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24th Dec 2018

William Drennan (1795-1873), a sketch

What St. Anne’s looked like in the early 19th century Engraving by John Thomson from George Benn’s 1823 History of Belfast

My four-times-great grandfather, William Drennan, was baptised as a foundling at St. Anne’s Parish Church (now Cathedral), Belfast, on 11 October 1795. How foundlings are given their names I don’t really know, but there was a William Drennan in the news around that time – a founder of the United Irishmen, son of a Presbyterian minister from Belfast, and coiner of the term “emerald isle”, who had been arrested for seditious libel in 1794 (and later acquitted). It seems odd that a foundling baptised in the Church of Ireland might be named after a leading dissenter, but who knows who chose the name and where their sympathies lay.

He married Ellen Meehan, or McMahon – transcripts vary. They had a son, David, baptised in St Annes in 1820. Another son, John, must have been born sometime before 1825 based on his marriage record. A daughter, my three-times-great grandmother Jane, was baptised at St Annes in 1826. A son, William, based on his marriage record, must have been born c. 1830-31. There may have been others, but I have found no record of them.

Jane must married my three-times-great grandfather William Magill by 1844, when their son James was born, but I have found no record of their marriage. John married Mary Ann Gaw at St Anne’s in 1846, and I finally find out William’s occupation: cotton spinner.

His wife Ellen must have died before 1849, as William, a widow, married his daughter-in-law’s sister Susan Gaw that year. His age is given as 44, although this is an underestimate – based on his baptism record, he was actually 54. He names his father as William Drennan, labourer, but it’s not unheard of for fatherless children to invent fathers for their marriage certificates. His occupation was again cotton-spinner, and his address was Lepper’s Row, Belfast. Lepper’s Row was later known as Lepper Street, off the New Lodge Road in north Belfast, built as housing for workers at the Lodge Cotton Mill, owned by the Lepper family.

William junior, also a cotton spinner, married Catherine McBurney in 1852. His address was New Lodge Road.

Lepper Street first appears in the Belfast Street Directories in 1858. It is off the New Lodge Road, and contains the Lodge Cotton Mill (Mssrs. Lepper, proprietors), and the Lodge Mill National School (closed at present). G. Faulkner, grocer and haberdasher, is at No. 70, and “The rest occupied by mill-workers”. The same applies in 1863, except the school is now open and run by a teacher called James Weir, and the grocer and haberdasher’s shop is at No. 76 and run by Agnes Faulkener.

In 1865 the occupants are named. Wm. Brennan (sic), cotton spinner, is at No. 91. In 1870 there is a William Drennan, fireman, at No. 83, and a William Drennan, spinner, at No. 95.

William died of paralysis at 83 Lepper Street, Belfast on 28 July 1873. His occupation was cotton spinner and his age is given as 60, again an underestimate – he was actually 78. He was married, so Susan was still alive. His daughter-in-law Catherine was present at his death.

Line of descent from William to me.

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15th Nov 2018

It’s been a while

I’ve just noticed I haven’t updated this site for more than a year. I’ve also been thinking about how the internet is becoming centralised on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, and it was better when people had their own sites, so I really out to put my money where my mouth is. So, here we are.

It’s been an eventful couple of years. I’ve moved house, and been promoted in my day job. My band has risen, fallen, and is in the process of rising again. I got a bit estranged from comics, and got pulled back in by my writer mate Mark McCann and the local 2000AD-based fanzine Sector 13, edited by Peter Duncan and Lawrence McKenna.

Comics

Sector 13 is created by a fantastic group of creative people, and operates with 2000AD‘s blessing so long as it doesn’t make a profit, and stays kind of tangential to what they do. So we have stories set in the worlds of 2000AD characters that don’t focus on those characters – judges who aren’t Dredd, that kind of thing – and “Future Shock”-style short strips that don’t bother anybody’s copyright. As well as your standard drawn and/or painted comics, there are also digitally-edited photo-strips featuring our legion of cosplayers and prop-makers.

