STEELY DAN AND THE GHOST OF PERRY COMO

Having wondered if I’d ever see one of my favourite bands perform live, I’ve now been rendered dumbstruck by Steely Dan twice in sixteen months. And they’ve been every bit as magnificent on the live stage as I long imagined they might be even if, truth be told, I’d probably arrived at that conclusion well before I finally saw Donald Fagen amble on-stage in his prescription shades and big sneakers to that familiar pitch behind his electric piano.

Whether or not Steely Dan without Walter Becker is actually what it claims on the tin or, in this instance, on the vastly over-priced concert tickets, is an argument for another post. And mindful that the last man standing would rather bill tonight as a live performance by Donald Fagen And The Steely Dan Band, I’m happy to just park here and move on. And so …

I remember well the in-between years during the mid-1980s when some of Cork’s thrashier, punk-derived outfits would cram fifteen or sixteen barely-formed originals and covers into spiky half-hour sets in The Underground, Mojos and The Phoenix. In the great traditions of the scene that birthed many of those groups, the more tuneless and shambling their cuts were, and the more of a rush you were in, then the more dash you cut.

Against this backdrop, Steely Dan were the antithesis of such no-frills, no skills carry-on which, on one hand, was maybe understandable enough and, on the other, made no sense whatsoever. Reared by my mother on a diet of Marianne Faithfull, Glen Campbell and The Beach Boys, that sort of thing just felt a bit too obvious and over-worn. Steely Dan – and another of my favourite groups, E.L.O. – seemed to me like they’d been thrown under the bus for no other reason than because they tuned-up before they threw-up and not the other way around.

But from the tracks that Mark Cagney played regularly on the dead-zone on Radio 2 at the time, they sounded as if they had as much edge as anyone and, if you listened closely enough, were maybe more interesting than most. And their biographies, once we found them, stood that thinking up for us and then some.

Last month, Steely Dan performed eighteen songs written over the course of thirty years in just under two hours at Dublin’s 3 Arena, known from here on by the name on its birth certificate, The Point Depot. Every one of those fifteen originals and three covers was presented in note-perfect detail and decorated with dash by a magnificent big band whose names and reputations will be familiar to those who’ve completed the higher level course in Anorakarama.

Which, given the giddy carry-on in the standing section from the moment that Steve Winwood appeared on-stage to open his support set, appears to have been a compulsory requirement at the point of ticket purchase. It’s a measure of how far some of us have travelled in the three decades since those heady nights in The Phoenix, I think, that we’re so much more patient and tolerant in such situations now. Where once I abhorred the indulgences of my elders and the middle of the road, I now hear real magic in the curve. And Steely Dan do curve better than most, perhaps even moreso than the greatest contemporary songwriter of them all, Paddy McAloon.

Lose yourself during any of the cuts from ‘Aja’, or in some of the elaborate décor around much of the set and the traces are obvious. The pounding instrumental passages on ‘Bodhisattva’, for instance, might have once underlaid ‘Tiffanys’ while ‘Aja’s own coda can be chased back to ‘Jordan : The Comeback’ and to many points thereafter. And there are shades of Steely Dan’s 1973 album, ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’, in particular, on much of the broader Prefab Sprout canon, some of it subtle and some of it less so.

Indeed the only music I played for a full week before last month’s show was Donald Fagen’s 1982 elpee, ‘The Nightfly’, and Paddy McAloon’s recently re-released and re-branded ‘I Trawl The Megahertz’, a brace of formidable solo records that share much more – inspiration, ambition, spirit, execution – than one might think.

I’m happy to report that the night itself ran as smoothly as you’d expect from a band that boasts obvious leaders in every line. And there are many lines. The only obvious deviations from the script being a sound dip at the top of ‘Dirty Work’ – it wouldn’t be a costly night at The Point without erratic sound – and by Fagen’s opening address to the audience, when he seemed to think he was in London and that Ireland is in The United Kingdom. And which, given the on-going Brexit/Identity circus, drew sharp and predictable intakes from around the barn.

As on-stage indiscretions go, this is at the lower end of the register and, personally, I’d take far more umbrage at some of the exclusions from Steely Dan’s set-list. Even if that opening salvo was strangely out of character for a band not known for dud notes and who, forty-five years on, still take issue with some of the production and mixdown decisions on ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’.

Donald wouldn’t certainly be the first performer or musician to take to the stage in The Point Depot – or any of a number of other stages around the country, for that matter – who wasn’t entirely sure of his whereabouts. Indeed during the years I spent working on entertainment television strands, I encountered many of them. And while it would be wrong to breach confidences and reveal names here, its worth noting that one of those simply disappeared off of the face of the planet – having disappeared off of his face beforehand – during the short walk from the reception in RTE to the floor of one of our studios.

To eventually be returned to us, without a word exchanged, following a frantic city-wide search, at great expense to his record label and at serious inconvenience to a number of agencies, minutes before he was due to perform live for RTE One’s Saturday night audiences.

Marginally less dramatic and certainly more cost-effective was the time we recovered one poetic young swain from underneath the strawberry tree outside of the main RTE canteen after he’d gone to talk to it while his band completed a camera rehearsal. And anyone who has ever had the thrill of sitting down with Shaun Ryder will know that it’s protocol and practice to ask him where he is instead of how he is.

And therefore, given the vagaries of rock and roll, and having lived much of his life in a chemical coma, I’m happy to cut Donald, now aged 71, a free pass.

Those of our readers inclined towards the grotesque may have heard of the fabled night, twenty-five years ago when, on the same stage at The Point, the American singer and actor, Perry Como, took to the floor to record a special Christmas television concert in front of five thousand paying punters. Then in his eighties, the Pennsylvanian-born baritone was playing out the last stanzas of a career that began during the Second World War. And although he’d long scaled back his work commitments, he still travelled overseas once a year to tape a yearly concert show for the more public-facing American broadcasters.

Where he’d add a seasonal touch to many of his best known numbers – like ‘And I Love You So’, ‘Don’t Let The Stars Get in Your Eyes’, ‘Catch A Falling Star’ and ‘It’s Impossible’, and after which they’d be compiled onto yet another live album or a concert video. This was lucrative stuff and although Perry was already well into the Autumn of his career, he was still a decent draw. And he was a fine, fine singer.

Como was a prolific outputter too, and he clearly loved Christmas. Or certainly the rich possibilities of the Christmas market. He released almost forty studio albums, and a raft of compilations, many of which are seasonally-themed.

