De Lacy House

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?

THE RETURN OF THE ROD SQUAD

 

The going could be rough enough down in Cork during the mid 1980s, but whenever you wanted to feel thoroughly out of your depth, you’d just remind yourself that Roddy Frame wrote and recorded the first, magical Aztec Camera album, ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ when he was still a teenager. Whatever about the power and blood in the music, and there’s plenty, it was his ability to turn a sharp phrase – ‘And breathless we talked. It was tongues’ – that really highlighted the gulf in class between us.

 

Roddy, more or less the same age as us and raised in what sounded like similar circumstances in Scotland, dealt with love and regret like he’d been on the international chancing circuit for decades, mixing with the kind of mysterious, ethereal women you only read about in books. Or may have seen, the odd time, parading up and down outside The Moderne during their lunchbreaks.

 

‘High Land, Hard Rain’, released invariably on the Rough Trade label, the imprint du jour in 1983, quickly become a staple for us and, with ‘Songs To Remember’ by Scritti Politti, Talking Heads’ ‘Remain In Light’ and the two Joy Division albums – all of which I bought, second-hand, in The Swop Shop on McCurtain Street – showed us the breadth of what was out there waiting for us, on the margins and off the beaten track. And the otherworldly singles that under-pinned it – ‘Oblivious’ and ‘Walk Out To Winter’ – were just as urgent to us as ‘Each And Every One’ by Everything But The Girl and ‘Don’t Sing’ by Prefab Sprout.

 

Indeed, with his battered suede jacket, unruly fringe, smart wordplays and strong, acoustic-powered sets, Roddy shared many basic traits with his peers from Witton Gilbert. And by so doing he provided us with many of our more fundamental reference points as we drove onwards, finding our way.

 

 

As soon as we fetched up in college, some of us made quickly for the most pretentious societies on the U.C.C. campus, where our love of good music, bad poetry, corduroy and general carousing was, we thought, bound to help settle us in. And, on paper at least, The English Literature Society lived up to every other cliché :- a powerful platform for emerging thinkers, writers, beard-strokers and lotharios. On full throttle, it was no place for the faint-hearted or the weak-livered.

 

But the readings, performances and recitals would eventually wind down and we’d head down to The Rock View for the after-show, where the fever of purple prose would engulf the bar and level the pitch a bit. And where, whenever the talk turned to the new, fledgling writers and poets, we’d refer back to Michael Stipe, Morrissey, McAloon and Roddy Frame to find common ground deep in the delirium. We barely knew any better or any differently.

 

A couple of years previously, Roddy Frame was snapped on the back of the second Aztec Camera album, ‘Knife’, wearing what appeared to be a cape. He’d clearly had, if not a full-body make-over then certainly a stylist’s upgrade and, caked in slap and with his considerable quiff swept up and pinned into order with pools of lacquer, looked for all the world like he’d moved over onto a major label and was now being groomed for, and by, a different market and a different class.

 

Produced by Mark Knopfler, Roddy’s first album for a major label [Warners], was a considered, bulked-up affair that, with an enhanced budget and very obviously made with more time and space, marked a line in the sand and a transition into adulthood. Both for the writer and for his audience. To those of us expecting another rash of frantic, lo-fi, love songs, it shocked our systems and, as I worked my way through the lyrics and the inlay, a small part of me faded quickly.

 

 

But I stuck with ‘Knife’ and I’m glad that I did. I listened to it for ages in tandem with Bob Dylan’s ‘Infidels’ album after Roddy, in one of the interviews he did to publicise his own record, suggested we might. Knopfler had also produced that elpee :- two years after the release of Dire Straits’ remarkable ‘Love Over Gold’, he’d been charged with pulling Dylan back in from the fringes following a run of records made after he’d converted to evangelical Christianity and that, critically, are among the most mixed of his long career.

 

Knopfler certainly succeeded in making ‘Infidels’ sound as much like a Dire Straits record as it did a Bob Dylan one. With Sly and Robbie in on drums and bass – and Mick Taylor adding guitar – five of the eight songs clock in at longer than five minutes and feature the producer cracking out a series  of familiar lead licks. The presence of Dire Straits’ own Alan Clark on keyboards and Knopfler’s engineer of choice, Neil Dorfsman, manning the pumps, gave the record a velvety sheen and the likes of ‘Jokerman’ and ‘Sweetheart Like You’ even found favour with MTV. Five years later, Bob Dylan was a Traveling Wilbury.

