VINCENT HANLEY’S ABSOLUTE FABULOUSNESS

 

Broadcasters Donal Dineen and the late Vincent Hanley never met and, on the surface, have little in common bar the radio. One revelled in the glare, came alive in front of an audience and was widely known by his nickname, Fab Vinny. The other has long been uneasy in the spotlight and only really comes alive after dark ;- when he hosted a nightly national radio programme he’d reluctantly whisper his name to a small but loyal cadre of music fans, anoraks and enthusiasts. One was The Disco King, the other was strictly No Disco.

 

But I thought of Donal within minutes of the retro-skewing opening titles of Eimear O’Mahony and Sinéad Ní Churnáin’s forthcoming short documentary on Hanley, Fab Vinny, which airs on RTÉ One on October 31st next and which looks at the short life of one of the most arresting characters to have ever lit up the radio and television schedules in Ireland. And I thought especially of the many conversations we had, twenty five years ago, when we were wandering blindly together through the first, nervy months of the ‘No Disco’ television series and when, left to our own devices on what was in essence an illicit back-room operation, we worked away on the fly. All that kept us afloat was the buoyancy that often comes from gut instinct.

 

During that time we’d regularly reference MT USA [Music Television USA], the pioneering series that Conor McAnally and Bill Hughes produced and that Vincent Hanley presented on Irish national television on Sunday afternoons for three seasons, starting in February, 1984. Because if it wasn’t for MT USA, ‘No Disco’ would never have seen the light of day on the same channel, RTÉ 2, ten years later even if, on most levels, the two shows were literally worlds apart.

 

Thirty years after his premature death in April, 1987, Vincent Hanley is remembered best for the series that brought wall-to-wall popular music television to the masses, many of whom were located across provincial Ireland where, on a clear day, you had two part-time channels to pick from. MTV had launched in the United States two years previously and, although music video was still an infant form, MT USA was prescient and on the money :- Hanley saw the potential and ran with it.

 

Like our own series that launched in 1993, it was cut in the likeness of it’s host – bold, ambitious and fabulous – even if its production model meant it was frequently paddling furiously beneath the surface. Hanley’s links were shot on location around popular New York city landmarks, to where Bill Hughes would take flight from Dublin every week to capture the host at play on his adopted estate, centre-stage on the city’s streets, lord of all he surveyed.

 

Fab Vinny was one of the programme’s two lead characters – the other was the city of New York itself – and his scripts and interviews with everyone from randomers on the city’s sidewalks to the biggest names in popular music, often told you far more about him than about much of the music he featured, from which he often appeared utterly detached. But the message was simple :- Fab Vinny was out there, somewhere over the rainbow on Planet Fabulous, having the time of his life. And on Sunday afternoons, he’d blag every one of his viewers with him into the most exclusive showbiz party of the week.

 

Those signals weren’t lost on an entire generation of famished music fans for whom the three-hour long programme quickly became an appointment to view. Irrespective of whether or not you were from a small village on the Cork/Kerry border like Donal Dineen or, like myself, from a village on the northside of Cork city, MT USA was an absolute event and, for the three years it remained on air, dominated our weekends. As the country went to sleep after Summer, once the All-Irelands had been won and the trophies gone home for the year, it helped us to flesh out the winter with giddy talk.

 

But MT USA does only scant justice to Hanley’s career in broadcasting – and his complicated gestalt – the bulk of which was spent at RTÉ ;- he soared high quickly but was regularly on the move. In the best and worst traditions of daytime radio he revelled in his nickname which, according to Bill Hughes, his life-long friend and colleague on the MT USA production team, he absolutely loved. ‘Everything [with Vincent] was fab’, he remembers. ‘And of course he had to be fab too’. And so whenever the transmission light went on in studio or whenever he heard a director’s countdown, Vincent Hanley became Fab Vinny, a smelting of a private and public face that for years gave Hanley an enigmatic edge. At least until the last months of his young life when the lines became blurred and the joins began to sunder.

 

His brother, Fergus, recalls how, growing up as part of a small family in Clonmel, County Tipperary, Vincent and himself ‘lived on different planets’. Bill Hughes describes him as ‘very much a smalltown boy in some ways, but very much angry at the idea that anyone would think he was a smalltown boy’. And throughout his career Hanley consistently sought out a town that was big enough to accommodate him, moving first from Clonmel to Cork, then onwards to Dublin, from there to a short spell with Capitol Radio in London, and ultimately on to New York City.

 

He began his broadcasting career, like many others, in the small, off-Broadway outpost in RTÉ in Cork, where his attractive tenor was quickly recognised and from where he hosted several music-based radio programmes for the local opt-out service while working relief shifts in the locals nightclubs. He moved quickly to the campus in Montrose, working initially as a continuity announcer on radio and television before he was unveiled as one of the bulwarks on the new national popular music radio station, Radio 2, when it was launched in May, 1979. Hanley’s anchor slot on the weekday mornings between 9.30 am and 12 noon saw him scaffold the daily schedules alongside the likes of Ronan Collins, Marty Whelan, Jimmy Greely and Larry Gogan in the heart of peak-time, supported by the likes of Dave Fanning, Gerry Ryan and Pat Kenny on the flanks and in the margins.

 

But as well as dominating the national pop radio schedules, the first of the Radio 2 recruits also made regular hay on the burgeoning club circuit around the country where, for many years, they drew considerable live crowds into regional dancehalls, rendering much of the last vestiges of Ireland’s showband scene redundant as they did so. And while they were also handsomely palmed for their troubles, the broader picture wasn’t lost on Hanley :- in entertainment, as in life, time waits for no one.

 

 

Given the easy availability of technology and the daily blizzard of user-generated video material today, its difficult to appreciate just how vital the MT USA series was. Conor McAnally rightly claims that the show was instrumental in breaking several prominent American acts on this side of the Atlantic – ZZ Top, especially – simply by heavily rotating their distinctive short-form music videos to large audiences. The series also gave a considerable leg-up to U2 and initially featured some of the band’s highly-charged live performances at the magnificent Red Rocks arena in Colorado in 1983 and which were also captured on the band’s ‘Under A Blood Red Sky’ album. While word of U2’s breakthrough in America was rife back in Ireland – often imparted first-hand by returned immigrants who’d witnessed the band’s live shows or television appearances there – MT USA captured the evidence on video and reinforced the message back home.

 

That same oxygen supply also helped to launch Suzanne Vega more widely following her breakthrough in the U.S. in 1984, while also pushing the likes of established American acts like Pat Benatar [her ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ must have been the single most played video in the entire history of the show], Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac. To its credit, MT USA also supported a slew of emerging mainstream acts, most notably Madonna, who’d released her debut album in 1983 and whose arrival as one of the most influential figures in the history of popular music coincided with the peak of the show’s popularity. A popularity that was reflected in the widespread recording of weekly episodes of the series onto VHS cassettes in households all over Ireland.