The fact that Christmas had been celebrated just weeks earlier and that his Dublin show, recorded in January, 1994, wasn’t due to transmit until eleven months later, gave the whole enterprise a slightly disconcerting feel. A weirdness compounded by Perry’s set-list which, as well as those festive numbers and a battery of his best-known material, also included a smattering of stage-Irish cuts, of which ‘Toora Loora Loora’ – performed as a duet with a local singer and performer called Adele King – arguably represents a career-low for the pair of them.

King, who also trades as Twink and whose potty gob and regular public set-tos have made her a long-time tabloid staple, had actually been due to perform in pantomime on another Dublin stage on the same night. She was later forced to pay compensation to the producers in The Gaiety Theatre after abandoning them – for one night only – for Perry Como, swapping slapstick for the theatre of the absurd and generating another series of memorable newspaper headlines by so doing.

In front of an audience that included the then Irish President, Mary Robinson, Como cut a frail and disconnected figure on the vast, ornate stage and struggled to navigate the running order, leaving the scene on a number of occasions for long breaks.

It took the American production team – who were using an RTE Outside Broadcast facility – over four hours to assemble the material for a show that, when cut, came in at just over eighty minutes. Indeed there are a series of edits in the final version that defy all basic film convention :- continuity went out the window after the first thirty minutes when the primary objective was to get Como onto tape, off the stage and back home in one piece. And its fair to say that the patience of the audience had been well and truly tested by the time, after midnight, when Perry kicked for the line and finally completed his set.

He’d had difficulty all night reading his script from the autocue and the opening of the show was re-recorded several times :- the singer thought he was in Colorado and, in the spirit of Spinal Tap, greeted the crowd with the line ‘Good evening, Denver’. Before being directed to re-do his link to camera by an American production executive on the end of what he called a ‘stage announcement mic’ and which he used liberally to over-ride the house public address system all night. Much to the obvious chagrin of the audience and especially, it seemed, to Adele.

Back in the real world, meanwhile, Donald Fagen is now at that point in his career where he’s mining the same seam worked by Perry Como in 1994, reeling in the years, knocking out his greatest hits in large arenas worldwide, getting older and slower in the public eye as he goes. In the unlikely event of new material – and contractual complications and the complicated legal fall-out following Walter Becker’s death may render that impossible, at any rate – Steely Dan are into the closing furlongs of the nostalgia derby. And to be fair, the band seems as comfortable with that as those who’ve paid serious coin and come out in force to see them twice now in the last year and a bit.

Unlike many of those also pounding the sentimental beat – and it can be a profitable posting – I just don’t get the sense that Steely Dan are simply going through the motions ;- indeed they may be genetically prohibited from doing so. Drummer Keith Carlock, for instance, gives such a frenetic performance behind the traps – from the lead bars of Ray Bryant’s latino-fused show-opener, ‘Cubano Chant’ onwards – that you’d wonder if he was summoned for a mandatory head injury assessment at the conclusion of the show ?

And yet for all of that, and after the familiar stomp of ‘My Old School’ and ‘Reeling In The Years’ dip the night for the line, you might wonder if this, actually, is it ? If, for the band, for us, we’ve all just reached that point where, like Perry Como, it doesn’t really matter if we’re in Dublin, Denver or London because, ultimately, with another box ticked and another year down, we all arrive at the same place eventually ? And although an ocean of cool may – or may not ? – separate Steely Dan, Perry Como, Adele King and the snotty-noses in The Phoenix, the space in the dark of the night and the merciless march of time is basically the same for all of us.

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MICRODISNEY : THE END

Photograph © Fanning Sessions

If anything, they’re probably the best accidental band of our time, a haphazard and unlikely collision – or collusion ? – of reference, diffidence and influence that in theory, and maybe every other way too, never stood a chance. Like the central character in their opening number on this week’s farewell dates, ‘Mrs. Simpson’, they made ‘like a head on legs and the rest of person’. And it’ll not be lost on Cathal, in particular, that at the very end, Microdisney finally sold out in Cork.

I’m sure that, on some sort of emotional level, it was appropriate they called it to a halt in the city where they started it off almost forty years previously. In as much as Microdisney – forever Cathal and Sean and in that order – ever followed formal process, last night’s show in Cork was as close as they got to the convention of completing a circle. But where it leaves them in the history of popular music – in Cork, Ireland or beyond – is irrelevant for now :- Microdisney were far too free-spirited, cranky and loose with their ambitions to ever sit comfortably in general company.

Buried somewhere in that line of thinking is, I think, the essence of their allure. They were so wrong and so utterly disconnected on every level and yet, whenever the sun broke through onto their palsied, malformed view of life in the drain, they could glisten with the best of them. They were defined to the very end by the endless pull-and-drag of the sweet against the sour, maybe best captured on ‘464’, one of their most potent songs, that opens in anger over a hail of shouting, spit and guitar noise but that quickly finds its feet in the mellow. And, this last nine months, by the peerless vocal interplay between Cathal’s full-bodied tenor – he has never, to these ears, been in better voice – and Eileen Gogan’s soft touch around the edges.

Photograph © Jim O’Mahony

Microdisney were never completely at ease in their hometown and I’ve written at length about that aspect of the band’s story here. And still they consistently represented, far better than many of Cork’s better known ambassadors, the city’s best, worst and most bizarre attributes, often for comic effect within their songs and often not. For many years, weird as it sounds now, they actually blazed a trail and led the way :- by taking the Innisfallen and upping sticks in the early 1980s, they gave Cork the middle finger and, for years afterwards, a fleeting glimpse of something more exotic and glamorous abroad. The ‘big fat matron with turquoise hair’ left behind so the band could dream more freely.

We now know, of course, that the reality of Microdisney’s life in London was far more chaotic, undercut like much of the largely untold Irish emigrant experience at that time by pills, hooch, squatting, general blackguarding and penury. But their story was, for many, the story of Cork city itself too, the boat at its core as an escape from the despair and torpor. Even if, once you reached Fishguard, you were almost certainly on your own.

Outwardly at least, that truth was just an inconvenient one, especially irrelevant on the old broadsheet pages of The Evening Echo where, in the odd dispatch from London, the local boys were clearly having a right old cruel-up, leading a charge, making hay.

Photograph © Siobhan Bardsley

What we can say with certainty is that there is no clear lineage between what came before Microdisney and what came afterwards ;- they literally fell from the sky, consistently out of reach and constantly out of time. It took them many years to finally grow into their bodies and, even then, I was never wholly convinced that they were built to accommodate the scale of their ambition, such as it was. And so, even when under the gun of a major label to crack the mainstream market, they just couldn’t help themselves. On the band’s best known song, the lavish ‘Town To Town’, with its shine, polish and spit, the lover is in the past, the winter is sick, the harvest has failed and, maybe as tellingly as anything, the singer’s name is still being mis-pronounced.

