Cork

OPERATION TRANSFORMATION

De Lacy House, with its multiple floors, was an often-unheralded venue in the cardo of Cork city during those glory years from the mid-1980s onwards. But under the management of Don Forde – the original Dapper Don – it eventually became one of the more important and lucrative stop-offs on the national live circuit.

De Lacys operated a catholic booking policy and hosted a vast and varied array of acts – folk, trad, jazz, blues and alternative rock music – over the course of at least fifteen years. But it was at the very top of the house that the real magic shook down and, although it never quite enjoyed Sir Henry’s lustre, De Lacys was a terrific venue in its own right and is just as entitled to its place in local music lore. 

I saw, on that top floor, a series of electric performances over the years by A House, Roddy Frame, Martin Stephenson, The Fatima Mansions, Power Of Dreams, The Wannadies and numerous others, during which the parquet boards would come under savage pressure from those floating across it. Many of those shows were promoted by the late and fondly remembered local promoter, Des Blair. 

The tone at De Lacys was set at the main door and, in particular, by the elaborately coiffured figure of Tony Hennessy. Who, when he wasn’t kicking imaginary footballs down Barrack Street or refereeing juvenile soccer fixtures, manned the front of house for years with the manners and good humour of an experienced sommelier.   

For years Tony also doubled up as my first line of critical thinking and, on my way past him, he’d offer up pithy previews based on the calibre of punter already inside the venue or the noise levels he’d endured at the soundchecks. Its fair to say that, during his many years on patrol, the live music crowd caused him few, if any, problems and I suspect that many of his views were framed by that: – he had a healthy regard for the music and those who supported it even if, the odd time, I’d see him with plugs discreetly lodged in both ears.     

Tony was one of the handful present on a slow Sunday night late in 1988 when The Fat Lady Sings – a Dublin four-piece in exile in London – played live in Cork for the first time. De Lacys, located towards the Grand Parade end of Oliver Plunkett Street and an absolute hoor to get a sound rig in and out of, had over-estimated the group’s pulling power and, by any standards, Tony and his crew enjoyed one of their quieter nights on the drag. Inside, meanwhile, TFLS were tearing the house down. 

In terms of how it supports live music, Cork has always been a law unto itself and I’ve referred to this previously in multiple posts. Sunday nights were always difficult to sell anyway, all the more so when it came to the not insignificant matter of new Dublin bands still learning to fly. Jeff Lynne famously wrote that, at some of the earlier Electric Light Orchestra gigs, the fledgling seven-piece band often out-numbered the paying audience. And although The Fat Lady Sings didn’t quite touch those levels at De Lacys, it was certainly touch-and-go for a while.

Those of us who did take the punt saw a terrific show from an outwardly cheery, emerging four-piece on the up who, two independently-released singles in, were bedding a couple of fresh recruits into their number. The night ended with the band on the dance floor with some of the doormen and the entire audience up on the stage, wigging out.

I picked up the band’s first two singles from the tat stall as I made my way out; – the jangled ‘Fear And Favour’, released on Good Vibrations a couple of years previously, and the delayed follow-up, the more rounded ‘Be Still’. I also added my name to the band’s mailing list and, for my troubles, was briefed routinely on their adventures for several years afterwards via a series of regular newsletters. Decades before GDPR and social media, I left De Lacys that night feeling uniquely invested in a new band and, as can often be the case after these kinds of blind encounters, followed their progress intently until the end.   

Even at this stage in their development, The Fat Lady Sings were a decent pop band with good ears and this much was evident within minutes of them mounting the boards in Cork. Fronted and led by Nick Kelly, whose good humour and broad smile were matched only by the ease with which he knocked out smart couplets, that first pair of singles had attracted decent notices that marked him as a canny writer with a leading edge. ‘Fear And Favour’, begins with the line ‘I’ve got a talent I’d rather be without’ which, as opening statements go, is straight in at elite level and certainly strong enough to prick the ears of even the most stupored free-lancer.  

The line-up on that single included David Sweeney on guitar and Finbarr O’Riordan on bass. Sweeney was a formidable musician who’d served his time on the Dublin mod scene, most notably with The Vipers, and founded The Fat Lady Sings with Kelly. I later worked closely with his brother, Ken, who recorded two fine albums for Setanta Records as Brian, and whose story I’ve attempted to capture here in a previous piece.  

Brian seldom came out from under the covers and Ken only ever played a handful of live shows during the decade he was aligned to Setanta. One of the most memorable of which was a support set before A House played The University of London Union in 1992, when Robert Hamilton – another of the original members of The Fat Lady Sings – fetched up on drums as part of the live Brian line-up.   

Nick’s stock-in-trade, then as forever, was the intelligent, lyrically astute love song and, unsurprisingly, the band attracted critical comparisons to Prefab Sprout who, at the time, were the standard bearers for anything even mildly bookish and self-effacing. In reality, The Fat Lady Sings had far more in common with the more straight-forward likes of The Bible, The Big Dish and even Deacon Blue and it was in this mildly left-of-centre space that the band eventually took root and, for a while, flourished.

It didn’t take them too long to return to Cork either :- within months, a missive from the group alerted me to another upcoming live show, this time in Mojos, then still known then by its maiden name, The Buckingham, over on George’s Quay. Having learned the hard way about the hierarchy of the city’s live music venues, the band was going for broke with its set-up: – an electric piano now dominated the tiny stage at the back of the pub. The Fat Lady Sings had, on the one hand, scaled down and, on the other, scaled up. 

TFLS were on the roads in Britain and Europe incessantly as the 1980s bled into the 90s and during which their tour van, known as Gloria Esther, was racking up the miles as quickly as the band itself was acquiring a decent live following. Off of the back of which it released two further self-financed singles, ‘Arclight’ and ‘Dronning Maud Land’, both issued on the band’s own label, Fourth Base, and which continued to propel them forward at pace.  