 

 

Inevitably, and as was par for the course in Ireland during the 1980s, the idea of popular contemporary music playing to large, family-centred audiences on Sunday afternoons drew fire and ire from the usual quarters. Largely because of the lascivious, on-tape carry-on of the likes of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Prince and Madonna herself, Bill Hughes became a regular visitor to the RTÉ Radio Centre where he’d fend off familiar criticisms from the nation’s moral custodians and robustly defend his series. ‘We were read from the altar’, recalls MacAnally over thirty years later, knowing that content of even a moderately sexual nature – and the indignation that often followed – was  ultimately good for business.

 

A point not lost on a vocal parish priest in the small West Cork village of  Union Hall, who made this point repeatedly during a plainly bizarre series of moral sermons he delivered from the pulpit that I witnessed as a gob-smacked teenager on holidays with my family at this time.

 

But notwithstanding the odd set-to, MT USA was ostensibly a safe, very middle-of-the-road affair that served up a diet of radio-friendly rock and pop music. You’d often wait for hours to see something moderately lateral and out of the ordinary and, more often than not, you’d leave disappointed, returning the following week in the hope of a fleeting glimpse of Morrissey, Paddy McAloon or Michael Stipe. Like ‘No Disco’, the show is routinely viewed now through a tinted lens ;- it was often far more stylish than it was substantial, much less than the sum of its parts and very definitely of its time. Grabby graphics and noisy stings could never convincingly mask its easy, mainstream feel, even if Hanley was a pioneering jock with a far looser approach than most of his colleagues, more Kenny Everett than Pat Kenny.

 

Vincent Hanley was a gay man who died of an AIDS-related illness, the first public Irish figure to succumb to a disease about which, in 1987, little was known. For many years the exact cause of his death remained unclear to all but those inside his coterie of friends and family. More broadly, homosexuality was still outlawed in Ireland and Dublin boasted only one gay club, which operated on the condition that no alcohol could be served there.

 

One of the more striking aspects of the ‘Fab Vinny’ documentary is how, in it’s deft use of archive footage, some of it long-lost and some of it previously unseen, the film adroitly captures Hanley’s physical disintegration during the final pages of the MT USA history and the last months of his life. In as much as he’d grown up and come of age in the public eye, he ailed visibly on camera too.

 

In the run-up to Christmas, 1986, Hanley was back home in Ireland and, to those catching up with him for the first time in months, his appearance – of which he was forever proud – aroused no little concern or comment. In order to allay concerns for his well-being, he did a memorable radio interview on The Gay Byrne Hour on RTÉ Radio One where he dismissed suggestions that he was ill. Dublin’s Evening Herald newspaper had led, days previously, with a story headlined ‘Health Fears For Pop DJ Hanley’ in which, citing un-named sources and reacting to the media’s gossip mill, they’d landed a serious end-of-year flyer. But one which Vincent was anxious to bury :- he suggested to Byrne that The Evening Herald had implied he was suffering from AIDS.

 

Conor McAnally had first noticed his physical decline from a seat in front of a bank of monitors in the video editing suite in which he had a weekly inject of MT USA video footage. A full decade before the concept of reality television, Vincent Hanley’s weekly links chronicled the effects of a debilitating condition in real time. Bill Hughes reveals that, during the recording of Hanley’s pieces to camera during the last months of the MT USA run in the winter of 1986, the presenter was often too weak to stand and had to be regularly supported, often using his director’s arched back to sit on in between takes.

 

Vincent Hanley died in Saint James’s Hospital in Dublin on April 18th, 1987, in the presence of his closest friends. On the day of his funeral in Clonmel days later, Marian Richardson was presenting hourly news updates on Radio 2, one of the presenter’s former stomping grounds. And as she referenced the funeral on her broadcast just after lunch, she struggled to retain her composure as she referred to her late colleague, and broke down.

 

Simply Red’s version of the old Cole Porter song, ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’, segued directly out of the end of the bulletin.

 

FÓGRA :-

‘Fab Vinny’ airs on RTÉ One on Tuesday, October 31st next at 7PM.

 

ADDENDUM – via KillianM2

MT1MT2MT3MT4MT5MT6MT7MT8MT9MT10

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INTO PARADISE – BACK TO THE GLENSIDE

welcome to churchtown

 

I spent many, many hours with the excellent Dublin band, Into Paradise, devising numerous schemes and strategies intended to bring them in from the cold but that only ultimately moved them further out into the margins. And through the madness, I remember fondly the time I spent as the band’s butler, a bit like Scooter from The Muppet Show, during which I tried to help them put order on their affairs, publicise their cause and, briefly, even turn out for them as an additional member of their live retinue. Like a loyal handful of others I felt their material warranted way more attention and far greater audiences than it ever generated and I’ll go my grave still stubbornly making that case for them. But whenever Into Paradise turn up, as they regularly do, on those lists that chronicle the great feats of chronic Irish under-achievement, another part of me melts away ;- is it right or just that these are the only charts in which the band has ever featured prominently ?

 

Exactly how ‘[Why Don’t You] Move Over’, the band’s most friendly pop song, failed to achieve broader recognition than it did when it was first released as a single in 1993, is as difficult to rationalise as the free-form roundabout in Walkinstown, which goes in many directions and none at the same time. But although Into Paradise has long since splintered in various directions, it must still rankle with one or two of them that they’re best remembered for what they didn’t achieve rather than for what they did.

 

 

I’ve never written at any great length about them :- what goes on on the road and within small, confined spaces is often best left there. But although much of their story is an achingly familiar one, there’s another level on which it’s just far too complicated, even at this remove. The likes of Dónal Ryan and Emma Donohoe, with their deft hands and keen sense of the claustrophobic and the absurd, might struggle to do it justice.

 

My long-standing personal connection to them aside – and, like many aspects of their story, this was always intense and forever prone to fracture – they’ll always just be one of my favourite bands. And when I dip back into their material now, I can still hear the rare, punctured and sometimes reckless beauty that characterised much of their first two elpees and that was still flickering when they did two mini-albums back on the Setanta label towards the end of their decade-long history. Their back catalogue is like an extension of my body at this stage.

 

But that’s what happens when you soldier on the frontlines with a group as consistently keen-eyed and forever acute as they were. When, long before the internet or mobile phones, you’d drive for days with them across the continent, using old atlases and road maps to reach those small venues in Zurich or that large warehouse in Alicante or the bikers hut somewhere in Holland that whiffed of denim, soiled leather and questionable politics.

 

Every one of those trips began in hope and with a sense that, out there somewhere, new audiences – or indeed any audiences – awaited us. And it was that same hope, and the inevitable disappointment that followed Into Paradise around like a deranged hanger-on, that turned on you in the end. My own heart eventually just gave out when, near the finish, we travelled for an eternity to Castletownbere on the Beara peninsula in West Cork to play a local festival to less than twenty punters in a vast hall. While, in the venue across the road, Zig and Zag were doing ‘Never Mind The Zogabongs’ in its entirety to a full-house whose floor was buckling beneath the heft of feet. Ten years previously, in a parallel world, the fictional American band, Spinal Tap, were also up-staged by a puppet show during an ill-advised booking at Themeland Amusement Park in California. But at least Spinal Tap had the consolation of knowing they’d landed a bigger dressing room than the puppets ;- Into Paradise enjoyed no such luxury.

