Cork Rock

BRILLIANT TREES LIVE IN DUBLIN, 2016

 

Twenty years ago, when Brilliant Trees were hot to trot, good to go and had just released their formidable debut album, ‘Friday Night’, Dublin were reigning All-Ireland senior football champions and Charlie Redmond, of Erin’s Isle and East Finglas, finally had his just reward. If Jason Sherlock had taken the sport by the throat with a drop of his callow shoulder, a tearaway’s slalom and a poacher’s eye to become Gaelic football’s most sellable asset, Redmond was Dublin’s battle-worn pillager, a rounded foil to the swagger of youth, the static in the flow.

 

They celebrated that 1995 All-Ireland win long and hard out in West Dublin. The Erin’s Isle club, located in deepest Finglas, also provided Mick Deegan and Keith Barr to the spine of that side ;- like Redmond, they were, as you’d expect, cut from durable stuff, seldom beaten. And so it’s apt that, on a night when the city centre is as vibrant as I’ve ever seen it on the eve of an All-Ireland final – and during another period marked by the dominance of a Dublin side playing cavalier football  – that Brilliant Trees have re-marshalled their forces and, as they used to do routinely over the years, taken over a small part of town. Theirs has always been a loud and partisan travelling support and, years since they last assembled so formally anywhere, they’re in from the suburbs and out once again in numbers tonight.

 

I’ve written previously about Brilliant Trees and about how, never too showy or overly complicated, they were such a consistent, classy and, in their own way, unusual presence around a scene that burst into life in Ireland’s regions after the World Cup in 1990 and that soon caught fire elsewhere. Physically lean, politically sussed and as principled as would allow, Brilliant Trees weren’t at all out of place on the Cork Rock bill at Sir Henry’s in 1991 where they shared a standing with the likes of The Frank And Walters, The Cranberries, Therapy?, Toasted Heretic, The I.R.S., Lir and The Sultans of Ping. And while it possibly took them longer to find their sea-legs and to realise the full range of their gift, their two albums, 1996’s ‘Friday Night’ and 2000’s ‘Wake Up And Dream’, rank as two of the purest – if slow-burning – Irish pop records of the period. Even if, in keeping with much of the rest of their story, they rarely feature in histories and lists, even those compiled in – and about – their own backyards.

 

Throughout their various exiles, I always felt that The Trees had plenty of business left unfinished and much left unsaid. In direct knock-out, the scoring systems just didn’t suit their style which, casually and at times naively, blended orthodox with southpaw. Many other, far lesser contenders from that period seemed to just glide the canvas a bit easier, skipping in and out of trouble, cross-punching a bit more readily. And there’s only so far and so wide a positive outward face will stretch when it dawns that the music industry is far more about the vagaries and the unreliability of the industry and far less about the regular detonation of the music. So little wonder then that, after one pointless blow-to- the- head too many, Brilliant Trees, however reluctantly, heeded the pleading from their corner and, heads bowed, walked away from the ring.

 

 

On the not inconsiderable matter of winning and winners, you’ll often hear sports psychologists mention how some of the most remarkable victors from across all walks of life are often utterly unknown. About how, away from the numbers and the footlights, personal victories are routinely achieved in all sorts of conditions and against all manner of difficulty, often determined by exceptional individual circumstance. And so, simply by walking on and out in front of a sold-out Grand Social crowd, comprised largely of the familiar faces of long-time friends, acquaintances and ultras, Brilliant Trees have already nailed it. With a meaty set pulled largely from the two albums and popped at the turn by a track or two from a new, forthcoming record, they sound as familiar, welcome and warm as they did during their first flush. Augmented by a steel rod in their backbone – Dave Morrissey on keys, Tony Brerton on drums and, for a magical fifteen minutes in the middle order, Ciarán Kavanagh on guitar – it’s re-assuring to see them with real weight on. While Alan, Tony and Sid look as lean and as fit as they did in their early publicity shots from decades ago, their sound, as you’d maybe expect, has wintered well, way more full-bodied.  Musically, they’re packing a middle-aged spread and they’re looking terrific on it.

 

From the reluctant shuffle of the opener, ‘Like You A Lot, Love You A Little’ to the down-beat closer, ‘Home’, and in around the familiar, powerful verges of a canon in which  ‘Take Me Away’, ‘Talent’, ‘Let It All Go’, ‘Heartstrings’, ‘Who Hurts Most’ and ‘In Your Dreams’ sound Especially ageless, The Trees know that now, definitively, they can park their anxieties. There was a time tonight when, with Ciarán adding a third guitar, they replicated the current Trash Can Sinatras line-up in tone and style as well as in physical heft. And while the more direct, less subtle end of the catalogue nods to far more familiar influences – The Smiths, Ride, Blur – the current single, ‘I Know, I Know’ is in far less of a hurry and, smooth and unforced, suggests that, what’s coming down the line could yet be the most beguiling phase of of what’s been a long and colourful journey.

 

 

And so, more confidently on their own terms than ever previously, Brilliant Trees are back. But for how long and for how far, who knows ? And does it matter ? No. The forthcoming record will maintain their momentum and give them a fresh wind, for sure. But tonight its enough to simply see them go for it so instinctively, taking the first, nervy step back out onto the dancefloor. Re-born, renewed.

 

 

TOASTED SPECIAL

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, some of the smartest and freshest new bands in Ireland emerged far from the Dublin archdiocese and, in many cases, in direct defiance of it’s strictures. Zesty acts like Therapy ?, The Frank And Walters, The Cranberries, Engine Alley, They Do It With Mirrors, The I.R.S. and The Sultans Of Ping F.C. were among the most prominent of this number who, spotting many of the lifeguards off on the free beer, went head-first into the deep end and free-styled through the lengths. And the quality and regional spread of the line-up that played the Cork Rock event at Sir Henry’s in June, 1991, reflects just how urgent some of the music from that period was.

Not to be out-done by the locals, Toasted Heretic played a mighty, swaggering set that weekend and, as I wrote in my Hot Press review at the time, left a real impression ;- they were cut apart from the pack on many levels but, from their base in Galway, the extent of their ingenuity really gave them an edge. They were the first emerging Irish band I’d encountered who had such a clear sense of their own worth – Power Of Dreams would later be another – and they were unrelentingly stubborn with it. Most of what they did was very strictly on their own terms and often, I think, this just intimidated people.

Few bands so absolutely divided opinion among Ireland’s indie-loving set quite like Toasted Heretic did during the years between 1988 and 1994 and the source of much of that disdain was Julian Gough, the band’s singer and lyricist who, with his fey ways and lethal gob, refused to engage with fools. At least one London-based record company boss had Julian’s contact details filed in his personal organiser under ‘Julian Cockhead’ and this just made me love them even more.