‘Arclight’ was a genuine gear-shifter for them and, with the added heft of the piano, saw them cut through on mainstream radio in Ireland and shake a number of record companies to attention. Thirty years on, it resounds with the same urgency as it did when I first heard it, still the band’s signature number and one of that familiar set, alongside ‘Celebrate’, ‘Parachute’, ‘Brewing Up A Storm’, ‘Where’s Me Jumper’ and ‘After All’ that, for many, soundtrack an intense period of opportunity and unprecedented optimism for new Irish popular music.   

‘Arclight’ is the band’s ‘Dignity’, and not just stylistically. Because although The Fat Lady Sings released far more ambitious and, to my mind, many better songs – the immediate follow-up, ‘Dronning Maud Land’, for instance, is a waltz that bravely features a piano accordion – I’m not sure if the wider public ever really saw past it? Or wanted to. So, while you’d hardly describe ‘Arclight’ as an albatross, I’m not sure if any of the band’s ensuing material ever really matched its punch.  

The song featured prominently on the band’s first album, ‘Twist’, released in May 1991, and produced by Paul Hardiman, Mike Roarty and the band. Alongside old reliables like ‘Be Still’, which was re-recorded – unsatisfactorily, in my own view – and the imperious ‘Gravy Train’, the record was intelligent, hummable and getting there. Caught in a hail of fire from all angles – Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ and U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ were among its many competitors for attention and had already closed off much of the space – ‘Twist’ was a fine debut. But, like too many of those Irish debuts issued between 1985 and 1995, just didn’t have enough about it and struggled to be heard above the general racket. 

The band’s second album, ‘Johnson’, released in 1993, was a far sturdier affair and, produced by Steve Osborne, is much steadier on its feet. The piano was less prominent, the accordion decommissioned and the heft, instead, was provided by layers of guitar, various synths and backing vocals. Robert Hamilton was no longer behind the traps either – he’d left the group to work on the Peace Together project – and the drums on the record were laid down by a terrific session player called Nic France. Ostensibly a jazz musician who, at the time, was part of Tanita Tikaram’s live band, those anoraks among us will note his influence all over the record: – the drums on ‘Johnson’ are magnificent.

It’s a far from breezy album, though. The opener, ‘Boil’, is a sulky affair that burbles away darkly until it bursts open over the final furlongs. ‘Strip the paint, drain the oil. Let it boil’, Nick sings, signaling perhaps the band’s change of tone as much as he’s detailing the vagaries of yet another relationship. The first single pulled from ‘Johnson’, ‘Show Of Myself’, opens with twin female vocals at the stand, sharing duties throughout with Nick’s plummy South Dublin drawl, a style of delivery heard years later on the songs of another fine pop band from the same part of the world, The Thrills. ‘Show Of Myself’ was, in hindsight, a peculiar choice to lead the charge and there are certainly a cluster of far more instant cuts in the middle-order, ‘World Exploding Touch’, ‘This Guitar’ and ‘Stealing A Plane’ most prominently.

‘World Exploding Touch’ also contains one of Nick’s finest stanzas when he sings, ‘I used to float inches off the ground, I was too weightless to ever be hurt. And I never knew the truth about untrue until I saw you in his shirt’. Which is redolent, and obviously so, of the ease with which the late Grant McLennan consistently captured the softness of the ordinary in the heart of broader, far more complicated themes.

The album also features what I consider to be the band’s best ever song, ‘Drunkard Logic’, the second cut lifted from ‘Johnson’ and the group’s most commercially successful single. Which, intentionally or otherwise, was still resonating years later on McLennan’s ‘Can You See The Lights’, one of the highlights on his 1997 elpee, ‘In Your Bright Ray’. And on which Nick reaches back to his years as a law student when he regally claims that ‘we don’t leave ourselves in many things, just in letters, leases, writs and rings’. Elsewhere, there are echoes of ‘Be Still’ on the gorgeous ‘Horse, Water, Wind’ and, given the band’s almost blemish-free history, I’m happy to grant them a free pass for the tin whistle and didgeridoo on the closer, ‘Providence’.

And then it was over. 

After years on the treadmill, The Fat Lady Sings had finally found a setting that suited the shape of their legs and the capacity of their lungs. But the course to the gains they’d made had taken a toll on their limbs and the eventual pay-off wasn’t exactly as had been promised in the brochures. Life on the road as a jobbing musician and writer had simply run into one cul-de-sac too many and Nick was off to pursue other ambitions. 

Decades on and he’s still keeping his hand in and, when he isn’t directing films or ads for television and cinema, Nick performs and records – as infrequently as can be expected of a man with multiple interests – as Alien Envoy. He’s released a brace of fine albums under his own name, ‘Between Trapezes’ [1997] and ‘Running Dog’ [2005], both on his own Self Possessed label. And from which the sombre, pared-back ‘Grey And Blue’, from that debut solo record, is worth the admission on its own.

But it’s for his body of work during that scarcely believable period from 1986 until 1994 that he’s still best remembered; – those songs tell their own stories and are still strong enough to do their own bidding. The Fat Lady Sings were a fine, fine band who got out while they were still ahead and just after they’d completed their best work. 

Who among us can say we’ve done that?

MICRODISNEY : THE END

Photograph © Fanning Sessions

If anything, they’re probably the best accidental band of our time, a haphazard and unlikely collision – or collusion ? – of reference, diffidence and influence that in theory, and maybe every other way too, never stood a chance. Like the central character in their opening number on this week’s farewell dates, ‘Mrs. Simpson’, they made ‘like a head on legs and the rest of person’. And it’ll not be lost on Cathal, in particular, that at the very end, Microdisney finally sold out in Cork.

I’m sure that, on some sort of emotional level, it was appropriate they called it to a halt in the city where they started it off almost forty years previously. In as much as Microdisney – forever Cathal and Sean and in that order – ever followed formal process, last night’s show in Cork was as close as they got to the convention of completing a circle. But where it leaves them in the history of popular music – in Cork, Ireland or beyond – is irrelevant for now :- Microdisney were far too free-spirited, cranky and loose with their ambitions to ever sit comfortably in general company.

