luk like he need one," they purr. No thanks, it may be cheap, and good enough when the kids need a trim, but otherwise methinks not.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

How D'ya Like Dem Apples ?

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Another photo from "Downtown Beijing."

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Friday, October 06, 2006



It's been a long week. I deserve one or three of these.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Birthday Boy!

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Cian is all of a year old today. Man, the year since his birth has flown. My memories of him as an infant are already vague, so much has happened in the intervening time. He's an easy baby, social, mellow, and edible. People take a real shine to him and he adores the attention. He does this fake I-only-want-attention crying, while simultaenously smiling in a way that says, "I know that you know I'm faking it." It’s quite charming. He slept through the night earlier than both Shane and Maya, something we are eternally grateful for, and has been a food champ. He likes everything – and lots of it. He is HUGE, at 12 months he is outgrowing clothes suitable for an 18 month old. I might finally have a rugby player!
He has recently learned to haul himself up by grabbing low tables and chairs. Suddenly, things are a little more dangerous. He is constantly pulling himself up while still underneath the table, and bonks his head on the way up. He is extremely pale, (the Irish genes are surprisingly strong - our kids have gotten progressively less sallow, Shane is much darker than the other two), so every bruise shows up. There was a week or two where we were worried that he was starting to look like a battered baby!
As you can see in the photo, Cian has taken to pursing his lips constantly - we call this his Do Come In look. This is one of those silly, couple catch phrases. Way back, when Tash and I first starting seeing each other, there was a crap Aaron Spelling show called Models Inc. on TV. It starred Linda Gray (of Dallas fame), and was spun off from Melrose Place. It was one of those it’s-so-bad-it’s-good guilty pleasures. Linda Gray, as usual, did all of her acting by quivering her lips. We only ever watched one episode and there was a scene where one of the characters enters a room, and Gray's character turns, purses her lips, and says, “Do come in.” It sounded like, “Duuu kammm eiiiin.” Imagine the Queen imitating a Texas accent and you’ll get what I mean. Sometimes when I enter a room, Tash will still quickly turn, stare imperiously at me, purse her lips, and say, “Duuu kammm eiiin.”

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Something Fishy

BW Irving Street Shane_20060930_0021

Irving Street, near where we live, changes dramatically as you head west towards Ocean Beach. It is the primary shopping area in the Sunset, starting at 7th Avenue and ending at 25th Avenue. Although very ethnically mixed throughout, around 7th avenue it's primarily caucasian, but as you work your way up the avenues, the ethnicity takes on a pronounced Asian flavour. The change is dramatic once you pass 19th Avenue. Tash and I refer to it as "Downtown Beijing." It becomes almost completely Chinese - the shop signs are Chinese, the nail and hair salons are Chinese, and the banks are Chinese. Old Asian ladies bustle glumly from store to store, suspiciously prodding the fruit and vegetables displayed on the street side stalls. Asian-American teenagers, lean against tricked-out Hondas and Scions, flirting bilingually, and yammering on cellphones, while little kids sample tapioca drinks. English isn't even the second language here, it is the third or fourth.
One great distinctions between inner Irving and outer Irving is price. In inner Irving, a bag of shiny, waxed veggies , artfully displayed at the upscale supermarket, Andronico's, will set you back about $40. The same bag in one of the scrappy, bustling Chinese shops, less than 10 short blocks away, will cost you only $15 - if that, (it should be pointed out that Andronico's has an amazing selection and everything is very high quality).
All of the Chinese produce stores and supermarkets have live fish tanks teeming with lobsters, crab, bass, carp, eels, and a few varieties of marine life that are very, very unfamiliar to me. They are also crammed full of all sorts of meats, various mushrooms, and a huge assortment of fruit and vegetables. It leads to the kind of pungent aroma that western supermarkets do their best to hide.
Many Sunday afternoons find us strolling to the playground, stopping for a coffee near Downtown Beijing, and the most common refrain from both Shane and Maya is, "Can we puh-leeze see the fishies and lobsters?” We, of course, consent.

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Monday, October 02, 2006


Dad Shane Mack_20060901_0018

This is my parents Alsatian, Mack. McDermott, Mack, geddit... Isn't he gorgeous? He is a big dog, even by Alsatian standards, however he is the least fearsome Alsatian ever; there isn't an ounce of aggression in him. Nevertheless, he is as strong as an ox, and requires a firm hand. When I was back in Limerick last April, I took him for a walk and he could easily drag all 190lbs of me. Dad takes him to a special training class for Alsatians, and he has become a lot more obedient since.
Shane LOVES him. It always takes him a few days to get used to being around an animal that dwarfs him, and usually he doesn't want to get too near him, but this time he got comfortable enough to pet him. He spent half his time back in Limerick looking out the kitchen window chatting to the dog!

When I was growing up we had another Alsatian, Raven. Apparently, when my Dad arrived home with an Alasatian puppy, my mother told him he was raving mad - hence the name. There are several pictures of me in my pram with Raven lying on the grass underneath.

I would love to own one, they are incredibly loyal and smart, perfect family dogs if trained properly, but with by 12 mintues of free time every day, I don't think I could manage it at the moment...

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