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

The Blackpool Sentinel [incorporating Voices From The Glen] is brought to you from time to time by Martin O’Connor & Colm O’Callaghan, both of whom should really know better. The blog deals mostly with alternative music from the 1980s and 1990s, much of it Irish and much of it long lost. And with good reason. Colm works in television and spent many years writing about music for a variety of different outlets. Several of those pieces will be re-posted here, due to unpopular public demand. He will also contribute some new pieces from time to time, most of which will reference The Trash Can Sinatras, Serengeti Long Walk, E.L.O., The Frank And Walters and Into Paradise. Martin is a librarian based in Cork, from where he pulls all of this together and tries to make some sort of sense of the raw material. He attended the infamous Sultans of Ping F.C. show in his native Limerick and lived to recount the tale. More recently – but no less dangerously – he was one of the trio behind the Sir Henry’s Exhibition in U.C.C..

GEMMA HAYES

The swagger of the remarkable hurling teams up in The North Mon during our secondary school years in the early 1980s would regularly entice entire slabs of Cork’s northside on tour beyond the county bounds and out of reach of regular reason. On assorted mid-week afternoons every winter, a slew of battered old buses and coaches would fetch up at the gates and deliver the school’s travelling army to remote, rural venues all over Munster for big colleges games. And these were all bleak, barren and backwards places ;- with our crudely-formed inner-city smarts, anywhere other than Blackpool was.

Decked out in our duffle coats and hooped blue-and-white scarves, and with our cheese sandwiches packed away in our pockets, we saw the very best of emerging locals like Tomás Mulcahy, Tony O’Sullivan, Jim Murray, Liam Coffey and the mighty Connerys of Na Piarsaigh up close in their callow bodies and pimply faces in villages and towns all over South Tipperary and beyond. Those young men were never beaten and consistently left it all out there on the killing fields in the school’s cause and, back in The Mon, we made sure to commemorate their heroics.

We had a song, ‘Amhrán na Main’ – a bit like Amhrán Na bhFiann meets The Green Fields Of France – which we’d rehearse in class before big Dr. Harty Cup games and, on those occasions when we’d reach a provincial or national final, the school would produce it’s own hurling fanzine, a badly photocopied, Pravda-inspired issue called ‘Monsoon’. In which you were told all you needed to know about the teenagers on the panel – club, height, weight, the class they were in and their own favourite hurlers – with a cursory line at the end about their off-field peccadilloes.

Frankie Walsh was one of a small number of pupils who were trusted with load-hailers and hand-picked to lead the cheering and chanting on the days of the big games. He had a wheezy smoker’s rasp and a fine beardy shadow and some of those in the school clearly thought his sharp tongue and quick wit could be channelled a bit more positively and, for a change, to the school’s benefit. And so, on the marquee occasions, he’d be given a bit more latitude than usual and enlisted as an official rabble-rouser.

But Frankie was easily bored too and would sometimes deviate off-script and into more dangerous territory [‘Tax The Farmers’ was one of his better originals] and, from his seat at the back of the bus, would slyly drop the teachers’ nicknames into some of his post- watershed material. It took a brave boy to stare down The Christian Brothers but Frankie had a hard neck and a soft head and he’d give anything a decent old shot. And on the days immediately after we’d put one over on Thurles C.B.S. or Saint Flannans of Ennis or Saint Colman’s of Fermoy, he’d strut the ramp up to school like someone returned from a fortnight in America with a buffalo’s head in his holdall.

It was hurling that first took us to Emly, New Inn, Cahir, Clogheen and Ballyporeen, and they were vile places ;- one-bit, two-horse towns that whiffed of diesel and whose pop-up tuck shops and filthy chip vans lured the per diems from the sweaty palms of the day-trippers. How the locals, we imagined, must have feared the bumper days when The Northside, in it’s rattling fleet, rolled into town with it’s history, cocky young hurlers, loud-hailers and quotient of un-reconstructed tulls.

Decades later I married into the South Tipperary crowd and, for the last twenty years, I’ve routinely driven those roads through the same villages and towns deep within The Golden Vale, often over the hills into Kilworth and back home by stealth to Cork from my in-laws house in Ardfinnan. And every single time I drive the four-and-a half miles from Clogheen into Ballyporeen, a part of me is still fifteen years old, thick and back there with the Mon boys on tour, taxing the farmers. And another part of me is older but no less clueless, wondering which of the narrow by-roads around these parts could have inspired such wonder and magic in the songs of Gemma Hayes ?

Born and reared within a large family in Ballyporeen, Hayes remains a peripheral figure and real curiosity within Irish music circles and, even after nearly twenty years spent making records and keeping on, is frightfully difficult to pin down. Sitting neither in the fish bowl of the kooky left-field set populated by Lisa O’Neill and Julie Feeney or in the often ungainly mainstream of Imelda May or Sinéad, she’s long paid the price for her ambition and wanderlust and even more so for her indifference.

I’ll happily stand corrected but I’m still not convinced she’s been given the credit she deserves as one of Ireland’s most consistent, curious and captivating writers and solo performers, as engaging over long distance as Neil Hannon, Conor O’Brien and even Sinéad herself. So much so that, when I see Imelda May vamping it one more time for the cameras, the latest in line of national sweethearts, I wonder if Ireland just likes it’s contemporary story-tellers far better if they’re more malleable and just available ?

During the summer of 2015, Gemma did a short radio insert with Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio One ;- she was plugging her fifth album, ‘Bones And Longing’ and, from a remote studio in London, performed a couple of numbers on acoustic guitar and gave her host a terrific if all- too-brief interview. During that exchange she revealed that Louis Walsh, the one-time Boyzone and Westlife manager and now a well-known figure on British television, once suggested he take her under his wing and manage her career. ‘He wanted to work with me at the time. He was saying to me, ‘Gemma, you need to play the game more. We need to get you out dating another celebrity, we need to get you on the scene and in the papers’’, Gemma told Miriam.

Walsh, who she described as ‘a brilliant businessman’, also suggested that Hayes stop writing her own material and that he employ a team to do that on her behalf instead. And kicking the corpse once more for good luck, he assured her that she did indeed have ‘The X Factor’ which, no doubt, thrilled her no end.

Walsh is a diverting, often creepy and always boisterous figure with a traditional view of the entertainment industry – ‘the business we call ‘show’’ – who’s long understood the enduring benefits of good teeth and the utter pointlessness of the creative process. Alongside a couple of RTÉ presenters, Walsh is easily the most available ‘well-known face’ in the country and, to this extent, is a world removed from Gemma Hayes who remains at a distance and tends to hold her whisht unless she has a record to perform or promote or something of interest to impart.

Which has it’s advantages too, of course. Because if Gemma was more visible and closer to hand, like all national sweethearts, would her terrific songs still carry the same degree of mystery ? Does unsung and distant give her more room to roam, more of a licence to take risks and distort her sound ? Either way, she had a lucky escape with Louis Walsh.