Buried somewhere in that line of thinking is, I think, the essence of their allure. They were so wrong and so utterly disconnected on every level and yet, whenever the sun broke through onto their palsied, malformed view of life in the drain, they could glisten with the best of them. They were defined to the very end by the endless pull-and-drag of the sweet against the sour, maybe best captured on ‘464’, one of their most potent songs, that opens in anger over a hail of shouting, spit and guitar noise but that quickly finds its feet in the mellow. And, this last nine months, by the peerless vocal interplay between Cathal’s full-bodied tenor – he has never, to these ears, been in better voice – and Eileen Gogan’s soft touch around the edges.

Photograph © Jim O’Mahony

Microdisney were never completely at ease in their hometown and I’ve written at length about that aspect of the band’s story here. And still they consistently represented, far better than many of Cork’s better known ambassadors, the city’s best, worst and most bizarre attributes, often for comic effect within their songs and often not. For many years, weird as it sounds now, they actually blazed a trail and led the way :- by taking the Innisfallen and upping sticks in the early 1980s, they gave Cork the middle finger and, for years afterwards, a fleeting glimpse of something more exotic and glamorous abroad. The ‘big fat matron with turquoise hair’ left behind so the band could dream more freely.

We now know, of course, that the reality of Microdisney’s life in London was far more chaotic, undercut like much of the largely untold Irish emigrant experience at that time by pills, hooch, squatting, general blackguarding and penury. But their story was, for many, the story of Cork city itself too, the boat at its core as an escape from the despair and torpor. Even if, once you reached Fishguard, you were almost certainly on your own.

Outwardly at least, that truth was just an inconvenient one, especially irrelevant on the old broadsheet pages of The Evening Echo where, in the odd dispatch from London, the local boys were clearly having a right old cruel-up, leading a charge, making hay.

Photograph © Siobhan Bardsley

What we can say with certainty is that there is no clear lineage between what came before Microdisney and what came afterwards ;- they literally fell from the sky, consistently out of reach and constantly out of time. It took them many years to finally grow into their bodies and, even then, I was never wholly convinced that they were built to accommodate the scale of their ambition, such as it was. And so, even when under the gun of a major label to crack the mainstream market, they just couldn’t help themselves. On the band’s best known song, the lavish ‘Town To Town’, with its shine, polish and spit, the lover is in the past, the winter is sick, the harvest has failed and, maybe as tellingly as anything, the singer’s name is still being mis-pronounced.

When Cathal, as he did on-stage in Vicar Street on Monday night, refers to the band’s later material – the Virgin years – as ‘joined up writing’, he’s talking about the well-upholstered gut of the likes of ‘Gale Force Wind’, ‘High And Dry’ and ‘Singer’s Hampstead Home’, ‘not cursive or grown-up but joined-up’ and over which he continued to sprinkle the petrol with a heavy hand. Only the really brave or the perennially diffident aspire to love songs where the moon is shapeless and dim but then that was Microdisney’s stock-in-trade until the very end, the closest they may have ever come to consistency.

From ‘Everybody Is Dead’, a stand-out from the band’s debut album, to ‘Loftholdingswood’, their best song and in which Dan McGrath’s liver just eventually gives out, the sweetness of the sound is counter-pointed and warped by the vicious malady of the grotesque. ‘Sulphates and slap bass’, one of Cathal’s off-the-cuff quips on Monday could, for years, have well been their mission statement.

Photograph © Siobhan Bardsley

And because of that, it’s easy to forget just how intelligent they were with their sound. With seven players on stage for much of this week’s farewell – Cathal and Sean joined, for the occasion, by Rhodri Marsden on keyboards, the imperious John Bennett on lead guitars, most potently on twelve string acoustic and Eileen backing-up on vocals – they’re at their most fetching when they bring five harmonies to the mic. And become, maybe even in spite of themselves, an unflinching, all-out pop band.

Which won’t surprise those long familiar with the breadth of their primary references and source material, Sean’s, in particular. Microdisney borrowed liberally, and as freely from Steely Dan and The Beach Boys as they did from Lee Perry and Lee Hazelwood. And much of Sean’s body of work in the decades post-Microdisney, especially that formidable High Llamas canon, is testament to that.

It’s just as easy to be side-blinded too by the attention long-afforded the band’s second album, ‘The Clock Comes Down The Stairs’, ostensibly the trigger behind those four live shows over the last nine months. And for which they were garlanded, formally, on stage at Dublin’s National Concert Hall last summer.

Because far from being one of the greatest Irish albums of all time – and that’s a dark valley of a discussion in itself – ‘The Clock’ may not even be Microdisney’s best album, even if, given the circumstances that begot it, it’s the record about which the band feels most proud. As strong a case can be made for ‘Crooked Mile’ [1987], the band’s major label debut that saw the dinner-jacketed five-piece seamlessly master the dark art of the velveteen pop song wrapped in a knuckle-duster. While Andrew Mueller, one of the best and more perceptive music writers of his generation – and recently a member of The North Sea Scrolls alongside Cathal and Luke Haines – has long batted for Microdisney’s last album, ’39 Minutes’ [1988]. Which, if it is indeed the sound of a band on the precipice, certainly captures, in vivid colour, the full spread of a magnificent view across the valley of death.

So, why did they go back for afters and why now ? Time, of course, is as much of a cleanser as it is of a healer and those most recent Dublin shows saw an older, possibly wiser, certainly far fitter, sober and way less anxious band roll back the years without either the fuss or the general codology that pock-marks much of Microdisney’s story. And without saying as much, the band clearly believed it had unfinished business or an unpaid personal debt somewhere :- was there a sense that they never really did those terrific songs justice at the time ? Or, perhaps, that others – the market, the public, the industry – didn’t cut them an even break ? Or did they simply fancy taking the music out of its casing one last time just because they could ?

