Author: the blackpool sentinel (incorporating Voices from The Glen)

The Blackpool Sentinel [incorporating Voices From The Glen] is a music blog by Martin O'Connor and Colm O’Callaghan. We deal mostly with alternative music from the 1980s and 1990s, much of it Irish and much of it long lost. And with good reason.

PAUL SIMON :- HEARTS AND BONES

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Paul Simon’s 1983 album, ‘Hearts And Bones’, is easily one of my favourite elpees even if it took me many years to realise just how magnificent it is. Released in the same year as R.E.M.’s ‘Murmur’, ‘War’ by U2 and New Order’s ‘Power, Corruption And Lies’, it was certainly lost in the hail of political noise and clumsy cool that defined, for me, much of that period. But while ‘Hearts And Bones’ might not have sounded as edgy or urgent as some of the more highly-regarded issues of the time it may, in the decades since, have dated better than some of those albums we once thought were unassailable.

I began to gently obsess about ‘Hearts And Bones’ about fifteen years after I was first introduced to it :- it helps, I think, if you’ve been through at least one messy break-up. It’s as significant a release in its own right as it is in the broader sweep of Paul Simon’s own considerable catalogue mapping, in no little detail, the nuances of a number of relationships, all of them in flux. And I’m not sure if I still get all of its many subtleties and sides ;- in this regard, it bears as many hallmarks of a great painting as it does a great record.

One of my daughters recently performed Simon And Garfunkel’s ‘59th Street Bridge Song’ as part of a National Children’s Choir hooley out in Tallaght. It was just one of twenty-odd numbers the massed ranks had committed to memory as part of their excellent set and, although I’m neither a Paul or Art diehard, I found it weirdly re-assuring to hear so many Irish primary-schoolers remind their parents, guardians, teachers and ultimately themselves, of the undisputable value of just feeling groovy.

I heard that song for the first time on Simon And Garfunkel’s 1972 best-of album that we’d inherited from a neighbour and into which I’d dip my nose the odd time. Paul, in a flat cap and gurrier’s ronnie cuts a scutty enough figure on the front alongside Art, togged out like one of the trendier teachers up in The Mon. There was plenty of gold-dust on that elpee, of course, but for every one of Paul’s epic magic tricks – ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, ‘America’, ‘Homeward Bound’ – there was a toothy hound immediately behind it, waiting to spring.

We’d already gang-murdered ‘Scarborough Fair’ as an enthusiastic but tuneless class of eight year-old tin-whistlers, and those wounds weren’t especially quick to heal. And I’d already started to associate Simon And Garfunkel – wrongly, as it happens – with the well-meaning folk mass brigade and, worse again, the continuity units among them who were dabbling with European liturgical material. This would change over time.

I’ve referred previously to Ray O’Callaghan from Poles Apart, a sinewy and unashamedly straightforward three-piece rock outfit who emerged from, of all places, Mount Farran and The Glen, during the early 1980s. And who, just by taking guitars into their hands and making a racket, showed that there was maybe another, lesser-travelled road out of Blackpool. It was Ray who first turned me onto ‘Hearts And Bones’ ;- broadening my mind by peeling back my ears, as it were. And instinctively it just sounded planets removed from the likes of ‘Cecelia’, ‘The Boxer’ and Art’s dire 1979 chart-topper, ‘Bright Eyes’. It was as if Paul had just moved to a different job.

But I knew little or nothing of Simon and Garfunkel beyond the obvious and that best-of elpee and I knew even less about Paul’s solo career ;- he’d already released five solo albums. In hindsight, though, it was probably best that I found him the way I did and with the album I did, arseways and all as that might have been.

Collecting music is, to a large degree, an irrational and ultimately harmless way to pass the dark nights and I’ve written previously about this here. One of the more interesting aspects to which is retrospective discovery ;- it’s never too late to have one’s ears pierced and head turned by a song, record or artist that may have, for all manner of reasons, just failed to previously register.

It was because of Teenage Fanclub – or, more specifically, the strength of Steve Sutherland’s sustained case for the prosecution within the pages of Melody Maker magazine – that led me back to Big Star, for instance. And it was R.E.M. who brought me to The Byrds, and back the road ultimately to old school Bob Dylan and so on.

