I’ve written previously – and at no little length – about The Frank And Walters, to my mind the best pound-for-pound pop band the country has ever produced. And it’s a story I know as well as anyone :- I have a long and proud association with the group – and especially with Paul and Ashley – that dates back to The Enterprise Bar at the end of Barrack Street in Cork during the memorable summer of 1990, when we first met. And after which it was clear we had plenty of work ahead of us.


I’ve long made a case too for the rare gifts bestowed somewhere, sometime, on Paul Linehan, the band’s singer and primary songwriter and easily among the most intriguing, complicated, compelling and consistently under-regarded of his kind to have emerged from Ireland during the last three decades. The Frank And Walters may never have had the stylish, renewable range of their former label-mates, The Divine Comedy, or the contrary, convex pull of another of the Setanta Records pack, A House. But beneath the surface, their body of work – and at this stage that canon is a considerable one – tells a long story that’s as formidable as any and more distinctive than most, much of it carved from banana-shaped, first-hand local testimony.


I’ve been beating the drum long and hard for The Franks for almost thirty years now which, no doubt, has significantly discomforted a band that has instinctively preferred life in the lower keys. Someone, I guess, has to do it. And still they come, in their own time, from deep in the shadows, with a new record or an anniversary tour to keep the old-timers happy and, perhaps, the home fires burning.


I saw them in a dive in Manchester last Autumn, on a dreary Sunday night around the back of The Arndale Centre where, to a partisan, mis-shaped crowd, they played every single song like they were doing so for the last time. But that’s The Franks for you ;- they’ve never known it any differently and, like Elvis, they’ve long had that knack to make everyone feel special.


But their story has never been a straight-forward one either and so, on one hand, I’m not overly surprised that, twenty-five years since they performed on Top Of The Pops and achieved their highest ever chart placing in Britain with ‘After All’ – the song that unfairly defines them –  they exist once again outside of their loyal support-base, however fleetingly.


Like much of the country, I’ve been gob-smacked by the tender genius of Peter Foott’s Cork-based drama, ‘The Young Offenders’, which has played on the RTÉ 2 schedules for the last number of weeks. And which, as a proud Corkman in exile, who left the city for good in 1994 to work at Ireland’s national broadcaster, makes me utterly compromised on at least two different levels.


But to borrow from one of many commentators on social media last week, the chatty coming-of-age drama series that follows the thickly-accented mis-adventures of Conor and Jock, is easily the most perceptive, pointed and outrageously insightful observational documentary series ever made about Cork city, it’s people and their many, many nuances.


The first series closed out earlier this week with a crowd scene on a hi-jacked double-decker bus that featured a fully-fledged choral singalong led by a knife-wielding, half-simple local gurrier, Billy Murphy. And when the hostages on board the Number 8 break into a mighty performance of ‘After All’, the series definitively cements its greatness. That scene – in which Sandra Bullock’s ‘Speed’ meets The Frank And Walters’ single, ‘The Happy Busman’ – is already among the country’s best ever television moments. To anyone from Cork, it’ll hardly be bettered.



Myself and ‘After All’ go way back to a semi-detached house in Morden, in South West London, where The Franks set up shop in 1992 after they’d first signed to Go Discs from Setanta Records, the small label run by Keith Cullen that had initially broken the band. That house became variously a rehearsal studio, a writing room, a merchandising lock-up, record company annex and refuge for the bewildered. Imagine the four-door dwelling in The Beatles’ film, ‘Help’, occupied by Cha and Mia, Billa O’Connell and Paddy Comerford and you’re getting there.


And it was in the kitchen there that Paul Linehan first played me the guts of ‘After All’ on an acoustic guitar, after which we went to work on the harmonies and the structure – I’m almost certain we made the original verse the chorus – as we used to do regularly back then. The band was preparing to record it’s first album and was well into the pre-production phase ;- ‘After All’ was one of the last of the new songs written for that elpee, ‘Trains, Boats And Planes’, and was certainly worth waiting for.


I wish I could say now that I knew instinctively it was a hit single, but I can’t. I actually thought that ‘This Is Not A Song’ was a far better bet and will still make the case for it. But what I do know is that, on the long train ride back out to West Ealing the following morning, I could still remember every single line of ‘After All’.


Its greatness is in it’s simplicity – its actually a very easy song to play and, as I knew straight away, to remember – and then latterly in its darker aspects, which are almost always ignored. Ostensibly a love song that’s as persistent as it is beguiling, ‘After All’ nods to religion, distraction, loneliness and contemplation, all wrapped around a formidable Ian Broudie production. [Its worth noting here that the song was re-recorded several times and, by any standards, there is no comparison between the version on the album, produced by Edwyn Collins, and the eventual single version.]


Like the improbable television series on which it now features, ‘After All’ also has a broad, cross-generational appeal :- like any great pop song, it’s easily re-purposed and is as likely to feature at a wedding ceremony as it is at a wedding reception as it is to be sung on the football terraces.


And, as such, a giddy, full-on, unashamedly partisan performance of ‘After All’ was just a perfect – and maybe, just the only – way to conclude ‘The Young Offenders’, which shares not only many of the song’s characteristics in its dramatic tone and style but stars, basically, the full panoply of a cast routinely chronicled in numerous Frank And Walters songs since 1990. Long-time band watchers will, in that wonderful hi-jacking scene, have noted the likes of Andy James, the happy busman, John and Sue, the nervous lovers, Timmy, the trainspotter, Davy Chase, the local hard feen and Mrs. Xavier, the single-parent who’s been left behind, as prominent support characters. Variously love-sick, awkward, hopeless and, ultimately, tender and harmless, and with not a hint of malice in any of them.


And of course none moreso than the knife-wielding gom himself,  Billy Murphy, [played magnificently by Shane Casey], one of the year’s most supple and brilliantly improbably television heroes and who, in action, thought and deed, is redolent of those curious Cork chancers and gobdaws long considered to be outside, rogue, native and curious.


And who, since 1990, have been given a voice in the many, many terrific songs of The Frank And Walters.






Regular subscribers to The Blackpool Sentinel – one of the advantages  of digital media means that we have identified someone in West Cork  and possibly another in Eastern Europe – will need no introduction to  the magnificent Scottish band, Trashcan Sinatras, and their seductive,  smart and startlingly soothing pop songs. They are in part the patron  saints of under-achievement and the brothers of perpetual succour and,  over the course of a near flawless thirty-year career – during which time  they’ve dropped six wonderful studio albums – have covered a huge  amount of thematic ground.

The Trashcans are one of a number of bands – Prefab Sprout and The  Go-Betweens are others – to whom I default in times of major events  like births, deaths, anniversaries, personal anxiety and general  uncertainty. Because like all of the truly great artists and writers, they  can bring a serenity and a calm to every occasion, no matter how difficult.