Boasting, among their meaty catalogue, the greatest New Year song of all time – ‘Here Comes The New Year’ [‘Here comes the new year, oh no, not again. I’ve been playing ‘Ziggy’ with my friends’], Toasted Heretic were the first band in my eye-line who convinced me that, in an industry that was quietly evolving, everything and anything was possible. If, using a primitive four-track recorder in a student garret in Galway city, they could produce a record as beguiling as ‘Songs For Swinging Celibates’, then I really wanted what they were having. It was their self-sufficiency that showed many of us the way and the light and I wouldn’t have been half as confident about The Frank And Walters, for instance, if Toasted Heretic hadn’t tested the ground a couple of years earlier. And, when it came to setting up the ‘No Disco’ series in 1993 – as is referenced in detail here – I took many of my cues from their cavalier sense of adventure.

Far from being an impediment, being located away from Dublin gave Toasted Heretic a real freedom ;- removed from the distraction, they efficiently went about their business from under the radar and, on those occasions when they did leave their base in Galway, dealt exclusively in shock and awe. But while they happily skirted the fringes – and routinely reminded you they did – they also craved the bullseye. Julian certainly wanted it all – it was pointless to do otherwise, wasn’t it ? – and I don’t think I ever saw them as comfortable in a live setting as I did when they performed at Semple Stadium in Thurles during the Féile festival in 1992. Born in London to parents from Tipperary this, seven years after U2 in Croke Park, was Julian’s own ‘sort of homecoming’. And, for the occasion, the band played an ace set in the afternoon heat, the singer in his element on the large stage, flailing in an out-size tee-shirt and an ermine jacket, swinging from the trussing, baiting the young pups and delinquents up-front. They closed their short set with ‘You Can Always Go Home’, one of the stand-outs from their second album, ‘Charm And Arrogance’ and, later that evening, this song had its own resonances backstage. After cutting loose on some of the lackeys, liggers and flunkeys in the hospitality area, Julian was muscled out of the stadium by the site security. But he’d made his point and secured his headlines ;- ;- Semple just wasn’t ready enough for him.

Toasted Heretic 1

Image courtesy of Maurice Horan

And few were ever better at making their point. Toasted Heretic took their pop music very, very seriously but, just as importantly, Julian’s sharp tongue and keen eye gave them a wit and a curve that was lacking in many of their peers. Humour was one of a number of traits they shared with The Smiths, another fundamentally dis-located group who, by digging for gold under the kitchen sink, found sparkle – and the odd gag – in the everyday, the mundane and the humdrum. There was whimsy, bile and a host of fine one and two-liners at the heart of most of Julian’s songs ;- ‘He’s obsessed with trying to get his end away’, one RTÉ radio producer remarked to me during their set at Cork Rock. But there was always, I felt, much more side to Toasted Heretic than standard indie shapes and their ‘songs about sex, drugs and Nabokov and the commodification of art’*.

For one, alongside other Galway bands like The Swinging Swine and The Little Fish, they were the very antithesis of The Sawdoctors, another independent-minded and self-sufficient Western-located outfit once described memorably by the late George Byrne as ‘designer bogmen’. While The Sawdoctors found favour with the mainstream, enjoyed Gay Byrne’s imprimatur and only ever took the stage at Féile after tea-time, Toasted Heretic sought their jollies elsewhere. Melody Maker’s Andrew Mueller claimed they were ‘a brandy Alexander with a cherry on top’ but, as The Sawdoctors were serving soft-core, stag-party fodder to order and saucily remarking on ‘the glory of her ass’, Julian had more something more adult in mind. From his window in ‘the bay city’, he watched the sun go down on Galway Bay as ‘the daughter goes down on me’.

 

That song, ‘Galway Bay’, features on ‘Songs For Swinging Celibates’, the band’s cassette-only debut, released and distributed via Toasted Heretic’s own imprint, Bananafish Records, in 1988. In production terms, ‘Celibates’ is a serious achievement and the lo-fi, no frills, no cost approach masks a real ambition beneath. Toasted Heretic were one of the only bands I met who ever cited Momus, the left-field and often impenetrable Scottish songwriter, as an influence. And I can recall several conversations over the years with Neil Farrell, the band’s drummer and the brains behind it’s recording operation, about the potential of sequencers and digital technology. And this at a time when many homes in Ireland were still on long lists, waiting to have domestic telephones installed.

The fact that Toasted Heretic were perpetually broke never once stunted them. In fact it was the penury, you thought, that often drove them onwards, forcing them to live on their wits, often literally singing for their suppers. ‘Produced by accident’, they claimed – being unusually humble – on the hand-scrawled liner notes on ‘Songs For Swinging Celibates’. But they were ingenious with it too and, like another of my favourite performers, David Donoghue of The Floors, you’d have your work cut out keeping up with them. They borrowed favours widely and always knew someone just as talented as themselves who did graphic design, directed low-budget videos, took terrific photographs or made arresting posters. And for all Julian’s bookishness – he read widely, keenly and always remembered the detail – there was a ferocious pragmatism to him, as there always was with the rest of the band.

With their canon of smart pop songs, written mostly by Neil and Declan Collins and topped by Julian’s words [‘singing and posing’], they touched the skies for a number of years. As with many of their contemporaries, the band found a pair of early champions in RTÉ Radio 2 and Dave Fanning’s Rock Show, produced by Ian Wilson, played ‘Songs For Swinging Celibates’, to within an inch of it’s life. From that release, ‘Sodom Tonight’ is probably the best known of the earliest material and Fanning, in particular, seemed to get a real kick from it’s chorus ;- ‘Do we have to spend tomorrow in Gomorrah, well baby, Sodom tonight’.

But while Julian was clearly the band’s focal point, the band’s sound was styled by Declan Collins, from whom nothing much was ever heard apart from the quite remarkable sound he produced from his guitars. In his white rubber dollies, slacks and v-neck jumpers, he looked utterly unlikely and yet, beyond the curtain, Declan – and Neil – made Toasted Heretic hum. Practically every single one of their songs had at least one monster, full-on guitar solo – and often many more – and no playing style was beyond him. A typical set saw him veer, style-wise, from the casual moodiness of Knopfler to the angled jazz strokes of Walter Becker to Juan Martin’s classical grace notes and Dave Mustaine’s frenetic slam-ons. And back again. He said little in conversation and yet, when he unfurled his guitar, became a formidable presence in a line-up that, also featuring Aengus McMahon on bass and Breffni O’Rourke on second guitar, made a full-on racket.