Hayes first made herself heard during the late 1990s when, around the fringes of the post-raggle taggle Dublin scene dominated by the likes of The Frames, The Mary Janes and Mark Geary, you’d sometimes see her with the Whelans and Mother Redcaps set, often alongside the cellist Julian Lennon. There have been five albums since, all of them flushed with the soft, acoustic touch of the old school folkies, the frenetic, shoe-gaze blitz of Slowdive, the up-beat pop swagger of The Bangles and the giddy eclectics of Kate Bush. And every one of which, kicking against convention, has been progressively better and more ambitious than the last.

Foremost among which is 2008’s ‘The Hollow Of Morning’, a terrific break-up album seeking both ‘order in the chaos’ [and indeed ‘chaos in the order’ too] in the aftermath of a split, whether that be from a person, place or thing. Or indeed all three.

Sharply produced by David Odlum, one of the original members of The Frames and a member of Hayes’s kitchen cabinet for years, it’s easily one of the best Irish albums of the last two decades. And yet ‘The Hollow Of Morning’ rarely features on anyone’s list ;- another recurring theme of Hayes’s career. Unsurprisingly, the records that followed it – the excellent ‘Let It Break’ [2011] and 2014’s ‘Bones And Longing’, both of which, like ‘The Hollow Of Morning’, were independently issued – didn’t trouble the chart compilers either. Indeed despite a handsome cluster of terrific, guitar-fuelled albums, she is arguably best known fora cover version of Chris Issac’s ‘Wicked Game’, which featured on the soundtrack of the American teen drama series, ‘Pretty Little Liars’ and, to a lesser extent, for ‘Making My Way Back’, which sound-tracked the Lidl supermarket chain’s Christmas advertising campaign some years back.

But she remains one of my own favourite artists and I routinely return to Gemma’s songs ;- after a recent post here about Joe Chester, who’s collaborated with and featured alongside her for years, I’ve listened to practically nothing else since. And there’s a lot of material to suck in too, most of it determined by simple melodies and those gorgeous, breathy deliveries and smart, often arrant lyrics that have long been among her signatures.

Over the course of a random shuffle, she’ll divert and shift gear from the giddy, piano and plucked string staccato of ‘All I Need’ [from ‘Let It Break’] to the up-beat, guitar pop workouts of ‘Happy Sad’ [from ‘The Roads Don’t Love You’] and ‘Out Of Our Hands’ [from ‘The Hollow Of Morning’] to the introspective, fuzzy shoe-gazed tuning of ‘Laughter’ [from ‘Bones And Longing’]. And in spite of myself, I’m still suckered every time by the full-frontal pay-off in ‘Keep Running’, her 2011 single that, after a mildly-tempered rattle that name-checks some of the most interesting cities in the world in which the writer ‘might as well be lost’, proceeds to flail blindly, like a drunken uncle at an indie disco.

No one song captures the breath of Hayes’s ambition better than ‘I Let A Good Thing Go’, from her sturdy 2002 debut album, ‘Night On My Side’, which boasts all of her primary strike assets within it’s four minutes :- the carnal vocals, acoustic underlay and full-frontal thrashing that plays with skewed tunings and distorted lower ends. Ingredients she’s long favoured throughout her recording history, in which the most obvious variances have been in her increased use of beats, loops and dips ;- her most recent work is certainly infused with far more ambience and space. As if, almost, the more perceptive and confident she’s grown, the easier it’s become for her to pare her songs right back ;- on ‘Bones And Longing’ as if she’s often just corrupting the beauty.

A couple of summers ago, I produced ‘Saturday Night With Miriam’ for the RTÉ One television schedule and, with no little prompting from the show’s music booker, my old friend Caroline Henry, we invited Paul Noonan from Bell X1 and Gemma to come in and perform a live, acoustic version of ‘The Snowman’. Trading for the occasion as Printer Clips, a solo project of Paul’s, they fetched up in Studio Four without fanfare or fuss and, working the song through during afternoon rehearsals, had a core of us absolutely distracted as they did do.

Gemma had arrived bearing gifts ;- as well as her acoustic guitar, she also brought along her husband, who was also minding their first child, a little boy. And hours later, and in front of an audience of just over one hundred, Paul and herself delivered a mighty live performance, directed with her usual brio – in one shot only – by Niamh White and captured on camera in a single take by Gerry Hickey, a formidable and skilled operator. Once we’d downed tools for the night and repaired back-stage, Gemma told us that she’d successfully crowd-funded a new record, even if motherhood had given her far more pressing priorities and, as you’d expect, plenty else to occupy her mind and her time.

Months later she’d also delivered ‘Bones And Longing’, as absorbing a record as any and easily her most salient. And across much of the promotion she did in support of that record, she spoke about how becoming a mother had genuinely liberated her and about how music no longer absorbs her so intently or exclusively.

Life as a parent clearly suits her.

And her work.

PAT FITZPATRICK

The death was announced earlier today, after an illness, of the Belfast-born musician, arranger and producer, Pat ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick who, although he never enjoyed a profile as a solo performer in his own right, was a highly-regarded musician and a much-loved figure on the Irish music scene since the late 1970s.

 

Having studied at the Royal College of Music in London, he first came to prominence as the keyboard player in Katmandu, the Belfast five-piece whose Roxy-inspired pop-art ambitions saw them move their operation down the road to Dublin, where they briefly captivated the locals. Also featuring Marty Lundy, Peter McKinney and Trevor Hutchinson, Katmandu issued one single, ‘I Can Make The Future’ and, although broader success eluded them, their smart, new-wave sound – of which Pat was a chief architect – certainly put them at a remove from many of their more direct, full-force contemporaries.

 

 

But it was as an adjunct live member of many established Irish rock bands – like Something Happens, Aslan and The Blades – that Pat was most frequently seen and heard. Apart from his humour and his general affability, he had a serenity and a beautiful touch – that he deployed in both regular conversation and in his music – that endeared him to all of those he encountered. And he was helped too, of course, by his magnificent ability as a player, a fact not lost on the late Beatles producer, George Martin, who name-checked him as his favourite Irish musician. And lost neither on the array of Irish and international artists, across numerous genres – from Van Morrison to Mary Coughlan to Colm Wilkinson – who routinely availed of his services as a session player, arranger and producer and who invariably reaped the benefits.

 

It was through my numerous postings as a producer in RTÉ television that I worked directly with Pat over many years. Because throughout his colourful, varied and ultimately all-too-short career, he was a frequent visitor to the national broadcaster’s television and radio studios. He led the house band during the early years of the Saturday night entertainment strand, ‘Kenny Live’, and later worked as a musical director on the Brian Kennedy light entertainment series, ‘One To Remember’, most notably.

 

But the tape archive in RTÉ is flush with his numerous performances alongside a host of visiting artists and musicians, primarily on the high-profile chat shows, bookings that often took us into all manner of bizarre territory. My friend, Caroline Henry, diaried many of those acts – local, national and international – over the years and, when the going got heavy, as it frequently did, and when we’d worry about some act or other’s capacity – or, often, lack of ability – to deliver a decent turn during a live television broadcast in front of an audience, Pat was our regular fall-back. When the going got weird, we’d turn to a pro.