Neither will our regulars need any introduction to snow, in either the  literal sense – and certainly not our regular in Eastern Europe – nor in  the more metaphorical one. Snow – a long-time industry slang word for cocaine – has long been a buzz-word [in every sense] within the entertainment industry, and particularly inside music circles. Many is the coked-up flunkey I’ve encountered around the circuit over the years  :- toot has long been the peccadillo of choice for an entire demographic  sweep since when our Lord determined there would be music.

It was the late comedian and actor Robin Williams’ – no stranger to  snow himself – who asserted that ‘cocaine is God’s way of telling you  you are making too much money’. Which might come as a surprise to  many of those chemical enthusiasts working across all aspects of the  music scene and who tend to be perennially penniless.

It was the inveterate drug addict, Eric Clapton – who also found time to play guitar and make a series of unfortunate records as an addled solo artist – who immortalised the phrase ‘no snow, no show’ back in 1978 as  he was transitioning from one dependency to the next. And his is one of  the most celebrated – if certainly nowhere near the worst – example of  a career that was spectacularly derailed by dust.

Indeed there are numerous lists of albums made by paranoid, agitated and utterly uncoordinated artists while under the very obvious influence of bump, most of which are impenetrable, unlistenable and inconsistent affairs. The Band, The Eagles, Miles Davis, David Bowie, Oasis, Sly And  The Family Stone and Blur are just some of the bigger and better known  artists who’ve ignored the Status Orange warnings and suffered the inevitable collateral damage that tends to follow extreme snow-storms.  Just, indeed, as there are lists of essential records too that were made  and produced in a blizzard of blow, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ easily  one of the best of them. And an album whose enormous international  sales numbers directly mirrors the mountain of cocaine consumed as it was being conceived and recorded.

Elsewhere, the producer Gary Katz oversaw the recording of an entire  Steely Dan album in Los Angeles that neither Donald Fagen or the late Walter Becker – the creative core of the band – could actually recall being present at. The sessions for David Bowie’s ‘Station To Station’ and  the third Oasis album, ‘Be Here Now’, are just as celebrated and for similar reasons.

As Ireland prepares for the arrival of what the Portuguese Meteorological  Office have named ‘Storm Emma’, and what looks like an unprecedented  and havoc-wrecking weather event, its worth noting that the last time  so much snow damage was forecast for Ireland was after Oasis were confirmed as headliners at Slane Castle back in 2009.

But snow – in the literal, meteorological sense – has long been a useful metaphor too and practically every writer and performer of note has  dropped a lyrical reference to it at some point. One of the more obtuse – and, naturally enough, one of my own personal favourites – is the The Cocteau Twins’ ‘Snow’ special Christmas E.P. from 1993, on which  they covered, as only they might, both ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Frosty  The Snowman’. But everyone’s done snow at some point :- from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen to The Go-Betweens, it is literally all around  us.



And yet no one’s done it as beautifully as our old friends, Trashcan  Sinatras and, given the serious weather event incoming, it’s only right  and proper that they’ll be soundtracking the snowfall across Ireland for  as long as it endures. In my own house, at any rate.

‘Snow’, written by Randy Newman and first recorded by Harry Nilsson, the American singer-songwriter for an album called ‘Nilsson Sings Newman’ released in 1970, presents in the spirit of The Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’ [or perhaps The Smiths’ ‘Death Of A Disco Dancer’ ?] and is another of those soft, tender and dangerously loaded love songs in which they specialise. ‘Its all over and you’re gone’, Frank Reader sings over a slow, rumbling air. ‘But the memory lives on, although our dreams lie buried in the snow’. And apart  altogether from the quality of the writing – ‘Snow’ is easily as gorgeous  as anything they’ve committed to tape themselves and man, have they consistently shot the  lights out in that respect– they’ve also managed a rare sensory feat.  ‘Snow’ has a rare, mesmerising quality :- if snowfall had a sound to accompany it, this would be it.

‘Snow’ doesn’t feature on any of the band’s studio albums :- they’ve  used it twice over the years instead as a bridging piece between  elpees. It first saw the light of day in 1999, post ‘A Happy Pocket’ and  still five years before their fourth album, ‘Weightlifting’. And ‘Snow’ was re-issued in 2006 between the release of ‘Weightlighting’ in 2004  and ‘In The Music’ five years later, even if the record itself remains difficult to find.

The weather, the outdoors, natural history and geography have long  been strong themes across much of The Trashcans material. Snow  features as a backdrop on their magnificent ‘Wild Mountainside’ [‘snow  is falling all over, out of clear blue sky] while, as far back as the band’s  second album, ‘I’ve Seen Everything’, the curious ninety second  shuffle, ‘Iceberg’ remarked how ‘through thaw and freeze, my life’s a  breeze’.

In light of the current weather cycle, The National Emergency Co-Ordination Group has recommended that all Irish citizens, where possible, remain indoors for the bulk of the next couple of days.

Their advice – and it’s sound – is to be careful of the snow. And especially what lurks underneath it.


Following a back and forth on the best song about Snow on Twitter we have put together a list of the possible contenders that have been suggested… thanks all. (We will keep adding as we get more suggestions)

Suggested by @mosstinpowers


Suggested by @ccferrie


Suggested by @Lyricfeature


Suggested by @boamorteband 


Another one Suggested by @boamorteband 


@aslinndubh suggests another 


Suggested by @Tconlononthecouch


suggested by @westcorkpaul (& @Boamorteband – really pulling out the stops guys.


Suggested by @kevsul47


cole pic


One of the most complete and impressive live guitar performances I’ve seen during my decades spent going slowly deaf in large rooms was on the wide stage at The City Hall in Cork on November 2nd, 1987. Neil Clark lined-up to Lloyd Cole’s right that night, stage left as I looked on from half-way down the long hall on Anglesea Street and, using a full range of styles, buttressed The Commotions sound like he did for the seven years the band endured. During which he routinely played with his fists bound in velvet.

Lloyd Cole and The Commotions were touring ‘Mainstream’, their third album and, during that short stop-over in Ireland, where they were always well received, also played a clutch of dates in Limerick, Dublin and Belfast. There was a time when this sort of carry-on was more rule than exception, even for the bigger bands on the circuit. And in November, 1987, The Commotions were a serious draw.

Some of the more potent live shows played here over the last forty years have gone off, if not completely under the radar, then certainly far from the traditional seat of cool and in less obvious, smaller venues outside of Dublin. Nirvana with Sonic Youth in Cork, famously. The Smiths in Letterkenny and Dundalk, Radiohead in Galway and Prefab Sprout with Paul Brady in Belfast foremost among them too. And to which I would certainly add any one of a number of Commotions shows.