 

The band released four albums in all, one of which, ‘Another Day, Another Riot’ [1992] issued on Liquid Records where Denis Desmond, possibly the most dominant figure in the established Irish entertainment industry, was one of the principal players. The marriage of Toasted Heretic and the label arm of MCD Productions was a most unusual one and, in the great traditions of these things, didn’t last too long ;- the band would have been too restless for the label and the label too stolid for the band. But, for a time, there were mutual benefits for both parties too ;- Desmond’s operation armed Toasted Heretic with heavier artillery on the ground while Toasted Heretic brought to Desmond’s label that which money and clout couldn’t buy ;- credibility. And to these ends ‘Another Day, Another Riot’ birthed the single, ‘Galway And Los Angeles’, generated more middle-ground reaction than previously and, with a few bob behind them for the first time, allowed them to spread the message out beyond the island.

But it’s not as if Toasted Heretic ever lacked for critical support in Britain – and, indeed, in France – where, unlike many of Ireland’s most vaunted local acts, they’d enjoyed positive notices from the get-go. London-based writers like Paul Du Noyer, Andrew Mueller and a recently re-located Graham Linehan were at the heart of this rolling maul, which I joined around 1989, quickly developing a strong rapport with the band. I tried to feature them in all of my various freelance guises from then until after the release of ‘Mindless Optimism’ in 1994, after which we all seemed to scarper in different directions. But it was Jim Arundel’s live review, carried in Melody Maker’s issue of February 1st, 1992 that, in hindsight, probably said it better than any of us.

I was one of the many who fetched up at The Borderline Club in North London in late January, 1992, to see Toasted Heretic. I was working with Setanta Records at the time and was killing two birds with the one Tube-fare ;- support on the night was provided by the then four-piece Divine Comedy [featuring John Allen on vocals], who were one of the handful of acts on our roster. Jim Arundel – or Jim Irvin – had briefly tasted chart success himself and, as lead vocalist with Furniture, enjoyed a top thirty single back in 1986 with the classy ‘Brilliant Mind’, which he’d co-written. [As a member of another band, Because, he subsequently released a magnificent album during the early 1990s called ‘Mad Scared Dumb which, if it can be located, is well worth the effort].

Jim was as perceptive and unrelentingly fair a music writer and reviewer as I had encountered and, although clearly taken with Julian and fond of Toasted Heretic, wasn’t completely convinced by them. In Julian he saw ‘a starburst waiting to happen’ but wondered ‘whether Toasted Heretic, as it stands, is the vehicle that will carry him heavenward ?’. He concluded his review as follows :-‘There are, Gough has realised, far too few songs with the word ‘butterscotch’ in them. Not much to build a career on though, is it ?’ and, in so doing, presciently pointed up the band’s limitations.

Toasted Heretic’s line-up had also started to fracture. One of the band’s founding members, Breffni O’Rourke, left the group to pursue – what else ? – a full-time career in academia, and yet the band’s final album, ‘Mindless Optimism’ remains, to my ears, their most complete. Co-produced by their long-time mentor and sidekick, Pat Neary – a sussed and skilled sound recordist and engineer who’d located to Galway from Dublin in the mid-1980s and who’d first worked formally with the band on 1990’s excellent ‘Smug’ E.P. – ‘Mindless Optimism’ may well have been the sound of a band waving themselves off. And yet, as with The Smiths’ ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’, it is the group’s most full-bodied and energetic issue. I routinely hark back to it and, in ‘Passenger Jets’, ‘Lightning’ and, especially, ‘Here Comes The New Year’, hear a band at the very apex of a short, prolific and impactful tenure.

Julian is now a full-time writer and novelist and lives in Europe. The last time we spoke was around the release of ‘Mindless Optimism’, over twenty years ago, when I interviewed him for the first series of ‘No Disco’. Having brought Julian all the way from Galway to Cork for the day, we set up eventually in one of the beige-painted offices upstairs in RTÉ Cork and he just went off. Julian always had plenty to say but, behind the digs and the outrageous put-downs, there was plenty of substance too. I can remember the sound-recordist on that shoot – a man more cynical, even, than most of that persuasion – rendered gob-smacked by the ferocity of Julian’s assault, lobbing grenade after grenade. With forty minutes of gold committed to tape, he turned to me and asked the question much loved of bored soundmen the world over ;- ‘How the fuck are you going to edit that down ?’.

In the end it was easy enough ;- I just omitted everything that was offensive and defamatory. And, once we’d done that, we just over-laid the video clips and gave the music a voice.

With Toasted Heretic, you never really had to do too much else.

Toasted Heretic 2

Image courtesy of Maurice Horan

 

*SOURCE – juliangough.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FRANK AND WALTERS #1

A version of this post originally appeared at Sir Henrys 2014. 

I first met The Frank And Walters in Cork in the summer of 1990, back when I was rapt and ready to roll into the breach on their behalf, whatever the job. The years since have taken all of us to places we’d probably dreamt of but hardly expected to see in the flesh. And while I no longer see them as often as I should, this doesn’t mean I consider them any less than I used. These days I‘m their eternal shadow, a ghost who stalks.

Morty McCarthy was the dealer. Morty and I were first introduced by a school-friend and I was quickly taken by his breath of reference. He was as comfortable talking about The Primitives and The Fall as he was about Junior B Hurling in Ballinlough ;- he was a genuine one-off and there was no side to him. Morty was also the youngest person I knew who held a legitimate driver’s licence. He drove a delivery van for a living, spending his days on the roads with a bagful of cassettes and a cargo of cash and carry for company.

In another of his guises – as editor and writer-at-large on a fanzine he ran, Sunny Days – he’d mention gigs he’d seen in places like Myrtleville, Youghal and Kinsale. And it was at one of those shambolic shows that he’d snagged a copy of an early Frank And Walters demo tape. Which, true to form, he’d copied and passed on.

I was into my twenties, gormless and arsing around, looking for any sort of summer distraction as long as it involved music and sport. The song of the season was ‘Put ‘Em Under Pressure’, sound-tracking Ireland’s first ever World Cup Finals campaign in Italy. But fans of Cork GAA – Morty very prominent among them – were revelling during a heady couple of months in exploits far closer to home.

It was live music that kept us hydrated. A Derry band, The Carrellines – fronted by Paul McLoone – won the Carling/Hot Press Band Of The Year in Sir Henry’s. During the June Bank Holiday weekend, Meat Loaf headlined the first of a new three-day event in Thurles called Féile, supported by an undercard that also featured Dublin’s Into Paradise and Thee Amazing Colosssal Men [with Garrett ‘Jacknife’ Lee on guitar]. Back in Henry’s, meanwhile, the yearly Cork Rock bash attracted the usual coven of record company executives, lured by the prospect of landing An Emotional Fish.