 

And he’d fetch up in standard rock attire replete, more often than not, in a leather jacket and snazzy, well-kept shoes and calmly take control of any situation, over-seeing the storms as they passed and then, quietly and without fuss, pull his kit together and make his way home. He was a vital comfort to us.

 

It was as the fifth member of Something Happens, during that phase in their career – between 1990 and 1994 especially – when they more or less owned contemporary Irish music, were a constant television and radio presence and were as good a live act as any, that Pat’s face – and the magic in his hands – will have maybe registered most. Buttressing their formidable live shows from around ‘Stuck Together With God’s Glue’ onwards, he routinely belted out the opening bars of ‘Parachute’, still the band’s signature piece, while decorating the body of their sets unfussily and with no little brio. He was an imposing musician and player, a real stylist, but he knew too how to play as part of a team.

 

 

Outside of his regular session work in studio, in theatre and on the road, Pat latterly featured as a member of The Blades’ live retinue, the socially-sussed, mod-infused outfit that, earlier this year, released it’s second album in thirty years. In July, 2014 and, I guess, for no other reason than we just couldn’t see why not, we booked them to perform a live version of one of their best known numbers, ‘The Last Man In Europe’ on ‘Saturday Night With Miriam, a prime-time RTÉ television chat and entertainment show I’d been assigned to. And, as always, Pat was in studio early for the afternoon rehearsals, ready to go before anyone else. But once The Blades had closed out the show later that evening, he politely conducted his constituency work in the green room afterwards, carefully assembled his kit and then quietly made for home.

 

Three weeks ago, knowing he was unwell, he played live one last time with The Blades, this time in Whelan’s in Dublin where, as he’d routinely done all throughout his career with numerous others, he punctuated their songs, old and new, with his usual finesse and discerning hands. He brought to that band what he long brought to all those who were lucky enough to have worked with him or known him :- style, substance, spirit and savvy.

 

He leaves a long and mighty legacy. And he is already sorely missed.

 

HOLY JOE CHESTER

One of the many memorable passages in Johnny Marr’s recent autobiography, ‘Set The Boy Free’, recalls a visit the author made to Matt Johnson’s London flat in 1982, back when he was still in his teens and his band, The Smiths, had recorded what would become it’s first single, ‘Hand In Glove’. Johnson was a couple of years older, just twenty-one, but had already signed a significant deal with a major label and, writing and recording as The The, had released two fine singles. The pair had crossed paths in Manchester the previous year and had formed a fledgling friendship.

 

Johnson’s girlfriend, Fiona, answered the door. ‘She showed me into the flat’, Marr writes, ‘where Matt was crouched on the floor, wearing headphones surrounded by equipment that was strewn all over the carpet. A Casio keyboard and a black Fender Strat and drum machine were all plugged into a little four-track cassette recorder, and there was an electronic autoharp lying around and some microphones, one of which was plugged into an echo pedal. I hadn’t seen anyone working this way before. It struck me as incredibly modern and innovative’.

 

And to an ambitious but wide-eyed young musician taking his cues from a pointedly traditional view of the industry, basic home recording might well have looked peculiar. Because even allowing for the legend of Brian Wilson’s ability to record his own group, The Beach Boys, using sophisticated techniques on unsophisticated machinery as far back as the mid-1960s, self-sufficiency was still largely regarded as a delinquent form. And while Johnny Marr was having his head turned and his eyes opened in Matt Johnson’s flat, Duran Duran were busy pressing the flesh in support of ‘Rio’, the record that, in terms of the hoopla that surrounded it, become yet another by-word for industry excess. Another snapshot from a period during which record companies couldn’t spend quickly or recklessly enough, both inside the studio and outside on the tiles.

 

But while it took many years for the process and the technology to fully develop into the commonplace, the core conceit behind home-recording – doing it, literally, for yourself – was marking another important line in the sand for the music industry. Removing, as it could, many of the impediments – some of them fanciful – that surrounded the recording process and making it far more democratic, in theory at least.

 

Reading those paragraphs in ‘Set The Boy Free’ I thought, rightly or wrongly, of Joe Chester, the Dublin-born musician and songwriter whose most recent album, ‘The Easter Vigil’, has just been released and who, on any given day or project, can work as sustainably or efficiently as the best of them. His five solo albums – and they are, to all intents, entirely solo projects wherein our hero takes on the bulk of the creative lifting – are but one aspect of a wide and varied career spent as a musician, writer, producer and collaborator. Joe has long been as comfortable working alone as he is as part of a broader group ;- I first saw him in action many years back as one of Sunbear, an angular guitar band that regularly lit up many a dank evening in the belly of The Rock Garden in Temple Bar during the early 1990s. Someone who, depending on circumstance and mood, can pare it right back to the muscle too, as is certainly the case on ‘The Easter Vigil’.

Interestingly enough, my own copy arrived in the post after I bought it on-line from a record label based in Dublin 3, never previously regarded as a stronghold within the international music industry. Eight songs long, and softer and more spartan than much of Joe’s previous output, ‘The Easter Vigil’ is simply another chapter in a body of work that’s as impressive as that by any contemporary Irish artist. And the fact that he remains, outside of a small coterie of anoraks, fans and friends, a largely acquired taste, only adds to his lustre, of course.

 

Tall, thin and unlikely, he trades in uncomplicated, blue-chip songs that borrow their strokes from the best in show. His first album, ‘A Murder Of Crows’, for instance, features both Gemma Hayes on harmony vocals and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Bleed To Love Her’ that, by so doing, pretty fairly reflects the crease into which he pitches. In every conceivable respect, he’s as far from Duran Duran as it’s possible to get.

 

I met Joe once, very briefly, back when I was producing a tidy music television series for tweens called ‘Eye2Eye’ and onto which we’d invited Gemma to play a short live set to an audience of forty twelve year olds and to answer some of their questions. And she was as decent and elegant as usual, unfussily accompanying herself on acoustic guitar while Joe, to her right, camera left, played her reluctant foil, buried deep in the half-light and uneasy anytime he was caught unwittingly in the glare. They populate each other’s work freely but even so, I was still struck by the ease with which they so instinctively sat in concert.

 

 

It’s a rare and remarkable gift, this, and one I’ve been fortunate enough to see close-up over the years in pairs as diverse as Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, Conall and John from We Cut Corners and Christy Moore and Declan Sinnott. And that Friday afternoon we spent in Studio Two in Montrose was every bit as visceral as it was heart-lifting :- my abiding hope was that, beyond the smoke and mirrors of television, the performers’ alchemy had rubbed off on some of the kids and that they left the campus more rounded than when they entered.

