I was thinking of Ollie Ryan recently.
This week will no doubt see a plethora of newspaper headlines saying “It was fifty years ago today”, as Friday is the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.
I would suggest that the previous year’s Revolver is a more creatively-powerful album and there’s an argument to be made that Abbey Road or The Beatles (The White Album) are better Beatles’ albums, but Sgt Pepper’s was a hugely important cultural landmark, an early concept album and a defining moment in the evolution of The Beatles from moptops to artistic icons.
To mark the occasion of Sgt Pepper’s anniversary, the album is being re-released in four different formats. Those formats are: a single CD, a double CD set, a double vinyl set and a six-disc super deluxe edition.
It is the single CD which has most caught the imagination of fans, containing as it does a new stereo remix of the album produced by Giles Martin, son of original Beatles’ producer, George Martin. This new mix was created using a combination of modern and vintage technology, using the original first-generation tapes and (it says here) it retains more of the idiosyncrasies that were unique to the original mono version of Sgt. Pepper’s.
Previews have been, to say the least, ‘intriguing’ and it’s a safe bet that fans will buy the re-issue in their droves. Fifty years on, Sgt. Pepper’s may not quite spend 27 weeks at number one in the UK and 15 weeks in the US charts as it did in 1967, but the act you’ve known for all these years is still guaranteed to raise a smile and also to make sufficient album sales to send it right back to the top of the charts.
Taking down from the shelf my copy of Philip Norman’s “Shout! The True Story of The Beatles”, I can’t help but wonder what the man who gave me that book – a huge Beatles fan – might say at the thought of a remix of Sgt. Pepper’s.
Ollie Ryan was my friend and neighbour and he taught me English in St Colman’s College in Fermoy. I didn’t like St Colman’s and I was – at best – an indifferent student, but I excelled at English. That was down to my teacher far more than to any innate talent on my part.
Ollie’s obituary on St Colman’s website reads: “Ollie, a son of a school-teacher, was a native of Ballyhooly and attended St Colman’s as a student graduating in 1962. He returned to teach English in his alma-mater in 1970 and was much respected and valued as both a teacher and a colleague over the next thirty five years.
“His passion for the English language and for creative writing in particular, made his subject much more appealing and interesting for the generations of Colmanites that passed through his classroom…
“One of the most memorable aspects of Ollie Ryan’s class was the mutual respect that developed between teacher and student, a respect that produced a positive discipline and a very productive learning environment. Many past pupils will remember these qualities of the man as well as his ever-helpful and gentle demeanour towards all he met inside or outside the classroom.”
I was thinking of Ollie Ryan recently, and not just because of Sgt. Pepper’s. Ollie passed away on Monday, 21st of May, 2012, five years ago on Sunday.
The best and kindest teacher I ever had, Ollie always encouraged me to write. Even at his removal, his wife Mary told me some of the generous things he had said about me. I remembered that encouragement lately when I decided to apply to UCC for an MA in Creative Writing.
Ollie was a wonderful man, an inspirational teacher and the embodiment of fairness. Those of us lucky enough to be taught by him will always remember his decency and generosity.
Cicero wrote: “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living” and that’s one of the many things I wouldn’t know if not for Ollie.
Every child should have a teacher like Ollie Ryan, someone who never raises a hand or a voice to them, but who lifts their spirits and who opens their minds, and who instills in them a love of everything from Shakespeare to Springsteen and from Douglas Adams to Robert Zimmerman.
(Actually, that isn’t completely true. I do remember Ollie raising his voice once, and it was the talk of the school the day it happened. A classmate had taken to decorating his schoolbooks with swastikas. Ollie was horrified that anyone would not appreciate the evil associated with that symbol and he made his point loudly and eloquently.)
I remember a conversation one summer evening in Ollie’s sitting room, perhaps twenty-five years ago. He spoke about the idea that a piece of art can have an innate soul. I remember him illustrating the notion that a thing can be more than the sum of its parts by suggesting that one might take apart, for instance, “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and break it down to its component pieces, isolating every single track and tape, every note and every sound.
If you then reassembled every piece, Ollie asked, would you still have the same, glorious, work of art? Fifty years after “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, taking the album apart and then putting it back together again seems to be precisely what Giles Martin has now done. I can’t help but wonder if the resultant album will still have the same soul.
I have collected over the years any number of copies of Sgt. Pepper’s in any number of formats. Damn it all, I only just bought a brand-new vinyl copy last month.
Oh, look, of course I’ll buy the re-issue.
And I’m pretty sure Ollie would have bought it too.