When Cathal, as he did on-stage in Vicar Street on Monday night, refers to the band’s later material – the Virgin years – as ‘joined up writing’, he’s talking about the well-upholstered gut of the likes of ‘Gale Force Wind’, ‘High And Dry’ and ‘Singer’s Hampstead Home’, ‘not cursive or grown-up but joined-up’ and over which he continued to sprinkle the petrol with a heavy hand. Only the really brave or the perennially diffident aspire to love songs where the moon is shapeless and dim but then that was Microdisney’s stock-in-trade until the very end, the closest they may have ever come to consistency.

From ‘Everybody Is Dead’, a stand-out from the band’s debut album, to ‘Loftholdingswood’, their best song and in which Dan McGrath’s liver just eventually gives out, the sweetness of the sound is counter-pointed and warped by the vicious malady of the grotesque. ‘Sulphates and slap bass’, one of Cathal’s off-the-cuff quips on Monday could, for years, have well been their mission statement.

Photograph © Siobhan Bardsley

And because of that, it’s easy to forget just how intelligent they were with their sound. With seven players on stage for much of this week’s farewell – Cathal and Sean joined, for the occasion, by Rhodri Marsden on keyboards, the imperious John Bennett on lead guitars, most potently on twelve string acoustic and Eileen backing-up on vocals – they’re at their most fetching when they bring five harmonies to the mic. And become, maybe even in spite of themselves, an unflinching, all-out pop band.

Which won’t surprise those long familiar with the breadth of their primary references and source material, Sean’s, in particular. Microdisney borrowed liberally, and as freely from Steely Dan and The Beach Boys as they did from Lee Perry and Lee Hazelwood. And much of Sean’s body of work in the decades post-Microdisney, especially that formidable High Llamas canon, is testament to that.

It’s just as easy to be side-blinded too by the attention long-afforded the band’s second album, ‘The Clock Comes Down The Stairs’, ostensibly the trigger behind those four live shows over the last nine months. And for which they were garlanded, formally, on stage at Dublin’s National Concert Hall last summer.

Because far from being one of the greatest Irish albums of all time – and that’s a dark valley of a discussion in itself – ‘The Clock’ may not even be Microdisney’s best album, even if, given the circumstances that begot it, it’s the record about which the band feels most proud. As strong a case can be made for ‘Crooked Mile’ [1987], the band’s major label debut that saw the dinner-jacketed five-piece seamlessly master the dark art of the velveteen pop song wrapped in a knuckle-duster. While Andrew Mueller, one of the best and more perceptive music writers of his generation – and recently a member of The North Sea Scrolls alongside Cathal and Luke Haines – has long batted for Microdisney’s last album, ’39 Minutes’ [1988]. Which, if it is indeed the sound of a band on the precipice, certainly captures, in vivid colour, the full spread of a magnificent view across the valley of death.

So, why did they go back for afters and why now ? Time, of course, is as much of a cleanser as it is of a healer and those most recent Dublin shows saw an older, possibly wiser, certainly far fitter, sober and way less anxious band roll back the years without either the fuss or the general codology that pock-marks much of Microdisney’s story. And without saying as much, the band clearly believed it had unfinished business or an unpaid personal debt somewhere :- was there a sense that they never really did those terrific songs justice at the time ? Or, perhaps, that others – the market, the public, the industry – didn’t cut them an even break ? Or did they simply fancy taking the music out of its casing one last time just because they could ?

I’ve never had Microdisney pegged as old nostalgics, Cathal in particular. And so it was interesting to hear him, in Dublin on Monday, dip into the earliest chapters in the band’s history to reference Dave Clifford, their first manager and Elvera Butler, who committed their first track to vinyl and who ran many of their most formative shows in The Arcadia Ballroom in Cork. Indeed in prefacing their closer, Frankie Valli’s ‘The Night’, Cathal referred to a Lene Lovich live show in that same venue in January, 1980, where himself and his long-time writing partner and friend heard that song performed for the first time.

In introducing the band, there’s an unusually fuzzy outbreak of bonhomie as Cathal and Sean reference each other and their long, colourful and no doubt often bizarre and fractured friendship. Cathal – maybe half-jokingly and maybe not ? – cautions against too much good-will as if it might just sooth the edge a bit too much. And then they’re gone and it’s over.

On the walk back into town after the Vicar Street show on Monday night, I remembered an old yarn that Cathal once told Dave Fanning during one of their many memorable radio interviews. During the band’s early years, the singer would regularly take the mainline train – a battered, bone-shaking and deeply unpleasant experience at the best of times – from Cork to Dublin, during which he’d dress in priest’s garb and pickle himself with booze, effing and blinding at all-comers during what could often be a torturous four-hour journey.

Photograph © Jim O’Mahony

One of the more frustrating aspects of that long, long haul – and, believe me, there were many – invariably came at Limerick Junction, a desolate outpost that’s actually in Tipperary and where, as a regular passenger, I spent far too long stuck in the sidings, waiting in the worst possible kind of limbo for something, anything, to happen before we’d eventually stutter back into life and re-commence our journey onwards.

You’d see and hear all sort of mad stuff as you were trapped in Limerick Junction, caught quite literally between worlds, gazing listlessly out of the window at the spread of verdure and the thickets beyond. I spent far too many languid hours paralyzed there, listening to Cathal and Sean’s alchemy on a variety of different devices.

As metaphors go in respect of Microdisney, Limerick Junction is as valid as any. Forever crippled and consistently failed by the machine, witnesses to the bizarre and the grotesque, waiting endlessly for another stuttering start and the next inevitable breakdown.

And yet for all of that they were consistently magnificent and leave behind a terrific body of work beyond the catalogue of carnage.

Photograph © Fanning Sessions

THE GO-BETWEENS – A LOVE LETTER

We are delighted to post this wonderful love letter to the Go-Betweens from Breda Corish. Breda lives in north London and works in the scientific & healthcare information sector. While London has been her much loved home for over 30 years since emigrating in 1987, she stays connected to Ireland as “home home” through volunteering with the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and the Irish in Britain charity – and music of course.

It’s June 2008 and we’ve joined the crowds streaming into The Roundhouse in Camden, eager to see My Bloody Valentine, back on stage for the first time in 16 years.