My first strip was in issue 2, published in November 2017. Mark had written a strip called “Humane Options”, a time-travel crime-and-punishment short, and I think the artist who was orginally slated for it wasn’t able to do it for some reason, so Mark asked me if I would draw it. I did, and really enjoyed it.

Sector 13: Humane Options

Mark gave me another script, called “Zero Sum Brain”, for the next issue. But then we had a conversation in rather poor taste about the Dark Judges and the “safe space” movement in universities that made us both laugh, and inspired Mark to write “Terminal Apotheosis”, a story about some cadet judges getting catastrophic hold of the wrong end of the stick during “Necropolis”, when the Dark Judges took over Mega-City One. I drew that one for issue 3, which was published in May 2018.

Sector 13 issue 3: Terminal Apotheosis

Issue 4 is in preparation, and I’ve drawn “Zero Sum Brain” for that. It’s an alien world civil war brain transplant story, and I’m really pleased with it. I think it’ll see print late this year or early next.

Sector 13 issue 4: Zero Sum Brain

The other thing I’ve noticed in perusing my site is that I started re-serialising Ness, the prequel to The Cattle Raid of Cooley, in March last year, got seven pages in and stopped. That was about the time I moved house, and it evidently fell by the wayside as I had other stuff to do. I’ll have to get that restarted.

Music

The Proposition at the American Bar, July 18

My band, The Proposition, started out as the Proposition Blues Band a few years ago, but we changed the name as our repertoire became a bit more varied. The core of the band is myself on vocals and guitar and Anne Duffy on vocals. We had a stable line-up for a while – above is us playing the American Bar in July 2017 – but our drummer and bass player both decided to quit a few months ago. We’ve recruited a new drummer, Stephen Campbell, and a new bass player, Brian McCoy, and are rehearsing towards a private gig in December. Onwards and upwards.

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23rd Oct 2017

The Proposition Blues Band at the Sunflower

The Proposition Blues Band return to the Sunflower, Union Street, Belfast, Friday 10 November 2017, from 9pm, £5 in

My band, the Proposition Blues Band, play the Sunflower bar, Union Street, Belfast (map), on 10 November 2017, from 9pm, £5 in.

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19th Jan 2016

Jazzabelles are Go: for real!

You may remember that in the summer I was in a couple of rehearsed readings of an original musical, The Jazzabelles by Nick Boyle. It’s about three women in 1950s Belfast who overcome adversity to become a jazz singing trio. I played their manager, had a couple of songs, and also designed the poster. Well, the Kickstarter campaign was successful, and the full show is about to go on the road. My part has been recast, but I’m still in it in a smaller role.

The dates are:

  • Thursday 11 February, 8pm: Strule Arts Centre, Omagh (book tickets – £10 full price, £8 concession)
  • Friday 12 February, 7.30pm: The Old Courthouse Theatre, Antrim (book tickets – £10 full price, £8 concession)
  • Saturday 13 February, 8pm: Island Arts Centre, Lisburn (book tickets – £12 full price, £10 concession)
  • Friday 19 February, 8pm: Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick (£12 full price, £10 concession)
  • Saturday 20 February, 8pm: Market Place Theatre, Armagh (book tickets – £10)

Keep it FreeHere’s “Keep it Free” recorded live with The Jazzabelles trio and band! Live shows touring in February! The video’s from a steamy noir called club Paradise.

Posted by The Jazzabelles Musical on Monday, January 18, 2016

https://vimeo.com/133464586

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21st Sep 2015

Dancing About Architecture: How to Criticise Art #artcred

Inspired by the #artcred hashtag and the panel on it at the ComicCity Festival in Derry the weekend before last, I’ve written a piece on Irish Comic News on how to review comic art.

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04th Jul 2015

Jazzabelles are Go!

The Jazzabelles

The Jazzabelles, the musical I’m in, made its triumphant debut with a rehearsed reading last night at the South Bank Playhouse on Kimberley Drive, off Sunnyside Street in Belfast. There’s a second performance tonight at 8pm.

Above is my rendition of the three heroines, Ella (Claire McCartney), Prissy (Beccy Henderson) and Vera (Sam McMillan). Done with digitally-simulated manual colour separations – click the image if you’re interested in the process.