 

Roddy Frame never graduated to the same league but has certainly been as restless in his own way as Dylan has been throughout his career. And this can be seen, on a most basic level, by the producers he’s chosen to work with en route who, as well as Knopfler, also include Eric Calvi, Riuchi Sakamoto, Tommy LiPuma and Langer and Winstanley.

 

I’ve stayed with him through the decades, producers, humours and hair-dos and I keep going back. Aztec Camera released six studio albums under the cover of the band name and our hero continues to record and issue under his own handle even if, in the great traditions, his audiences have certainly become more selective and its been decades since he’s troubled either the chart compilers or ticket touts.

 

Prefab Sprout fans know well how this story plays out ;- both bands have long been associated in the popular mind, often with good reason and sometimes not. In much the same way that ‘Steve McQueen’ – with its magnificent, ground-breaking Thomas Dolby production – cannoned Prefab Sprout forward out of the undergrowth and into the more considered end of the adult pop market, so too did Knopfler’s finishing help to move Aztec Camera up through the gears apace. And this was nowhere more obvious than on ‘Knife’s title cut, the album’s lengthy closer that, with its long low-key intro and steady meandering could easily have sat on ‘Love Over Gold’.

 

But there’s far more. In the same way that both acts started their careers as multi-part groups, history recalls them now as enhanced assemblies realizing one writer’s central vision and various ambitions. They’ve both enjoyed similar commercial trajectories too and, in spite of formidable bodies of work compiled over decades, are best known in the wider markets for a couple of early singles – ‘Somewhere In My Heart’ and ‘The King Of Rock And Roll’ – that are largely unrepresentative and that kick against almost all of their other, more involved material.

 

 

Aztec Camera and Prefab Sprout have both long been left behind by what was once a music industry, well and truly deemed commercially unattractive and irrelevant in the newer scheme of things. And yet, like the most stubborn husband, both Roddy and Paddy are still resolutely clinging to their own first instincts – maybe all, ultimately, that they know ? – and continue to knock out the wonder and hey, who knows, maybe preparing the ground for the next coming ?

 

In the meantime, much of Roddy’s recent work remains in the sidings, left pretty much to its own devices, where it plays to those long converted. And in there somewhere are some of his finest songs, at least three from ‘Frestonia’, his 1995 album and the last released on a major label, four or five from his 1998 elpee, ‘The North Star’ issued on Andy MacDonald’s Independiente label and another handful from his last long-player, 2014’s ‘Seven Dials’ which, had it sold to the same extent that it was critically received, might have burned for longer and more intensively than it did.

 

‘Seven Dials’, like the two albums, ‘Western Skies’ and ‘Surf’ that preceded it, can be difficult enough to locate too. Unlike the records he issued under the band name, there’s an illusiveness to Roddy’s fully-fledged solo output that only adds to the lustre of the work. Indeed I’d been looking for a while for a couple of those more recent records when I picked up five of the first six Aztec Camera elpees, sold as a cluster, for the price of a packet of twenty cigarettes, instead. It must be the fifth time I’ve bought ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ – in various guises – at this stage. Where do the years go ? Probably to the same place as most of my favourite records.

 

Perhaps the stars had just stage-managed themselves into order for a reason ? On the week of the sixteenth anniversary of the death of Joe Strummer – whose face fell from a wall on the early Aztec Camera single, ‘Walk Out To Winter’ and whose considerable influence is audible at regular intervals throughout Roddy’s work – it was just an unseen hand at work again ?

 

The Hi-B bar on the corner of Winthrop Street and Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork can be regarded variously as a quaint local speakeasy known for some of the best spontaneous floor shows in the country or as a holding area for some of the most shameless spoons in Cork. And very often it’s just a mix of both. When I drank there during the 80s and 90s, the sitting-room sized boozer, with its leather-seats salvaged from a vintage Volkswagen, was a genuine one-off. Like The Late Late Show at its peak, anything could happen – and often did – and you were never quite sure who was going to appear next. There was no autocue either and some of the patrons would regularly go off-script and break into song or belt out a verse of a poem from the floor.

 

To the bar’s credit, I can never remember the old television there ever actually being on, although some of the regulars assure me that, during Ireland’s penalty shoot-out at Italia ’90, it was briefly flickered into life. What I do know is that the unsuspecting post-grad who reached up from the car-seats one night and tried to switch it on to watch the final episode of Twin Peaks, was unceremoniously fucked from a height by Brian, the cranky owner, and presumably banned from The Hi-B for life?