I’ve never had Microdisney pegged as old nostalgics, Cathal in particular. And so it was interesting to hear him, in Dublin on Monday, dip into the earliest chapters in the band’s history to reference Dave Clifford, their first manager and Elvera Butler, who committed their first track to vinyl and who ran many of their most formative shows in The Arcadia Ballroom in Cork. Indeed in prefacing their closer, Frankie Valli’s ‘The Night’, Cathal referred to a Lene Lovich live show in that same venue in January, 1980, where himself and his long-time writing partner and friend heard that song performed for the first time.

In introducing the band, there’s an unusually fuzzy outbreak of bonhomie as Cathal and Sean reference each other and their long, colourful and no doubt often bizarre and fractured friendship. Cathal – maybe half-jokingly and maybe not ? – cautions against too much good-will as if it might just sooth the edge a bit too much. And then they’re gone and it’s over.

On the walk back into town after the Vicar Street show on Monday night, I remembered an old yarn that Cathal once told Dave Fanning during one of their many memorable radio interviews. During the band’s early years, the singer would regularly take the mainline train – a battered, bone-shaking and deeply unpleasant experience at the best of times – from Cork to Dublin, during which he’d dress in priest’s garb and pickle himself with booze, effing and blinding at all-comers during what could often be a torturous four-hour journey.

Photograph © Jim O’Mahony

One of the more frustrating aspects of that long, long haul – and, believe me, there were many – invariably came at Limerick Junction, a desolate outpost that’s actually in Tipperary and where, as a regular passenger, I spent far too long stuck in the sidings, waiting in the worst possible kind of limbo for something, anything, to happen before we’d eventually stutter back into life and re-commence our journey onwards.

You’d see and hear all sort of mad stuff as you were trapped in Limerick Junction, caught quite literally between worlds, gazing listlessly out of the window at the spread of verdure and the thickets beyond. I spent far too many languid hours paralyzed there, listening to Cathal and Sean’s alchemy on a variety of different devices.

As metaphors go in respect of Microdisney, Limerick Junction is as valid as any. Forever crippled and consistently failed by the machine, witnesses to the bizarre and the grotesque, waiting endlessly for another stuttering start and the next inevitable breakdown.

And yet for all of that they were consistently magnificent and leave behind a terrific body of work beyond the catalogue of carnage.

Photograph © Fanning Sessions

RORY’S STORIES

Unknown

Although like Michael D., Bertie, Miriam, Gay and Daniel he’s often referred to in Ireland by his first name only, the implied familiarity here is well out of line with the broader picture :- little of substance is really known about the guitarist and songwriter, Rory Gallagher. By a distance the biggest and most influential figure in Cork’s cultural history – and unquestionably one of Ireland’s most interesting and ground-breaking arts exports – much of his story remains, if not entirely untold, then certainly under-cooked. Even back home in the valley of dead cars and squinting widows, where everybody knows your name and, invariably, your business too.

What we do know is well-worn, light on scope and generally easy on the ears. Rory, like another of Cork’s more introspective and quieter exports, the Togher-reared footballer, Denis Irwin, preferred to let his craft do his bidding and, by and large, tended to keep his iron fists out of public view. And its not as if there hasn’t been a sustained effort to commemorate his many remarkable achievements and creative legacies in the popular consciousness. Its just that, with Rory’s estate curated for the most part by his brother and manager, Donal Gallagher, much of that effort tends to centre on the surface only.

A plaza in the centre of Cork city bears his name. He’s been immortalized with a statue in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, where he was born, and he’s even been featured on commemorative stamps and coins. All under-pinned by an enduring dedication, almost exclusively among those of a particular age, to Gallagher’s music, his considerable body of recorded work and a slew of remarkable live shows. Many of which, in Dublin, Cork and particularly in Belfast during the darkest chapters of modern Irish history throughout the 1970s, might well have served as informal inter-state events.

Radio and television producers have bravely taken their chances with him over the years too. The RTÉ archives hold plenty of Gallagher-related material, assembled over the decades, but those documentaries and features are, with the odd exception, well intentioned but soft and inconsequential affairs.

And there has of course been an amount of written biography and critical analysis, much of which tends to stay on the outer ring-roads, circling the circumference. Hagiography, for the most part. Easily the best of which are ‘Riding Shotgun’, co-written by Gallagher’s long-time bass-player, Gerry McAvoy, and published in 2005 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the guitarist’s premature death and the relevant passages of Dan Muise’s ‘Gallagher, Marriott, Derringer and Trower’, [2002], a music equivalent of George Kimball’s magnificent boxing book, ‘Four Kings’.

Of the mountain of newspaper and magazine archive on Gallagher and his music, much of it Irish, the most enduring and incisive are still, to this mind, landmark pieces by the late Bill Graham in Hot Press and by the Dublin writer and journalist, Michael Ross, in a variety of publications, but especially The Sunday Times.

But the primary difficulty for any documentarian or biographer is with the subject himself, who was notoriously shy and self-effacing. As Donal Gallagher told Ross for a Sunday Times feature twenty years ago :- ‘I can’t say that we [Rory and I] ever had an in-depth personal conversation’. And so little exists by way of genuine, close-quarter insight with which to compile a defined photo-fit. In the absence of first person testimony, the gaps have long been filled by rumour, innuendo and speculation.

I never saw Gallagher perform live but, like many others born just as his first rock band, Taste, was releasing its first album, still feel like I’ve sucked in every single note played at The City Hall in Cork, the scene of some of his most spectacular and incendiary live shows. Even if, by the time I’d been roused to the wonder of popular music, Rory was well past his creative and critical peak. There was a world of difference between 1975 – when he was arguably at his apex – and 1985, by which time he was struggling to write and was among the more traditional targets against which an emerging indie set could rail.

