- 27 Jul 19
Famed as the creator of Ross O’Caroll Kelly, Paul Howard is also the man behind theatrical smash Copper Face Jacks: The Musical – a celebration of the iconic Dublin club, which has returned for another hotly anticipated run.
Paul Howard’s dog isn’t happy with him. When Best Of Dublin sits down for a chat with the writer in his Wicklow home, Humphrey – his bassett hound – is wearing a glum face underneath his lampshade cone.
“He had an operation on his paw yesterday,” Paul explains. “So he has to wear the cone of shame. He’s really not happy about it!”
Paul – and Humphrey – are taking it easy ahead of a busy summer. The phenomenal success of Paul’s new play, Copper Face Jacks: The Musical, has led to a second run, with performances in the Olympia Theatre (72 Dame Street, D2) throughout July and August.
In addition, he’s gearing up for the release his 19th Ross O’Carroll-Kelly novel, Schmidt Happens. As the title indicates, this latest effort features a cameo from Ireland’s revered rugby coach.
We can’t give too many spoilers away, seeing as it isn’t out until August, but the short synopsis is: Ross’s daughter gets her hands on her father’s rugby tactics manual – a tome so sacred that the rollicking rugby aficionado deems it more important than the Book Of Kells – and gives it to the Ireland head coach. Schmidt then calls upon Ross for some rugby coaching advice. Hilarity ensues.
An obvious first question then – does Mr. Schmidt know about the book? “I met him quite recently,” Paul chuckles. “I was doing this Q&A event with Joe for charity, and I had hoped to keep the name of the book secret from him, in case he didn’t like it. But somebody put it up on Twitter a few days before and the word got out.
“So anyway, I’m interviewing the Irish coaching panel and the second I ask the first question, Simon Easterby pipes up and says, ‘Here, what do you mean by naming your new book Schmidt Happens?’” Paul laughs.
“Thankfully Joe thought it was funny! He was quite intrigued by what role he was playing in the book. so I don’t think I’ll be hearing from his lawyers.”
WHAT ABOUT MOULIN ROUGE?
Howard’s new novel follows hard on the heels of the second run of his hit play, Copper Face Jacks: The Musical. A love story set on the eve of a Dublin vs Kerry All-Ireland final, it appears to have captured the heart of everyone who’s ever been to the titular Harcourt Street, D2 establishment.
“The response to the first run was fantastic,” Paul beams. “It was very different from a regular show, in that people who came to see it were dressed for a night out afterwards! It was wall-to-wall sparkly skirts and tops and high heels. And that was just the fellas!”
All doubts that he might’ve had about the show evaporated during the opening night, he says.
“I was in Maureen’s bar in the Olympia Theatre, and there was a gang of nurses from Donegal doing Jägerbombs at half-seven and I thought, ‘Right then, this is going great!’ It really did exceed all my expectations. We had a great cast and a great director and they just took what I wrote and had fun with it.
“They really made a brilliant show out of it. For the last two weeks of the first run, there weren’t tickets to be got anywhere. We didn’t even have house tickets left. We were getting calls that the Dublin senior football squad wanted to go and we could only accommodate about eight of them, because there was such demand!”
For Paul, this musical was about paying tribute to a Dublin location he had frequented throughout his youth, and continued to visit into the heady Celtic Tiger years and beyond.
“I was one of those people who could never get into Lillie’s or Renard’s back in the Celtic Tiger days!” he laughs. “I was probably too ugly to get into Lillie’s. You’d always have the bouncer looking at you like, ‘That face isn’t going to enhance anyone’s evening here!’
“But I always got into Copper’s. And lots of people – not just culchies but Dubliners too – have found that as well. There were a lot of nightclubs in Dublin during the Celtic Tiger that pursued this exclusive door policy, but it was never difficult to get into Copper’s. You could get in if you were in a group of eight people and you all had intercounty jerseys on. That’s part of its success; it never lost the run of itself.”