 

Television and football would have been much too crude for a man of such sophisticated tastes as Brian, whose love of opera and light classical was matched only by his rudeness and the disdain he held for some of his more unsuspecting customers, hapless students usually. Indeed I was there one evening as he made his way out from behind the bar to perform an erratic version of ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ for the handful of hardy locals before curling up on one of the leather seats and falling into a deep sleep.

 

The English Literature Society crowd were made to feel far more at home in The Hi-B and we were there one night when a poetry reading broke out around us. The material, like the poets themselves, was well-meaning but ultimately grim, brutal stuff, the sort of half-baked, badly-derivative word saladry you’d expect from locals playing to each other. It was after we asked to quieten down for the second time that we taught the better of it and made off.

 

As was practice, we took the short hop over to The Long Valley instead where, for the umpteenth time, we debated the merits of the finest poets and writers of our time. And where, long into the night, we summoned up the great works – ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’, ‘Rattlesnakes’, ‘The Queen Is Dead’, ‘The Joshua Tree’, ‘The Crossing’ and ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ – to drive our various points home.

 

It was in around the same part of Cork – upstairs at De Lacy House – where Roddy Frame played an ace solo support slot one night years later. ‘Do the Van Halen song’, someone shouted from down around the sound desk, hoping perhaps for the sweet cover of ‘Jump’ that Roddy had first included years previously on the back of the ‘All I Need Is Everything’ single. And Roddy took a moment, eye-balled the room and answered: – ‘I’m not doing ‘Hot For Teacher’ tonight.

 

And he didn’t, either.

 

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE :- FROM CANADA, WITH LOVE.

Like the small handful of others around these parts, it was during their U.K. and Ireland tour supporting Martin Stephenson and The Daintees in 1990 that I encountered Five Guys Named Moe for the first and only time. Between one thing and another, they went to ground pretty much immediately thereafter and, even now, not a whole lot is known about them, bar a skeleton outline. Although the group’s only album – also called ‘Five Guys Named Moe’ – is now available – almost – in it’s entirity on YouTube, the band behind it has been long-lost and is rarely, if ever, either cited or referenced. Given Canada’s reputation as an infrequent source of quality new music, the gaps in this particular story are all the more baffling. The record itself is virtually impossible to find and, try as I have done, I’ve been unable to locate the actual RCA issue via the usual sources. Google them and you’ll be invariably directed to the long-running musical of the same name and/or to a series of cabaret acts peddling scaled back versions of the same thing ;- so be careful out there.

moe album cover

Five guys Named Moe via http://saltyka.blogspot.ie

‘Five Guys Named Moe’ was recorded in Ringsend Road Studios in the heart of Dublin during the Autumn of 1989, produced by Donal Lunny of Planxty and Moving Hearts. But it’s not as if the band is readily recalled by locals either. True to form, Lunny also contributed bouzouki and bodhrán and also enlisted the help of some of his regular wingmen :- Ronan Browne plays uileann pipes on one track, James Kelly brought his banjo and Noel Eccles is credited as a hired-in percussionist.

album cover back

Five guys named Moe back cover via http://saltyka.blogspot.ie

Not that any of this should either deter or mis-lead you. Five Guys Named Moe peddled a terrific line in smart, sinewy pop music, in the margins with the likes of Divinyls, ‘Til Tuesday, Sixpence None Then Richer, The Pursuit Of Happiness and The Lotus Eaters, and with the lyrical whimsy of The Divine Comedy. Twenty-five years later, this seemingly phantom record still holds it’s own.

In keeping with the band’s general anonymity, they never feature either in the annals of live music in Cork, and why would they ? Only a handful of hardy regulars witnessed them open for The Daintees and the band then promptly disappeared into the mist. In terms of sound, tone, look and feel, they are the absolute counter-point to Nirvana. And, for that very reason, they embody every core difference between Sir Henry’s and De Lacy House.

I’ve long thought that De Lacy House never really received the credit it deserved as an excellent live music venue, especially between 1988 and 1994. Against the long-established might of Sir Henry’s, it was at a reputational disadvantage from the off, but promoters like Jim Walsh, the late Des Blair and the other Denis Desmond worked Don Forde’s top floor hard, and with no little sense of adventure. Far from rivalling Sir Henry’s, De Lacy’s complimented it instead, often presenting a far more diverse range of output, reaching across a broad spectrum, from folk and trad to out-and-out indie. And this may indeed have been a weakness as much as it was a strength ;- one could, quite literally, see anything there.

Personally, I loved the place.