 

 

 

Purely by co-incidence, I moved onto the band’s manor twelve or so years ago. The second Into Paradise album, ‘Churchtown’, their only issue on a major label, is named after the south Dublin suburb in which the group grew up, took shape and in which it was based, on and off, for most of its existence. I drive through Churchtown practically every single day now, along those same tree-lined back-roads I once walked for hours to get to band meetings and rehearsals. Through a part of the south Dublin hinterland that, to some of us, is as well-known and historically important for the likes of Blue In Heaven and The Coletranes [later Revelino] as it is for Scoil Éanna and Patrick Pearse and where, for the guts of ten years, the best-known Into Paradise line-up – David Long, Rachel Tighe, Jimmy Eadie and Ronan Clarke – devised new spells and conjured up regular magic tricks, often in spite of themselves.

 

Many of the landmarks that pepper the band’s story are still standing and some of the others have been modified in the years since the band would regularly go to the well, summon its energies one more time, assemble in the practice room and make another last, often despairing stab at it. And, when I’m stuck in traffic during the early mornings on Lower Churchtown Road or when I’m caught for puff on as I shuffle past the back of Milltown Golf Club, its hard not to be reminded of the band’s magnificent body of work when the source of much of it is rooted all around me.

 

The Bottle Tower, now a gastro-pub with notions serving craft beer on the top end of Churchtown Road Upper and Nutgrove Avenue was, for years, a formidable local bolthole outside of which we’d assemble the troops at dawn before leaving for the ferry at Dún Laoghaire. Close-by, within touching distance of the long defunct Braemor Rooms – the long-time spiritual home of Dublin cabaret – is De La Salle Boys school where David Long, the formidable Into Paradise leader, seems not to be listed alongside the footballer, Damien Duff, the actor, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and the film director, John Carney, on the roll call of honour along it’s far-reaching hallways.

 

 

The old Mount Carmel hospital at the inter-section of Orwell Road and Braemor Park, is now largely un-occupied and infinitely less busy than it used to be at the height of the Celtic Tiger and its assorted insanities. But from outside on the roadway, I can make out ‘the grey, dirty white steps of the hospital greenhouse’ that begin ‘The Pleasure Is Over’, one of the many stellar cuts on the first Into Paradise album, ‘Under The Water’, released on the Setanta label in 1990. Further along the same road, towards the village end, the walls of the band’s old rehearsal rooms on the tip of Braemor Park and Braemor Road are still super- injuncted forever from talking, which is maybe for the best.

 

And then there’s The Glenside, an enormous, thatched boozer located half-way down Landscape Road, the setting for many a lively Into Paradise band meeting and whose pulling power often caused the early abandonment of a scheduled rehearsal. The Glenside has long been a fixture on Dublin’s formidable suburban entertainment circuit and, for years, The Evening Herald newspaper carried regular listings for the wide breath of exotica it hosted. Also on that circuit were the likes of The Addison Lodge in Glasnevin, The Patriots Inn in Kilmainham, The Old Mill in Tallaght, The Graduate in Killiney and The Towers in Ballymun, where I saw Aslan do a couple of blinding acoustic shows during their fallow years in the early 1990s while they were at a loose and uncertain point in their career, scrambling for life. That hinterland track gave them the space to re-group and re-calibrate, strictly out of the spotlight, and also put a few bob into their pockets for good measure.

 

All of these are sizeable premises that serve decent pints, good food and regular entertainment, the bulk of which is almost always booked from the cabaret network. It was in this territory that Brendan O’Carroll, for instance, first developed a reputation for what one might charitably refer to as a particular brand of comedy. And where, to this day, the likes of Roly Daniels and Who’s Eddie continue to defy the laws of science, taste and decency.

 

Every now and then an out-of-the-ordinary or quirky booking might pull a different sort of crowd out into the suburbs and away from the city- centre axis around which Dublin’s live music scene has long been rooted. It was up in what was once The Rathmines Inn in Dublin 6, for instance, that Bjorn Again – still easily the best of all of the Abba tribute bands – made their first tentative live appearances in Ireland while, during the early 1990s, The Dundrum House hosted a series of magnificent live shows by The Coletranes, a local guitar-doused outfit whose classy record collections and adroit command of music history shaped a terrific residency that took place on their own doorstep.

 

The Glenside still serves up regular live music in one of its well- appointed rooms upstairs and, from one week to the next, you’re never quite sure what or who you’ll find there. Earlier this year, while The Republic of Ireland were sleep-walking their way through a soporific friendly fixture against Iceland over at The Aviva Stadium, I was back in the place after for the first time in ages, lured by a friend promising a night of decent cover versions, old-school riffing and quality porter. And in that wood-lined room, up over the sprawling main bar that, on one side, is festooned with decades worth of vintage Dublin Gaelic football memorabilia and, on the other, the rolling screens that only always seem to carry Sky Sports, The Donal Kirk Band enlivened a slow night with a wide-ranging stock of standards, each one delivered with the careful precision of a surgeon’s nerveless hand.

 

The breath of their fare is unremarkable enough ;- ‘Norwegian Wood’, ‘You Do Something To Me’, ‘Wish You Were Here’ and David Gray’s ‘Babylon’ all sitting in a set that also features the odd Vince Gill cover and early ZZ Top. What distinguishes them, though, – and at the risk of sounding like the esteemed Jazz Club host, Louis Balfour – is the quality of the performance, every one of the five men consistently winning their own ball. And what starts as high end pub rock, neat and tidy throughout, develops into something that eventually becomes far more than the sum of its parts as they kick for home after an hour or so.

 

Donal Kirk’s name will be familiar to those who frequented Slatterys on Capel Street or JJ Smyth’s on Aungier Street during the 1980s, when both venues resounded regularly to the strains of quality r and b and dirty rock and roll. A fine vocalist with a soft, easy delivery, he was part of a crew that also included Don Baker and the guitarist, Pat Farrell, serious men well-drilled in the deep, often difficult traditions of authentic blues. He’s backed these days by a vacuum-packed rhythm section that supports a series of elaborate solo runs on lead guitar and, to their credit, they’ve pulled sixty odd punters in – no cover charge – riffing out to a handful of friends and musos who’ve gathered by the side of the performance area and who intently devour every lick, turn, spank and run.

 

It wasn’t until the end of a peppy set that paid off with a frenetic blues work-out that the callow figure of the group’s lead guitarist finally emerged from out of the shadows ;- Jimmy Smyth, formerly of The Bogey Boys, and one of the most formidable and nimble musicians I’ve ever seen on any stage. Wearing a long grey pony-tail and standard rock and roll duds, Smyth is a diminutive character and an explosive player whose work I first encountered through someone who shares several of primary his traits, Ray O’Callaghan of Poles Apart, the Police-tinged Blackpool-based three-piece who shone briefly in the early 1980s and who, with their Fender straps and amps, briefly lit up the night skies around Mount Farran, close to the old Glen Hall.