Paul Simon had an unlikely competitive edge, though. His girlfriend at the time of ‘Hearts And Bones’ was Carrie Fisher, better known to most of us as Princess Leia from ‘Star Wars’ and who, alongside the female leads on the television cop series, ‘Charlie’s Angels’, had long dominated some of the bawdier conversations above in the schoolyard. And I’d take a good look at Paul on the cover of that Greatest Hits elpee, with his feen’s hat and his tache and, in those moments, I’d see hope for every single one of us.

CDANDLP.COM

Carrie’s considerable shadow extends across ‘Hearts And Bones’ too. The record was released shortly after herself and Paul were married and shortly before they separated, even if it only dawned on me many years later that the immortal title-track could have been about her. So absolutely thick was I that I long thought the song’s opening lines – ‘One and one-half wandering Jews, free to wander wherever they chose’ – referred to Art and Paul and that Paul was enjoying an in-joke about his lack of height.

That title cut is imperious, sketching in elegant, easy detail the whimsy of love, ‘the arc of a love affair waiting to be restored’. Now, you hear an awful lot of old guff about how the great songwriters – like the great poets or painters – are often determined by an ability to find majesty in the mundane and the ordinary and to reduce wide, existential themes into vivid, but simple and usually intensely personal flourishes. Even if popular music, at its most impactful, is often just about a moment captured.

‘Hearts And Bones’ blends both strains seamlessly and a couple of familiar local voices were quick to highlight this. Both Mark Cagney and Dave Fanning played some of its core tracks off the air on Radio 2FM and, one night, Fanning very helpfully deconstructed ‘The Late, Great Johnny Ace’ like he was leading a class of seventeen year-old English honours students into the mocks.

It’s an incredible piece of work by any stretch :- deceptively simple at the top before veering off-course mid-way and closing with a one-minute instrumental coda written by Philip Glass. I’ve certainly heard better songs during my many years going deaf as a hanger-on but, particularly now, given the funeral cycle we all eventually fall into, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more emotionally charged one. It’s fair to say that its relevance and numerous resonances just take off as the years carry us on.

‘The Late, Great Johnny Ace’ is the most structurally interesting of the ten tracks on ‘Hearts And Bones’ and references the deaths of three high- profile figures, all of them called John and all of whom were killed by gun-shots. The song shares numerous stylistic traits with The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’ and begins in 1954 with the death of Johnny Ace, an R and B singer who accidentally shot himself in the head. It later refers to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and John Lennon in 1980.

On hearing the death of Johnny Ace announced on the radio, the writer sends off to a Texas mailing address for a photograph, which duly arrives :- ‘the sad and simple face’ is signed on the bottom ‘From the late, great Johnny Ace’. And it is there, in that very moment, that Simon captures the primary lyrical essence of that entire album :- the grand impact of the simple gesture, for good and bad, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.

The song also serves as a remarkable tribute to Lennon. Simon changes gears as he slips into a dream sequence half-way through in which, ten years after hearing of the death of Johnny Ace, he’s in London, larging it in female company, his mind warped by the possibilities of rock and roll. Until his peace is disturbed when, on the streets of New York City in December, 1980, a stranger stops to tell him that John Lennon has been shot dead. By any standards, it is quite the requiem.

By virtue of the scale of his popularity and the extent of his back catalogue
across fifty odd years in the public eye, Paul Simon is routinely pitched as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation and, who knows, maybe he is ? But he’s also one of his own most perceptive critics and, in a series of telling contributions to various biographies and documentaries, has consistently parsed his own material better than anyone.

And he certainly rates ‘Hearts And Bones’, or at least some of the key cuts on it, although I’m certainly not alone in thinking it seldom gets the credit it deserves. The record flaunts numerous imperfections throughout but suffers most, I think, from the circumstances in which it was recorded. It was written around the time of Simon And Garfunkel’s high-profile reunion during the autumn of 1981 when the pair, then barely even on nodding terms, played a memorable benefit concert in New York’s Central Park. During which Paul performed ‘The Great, Late Johnny Ace’ for the first time as one of three solo numbers and was manhandled by a stage invader for his troubles.

Indeed ‘Hearts And Bones’ was initially intended as a Simon And Garfunkel
comeback album until the tensions that had long under-pinned their relationship just rendered that impractical. The record took an eternity to complete and the credits list reads like the voting register in a small Dublin Council ward. Commercially, it died on its hoop.