That ‘Mainstream’ tour was back-dropped by the sort of mixed signals that often define a band or artist up a critical and creative junction. The album’s excellent lead single, ‘My Bag’ – ‘excuse me one moment while I powder my nose’ – had been a more difficult sell than it should have been and struggled to recapture commercial formlines. Discommoding some of the day-trippers who’d latterly come on board with the group, ‘Mainstream’ would be the last of the band’s three studio albums.

In the two years since those radio and chart hits – ‘Brand New Friend’ and ‘Lost Weekend’ – and the patchy second album on which they featured, ‘Easy Pieces’, the band’s ambitions had been pulled between the soft edges of ‘Smash Hits’, the market’s influential pop weekly on which Lloyd had featured as brooding pop totty and the noisier, more unforgiving pages of what was then regarded as the more serious music press, New Music Express and Melody Maker especially. And where Lloyd and the band had enjoyed a strong critical footing since the release of ‘Forest Fire’ in 1984.

‘My Bag’ – a terrific, full-bodied, guitar led pop song narrated by a cocaine addict who was walking his bag ‘through a twenty-storey non-stop snow-storm’ – captured that tension in four minutes flat.

One of the Commotions, keyboard player Blair Cowan, had already left the fray, with his accordion under his arm, presumably. But while the ‘Mainstream’ sessions had been laboured – as was much of the tour – it’s not that you’d have guessed that from either the record or the live dates that accompanied it. ‘My Bag’ is indicative of an album that’s meatier and more ambitious than what went previously ;- the songs are stronger and Lloyd has grown into his voice, developing apace as a lyricist as he did so.

But the cross-over, popular market successes delivered by ‘Easy Pieces’ had come at a price. I’m not convinced that The Commotions were ever designed to hold the sort of weight that goes with success in the middle-ground – they wouldn’t be the first, either – and I’ve long felt that much of their subtlety and lyrical magic was just lost in the unpredictable wind of the mainstream. And if the band itself was uncertain about the record, then what about us ?

Lloyd himself re-visited ‘Lost Weekend’ and ‘Brand New Friend’ several years later on a song called ‘Past Imperfect’, the opening cut on an excellent, eponymously-titled album he made in 2000 as part of a New York-based group, featuring Jill Sobule, called The Negatives. ‘I can’t unwrite the tune or discount the cost’ he sings on an album that also features the mighty ‘That Boy’, co-written by Lloyd with Gary Clark of Danny Wilson and King L [and, latterly, the writer of the ‘Sing Street’ soundtrack]. Fifteen years later and he was still seeing the writing on the wall. And yet all that notwithstanding, Neil Clark gave a real masterclass that night in Cork back in 1987 ;- I just couldn’t believe how effortless his playing was or how central he was to every single one of The Commotions’ key plays. And I remember it in detail.

Thirteen years previously, the influential British film-maker, Tony Palmer, had captured another guitarist at work and play in the same venue. ‘Rory Gallagher : Irish Tour, 1974’ is still, at least on my count, the most rounded and insightful documentary portrait of the gifted but troubled Ballyshannon-born, Cork-shaped guitarist who died, aged 47, in 1995. Completed without voice-over or commentary, Palmer’s highly-charged but skilfully stitched tour film allows the music and the cinematography to link the narrative. And the director’s style in this instance clearly suited his subject, who was notoriously shy and who, once again on this film, is at his most animated when talking about strings, tunings and his guitar’s battered body.



But ‘Irish Tour, 1974’ is far more than just a live performance piece. In the scenes shot with Rory around Cork city and Cobh – and especially the material gathered around Belfast at the height of ‘the troubles’ – the film becomes a formidable social history document as it goes. Whether that be in those shots of keyboard player, Lou Martin uncapping a beer bottle using his belt buckle in a spartan, barely functional dressing room, the smog-filtered general views of Cork’s heavily-industrialised harbour, the Leeds United scarf held aloft proudly in the audience at the City Hall show or the exterior shots of some of Cork’s best known pubs during this time, The Sextant and The Swan And Cygnet among them.

And while presumably a director’s in-joke, the only white powder seen in any of the backstage material is that from a branded Scholl can :- drummer Rod D’Ath is captured by Palmer on 16mm film applying foot talc in the dressing room before he laces up his rubber dollies and takes his opening position behind the traps ahead of one of the live concerts. ‘Not chasing anything, just jogging’, as Lloyd Cole would later sing on ‘My Bag’.

In terms of style, influence, tone and substance, Rory Gallagher and Neil Clark stood oceans apart. Gallagher’s primary influences were in the improvised skiffle riffs of Lonnie Donegan and the bluesy American rock sounds of Leadbelly, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry ;- he was a magnetic virtuoso guitarist – electric and acoustic – who, at one stage, was invited to replace Mick Taylor in The Rolling Stones.

And his impact stretches far and wide :- he was regarded as much for how he played as for what he played and, as such, has been name-checked by the likes of Johnny Marr, The Edge, Tim Wheeler of Ash, Noel Gallagher and all points between. And in the great traditions of critical cliché, there were times, routinely during his career, when his guitar appeared as if it were simply an extension of his body.

Neil Clark might well have been aware of Gallagher’s standing – in Cork, especially -but was far more determined, one suspects, by the grittier can-do of Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols and the delicate flowers of Scotland that sprung into life on the Postcard label in the post-punk era. But like Rory, he too was a nimble and flexible player – if far less showy – and was comfortable in a myriad of styles, often within the same verse-chorus-verse structure. And I was lucky enough to see him at the peak of his powers that night in The City Hall as The Commotions exploded in front of me.

As someone who missed Gallagher’s legendary live performances in Cork by a decade, but who had heard the many tall tales and general mythology, that had surrounded those shows, this must have been how he sounded, ten years previously, to the duffle-coated, Innisfallen-bound generation that went before me.

I’d seen Johnny Marr at close quarters three years previously in The Savoy on Patrick Street when The Smiths played two shows there in 1984, but those performances were dominated from top to tail by Morrissey, the band’s singer and from whom you diverted your attention at your peril, and by a series of fractious side-shows that were going on deep in the belly of the audience. So while I’d been captivated by magnetic lead singers at live shows previously – a young Cathal Coughlan set the bar far too high – this was the first time I’d felt the raw clout of a live guitar and the possibilities it brought with it.

Neil was Lloyd Cole’s guitar side-kick from the early 1980s onwards and it was his fluent and wide-ranging guitar sound that shaped much of the band’s material and reputation. His humble jangle – alongside Cole’s arch lyrics and melody lines and Cowan’s soft keyboard fills – made The Commotions one of the more interesting and powerful bands of the British indie-pop set during a magical period from 1984 until 1987.