 

I’d been turned onto ‘A Murder Of Crows’ the previous year by Tom Dunne, the Something Happens singer who, back in the mid-2000s, hosted an excellent early-evening music show on Today FM. And not only was he wearing the record to within an inch of it’s life but he was using the title track – with it’s chintzy keyboard swivel – as a regular ident throughout his programme. My wife and myself had recently become parents for the first time and, on those many evenings spent stuck in the slow torture along The Coast Road in Sandymount and over onto The East Link, Tom’s impeccable play-lists would help me home to Dublin 3 and back to the general gormlessness that tends to be family life for first-timers. And for many months thereafter, I’d drive my daughter to crèche in the mornings to the sweet, sweet sounds of ‘A Murder Of Crows’ ;- it became an unlikely soundtrack and vital mental support to life as a bewildered new parent.

 

I’ve kept a keen eye on Joe’s various activities in the years since. And, as our family increased in size along the way, so too did the ambition and the wonder of his records. And it’s been onwards, upwards and varied ever since ;- in between various stints working as a hired hand with Sinéad O’Connor and The Waterboys, or as a producer du jour for practically every Irish act worth it’s salt, Joe would infrequently fetch up and quietly leave out another essential calling card of his own.

 

And by any stretch, ‘The Tiny Pieces Left Behind’, ‘She Darks Me’ and ‘Hope Against Hope’ represent a formidable decade of work, carefully hand cut, delicately produced albums that wear their influences openly and boast their impacts clearly. Each of them made, for the most part, by one man and his help, working discreetly to small budgets, off-Broadway, cost-effectively and without the fanfare.

 

It’s been five busy, varied years since he last released a long-player and ‘The Easter Vigil’ finds Joe in a reflective and sombre humour ;- in part a concept album of soulful reflection and mature observation that, thematically, is back-dropped by the Easter tenets of sacrifice, re-birth and renewal.

 

To anyone with even the most passing interest in the emotional power of music, religion can often be a bountiful – if unlikely – source. The Easter Vigil itself is one of the staples of the Roman Catholic calendar and, as a drama, is a remarkable affair, big on pomp, staging and imagery. The single most important celebration within the Christian faith, Easter’s third act sees Jesus Christ rise from the dead hours after crucifixion on a cross on Calvary on Good Friday. And as such, it has provided numerous writers and musicians with ample symbolic ammo over the centuries.

 

Even as a non-believer, I’ve long found the use of music during the Easter ceremonies to be particularly impactful and just as interesting as the narrative it supports ;- as with most great films or stage shows, the soundtrack bulwarks the storyline and delivers several key punctuations and sub-texts across a week of ceremonials. As of Holy Thursday night, for instance, all instruments are de-commissioned and put beyond use and all music, until the resurrection during The Easter Vigil on Easter Saturday night, is plain and unaccompanied. Good Friday ceremonies, like The Stations of The Cross, are stark and wistful, powerful performance pieces played out in churches that stay dark and unadorned until faith is restored after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After which, in simple terms, normal service[s] resume.

 

And in several respects, Joe’s album endures a similar catharsis using the same sort of dramatic tension. Only in reverse. From the peppy opener that takes place on ‘Spy Wednesday’ to the magnificent closer, ‘I’m Not A Christian Anymore’, located on Easter Sunday, the record’s central figure concludes a passage from confident believer [‘I know that my Redeemer lives’] through self-doubt, uncertainty and onwards into disbelief. When, over the album’s concluding bars, Joe sings ;- ‘that night in the sleeping house of God, I was a phantom walking in the corridor. I was a Christian then, I’m not a Christian anymore’.

 

But it had all been so different back at the beginning, seven songs earlier. ‘Spy Wednesday’ has an innocent Waterboys feel – appropriately enough, it could sit easily on ‘A Pagan Place’ – that springs to its capstone off of a saxophone solo by Anthony Thistlethwaite. Another packing considerable Waterboys history, Steve Wickham, lends the violin and viola parts while cellist Vyvienne Long decorates the room with deeper tones throughout. Elsewhere, ‘Dark Mornings’ – a first-class graduate from the Matthew Sweet/Ryan Adams/Lindsey Buckingham finishing school – is still the closest concession to the all-out, Cars-inspired finish that’s distinguished much of Joe’s previous work. And after that it’s just the magic of the soft hush ;- and it’s beautiful. Because for all of it’s allegory and bespoke references [‘the feast of Corpus Christi’, ‘Swastika Laundry’ and ‘the valley of tears’], Joe still finds the real wonder in the smaller, far less abstract moments.

 

The first single, ‘Juliette Walking In The Rain’ is about exactly that, a chance encounter with the French actress Juliette Binoche as she makes her way across Meeting House Square in Central Dublin. While for all the swagger on ‘Dark Mornings’, the song ultimately – and maybe invariably? – finds itself dissecting matters of the heart as Joe points out that he’s ‘just looking out the window, waiting for you to wake up’.

 

And that’s where his gift lies. The devil may indeed always lurk amidst the detail but it takes the confidence of a master to allow the magic flourish deep inside the quiet.

 

CODA :- ‘The Easter Vigil’ is available in decent shops and on-line via Bohemia Records.

http://www.bohemiarecords.ie/#/joe-chester/

 

Joe is playing a handful of live dates in Ireland in support of ‘The Easter Vigil’. Róisín Dubh in Galway on April 23rd, The Unitarian Church in Dublin on April 28th, The Spirit Store in Dundalk on May 4th and Crane Lane in Cork on May 27th. So do yourself a favour.

 

 

 

 

THE MANY GHOSTS OF PHILIP LYNOTT

 

For decades it was in childrens and youth programmes that many good young television producers and ambitious directors began their careers and where the more difficult, often older ones ended theirs when, deemed too unmanageable for the requirements of the prime-time schedules, were consigned back to work with the glove puppets. In RTÉ – up until recently at least – youth programmes was where time and space were always more readily available than budgets and where, on a daily basis, those who wanted to turn things on their heads were encouraged to do so. And usually for no other reason than because they could. Where, off-Broadway and away from the focus of senior managers, bean counters, agents and the usual spoofers, some of the best, most creative, curious and often just mad television in the history of the state was consistently committed to tape and outputted to the young. On most of whom the content was largely wasted. And I say this from a position of knowledge and experience :- I spent ten years of my working life making children’s television, where every day brought a different opportunity to turn a lens – or a presenter – upside down and back to front.

This approach was nowhere more manifest or obvious than on ‘Anything Goes’, in several senses a long-running Saturday morning series that played live on the RTÉ schedules for six years from October, 1980 and that, over the course of its colourful history, covered a multitude. In gunge, for the most part. But the last thirty minutes of what was a four hour, live weekly show, was where many of us encountered new and exciting music for the first time on television, a compliment to some of the late night, non-mainstream radio we’d maybe stumbled on, putting pictures to the sounds, often with mesmerising effect.

David Heffernan, who presented the ‘Anything Goes’ music segments and determined much of it’s editorial line, has long played a significant role in supporting nascent Irish music, from in front of and behind the camera and also on radio. It was on David’s watch that I witnessed many memorable ‘Anything Goes’ appearances ;- from a live number and raspy interview by a young Billy Bragg to a high-end exchange with Martin Fry of ABC and a drive-by with Loudon Wainwright. And maybe most vividly of all, an unforgettable broadcast of Prefab Sprout’s ‘Don’t Sing’ video in a slot that would also feature regular, imported live concert performances on film from the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac.