But even at its most trite and uneven – ‘When Numbers Get Serious’ and ‘Cars Are Cars’, on which Paul dabbles unsteadily with technology and programmed patterns – there’s still a terrific sense of wonder running right through the record. The ubiquitous Nile Rogers, who’s done more special guest turns over the years than even Marty Morrissey, turns up on a couple of tracks, alongside a directory of high-profile session musicians, musos and aficionados. And this, I think, is how and where the album becomes uneven and unsteady on its feet.

And yet ‘Hearts And Bones’ contains four of Simon’s most magnificent and, in my view, significant, solo numbers :- the title cut and ‘Johnny Ace’ apart, the album also features the immortal ‘Train In The Distance’, about the break-up of his first marriage and ‘Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War’, an epic and ambitious ballad that depicts the Belgian surrealist painter and his wife as fans of, among other things, American doo-wop groups of the 1950s.

And when Paul, into the chorus, namechecks ‘The Penguins, The Moonglows, The Orioles and The Five Satins’ – and when The Harptones, a vintage New York outfit join him before the end of the song to add vocal harmony magic and a spiritual balm to the closing sequence – you’d wonder if popular music ever sounded better ?

Much of which was washed away, three years later, when ‘Graceland’ came from nowhere to become Paul Simon’s biggest selling and most successful record ever and, with our hero acting the goat on film with Chevy Chase, re-determined and re-invented him forever through the offices of MTV. ‘Hearts And Bones’ may well be the best support album in the history of contemporary popular music ;- in volleyball, they’d call it a setter.

Whatever about the merits of ‘Graceland’, though – and it has many – its worth recalling too the album that pre-dates ‘Hearts And Bones’, a 1980 issue called ‘One-Trick Pony’ that was released to accompany a film of the same name in which Paul Simon starred. I rescued a second-hand cassette copy of it way back from one of Cork’s terrific second-hand shops and, with hope in my heart, couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

That album is probably best remembered for the single, ‘Late In The Evening’ and, sadly, not a whole lot else besides. Try as I did – and I went in hard looking for clues – I just couldn’t find a decent connection with it, and certainly nothing, the title apart, perhaps ?, that even hinted at what was about to transpire next. ‘One-Trick Pony’ lives up to its billing and is, by any stretch, a turkey.

Which, on another level again, makes ‘Hearts And Bones’, coming so strongly out of the curve without warning, all the more exceptional. Losing to win, some call it.

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CATCHERS : CALL THE MIDWIFE

One of the more interesting, eloquent and barely referenced bands to have emerged from Northern Ireland during the 1990s are Catchers, who first took shape within the Portrush-Coleraine-Portstewart triangle on the Derry coastline and rode in the Setanta Records colours, for whom they made two fine but often over-looked elpees. And in many respects their story is also the story of that label :- they were primarily song-centred, smart, outward-facing and out of kilter with many of the prevailing moods of the day. They never stood a chance, really.

Much of the Setanta Records story is scarcely believable. The definitive history of what was at first an Irish-skewing label has never been told or explained and, in all likelihood, never will. The imprint’s founder and principal, Keith Cullen, just doesn’t do nostalgia and, throughout Setanta’s twenty year history, consistently preferred the quick getaway. The label was always about the next great song and the next great songwriter and rarely, if ever, stood on ceremony.

And so much of what exists by way of over-view and critical analysis tends to focus on the better known and more commercially successful artists on what, by any standards, is a formidable and varied roster. The Divine Comedy, Into Paradise, Edwyn Collins, A House and The Frank And Walters all enjoyed varying degrees of cross-over success having been hot-housed in the council block squat at Rumball House in Camberwell that served as the label’s offices and, for many years, the living quarters of it’s Chief Executive. And those licencing deals kept the small imprint in coin, the fax machine purring and the wheels turning until such time as the next fragile four-track cassette landed in the mail and turned our heads forever.

But like every other label with form, much of Setanta’s more interesting material exists in the curves and the sidings. A raft of quality Irish bands like The Harvest Ministers, Brian, The Floors, They Do It With Mirrors, The Deadly Engines and Catchers all made cracking records during Setanta’s reign of terror in the early and mid-1990s that are rarely, if ever, spoken of. And I should know :- I was the label’s willing dogsbody for many years, continually putting my ears, heart and typing skills on the line for it.

Twenty five years ago, Catchers – who never carried a definite article in their handle – released an excellent debut album, ‘Mute’ and went on to burn brightly on the fringes of the alternative circuit in France, where they’d recorded that elpee with Mike Hedges. And up the spine of that record were a clutch of songs I’d first encountered in different circumstances over a year previously when, in the name of the cause, I was dispatched to Coleraine to put manners on them.