I adored ‘Rattlesnakes’, the band’s imperial 1984 debut album. Apart entirely from the magic underpinning it’s smart pop chops, and Lloyd’s outrageous name-dropping – Simone de Beauvoir, Arthur Lee, Eve Marie Saint, Greta Garbo – he had also delivered one of the greatest lines I’d heard. On ‘Four Flights Up’, over a skittish, country-flavoured Long Ryders-style rattling riff, Lloyd posed the question – ‘Must you tell me all your secrets when its hard enough to love you knowing nothing ?’. And, by so doing, pulled the rug from under anyone serious about pulling with confidence at U.C.C.’s English Literature Society outings to The Rockview Bar.



Lloyd and Neil share a couple of memorable co-writes on that record – to my mind the album’s best cuts, ‘Forest Fire’ and ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken’ – but our hero contributes widely and wildly across the full deck of ten cuts, numerous acoustic signatures, thundering lead riffs, passive fills and gorgeous foundation lines. But he reserved his most sterling work for ‘Mainstream’.

Lloyd Cole will be forever best remembered – unfairly so and in the worst traditions of his trade – for ‘Rattlesnakes’ and for the snappy pop market singles from its follow up.  But ‘Mainstream’ is by far the band’s best record.

Apart from the strength of the material – ‘From The Hip’, ‘Mister Malcontent’, ‘Sean Penn Blues’ and ‘Hey Rusty’ are ace by any standards – the record is underpinned at every turn by Neil’s magnificent contributions :- the album drips with layers of guitar, much of which is un-obtrusive. And that night in The City Hall just sealed the deal for me :- no moreso than on the grandiose ‘Hey Rusty’, which he coaxed lovingly over the middle-distance before making for home with the sort of champion kick seen earlier than year in Indianapolis when a remarkable local athlete, Marcus O’Sullivan, one Cork’s finest ever sportsmen or women, took the first of his three World Indoor 1500m championships.



Earlier that year, a friend of mine produced a copy of ‘The Joshua Tree’ out of a Golden Discs carrier bag up on the third floor of The Boole Library in U.C.C. and, on the back of an intensive morning he’d spent with it, was already proclaiming U2’s fifth studio album as the most essential and important record of our generation. By the end of that summer, The Smiths had broken up, R.E.M. released ‘Document’ and The Jesus And Mary Chain released ‘Darklands’. And that – and Marcus O’Sullivan – was pretty much how 1987 was for me.

The night after The Commotions played in Cork, I watched Lloyd do an interview with Shay Healy on a pre-watershed RTÉ magazine programme called ‘Evening Extra’. Unshaven, clearly well-read, studied and bored, Lloyd sported one of his signature black polo-necks during that encounter and, en homage, I wore a selection of similar sweaters for many years thereafter myself. Hoping, forlornly as it happened, that some of his allure might rub off on me.

And I revealed as much to the man himself on May 13th, 1999, when we had the pleasure of hosting Lloyd Cole on an RTÉ light entertainment series I produced called ‘Kenny Live’ and for which he travelled over specially from New York. He played an acoustic Negatives number for us by way of promoting an upcoming live date in Dublin and was as gracious, smart, witty and swarthy as I’d long imagined he might be. And once I’d finished mortifying the pair of us after the show, he dropped a pre-release copy of The Negatives’ album into my lap and signed my copy of ‘Love Story’, his terrific 1995 solo elpee.

Curiously, he wasn’t the last member of The Commotions I encountered on that circuit either. The band’s bass-player, Lawrence Donegan, began a career in journalism immediately after the curtain came down for the group in 1989 and went on to become one of the most perceptive and insightful golf writers on the planet. During the mid-1990s, he spent twelve months in Creeslough in County Donegal – where he has family connections – and captured that experience, which included a stretch spent working the newsdesk at a local paper, in a terrific book, ‘No News At Throat Lake’. We welcomed Lawrence onto an episode of ‘The Late Late Show’ in October, 1999, during which he plugged his book and discussed Daniel O’Donnell at length with the presenter, Pat Kenny.

And after which, having embarrassed myself so spectacularly with his former colleague in the same green room six months earlier, I opted to leave well enough alone and made a point of not discussing the past. Perfect, imperfect or otherwise.






Next week I’ll take the long walk down the quay to see Morrissey perform live for the umpteenth time. It’s more of a duty than anything else at this stage, I think :- like my annual subscription to the Resident’s Association here, none of whom I really know, whose purpose I don’t really understand and yet who, one day, may spring to my rescue when I most need them. So yes, I live in hope that, maybe once more for old time’s sake, Morrissey may discover his form in front of goal, keep his gob locked shut and pull himself up off the floor. Which isn’t beyond the contrary old street slugger, even if his recent formlines are far from convincing.


Indeed the last couple of shows he’s played at The Point Theatre in Dublin have captured much of his long solo career in microcosm. Uneven and disengaged affairs, by and large, with the odd dash of brilliance ;-enough to help retain an interest and to ultimately frustrate you. The impotence of Ernest, if you like.


The venue itself is a real problem. With its wide-open spaces, cold concrete finish and notorious sound traps, The Point is a depressing place to see any kind of half-interesting act ;- subtlety and lateral thinking are simply impossible there. And it certainly hasn’t been a happy setting for Morrissey for whom, as his audiences have become more selective and older, the place has just become too big. That the venue boasts all the charm of a working abattoir brings another layer altogether to his performances there.


A few of us still well up when we remember the night, back in November 1995, when Morrissey opened for David Bowie on a doomed double-bill that, in theory, was a dream ticket. But, plugging his atrocious fifth album, ‘Southpaw Grammar’ [diehards and disciples refer to it as ‘misunderstood’], he languidly ploughed through a dozen numbers,  struggling to stroke up the engine in front of a half-empty hall.


Morrissey despised that tour by all accounts – the idea that he might play second fiddle to anyone, even Bowie, was far less attractive in reality than it might have been on paper – and, from where we stood, just in front of the sound-desk, desperately trying to work up a thirst, that feeling was mutual. We lasted half an hour of Bowie’s set – he was promoting a misunderstood issue of his own – ‘Outside’ – and couldn’t wait to get back up into the familiar, welcoming arms of The Stag’s Head, where the porter and the loose talk took us well into the small hours. During which we cursed both of them long and hard.