And woven into that mix – sometimes seamlessly, other times not so much – live performances almost every week from some of the country’s most engaging new acts. The Blades, for instance, appeared as regularly on ‘Anything Goes’ as some of the presenters and, from their base in Ringsend, were within easy reach in the event that a hole in the running order needed filling. Which would have been often on a show of such length and ambition.

Clashing as it frequently did with hurling and football fixtures involving my club, Glen Rovers, ‘Anything Goes’ was probably the single greatest factor in my decision to retire prematurely from an active career on the playing fields. That, I guess, and the fact that, with a hurley in my hand, I posed a genuine health and safety risk to many, myself and my team- mates primarily.

You’d see and hear almost anything during the tail-end of ‘Anything Goes’, some of it just as bizarre as much of what you’d find frequently around the pitches in The Tank Field or The Old Mon Field, and the RTÉ archives are stocked with more of this material than you’d expect. One of my own favourites from that period is a full-frontal, Bil Keating- directed mime by Cork band Nun Attax – a loosely-defined post-punk outfit with distinctly local Captain Beefheart cravings – who made it past the security gate in Montrose unchallenged and recorded two numbers, ‘White Cortina’ and ‘Reekus Sunfare’, during studio downtime in May, 1981, in what obviously sounded like a great idea at the time it was advanced. Shot in front of a basic set and against a white cyclorama curtain, and with a battered old beater as a dominant stage prop, you’d wonder if the band and the production crew had shared the same cache of hallucinagenics over lunch in the RTÉ canteen before taking their opening positions on the floor of Studio 2 ?

Under the leadership of the late producer and director Bob Collins [who shouldn’t be confused with the former RTÉ Director General of the same name], ‘Anything Goes’ also blazed a trail in that it infrequently recorded a series of video vignettes for Irish and local artists at a time when the form was still largely unheralded and often outrageously expensive. I’ve written previously about ‘The Bride Wore White’, a beautiful trailer directed by Collins himself for an early Blades track, but arguably the best-known and most fondly-remembered video clip made for the programme is ‘Old Town’, one of the stand-out cuts from ‘The Philip Lynott Album’ and which was first transmitted on ‘Anything Goes’ on Saturday, October 30th, 1982.

Lynott’s debut solo album two years previously, ‘Solo In Soho’, found the Thin Lizzy frontman in considered and expansive form, clearly delivered from what had become an overly familiar routine determined by his band’s considerable cut-through. And it’s follow-up is more wide-ranging again in its ambition even if it’s a far weaker and more distracted listen that, certainly over the closing tracks, just sounds as if it’s running on empty. ‘The Philip Lynott Album’ dabbles deeper and further with digital technology and basic sampling at the expense of Lynott’s more commonplace rock tropes, and with mixed results. ‘Yellow Pearl’, for instance, co-written with Midge Ure, was originally one of the stand-outs on ‘Solo In Soho’ but, re-arranged, re-recorded and re-booted, features again on the follow-up, eventually becoming the explosive, pop-loaded theme music to Top Of The Pops. But elsewhere, and certainly from half-way onwards, much of ‘The Philip Lynott Album’ is just raw fumbling and riffing, scantily clad sketches in search of body and form.

Written by Lynott and Jimmy Bain, the bass-player with Rainbow who’d become part of Thin Lizzy’s wider orbit, ‘Old Town’ is easily the centre-piece on ‘The Philip Lynott Album’, a lyrically simple, up-beat pop song about a relationship that’s come to an end. And, as such, it sits snugly within a cluster of songs that are intensely personal, several of them hung on themes of broken connection, emotional uncertainty and intimacy.  ‘Cathleen’, a soft ballad about Lynott’s second daughter, segues into ‘Growing Up’, an unsettling but sadly beautiful song about an inappropriate relationship between a child and an adult while ‘Together’, another song about a broken relationship, clumsily captures all of the album’s primary lyrical motifs within its half-baked chorus.

‘Old Town’ actually begins with a spoken introduction ;- ‘The Old Covent Garden, I  remember it well’, even if that line has been long lost to all but Lynott completists and anoraks. And musically, the song marks a real line in the sand, the graduation, in one respect from Philo [The hard Rocker] to Philip [The softer-edged Pop Star] ;- the recognisable guitar licks and familiar solos have been largely decommissioned and it’s primary hooks come from elsewhere. So while ‘Old Town’ is quickly and efficiently out of the traps [‘The girl’s a fool, she broke the rule, she hurt him hard’], it gathers real momentum with a frenetic piano solo just over a minute in by Darren Wharton, a young, Manchester-born player who’d recently been added to the Thin Lizzy line-up. But the ultimate pay-off derives from an unlikely source :- a mighty solo performed on piccolo trumpet by John Wilbraham who, at the time, was a principal player in the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Conceived by Lynott as a tribute to The Beatles, he had originally hoped that David Mason, who performed the trumpet solo on ’Penny Lane’, would reprise the feat on ‘Old Town’. But when Mason was unable to commit to the recording, the Louth-born arranger and composer, Fiachra Trench, cast his net elsewhere.

Although much of ‘The Philip Lynott Album’ is under-laid with layers of keyboard and sampled sounds – and is very much in keeping with many of the cadences of the period – several of the tracks are also scored with subtle orchestrations, arranged by Trench and recorded independently at the fabled Advision Studios in Fitzgrovia in central London. The core of the album, produced by Lynott and Kit Woolven, another long-time Thin Lizzy wingman, was recorded in multiple locations in London, Nassau and Dublin and it certainly feels like a record searching for consistency ;- often it just meanders. Indeed Fiachra Trench told Alan Byrne during the research phase for his excellent 2012 book, ‘Philip Lynott :- Renegade of Thin Lizzy’, that the main man may not even have attended some of the heavy-duty sessions where the string were laid down.

It was Lynott himself who suggested an ‘Anything Goes’ video for ‘Old Town’, making a personal phone call into the production office with word of a new, fresh song about which he was feeling very confident. He’d enjoyed a good working relationship with David Heffernan and had made several previous live appearances on the show, culminating in a 1982 RTÉ documentary, ‘Renegade :- The Philip Lynott Story’, filmed and transmitted at a period when the band was reversing awkwardly into a critical siding. The album of the same name had stiffed badly and the tour that accompanied it was a largely chaotic one, even by Thin Lizzy’s standards. But if the ‘Renegade’ project had one positive aspect, it was that RTÉ had finally gotten in under Lynott’s bonnet ;- the documentary features, among terrific live concert footage and a couple of moderately revealing interviews with the singer, a series of curious contributions from Brush Shiels and an insight into the extent of Lynott’s status and fame.

Opening with shots of him leaving his mother’s corporation house in Crumlin, the film ends with him far removed from Dublin 12, emotionally and in every other respect, as he shows Heffernan around his home studio in Kew, outside of London and reveals, among other things, that he was already a share-holder in his favourite football club, Manchester United. But ‘Renegade’ is also important in that it was made, unlike much of the  underwhelming material on him over the last thirty years, while Lynott was still alive, and with his participation and full involvement.