In the best and worst traditions of the period, the band had sent a crudely-formed demo to the Setanta mailing address , 123, Shakespeare Road, SE24, a fine pile in Brixton owned by a Virgin Prunes-loving builder from Wexford. Featuring an early version of one of their best songs, ‘Cotton Dress’, that tape piqued the label’s interest enough to trigger a gushing note by return mail, stuck inside a jiffy-bag of recent Setanta releases and a compilation cassette compiled by Keith with no little affection. This, my friends, was how some of us conversed and flirted way back.

A couple of them – the ultra-friendly drummer, Damien O’Hara, definitely, and maybe the band’s songwriter, Dale Grundle – met me off of the Ulster Bus that finally pulled in after a mammoth cross-border trek into Coleraine. And, in those sleeping years just before the Good Friday Agreement, fetched me around to a rundown house nearby where half of the band was billeted and where, in the small kitchen, they had their gear set-up and were ready for road.

God knows what they made of me, the man from Setanta, as I took out my notebook and, in the spirit of Phil Spector – or perhaps it was more Phil Spencer ? – took copious notes and sketched out their structures and key design features.

Catchers really didn’t do the wall of sound ;- indeed, much of their better material was more aeroboard than breeze block. But they certainly did harmonies and, then as now, rooted their entire sound in that relationship between the twin vocalists, Dale and Alice Lemon. Who may well have been an item – and they were certainly sharp enough with one another in regular conversation to suggest as much– but weren’t saying. And it was obvious that much of Catchers’ majesty was in the tension that manifested itself as soon as they both got in behind their mics and shared out the singing duties.

I’ve already written glowingly about one of my favourite ever albums, the eponymously-titled debut by a Canadian band, Five Guys Named Moe, which was produced by Donal Lunny in Dublin in 1989 and released the following year on the RCA label. That mighty pop record is under-pinned throughout by the easy vocal exchanges between Jonathan Evans and Meg Lunny and, from as far back as my earliest encounters with local acts like Flex And The Fastweather, The How And Why Insects and The Bedroom Convention, and then onto some of the more considered and formed international standard stuff from Prefab Sprout, The Pursuit Of Happiness and later-period The Go-Betweens, it’s a trick I’ve been unable to resist.

And it was into this space that I felt Catchers needed to be pushed.

My primary connection then, and now, was with Dale. Barely twenty, he was a softly-spoken, no-holds enthusiast who was already experimenting freely and listening widely. His band’s outward appearances belied his own primary instincts :– his favourite records at the time were The Jesus And Mary Chain’s ‘Psychocandy’ and Captain Beefheart’s ‘Clear Spot’, neither of which were apparent in the gut of Catchers’, sweet, sweet sound. Nor, one suspects, overly available around Coleraine which, from what little I saw of it, struck me as a right hole altogether.

And it was certainly far from the groovy world inhabited by The Triffids and The Velvets and to which our hero might have aspired. It was only when, decades later, I finally found myself on the seafront at Portstewart, twelve miles away, that one of Dale’s most primary influences – the calm around that stretch of the Northern coastline – began to make real sense to me. One of the band’s earliest songs was named after the small seaside town and, to this day, I still associate one with the other. Another of their earlies, ‘Summer Is Nearly Over’, also has its roots there and eventually saw the light of day on their ‘Shifting’ E.P.

In that rented tumbledown in Coleraine, and using pretty basic tools, Catchers raced through a full-bodied set for me and clearly didn’t want for decent material. I recall in no little detail the breadth of that collection, skeletal as it was, and which included ‘Cotton Dress’, ‘Beauty Number 3’, ‘Worm Out’, ‘Hollowed’, ‘Summer Is Nearly Over’, ‘‘Spellbound’, ‘Jesus Spaceman’, ‘Country Freaks’ and ‘Shifting’ itself. And I carefully sketched them out one by one, noting Dale’s clever wordplays, the twin vocals and the mountain of opportunity we’d stumbled on.

My scouting report concluded that Catchers were a work in progress and dripping in potential. They certainly didn’t do power, which was to their credit, and weren’t especially cohesive, which was an issue but not an insurmountable one. All told we felt it might be best for them to de-camp southwards for a while, where we could fatten them up and ready them for export. Which is how and why they spent the summer of 1993 in a flat in Phibsborough at a period in contemporary Irish music history when Great Western Square was the city’s coolest and most desirable address. And from where they were able to launch themselves more fully into the meat market and work on their gains.