Prince played Pairc Ui Chaoimh and featured a king-sized bed as part of his stage show, although fears that he’d blaspheme the sacred ground with his tarty pop proved unfounded, sadly. As I reported at the time in The Cork Examiner, the most shocking thing about the Prince show was how unshocking it was. Those expecting a non-stop erotic cabaret were left disappointed and, on the long walk back up The Marina, some Pairc Ui Chaoimh regulars remarked how monthly County Board meetings were usually far more explicit.

An independent music retailer, Comet Records, had opened on Oliver Plunkett Street the previous year and quickly became a focal point for local anoraks. That small shop often resembled an AA meeting room for pale young indie addicts seeking peer support from those with similar problems. In the best traditions of ‘the exotic local record shop’, the in-house soundtracks were varied and mixed, veering from the extremes of the underground to the erratic sounds of Cork’s suburbs. In part an outlet, refuge and primary source, the shop had already became yet another tentacle of what was now a burgeoning local scene. Into which came The Frank And Walters.

By the end of September, Cork’s hurlers and Gaelic footballers had delivered a memorable All-Ireland double and the three-piece from Bishopstown had started to move through the gears.

It was on the wall of Joe Mac’s coffee shop in The Queen’s Old Castle arcade that I first clocked the name :- The Frank And Walters. The Queens was a real magnet for posers, wannabes and goms [with myself prominent among them] and its insides were lined with posters advertising live gigs of every hue. All sorts of sub-species – Goths, Mods, Cureheads and decrepit old punks, primarily – would congregate around the Patrick Street entrance, some of them often bearing instruments and amps. Out front, Daunt Square was one of Cork’s most exotic pitches, where the ghosts of early Microdisney hung in the air around their old rehearsal room, down by what was once Woodford Bourne’s wine-shop. And, when the Square wasn’t hosting left-wing political discourse and intellectual loitering it was, maybe more importantly, leading the way into Mandy’s, then Cork’s stellar fast food restaurant.

It was around The Queens Old Castle that you’d catch mention of the likes of Takapuna, Burning Embers, Jinx, Expresso Mambo, Without The, Cypress, Mine !, No Sangoma, The How And Why Insects, Porcelyn Tears, Shimpu Zig Zag, Scarlet Page, Blunt, The Electric Hedgehogs, De Confidence, Serengeti Longwalk, Censored Vision, The Outside and a host of other local acts, all of them rehearsing loud and thinking big all over the county. None moreso than The Franks.

I met them for the first time in The Enterprise Bar at the end of Barrack Street on the night that England played West Germany in a famous World Cup semi-final :- July 4th, 1990. They’d recently recorded three songs in Studio Fiona in Fermoy with Brian O’Reilly from Loudest Whisper working the desk and were seeking a kind ear and good advices. And I gave them some of what they were looking for.

Within minutes of our first session together in their rehearsal space in Brother Cusack’s room in Sullivan’s Quay school, I was already behind their eyes and under their skin. They were electric and clueless, loud and ambitious and, twenty-five years later, I don’t think I’ve ever loved them or obsessed about them more.

Once we’d plugged up, it was obvious enough how exceptional Paul was. Apart entirely from his song-writing, his incredible voice was a real boon. He’d struggle manfully with the higher end of his register, but that rarely stopped him from pushing and pushing, often to the point of fracture.

But he knew how to mind himself too. Proudly tee-total, hot water with honey and lemon was often his twist after rehearsals. And the years have been kind to him ;- he looks younger now than he did back then and his voice hasn’t diminished with the years either. So much so that his vocal performance at the band’s show in The Opera House last October was among the finest I’ve heard from him.

In the other corner, Paul’s brother, Niall, played guitar loudly and aggressively, as if he had his axe in a headlock and was frenzily mashing it with a breeze-block. You’d often have to roar at him to get a response and he’d invariably lash right back at you. He kept a store of old riffs on a cassette tape and, whenever the occasion demanded, would reach in and pull a pre-made guitar line from the stash.

Behind the traps, Ashley pulled the whole thing together. He was the spiritual leader of the band, its heartbeat and heart-throb in equal measure and a man for whom league positions [Cork City and Chelsea, strictly] meant as much as chart positions did. He was a fine, sinewy drummer to boot, always nice and busy around the kit.

Outwardly at least, The Franks cut an absurd dash with their loons and big hair but, beyond that, they took their music very, very seriously. Ashley had even run off a stock of gammy business cards that bore the words ‘Frank And Walters, Indie band’, his home address in Bishopstown and a contact number. And those cards captured every contradiction about them :- they were a serious lot, clever young men playing the fool only never at the expense of the music.

The first year disappeared in a blur. Paul had a heap of material ready to go and, within monhs, we’d knocked out another pair of decent demos, one in Caroline Studios in Blackpool and another back in Brian O’Reilly’s in Fermoy. During rehearsals in the school we’d look at how the songs started and ended, always mindful of how they’d detonate when played live. Several of the early songs – ‘The Never Ending Staircase’ and ‘Davy Chase’ especially – sped up as they developed, ending in a blur of guitars and drums. And we always kept a close eye on the clock, editing savagely, and very few of the songs now exceeded three minutes in length.

Often we’d just pull the songs asunder and re-position the various bits, noting the new structures in chalk on the broad blackboard that dominated the room. Niall would regularly locate suitable middle-eights and bridges from his collection of pre-made riffs and we’d routinely transplant bits in and out.

The band had already flirted with one record company, Revolver Records, the London-based label that issued the first Stone Roses releases, and had been encouraged down a particular path as a result. ‘Indie dance’, they answered once when I asked them to describe the band’s sound.

But I heard in them, rather, an out-and-out pop band with a mischievous indie streak and a lot of tradition in the backbone. To me they were nodding to bands as diverse as The Wedding Present, The Beatles, The Monkees and that other incendiary three-piece, The Jam. There are other clues too, especially in the songs they’ve covered over the years and ‘I’m a Believer’, ‘Funky Cold Medina’, ‘The Model’, Julian Cope’s ‘Elegant Chaos’ and ‘Pop Muzik’ by M suggest a far broader breath of reference than you’d think.

But they drew too from the Irish showband traditions and, with their stage uniforms and the slaggy banter led from behind the drum-kit, were far more Dixies than they were Pixies.

The straight Franks And Walters narrative is well worn by now and, as a no-frills biog, ‘Irish’ Jack Lyons’ 2007 book, ‘A Renewed Interest In Reading’ is the last word and won’t be bettered. But on the back of last October’s twenty-fifth anniversary performance at The Opera House in Cork, its maybe worth re-tracing the band’s steps and establishing some sort of retrospective context.