Record company marketing support for Lynott’s second solo album was always likely to be a problem ;- by broadening the scope of his ambition, he’d started to slowly pull away from aspects of his long-standing fan-base. And while Lynott’s writing had never been more adventurous and his many collaborations never more critically fruitful, there was a real sense afoot that, commercially, he was treading water and that his audiences, in the worst traditions, had started to become more selective. And of course the real backdrop was the uncertainty around the future of Thin Lizzy ;- the more that Lynott mixed in other circles and with other influences, the greater that uncertainty became.

Which is how and why the ‘Old Town’ clip happened, more or less. Given that Lynott’s record company had no plans to issue the song as a single and that the album wasn’t a marketing priority for them, RTÉ stepped in – or was willingly stepped in – as a surrogate promotional arm. And so within weeks of an advance copy of the song landing into the ‘Anything Goes’ office on cassette during the late summer of 1982, researcher Frank Murphy, working with David Heffernan and director Gerry Gregg, set up a two-day  shooting schedule at interior and exterior locations around Dublin city centre. And the game was on.

Gregg was a young history graduate who’d been recruited into RTÉ as part of a fresh band of new television producers during the late 1970s and, born and raised in Ringsend, immediately saw an opportunity to capture Lynott distinctively on film, at play in and around some of the old town’s landmarks. The shoot was afforded a two-day production ‘recce’, where the core crew, also featuring art director Brigid Timmons, scouted locations all over the middle of Dublin in advance of production. The material was captured on 16mm film by an RTÉ staff cameraman, Ken Murphy and a three-and-a-half minute clip was later edited over a two week period by J. Patrick Duffner in a small studio off of Baggot Street ;- the completed cut was first shown on ‘Anything Goes’ on Saturday, October 30th, 1982.

Frank Murphy felt that the proposed shooting script required a second central character and it was his idea to cast Fiona McKenna, then a young actress at The Abbey Theatre, as Lynott’s female foil. A daughter of Tomás MacAnna, a former Artistic Director at Ireland’s National Theatre, her brother, Ferdia MacAnna, had previously fronted his own energetic young band, Rocky de Valera And The Gravediggers. Both Murphy and Gregg were agreed that the shoot required an actress when it may well have been easier and quicker to cast a model [‘she broke his heart and that is rough’] and McKenna appears throughout in colourful contemporary garb, opening the video by breaking away from Lynott’s grasp on The Halfpenny Bridge, the fabled footbridge that spans The River Liffey from Aston Quay to Bachelor’s Walk.

In strong pastels, big hair and high-waisted pantaloons, she is styled in the likeness of Krystle Carrington, then one of the female leads in the popular American television drama series, ‘Dynasty’. In one scene, she swivels towards camera to pick up a ringing telephone call [‘she plays it hard, she plays it tough’] in an office at the top of Liberty Hall, looking back down the River Liffey. And Duffner and Gregg also include another short but gorgeous shot of her corpsing directly to camera during that office scene where the actress perhaps senses, within touching distance of The Abbey Theatre, just how frankly bizarre her day’s work had just become.

Lynott, meanwhile, is in regulation, skin-tight black jeans, Chelsea boots, crisp white shirt and skinny-tie throughout, his preferred look during this part of his career. And although staying back home with his wife and daughters in Howth during the filming, he wasn’t in the best of form during the two days and yet looks as fetching and stunning as he peacocks through Grafton Street as he did at any point in his career.

This scene, featuring many unsuspecting young men and women out and about on one of Dublin’s main shopping streets, captures Lynott back home among his own ;- barely one minute into the film and he’s already taking the adulation and the odd askew glance from his public. Tellingly, every single face featured during this sequence is a white one, bar Lynott’s. In his tailored black jacket and jeans, he is caught on film yet again as both a definitive and yet very distinctive Dubliner.

‘Much of the credit for ‘Old Town’ – and for the music on ‘Anything Goes’ generally, should go to Bob Collins’, Gerry Gregg now recalls, ‘because he gave the team the licence and the freedom to be as cinematic as they wanted to be’. But this was often easier said than done ;- from the off Lynott was late onto set and was only delivered to the various locations because of the intercessions of his long-time side-kick and driver, Gus Curtis. And while it was originally hoped, in the years long before drone technology, to use aerial photography to capture the breadth of Lynott’s Bloom-style gallivants through Dublin city, the budget just wouldn’t allow it. Instead the video closes with Lynott wandering out alone along The Bull Wall in Ringsend, ‘wondering where exactly he’s off to and where he’ll end up’, according to Gerry Gregg.

Ken Murphy wouldn’t have been known for his interest in or knowledge of contemporary music. Tee-total, he was an old school film cameraman who took a studied cinematic approach to everything he ever shot and had just finished a long stint as director of photography on the respected RTÉ drama series, ‘Strumpet City’. And that kind of sensibility is obvious throughout the ‘Old Town’ clip ;- every single frame is composed with a cinematographer’s keen eye, beautifully framed, lit and perfectly exposed. Away from RTÉ, Ken Murphy collected model trains and raced toy aeroplanes and he fetched up for the ‘Old Town’ shoot with scant knowledge of, and little interest in, Lynott or his background. David Heffernan suggests, half-jokingly, that Lynott’s presence on set ‘may just have devalued what Ken saw as just a lovely short drama’.

All of ‘Old Town’’s scenes are located in the middle of Dublin, opening on The Halfpenny Bridge and venturing out as far as the bandstand in Herbert Park in Ballsbridge, down into the docks and onto Ringsend Pier where, at one point, Lynott symbolically crosses the city back onto the Northside by boat. One of the most memorable scenes finds him alone, propping up the beautiful Victorian bar in The Long Hall on George’s Street where, shot from behind the taps and with a double brandy at his elbow, Lynott confesses wistfully how he’s been ‘spending my money in the old town’. The Long Hall is a listed bar whose history is bound up in the long traditions of whiskey distillation in Dublin city and, latterly, it’s become a preferred stop-off for Bruce Springsteen during his increasingly more frequent visits to Dublin. And yet, maybe surprisingly and also maybe to its credit, there’s still no overt recognition inside The Long Hall that Philip Lynott ever set foot there.

Gerry Gregg directed two different hand-held sequences in Herbert Park and acknowledges that, in 1982, these sort of long passages shot off of the tripod using such heavy equipment would have taken a toll on any camera operator. But Ken Murphy carried them off with his usual élan.And Gregg credits Patrick Duffner with the idea to intercut the two takes – where Lynott mimes the trumpet part – even if, as Fiachra Trench again pointed out to Alan Byrne, he uses a flugelhorn trumpet in the video and not a piccolo trumpet on which John Wilbraham originally committed the solo to tape.