On the way in, your tickets are checked: so far, so normal. But in return, you’re handed a small cellophane bag containing a pair of red earplugs that look like mini traffic bollards. Who’s up for the challenge of sitting through the aural soundblast without protection? The husband is – he’s intent on hearing the MBV sound unimpeded. He’s adamant the damage is already done to his hearing from years of gig-going.

2008 The husband’s set of MBV earplugs – still pristine

I’m not up for it myself. The earplugs go in but unusually for me, both of them. Because at at every other gig I’ve gone to in the last two decades, I’ve worn just one earplug, in my left ear.


And who’s to blame for that? Unlikely noise merchants, The Go-Betweens a.k.a. Australia’s criminally underrated indie tunesmiths.


Flashback to July 1987. A few days after graduating from UCD, I’ve escaped to London. I’m running away from Ireland and the never-ending rounds of political-ecumenical contortions about condoms, people being trapped in loveless marriages, women getting the boat to England, and a man being killed in Fairview Park because he’s gay.

1987 Working as a Waitress

Within a few weeks, I’m working as a waitress in a pizza restaurant in Covent Garden and living in a flat share in Crouch End. I’ve never even heard of the place before moving in. I later feel like I share a secret connection with Cathal Coughlan when The Fatima Mansions release Viva Dead Ponies in 1990:

Do you know how old Jesus feels?
For he walks the Earth again
but not in Mecca or in Jerusalem
No, he sells papers and beer in a shop in Crouch End”

  • Viva Dead Ponies

Within a few months, I’ve also acquired a boyfriend, one of my co-workers in the pizza restaurant. He’s English, a few years older than me, with an impressive flat top and an equally impressive record collection. I’m painfully aware of the cliché of boys dispensing a musical education to their girlfriends. But when we exchange live music anecdotes, Auto Da Fe at The Baggot Inn can’t really compete with his 15 years of gig-going in Southampton, Brighton and London.

So I embraced both the record collection and the boyfriend, and yes, reader, eventually I married him.

I very quickly realised the benefits of the boyfriend’s impeccable music taste, even though it included a faint sense of mortification that he knew of more and better Irish bands than I did. Within days of getting together in September 1987, he had bought an extra ticket so I could join him seeing That Petrol Emotion at The National Club in Kilburn. And did the same thing again a few weeks later, to see Microdisney at The Fridge in Brixton.


The Go-Betweens had unwittingly played a part in building these connections.

A couple of years earlier, the boyfriend had got a job at the pizza restaurant in Covent Garden through a friend. One night, he went to see a gig at The Boston Arms by an Irish band that the same friend had joined as lead singer. The friend was Steve Mack and the band was That Petrol Emotion.

After the gig, the boyfriend was waiting for a night bus when a distinctive Australian couple walked up to the stop and asked for advice about which bus they should take to get home. They all got on the number 4 going north. By the end of the bus journey, Robert Forster had convinced him that he really needed to listen to the other Irish band that had played with the Petrols that evening. That band was Microdisney.


The Go-Betweens had released their fifth album Tallulah in June 1987, but it was the first of their records for me. The jangly guitar and string-laden sounds of Right Here became the soundtrack to our new head-over-heels-in-love relationship.


“I’m keepin’ you right here
Right here, right here
Right here, right here
Whatever I have is yours
And it’s right here”

  • Right Here

Life in London was everything I hoped for. Compared with Ireland, the sense of anonymity and freedom to be who you want, to dress as you want, to live as you want was liberating. But there were also times I was very self-conscious about being the freckle-faced Irish girl from the sticks, when I desperately want to be self-confident on the dancefloor of the Electric Ballroom in Camden. I heard a coded message in another track on Tallulah.

Shake off your despondency, and your country girl act.
You’re reading me poetry, that’s Irish, and so black.
I know you’re warm, the warmest person alive,
But are you warm, deep down inside?
I want us to be lovers
I want us to be friends

”The House Jack Kerouac Built”

The penny started to drop that being Irish actually had a certain cachet for the lefty, post-punk/alternative/indie music enthusiasts of north London. While anti-Irish sentiment was still in the air, it very rarely touched me. It would be another couple of years before the IRA bombing campaign seriously shifted its focus to London.

I made the pilgrimage to Holts in Camden and bought my first pair of Doc Martens. They were 12-hole Blackburns, high-shine with no yellow stitching, and I strode down the street feeling ten feet tall. I hijacked the boyfriend’s old black leather jacket for a while and when the waitressing wages started to build up, bought a biker jacket of my own.

The Boyfriend’s old black jacket

1987 rolled over into 1988. One of the best things about being a late arrival fan is that you get to binge on a feast of records in one go. The Go-Betweens’ debut Send Me a Lullaby made no real impact on me but I was bowled over by a series of standout tracks on the other albums, most of them the obvious singles candidates.

“Cattle and Cane”, Grant McLennan’s autobiographical vignette of going back to rural Australia on Before Hollywood. Followed by Spring Hill Fair with the gorgeous melody and aching lyrics of “Bachelor Kisses”. Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express was bookended by the urge to dance around the room to “Spring Rain” and to indulge in the melancholy of “Apology Accepted”.

I had my first opportunity to see the band live when they played the London Astoria on 28 July 1988. This is the point where I should be able to give a blow by blow account of The Go-Betweens’ performance that night. But the truth is my memory 30 years on is just one big mashup of recollections from different gigs at the Astoria that summer….

Queuing for a pint while waiting for The Three Johns to come on stage, and breaking into spontaneous dancing when Teenage Kicks blasted out from the PA. Pogoing at Voice of the Beehive, wearing a ballet tutu with those Doc Marten boots and four-inch dangly earrings. And the always sticky floor helping to keep your feet connected to the ground in the middle of the moshpit. (When the Astoria was demolished for the London Crossrail project in 2011, 13,000 Victorian jam jars were found in an old vault from the Crosse & Blackwell warehouse that originally occupied the site).

This was the Voice of the Beehive DMs + tutu + leather jkt look

What I do clearly remember from that first Go-Betweens gig are my impressions of the individual band members on stage. Grant McLellan was the regular guy. Amanda Brown was gorgeous. You’d enjoy a drink with them down the pub. Robert Forster was tall, angular and aloof, and wildly attractive. Lindy Morrison was impressive and intimidating. Having a drink down the pub with them would be a bit nerve-wracking.