It was there, towards the Grand Parade end of Oliver Plunkett Street, that I saw The Fatima Mansions, Roddy Frame, Power Of Dreams, A House, The Wannadies and numerous others test the support beams beneath the third-storey’s wooden floor. And where I also saw a host of roots acts too, most memorably the excellent Don Baker, a regular there in his pomp. It was where I saw The Fat Lady Sings play to twenty people one Sunday night [most of whom ended up on the stage for the encore] and where I once encountered an uncle of mine at the bar during a set by Thee Amazing Colossal Men :- he thought he’d come to see The Wolfe Tones. It was that kind of venue.

And it was in De Lacy House where I’d routinely get the nod on the main door from Tony Hennessy who, when he wasn’t kicking imaginary footballs down Barrack Street or refereeing youth football games [‘careful now lads, 2-0 is the most dangerous lead in soccer’], was easily Cork’s best groomed and most efficient doorman. The stairs may well have been a nightmare for roadies and humpers but the venue itself hosted many a memorable night for punters, and Tony was a fixture for all of the really great shows.

And none more so than on that midweek night in 1990 when Five Guys Named Moe opened for Martin Stephenson to a coven of well-meaning locals. They’d certainly been billed on some of the advance publicity and a couple of standard stills were certainly in circulation, one of which may even have been carried by The Evening Echo. On the night itself they played for no more than forty minutes, performing ten songs at a push, all of them I imagine from their debut album. Myself and my regular companion, Philip Kennedy, were immediately taken with their smart and sassy pop-songs and cutesy stage-banter and, as quickly as we could thereafter, both sought out the record. And, although I’ve given away more copies of it over the years than even ‘A Happy Pocket’ by The Trash Can Sinatras, I still retain one crudely down-loaded version that I absolutely treasure.

Meg Lunney

Meg Lunney via http://www.last.fm

The band was comprised of co-lead vocalists Meg Lunney and Jonathan Evans [who also wrote most of the songs], backed-up on bass and drums by Tom McKay and Graeme Murray respectively. Founded in Ontario, Canada, the group re-located to London and then onto Glasgow, from where they settled their line-up, attracted local management and signed to a major ;- in many ways, they are redolent of the intelligent Scottish pop sound of this time. And, in the great traditions of popular music, ‘Five Guys Named Moe’ was released in 1990 to the sound of silence and was dead on arrival.

Apart from a video for the first single, ‘She’s On A Mountain’, and obviously some form of tour support on that Daintees tour, the band was never really a priority-push for it’s label thereafter, a story all too familiar to a slew of Irish bands during the same period. All that exists on-line by way of a history is unofficial fan blogs that clips together a series of short personal testimonies from some of the band and that’s located at Saltyka and Gamekult

The record itself is eleven songs long and, while bearing testament to the classy writing ability – and no little ambition – of Evans, is also a tribute to Lunny’s uncanny knack for delivering real diamonds, whatever the context. While his track record as an innovative player and band leader has been extensively documented, he’s also taken a producer’s credit on a wide range of studio output, from Kate Bush and Elvis Costello to Rod Stewart and The Indigo Girls and a myriad of different points on all sides. The fact that his own on-line biography references Five Guys Named Moe in this company is revealing in itself and, in a mildly pathetic way, affords me some sort of cheer.

band small

Five guys named Moe via http://saltyka.blogspot.ie

Five Guys Named Moe, by their own admission, had been listening to the sweet harmonies of The Beatles and The Beach Boys and, very clearly, to the shared boy-girl vocal approach used so tellingly by Prefab Sprout on ‘Steve McQueen’. While their own record doesn’t [thankfully] attempt to so crudely replicate, those influences are certainly obvious ;- this is no bad thing and one can hardly fault Five Guys Named Moe for the scale of what they were attempting to do.

They may not have been the biggest or brashest band to ever play De Lacy House but, to two friends who stumbled on them by accident – or was it fate ? – they were certainly one of the most impactful. Even now, all of those years on, the record comes highly recommended.

‘IF YOU COULDN’T PERSUADE HENRY’S, YOU DIDN’T MATTER WHERE IT MATTERED’

Sign

Image courtesy of Theresa Lucey

 

This post first appeared last year on the blog for the Sir Henrys 2014 Exhibition held at Boole Library, University College Cork. It is reproduced here in full.

 

I can’t remember the first time I set foot inside Sir Henrys and I can’t remember the last time either but I remember clearly where the rose was sown.