 

 

It was after Ray’s prompting that I first sought out The Bogey Boys, fish out of water, resolutely old style rockers competing for space with what was then the second of the new waves. And they were all the better for that. Jimmy Smyth took many of his cues from Wilko Johnson of Doctor Feelgood and, especially in a live setting, the three-piece were a proud and powerful counterpoint to much of what was going on around them. To this end, their spiky debut album, ‘Friday Night’, released in 1979, is among the most arresting local issues of its time, capturing a youthful Smyth in full flight, wearing the swagger of youth lightly and defiantly on what is a fine opening card. Years later and he’s still doing it on a cold Tuesday night in Churchtown.

 

There’s something warmly re-assuring about how these old soldiers still have the energy for battle ;- all the more so when those battles take place on their own terms. The last time I saw Donal Kirk’s outfit was on the Friday night before the recent All-Ireland football semi-final replay between Mayo and Kerry when I travelled out to Stillorgan and when much of the talk among our number beforehand was on tactical formations and positional switches.

 

Donal Kirk had clearly done his own video analysis himself in the lead-up ;- Jimmy Smyth had been stood down for the night, replaced by Anto Drennan, another local who’s featured regularly on international stages when he’s fetched up over the years as a jobbing guitarist with the likes of The Corrs, Chris Rea and Genesis. Born in Luton – like another of my favourite musicians, Microdisney’s Seán O’Hagan – but raised around the corner in Kilmacud, Drennan is another whose name has decorated many, many records over a long and varied career. And yet he too is still drawn to the flame that often surrounds the local hustings :- towards the end of the set, he steps up during a cover of ‘Purple Rain’ and takes a solo that’s as potent as anything seen in Croke Park the following afternoon. During which, as tends to be customary in these situations, Donal Kirk and his pards gently stalk the small stage behind him, heads bowed as they go, drinking it all in. Up at the side of the venue, meanwhile, I spot a couple of faces I’d seen months earlier, upstairs at The Glenside, their stares fixed stage-wards, eyes closed, close enough to touch the hands of God.

 

I last saw half of Into Paradise at a live show in The Tivoli Theatre in the mid 1990s. I’m still in touch, infrequently over e-mail, with David Long, who now resides down south but who still releases records and writes music, both as a member of The Whens and under his own name. Much of which is as urgent and captivating as anything he did with Into Paradise between 1986 and 1993. His tender, barely-pulsing ambient album, ‘Cities’, is a far cry from the brooding Bunnymen/The Sound rattle that characterises much of Into Paradise’s catalogue and a sign that, on one level, at least one of the pair of us has moved on.

 

Rachel Tighe fetched up for a while in another well-regarded Dublin art-pop band, Luggage, while Jimmy Eadie, a magnificent musician in his own right, runs a small studio from which he composes soundtracks for theatre and installations while producing some of the country’s most interesting writers and performers, We Cut Corners, Jape and Cian Nugent among them. I haven’t seen or heard of the band’s drummer, Ronan Clarke, for almost twenty-five years.

 

And yet every single time I pass The Glenside, I think of Into Paradise and the many battles they fought – and invariably lost – on sites all over this country and far beyond. Proving once more, in a small way, that greatness isn’t always forged in victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A HOUSE :- LOCAL HOUSING AUTHORITY

 

There were a few of them, back in the dark ages, that you’d think twice about looking crooked at. Declan Jones from Blue In Heaven, all seven foot odd of him in his leather keks and his Chelsea boots, was one. Half  of Whipping Boy, a couple of The Gorehounds, Dave Lavelle from The Honey Thieves. And maybe the gruffest of all of them, Dave Couse of A House, who’d skewer you with a look or a one-liner if you tried to blackguard him. Or even if you didn’t.

The first time I met Couse in person was on the concourse at Kent Station in Cork as he’d stepped off of an incoming train from Dublin. ‘So’, he asks. ‘What have you done for A House today ?’. He was never one who hung around to get his eye in.

And in truth, I’d done little for A House that day and I’d done little most other days too for the band that Couse formed with Fergal Bunbury,  Martin Healy and Dermot Wylie in West Dublin in the early 1980s. But  then they never struck me as either needing support or actively seeking assistance ;- from a remove, they looked like one of the most self-sufficient, durable and intense bands in the country and, to that end, were probably best left alone. And anyway, there were others, mostly on my own door-step in Cork, who were far more deserving of my first aid or, as history might record it, the hemlock kiss.

Maybe, alighted from a train ride from Dublin to Cork, Couse was just hungry and cranky ;- as one of those who regularly experienced the inter-city dining options during the 1980s and 1990s, its easy to appreciate how that may have been the case. Eitherway, once I’d fed and watered him, and after we’d completed a spiky exchange for an RTÉ youth television strand called ‘Scratch Saturday’, he certainly softened up a bit and I saw a hint of light beyond the blanket.

Over several subsequent years, I had a decent sideline view of A House while I worked with Keith Cullen at Setanta Records and, for a time, was close enough to see the meat on the bone. I never knew them particularly well  – nor they I – to go anywhere deeper than a clean cut on the finger but I was still privy enough to see just how driven and determined they were on so many levels. They rarely let up or let go and Couse was at the heart of it all, setting the tempo, consistency in a world slowly gazing at its shoes.

In his pomp he was a restless and forceful writer who saw merit in the malevolent vignette. Fronting a group whose considerable achievement was often taken for granted and who were never entirely a common currency, one aspect often fuelled the other. A House, like many others before them and after them, were at their best when Couse was at his most tart. They consistently demanded the final word and, with Couse on the mic, it was often a bitter one ;- when the good times came, they were forever fleeting.

A House issued five studio albums for three different labels, most of which are among the finest Irish releases of their generation and, all things considered, the band endured for far longer than many of its peers. But their recorded output apart, it was the line they walked – and often deliberately played with – between charm, arrogance, resilience and bloody-mindedness that tended to define them.

In as much as the parameters of their original, four-square guitar-fused line-up would allow, A House were as unique as any and better than most. And later, after they re-shuffled their pack in the aftermath of their second album – after which they were promptly dropped by their label – bolstering their line-up and adding finesse and steel in equal part, they refined their game and went for it again, baldly. But in both their iterations they were as difficult to pin down as their cover was difficult to penetrate ;- in an Irish context, the biggest issue many seemed to have with A House was that they weren’t Something Happens, with whom they were long associated and with whom they were consistently locked in a competitive, often truculent side-show.

Tony O’Donoghue, now RTÉ’s football correspondent, once pounded the footpaths around Cork city to the point of fracture. In the days before mobile phones, you could always locate him if you wandered Patrick Street long enough and, in his leather jacket and pointy suedes, he certainly looked the part of a hip, young gunslinger. In the best and worst traditions of the freelancing hack, he held down a slew of wide-ranging jobs, one of the most interesting of which was a short, weekly slot on Cork Local Radio, where he’d play snippets of a couple of new releases, draw our attention to upcoming concerts and live events around town and jolt the RTÉ sound recordists from their torpor, however briefly.