Danny Kelly’s review in the NME highlighted simmering tensions within the band members, but I was oblivious to all of that. Instead when Robert Forster intoned “The Clarke Sisters”, it felt revolutionary and transgressive to hear someone on stage singing about women who are feminists and having periods. This was only 1988 after all and advertising for tampons and sanitary towels was still banned on British TV.

They had problems with their father’s law.
They sleep in the back of a feminist bookstore.
The Clarke Sisters
The eldest sister keeps a midnight vigil.
The youngest sister she’s not spiritual.
The Clarke Sisters.
Their steel grey hair, their lovely steel grey hair.
The Clarke Sisters.
Why don’t I introduce you
I’m sure they won’t mind.
But don’t you dare, laugh at their collections
Handed down, handed down for love.
The middle sister gets her period blood.
The flood of love. The flood of love.
The Clarke Sisters.
Their steel grey hair, their lovely steel grey hair.

  • The Clarke Sisters

The following month, August 1988, The Go-Betweens released 16 Lovers Lane. It was a collection of glorious songs, underpinned by spiky, questioning lyrics. Even the most chart-friendly single “Streets of Your Town” had a nod to the dark underbelly of small town life.


Round and round up and down
Through the streets of your town
Everyday I make my way
Through the streets of your town
Don’t the sun look good today?
But the rain on its way
Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives.

  • Streets of Your Town

And if the lyrics are read as autobiographical, then the simmering tensions referenced in Danny Kelly’s gig review were in the spotlight now. Something had clearly gone awry between “Love Goes On” and “Was There Anything I Could Do?”


There’s a cat in the alleyway
Dreaming of birds that are blue
Sometimes girl when I’m lonely
This is how I think about you
There are times that I want you
I want you so much I could bust
I know a thing about lovers
Lovers lie down in trust
Love goes on anyway
Love goes on anyway

  • Love Goes On!

 

She comes home and she’s happy
She comes home and she’s blue
She comes home and she tells him
Listen baby we’re through
I don’t know what happened next
All I know is she moved
Packed up her bags and her curtains
Left him in his room
Was there anything I could do?

  • Was There Anything I Could Do?

1988 rolled over into 1989. I had hung up my waitressing uniform by then and got my first “real job” working as a scientific editor in an office building on High Holborn. Running up the stairs after lunch one day, I ran into The Fields of the Nephilim walking down in their dusty coats and belatedly realised that The Melody Maker was our unlikely work neighbour.

The boyfriend and I had said our goodbyes to Crouch End and were now living at the top of Camden Road. Looking back, it feels like we went to a non-stop round of gigs. The Town & Country Club, The Boston Arms, The Dome and The Hawley Arms were all within walking distance. Forays further afield took us all the way out to the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden.

The Go-Betweens were on tour again in the UK and played The Town & Country Club on 6 June 1989. We didn’t know then that the band would decide to break up by the end of the year. My overwhelming memory of that night is being a woman on a mission to get as close as possible to the stage.

The venue was heaving with fans. I ploughed through the moshpit, leaving the boyfriend somewhere in my wake and ended up right at the front of the crowd. I was vaguely aware of a speaker stack immediately to my left, but spent the gig immersed in the music while worshipping literally at the feet of the aloof and arrogant god that was Robert Forster.

We walked home afterwards, sweaty and exhilarated and woke up with a remnant of the traditional post-gig ringing in the ears which dissipated over the next day.

I can’t remember who was playing at our next gig that summer, but the first thudding bass lines were accompanied by the unpleasant sensation that something was jabbing my left eardrum with a pointy stick. The left eardrum jabbing recurred at the next gig, and the next one and the next…..

That was the beginning of a new pre-gig ritual which continues 30 years on. Patting down my pockets to check for money, keys, lipstick, travelcard while the husband asks “Do you have your earplug?”. To this day, if you see a middle-aged woman at a gig in London improvising with a wodge of toilet paper stuffed in her left ear, that will be me.

And was it worth it? Yes it was.
I don’t want to change a thing when there’s magic
I don’t want to change a thing when there’s magic
In here, now the coast is clear
I got no time for fear

  • Magic in Here, The Friends of Rachel Worth

11 Feb 2019
Breda Corish, London N16
Twitter: @N16Breda

LOST IN MUSIK

Our recent post about Roddy Frame took me down into a rabbit hole that led, eventually to Tony Mansfield, the songwriter and producer who played a small and largely forgotten role in the Aztec Camera story. And about whom details are a bit scant.

I first came across Tony because of his band, New Musik, one of the more curious footnotes to the poppier end of the new wave story. And whose signature pop songs – like those of Martha And The Muffins, The Vapors and The Lotus Eaters – detonated without warning from our three-in-ones during those years when we were trying to determine the differences between good, bad and ugly. Decades later and I’m still unable to fully shake ‘Echo Beach, ‘Turning Japanese’ and ‘The First Picture Of You’, the most pressing, gold-plated bangers of the period. Indeed, I can still recite the lyrics to Cliff Richard’s ‘Wired For Sound’ even though I often struggle to remember my daughters’ middle-names.

New Musik was Tony’s band, more or less, and it’s hard to think of them as anything other than a group of session players, at their most comfortable within the studio walls, who fell into the one groove and released a run of excellent, synth-built pop singles as the 1970s cross-faded into the 80s. ‘Straight Lines’, ‘Living By Numbers’, ‘This World Of Water’ and ‘On Islands’ are easily the pick of them and turn up now, the very odd time, on those BBC4 re-runs of vintage ‘Top Of The Tops’. Where New Musik are perennially stuck just outside of the Top Thirty, forever bubbling under.

The spelling of the band name isn’t the only thing that dates them. In the most primal traditions of popular music, they defined the moment – or certainly took a reckless enough swing at it – in their coloured blazers, geeky specs, cute bow ties and with their battery of electronic kit. And like most others from that period – Kate Bush, Blondie and Buzzcocks excepted, naturally – look faintly ridiculous with it. In most of the on-line clips pirated from various television archives – and there isn’t a huge amount – keyboard player, Clive Gates, in his horned rims and hunched over the plate of tits and knobs on his Prophet synth, looks like a skinny Frankenstein hooked up to a mind-altering device.

Out front, centre-mid, Mansfield himself looks like Frankie Gavin from De Danann in an out-sized pair of Clark Kent’s glimmers while the well-assembled, bearded bassist, Tony Hibbert preferred the more minimal, barely breathing look – another pose du jour – that, on one television archive clip, has him miming his basslines with one hand clung inside the pocket of his trousers. And with an excellent drummer, Phil Towner, completing their number, the eventual New Musik line-up reads like the spine of a typical Ipswich Town line-up during their pomp years under the late Bobby Robson from 1980 until 1982.

