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MARTIAN AWARENESS BALL hosted by Mary MARGARET O'HARA at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Sunday (March 17). $8. 416-598-4753. Rating:.


MARTIAN AWARENESS BALL hosted by Mary MARGARET O’HARA at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Sunday (March 17). $8. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN

leave it to marcus o’hara to find another excuse to get loaded on St. Patrick’s Day. The annual Martian Awareness Ball, which the notorious party-starting Toronto barkeep co-founded with Bamboo boss Richard O’Brien back in their booze can days, is now in its 24th year.

Yet like tinted beer and potato-tossing, the origin of this interplanetary party — featuring an all-star cast of wobbly local-scene celebs who stumble in unannounced to belt out their favourite Irish tune — is cloaked in mystery.

So what on earth does the red planet have to do with St. Patrick? Perhaps nothing, but you can bet a pot of gold that O’Hara’s explanation will be far more entertaining than the truth.

As usual, the story starts with his hazy recollection of a blinding bender from which he awakens half-naked and painted green in a south Florida jail. From there, it’s a short jump backwards to an early-60s sitcom starring Bill Bixby and Ray Walston.

“Do you remember a television show called My Favourite Martian?, asks O’Hara pointedly. “Well, the fella’s name on the program was O’Hara, and in doing a little research I found that O’Hara means Martian. Being an Aries, well, it all made perfect sense.

“I told Richard O’Brien, who I was doing parties with, that I had this Martian party idea for St. Patrick’s Day, and he said, “Ah, yes, little green men, sounds great!’ So we put it on at this warehouse at Queen and River and ended up making $500 apiece!”

O’Hara goes on to explain that over the years the Martian Awareness Ball has moved from club to club, people have come and gone — got married and divorced — but he and his sister Mary Margaret have kept it going.

Although Mary Margaret O’Hara is designated as the host, the elusive singer also usually performs a number of songs throughout the evening, which makes the show a can’t-miss event for her many ardent fans.

“Two years ago at the Bamboo,” recalls Mary Margaret, “hardly anyone showed up to perform, so I wound up singing most of the night. But it’s always fun for me.

“I don’t want to be too precious about performing. Usually when I’m onstage I’ll just goof around, and maybe that bothers some people. But that’s why I’d rather do parties like the Martian Awareness Ball. You know, I can sing backup and work around people.”

Considering how infrequently she appears onstage, it’s doubtful there’d be many demands for refunds if no one else showed up with a guitar and O’Hara had to sing the whole night alone.

Similarly, few people are complaining that a stunning collection of O’Hara’s recordings happens to have been released in the form of the soundtrack accompanying Bill Robertson’s film Apartment Hunting. Not after waiting 14 years for a follow-up to her brilliant Miss America (Virgin) debut.

“That Apartment Hunting soundtrack is like an album I never knew I made. It was all done really quickly and inexpensively. I’d write a few pieces a day while working on the film, with Bill standing by saying whether he wanted them in the movie or not.

“Most of the songs were directed toward characters — except Was You, which I wrote with Holly Cole in mind but never gave to her.

“It was fun to do, but if I were making an album of my own, it wouldn’t be much like that album.”

Contrary to local myth, O’Hara’s not short on new compositions to record if the opportunity should arise. In fact, she says she’s silly with songs. So how about another album?

“Things are always coming out of my head all the time. I’m writing constantly… I just don’t stop. But I feel it’s enough to have those feelings around and live them without putting them on a record.

“Sometimes I feel badly about not singing more and not playing the game. But then, it’s also fun to make up the game as I go.”timp@nowtoronto.com

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