It’s no co-incidence that Morrissey’s most magnetic solo shows in Dublin – from his very first in The National Stadium in April, 1991, when he was supported by a startlingly fresh-faced Would Bes – have gone off far from the hollow blow down in the docklands. To my mind he’s been at his most dynamic in The Ambassador [October, 2002], The Olympia Theatre [December 1999 and April, 2006] and Vicar Street [July, 2011] when, in good voice and injury free – and plugging his better material – he came alive at close quarters, making light work of the fourth wall as he ploughed head first through it.



Morrissey’s appeal – and to be fair, he can still clearly mobilise a crew and inspire a mania of sorts – has long been determined by the instinctive, direct-to-the-face connection he forges from author to reader, from stage to pit. Many of his live shows in this country, as has long been routine elsewhere, have been hijacked by those fervent loyalists who see them, not merely as concerts, but as semi-private novenas. Biding their time and scoping the geography, they’ll eventually take their chances with the security detail, mounting the stage and hoping for a quick touch of Morrissey’s relic before being escorted off.


However unpredictible he can be – on record, on stage, on tape, on the printed page – Morrissey is still a formidable concern when he’s fully fit. But into the veteran stage of his career now, it’s far more difficult for him to shake the routine knocks, many of which he inflicts himself. And the more he’s been unable to keep his mouth in check, the rattier and more dislikeable he’s become.


Reading some of his more bizarre – and dangerously loose – political views might lead long-time watchers to conclude that, perhaps, he’s just given up the ghost. Knowing that, on another level, the ghost – the media, the music industry, the marketplace – has long since given up on him.


It wasn’t always like that, of course. I was there on Saturday night, April 27th, 1991, on Dublin’s South Circular Road for what was, in effect, Morrissey’s first full-bodied live date as a solo performer. Pre-internet, pre-smart phone and when organised ticket swindling was far less sophisticated but no less an issue than it is now, that show sold out in less than an hour, during which he was the hottest – and most relevant – ticket in town.


The occasion – and it was very definitely an occasion – was every bit as raucous, chaotic, sweaty and scintillating as you might imagine, on a night when the partisan home end was swelled by a noisy travelling support, most of it male and pale and almost all of which had made it over to Leonard’s Corner on the ferry from Britain. And my sports analogies are deliberate :- much of the general hullabaloo that night had its origins on the football terraces and, from the off, the energy inside and outside the hall – one of the hearts of Irish amateur boxing – resembled that which you’d find at a feisty local lower-league derby or a decent card at York Hall, Bethnal Green.


As I made my way up past The Headline Bar, it was clear that Dublin 8 had been invaded ;- I’d never before seen such a range of spectacular quiffs, turn-ups, glasses, leather brogues and floral tributes. A terrific piece here documents in no little detail the fevered hoopla that surrounded that show, before and especially during it.


Morrissey has long been a moody and crabby tourist and both Johnny Marr’s biography, ‘Set The Boy Free’ and Johnny Rogan’s ‘The Severed Alliance’ paint unattractive, odd-ball portraits from both inside and outside of The Smiths camp of a performer prone to indecision, erratic behaviour, reckless decision making and routine hissy-fitting. And yet,  certainly at the beginning of his solo career, he seemed energised and re-focused – rested and finally in complete control, perhaps ? – and his good humour was reflected in many of his earliest live shows, some of which I saw at home and in Britain and most of which were electric.


Both the full-bodied quiffs – especially Morrissey’s own – and the floral tributes are long diminished now :- and much of the singer’s charm has wilted with them. He was in his creative pomp when his Trumper’s-tended wedge had the cut of an elaborate French stick but, like the rest of us, he’s struggled clearly for any real kind of elevation this last while. And I know this because I’ve seen that head close-up :- several years back I found myself sitting immediately behind Morrissey on a delayed British Airlines flight to London, days after he’d performed in Dublin on the ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ tour. And no, I didn’t reach out over the cold leather seats to touch it, much and all as I was sorely tempted to.


But he carries on regardless.


And he’s back in Dublin next week to plug his most recent album, ‘Low In High School’ which, like much of his solo material, is not without it’s moments – the first four cuts and the imperious, multiple phase ‘I Bury The Living’ take the laurels – although its nowhere near his best and most cohesive work. Which, for the sake of reference, and in order of appearance, I mark as ‘Your Arsenal’ [1992], ‘Vauxhall And I’ [1994], ‘You Are The Quarry’ [2004] and ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’ [2006]. And like another increasingly frequent visitor to The Point Theatre, U2 – whose audiences [customers ?] have also become far more selective – there’s trouble afoot in the writing room.



Morrissey’s sound now mirrors his own physical shape and the depth of tone in his voice :- fuller, rich and scarcely recognisable from the nervy tenor he cut in 1983, when pitching up in tune was frequently beyond him. But far too often that production bulk just sounds like well-intentioned plodding around crudely-formed riff-making. Awash with keyboards and familiar lyrical tropes, too much of ‘Low in High School’ just sounds tired and incomplete, the ambitious ‘I Bury The Living’ the exception. In the anti-war lyrical tradition of Donovan’s ‘Universal Soldier’, it bedrocks the record in the middle-order and, in length and in spirit, resembles previous sinewy anchor tenants like ‘Life Is A Pigsty’ [from ‘Ringleaders’], ‘Its Not Your Birthday Anymore’ [from ‘Years of Refusal’] and ‘The Teachers Are Afraid of The Pupils’ [from ‘Southpaw Grammar’]. All of whom stretch out, over time, beyond the obvious.


With the co-writing credits now shared more loosely around various members of his backing band, cohesion is an issue too and, again like U2 over the last decade, much of ‘High School’ just sounds forced and way less than the sum of it’s parts.


Indeed Morrissey’s best and most lucid record since ‘Ringleader’ is a compilation of odds, sods, the odd cover and assembled rarities released in 2009 – and honking of contractual obligation – as ‘Swords’. Eighteen cuts long, it captures some of his lesser known tracks recorded over the previous decade, ‘Ganglord’, ‘Teenage Dad On His Estate’, ‘Munich Air Disaster, 1958’, ‘Children In Pieces’, ‘Friday Mourning’ and ‘Because Of My Poor Education’ among them, as well as a meaty live take on Bowie’s ‘Drive-In Saturday’. And it has the not inconsiderable hand of Alain Whyte all over it.



Whyte might not be the most flamboyant and creative writer in recent music history but he’s certainly been Morrissey’s most ambitious and consequential partner since Johnny Marr. His songs buttressed the spine of every one of those solo albums from ‘Your Arsenal’ to ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’ and he was a constant in Morrissey’s live retinue from 1991 until 2004. And, as with many of those who’ve worked so intrinsically inside the singer’s inner circle, he left the set-up under a cloud – how else ? – and was roundly disparaged, like a myriad of others, in the singer’s 2014 book, ‘Autobiography’.