New Musik’s sound – layered synthetic keyboard lines and toothsome vocal harmonies spooned over old school acoustic foundations – has dated better than their look, just about. But although they never enjoyed the same level of success as some of their peers – Buggles, Naked Eyes and A Flock of Seagulls loosely fit the same bill although all of them were far more defined and rounded – that string of singles certainly cut a dash. And created, for their writer, a strong spring-board from where Mansfield launched a fine reputation as a pop producer with good ears. ‘Such a digital lifetime’, he sang on ‘Living By Numbers’, the band’s biggest-selling single even if, in reality, New Musik’s best known material has more in common with Owen Paul’s version of Marshall Crenshaw’s ‘My Favourite Waste Of Time’ than with the ground-shifting European electronica of Can and Kraftwerk.

But with my own radar starting to locate regular targets, I took to New Musik with the same gusto as I did the likes of Adam and the Ants, Gary Numan, John Foxx and Squeeze. To the point that 1978 is defined for me by Charlie McCarthy’s speech after Cork won the All-Ireland hurling final win and Pete Shelly’s last vocal line on Buzzcocks’ ‘What Do I Get’.

With nothing to rate them against except other bands, New Musik looked as other-worldly as they sounded on my over-worked three-in-one. And that even within the pages of Smash Hits they seemed to forever occupy the hard shoulder only added to their lustre. [We know now, of course, that New Musik didn’t just spring up like over-night. Three of them had been involved with The Nick Straker Band who, marching in tandem, enjoyed a 1980 hit single with ‘A Walk In The Park’. While Phil Towner had played the drum parts on Buggles’ imperious ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’].

New Musik released three albums but all of their best known songs appear on the band’s fine debut, ‘From A To B’. While ‘Anywhere’ [1981] is the bridge to their final, and easily most interesting elpee, ‘Warp’, a far more tech-skewed record, featuring a clutch of instrumentals and released in 1983. By which stage Towner and Hibbert were gone and Mansfield was basically directing the operation from behind a Fairlight synthesiser.

The earliest Fairlight* was an extravagant, pricey and unquestionably game-changing piece of digital technology that enabled users to ‘sample’ or record acoustic sounds [instruments, vocals and percussion] – rather than electronically ‘synthesise’ them – and then play these back at different pitches.

Its first iteration came onto the market at the same time that New Musik were getting their act together. Subsequent versions featured sequencing and workstation capabilities, offering revolutionary sound palettes that were quickly embraced by many of those more comfortable working on their own or in more considered surrounds, off the road. Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Buggles [there’s a sub-plot emerging here, isn’t there?] and Thomas Dolby were primary among them, taken by the potential and the self-sufficiency that came with what was an unwieldly piece of kit.

Tony Mansfield was another of those early adapters and his fondness for, and proficiency with the Fairlight can be heard, not just on New Musik’s material but on the many subsequent production projects he took on after the curtain fell on his band following the release of the ‘Warp’ elpee in 1983. And nowhere more so than on Aztec Camera’s ‘Walk Out To Winter’, which he re-recorded and produced later that same year.

The original version of ‘Walk Out To Winter’ appears on Aztec Camera’s debut album, ‘High Land, Hard Rain’, and was produced by Bernie Clarke and John Brand. Brand followed a pretty standard career trajectory and worked first as a jobbing studio engineer on sessions with the likes of XTC and Magazine before going on to produce The Waterboys’ ‘A Pagan Place’ and The Go-Betweens’ ‘Before Hollywood’ elpees. Himself and Clarke, a keyboard player and arranger who also features on a couple of those earlier Go-Betweens albums, certainly succeeded in nailing the raw confidence in that early collection of Aztec Camera songs even if, as can often be the case with first albums, some of the excellent material sounded callow enough once it was committed to wax.

During the decades of insanity when the music industry was awash with more money and cocaine than cop-on, the recording process could often be grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unregulated. Far too many records, especially those pitched at the higher end of the commercial market, went through scores of executives, marketing heads and assorted flunkeys who would often insist on priority material being re-visited, re-mixed and re-recorded. Often for legitimate, quality-related reasons and often not.

The Smiths’ debut album, also recorded in 1983 for the Rough Trade label, was famously re-recorded from scratch and, even after the band switched producers – Troy Tate for John Porter – the album still managed to sound hollow and far more underwhelming than the band sounded on their first singles or live in concert. Closer to home, The Frank And Walters’ ‘After All’ and the sweeping ‘This Is Not A Song’ were both was re-recorded after the Edwyn Collins-produced originals were deemed, rightly in my view, to lack the sparkle and urgency of the band’s earlier material.

The initial, Pearse Gilmore-produced sessions for the first Cranberries album were scrapped and, after a trial period with Stephen Street, the project was eventually re-started from the floor up. The making of the second An Emotional Fish album, ‘Junk Puppets’, was another protracted affair that went through numerous hands, locations and producers and, invariably, cost an arm and a leg. The final cut was produced by Alan Moulder [the brooding, guitar-heavy parts] and Clive Langer [the more up-beat, instant parts], while David Stewart was later enlisted to add confetti canons and balloon drops to a couple of key cuts on what is, to my mind, a formidable and largely under-rated album.

It’s Tony Mansfield’s version of ‘Walk Out To Winter’ with which most of you will be familiar, even if the single failed to do the chart business expected of it and the band remained on the margins until the re-issue of the breezy ‘Oblivious’ towards the end of 1983. And it’s a version that, as you’d expect, has long divided opinion among Aztec Camera watchers, many of whom have stayed steadfast to the tender opening strum of the original.

The primary differences between the two versions are in the first four bars, where Mansfield adds a distinctive intro, and the broader Fairlight-derived scaffolding he uses to bolster the foundations throughout, devices familiar to fans of New Musik, where they were used liberally. And these bespoke sounds, touches and finishes can also be heard, in variously evolved form, across most of the subsequent production work Tony over-saw after New Musik folded. Most notably The B52s’ album, ‘Bouncing Off The Satellites’ [1986], Naked Eyes’ cover of the Bacharach and David number, ‘[There’s] Always Something There To Remind Me’ and Captain Sensible’s ‘Glad It’s All Over’, which he co-wrote and which charted in 1984.