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14th Jun 2015

There’s no business…

The Jazzabelles

I’m in a show! The Jazzabelles is an original musical by local composer Nick Boyle, about three women in 1950s Belfast who form a jazz trio. I play their manager, Vince Flynn, a man with a secret – and two songs, as well as contributing to others.

The Jazzabelles themselves are Claire McCartney, Samantha McMillan and Beccy Henderson, and they’re amazing. Beccy in particular can hit notes so high they don’t have names, apparently effortlessly, their harmonies are awesome, and Nick has written them some fantastic songs.

We’re rehearsing towards two preview performances on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 July at the South Bank Playhouse off Sunnyside Street in south Belfast, which we hope will drum up a bit of interest among theatregoers and persuade venues to book us for a full production. Sign up on Facebook to be kept up to date.

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07th Jan 2015

The Old Year and the New

I’ve put off writing a review of 2014, because it has a great big memory well on 9 November when my mum died, and most of my other memories of the year have fallen into it. But there are some things worth remembering about it.

My sister-in-law Louise turned 40 in April. She is amazing and has been a rock over the last couple of months – I don’t know how I could have got through it all without her. She and my mum were very fond of each other, and mum’s death must have hit her as hard as it hit anybody, but she’s done everything in her power to keep everyone’s spirits up, and I will never forget that. I did her a caricature for her birthday:

Louise Brown 40th birthday caricature

My good friend Stephen McCartney also turned 40, a bit later in the year. He lives in London these days, but came back to organise a monstrous party with a band, and performed a couple of songs with it. We went for a walk along the beach at Helen’s Bay, something I hadn’t done for ages, and he complained that the music in the charts these days is all crap. “Of course it is,” I replied. “You’re 40.” Here’s a caricature I did of him for the occasion.

Stephen McCartney 40th birthday caricature

I found myself a little less engaged with comics last year, for whatever reason, but even so I did two MCM Comic Cons, in Dublin and Belfast, and both went very well. I also appeared on a comics panel at TitanCon, a fantasy and science fiction convention, with PJ Holden, Andy Luke and Rory McConville. I got interviewed about The Cattle Raid of Cooley for international Irish magazine The Wild Geese, and the Cattle Raid got reviewed, very favourably I thought, by The Comics Journal. I did a 24 hour comic, A Personal Narrative, at the 24 hour comics event organised by Glenn Davidson at Farset Labs in October.

And in November, right after mum’s funeral, I went to the Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds. I’d already booked it but didn’t really feel up to going, but my family talked me into it, and I’m glad I did, because everybody was brilliant. Comics people are good people. Also, my entry in the 2000AD Future Shock art competition made the last eight. Click the thumbnail below to see the full pages.

Future Shock: Family Business

 

In terms of reading comics, my favourite comic of the year is Outcast, a demon-possession horror series written by Robert Kirkman, drawn by Paul Azaceta and coloured by Elizabeth Breitweiser, from Image. The story is very good, the line art is excellent, but it’s the colouring that really sells it to me, done with a limited palate with a lovely dry-brush overlay effect. Here’s a sample:

Outcast, by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta and Elizabeth Breitweiser

In August my singing teacher, Róisín Magee as was, McKenna as is, got married in Newry Cathedral, and we, her class, were honoured to do the music. Fionnuala and Bill did a haunting version of Alison Krauss’s In the Palm of Your Hand that had me spellbound. I played guitar, and led the group on Here Comes the Sun as the happy couple left the church. In December we put on a cabaret show, Strictly Not the X-Mas Factor, that raised over £1,200 for Cause and the Thomas Devlin Fund.