One of the great ironies here, of course, is that the shock of that new, led in the early 1980s by The Smiths and driven by Johnny Marr’s remarkable guitar lines, could ultimately be traced back to Gallagher himself who, among others, was a primary formative influence on the young buck of Irish extraction as he grew up in the Manchester suburb of Wythenshawe a decade earlier. Marr acknowledged as much in Ian Thuillier’s 2010 RTÉ television documentary, ‘Ghost Blues’ even if, one suspects, he was taken far more by Gallagher’s ability as a guitarist – and more specifically his use of the instrument as a weapon – and less so by Rory’s song-writing.

Like seemingly everyone else in Cork, I had my own direct connection to Rory. I attended The North Monastery school on the northside of the city during the mid-1970s from where, a decade earlier, Gallagher had been removed by his mother at a point in his fledgling career when he was playing regularly with the Fontana showband. And although his name features far more overtly now in the history of that fine school, I can’t recall him or his deeds being as wildly celebrated there at that time as those of his more academic or athletic-inclined peers.

We know now, though, that Rory Gallagher certainly was a topic of regular discussion inside the school’s staff-room, at least among some of the younger elements of the teaching team. My second class teacher, Herman Kemp, from Kilrush in County Clare, was the young photographer, film fan and Stoke City supporter who, in 1977, snapped a series of magnificent live shots of Gallagher on-stage at the Macroom Mountain Dew Festival in West Cork, and that surfaced recently on-line. That show was also attended, the internet tells us, by a fifteen year-old Rory fan from Dublin, David Evans, better known known now as The Edge, a guitarist.

At a period in Cork city’s history dominated by poverty, unemployment and social and moral bankruptcy – the centre of town’s pallor was, for fifteen years, deathlike – Gallagher’s international successes and eternal cross-continent touring gave the gawkers back home a rare glimpse, on the surface at least, of something moderately exotic. His was a real jet-set story and, as such, his exploits sat up there alongside that small handful of artisans, athletes and public figures that were distinguishing us beyond the county bounds.

And of course if you stood on Patrick Street long enough, you might have even bumped into him. Gallagher, up until the early 1980s at least, was an accessible figure ;- at the height of his popularity and, in a distinctive take on the concept of bringing it all back home, he would regularly accompany his mother, Monica, to mass in Douglas when he wasn’t abroad on one of his endless tours of duty.

Indeed there was something slightly disconcerting about how mundane he was, forever dressed down in plaid shirts and rubber dollies, handsome in his absolute ordinariness. Because although his records, his playing and especially his live shows often touched the sky, Gallagher’s feet rarely left the deck. To the loyal support back home, and especially in Cork, he made like he had no notions, and stressed as much routinely. Its almost as if he was afraid of the extraordinary.

Years after I left The North Mon, I fetched up in another classroom, far  removed from the northside of Cork, alongside Julian Vignoles, and spent six months in and out of his company as a trainee television producer in RTÉ. I already knew Julian’s name, of course – it’s a distinctive one, hard to forget – and had seen it for years on the radio listings in The RTÉ Guide, where he was credited as a producer on some of the more interesting and lateral Radio 2FM shows. Pat Kenny’s excellent review series, ‘The Outside Track’, among them.

We had music in common from the off :- we’d both served our time and cut our teeth, albeit a decade apart, at Hot Press magazine, and had similar views on the importance of quality music programming on radio and television. Music has always been a useful ice-breaker, especially to those of us who struggle to make small-talk in general company, and many of my most enduring friendships have originated in casual, impromptu conversations about albums, singles, live shows and general trivia.

And although Julian’s tastes and mine were varied and rarely in-synch, we could both work up a decent head of steam quickly and, I suspect, there was a quiet respect between us from the get-go.

Rory Gallagher : The Man Behind The Guitar’ is Vignoles’s third book and is formally launched next week on The Collins Press imprint. Gallagher’s music has long been one of Julian’s primary passions and we’ve discussed and de-constructed Rory and his work at length in the years since we were first thrown together on the grounds of RTÉ back in 1994.

And now, eventually, he’s managed to stand up much of what was once just ad hoc theory, in print, even if the trip to completion has been a long and, I suspect, often arduous one. He’ll get little by way of thanks for it either, of course, but to those of us who appreciate such piddling matters as historical accuracy, archiving and balanced critical analysis, he’s done the history of popular Irish music no little service.

He doesn’t hang around either and, typically, Vignoles is quickly down to business. In the introductory chapter, the singer-songwriter Christy Moore is quoted as follows :- ‘He [Rory] was a beautiful man who, I think, died real lonely’. And in those eleven words, Moore sets out the book’s primary ambitions. ‘The Man Behind The Guitar’ does what it says in the title ;- it’s a forensic trawl into Gallagher’s modus in an effort to define a fully-formed portrait of a complicated, difficult and still largely unknown artist.

In so doing, Vignoles uncovers an overly-anxious, perennially fearful, sleep deprived, bizarrely superstitious, religiously devout and subsequently alcohol dependent and ultimately lonely writer with a long-standing stubborn streak who, in respect of his music, could be obsessive, impulsive and spontaneous. He shines a considerable torch too onto one of the primary contradictions at the heart of Gallagher’s story :- the manner in which he consistently kicked against one stereotype – that of the hell raising, boisterous rock star – while conforming to another, that of the musician who only really comes alive with a guitar in his hand.

‘The Man Behind The Guitar’ has already drawn predictable, and indeed understandable fire from Donal Gallagher. Neither he nor Tom O’Driscoll, Rory’s long-time roadie, or indeed Gerry McAvoy, contributed to the book even if, given the broad breadth of third-party archive material unearthed by the author, their voices are still prominent throughout, albeit from a distance.

Over which Vignoles spoons a fine, full-bodied critical over-view of the writer and performer that doesn’t hold back or pull its punches. Because whereas Gallagher was undoubtedly a gifted player and stage performer, he was never the most instinctive, creative or prodigious writer. And while his career can be parceled into three or four distinctive lyrical phases – for which, Vignoles and his critical right-hand, Dave McHugh, rightly assert he is never properly credited – he struggled manfully, or perhaps just blithely refused, to ever really move on musically.