But as a producer, Mansfield is probably best known for his contribution to the first A-ha elpee, ‘Hunting High And Low’, which was recorded in Pete Townsend’s Eel Pie Studio in Twickenham in 1984. The Norwegian band had relocated to London the previous year, from where they became one of the great, defining pop groups of that decade, selling over eleven million copies of their debut album. And although he takes a producer’s credit on nine of the cuts on ‘Hunting High And Low’, the relationship between the producer and the band – or perhaps the record company? – wasn’t a wholly positive one and, after six weeks, he was off the job. But only after he’d taken an early stab at the song that would later become A-ha’s breakthrough single, ‘Take On Me’.

The song was subsequently re-recorded by Alan Tarney and, supported by a distinctive, semi-animated promotional video, gave the band its first chart success. Tarney, a noted songwriter and musician – he was a member of The Shadows at one point during the 1970s – had written and produced Cliff Richard’s ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’ and, in several key respects, was cut from the same cloth as Tony Mansfield. ‘Wrapped in warm synths, propelled by shiny hard guitar, hits like ‘Take On Me’ and Cliff Richard’s ‘Wired For Sound’ are the essence of the Alan Tarney sound’, wrote Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley as part of a Guardian feature piece in 2015. And he’d have known better than anyone; – Tarney produced ‘You’re In a Bad Way’ for Stanley’s group, Saint Etienne, over twenty years previously.

In an interview with ‘Sound On Sound’ magazine in March, 2011, Tarney, who also co-wrote and produced Cliff’s imperious ‘Wired For Sound’ and later sprinkled the glitter on terrific pop songs by the likes of Dream Academy, Barbara Dickson, Squeeze, Bow Wow Wow and Pulp – told Richard Buskin that ‘the Tony Mansfield version [of ‘Take On Me’] employed a Fairlight and it just didn’t sound like A-ha at all’. ‘All I did was recreate the original demo. Its ingredients were good – nothing was really wrong other than it just didn’t quite sound like a finished record’.

And, he continued: – ‘I actually worked with Tony on another project, so I knew what to expect. At that time he was totally a Fairlight man and I can imagine why Warners [A-ha’s record company] felt his version wasn’t quite right’.

Hunting High And Low’ went on to break A-ha worldwide and Alan Tarney was back on duty with them on their next two albums, ‘Scoundrel Days’ and ‘Stay On These Roads’. They never worked with Tony Mansfield again.

*My thanks, as usual, to one of my own favourite producers, Chris O’Brien, who I besiege with technical and sound queries and who, in this instance, put me right about the Fairlight. And without whom etc …

APPENDIX

We received a number of comments on this piece. One comment came from John Dundon who mentioned having come across a great article in Record Collector. He dug it out, scanned it and sent on. We now share that here. If you enjoyed our piece, you should really enjoy this piece. Thanks John…

Record Collector
Record Collector

Record Collector
Record Collector
Record Collector

THE RETURN OF THE ROD SQUAD

 

The going could be rough enough down in Cork during the mid 1980s, but whenever you wanted to feel thoroughly out of your depth, you’d just remind yourself that Roddy Frame wrote and recorded the first, magical Aztec Camera album, ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ when he was still a teenager. Whatever about the power and blood in the music, and there’s plenty, it was his ability to turn a sharp phrase – ‘And breathless we talked. It was tongues’ – that really highlighted the gulf in class between us.

 

Roddy, more or less the same age as us and raised in what sounded like similar circumstances in Scotland, dealt with love and regret like he’d been on the international chancing circuit for decades, mixing with the kind of mysterious, ethereal women you only read about in books. Or may have seen, the odd time, parading up and down outside The Moderne during their lunchbreaks.

 

‘High Land, Hard Rain’, released invariably on the Rough Trade label, the imprint du jour in 1983, quickly become a staple for us and, with ‘Songs To Remember’ by Scritti Politti, Talking Heads’ ‘Remain In Light’ and the two Joy Division albums – all of which I bought, second-hand, in The Swop Shop on McCurtain Street – showed us the breadth of what was out there waiting for us, on the margins and off the beaten track. And the otherworldly singles that under-pinned it – ‘Oblivious’ and ‘Walk Out To Winter’ – were just as urgent to us as ‘Each And Every One’ by Everything But The Girl and ‘Don’t Sing’ by Prefab Sprout.

 

Indeed, with his battered suede jacket, unruly fringe, smart wordplays and strong, acoustic-powered sets, Roddy shared many basic traits with his peers from Witton Gilbert. And by so doing he provided us with many of our more fundamental reference points as we drove onwards, finding our way.

 

 

As soon as we fetched up in college, some of us made quickly for the most pretentious societies on the U.C.C. campus, where our love of good music, bad poetry, corduroy and general carousing was, we thought, bound to help settle us in. And, on paper at least, The English Literature Society lived up to every other cliché :- a powerful platform for emerging thinkers, writers, beard-strokers and lotharios. On full throttle, it was no place for the faint-hearted or the weak-livered.

 

But the readings, performances and recitals would eventually wind down and we’d head down to The Rock View for the after-show, where the fever of purple prose would engulf the bar and level the pitch a bit. And where, whenever the talk turned to the new, fledgling writers and poets, we’d refer back to Michael Stipe, Morrissey, McAloon and Roddy Frame to find common ground deep in the delirium. We barely knew any better or any differently.

 

A couple of years previously, Roddy Frame was snapped on the back of the second Aztec Camera album, ‘Knife’, wearing what appeared to be a cape. He’d clearly had, if not a full-body make-over then certainly a stylist’s upgrade and, caked in slap and with his considerable quiff swept up and pinned into order with pools of lacquer, looked for all the world like he’d moved over onto a major label and was now being groomed for, and by, a different market and a different class.

 

Produced by Mark Knopfler, Roddy’s first album for a major label [Warners], was a considered, bulked-up affair that, with an enhanced budget and very obviously made with more time and space, marked a line in the sand and a transition into adulthood. Both for the writer and for his audience. To those of us expecting another rash of frantic, lo-fi, love songs, it shocked our systems and, as I worked my way through the lyrics and the inlay, a small part of me faded quickly.

 

 

But I stuck with ‘Knife’ and I’m glad that I did. I listened to it for ages in tandem with Bob Dylan’s ‘Infidels’ album after Roddy, in one of the interviews he did to publicise his own record, suggested we might. Knopfler had also produced that elpee :- two years after the release of Dire Straits’ remarkable ‘Love Over Gold’, he’d been charged with pulling Dylan back in from the fringes following a run of records made after he’d converted to evangelical Christianity and that, critically, are among the most mixed of his long career.