 

I was a weedy teenager during the summer of 1982 [and for several other summers thereafter] when my father arranged a part-time job for me, my first. For eight weeks I stacked shelves and packed shopping bags, without any great distinction, in Roches Stores on Patrick Street. On my first day I was assigned to the biscuit aisle ;- on my second, to stack sanitary towels in the female toiletries section. I was asked by one of my co-workers – an older man whose hands were pock-marked with Indian ink – if I’d ever been ‘inside’. I was a teenage boy from Blackpool and, even thirty years ago, it was an obvious question.

 

Before the end of the summer I’d struck up with another pair of part-timers who made like they knew their music. One was obsessed with a nascent Dublin group called U2 and appeared to have form. He wore a bouffant centre parting in his hair, managed regularly by twin combs, clearly in honour of the band’s drummer. The other seemed to know quite a bit about Ireland’s darker underbelly. Dave Fanning, Hot Press, hash. Such things.

 

There was loose banter in the store-room one day about Sir Henry’s, with which both of my colleagues were familiar. There was a framed U2 poster to one side of the venue, apparently. Signed by the band. U2 liked Cork and someone’s relation helped them to set up their drums. I’d regularly seen Sir Henry’s from the outside. Hadden’s Bakery on North Main Street was on my family’s regular beat and, in the days long before paid parking, we’d frequently pull the car up outside. The place looked like a right toilet, but I never imagined that it would look even worse on the inside.

 

Myself and my friends were regulars at Sir Henry’s from around 1987 until 1994, when I left Cork for good. It was somewhere we went to hear live music and see bands, good, bad and often un-naturally ugly. Back then, when we knew nothing and cared less, music meant the world. And Sir Henry’s was one of the foundation blocks.

 

The place hosted some truly memorable nights and some remarkable live shows and, even at a distance of twenty five years I can clearly recall the most minor moments of some of the better ones.

 

In terms of Irish bands, it was in Sir Henry’s that Power of Dreams, The Sultans, The Franks, Engine Alley, The Subterraneans and Therapy? flowered in their pomp. It was in Henry’s too that arguably the finest and most perpetually ignored of them all, Into Paradise, played like their necks were on the line to a meagre scattering of, maybe, fifty people at a push. If anything captured their career in a snapshot, it was the continued indifference of Cork audiences. If you couldn’t persuade Henry’s, you didn’t matter where it mattered. Sir Henry’s could be cold and unforgiving and, while many were called, only the few were eventually annointed.

 

The Blue Angels being a particular case in point. Blue In Heaven were contemporaries and peers of Into Paradise from Churchtown, a suburb in South Dublin. A dirty and easily detonated live act, they found particular favour in Cork, and amongst the Sir Henry’s frontline especially.

 

Most of Blue In Heaven eventually evolved into a more considered and mildly diverting sub-species, The Blue Angels. But the Sir Henry’s crowd were having none of it and more or less refused to acknowledge they existed. The Blue Angels were famously sent packing for Dublin to the sound of one man clapping. They were a fickle crowd, the Henry’s lot.

 

But they adored their own too and I can still feel the fuzzy urgency with which my favourite Cork bands went about their thing on the live stage at Sir Henry’s [although plenty of other business was conducted off-stage too]. LMNO Pelican – who I later had the pleasure of producing – were restless, busy and catchy. I remember encountering a nervous and sensibly sober Brendan Butler for the first time, the Pelican’s drummer and heartbeat. ‘Alright player’, he opened, before heading straight to the gut of the matter :- he was chasing a critical view on a new Guadalcanal Diary compilation. We lost Brendan at a desperately young age in February, 2013 and its only right and proper that, in any potted history of Cork music, he is appropriately remembered and acknowledged. Rest easily, champ.

 

I concede now, as I did very openly then, to a soft-spot for local bands like The Bedroom Convention, Lift, Benny’s Head, Treehouse, Real Mayonnaise and The How And Why Insects, who later became Starchild and Crystal. These were the names that stood out then like they still do so now, a rangey peleton of domestiques in support of the prestige riders, lead by Cypress, Mine !, Burning Embers and The Belsonic Sound.

 

Of the blow-ins, my strongest recollections include live shows by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pavement, The Wedding Present, Babes In Toyland, The Sisters Of Mercy and That Petrol Emotion. It still rankles that I never saw either Microdisney or The Fatima Mansions live in Sir Henry’s :- in the great traditions of Cork politics, The Fatima Mansions tended to favour De Lacy House while Microdisney [although I first saw them support Depeche Mode in The City Hall in 1982] and me just didn’t have our clocks in sync and they’d fled Ireland years before I’d ventured out of Blackpool.