While many of Whyte’s songs are as one-dimensional as the mercurial League Of Ireland wing wizard returned from England’s lower leagues, his credits – ‘Hold Onto Your Friends’, ‘Sunny’, First Of The Gang To Die’, ‘Life Is A Pigsty’, ‘I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero Now’, ‘Its Not Your Birthday Anymore’, ‘Certain People I Know’ and a myriad of others – tell their own story. And he may, perhaps, have been far more central to Morrissey’s machine than the singer might otherwise concede


A considerable amount of water, record company spats, quality b-sides, bass-players and unseemly aggro have passed beneath the bridges in the many years since I first fell under Morrissey’s spell – mano a boyo – feet away from the stage at The Savoy in Cork in 1984. And in that time, I suspect I’ve become one of those hopelessly forlorn suburban cases, just keeping on keeping on, head down, that so dominate many of his songs. The sickly boyfriend who went down on one knee because, well, he only had one knee. And, when I fetch up next week in The Point, I’ll meet many more just like me. And worse.


Morrissey has consistently entertained me, appalled me, disgusted me, humoured me and, for many years, just obsessed me ;- for ages he was a conversation starter and a friendship former. We’ve been thirty-five years together now and, like many other couples who first got it on in secondary school, should probably have called it quits for good years ago. With the thrill far more irregular and the unquestioning lustre long worn, we’re doing it more for the kids than for ourselves at this stage. That and the promise, unlikely as it might be, of the occasional ride for old time’s sake knowing that, back in the day, when we were good we were, if not unstoppable, at least moderately compatible.


The odd time I hear the frankly preposterous notion that The Smiths were a) over-rated and b) not half as influential as history records them. This sort of half-baked pub argument is seen off quickly ;- the band was together for five years during which they were prolific, consistently challenging and when they profoundly turned popular music on its head. And there was a time too, difficult as it might be to believe now, when Morrissey, the solo artist, was just as important, provocative and relevant.


A number of years ago, a friend sneaked me a copy of Morrissey’s rider from 2009’s ‘Years of Refusal’ tour and, to be fair, it certainly lived up to, and on every one of it’s 28 pages greatly exceeded, everything I expected of the old tart – of Irish blood, English heart – in respect of his general demands and back-stage considerations. From a man who name-checks The Christian Brothers in one of his songs, how could it have been any other way ?


Apart entirely from the standard guff about clean towels, chilled water, toilets and executive travel to and from venues, I was especially taken by some of Morrissey’s demands for his own dressing room. And particularly his requests for Dubliner brand ‘organic mature vegetarian cheddar cheese’ and ‘Real Irish Kerrygold salted butter.


My father turned 80 last November. With a considerable quiff of his own that I can only but marvel at, he uses a basic mobile telephone that he never answers but on which he texts me irregularly. Usually using a stream of consciousness style, with no capital letters or punctuation, he’ll often prompt me about my mother’s birthday, various hospital appointments and the inadequacies of the Cork hurling teams.


Late one Friday night last October, he sent me the following message :- ‘mam says your friend Morrissey is on graham norton’. And I know that I will never, ever receive such a casually perceptive, subversive and pointed text again as long as I live.


Keeping it in the family, that’s us.





paddy path


From the gawkily posed photographs that have survived the decades, its clear they stood steadfastly out of step with their peers and, you’d think, knew that much best themselves. But although Prefab Sprout’s shape and style has evolved out of all recognition in the years since 1977, it’s that same sense of mis-match – the uneasy young buck in an out-sized dinner jacket and cheap shades – which has consistently defined them through the many moons and their many moods since.

Beyond the obvious, much of the band’s story is still soaked in loose talk and urban myth. Music’s mainstream, with which they flirted briefly, gave up on them twenty odd years ago and, ever since, the gaps in Prefab Sprout’s narrative have been filled by obsessive, fan-fuelled levels of hearsay, suggestion and general tattle. But nothing really changes there, either :- the band’s frontman and writer, Paddy McAloon – the eldest son of an Irish Catholic immigrant family – was initially presented as a former seminarian.

What we do know for certain is that McAloon’s band first took root in the small village of Witton Gilbert in the North East of England, seventeen miles from Newcastle, during a peculiar period in British music history. The Clash had released their first album, The Sex Pistols had hi-jacked the Queen’s silver jubilee year – 1977 – and unofficially sound-tracked it while disco was approaching it’s commercial and creative pomp, flirting increasingly in the margins with electronica as it went. By the end of the following year, The Bee Gees were out-selling the field and Sid Vicious was arrested in New York for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.

Worlds away in every respect, Paddy McAloon was twenty years old and lugging Prefab Sprout’s improbably ambitious songs – and the group’s cheap equipment – out into a variety of pub venues around County Durham for the first time. The band had been in gestation for years – in theory, in dreams – and although Paddy’s earliest hand-drawn outlines were far removed from the gormless aspects of punk rock or the sleazy veneer of cheap disco, he was certainly propelled forward by the more irresistible forces of both codes.



Punk rock unquestionably drove McAloon on – if you can, just do so he did – and the dizzying, dance-floor sass of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards, among numerous others, has long underlaid much of the band’s output. A point he acknowledges specifically on ‘I Love Music’, one of the many stand-outs on Prefab Sprout’s ‘Let’s Change The World With Music’ elpee, belatedly released in 2009.

Like every one of my favourite groups – The Blue Nile, R.E.M., The Go-Betweens, Trashcan Sinatras, The Smiths, E.L.O., The Frank And Walters, Into Paradise – Prefab Sprout struck me, initially at least, as much for the cut of their jib – their sound was distinctly at odds with their look, which was innocuous – as they did for the power of their writing.

Knowing little else, I thought that all of my formative pet sounds were peerless which, I suppose, is exactly as it should be during those first unsuspecting meets with the heady power of song. But while I know now that Teenage Fanclub borrowed influences freely – from Big Star, most obviously – and that Into Paradise magpied likewise from The Sound, its just impossible for me to clearly trace Paddy McAloon’s form lines. Prefab Sprout’s first single, ‘Lions In My Own Garden [Exit Someone]’ and debut album, ‘Swoon’, sound like what and sound like whom ? Aztec Camera ? Steely Dan ? XTC ? Mike Oldfield ? All of the above and nothing on earth ?

Which is all the more baffling given that no modern songwriter – to my mind, at least – has dropped so many references to music, writers and musicians so deeply inside his or her own material. Is there another contemporary writer for whom songs and the transcendence of sound have been celebrated so explicitly across such a vast body of work ? A career that now spans thirty-six years and nine studio albums.