As a clueless fresher still navigating his way around most things, I’d often still be at home during lunchtimes and would regularly catch Tony’s finely-tuned political broadcasts on behalf of quality independent Irish music. During a period in which emerging, indigenous rock music was in rude good health, and when the standard of its recorded output was mirrored by the development of a regular, sustainable national live circuit, Tony was rarely short of decent material. Broadcasting in short form long before the term was hi-jacked by digital marketing consultants and social media influencers, and while the regions were often starved of relevant music media, his weekly sermons cherried the cake for many of us, putting a partisan frosting on the national proselytising of the likes of Dave Fanning’s Rock Show on Radio 2FM.

And it was during one of Tony’s local homilies in 1987 that I heard the first shimmer of ‘Snowball Down’, A House’s second single and, for me, one of the most pressing, urgent cuts in the history of Irish alternative music. Produced by Chris O’Brien and released on the band’s own, self-funded imprint, RIP Records, it clocked in at just over 150 seconds, with its shades of The Bunnymen, The Blue Aeroplanes and some of the more subtle aspects – prominent, nimble bass, prominent acoustic strum – of the paisley underground. As opening statements go, both ‘Snowball Down’ and the band’s debut issue that preceded it months earlier, ‘Kick Me Again, Jesus’, punched far beyond the national qualifying standard.

 

 

To a handful of local anoraks, hangers-on and indie spotters, though, this was just another rung on a curve steeping progressively upwards.

The Underground Bar on Dublin’s Dame Street was a much-loved dive and, for a number of years, a small and important cog in the local machine, very strictly off-Broadway. [The site on which it stood is now occupied by a racy shop called ‘Condom Power’, an irony not lost on former regulars who fondly remember the old bar’s sardonic drayman, Big Johnny]. Run by Jeff Brennan and his father, Noel, the downstairs parlour was where, to my mind, the first and last great domestic music movement really took root hosting, as it did, frenetic and often chaotic early shows by the likes of Rex And Dino, Something Happens, The Stars of Heaven, Power Of Dreams, The Slowest Clock, [Backwards] Into Paradise, Whipping Boy, The Dixons and A House themselves.

The careless spirit of that period and the claustrophobic aspect of the tiny venue is captured naked on a short, six-song album, ‘Live At The Underground’, that was recorded there over two nights in 1985 and issued by Jeff on his own, one-off label, ‘Fear And Loathing Records’. Four years earlier, Elvera Butler’s ‘Kaught At The Kampus’ also cuffed six live tracks onto tape during shows recorded at the famed, UCC-hosted shows at The Arcadia Ballroom in Cork and, even if neither album was ever intended to trouble the chart compilers, both records served real purpose nonetheless. Over thirty years later, what were clearly just calling cards for two highly-regarded live venues have become, absolutely by default, curios that capture some of the more unique sights, sounds and perhaps even smells of the time, for posterity.

a house setlist

Setlist Limelight Belfast, 1993 / 1994.  © Gary White

And A House are there on ‘Live At The Underground’, callow but recognisable, alongside The Stars Of Heaven, Something Happens and Hughie Purcell – contributing the shambling ‘On Your Bike, Wench, And Let’s Have The Back Of You’ to the party, before quickly moving on.

Indeed the band’s re-birth on the Setanta label between 1990 and 1992,during which they recorded and released the bridging [and aptly-titled, in my view] ‘Doodle’ EP and then the magnificent ‘I Am The Greatest’, is worth a long read in its own right. For a band down on it’s luck and back on the labour, the title of that record reflects A House’s constant, inerrant belief in it’s own ability. But then all five of their album titles can be read as sarcastic, sly references to the way the band saw itself, and especially it’s evolving relationship – good, mixed and mostly bad – with the music industry. From the shadowy optimism of the debut on a major label, ‘On Our Big Fat Merry Go-Round’ to the damning reality of a slow degeneration on it’s stubborn follow-up, ‘I Want Too Much’ through the life-affirming ‘I Am The Greatest’, the return to a major ‘Wide Eyed And Ignorant’ and the closing, sardonic chapter, ‘No More Apologies’, these were clear, political punch-lines that mashed a snotty face on the bay window of the industry that begot them. ‘The music business ?’, A House might have mused, summoning another dolefulstreet philosopher, Norm Peterson . ‘Can’t live with it. Pass the beer-nuts’.

The band played it’s last ever show on February 28th, 1997, in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, a stone’s throw from The Underground Bar, aloof and diffident to the end. But although A House boasted a noisy and loyal support base all around the country, I long suspected they were far more comfortable outside of Ireland where, arguably, they were more critically valued and where they consistently had one up on Something Happens. But they were also clued in enough to know when to call time and, when the curtain fell, it was on the band’s own terms :- they scripted their own funeral in detail and organised the buffet afterwards.

 

 

In 2002, five years after A House packed up their tent, ‘Here Come The Good Times’, by a distance the band’s most contagious pop song, was selected as Ireland’s official World Cup anthem as the country’s international football team headed off to compete in that summer’s competition in Japan and Korea. Its beefed-up glam rock production and shiny pop veneer notwithstanding, the song is actually about a lifetime of personal disappointment [where good times occur ‘for a change’]  and, in hindsight, seemed like a perfectly prescient selection, given how Ireland’s World Cup campaign unfolded.

Remembered less for the team’s unfortunate and maybe unlucky exit from the tournament and far more for Roy Keane’s strop, after which he tore out of the team’s training camp on the island of Saipan and returned home, it was appropriate that the ghosts of A House were on hand to faithfully soundtrack the misfortunes of a nation.

Eight years and two World Cups previously, Parlophone Records, their second major label, had failed to crack ‘Here Come The Good Times’ into the mainstream. This achievement was at once so scarcely unbelievable and yet perfectly in keeping with the band’s long experiences in the middle ground ;- the writing was on the wall for that relationship and, one suspects, A House itself, thereafter.

A salvo from that stomping pop song had also featured briefly as part of a spectacular opening montage shot around Ireland for the opening of the 1995 Eurovision Song Contest, hosted by Mary Kennedy and broadcast live from The Point Depot in Dublin. And however fleetingly, it seemed as if A House had finally recovered some of the face they’d lost when Gay Byrne patronised them to within inches of their lives as he introduced them on The Late Late Show before they performed their excellent ‘I’ll Always Be Grateful’ single back on the floor of Studio One on October 14th, 1988.

The last time I saw Dave Couse was from a distance after a Frank And Walters show in Dublin city many years ago. I hear him, from time to time, on his infrequent radio show where, from his song selections alone, I suspect he still holds many of those same beliefs he did when, a quarter of a century ago, we first locked horns in Cork. His band remain one of the real enigmas – and genuine successes – of contemporary Irish rock music and while, in the twenty years since that last curtain call, you’d expect all parties to have moved on, you’d suspect that no one felt the band’s lack of a broader breakthrough more keenly than Couse himself.