[Its probably worth noting too that, in relative terms, Gallagher was never a huge seller :- ‘Live in Europe’, his 1972 elpee, was his only ever Top Ten success in Britain].

And which is why one of the more recurring critical conclusions in respect of much of Gallagher’s output after his ‘Top Priority’ album [1978] – rightly or wrongly – is that his songs just eventually became vessels for his next long, and often far too-predictable solo.

Given the sensitivity with which Vignoles deals with much of the more speculative aspects of Gallagher’s personal life – he was alcohol dependent for much of his later life, may have been [undiagnosed] on the autism spectrum, certainly suffered from depression from as far back as his teens and endured a long-running series of medical ailments – you feel that Gallagher’s younger brother missed a real opportunity here to contribute to what is a vivid, insightful and important profile.

There’s plenty in ‘The Man Behind The Guitar’ too that’s strictly anorak and technical enough for the musos, even if Gallagher’s influence as a player on the generations that came directly after him – The Edge, Johnny Marr, Slash, Noel Gallagher – isn’t developed. Nor does the author fully attempt to place Rory in the creative pantheon, even in Irish terms :- its just assumed, from the off, that he was, ergo he is.

But these are moot points. The author suppresses his fan’s instincts from the get-go and, as is invariably the case in documentary and biography, the most difficult passages are the most riveting. Describing the last decade of Rory’s life after the protracted release of his ‘Defender’ elpee in 1987 – which finally saw the light of day in the shadow of the global emergence of U2, who unveiled ‘The Joshua Tree’ in the same year – Vignoles, on an uncharacteristic bitterness that had started to emerge in some of Gallagher’s interviews, is at his most pointed and perceptive.

‘When the touring is less frequent, when the adulation is less apparent, when your fingers may no longer have the dexterity they had, what do you do if you’re not taken up with family or investments or golf ? How does the sensitive human being ‘come down’ from fame ? With difficulty, perhaps, is the answer’.

‘Rory Gallagher : The Man Behind The Guitar’ by Julian Vignoles is published by The Collins Press and is on sale now.  

THE ROLLING STONES VERSUS IRELAND’S SHOWBANDS, 1965

The Rolling Stones bring their ‘No Filter’ tour to Croke Park on May 17th next for what might well be the band’s final ever bumper pay day in Ireland. The group has been visiting this country in various iterations and to various effect for over fifty years and one can confidently claim that the nation has grown and developed socially in tandem with the band’s popularity. But there was a time when the notion that Jagger, Richards and Watts might one day set foot on the consecrated sod up in Dublin 3, with their feisty antics, swagger and unconventional hair-dos, was just inconceivable.

The Gaelic Athletic Association is, by a distance, Ireland’s most unique and progressive sports body. But while it’s made huge advances on the field and off since the centenary of its foundation in 1984, the entertainment bookings in Croke Park – popular cabaret for the most part – are a throw-back to those years, from 1958 until 1968, when Ireland’s showbands, another of the country’s more consistently mis-represented cultural curiousities, were in their pomp.

The Gaelic Games themselves and the structures that under-pin and enable them are unrecognisable now from when the Cork County Board first worked with the Banteer-born promoter, Oliver Barry, to bring ‘Siamsa Cois Laoi’ – an afternoon festival of live international folk and domestic traditional music that ran yearly for a decade – to what was then the new Páirc Ui Chaoimh stadium in 1976. But even during its current  period of profound existential uncertainty, it’s re-assuring to know that, when it comes to putting live music onto its playing fields, the Gaelic Athletic Association takes a similar approach to it’s scheduling of club fixtures. Rack them, pack them, stack them and send everybody home sweating.

For the last decade or so, Croke Park has hosted big-ticket, high-volume contemporary cabaret with the sort of instinctive majesty one usually associates with Austin Gleeson or Joe Canning, out wide, beneath the stands, over-the-shoulder, through the black-spot without looking. From Neil Diamond and One Direction to the U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ anniversary reprise there last year and upcoming shows by the Persil-treated likes of Ed Sheeran and Michael Buble, the best equipped stadium in the country continues the association’s long connection to the be-suited, be-quiffed culture of the ballrooms.

Ireland’s showband history has generated a considerable industry for itself and about itself – a slew of largely myopic written histories, numerous television and radio documentaries, DVD compilations, cassette tapes and live concert tours – since the advent of discotheques and disc jockeys put a serious hole in it’s boat during the early 1970s. In the half century since, the showband story has been faithfully re-cycled through a diffused lens that has corrupted its focus, notwithstanding the odd rogue contribution from the likes of Derek Dean of The Freshmen and the late Northern Irish broadcaster, Gerry Anderson, formerly of The Chessmen [and once of the legendary American blues outfit, Ronnie Hawkins And The Hawks]. Anderson’s 2008 book ‘Heads : A Day in The Life’, is among the most insightful, interesting and funny chronicles of that period because it ignores much of the popular showband narrative and presents the era instead with a candid, clinical eye and not merely as a softly-lit, badly-written romantic romp.

Ireland’s leading showbands were at their peak – playing long sets on an almost nightly basis to packed ballrooms all over the country – during those years when the Second Vatican Council was in session between 1962 and 1965 and while the imposing figure of the long-serving Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, was casting a considerable shadow over many aspects of Irish society, the showband scene itself prominent among them. And so its understandable that much of it’s history is still presented with a quasi-religious fervour, almost as a national parable where the meek always inherited the family farm and no one ever coveted their neighbour’s wife.

What we know for sure is that many of the musicians who hacked out decent careers on the showband circuit were gifted players, earning good coin knocking out note-perfect, multi-layered arrangements of the big hits of the day, in a range of styles, to order. And like every other movement of note, it was dominated by a colourful cast of performers and a support crew of promoters, impresarios and would-be supremos, many of them larger-than-life, many more of them tragic figures in their own right.