 

But while Sir Henry’s could destroy even the most vaunted of visitors, the inverse could be true too. Transvision Vamp played there once and, to my mind, blew the place limb from limb. ‘I wanna be your dog’ roared a leery drunk from the front row at the lead singer. ‘Woof woof’, responded Wendy James, as she sank a prozzie’s heel into his snout.

 

To my mind, Sir Henry’s rightful reputation as the country’s best live music venue bar-none was franked and sealed over three consecutive nights during the Summer of 1991. Facilitated through the offices of Ian Wilson and his team at Radio 2FM, Cork Rock was an annual shindig that assembled fifteen of the country’s best, aspiring and unsigned bands and flashed them in short-set form to sussed audiences speckled with talent spotters flown in – on generous expenses – from Britain and elsewhere.

 

The line-up in 1991 tells its own story and, among those bucks who faced the starter’s gun were The Frank And Walters, The Sultans Of Ping F.C., The Cranberries, Therapy?, The Brilliant Trees and Toasted Heretic.

 

It was, without question, the single most exhilirating weekend I can recall in my short, personal relationship with Sir Henry’s. And I still meet friends and acquaintances, now well into their forties and beyond, who legitimately lay claim to having been there before the finest generation of young Irish bands ever took flight with The Man.

 

Work subsequently took me to many more live venues all over Britain and Europe throughout the 1990s. And with a fresh perspective it was clear to me that, whatever we thought back then, Sir Henry’s was in many ways less artifice and more franchise. Every city that assumes a love of new music and a fostering of new acts has venues that sound, look and smell like Henry’s used to do at its peak. London, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Paris, New York.

 

In hindsight, Sir Henry’s was where the more intense kids went after they’d outgrown the secondary school disco and re-calibrated their ambitions. To me, one of the venue’s primary attractions was that it was on our doorstep [and not in Dublin] and, to those of us who, by 1986 and 1987 had grown into angry young men and women, this was of no little import.

 

My fellow traveller at this time was a friend I’d met in school, Philip Kennedy. During the summers from 1982 onwards, we’d started another, far more attractive form of rote learning and, in so doing, developed a love of Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Prefab Sprout, REM and, memorably, the frenetic political jangle of McCarthy [Morty McCarthy [no relation], was the key dealer here].

 

We spent our evenings swapping albums, battered cassettes, taped radio programmes, bootlegs and even demos. It was through Philip [and his regular dealer, Morty] that I first heard the famous first Frank And Walters demo, a tape that genuinely blew me away and which kick-started a long-standing connection that endures to this day.

 

It was Philip who, while I was away in America in 1988, harrassed Ciaran O’Tuama, then manning Comet Records with Jim O’Mahony, on a regular basis about a likely release date for the second Cypress, Mine ! album. That record, which is magnificent, has still to see the light of day, although I remain hopelessly optimistic, as I always did for that band.

 

Phil and myself hung out into the long summer nights on the railings outside his house on Saint Mary’s Road, by Neptune Stadium, talking the big music. Or just talking big about music. In our heads we cut an artsy dash along Redemption Road as we ferried our albums, always under-arm, for everyone to see. In reality, our parents may have hoped this was all just a fad, a passing thing. Sir Henrys became a natural extension of those nights, but it wasn’t the only one. My own favourite Cork venue was Mojos. Or De Lacy House. Or The Shelter. Or, briefly, The Underground, down a side alley around the back of Roches Stores. It was there that I once saw Sindikat, one of my favourite ever Cork bands, comprised mostly of past pupils of our old school. I may even have seen The Stars of Heaven there, a band who, had their store of stellar notices converted to sales, could have retired to stud after the release of their first album, ‘Speak Slowly’. Philip passed away on April 28th, 2006. He hadn’t yet turned 40 years of age and I never hear a cracking new album or see a storming new live band without thinking of how he’d so forensically de-construct them. And he was sharp and funny with it too.

 

One night we encountered Margaret Dorgan on Parnell Bridge ;- she was off to see a local band, The Pretty Persuasions, in The Phoenix. Margaret shared her concerns for the band’s well-being, worried that there might be were too many ‘posers’ in the audience.

 

‘The only posers there’, Philip told her, ‘will be on the stage’.

 

He was there at my elbow for years, through the good times and the even better times. He saw Sir Henry’s claim its many trophies and also bury a hell of a lot of bands who simply couldn’t cut muster. From wherever he is now, he knows where the bodies lie and, more importantly, why Sir Henry’s took shovels to their crowns.