And at the very end of the year, my dad got married. It was nice to end the year with a happy event. He and my mum had been separated for over 20 years but for various logistical reasons it had never been practical to get divorced, and he’d been with Rosie for ten, and we could all tell from very early on it was the real thing. They make each other happy. And you can’t take anything for granted, it’s not so very long since Rosie had a bleed on the brain and was touch and go for a while, so they were just right to solemnise their relationship as early as they could. It was a quiet affair at the City Hall, followed by lunch at a very nice restaurant. Rosie read a couple of verses from “Us Two”, from A. A. Milne’s Now We Are Six, my dad’s favourite book, which he said he’d been given a copy of on his sixth birthday, although he no longer had that copy. Until I found it the next day, inscribed from his auntie Lila, in a box of books I’d brought home from mum’s house.

Unfortunately, 2015 began with a sad thing. My mum’s cat Eccles needed a new home, and dad and Rosie took him in. He seemed to settle, but then got spooked by another cat staring him out through the window. A couple of days later a door got left open, and he snuck out unnoticed. Whether he was just exploring and got lost, or decided there was no territory for him here and went to look for another one, or was trying to find his way back to his real home, we’ll never know. My brother Simon found his body a couple of days ago. He’d been hit by a car. Poor old sod. He was 16, which is pretty old for a cat, and had lived with a lady who spoiled him, and got one of my Special Head Rubs every time I came to visit. He didn’t have a bad life, just a shame it had to end the way it did. Bye, old man.

Eccles

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12th Nov 2014

Paddie Brown (1945-2014)

Mum

My mum, Patricia Ann (Paddie) Brown, née Magill, died on Saturday. Sudden and unexpected, but peaceful. The funeral will be on Friday at 11am at Mountpottinger Methodist Church, Albertbridge Road, Belfast, where she devoted so much of her life, mostly in the interests of feeding people. She ran lunch clubs for local pensioners and fundraising breakfasts, she was part of the fellowship team that provided food and refreshments for all kinds of church functions, and recently she led the drive to replace the church kitchen.

She was a teacher for many years, mostly at Knocknagoney Primary School. She recounted with some pride how one of the younger kids said to her face that she didn’t want to go into her class in future years, because “you’re evil”. But every once in a while when we were out shopping or for lunch we’d run into one of her former pupils, who was always pleased to see her and grateful for her good influence on their lives. I can’t think of many teachers I’d say that about.

In recent years she had terrible pain from arthritis in her left knee. About six weeks ago she had a knee replacement operation, and as she healed and got the joint working her mood was so much lighter. She was in great form and laughed more easily, and her physio told her she now had 90% mobility. The exercises she was doing were very tiring, but she was a determined old bird and was going to get the best out of her new knee. It seems so unfair that she didn’t get to enjoy it, and the end of that grinding pain, for very long. On the other hand, maybe it’s better to go when you’re on the up.

She was an amazing grandma, who adored and was adored by her granddaughter Zoe, her grandson Sam, and her de facto granddaughter Chloe, none of whom ever wanted to go home when they were at her house. The many friends she’d made at church, at school, in the various streets she lived in, are as devastated at the news as her family.

I’m not going to try and express what she meant to me as a mother. It’s too primal, there are no words for that. She leaves an unimaginable gap. I was privileged to be able to grow beyond the child-parent relationship and get to know her as an adult, to enjoy her sense of humour and her unorthodox outlook on life. She could drive me nuts armed only with good intentions. But in times of crisis, she was still my mum, who could make it all better. You never quite grow out of that. Bye mum. I’ll miss you.

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05th Oct 2014

24 Hour Comics Day 2014

So we had another 24 Hour Comics Day in Belfast this year. It was held this weekend at Farset Labs, a sort of community creative space in Sandy Row, organised by the indefatigable Glenn Davidson. Cheers Glenn! Here’s a couple of photos nicked from the Facebook event page of me and Ann Harrison setting up and showing off some of our recent work.

Me at 24 Hour Comics Day, Farset Labs, Belfast

Ann Harrison at 24 Hour Comics Day, Farset Labs, Belfast

PJ Holden entertained us all by narrating his comic, Barry the Space Prawn, as he drew it, and was the first participant to get his effort online. Follow this link, or click the image below, to read mine. The story (such as it is) is all over the place and some of the likenesses of family members, drawn from distant memory, are a bit wonky, but I’m pleased with the drawing.

A Personal Narrative

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