My own bottom line is clear enough :- The Frank And Walters are one of the great contemporary Irish popular music stories but seldom get the respect they deserve for that. A moot point, perhaps, but the band’s first ever Late Late Show appearance, for example, occurred in 2011, twenty years after the release of their first EP. Notwithstanding the vagaries of television and the demands of producers and bookers, just how do we square that ?

But The Franks are a resilient lot who have an unshakable belief in their own ability, matched only by Paul’s devotion to the healing power of the song. To that end, hes easily one of the most consistent and fluid song-writers the country has ever produced, and with a pretty serious body of work behind him at this stage too. But is anyone really listening ?

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dublin was routinely billed as ‘the city of a thousand rock bands’. Which would have been a fine marketing tag-line were not most of those thousand bands unfit for purpose. Jim Carroll and myself wrote at length around this time about how the most pressing, urgent new music in Ireland was emerging in the regions and, between us, cited The Cranberries, Therapy?, The IRS, Engine Alley, Toasted Heretic, The Sultans and The Franks. We coined a counter-slogan – ‘Dublin Is Dead’ – more out of a sense of stubborn devilment than anything else and proselytized widely, keen to present a growing nationwide scene as more than just a regional curio. Notwithstanding the gifts bestowed on Stephen Ryan, Dave Couse and a smattering of others, most of the Dublin guitar bands operating at this time usually boasted two songs – one fast, one slow – that leant heavily on REM’s magnificent 1985 album, ‘Fables Of The Reconstruction’.

The Franks, of course, sounded nothing like REM and, more importantly to me, didn’t want to sound like REM either. A point not lost on Keith Cullen, who heard in them the kind of recklessness that was already hallmarking his emerging Setanta imprint. And so they fled to a hostel in South East London and instead took their chances in England.

Run from a squat in Camberwell, Setanta had already developed a niche as a launch-pad label – sussed, connected and regarded – if not so much in Ireland then certainly with the London-based music press. But before The Franks left Cork, there was one last piece of business.

pic courtesy Siobhan O'Mahony

pic courtesy Siobhan O’Mahony

On the sunny afternoon in June, 1991, when the Cork Rock event opened in Sir Henrys, we’d arranged a private rehearsal back in Sullivan’s Quay School for one of the visiting major labels, out of sight and away from the numbers. The band laid into a cracking short set, debuting a belting new song, ‘Fashion Crisis Hits New York’, alongside regular set features like ‘Walter’s Trip’, ‘Angela Cray’ and ‘Davy Chase’ and, five feet away, the magic was lost on The Man, who sat impassively throughout. Later that weekend, The Frank And Walters levelled Cork Rock with more or less the same set and the word was out in earnest. They were recording for Setanta before Halloween.

I followed them to England during the early weeks of 1992, ostensibly to help out at Setanta while earning a crust working as a freelancer with Melody Maker magazine. The Franks had a head-start on me and, settled in Wimbledon, were receiving good notices for their first EP releases, which were produced by Dave Couse of A House. Pretty soon the band was playing the industry and even dining out on it. Within a year The Frank And Walters were on the pay-roll at Go Discs and I was headed back home, putting together a new music television series for RTÉ Two called No Disco.

I worked with them – formally, for the last time – on the songs that formed the spine of their debut album, pushing them hard in an echoey rehearsal room in a small industrial unit in Camberwell. We shaped the edges of many of the songs that would back-bone ‘Trains, Boats And Planes’ and, of the newer songs, ‘Time’, ‘John And Sue’ and ‘Transpotters’ were well basted before they left the room.

And I was there too in the band’s house in Morden in South East London when Paul played me a spartan version of ‘After All’ for the first time on an acoustic guitar. It was one of the last songs written for the album and, over the course of an hour in the kitchen, we’d re-worked it, harmonised it and, if memory serves, written a middle eight for it.

There have been far better Frank And Walters albums since and there will be many more again, but none have attracted anything near the same level of attention as the eleven-track debut. But in the year when the band releases its seventh studio album, the omens are good :- when they’re playing the seldom heard ‘Russian Ship’, you know there’s something going off in the cauldron.

Following the highly-charged triumph at The Opera House show last October, I recalled two events from around the release of the band’s fourth album, ‘Glass’, back towards the end of 2000. The first was a review of that record on an Irish music website called Cluas that savaged them as brutally as they’d ever been savaged anywhere. The other was a bizarre appearance on an afternoon television programme on RTE where they mimed their way listlessly through the lead single on that album, ‘Underground’. While they weren’t necessarily being counted out on the canvas, the band that once shared a dressing room at Top Of The Pops with Paul McCartney were now holding court on Live At Three with Marty Whelan.

I hooked up with Paul and Ashley that afternoon and we had a decent chat about the record and about how things were, laughed in all the right places and I lauded them about the album. But it was hollow enough stuff on both sides of the table and I couldn’t get over just how lethargic and miserable they seemed. Maybe I’d caught them on a bad day – or maybe I just amplified the lethargy out in them – but the joy that once so clearly defined them was missing.

The Frank And Walters may not have appreciated it at the time, but ‘Glass’ is now one of the primary defining moments in their history. Produced by Flood and engineered by Rob Kirwan, it’s the band’s most difficult album by an ocean and, Paul’s vocals aside, sounds nothing like what went before it. They’d dropped a couple of hints on the previous album, ‘Beauty Becomes More Than Life’, which featured more keyboard sounds and samples than previously. And they’d also added a fourth member, Sarah De Courcy, to fill out the live sound.

But the bleeps, tinny synths and workmanlike beats couldn’t mask the fact that ‘Glass’ was the very difficult sound of a band coming apart at the seams. And so it proved :- it was their last record for Setanta and the last to feature Niall as part of the band. And yet, beneath the sound of implosion, a pulse was still audible. ‘New York’ [revived in The Opera House and starring the well-known Cork soprano Mary Hegarty performing the female vocals originally taken by Marlene Buck], the magnificent ‘Talking About You’ and ‘Isn’t It Time’ and the cracking, old school sing-along ‘Forgiveness’ were all defiant and proud. As was the aforementioned ‘Underground’ which, I am convinced to this day, was magpied the following year and re-versioned as ‘The Sound Of The Underground’, eventually a debut hit for Girls Aloud. But against that, a distinctly average record closed with two of the worst Franks songs ever committed to tape, ‘I Will Be King’ and ‘Looking For America’, studio-doodles both.