From the very earliest Prefab Sprout songs – ‘Faron Young’ and ‘Radio Love’ were staples in their first live sets – to ‘Mysterious’ and ‘The Songs Of Danny Galway’ on 2013’s ‘Crimson Red’ album, McAloon has consistently used the pull of the of song and the craft of the writer as one of his primary lyrical motifs. ‘Hallelujah’, ‘The Devil Has All The Best Tunes’, ‘Donna Summer’, ‘I Love Music’, ‘The Wedding March’, ‘Nero The Zero’, ‘Electric Guitars’, ‘Nightingales’ and the imperious ‘Doo Wop In Harlem’ ;- the references are as manifold as they are varied and widely spread.



Indeed that same 2009 album, ‘Let’s Change The World With Music’, a mighty and relatively unheralded record among the band’s catalogue, is ostensibly a concept album paying respect to those whose influences have long-driven the writer’s ambition, from classical and avant-garde to gospel, soul music and disco, Clair De Lune to Mozart to Pierre Boulez. McAloon sets his stall out early across a sweeping selection of cuts – ‘Let There be Music’, ‘I Love Music’, ‘Music Is A Princess’, ‘Sweet Gospel Music’ – and, awed and under some sort of spell [another of the writer’s favourite themes], the pervading fear that ‘music is a princess’ while he’ll always be ‘just a boy in rags’ is forced home over the record’s closing furlongs.

When the singer finally meets ‘the new Mozart’, he finds the composer ‘in the bed where commerce sleeps with art’. And ‘who can blame him ?’, he asks ?. ‘So much for the divine spark. It flagged and left me in the dark. Next time I won’t be so pure. Dreaming big, dying poor’. Knowing what we know now, and given McAloon’s unsettling and unsteady relationship with the industry that so engulfs music, ‘Meet The New Mozart’ may well be among his most revealing autobiographical songs.



Forty years after the band committed it’s first original songs to tape in the cramped confines of a custom-designed studio attached to the music department at a local college, Prefab Sprout remain very much an acquired taste, although no less intriguing or enigmatic for that. Indeed the most recent McAloon composition to see the light of day is an evocative protest ballad called ‘America’, possibly recorded on a smart phone or a small camcorder, and posted up onto YouTube ten months ago by Prefab Sprout’s long-time manager, Keith Armstrong.

Performed by Paddy on acoustic guitar in what, for the last decade, have been his trademark duds – trilby hat and shades, off-set with long grey hair and a full beard – ‘America’ is absolutely bulls-eye Prefab Sprout. Over a series of gentle progressions, McAloon works his fingers into almost impossible positions along the fret-board, effortlessly filling the spaces with unlikely moves, his voice as familiar as ever as he begs of America ;– ‘don’t reject the stranger knocking at your door’. To long-time band watchers, the song’s unheralded appearance on-line was a tender reassurance that yes, work was still ongoing at Andromeda Heights, McAloon’s home studio where, legend has it, decades of unreleased songs and albums remain under lock and key.

In Robert Forster’s recent memoir, ‘Grant And I’ – the Australian writer and musician who fronted The Go-Betweens, on and off, with Grant McLennan from 1978 until 2006 – takes issue with one review of his band that categorised them in the same vein as Prefab Sprout. ‘Grant And I’ is a terrific and breezy read – part buddy novel, part manifesto, part band biography – with a lovely, bitchy undertone. [Long-standing Go-Betweens’ fans have suggested the book should have been titled simply ‘I’ instead].

Perhaps Prefab Sprout were just too tailored, complicated and subtle for him, but The Go-Betweens have far more in common with them than Robert might like to think. Apart entirely from being among the most consistently successful unsuccessful outfits in contemporary pop music, both groups, through a series of different iterations, still managed to sound forever out of kilter with the times. A point I put to Paddy McAloon back in 1997, when I met him for the first and only time.

He was on the publicity circuit plugging Prefab Sprout’s hugely under-rated album [and there’s a theme emerging, isn’t there ?], ‘Andromeda Heights’ and I was a music columnist at The Sunday Tribune newspaper in Dublin. The band’s Irish record company, Sony Music, had flown him into town for the day and had packed his diary with a succession of one-to-one engagements with the local press and whatever television and radio interest they could muster. Which, almost ten years after ‘The King Of Rock And Roll’ and seven years after the band’s previous elpee, ‘Jordan : The Comeback’, didn’t amount to a whole lot.

I fetched up dutifully, mid-afternoon, at the old Berkeley Court Hotel in the shadow of the old Lansdowne Road stadium – don’t look for either, they’re not there anymore – and, as is the case with these encounters, was immediately on the clock. I had thirty minutes with one of my favourite ever songwriters and was implored not to over-run.

Paddy was exactly as I imagined he’d be. In a crisp white shirt, black jacket and practical leather shoes, he politely trotted out a couple of well-rehearsed lines about ‘Andromeda Heights’ and, as polite and erudite as you’d expect, directed me gently through the exchange. During which, overcome with stage fright, I fluffed my lines badly and broke one of the most basic rules of journalism.

The eventual piece shone nothing new on him or his music – I just don’t think that’s possible anyway in most instances from any of those cosy set-pieces – and was sloppily written as an open love letter, one of the flattest pieces I’ve ever filed. I adored ‘Andromeda Heights’ then like I still do now and made that point forcibly on the page. But beyond that, nothing. For the bulk of our forty minutes together I was just a hapless fan with a biro, a list of obvious questions and a tape machine. And all I really wanted to do was get home, play my Prefab Sprout albums and get the dinner on.

Prefab Sprout

Courtesy Anthony Casey

But buried inside that sit-down – and not entirely lost on me at the time – was an interesting couple of minutes where we discussed the growing number of bands and artists who’d started to cover Paddy’s songs. Three years previously, Kylie Minogue had taken on ‘If You Don’t Love Me’, a non-album single originally released to support a Sony-released Prefab Sprout ‘best of’ in 1992. In 1995, Cher released an album called ‘It’s A Man’s World’ where she performed a dozen songs by male songwriters ;- as well as covering Paul Brady’s ‘Paradise Is Here’, she also performed a new McAloon original, ‘The Gunman’, which he wrote especially for that record.

But it was Jimmy Nail, the Newcastle-born actor, writer and musician who eventually took McAloon’s songs back into the heart of the mainstream and, in so doing, gave him some of his biggest commercial successes. Nail wrote – and took the lead role in – a BBC drama series called ‘Crocodile Shoes’, in which he played a factory worker, Jed Sheppard, who quits his job to become a country and western singer. Over the course of the two series of what was a soft-focus, family-skewed drama, Nail performed five McAloon originals written for the strand :- ‘Blue Roses’, ‘Cowboy Dreams’, ‘Love Will Find Someone For You’, ‘Dragons’ and the magnificent ‘Troubled Man’. All of which featured on two soundtrack compilations that accompanied the drama and that were eventually re-recorded by Paddy and Martin McAloon on a distinctly mediocre collection of Prefab Sprout oddities, produced by Tony Visconti, and released as ‘The Gunman And Other Stories’ in 2001.