Duffner went on to enjoy a long and bountiful career as a film editor and is a much decorated and highly-respected character within the Irish and international industries. He subsequently cut several major Irish feature films, ‘The Field’, ‘My Left Foot’ and ‘Michael Collins’ among them. His partner in the cutting room on the ‘Old Town’ job, Gerry Gregg, also went on to enjoy many high-profile accolades at home and abroad and remains one of the best known and consistently thought-provoking independent producers in the country. He left RTÉ in 1989 and, from within and outside of the national broadcaster, has a string of formidable credits to his name. In 1998, he won an Emmy for his investigative documentary, ‘Witness To Murder’, produced as part of the Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ series in which reporter John Sweeney revealed the appalling story of the massacre of 112 Kosovar Albanian men and boys by Serb forces during the Kosovo war.

I’ve worked closely with Gerry over the last number of years and, in 2015, he completed the multi-award winning documentary ‘Close To Evil’ for my commissioning slate in RTÉ, a film in which Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental makes an unsuccessful attempt to meet with a Nazi jailor who had worked at the Bergen Belsen concentration camp during his imprisonment there as a young boy. Gerry and Tomi have recently completed a feature documentary sequel to ‘Close To Evil’ and this will have a formal cinematic release later this year.

David Heffernan is still involved in the television and radio industry and works mostly these days as a freelance producer. With his twin brother, Gerald, he devised and produced the finest live music television series ever seen in this country, ‘The Session’ which, first shot and recorded in RTÉ in 1987, set a new bar for the form. And with his company, ‘Frontier Films’, he also produced and directed several episodes in the MTV ‘Classic Albums’ series, notably documentaries on the making of ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac and ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ by Stevie Wonder.

Ken Murphy retired from RTÉ ten years ago after a long career during which he served time in every division in Montrose, from Young People’s to Drama, Sport to Current Affairs. During his many years in Montrose, he would have worked closely with Bob Collins, the producer and director who died in Dublin in 2000 after a year-long illness, at the age of 54. Collins left RTÉ in the mid 1980s and went on work extensively in Britain, directing ‘Top Of The Pops’ for the BBC and ‘Network 7’, the ground-breaking youth series for Channel 4. Among his many music-based productions are RTÉ documentaries on The Boomtown Rats in America and the last ever Thin Lizzy live show in Dublin ;- he was also involved with Frontier Films and was a central player in the production of ‘The Session’.

John Wilbraham died in April, 1996 at the age of 53. He was one of the most acclaimed classical musicians of his generation and played on a host of recordings over the course of his career. In this respect, he shares space on one fondly-remembered free-lance job with Darren Wharton, who was still in his teens and playing in a covers band when Lynott first recruited him into the ranks of Thin Lizzy. He was barely 21 years old when he contributed the enduring piano solo to ‘Old Town’ and collaborated regularly with Lynott during the later stages of his career. And he’s still at it, performing and writing with his own band, Dare.

Aspects of Philip Lynott’s complicated story have been well worn and ‘Old Town’ is but a footnote in what was ultimately a scarcely believable and far-ranging life, albeit one that was far too short. He died at the age of 36 in January, 1986. By the time that ‘Old Town’ and ‘The Philip Lynott Album’ formally saw the light of day, he was already exploring several other avenues and styles and it came as no surprise when, in 1983, he consigned Thin Lizzy to the freezer. Over the final furlongs of his life he fronted another hard-edged rock outfit called Grand Slam while also writing with the London-born R and B artist, Junior Giscombe and making cameos with Irish bands as diverse as the flaky electro-pop duo, Auto Da Fe and the Howth-based traditional-folk outfit, Clann Éadair, with whom he sang and produced their magical 1984 single, ‘A Tribute To Sandy Denny’.

Lynott’s associations with David Heffernan and Bob Collins particularly, and with RTÉ more broadly, means that his career and his music have been well documented by the national broadcaster, on television for the most part. And the archives are generously stocked in this regard, even if much of the content, the music apart, is mixed at best. A definitive career retrospective and sturdy appraisal of Phil Lynott – as with Rory Gallagher – has yet, to my mind, to be made.

In the meantime, that void has been filled by two fine but very different books issued over the last five years, Alan Byrne’s ‘Philip Lynott : The Renegade of Thin Lizzy’ [2012] and last year’s ‘Cowboy Song :- The Authorised Biography of Phil Lynott’ by Graeme Thomson. Byrne’s book is an unashamedly partisan but excellently compiled fan’s-eye view of Lynott’s work outside of Thin Lizzy while Thomson’s is as exhaustive a biography as it is an uncomfortable read and which cuts past much of the soft-focus schmaltz and the crudely-formed stereotyping long associated with its central character. As with Thomson’s 2004 book, ‘Complicated Shadows :- The Life And Music of Elvis Costello’, ‘Cowboy Song’ presents – in no little detail – a fascinating but deeply flawed subject who, often from paragraph to paragraph, swings from genius to objectionable.

And which sets it apart, like much of Philip Lynott’s recorded work, as fiercely compelling.

JONNY REP and BALLINCOLLIG

jonny-rep-turned-around

The suburb of Ballincollig, to the west of Cork city, is known to many because of John Spillane, the gentle Cork songwriter with a delicate hand who, on his 1996 album, ‘The Wells Of The World’, commemorated the village with two chords and a sting. ‘Johnny Don’t Go To Ballincollig’, he warned on that record’s very first line. ‘Where you always get disappointed’.

I’ve been making the ten-mile trip out from Cork city to Ballincollig, on and off, for the guts of forty years and I can’t say I’ve ever been really disappointed by it ;- not even during the frenzied New Year’s Eve I spent there fifteen years ago. But growing up in the middle of the city during the 1970s, Ballincollig may as well have been in Donegal ;- in the days long before ring roads and over-passes, it was simply out there somewhere, in the country. And yet that never stopped my mother from loyally making the journey once every season to visit her hairdresser – trading, with typical Cork notions as a ‘hair coiffeur’ – whose box-room premises were very definitely at odds with the outward ambition of the business and which were located towards the Ovens end of the main drag back.

And when we’d be outside in the car, impatient and restless, waiting for her perm to fully set, my father would turn to me and suggest that Ovens, a truly mad place down the road, was the most appropriate spot in Cork in which to locate a crematorium, if anyone were clued-in or daring enough.

The Cork-based promoter Denis Desmond –not to be confused with his more high-profile, hirsute and alpha namesake – launched a nationwide competition for school bands in 1989 and I regularly fetched up all over Munster to help out with the judging. It was a laudable and naïve under-taking, and certainly not something from which a coin was turned easily but, for me, it was a cost-effective way to catch the best and worst of what was going on inside some of Ireland’s most addled adolescent minds. And it was on this beat one Saturday afternoon that, in a musty old hall on The Crescent in Limerick city, that I first heard, and was quickly captivated by, the competition’s eventual winners :- The Hitchers. Their first single, ‘There’s A Bomb In That Basket Of Fruit’, was recorded as part of their prize for taking the spoils on a memorable final night in Connolly Hall in Cork in March, 1990.