During the period immediately following the release of ‘Glass’, the band couldn’t get arrested and, despite sporadic appearances here and there, the thrill had gone. It took them ages to re-group and re-calibrate and, with Niall no longer in the picture, it was six years before their next album. And a pretty striking return to form it was too, with the title revealing the mood in the camp :- ‘A Renewed Interest In Happiness’.

The Franks had every opportunity and every good reason to check out for good after ‘Glass’. That they choose instead to go back to first principles and re-appraise where they were most comfortable only confirms the view that I’ve held since those early days back in 1990 :- that the Keating-Linehan axis is simply unbreakable.

The band has now outlived most of those magazines that slapped them on their front covers way back, the label that issued its first records, the website that gave them their most aggressive pasting and most of the bands they shared the stage with back in Sir Henry’s at Cork Rock in 1991. Friends, family and fellow travellers have been lost along the way too. But as they prepare to release yet another album, haven’t The Franks finally put the last remaining stereotypes to the sword ? And doesn’t such a rich and expansive catalogue stretching back so long warrant some sort of sound critical footing ?

I’ve seen The Frank And Walters play live more than any other band and I honestly couldn’t believe how fresh and optimistic they sounded at The Opera House, belting through a long set that featured no new material.. On the trip home I drafted an alternative set-list of songs they didn’t perform on the night but that would have knocked the socks off of any audience in the country. I gripped my fist tight on the walk across Emmet Place, clenched my teeth and prayed a silent ‘Yesssssssss’.

Little did I suspect, back in the summer of 1990, that we’d still be here, years later, picking over The Frank And Walters. In one way, we should have all moved on years since but very often its only by looking back that can we truly comfort ourselves in the present and the future. All the more so when there’s so much history in the can and water under the bridge.

Its to The Franks’ credit that they’ve stayed the distance, lapped the flashier pace-makers and are still running personal bests. The last twenty-five years are pock-marked with many, many highlights and just as many surprises and land-mines. I can’t really recall a record collection of mine they weren’t in and can’t forsee one where they won’t hold centre-stage. With the band’s best work still to come, God knows what they’ll sound like in 2040.

BRILLIANT TREES: GOLDFINGLAS

I absolutely loved The Brilliant Trees and, listening back to their two excellent albums from a distance, time hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm for them. Some had them marked as being as good as early Oasis, others cited a Blur influence and there were times when, with the vocals stripped out, they had the classic reach of The Trash Can Sinatras. Eitherway, the band’s ambition stretched out far beyond their base in the Dublin suburb of Finglas. And further again from the tender, hesitant soul of the David Sylvian album from which they took their name.

The Oasis references would haunt them and, I think, undermine them a bit eventually. Both bands shared many traits and the comparisons are obvious and well-founded: from working-class backgrounds on the outskirts of big cities, both groups had an axis of brothers among their number. Both played a sinewy and uncomplicated guitar pop with unsophisticated lyrics, were led by brooding, good-looking frontmen and had an unshakeable belief in their own ability. But I never once heard The Brilliant Trees crow about how good they were and, in their pomp, they were damned good.

I worked alongside Jeff Brennan in The Rock Garden for eighteen months at the start of the 1990s. My job, ostensibly, was to promote the venue and to generate coverage for the bands we had in-coming but, in reality, I just hung around the place and annoyed the bar staff and the waitresses. Jeff had made the short move across from The Underground Bar on Dame Street, where he had developed the small, downstairs venue into Dublin’s most vibrant live draw. When last I passed by, The Underground had been replaced by a lap-dancing club and, knowing Jeff, the irony won’t be lost on him. Or, no doubt, on the hundreds of noisy oiks who played there over the years, all of whom put their own arses on the line for the smell of a few pounds.

The Rock Garden had opened in a blaze of publicity, an Irish take on the Covent Garden original, paying decent coin to international and local acts to keep live music going nightly inside it’s cavernous belly on Crown Alley, in Dublin’s Temple Bar. The Cranberries once played there to eighteen people and died a slow, slow death. Pulp arrived one sunny Saturday afternoon, unimpressed that they’d been booked into Dublin’s cheapest hovel, off Gardiner Street, and having had half of their back line stolen after a London show the previous night. ‘Ah, sorry to hear that’, Jeff told the band’s sour-pussed tour manager. ‘The other half is bound to be stolen tonight’. Less than a hundred turned up to see them, a matter of months before they released ‘Common People’. To the best of our knowledge, their equipment survived the trip.

Radiohead played their first Irish show at The Rock Garden, as did The Auteurs. The Sultans Of Ping FC, The Frames, A House, The Frank And Walters, The Golden Horde, Into Paradise and a litany of workmanlike British indie acts also visited and, for a couple of great years, The Rock Garden really had an edge.

The Brilliant Trees were one of a number of high-profile Dublin bands who played the venue regularly – Blink and Sack were other notables – and they consistently rammed the place. Not only that but they rammed it with a different kind of crowd, bringing a large, partisan following into town from their hub out in the North-West. Like Aslan, they actively ploughed a furrow deep in the suburbs and mobilised a pretty serious audience that was far from the usual alickadoos and liggers.

Tony Barrett, the band’s guitarist and driving force, worked with Dublin Corporation and I’d often see him around town during the day. I loved the cut of his jib, his relentless enthusiasm and his absolute belief in the power of music. The Brilliant Trees may not have been the most original band in the world but they were certainly one of the most spirited Irish acts I encountered during the early 1990s. For a while they were seriously courted, and rightly so.

They were still honing their craft when they played the famous Cork Rock bill in 1991 alongside The Frank And Walters, The Cranberries, Toasted Heretic, Therapy?, The I.R.S. and The Sultans of Ping F.C. and, after No Disco first went to air in the Autumn of 1993, Dónal Dineen, Rory Cobbe and myself got behind them with no little gusto. Tony would phone us regularly with up-dates and we’d make sure that the lo-fi videos for ‘Home’ and ‘Talent’ – with their plaintive images and no-budget feel courtesy of directors Donal Scannell, Eamonn Crudden and Niamh Guckian – featured regularly. In fact listening to ‘Home’ over twenty years on – a reflection on the destruction of the heart of inner city Dublin against the shadow of cranes on the sky-line – one is reminded that while The Brilliant Trees were a pop band at heart, they had a keen and prescient eye too. Which, I felt, set them apart from the pack.

And so when No Disco required a headliner for the Dublin Aids Alliance benefit concert we ran at Whelans in May, 1994, we went first to The Brilliant Trees. They were as obliging as they were enthralling and, of course, we were guaranteed that they’d stuff the place.