 

Knopfler certainly succeeded in making ‘Infidels’ sound as much like a Dire Straits record as it did a Bob Dylan one. With Sly and Robbie in on drums and bass – and Mick Taylor adding guitar – five of the eight songs clock in at longer than five minutes and feature the producer cracking out a series  of familiar lead licks. The presence of Dire Straits’ own Alan Clark on keyboards and Knopfler’s engineer of choice, Neil Dorfsman, manning the pumps, gave the record a velvety sheen and the likes of ‘Jokerman’ and ‘Sweetheart Like You’ even found favour with MTV. Five years later, Bob Dylan was a Traveling Wilbury.

 

Roddy Frame never graduated to the same league but has certainly been as restless in his own way as Dylan has been throughout his career. And this can be seen, on a most basic level, by the producers he’s chosen to work with en route who, as well as Knopfler, also include Eric Calvi, Riuchi Sakamoto, Tommy LiPuma and Langer and Winstanley.

 

I’ve stayed with him through the decades, producers, humours and hair-dos and I keep going back. Aztec Camera released six studio albums under the cover of the band name and our hero continues to record and issue under his own handle even if, in the great traditions, his audiences have certainly become more selective and its been decades since he’s troubled either the chart compilers or ticket touts.

 

Prefab Sprout fans know well how this story plays out ;- both bands have long been associated in the popular mind, often with good reason and sometimes not. In much the same way that ‘Steve McQueen’ – with its magnificent, ground-breaking Thomas Dolby production – cannoned Prefab Sprout forward out of the undergrowth and into the more considered end of the adult pop market, so too did Knopfler’s finishing help to move Aztec Camera up through the gears apace. And this was nowhere more obvious than on ‘Knife’s title cut, the album’s lengthy closer that, with its long low-key intro and steady meandering could easily have sat on ‘Love Over Gold’.

 

But there’s far more. In the same way that both acts started their careers as multi-part groups, history recalls them now as enhanced assemblies realizing one writer’s central vision and various ambitions. They’ve both enjoyed similar commercial trajectories too and, in spite of formidable bodies of work compiled over decades, are best known in the wider markets for a couple of early singles – ‘Somewhere In My Heart’ and ‘The King Of Rock And Roll’ – that are largely unrepresentative and that kick against almost all of their other, more involved material.

 

 

Aztec Camera and Prefab Sprout have both long been left behind by what was once a music industry, well and truly deemed commercially unattractive and irrelevant in the newer scheme of things. And yet, like the most stubborn husband, both Roddy and Paddy are still resolutely clinging to their own first instincts – maybe all, ultimately, that they know ? – and continue to knock out the wonder and hey, who knows, maybe preparing the ground for the next coming ?

 

In the meantime, much of Roddy’s recent work remains in the sidings, left pretty much to its own devices, where it plays to those long converted. And in there somewhere are some of his finest songs, at least three from ‘Frestonia’, his 1995 album and the last released on a major label, four or five from his 1998 elpee, ‘The North Star’ issued on Andy MacDonald’s Independiente label and another handful from his last long-player, 2014’s ‘Seven Dials’ which, had it sold to the same extent that it was critically received, might have burned for longer and more intensively than it did.

 

‘Seven Dials’, like the two albums, ‘Western Skies’ and ‘Surf’ that preceded it, can be difficult enough to locate too. Unlike the records he issued under the band name, there’s an illusiveness to Roddy’s fully-fledged solo output that only adds to the lustre of the work. Indeed I’d been looking for a while for a couple of those more recent records when I picked up five of the first six Aztec Camera elpees, sold as a cluster, for the price of a packet of twenty cigarettes, instead. It must be the fifth time I’ve bought ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ – in various guises – at this stage. Where do the years go ? Probably to the same place as most of my favourite records.

 

Perhaps the stars had just stage-managed themselves into order for a reason ? On the week of the sixteenth anniversary of the death of Joe Strummer – whose face fell from a wall on the early Aztec Camera single, ‘Walk Out To Winter’ and whose considerable influence is audible at regular intervals throughout Roddy’s work – it was just an unseen hand at work again ?

 

The Hi-B bar on the corner of Winthrop Street and Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork can be regarded variously as a quaint local speakeasy known for some of the best spontaneous floor shows in the country or as a holding area for some of the most shameless spoons in Cork. And very often it’s just a mix of both. When I drank there during the 80s and 90s, the sitting-room sized boozer, with its leather-seats salvaged from a vintage Volkswagen, was a genuine one-off. Like The Late Late Show at its peak, anything could happen – and often did – and you were never quite sure who was going to appear next. There was no autocue either and some of the patrons would regularly go off-script and break into song or belt out a verse of a poem from the floor.

 

To the bar’s credit, I can never remember the old television there ever actually being on, although some of the regulars assure me that, during Ireland’s penalty shoot-out at Italia ’90, it was briefly flickered into life. What I do know is that the unsuspecting post-grad who reached up from the car-seats one night and tried to switch it on to watch the final episode of Twin Peaks, was unceremoniously fucked from a height by Brian, the cranky owner, and presumably banned from The Hi-B for life?

 

Television and football would have been much too crude for a man of such sophisticated tastes as Brian, whose love of opera and light classical was matched only by his rudeness and the disdain he held for some of his more unsuspecting customers, hapless students usually. Indeed I was there one evening as he made his way out from behind the bar to perform an erratic version of ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ for the handful of hardy locals before curling up on one of the leather seats and falling into a deep sleep.

 

The English Literature Society crowd were made to feel far more at home in The Hi-B and we were there one night when a poetry reading broke out around us. The material, like the poets themselves, was well-meaning but ultimately grim, brutal stuff, the sort of half-baked, badly-derivative word saladry you’d expect from locals playing to each other. It was after we asked to quieten down for the second time that we taught the better of it and made off.

 

As was practice, we took the short hop over to The Long Valley instead where, for the umpteenth time, we debated the merits of the finest poets and writers of our time. And where, long into the night, we summoned up the great works – ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’, ‘Rattlesnakes’, ‘The Queen Is Dead’, ‘The Joshua Tree’, ‘The Crossing’ and ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ – to drive our various points home.

 

It was in around the same part of Cork – upstairs at De Lacy House – where Roddy Frame played an ace solo support slot one night years later. ‘Do the Van Halen song’, someone shouted from down around the sound desk, hoping perhaps for the sweet cover of ‘Jump’ that Roddy had first included years previously on the back of the ‘All I Need Is Everything’ single. And Roddy took a moment, eye-balled the room and answered: – ‘I’m not doing ‘Hot For Teacher’ tonight.

 

And he didn’t, either.