But the personal testimonies of Dean and Anderson, and indeed the complicated life stories of stalwarts like Eileen Reid of The Cadets and Dickie Rock of The Miami – both of which have been drastically revised over the last twenty years – suggest that Ireland’s showband circuit was far edgier and much darker than one has traditionally been led to believe. In this respect it should be noted that two of Ireland’s most complex, successful and influential international rock musicians, Van Morrison from Belfast and the Derry-born Corkman, Rory Gallagher, began their professional careers on the showband circuit, on which they became quickly disaffected.

But back in January, 1965, the showbands still dominated the domestic music market and in Cork, the largest and busiest venues in the county were arguably The Arcadia Ballroom on The Lower Road and The Majorca, in Crosshaven. These were – on paper at least – booze-free zones that took off as the pubs were closing but, while the venues were dry for the most part, many of those on stage were routinely flutered. The level of alcohol abuse within the showband movement is just one of a number of aspects of it’s history that’s routinely air-brushed.

Located not too far from The Arcadia, but far less visible, were Cork’s first alternative music venues. It’s maybe pushing it to describe either the Crypt, by the old Thompson’s bakery on MacCurtain Street, and The Cavern Club, around the back of The Ashley Hotel on Leitrim Street, as venues or clubs – they were what we’d describe now as pop-up coffee shops, at best – but they did serve as genuine antidotes to the larger, more traditional facilities elsewhere.

Catering for those with more lateral, left-field tastes, both spaces were sound-tracked by the more interesting British and American sounds of the time and, in the case of The Crypt, also provided rehearsal space to some of those young locals who’d started to dabble with electric instruments. The Cavern Club expanded its horizons quickly enough and, as tends to still be the case today in venues that attract small but enthusiastic, like-minded audiences, eventually hosted its own live shows, among them early appearances by the likes of Taste and Gary Moore, as well as a landmark visit by the renowned English blues player, John Mayall.

The Cavern – which was later re-named The 006 Club – has long been regarded as Cork’s first alternative music venue and features routinely in the well-worn reminiscences of some of it’s best known graduates, Donal Gallagher – Rory’s brother, long-time manager and the erstwhile guardian of his reputation and estate – among them.

In Mark McAvoy’s 2009 book, ‘Cork Rock : From Rory Gallagher to The Sultans of Ping’ [Collins Press], Donal Gallagher, one of the first DJs at The Cavern, recalls how : ‘I was trying to fashion myself as the Cork John Peel and play music like that. The scene developed and the club, particularly at the weekends, would have bands like The Misfits from Belfast’. [For the sake of accuracy, it’s worth noting that John Peel, the influential British broadcaster, spent much of the 1960s living and working in the United States and didn’t present any radio in England until at least 1967. Among the primary outside influences on the Gallagher brothers – Donal and Rory – would have been American Forces Network radio, some BBC output and Radio Luxembourg’s English language service, Fab 208].

You’d imagine that many of the Cavern Club regulars also fetched up at at The Savoy Cinema on Patrick Street on January 5th, 1965, when The Rolling Stones played their first – and last – live show in Cork. That day has long featured prominently in the city’s popular cultural history and is redolent in its own way of the night, a year earlier, when The Beatles first played in Ireland, at Dublin’s Adelphi Theatre. The story has been well worn over time even if, as often happens, some of the personal testimonies of those who attended are conflicted.

What we know for certain is that The Rolling Stones, then a dynamic, blues-fused rock band, had just enjoyed their second British Number One single with ‘Little Red Rooster’ and, four months before the release of ‘[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction’ were – alongside The Beatles, The Animals and The Yardbirds – leading a considerable U.K. assault on the American market.

But while the first Irish singles chart of 1965 was topped by The Beatles’ ‘I Feel Fine’, formidable showband royalty like Dickie Rock, Brendan Bowyer, Butch Moore, Tommy Drennan and Larry Cunningham all featured immediately behind it in the top ten. Indeed ‘I Feel Fine’ was about to be toppled by one of Ireland’s biggest selling records of the year, Brendan Bowyer’s ‘The Hucklebuck’.

During the first week of January, Ireland was gripped by a prolonged snap of cold weather and heavy snowfall that forced the closure of some of the country’s roads, especially in the south and the south-east. While politically, and all the more interesting in light of current political discourse, the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, was busy appeasing one of the country’s most powerful economic groups.

Explaining to Ireland’s agricultural representative associations his thinking on the recently formed European Economic Community, Lemass told the National Farming Association Congress during a keynote address on January 6th, 1965 that : ‘We do not regard it as vacillating to decide not to rush headlong into a fog. We are having discussions with the British Government on future trade arrangements between the two countries. In any intelligent order of priorities these discussions must take place before we consider the alternative courses which may be possible for us’.

The Rolling Stones played three dates in Ireland between January 6th and January 8th, 1965, – in Belfast, Dublin and Cork respectively – and during which they performed two eight-song sets at every venue, at 6.30 PM and 9PM, travelling by train and car from city to city during their stay here. The classic, five-piece line-up – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Brian Jones and Bill Wyman – was headlining a clustered tour, promoted by John Smith, that also included Checkmates, an American rhythm and blues outfit, The Gonks, a South African blues-flavoured band and Twinkle, a young London-born pop singer.

Twinkle’s name will be familiar to fans of The Smiths, who themselves played a brace of fabled live shows in The Savoy, in Cork city, in 1984. She came to popular attention in 1964 with her first hit single, ‘Terry’, released while she was still a teenager :- one of the kookier and more intriguing footnotes in the broader history of 60s British girl-pop, she was already retired from the music industry before she turned twenty-one. A later Twinkle release, ‘Golden Lights’, was covered by The Smiths and features as an additional track on their 1986 single, ‘Ask’.

