On May 22nd Ireland votes on Marriage Equality. A Yes vote will mean that Ireland would become the first country to introduce marriage equality by popular vote. This referendum has seen a dramatic rise in civic involvement, a matter which is a human issue has become a political one.
For those Irish now living outside the country, it has stirred a passion for their homeland to be recognised as a modern forward thinking land. But, if you’ve lived outside Ireland for more than three years, you’re not entitled to vote. Social media streams are full of friends and family canvassing, door to door, asking people for the right for themselves and for their friends to be seen as equals under Irish law. The responses aren’t always pretty but if you’re not currently in Ireland or not entitled to vote, what do you do?
JD Kelleher, an actor living in London for more than 25 years is one man who wanted to contribute. Along with Peter M Smith, (ex Phixx and Popstars The Rivals) the pair have released a cover of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. What prompted this?
“There’s a run up to this referendum now for about a year and it’s been very in your face for all Irish people, especially Irish gay people.“, says Kelleher. “Aside from that I’ve been tugging at Peter’s sleeves to go into the studio and record a song, just for the craic. I want to make a video, I wanna do this rock star thing”, he says laughing.
What really triggered this though, was when David Gough, a GAA referee was castigated for wearing a rainbow wristband in Croke Park. This made Kelleher “very angry”. He explains why: “I’m an Irish boy, I’m a Irish man, I played full back in my youth. I’ve great memories of my father, my family, my friends through Irish football. That was an insult to me as an ex GAA player and a gay Irish boy. It was a rejection of sorts. But I felt angry for David Gough too. The GAA was formed to fight colonialism and oppression and took a stance for freedom in our culture. So then for the GAA to castigate players or practitioners made me sick.”
As our conversation progresses we speak of being Irish abroad and Kelleher says “canvassing is the hardest part of this campaign, to face the frontline of bigotry”, gay people having to ‘come out’ and explain themselves to complete strangers daily, over and over again. “I don’t know if I’d be strong enough not to take it so personally, or have the strength to even do that. I take my hat off to those people in Ireland. I encourage anyone in Ireland to please not be complacent, its so important to get out and vote”.
So, the urge to want to help, want to make an impact by doing ‘something’ was there. Kelleher wanted to be creative and use his art and so in January approached Peter M Smith with his idea to record a song in support of the Yes Campaign, or rather a music video as it could reach “much more people”. “I thought I could do something with Peter with me acting, but maybe also singing, a music movie kind of thing with the theme of equality”.
Smith came back a week later with the idea of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Kelleher describes his reaction ‘my jaw nearly fell on the floor, it’s such an unusual choice, it’s fucking perfect’.
From Barcelona where Smith is currently working on his own album of material, he and his band came up with the new arrangement. Kelleher went to Barcelona, recorded, met the band, a time he describes as an “incredible adventure”, although nervous about his first time in a recording booth.
The song was done, it was now time for Kelleher to take over and get his music movie made, pulling together scenarios and imagery including Kelleher’s own opening performance of the music but also creating a character to enhance and reflect the music and visually compass the vision of the song.
The video that has been made will now represent a moment of time in Irish history and no matter what the result, will always represent the run up to the referendum. JD acknowledges this, it wasn’t just important to get it right, but also to give it their (his and Peter’s) best effort. That meant getting a team of co- producers together, all with a common goal.
The video was filmed in Athenry, with a full Irish cast and crew, apart from Peter’s Spanish band and drips of referential imagery. The rainbow wristband is the first thing we see. However, when Smith and Kelleher stand back to back in the video, it’s almost reminiscent of how ancient warriors fought, looking out for each other. Of this scene, JD says he sees his hands as Peter’s angel wings but say’s it’s like “a straight-gay alliance. Peter representing straight Ireland even though he’s a heroic advocate for equality, I represent gay Ireland, I guess. I’m a little bit in the shadows, Peter’s in the full light”. JD describes the candles on view, a nod to those gay people who have gone before and have not had the chance to see what’s happening now.
Although this referendum is happening on May 22nd, Kelleher believes that it’s only a small step in Ireland as there are many small towns and areas where you can’t be free to be who you are. People still need to be educated and children told and taught that it’s OK to be gay, the school curricula need to be changed. “I believe that once equal marriage is in place, these other things will start to happen organically.”
What happens if there is a NO vote? How will that impact the LGBT community in Ireland? “This is very personal, it’s Ireland saying No to me! I’ve spoken to other Irish people and I thought it was just me, but, they are feeling that too. That was a bit of a relief. I’ve got members of my extended family that are No voters and that hurts. The bottom line is “Can we still love ourselves no matter how this turns out?”
JD describes the reaction to the song as “Absolutely Incredible, we’re amazed”. When taking on this classic song he says that “We knew we had to do a good job, it couldn’t be mediocre. I’m stepping up as a gay Irish artist in a new medium. It’s a worthy cause but I’ve put my creative head on the line. I’m not playing a role, I’m not playing a part as I do when I’m acting, usually straight roles. I wanted to play a gay role for a change, I wanted to play me.”
Kelleher says that the advent of Facebook and other social media platforms has stirred the Irishness in the emigrant community. Living in a land where equal marriage exists, makes us want to be seen as equal in our homeland even more. “As one of seven boys, some of whom are married, it’s important to me that I can go back and be married at home too, should I choose to. It’s more than that though, if I step onto Irish soil, it’s imperative to me that I step onto the same civil and social rights as any other Irish person standing beside me. That’s not a religious matter, that’s a human right. It’s about being 50/50 with any person standing in the world. I’m not better or worse than you. If you can get married to whoever you want, I can get married to whoever I want. If you can dream of being a rock star, I can dream of being a rock star too.”
You can buy ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by JD Kelleher and Peter M Smith on iTunes