Weeks before our date, ITV had debuted another gentle drama series in the same vein called ‘Where The Heart Is’. Based on the fictional adventures of a group of district nurses, it featured a strong, well-known cast and, at its top and tail, a piano-led theme tune commissioned from Paddy McAloon. This cut featured initially as a b-side to the Prefab Sprout single, ‘Prisoner Of The Past’ and ‘Where The Heart Is’ quickly became a staple of the ITV weekend schedules, eventually running for almost ten years.

Back in The Berkeley Court Hotel, Paddy and myself had moved the conversation on and, once we’d done our duty and agreed the claims for ‘Andromeda Heights’, I asked him about the cover versions and the television work and, specifically, how he felt this reflected on his own group. ‘Well’, he told me, ‘at the end of the day I have bills to pay and I need to look after the band’.

Paddy and myself : our destinies had been inter-twined for fifteen years. As with most of the best and most important things in life, I’d first come across Prefab Sprout during the early 1980s on both Dave Fanning’s ‘Rock Show’ on RTÉ radio and on David Heffernan’s Saturday lunchtime music slot on the RTÉ One youth television strand, ‘Anything Goes’. [As an aside for anoraks, its worth noting that it was also on this slot that I was first introduced to Thomas Dolby’s magnificent ‘Airwaves’].



My love for Prefab Sprout was instant and unquestioning :- windswept, lispy and smart, they stood tall on Marsden Rock, a National Trust-owned coastal site on South Shields, where they performed ‘Don’t Sing’, miles removed from the sounds du jour.

And although the band’s earliest shows in Ireland – their 1983 stop-off at The Buttery in Trinity College and a support to Paul Brady in Belfast the following year – were out of bounds to me on the grounds of age and distance, I was there, in thrall, when they played The Point Theatre in Dublin on the ‘Jordan : The Comeback’ tour in December, 1990. Supported on the night by one of my favourite local bands, Hinterland, Prefab Sprout were bulked up for the duration of that tour and, playing as a seven piece and with McAloon leading the line in a white suit,  covered a huge amount of ground over the course of a mammoth set.

And I was there ten years later in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre on April 15th and 16th, 2000, when the band played two consecutive dates – and two meaty greatest-hits-based sets – to close out a short tour that sat between the release of a Sony/CBS compilation album, ’38 Carat Collection’ and the aforementioned 2001 carnet, ‘The Gunman And Other Stories’. Paddy had put on a fair bit of weight in the years since and that white suit had been temporarily consigned to the back of a wardrobe, replaced for the occasion by standard rock and roll, denim-and-leather duds.

Sporting a full beard and long hair, his appearance attracted the odd barb from the stalls. And with Wendy Smith marked absent, the band on that tour also featured long-time sidekicks Martin McAloon on bass guitar and drummer Neil Conti, augmented and, to my mind, well and truly dominated, by the remarkable keyboard player, Jess Bailey. Strange days indeed, and most peculiar.

But while Prefab Sprout faithfully played through the hits, misses and maybes – they even did a rousing, barely-rehearsed version of ‘Lions In My Own Garden [Exit Someone]’ – and took deserved ovations from the locals, I left Dame Street that night thinking that I’d just seen the bolting of a door. Paddy – as quick-witted as ever and in terrific voice throughout – would rather, I imagined, have just been somewhere, anywhere else. In the great traditions of many of his own primary influences and heroes, his songs and his music had simply outgrown the crude parameters of the live circuit, temporarily or otherwise. No way, I thought, were Prefab Sprout ever conceived as a touring entity who, deep in their live sets, performed television themes and music made flesh by Jimmy Nail.

To this end, the liner notes Paddy penned for ‘Let’s Change The World With Music’, are especially significant, I think. The songs that comprise this record were originally written and recorded as an intended follow-up to 1990’s vast double album, ‘Jordan : The Comeback’ and, for reasons we can assume have more to do with record company direction or lack of it, went unreleased for fifteen years, during which time the writer moved on as clinically as he’s always done.

‘It goes without saying that I would have liked to have recorded ‘Let’s Change The World With Music’ with Marty, Wendy, Neil and Thomas [Dolby]. I believe they wanted to, but we missed our moment and it wasn’t to be. Why ? I have no idea. Beats me. Anyway, one day in May, ’93, we made a bad move. But hey, water under the bridge’. McAloon eventually put the record together on his own, with technical help from Calum Malcolm.

Another of Paddy’s party pieces is his long-standing capacity to de-rail his own  interviews by talking freely and in-depth about the music and the merits of others. He  does this on the ‘Let’s Change’ sleeve-notes too, where he gushes at length about the mythical Beach Boys album, ‘Smile’. And he concludes those notes by observing that ‘the ‘Smile myth is only partly to do with music. It’s also about the dull, grey stuff that  musicians are often slow to address, yet ignore at their peril. And it may even have something to say about ego ; about blithely, and unrealistically assuming that everyone sees things the way you do. But ultimately, it is probably just a story about entropy ; the natural tendency for all things – however lovely – to eventually fly apart’.

Tellingly, the record is dedicated ‘for robust and unsentimental reasons’ to Martin McAloon, Wendy Smith, Neil Conti, Thomas Dolby and Michael Salmon [the band’s first drummer]. For the good times’.

During the press campaign around that record, McAloon told at least one writer that the album was eventually released in order to generate income and only saw the light of day after the continued promptings of his manager. And because he’s long been so uneasy about much of his own music anyway, the commercial death of his avant garde solo album, the largely ignored ‘I Trawl The Megahertz’ in 2003, the numerous contractual obligations he’s had to fulfil since ‘Jordan’ and the on-line leaking of the ‘Crimson Red’ album [2013] before it’s scheduled release won’t have appeased that sense. The bed where commerce sleeps with art isn’t always one decorated with roses.

Paddy McAloon is now sixty years old and leads, by all accounts, a quiet life with his wife and three daughters back in County Durham, making the odd public appearance and snapped, from time to time, by well-intentioned fans as he picks up his groceries in the local supermarkets. Piecing together the clues he’s left within his songs over the last thirty-five years, one might now well ask :-will we ever again hear fresh Prefab Sprout material ?

And, given the majesty of much of what has already gone before, and how plenty of what is already out there remains largely unexplored, some of it just neglected, would that really be such an issue ?