Life

Jake O'Kane: Size matters at a Paul Simon gig, especially for female fans in the gents'

I'd forgotten just how short Paul Simon is, and joked with the wife that it looked like the king of the leprechauns had returned home for one last show. But this leprechaun didn't just promise a pot of gold, he delivered one

I’d forgotten just how short Paul Simon is, and joked with the wife that it looked like the king of the leprechauns had returned home for one last show Picture: Declan Roughan
Jake O'Kane

I WAS saying just the other week that I’m not ‘the concert type’, but where was I last weekend? At a concert! I’m not a complete hypocrite, though; it was a performer I’d have walked to Dublin to see – none other than Paul Simon on his farewell tour.

I thought it only fair to bring the wife; well, she makes me suffer her taste in music so I thought I’d return the favour. Admittedly she did book the tickets as a birthday present and it was a lovely surprise when, on the journey down, she told me James Taylor was opening for the great man – this was my dream line-up.

I admit it: my name is Jake and I like Paul Simon and James Taylor. I’m the type of man you see in music shops sneaking around the ‘easy listening’ section. I’ve never been hip. As a teenager, when my friends were getting into punk, dying their hair pink and impaling their ear lobes with safety pins, I was walking around in a sensible pair of slacks, listening to Vivaldi and Sinatra. At this concert, I was surrounded by my people – middle-aged men with polo shirts tucked into long shorts and pastel-coloured jumpers draped over shoulders.

We’d got seats only a matter of feet from the stage. I found the walk up to the front, past the poor huddled masses in the standing section, a bit embarrassing – not that I possess the egalitarian solidarity to want to join them of course.

It’s amazing how music can work as a time machine. When James Taylor took a stool and serenaded us with Fire And Rain I was instantly transported back to a small bedroom in Belfast where, as a boy, I listened transfixed to this song with a melody so beautiful it tore at my chest.

When he finished, he slowly stood and gracefully acknowledged our adulation by doffing the Paddy hat he was wearing. For all the world he looked like some old busker who’d walked off O’Connell street; his utter lack of pretension made me love him all the more.

I realised how lucky we were to be close to the stage when Paul Simon made his entrance. I’d forgotten just how short he is, and joked with the wife it looked like the king of the leprechauns had returned home for one last show. But unlike other leprechauns, this one didn’t just promise a pot of gold, he delivered one – musical gold – as he worked his way through half a century of hits.

He was just launching into one of my favourites when I realised I was close to losing the battle I’d been fighting with my bladder for over an hour. I had to move quickly or risk frightening the woman sitting in front of me; I could almost hear her ask her husband, ‘Has it started raining, darling?’

On the way, I passed the obligatory mile-long queue outside the ladies; there was a queue at the gents' but, as usual, nowhere near as bad. I found myself standing behind a wee man who either possessed a bladder the size of a horse or needed to get his prostate checked. After an eternity he moved and I quickly slotted myself into the vacant urinal. I’d been so intent on relief I’d missed the fact that this last bastion of male exclusivity had been invaded – yes, behind me, stood a queue of women waiting for the cubicles.

I was a bit shocked but then it became clear – this was a Paul Simon concert and the women in attendance were of a particular age. These ladies weren’t just mammies, they were the mammies of mammies and as such, possessed confidence beyond measure.

One man stupidly attempted to object, I heard him say something about "shocking behaviour". A matronly woman responded, "Jaysus, sure with that wee thing you’ve got wouldn’t shock anybody; if I were a fisherman and caught you, I’d throw you back". This was greeted by such a shriek of female delight that every man in the toilet tried to disappear by shuffling closer to their urinals.

I got back to my seat just as Paul Simon was bringing down the curtain with The Sound Of Silence. It had been a wonderful evening and I’d learnt something important – the days of silence in male toilets is definitely a thing of the past.

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