During one of the competition’s earlier heats out in Ballincollig Community School the previous winter, the premises was put under siege by a group of tooled-up young toughs half-way through. After a couple of local goth bands struggled through their sets, the building was put into lockdown and the production crew was sped out of the village under Garda escort. I was back in The Long Valley on Winthrop Street in good time for last orders and had, for a change, a genuine story to impart to those in the upstairs bar. And in that story, the bands I toiled through earlier that evening were way less memorable than the cider-fuelled carry-on around the school grounds.

It was Denis Desmond who first turned me onto The Outside, a reluctant five-piece from Ballincollig with smart, poppy fingers and a keen touch who quickly became one of my favourite local bands during the late 1980s. The name captured them perfectly :- Francis Ford Copolla’s 1983 teen film, ‘The Outsiders’, betrayed their references while, in the same breath, summed up how they saw themselves, cut adrift in what was still a developing suburb away from the thrust and noise ten miles back along the road. I made a point of seeing The Outside whenever I could, most memorably in The Cork Opera House as part of a three-night showcase for new bands that Denis also ran, and where they were as good as they’d ever become. They picked up a couple of handy supports along the way too and I really thought they had genuine potential. They were a work in progress, of course, but their canny pop songs displayed a real grasp of the fundamentals and hinted at a frame of reference broad enough to keep them interesting and arresting. And I was sorry to see them pack it in so shortly afterwards ;- another band poisoned forever by the public shift of death I’d given them.

Some of their number fetched-up thereafter in a handful of other, more boisterous guitar bands – Semi, Fred -before eventually putting down roots as LMNO Pelican, who deviated from the family line and were a dirtier, slightly more skewed indie concern. The Pelicans became a prominent adjunct on the comet ridden by both The Frank And Walters and The Sultans Of Ping during the stellar period between 1990 and 1995 but may have been unfairly lost in the supervoid that briefly surrounded it. I’ve written previously about the band’s spiritual leader and pulse, it’s late drummer, Brendan Butler, and it was because of him– and his overwhelmingly positive view of life and music – that myself and Mick Finnegan, one of the many unheralded figures at the heart of Cork’s music scene from post-punk onwards – ended up together on the producer’s settee when LMNO Pelican entered Elm Tree Studios on Cork’s Mardyke in 1993 to record their second E.P.


They’d already made a considerable dent with their debut, the excellent four-tracker, ‘Boutros Boutros’, from which ‘Call Yossarian’ – in the spirit of the feistier Dublin guitar bands from a decade previously, The Slowest Clock in particular – was a particular stand-out and a signal of real intent.

For years afterwards I wondered if Mick and myself just made a proper hames of the follow-up and that, far from enhancing the band’s sound, had actually sucked the spirit from them ? But ‘Red Dot’ E.P. still means the world to me :- I certainly knew what we wanted to do on those four songs even if, to this day, I’m still not entirely sure where most of the bottom end went during the mixdown ? There are some terrific flicks, hooks and licks on that record, many of them provided by Fergus [Gus] Keane, the Pelican’s ace guitarist who, even then, was already an honours graduate of the Tom Verlaine/Graham Coxon school of icing. And I’ll still pull that record from the racks the odd time and get a rare thrill from ‘Wangley Dan’ and ‘Chalkey Gods’, recalling a terrific couple of weeks during which we panel-beat the record into shape and laid it down, plotting the harmony lines, adding cello parts and working up the shapes as we went.


The core of that band – Pats, Fergus and Derry – can be found these days scaffolding Jonny Rep, the best constituent parts of The Outside, Semi and The Pelicans compounded, basically, and then lacquered with an urgent, riffy finish. These days they’re joined in the vanguard by a pair of strays from two other prominent Cork outfits, Niall Lynch from The Shanks and Dave Senior from Rulers of The Planet and, dragging it all together from behind the mixing desk, Ciaran O’Shea who, with his brother, Declan, founded and led the ambitious [and very noisy] Cyclefly who, for a spell, briefly threatened a serious international breakthrough fifteen or so years back. From his Whitewell Studio, outside of Cloyne in East Cork, Ciaran certainly knows how to create a formidable wall of guitar sound [and where to locate the bottom end] and Jonny Rep’s records sound absolutely vast. For the sake of easy reference, they’re like an indie Traveling Wilburys trading Ride-style blows on every single line.

I hadn’t heard from them for years until, out of the blue, they posted up Jonny Rep’s excellent and frightfully under-rated debut album, which was released back in 2010. And the tidy hand-written note that accompanied it – not begging favours, just bearing best wishes – is typical of how they’ve always conducted themselves. I was delighted to hear from them and even more excited to hear that they were all still at it, decades later, and with the same sort of zest they had back when they were younger, leaner and dreamier. Maybe it’s just another aspect of the cycle of life manifesting itself but there’s something keenly reassuring about friends sticking the distance through the decades, refuelling at various points in the road, driving on, with music to keep them in good spirits and to occupy their conversations.


These days, they tell me, they might get together in the rehearsal room whenever the mood takes them, no pressure, and riff it out until they’ve made a forward stride or two. They may make another record down the line or they may not. They may play an odd live show, they may undertake a short tour, who knows ? But what’s clear is that the twin spectres of disappointment and failure that overhang all bands of a certain age have, in this case, long given way to perspective and priority. It’s a freedom that’s evident in the music :- Jonny Rep have never sounded stronger, more cohesive or better.

Today, the band formally releases it’s second album, ‘Cold Sunbeam’, even if none of us are entirely sure what a formal release actually means anymore beyond, one suggests, a line in a Google group calendar. Yes, there’ve been a couple of positive notices, a steady increase in airplay, the odd radio appearance and a couple of soft pieces in the local papers but beyond that, one suspects, it’s more about a quiet, singular satisfaction at just squaring something special away, boxed off. And, once again it’s a very physical, confident record that, over the course of it’s nine formidable tracks, flouts it’s influences like it
detonates it’s riffs ;- early, often and to real effect. Added marks to, of course, to any band that references one of Blackpool’s most historic industrial landmarks in it’s album title.

Maintaining a long link – especially strong in Cork circles – between the indie set and football, the band is named to within a missing letter ‘h’ after the mercurial Dutch winger [is there any other kind ?] who played in – and lost – two World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978. Johnny Rep is another in that far-reaching line of footballers who played as fast and loose off the pitch as he did on it even if he is still, to his credit, one of the few players to have admitted to taking amphetamines during a career that was also pock-marked by a battle with booze.

In a curious reversal of stereotype, I can’t imagine Jonny Rep breaking out the whizz in the rehearsal room anytime soon in order to gain a sly competitive edge on an unsuspecting opposition. And they’ve also come far enough and through enough to know that ‘Cold Sunbeam’ won’t get them gold-plated status at Mar-A-Lago. But there comes a point when gentle genius lies in the most obvious and simple things :- like respecting life in the slow lane. And Jonny Rep have that in spades.

‘Cold Sunbeam’ is released today, February 24th, 2017, on Jonny Rep’s own label, Wangley Dan Records, and comes highly recommended.