I snared a couple of live shows for them at The Rock Garden in Crown Alley, where I was doing a turn and earning a crust, and we also landed a radio session for Dave Fanning’s programme out on Radio 2FM, on the back of which Catchers picked up a couple of early mentions in the local press. It was all a bit more intense on and off the field and, with a bit more structure to their rehearsals, they were now developing a bit of heft but, crucially, retaining their charm too.

On a scalding midsummer’s weekend, we fetched up in a small, ground-floor flat in Rathmines and, with Kevin O’Boyle, from another band on the Setanta roster, The Glee Club, on engineering duties, committed four of those early Catchers tracks to tape. It was tight enough in that sitting room where, using a basic four-track portastudio and with a standard drum machine knocking out the patterns, we used most of the channel width for guitars and harmonies. Kevin put in a spectacular performance over those two days and we emerged, I think, with a pretty accurate picture of not necessarily where Catchers were at but more, perhaps, of where they could do. Very quickly afterwards, Setanta determined that they were worth a more substantial investment.

I hadn’t heard that tape in over twenty years until, last month, Dale and myself re-opened the conversation and, as can often be the case with those who have music in common, were able to pick up the threads easily and without fuss :- we had last spoken in 1993. He still lives in London, not far from the old Setanta garret and performs these days, whenever the mood takes him, as The Sleeping Years. And, the odd time, he’ll still perform an acoustic Catchers show with Alice.

I can’t think of Dale, Alice and the rest of the band, though, without recalling another terrific but more sinewy local outfit from that same period, the mighty Dublin pop band, Blink, who were led by my friend, Dermot Lambert, and managed by his late brother, Aiden, about whom I’ve written here previously.

Apart from their clever pop chops and serious live prowess, Blink were also the pivot around which some of the more interesting aspects of Dublin music society revolved at that time. And many were those who fetched up on Sandford Avenue, off The South Circular Road – home of the band’s bass player, Brian McLoughlin – during those years, seeking either shelter from the storm or storm from the shelter.

Catchers were just another outfit to whom the hand of friendship – and quality bed and board – was extended without fear, favour or invoice. And a stellar cast that includes The Candy Shop, Into Paradise, Sack, Robbo, Denis Powell, Mark Kelly, The Forget Me-Nots, Jeff Brennan, Sean Corbett, Andrew Mueller, most of the staff of The Rock Garden and the late Uaneen Fitzsimons, are just some of those who regularly made their way down the SCR after closing time and kept the nonsense going well past the cold light of morning.

And when, to work any excess off, we’d de-camp into the Wolfe Tone end of Saint Stephen’s Green on Saturday afternoons and, using leather and denim jackets for goalposts, play long, free-form football games with whoever fancied it. And Catchers – especially Dale and Damien – always fancied it.

And that, basically, is where we left it after such a full-on nine months in each others’ company. I loved what they were trying to do, had hopefully been of some use to them for a spell when they maybe needed the help and then off-loaded them to those who really knew what they were doing and who could take them further forward. Myself and Catchers were literally going in opposite directions :- they were on the boat for London and I was off home to Cork to get the music television series, ‘No Disco’, going and to fire up the boilers.

As is often the case with young bands in fresh surrounds, they quickly re-freshed their line-up and were soon recording their debut Setanta single, ‘Cotton Dress’, with Darren Allison, who’d been working with Neil Hannon on The Divine Comedy’s second coming at the label. And its fair to say that Catchers enjoyed an eventful five years thereafter, briefly re-locating to The United States, attracting fine positive notices and routinely changing the line-up around the core of Dale and Alice. A second and final album, ‘Stooping To Fit’, was released in 1998, shortly before the band stood it all down.

Dale certainly sounds as fresh and keen now as he did when I first met him up in Coleraine over twenty-five long years ago, still writing and recording but moving at a much more considered pace and to his own deadlines. The older soldiers, those who’ve earned their badges, have that right.

CODA :- An expanded, anniversary edition of ‘Mute’ comes out at the
end of June. Further details can be found on the band’s Facebook page.

Dale and Alice will also play live shows in France around this time.

But for those who’d like to hear more now, https://catchers.bandcamp.com/

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.

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