And whenever I hear him on the radio now – and he’s still as captivatingas he’s ever been – it just hardens my view that all disc jockeys, like television producers and music writers – are, at heart, just frustrated musicians who, because of events and an absence of good fortune, are doing the next best and closest things instead.

And then there’s the standing Couse enjoys in the recent history of Cork popular music. In the long traditions of keeping the best secrets on the inside, he produced the first Frank And Walters E.P. for the Setanta label and, in hindsight, should have gone on and finished the job by doing the band’s debut album as well. By the time he was back behind the bench with them, far too late, on their second – and still easily their best album, ‘Grand Parade’, the moment, you’d think, was lost, the spirit having flown. But Couse’s whipsmart production only highlights how under-cooked ‘Trains, Boats And Planes’, The Franks’ nervous-sounding debut, was ;- in no way does the sound of that record do justice to many of it’s terrific cuts. ‘Trains’ has aged poorly and, twenty-five years on, sounds emaciated and tinny :- given the steroids Couse also infused into The Franks’ ‘Beauty Becomes More Than Life’ elpee in 2006, it’s difficult not to think now of what he could have done, years previously, with the debut.  And where that might have taken both parties.

Years later, several worlds collided and I was among the team tasked with producing RTÉ’s Late Late Show, immediately after Gay Byrne had stepped down as host and Pat Kenny moved up onto the crease. I felt it was only right, for several reasons, to move away from the show’s long-standing signature tune, an instrumental passage taken from Chris Andrews’ 1965 hit, ‘To Whom It Concerns’ and so I invited Dave, and a handful of others, to pitch any alternative suggestions they may have had. In my own mind, rightly or wrongly, I felt it was an opportunity to commission a contemporary Irish writer and to maybe sub-contract the work out to someone who may have had a fresh perspective on such matters. Which is what we did :- and it was Ray Harman of Something Happens who eventually composed a new theme for the programme. In the years since he’s carved out a terrific career for himself providing similar services to the feature film and documentary markets.

Dave Couse has stayed nicely busy too and, his radio work apart, has released a handful of records on several labels and under a variety of different band-names, in the years since. Among which the  ‘Batman And Robin’ single, released in September, 2005 under the band name Couse And The Impossible, is still easily the best of his solo material, some of which, his debut solo album ‘Genes’, in particular, is far more introspective and difficult than one might have expected.

For the last ten years or so I’ve spent far too much time in the shopping centre in Nutgrove, close to where I now life on the southside of Dublin. Where once I used it to do a regular family grocery shop and maybe pick  up an over-priced, over-caloried coffee on the hoof, its now one of my primary social outlets, somewhere to kill an hour during the insanity or whenever I want to lose my children. There’s a Credit Union office on the complex, an excellent off-licence and a couple of decent take-aways ;- a trip to Nutgrove is everything that a casual wander into the heart of Soho used to be.

The music piped into the centre and out over the tannoys must be among the most interesting and diverse anywhere in the country. Buried in among the sterile old standards you’ll hear, on a routine basis, selections from The Icicle Works, early New Order, The Lotus Eaters and The Fountains Of Wayne. And on a couple of occasions recently, I’ve heard ‘I’ll Always Be Grateful’, still one of A House’s most distinctive cuts, as I’ve dallied in the aisles among the detergents and the toilet rolls.

But while I know that Dave Couse lives on that side of the city, I don’t remember him being invited down to cut the ribbon when they opened the re-furbished Argos branch there a few years back.

 

SEND OUT THE SNAKES [AN ODE TO FLYING NUN RECORDS]

 

Our latest post is another guest post. This is the second piece we have posted from Mick O’Dwyer. Mick lives in Brussels and works as a librarian in the European Council. His first guest post for The Blackpool Sentinel was a great, widely read, piece on The Sultans of Ping This time round he writes about seminal New Zealand label Flying Nun Records. Over to Mick now … 

 

It all started with a keyboard riff. Simple and raw and under produced.

I moved to New Zealand in early 2011. My knowledge of their music scene was only Crowded House, Bic Runga and the unquestionable classic, “How Bizarre”.

Not an overly inspiring list.

I had been living in Australia at the time, in Melbourne. I loved Melbourne; Sydney Road and Brunswick, all the dingy punk venues, The Nova, Lord of the Fries and the Tote. It killed me to leave.  I landed in Christchurch just after the earthquake and got out of there as fast as I could, taking the ferry across the Tasmin Sea.  The sea was so rough people fainted on the trip over. Finally we arrived in Wellington. In windy Wellington. I disembarked the boat in the midst of a gale, battered with that sideways rain that’s impossible to walk in.

“Great”.

My ambivalence was fleeting.

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, and nicknamed the “coolest little capital in the world”. Its a pretty apt description. Its undoubtedly cool, bursting with hipster coffee shops and independent cinemas showing movies like ‘The Room’ on a regular basis. But its also definitely ‘little’. Its sorta half way between Cork and Galway in size. Its prettier than both, but devoid of Buckfast. Like Galway, when something happens in Wellington everyone knows about it. Walking down Cuba Mall on a Saturday is much like walking through Shop Street ; it takes forever as you’re constantly bumping into people every few yards.

I moved there to buzz around for a bit. I didn’t feel like going back to Ireland and had heard Wellington was like the Melbourne of Aotearoa. I moved into a hostel where I looked for a job and an apartment and had the craic with the other guests. Shortly after moving there, I awoke to find the city covered in posters for a monthly post-punk night called Atomic.  All of my hostel ended up going to it, everyone in good spirits, everyone drunk. ‘Echo Beach’ was belted out one minute, ‘Damaged Goods’ the next. At some ungodly hour I was shaken out of my senses by a keyboard riff.  It sounded like it was played on a child’s Casio and the only lyric I could make out was ‘Tally Ho, Tally Ho’. The reaction it got took me aback ; the dancefloor swamped with cool Kiwis shouting along. Everyone who knew it seemed to love it. It was almost like a badge of honour being able to dance to it, a NZ ‘Where’s Me Jumper’. I had no idea who it was, I just knew it was perfect in every way.

Later, as I was leaving, I remembered the flyers for the night had included a listing of all the bands featured in it. So my eyes scoured the room before honing in on a well-trodden one that I rescued, putting it in my pocket. As I didn’t have a laptop or smart phone, the next day I went to an internet café and played all the acts named on the flyer that I didn’t know, going through them one by one. Eventually I hit the jackpot.

I landed on The Clean, and opened a door to Flying Nun.

Flying Nun is more than just a record label, it’s a Kiwi institution.

Launched on a shoestring by record store employee Roger Shepherd, its renowned as the label of the much fabled ‘Dunedin sound’ ; the term used to describe the acts emerging from Dunedin for most of the 80s. The scene took the ethos of punk, post-punk, jangle, folk, garage and DIY culture, and used those influences to forge original, independent music that has had continuing reverberations internationally for over 30 years. Be it Sub Pop, Creation or Rough Trade, the early Flying Nun collection holds its own against any of them.