Probably later than they’d either wanted or expected, they released their first album, ‘Friday Night’, in the early summer of 1996. Later that year, I sat down with Tony Barrett, singer Alan Hoey and the band’s articulate drummer, Dave Farrell, in advance of what was to be the band’s biggest headline show ever, at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre. The band was clearly at a cross-roads and, beyond the thoughtful and considered tone of our exchange, there was a real frustration too, and I tried to capture this in the gut of the piece. By now The Brilliant Trees had been on the go for a while and, although ‘Friday Night’ had been released to no little acclaim, the entire project had come at a cost.

My piece ran originally in The Sunday Tribune on November 10th, 1996, under the heading ‘Money grows on Trees’ and is re-produced in full here

M o n e y   g r o w s   o n   T r e e s

It’s a rusted chestnut to be sure, but great records needn’t cost the world and it’s left leg. Rather, most record company debts are mounted by promotional budgets, mismanagement and by impractical and bloated band hand-outs.

Dublin’s Brilliant Trees would no doubt concur, an endearing and enterprising guitar pop group that have, in seven years, served their time, played their score of odds and that are still very squarely, however happily or unhappily, at an impasse.

The Brilliant Trees have been around long enough and hard enough to see both sides and, despite their noble if blind faith in popular music’s theories, it’s the industry’s defined sense of commerce and practice that has caused their greatest and most recurring problems.

And still The Brilliant Trees are arguably the only unsigned domestic act that can actually justify their press release hyperbole with fact. Their last Dublin show drew a capacity crowd to The Mean Fiddler. Which is probably what you’d expect from a band that was once described by the N.M.E., over-rashly and quite possibly in an over-flush of zeal, as being better than The Smiths. These days, over mid-afternoon, weekend lagers, they can afford to laugh. But only just. And while size and history may count for little when push comes to shove, The Brilliant Trees, a band that would rather do than talk, at least deserve a hearing.

‘We more or less pay for our own records’, Tony Barrett – the band’s guitarist and primary motivator – tells us. ‘We have a management company that, out of necessity, has become a record company and they bring out our records. We repay them the money that they’ve invested in us, but we’re thankfully at the stage where we’re almost quits with them now’. So while The Brilliant Trees may coyly shake all of this off as some sort of mild debt of love and devotion, the reality is that, for them, for now, it’s empty at the bottom.

Their first album, ‘Friday Night’, released shortly before the start of last summer, should have been their defining calling card ;- a pick and mix of wholesome, efficient and sinewy guitar pop songs that wear their hearts very blatantly but that make no apologies or outrageous claims. But the exercise has instead woken the band to the very essence of the music industry, to the point where these days band meetings are more about money and less about songs.

‘All in all, between the recording and the manufacture and artwork, the record cost us about £11,000’, reckons drummer Dave Farrell. ‘All of the money that we take in at gigs goes straight back to paying off the album debt. It’s not particularly easy at the best of times, but we do this because we love it, simple as that’.

Popular music has traditionally been the playground of the middle classes, rarely venturing to beyond the beyonds, and while The Brilliant Trees make light of their backgrounds in the working-class suburb of Finglas, many of their concerns are far more real than popular culture’s glamour guides would have us believe.

‘I’ve got a job doing wages in Dublin Corporation’, says Barrett. ‘I’ve got a young daughter, I’ve got a mortgage and I’ve already taken next year’s holidays so that we could play some American shows earlier this year.There was a time when we used to buy 20 cans and rehearse down at the shed for hours on end but we don’t even seem to have done that in an age. It’s probably a sign of the times’.

‘The reality is that we need regular record company money to make the kind of records we desperately want to make’, says Farrell. ‘With the ‘Heart Strings’ single, we just didn’t have the money and the clout to advertise the thing on radio or to do fly-posters and basic stuff like that which can mean so much. Ultimately it’s all very well and good making great singles but it’s another thing entirely trying to get the songs heard’.

‘To be perfectly honest’, Tony Barrett confides, ‘we’re very disappointed that ‘Heart Strings’ didn’t go into the Top 30. We were desperately looking for a genuine hit on this one because we know the song is good enough. It’s just a shame that it comes down to not having enough money to push the thing over the cliff’.

A well-received American jaunt earlier this year offers them a shard of hope, although again The Brilliant Trees move shyly. ‘We’re old enough and smart enough to know that it’s not going to happen for us in England’, claims Farrell, ‘and the only option open to us now is in America because America seems to be far more open to what we’re doing and what we’re about. The last time around we played nine shows in Boston and New York and we went down so well that we’ll probably move over there, however temporarily, at the start of next year’.

‘We were genuinely taken aback by the response we received in America’, singer Alan Hoey recalls. ‘Once again we know faraway fields are always greener but the thought of playing to a whole new audience and dealing with a new set of people is all very exciting for us, even after all this time’.

In an industry that works largely on a tissue of mutual lies, deceits and distortions, The Brilliant Trees have at least come this far with their dignity intact. These days, however, they’re dealing in far more abstracts and with far more numbers than they probably ever imagined.

‘No matter how well you do in this country, you’re never going to be able to support the band in the long-term’, Dave Farrell concludes. ‘The point is that if there were 800 people at our last show in Dublin, then there may easily be another 800 out there, and if there’s another 800 out there, then there may be another 8,000 out there. Who knows ?’.

NOTE :- The Brilliant Trees did roll on, doing what they’d promised they would. And in 1999, with Florida-based management in place, released a second, excellent album, ‘Wake Up And Dream’. Tony Barrett is currently part of Elevens, alongside Sack’s Martin McCann and Mark Healy from The Josephs.

WOULD YOU LOOK AT THE STATE OF US ? MUSIC IN CORK, 1992.

As a college student in Cork between 1985 and 1989, The Triskel Arts Centre was where I believed some of the more off-beat cultural stuff in the city was going down. Located in an alleyway off of the junction of Washington Street and The Grand Parade, it was a bespoke venue that was certainly on my radar, albeit one that I visited sparingly. Over the years I saw a handful of excellent theatre performances there, as well as a couple of smashing live music shows. I can especially remember seeing Anthony And De Confidence do a ‘multi-media show’ there in 1988 and I also helped to promote a live Serengeti Long Walk gig at The Triskel, which was recorded by Ray O’Callaghan [no relation] of Poles Apart.

de-Confidence-Feb-14-742x745

De Confidence via http://www.ansanctoir.ie

Later, as producer of the No Disco television series, I returned to film some acoustic sessions there, most notably with The Harvest Ministers, Martin Stephenson of The Daintees and the wonderful Kerry singer-songwriter, John Hegarty. My most recent visit to Triskel was in 2001 when, in another guise, we hired the theatre to premiere a documentary film a bout the footballer, Denis Irwin.