The first Rolling Stones’ set at The Savoy half-filled the house but the later show sold out its allocation of 1,100 tickets at a venue better known then as one of the city’s busiest cinemas and the focal point of the yearly Cork Film Festival. The headliners took to the stage at 10.35 to begin the second of their short performances and a front-page story on the following morning’s Cork Examiner reported that Gardaí had been called to the show after ‘frenzied teenagers dashed from their seats and swarmed to the organ pit screaming and waving’. Later, a young man ‘climbed on the cinema organ but moved when Savoy manager, Jimmy Campbell, ordered him back’.

Describing the group as ‘long-haired and untidy and the bane of mums and dads of Britain because of this’, The Examiner’s account of events differs from that carried in a short review, on the same day, in The Irish Press. ‘There were no screams, no hysteria and no unmanageable crowds in The Savoy, Cork last night’, the Dublin-based newspaper claimed in a short uncredited piece, most likely filed by a full-time local stringer. ‘A large force of Gardaí was on duty in and around the cinema but an officer on duty said : ‘We were hardly needed’’.

The Cork leg seems to have been tame by comparison with the shows in Dublin and particularly in Belfast, where the front of the stage at the ABC Theatre was lined by R.U.C. men in an attempt to keep punters at an arm’s length from the band. The Rolling Stones’ first live appearance in Belfast the previous year had been abandoned after only twelve minutes and three songs when a full-scale riot broke out in the audience :- the show had been hugely over-subscribed and terrific film footage shot on the night captures some of the chaos that quickly developed inside The Ulster Hall.

Once bitten, The Irish Independent reported how, during the band’s return set at The ABC Theatre six months later, ‘dozens of girls fainted’ and that ‘outside the theatre, an ambulance waited to take the more hysterical ones to hospital’. And there was plenty of overtime for the local constabulary up north too ;- ‘dozens of extra police under a district inspector and two head constables patrolled inside and outside the theatre’, according to The Indo.

The Dublin daily papers – especially The Evening Herald – afforded the Stones short tour of Ireland a measured, mildly bemused degree of coverage and were present on the platform at the Amiens Street train station when the band arrived into the capital from Belfast as ‘a large force of Gardaí and C.I.E. public relations personnel guarded the barriers’. The Herald was there too on the morning after the show as the band departed for Cork in a fleet of cars from the Intercontinental Hotel in Ballsbridge [later known as Jury’s Hotel] where they’d been entertained after returning from The Adelphi Theatre, with a cocktail party hosted by the hotel manager.

‘As the cars pulled away, one young girl, a 14 year-old from Rathmines, waving to Bill Wyman, bass guitarist, cried out : ‘Write to me, Bill. Won’t you please ?’, according to the paper’s reporter on the hotel forecourt. ‘Then she and her companion, also from Rathmines, embraced each other and cried. They told me that they had given Bill stamped addressed envelopes and that he had promised to write to them’.

The Irish Independent’s uncredited review of the band’s Dublin shows referred, of course, to the group’s appearance and, like The Cork Examiner, described The Stones as a ‘long-haired, unconventionally attired quintet’. Clearly more concerned by the general fanfare outside of the venue than inside it, a front-page report head-lined ‘Screams and hysteria muffle the ‘beat’’, remarked how ‘The Adelphi staff, specially augmented by plainclothes Gardaí, did a wonderful job controlling the excited mob’. Adding that ‘even compere Billy Livingstone could not get two seconds piece to introduce them [the band]’.

And, concluding the piece, which just about mentioned the band, one of the more curious closing lines I’ve read in any piece on a live show ever :- ‘Normally Abbey Street is lined with cars on both sides at night. Last night, there were two parked cars, one on each side’.

In the great tradition of such events, the detail is once again provided by those who chose to attend the show as fans and who weren’t merely assigned there by their news editors. And at least one correspondent, from Dublin 6 and credited, perhaps slightly incorrectly as ‘Stone Fan’, took to the letters page in The Evening Herald to correct some of the factual inaccuracies that had pock-marked much of it’s coverage of the Adelphi shows. ‘The Rolling Stones played eight songs, not five’, the missive begins. ‘They were [in order] : ‘Not Fade Away’, ‘Off The Hook’, ‘If You Need Me’, ‘Around And Around’, ‘Little Red Rooster’, ‘It’s All Over Now’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. They were on stage for 31 minutes and 15 seconds’.

The band performed a slightly modified version of that set when they hit Cork the following night. And in a long feature by John Daly in The Daily Mail on October 13th, 2015, one of those who attended those Cork shows, Paddy Ryan, recalled to the writer the manner in which the show ended. ‘They played their hit, ‘This Could Be The Last Time’, as the curtain slowly descended in front of them on the stage. Then it raised up a second time and they played the final verse of the song, before coming down for the last time. And then the PA system announced, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, The Rolling Stones have left the building’.

Never to return to Cork again, as it happens. Although The Stones did re-visit Ireland later that year, playing dates in Belfast and Dublin on September 2nd and 3rd, on a short lay-over on which they were accompanied by a film crew, working with the director, Mick Gochanour. An observational documentary – ‘Charlie is My Darling’, the first such film about the band – captures them at work and at play during that brief tour but didn’t officially see the light of day until 2012.

Overall, the reporting of the emergence of The Rolling Stones, and of the growing influence of British pop music in general, was even more condescending – and clearly politically-charged – in some of Ireland’s regional newspapers. Many of which were hard-wired to the showband scene and who regarded the emergence of the likes of The Beatles and The Animals as a genuine threat, not just to aspects of Irish cultural life and a comfortable older order but, judging from the tone of much of the editorial output, a real threat to the security of the Irish state itself.

‘The Rolling Stones came to Ireland last week’, stated one of the closing paragraphs of a weekly entertainment column in The Western People on January 16th, 1965. ‘Yes, these are the stones who gather a lot of mossy cash on their continuous travels. One of the group does not think very much of our showbands. In fact he says they are dreadful’.

AFTER ALL AND THE YOUNG OFFENDERS

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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