 

 

What was it about Dunedin that spawned this ‘sound’ ? I spent a weekend there once, during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and it’s not a wholly remarkable place. Being a student town, it has plenty of bars and venues. It has a Cadburys factory and a beach. In my hostel I was told one of the main tourist attractions was the really, really steep hill.

Though in fairness, you should see this hill!

The town was founded by Scottish Presbyterian settlers, and I can see why they chose Dunedin.  It’s cold and green, like their homeland. The music coming out of Dunedin bore a similar vein to that which came out of Glasgow in the 80’s, a definite jangle twang is evident in both places [Glasgow even had its own iconic indie record label – Postcard].  The joke in Dunedin is that the reason there was so many bands there was because the weather was so cold that students formed bands just to keep warm. I’d say there is a degree of truth in that.

 

 

Its an isolated city, but geographic isolation did not mean cultural isolation. NME was sold there, record stores imported vinyl from the UK, US and Europe. Punk and post-punk had an impact. This geographical isolation manifested itself in a yearning, a recognition of what was happening in the rest of the world and a yearning to be part of something bigger. If anything I think it is more accurate to describe a shared Dunedin feeling than a common sound. Many of the songs have a magical jangle, but the range of music released is too broad to be lumped in together under the one heading.

After listening to ‘Tally Ho’ on repeat, I watched the video for The Clean’s ‘Anything Could Happen’.  I loved everything about it.  I’m not sure whether it was the perfect pop-sing-along chorus or the jangly melody or the fact that the video looks like something Bob Dylan made during his 1966 London press conferences, it’s amazing! After listening to it on repeat I was desperate to discover more!

YouTube is great and all, but if you want a real understanding, you go to the library, and Wellington has the one of the most marvellous public libraries I’ve stepped foot in. Wedged in the bosom of Wellington harbour, its warm with high ceilings and ample natural light. It has a zine collection, a really nice coffee shop and, most importantly for this story, an extensive CD collection with loads of Flying Nun.  I spent hours in there, immersing myself in Flying Nun Records, educating myself about Kiwi culture.

I first attacked the heavyweights of the label: The Clean, The Chills and The Bats.

No band embodies the ‘Dunedin Sound’ quite like The Clean. They are the cornerstone of Flying Nun and it’s most influential act. And they’re just so effortlessly cool.  From the release of their iconic debut EP, ‘Boodle Boodle Boodle’, right throughout their career, they have never conformed. Most of their early stuff was released as EPs rather than full length albums [as was the Flying Nun policy at the time]. Just as they were beginning to make waves, they split up, only to reform and release albums sporadically, whenever they feel like it. It was on the back of The Clean’s early commercial success that Flying Nun was able to provide a platform for countless independent Kiwi acts. Their influence is apparent in and referenced across the spectrum, from indie royalty like Sonic Youth and Pavement to Irish garage punks Sissy and the #1s [who even have a savage cover of Oddity].  I don’t know how there’s not statues of the band built all over the Land of the Long White Cloud.  There should at least be a statue placed at the top of the really, really steep hill.

 

 

Out of all the Flying Nun bands the Chills came closest to making it internationally. They almost did with their song ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’, which had a good stab at the US charts. Their song ‘Pink Frost’ is a masterpiece. It has a timeless quality to it. It could have been made 20 years ago – or 20 years from now – and it always sounds fresh.  They wrote perfect pop songs and it’s good to see that in Europe they seem to finally be getting the recognition they deserve, having toured here several times over the past few years, including a gig in The Button Factory.

I saw The Bats play the San Francisco Bathhouse during the Flying Nun 30th anniversary celebrations. Kinda looking like a bunch of cool teachers in your school who formed a band, they were wonderful. Although I love the Orange Juice-esque strum of their early stuff, like ‘Claudine’ or ‘Made Up in Blue’, 2011’s ‘Free All Monsters’ album is up there with anything they have made.

Arguably there is no one more important to the Flying Nun label than Chris Knox. A legendary figure on the Kiwi punk scene, it was after watching Chris’s punk band, The Enemy, that members of early Flying Nun bands decided to form their own groups, much in the same way The Sex Pistols’ Manchester gigs spawned a million bands. There’s something about him ; an underlying air of a troublemaker, a shroud of menace of a man who would be wild after a few beers. Knox had a bad experience recording in a studio in Australia early on in his career, which he never shook. When he returned to New Zealand, he purchased a 4 track. It was the best decision he ever made. It was on this 4 track that he would produce most of the early Flying Nun output, and become synonymous with DIY recording with his band, The Tall Dwarfs.

While Flying Nun’s output is not necessarily punk, it’s a punk label – DIY in its purest sense! Roger Shepherd formed the label because he recognised something was happening that needed to be recorded and no major labels would touch the acts. Most of the bands didn’t have contracts. It was run out of a tiny little office in Christchurch, with the work done by a handful of friends. The artwork had a fanzine, cut and paste feel to it. No one made much money at the time, though they released sheer gold.

This DIY element is even apparent in their videos. The early Flying Nun videos are great. You can clearly tell there wasn’t much money put into them. Despite looking endearingly amateurish, they’ve stood the test of time, and look far superior to most big budget videos being made today. I think my favourite is ‘Death and the Maiden’ by The Verlaines. The concept is just the band playing in a house, as their mates drink while a few rabbits hop around. It’s perfect.

 

 

Delving through the Flying Nun catalogue, you constantly seem to unearth hidden gems, like ‘Coat’ by The Pin Group. Though having the honour of being the premier release of the label when it was launched, The Pin Group are often written off as a Joy Division covers band. To me this is just too obvious a criticism. Do they sound like Joy Division – yes. But are their songs incredible in their own right? Fucking sure !

Sounding like a Garage punk warp spasm, The Stones are criminally overlooked. Their compilation album, ‘Three Blind Mice’, is magnificent, in particular the song ‘Down and around’. It’s easily one of the greatest pieces of music in the whole Flying Nun catalogue. Vocals are spat out with a sneering contempt for the listener. Vibrant, aggressive and exciting, The Gordons are the same. One listen to ‘Coalminer’s song’ shows they were making grunge music over 10 years before it became popular in Seattle.

 

 

Of all the Flying Nun acts, no one holds as much mystery to me as Dunedin’s tragic, unsung hero, Peter Gutteridge. Gutteridge’s story is heart-breaking. He was a founding member of The Clean and The Chills but left early on in both their careers. He battled through years of addictions and substance abuse before finally killing himself just after he played his first ever gigs in America. He was a raw talent that got lost, though he burned ever so brightly on numerous occasions. At just 17, he co-wrote The Clean’s motorik classic ‘Point that thing somewhere else’. His post-Clean band with the Kilgour brothers – The Great Unwashed – moved the dial even further for what was acceptable in New Zealand as experimental, commercial pop-music. But it’s his work with Snapper that really stands out.

Snapper were years ahead of their time. Though released in 1988, their debut EP was built on the blueprint laid by Krautrock to form the repetitive, heavy drone sound bands like Moon Duo and Folkazoid became renowned for, 25 years later. Listening to it is like being hit repeatedly by waves of noise, every song a classic. My favourite story I heard about him is how during gigs he would bark things like “SEND OUT THE SNAKES” to his band-mates. They would then have to try and work out what the hell type of a sound he was on about!

