Arts Q&A: Radio Ulster's John Toal on Bruce Springsteen, Sharon Shannon and Beethoven

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week broadcaster John Toal

Presented by John Toal and Kerry McLean, BBC Northern Ireland School Choir of the Year returns to in 2019. Initial entries should be received by Wednesday December 12

1. When did you think about a career in music broadcasting and what were your first steps into it? I fell into it by complete accident while I was a student at university (music at Queen's University). I never thought I'd be still here. We were putting on a summer scheme drama project in the Ulster Hall over the summer and someone said they were going up to audition for the BBC and did I want to come along. I wandered up and read a bit of a script and the rest is history. I cringe when I listen back to that stuff now though.

2. Best gigs you've been to? Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions gig in the Odyssey. I wasn't particularly a Bruce fan before, but the huge band he had assembled was amazing, and hearing their power was unforgettable. I heard Sharon Shannon play many times, but she did a short set at half time in the All Ireland hurling final between Cork and Galway a few years ago, and I looked round and thought 'this is what it means to be alive'.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band? Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin on piano, Martin Hayes on fiddle, Dónal Lunny playing a handful of instruments, Noel Eccles on percussion, Davy Spillane on pipes, Eoghan O Neill on bass… (basically Moving Hearts with a few extras) And I'd maybe do the vocals myself if they'd let me.

4. The record you'd take to a desert island? A CD of Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas. One for every occasion.

5. And the book? How to Get Off A Desert Island Quickly by JR Hartley.

6. Top three films? Polar Express, the go-to Christmas movie; Fargo, for the darkness and humour and Frances McDormand's performance and Les Choristes, a brilliant French film about an inspirational teacher of a boys' choir.

7. Worst film you've seen? If they're that bad I usually fall asleep.

8. Favourite authors? Aravind Adiga for his descriptions of modern India – White Tiger was brilliant. And Bill Bryson, for the stories he weaves around subjects you might have no interest in.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team? Down GAA.

10. Ideal holiday destination? France. Rosé, good food, sun and sea. Failing that, the west of Ireland.

11. Pet hate? People who are full of their own importance.

12. What's your favourite:

Dinner? Queen's spuds, butter, salt, pepper.

Dessert? Panna cotta or crème brulée.

Drink? A good stout.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other? My wife. We're married to each other.

14. Is there a God? Hope so.

:: John Toal will be co-presenting BBC Northern Ireland School Choir of the Year with Kerry McLean. Details on how to apply at He presents The John Toal Show and Classical Connections with John Toal on BBC Radio Ulster.

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