I’d always considered Triskel to be just a little bit beyond me, even if this had more to do with my own ignorance than anything else. That said, I recall very vividly the venue’s former Administrator, Robbie McDonald, making many an impassioned and literate contribution in the media on behalf of arts life in Cork city.

So I was genuinely taken aback when, in the Autumn of 1992, I was asked by Triskel to make a contribution to The Cork Review, a yearly over-view of cultural life in the city published by the Centre. My task was to offer a breezy snap-shot of how Cork was faring in the worlds of rock and pop music.

At the time I was free-lancing, writing largely about music but also working on a short-lived television series for RTE 2 called ‘Rant’. It was put to me that my piece could counterpoint some of the other, more formal pieces that had been commissioned for that issue of The Cork Review and it’s clear now that I followed that instruction very literally. And then some.

The best that can be said for my piece is that it’s enthusiastic and passionate :- I clearly had a bee in my bonnet about how incestuous and trite the local scene was but didn’t have the ability to articulate it properly. I’d started to believe that regional bands – and Cork bands, particularly – simply didn’t generate the national recognition some of them deserved. I also felt that some bands didn’t do themselves any favours when it came to making the most of what they had :- frustratingly, some really great young Cork bands just didn’t want to push on and were content to lord it over their peers in The College Bar or The Liberty Bar and no further. And of course this was – and is – absolutely fine too :- it’s just that I didn’t appreciate that back in 1992.

And then there were those bands who just refused or were unable to accept any form of criticism, however well-intentioned. This sensitivity was heightened in Cork :- a friend of mine says that no-one does ‘indignant’ like Cork people, and she’s right.

But 1991 and 1992 were real breakthrough years and so, with no little relish, I polished off my crystal ball, lowered the blades, and set to work.

Up   Your   Arts

All right then, so where do I begin ? I’m not really sure. It’s just that there have been so many bands, so many songs, so many singers in funny haircuts. Some have been great and some could have been great and some have been just plain horrible, but then that was never an issue. I mean, really ?

We laughed then and we still laugh now and at least we’ve got lots of little stories for when we’re walking home late at night and it’s raining heavily and we haven’t brought our umbrellas. But right now ? Well … Cork pop is in more eyes than ever before. And this time it’s in other people’s eyes too. And that makes for some change.

You see, Cork pop, just like Cork folk or Cork theatre or Cork classical, well, it’s horribly self-contained. It’s too bloody close and too bloody narrow-minded for its own good. We are wary of opinions and we hold lots of petty little grudges. And we’re still, like it or not, as vulnerable as we ever were. We’re paranoid as hell too, too slow to let go. Too many of us just don’t want to share our bands. We want to know all of the details all of the time. There should be room for talk, sure, but not for theft and lies and vendettas. But at least most of us understand that now. After all, hey, it’s only songs.

But Cork is cooler than most right now. Both The Frank And Walters and The Sultans of Ping FC have become big and notorious and have made great records and, for once, well, we’re not fooling ourselves. And sure, we’re had bands before but we’ve never had bands quite like these. These bands aren’t just big pop kids in their own underpants. Others have taken the message and bought the records. These bands don’t just exist in the pages of the music papers. They play to loads of people in loads of places. We’re not exactly sure where all of this is going, of course, but then neither are they. But at least they are going. And at least they’re thinking big. Narrow streets, you know, breed too many narrow minds. And this is a great big world.

But I’m not here to bitch and gripe, I guess. No. Cork is where I come from and it’s where I saw my first shows and it’s where I bought my first records and it’s where I wrote my first reviews and stuff. But for me, well, for me The Frank And Walters kind of say it all, you know. It’s no big secret, but I know them and I work with them and I’ve helped them from time to time and I still get all chilled-up when they bring around some new songs on a noisy cassette.

But The Frank And Walters are, quite probably, pop’s most unaffected band. And the more that I live and the more that I see, well, the more I’m impressed and the more I want to hear some more. Alright, so maybe they’re ‘essentially Cork’ or maybe they’re ‘whacky’ or maybe they’re ‘quaint’ ? I don’t know and, in all honesty, I’m way past caring. But they’ve got a barrowload of great songs and a free and easy talent. They just write the songs :- some of the best songs that I’ve heard and that’s for sure. And I know that they’ll sell tankerloads of records. And I know that they’ll be on bedroom walls. I just know. Believe me.

But The Frank And Walters, unlike too many bands, know that all of this is just one big rotten game. At least they’ve got songs, which is more than most. But they’ve also got a manager with a tight haircut and some wits, they’ve got luck because they make their own and they’ve got marketing and press and they’ve played every toilet from Dudley to Buckley and back. But it helps too when you’ve got parents who don’t gripe when you’re making yet another cross-channel call ; when you’ve got parents who help to put your posters up and who take out subscriptions to Spiral Scratch and who know Verve’s mid-week chart position. It all adds up.

But looking back is kind of fun too, you know. I mean, did we really try to record once in a studio which had no reel-to-reel recording tape ? Did we really wrangle a live show in U.C.C. just so that we could review ourselves in Hot Press ? Did singer Paul pose with his bass-guitar on the front of The Cork Examiner ? In colour ? Ah, the ways in which we were raised.

Five go down to the sea

Five go Down to the Sea via  https://www.youtube.com

But there were others too. And there were other songs : and other times. Did Five Go Down To Sea really have songs called ‘What Happened Your Leg?’ and ‘Kelly From Killeen’ and ‘Carrots From Clonmel’ ? Did Sindikat really break a bass-guitar string during a City Carnival show in The Ivernia car-park ? And did singer Pat really drop his tartan punk trousers during a show in The Underground ? Were Censored Vision really serious ? Did Without The really have a song called ‘Sit on my face, Elaine’. Were there really fifty-three record company pigs in Sir Henry’s to see An Emotional Fish play at Cork Rock ? And did we really  spend an endless weekend at Euro Rock two years ago, where we saw fifteen bands back-to-back ? And then The Sisters of Mercy ?

And then That Petrol Emotion ? And did Scarlet Page splay their legs and thank people during a song called ‘In The City’ in front of seventeen people ? In The Opera House ? And did Serengeti Long Walk really have a band logo that had a little man in a trilby hat ?

But there are little frustrations too, of course. Like that Cypress, Mine ! broke Up and that they never got to put ‘Last Night I Met The Man For Me’ out. Or that Lift aren’t huge. And that we still sneer and gripe and complain about everything and see things through parochial glasses and that. But hey, that’s pop and that’s life and we’re never quite sure what’s around the next corner anyway. I’m just glad that I’ve been and seen.

I like to think that the best is yet to come. One day I may even get to have a real job. But just not yet.

This piece was originally printed in The Cork Review, 1992. Published by Triskel Arts Centre.