If Snapper had been around today they would be headlining psychfests around the globe.  Unfortunately they are not, though they did leave us with ‘Gentle Hour’. ‘Gentle Hour’ is a wonder. It’s got none of the heavy drone of their later albums or the sonic DIY ambiance of some of Gutteridge’s solo stuff. It’s crafted from beautiful, lo-fi distortion and hushed noise, like early Jesus and Mary Chain. Simple, powerful lyrics showcase his understated genius.  Lines like ‘you’re in my mind all the time’, ‘its such a pleasure to touch your heart, I can hardly breath’ or ‘I couldn’t have done anything else’, have never felt so desperate or so pure.

 

 

The first time I heard the song was as a cover version by Yo La Tengo on the charity album ‘Dark was the night’. On an otherwise utterly forgettable compilation, ‘Gentle Hour’ stuck out like a sore thumb. Gone was Snapper’s beautiful fuzz, replaced by an ethereal, haunting yearn.  It sounds almost otherworldly!

If I was on Desert Island Discs, The Clean’s cover of ‘Gentle Hour’ would be one of my picks. They completely reinvent the song again, upping the tempo, morphing it into a jangle guitar record that has attached itself to my very core. It never leaves me, just lays there dormant, waiting to be summoned when a certain mood moves me.

Since leaving New Zealand, I’ve preached the Flying Nuns gospel to anyone who will listen. It’s become easier to do so with Spotify, having ample full albums by most of the bands. In 2009, Rodger Shepherd was able to buy back the label and began re-mastering and re-releasing it’s eclectic back catalogue and unleashing a whole new wave of acts. Fazerdaze is particularly exciting ;- sounding a bit like a shoegaze Cat Power, her debut EP is sublime.

But when I think of Flying Nun Records, I am always reminded of the year I spent in Wellington. To me it’s as synonymous with New Zealand as Jonah Lomu or The Lord of the Rings. Whenever I listen to The Chills or The Stones it takes me back to the hours I spent in Wellington public library, digging through treasure. Or the time I convinced a big, Mauri bouncer to let me into a sold-out show by The Clean, just so I could buy a t-shirt for my brother, and then asking the bouncer for fashion advice on which t-shirt to buy [‘that one looks sweet-as, mate’].

But mostly I think of a keyboard riff.

Simple and raw and under produced.

Tally ho tally ho!

 

Mick will have a fanzine about Peter Gutteridge – “Turning to the Grave”, released in the near future.

[Want more of the music? Check out this Mick-compiled playlist on YouTube]

 

THE SMITHS IN CORK [AND DUBLIN…]

Morrissey Hayfield Manor

Denis and Morrissey at Hayfield Manor

 

This, our latest guest post came about on the back of a Twitter exchange after Colm’s most recent post, The Smiths in Cork, 1984  That exchange included contributions from Denis Carroll, a massive fan of The Smiths and Morrissey, who posted some great pictures and told a great story in the form of a number of tweets.

We asked him if he’d like to expand on his tweets and tell the story in long form. He did. And here is the result. Thanks Denis!

My name is Denis Carroll, I am aged 55 and from Cork. I got into music in the early 70s, my favourites being T. Rex, Marc Bolan and David Bowie. I was obsessed with T. Rex and Marc Bolan, buying all their records and any magazines within which they featured.

In late 1983, after seeing The Smiths on Top of the Pops, I became a massive fan of the band, and in particular Morrissey. The Smiths have become the band of my life! I have seen The Smiths live twelve times and Morrissey over 100 times across the world.

I first saw The Smiths live in May 1984 in the SFX Concert Hall, Dublin and two days later at The Savoy Theatre, Cork (see ticket – Image 1 – not mine!). Later that year, in November 1984, I saw The Smiths live again at The Savoy Theatre, Corkand this is where I had my first encounter with Morrissey. I was working in a night-club called CoCos, which was attached to The Victoria Hotel, Cork, in which the band were staying (see room layout – Image 2)

That Sunday afternoon [18th November], I went into the hotel with the first two albums – ‘The Smiths’ and ‘Hatful of Hollow’ – under my arm, hoping for them both to be signed. I waited for an hour or so while listening to the chants of 40/50 Smiths fans outside the main entrance. Word got to the manager of the hotel that the band did not want to enter the hotel through the main entrance and asked was there another entrance that could be used? The manager informed them that yes, there was a back entrance on the street behind the hotel and instructed them where to go. He also informed them that someone would be there to meet them to bring them through the hotel…..and that someone was me!

I arrived at the back entrance to find the band and one or two other people waiting to be left in. I introduced myself to all four members of The Smiths and en route to their rooms, chatted with them about the two albums and that night’s concert. They signed the first two albums for me, in full (Image 3).

That night’s concert was one of the best Smiths shows I saw, only slightly marred by some idiot spitting at Morrissey while on stage. After the show finished I went back to the hotel, where I met with all four Smiths members and Morrissey, who was really upset by the spitting incident. The band all signed the ‘Hatful of Hollow’ promo poster for me (Image 4). Morrissey proceeded to go to bed while the rest of the band went on to party in the nightclub of the hotel.

My next encounter with Morrissey was on the afternoon of The Smiths’ final Dublin show in the National Stadium on 10th February, 1986. While walking along Grafton Street, my three friends and I bumped into Morrissey and one other person. Morrissey stopped to talk to all four of us for about 10/15 minutes about that night’s Dublin show and mentioned that they were eager to have a Cork show also but could not secure a venue for that particular tour. Morrissey asked us if we were going to that night’s show in the National Stadium and of course we told him ‘yes’, that three of us had tickets but that we were short one ticket for my, friend Tony.

We then said our goodbyes. When we got to the show that night Tony went to the box office counter only to be told Morrissey had put his name on the guest list and was escorted to a great side-of-stage seat, while the rest of us proceeded back to the seated area in the main auditorium.

My final encounter with Morrissey was on 27th July, 2011 in the Hayfield Manor hotel in Cork city. just before his show that night in The Savoy Theatre. I hung around the reception area of the hotel for a number of hours that afternoon in the hope of meeting Morrissey ;- when finally he appeared, he was being escorted to his waiting car to take him to the concert venue. As he was just about to sit into his car, I approached him for an autograph and picture; he got back out of the car and signed a number of CDs and also posed for some pictures with me (Images – top of post).

I spoke to him about that night’s show in the Savoy and the two Vicar Street [Dublin] shows that I was also attending later in the week. He was extremely polite and friendly and gave me a grand wave from the back seat of his Mercedes as he sped off to the show.

 

Smiths Savoy

Image 1

 

 

Smiths Hotel Room

Image 2

 

Smiths and Hatful of Hollow

Image 3 – Signed Albums

 

Hatful of Hollow poster

Image 4

 

Smiths Tour Dates

Image 5

 

 

Smiths MCD

Image 6

 

 

Morrissey signed pic frame

Image 7