Putting on Copper Face Jacks was, Paul admits, a lot less stressful than his previous play, which nearly saw him being held in contempt of court over a trial related to the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank…
“For Copper’s, I collaborated with Darren Smith and Donal Shields, who I’d have worked with on Anglo: The Musical in 2012,” he explains. “And we got into a lot of trouble with that musical, because just after we opened rehearsals, there were charges in the case for Sean Fitzpatrick and two other directors for offences related to the bank. So suddenly we had this script that potentially was in contempt of court!
“We took the decision to go ahead with the musical, but it was incredibly stressful,” he admits. “We were in meetings with lawyers all the time. There was one day that I was talking to lawyers in the morning, then going to rehearsals, then going back to talk to a solicitor about how likely it was that I’d lose my house over this or go to jail.”
From the stress of that time came a bright idea…
“In the midst of it all, Darren turned to me one day and said, half-jokingly, ‘We should’ve just done Copper’s The Musical’. It was one of those throwaway comments that, the more we thought about it, the more we realised, ‘That wouldn’t be the worst idea…’ So we met with Cathal Jackson, the owner of Copper Face Jacks, and he was utterly bewildered by the idea of there being a musical about his club. But we said to him, ‘Hold on now, what about Moulin Rouge?’ So he said alright then, and we ran with the idea!”
TOUCHING BONO’S GATE
Paul Howard was one of those lucky enough to find himself invited to Dublin’s best garden party last year – at Áras an Uachtaráin. “That’s a great day out,” he enthuses. “The mix of people that the President invites is as great as the hospitality. You go home from it and you’ve had 15 really interesting conversations. Conversations with a painter, conversations with someone from The Stunning.
“I wrote a book last year about the life of the Irish socialite Tara Browne (I Read The News Today, Oh Boy) and for that, I spoke a lot with his brother Garech who was at the President’s Garden Party. I didn’t know he was going to be there, but I overheard his voice when I was going to the bathroom. He was having an argument and trying to wind up the Dublin City Councillor, Mannix Flynn. My wife and I stumbled into the chat with them. Then, Anne Enright came over and joined us and we all spent about 45 minutes having this wonderful long conversation. That’s what I remember from that party!”
The President’s house might be difficult to top, but where would Paul’s favourite place be for a drink in Dublin?
“I love Bruxelles (8 Harry Street, D2),” he says. “That’s been my place for 30 years, especially if I’m in town with friends. The atmosphere’s always great there, the music is always brilliant. I’d also have to mention Toner’s (139 Baggot Street Lower, D2). When I worked in the Sunday Tribune, that was our pub. I wouldn’t have had a career in journalism if it wasn’t for Toner’s! You went there to get commissioned to write something back in the days when there was a pub culture around journalism. We always went there for lunch and we would’ve gone there after work, three or four nights a week.”
What about his favourite restaurants?
“I love Saba (26-28 Clarendon Street, D1). My wife and I would go there seven or eight times a year. The food is great and the cocktails are phenomenal. At Christmas they do this Mistletoe & Wine cocktail – which is port, brandy and champagne – and it’s absolute rocketfuel.
“I also love Glover’s Alley (128 St. Stephen’s Green, D2). The food is fantastic and the menu changes all the time. It’s not the cheapest, but in this case you get what you pay for. You’ve also got the stunning views of the Green across the road.”
If he was bringing tourists around Dublin, where’s the number one place he’d have to show them?
“I’d love to say Trinity College or something like that, but, for years, any visitor who comes to ours gets taken to Bono’s house to touch the front gate!” he laughs. “We’ve been doing that since Bono moved in in 1990. We’re in Ballybrack, so we’re about a mile away – but it was always a source of pride in the area that you could look up Killiney Hill and point out Bono’s house. So everyone – whether they’re U2 fans or not – gets driven up Killiney Hill and told to go touch Bono’s gate. We still do it to this day!”
• Copper Face Jacks: The Musical runs at the Olympia, Dublin from July 11 – August 10.