For many, he'll always be the host of beloved RTÉ lyric fm show The Blue Of The Night, but these days, the multi-talented songwriter, broadcaster and industry consultant is busy as Director of the MA in Songwriting at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, at University of Limerick. Vocal ensemble Ardú have also just released an arrangement of his song To Feel The Power of Love.

We asked Karl for his choice cultural picks...

FILM

Since lockdown, it's been a binge-fest on boxsets, comedy re-runs and movies. When it comes to picking one, my problem is, there are so many, I can only remember the most recent (might be an 'age thing’;-) So my recent ‘journey’ was to Gitmo – Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre, through the eyes and ears of director Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, Marley, Whitney). The film is The Mauritanian based on a true story as told by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, detained in Gitmo without charge for 14 years. Harrowing stuff, but riveting, starring Tahar Rahim as Slahi, with Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch et al. I’ll watch a comedy tonight and pass it onto you!

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MUSIC

Supporting Irish, three recent albums of note: Saint Sisters new album Where Should I End is excellent, John Spillane’s 100 Snow White Horses, beautifully performed by John along with Pauline Scanlon and produced by John Reynolds - brilliant or wha? John has sculpted these songs beautifully. And the golden ‘chocolatey’ voice of Declan O’Rourke – his latest, Arrivals produced by Paul Weller, simply melts its way out of the speakers. And, ok so there’s a fourth... I'm waiting anxiously for Villagers’ new album Fever Dream (am a little biased here, since my son Kevin plays in the band and on the album) but Conor O’Brien’s songwriting hits the spot for me.

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BOOK

I’m an awful man when it comes to finishing a book, no matter how good - mea culpa - and since my life these days is consumed with songwriting, both as an academic pursuit and as a practitioner, I indulge myself with books about the craft. Jimmy Webb’s Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting and Jeff Tweedy’s (of Wilco) How To Write One Song are my latest books on the go.

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PLAY

Fellow Northsider and award-winning writer Roddy Doyle has provided hours of enjoyment in various formats – books (which I finished), films and stage... Not forgetting to mention his ground-breaking educational initiative Fighting Words. I was enthralled last year with his stage adaptation of The Snapper with a stellar cast including Simon Delaney. Hopefully it comes around again!

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TV

Maybe I should have studied History (still have time!) but am fascinated by RTÉ’s Series Decade of Centenaries, starting with Michael Portilo’s Partition 1921, Miriam O’Callaghan’s Border Lives and more to come. Quality public service television (I also have a ‘secret’ liking (shhhh!) for Bradley Walsh and The Chase. From a music standpoint, Other Voices is hard to beat, no matter from where and with whom, it’s quality production values and musical choices make for compelling viewing. ‘Herself’ (my partner Siobhán) introduced me to great crime drama series during lockdown, amongst my favourites are The Tunnel and Unforgotten but, no I didn’t get hooked on Line of Duty!

GIG

Upcoming has to be Villagers at Vicar Street – three sold out nights in December – can’t wait! And the last great gig (before it all came to a halt) was Luka Bloom at the Irish World Academy in Tower Theatre. During regular semesters, I curated a series of concerts with visiting songwriters who come to share their wisdom and process with my MA Songwriting students, called the Sunset Series. Luka played on March 3rd – a week later we grinded to a halt with lockdown.

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ART

Fellow Clontarf native John ‘Jack’ Kirwan, renowned for his skyscapes, proudly adorns the wall of our living room. Jack also does miniature masterpieces on bowties – I have a couple for special occasions, including one that he did for me of a city nightscape, capturing the mood of The Blue of The Night – a present upon my retirement from that late night slot on RTÉ lyric fm. Another artist in prime position on our walls is local Howth artist Sorca O’Farrell (now that I’m a ‘Howthie’). I find her series of ‘tree-group’ charcoal drawings stunning. I was honoured to be permitted to use one of her works as the cover to my original version single release of To Feel The Power of Love last year.

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RADIO/PODCAST

I’m a divil for news and current affairs, so Morning Ireland starts my day (after early morning meditation) and from there, sporadic check-ins through the day. The various music programmes on the plethora of national and local stations also get my attention, always mixing my genres – so RTÉ lyric fm rates high, as does Sunshine, RTE Radio 1 and Nova. The favourite podcast in this household is the Tommy (Tiernan) and Hector (Ó hEochagáin) with Laurita (Blewitt) one.

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TECH

Again, because my interest in songwriting, I bookmark various websites for blogs and discussions of the craft – and there’s a ton of them out there. Maybe I should get one going myself.... I miss those radio days, so it could be the answer to my 'loss'! Mental health is so important in order to navigate the stormy seas of modern living, so meditation and wellbeing apps are a great source of support and inspiration – Sam Harris has a lovely one called Waking Up, as does Meditation guru Jonny Pollard called 1 Giant Mind (introduced to me by our own Susan Quirke, songwriter and meditation teacher). Lovely stuff!

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THE NEXT BIG THING...

Shamelessly promoting here... the current Ardú single release is a gorgeous arrangement of my To Feel The Power of Love. Ciarán Kelly is a talented arranger and choral director. It’s a privilege to work with him.

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Ardú have another release coming later in the Summer called The Phoenix – a 9/11 tribute written by myself and lyricist Art McGann. This Ciarán Kelly arrangement received its World Premiere recently at MusicTown 2021, with a performance by Ardú and some members of the Palestrina Choir and St Mary’s Cathedral Girls Choir. The forthcoming release will coincide with the 20th anniversary of that fateful day. More about that later...

To Feel The Power of Love by Ardu is out now - find out more here. Picture: Brendan Lyon