High Pop: The Irish Times Columns 1970-1976

Stewart Parker

About the book…

Playwright Stewart Parker was  arguably Ireland's first critic of popular culture.

From 1970 until 1976, Parker wrote a fortnightly column for the Irish Times devoted to pop music under the title ‘High Pop’. The tagline summed up perfectly the Belfast man’s attitude to contemporary music. At once lightweight and throwaway, it could also aspire to ­ and achieve ­ the condition of ‘High Art’ worthy of serious and thoughtful consideration.

Never po-faced, and refreshing in its honesty, the reviews in ‘High Pop’ remain vibrant, engaging and vital as the day they were written.

Whether dealing with the era’s ‘heavyweights’ like Bob Dylan, or ‘flash in the pans’ like Dr Strangely Strange or bring once again to public attention such figures as Tin Pan Alley songman Jimmy Kennedy, Parker's captivating enthusiasm for the work under review is unmistakeable.

Edited by Gerald Dawe and maria Johnston, High Pop is a fascinatingtrawl through the music of the early 1970s and the glory (and, on occasion, dog) days of the Band, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, John Lennon and the Grateful Dead. It also acts as a primer for the rediscovery of artists and bands fallen into neglect: Be Bop Deluxe, Dory Previn and the Incredible String Band, anybody?

It is often said that humour is commonsense moving at a different speed. In which case, prepare to be entertained and enlightened by a writer clearly besotted with the best of both worlds.

High Pop indeed.

Photo of the author, Stewart Parker

About the author…

Stewart Parker was born in 1941 in the working-class Sydenham district of Belfast. Educated at Ashfield Secondary School (where he came under the influence of the great educator, John Malone) and Queen’s University, Belfast, where he gained an MA in Poetic Drama. While at Queen’s he contacted cancer and had to have a leg amputated. Following graduation, he taught in the United States.

In Belfast, Parker – then a poet and short fiction writer - was a key member of the famed Belfast Group, established under the guidance of Philip Hobsbaum, which included such future luminaries as Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Bernard MacLaverty. As a poet, he published two Belfast Festival Pamphlets: The Casualty’s Meditation (1966) and Maw (1968).

After teaching in the States, he returned to Northern Ireland, working as a freelance writer and contributing a regular pop column to the Irish Times. Moving to Edinburgh and London, he wrote for extensively for radio and television.

His work for television and radio included The Kamikaze Ground Staff Reunion Dinner (1981), I’m a Dreamer Montreal (1977), and The Iceberg (1975), which featured the ghosts of two shipyard workers still trapped on the doomed Titanic.

As playwright his plays include Spokesong (1975, winner of the 1976 London Evening Standard Award for the Most Promising Playwright ), Kingdom Come (1977), Catchpenny Twist (1977), Nightshade (1979), Pratt’s Fall (1981). His major triology of plays was Northern Star (1984), Heavenly Bodies (1986) and Pentecost (1987, winner of the Harvey’s Irish Theatre Award).

In many ways, Stewart Parker was the major Belfast playwright of the troubles, his work expressing both an imaginative engagement of the city as well as a chronicle of its disintegration with the onset of civic strife.

He died in 1988. Following his death, the Stewart Parker Trust Award for the best Irish debut play was set up in his memory.