Into Paradise

THE LONG FELLA

Fanning Sessions

My mother died almost one year ago and my family will mark that first anniversary as she’d have wanted ;- a quiet mass for the handful, a decent feed afterwards and then a long trade of general tittle-tattle during which we’ll remind ourselves of the quirks that set her apart and the exacting standards she set for herself everywhere.

It’s not as if she’s gone too far, either. Her ashes sit in a small box on top of a piano back in the house and, every morning, my father comes in and switches on her favourite radio station for her ;- in life and in death she is wrapped up in music and adored by her husband.

Joan kept a keen eye on all those performers and singers she encountered over the years, whether they were rank amateurs and hams treading the boards around town or some of the better known cadre who dossed down with us unannounced in Blackpool over the years ;- it was like her own personal investment portfolio. She loved showbiz and the stage and respected all of those brave enough to take the floor and let their voices, fingers and feet do the talking.

And she was charitable with it too :- our house served for the first year as the unofficial accommodation partner to the No Disco television series. We literally took the do-it-yourself, no frills, no budget ethos of that series home with us to the northside. For years, my mother and father provided regular bed and board to the those acts who were travelling through and maybe doing us a favour and never once was a question asked or a bob sought.

David Long, the one-time Into Paradise mainstay, was one of my mother’s favourites and, from on top of that piano, she’ll be glad to know that he’s still out there, making a racket, slowly changing the world verse by verse. He passed through the house a couple of times over the years but that was enough ;- behind his imposing frame is a soft, sensitive and funny soul and one not to be confused with his band’s gritty outward appearance. And he clearly left an impression, ‘the boy from Into Paradise’.

Togged out in their familiar home kit of funeral coats and working boots, and with their heads often bowed, Into Paradise rocked a look that was in keeping with their sometimes heavy, post-industrial and clinical new-wave sound. But contrary to popular – or in their case, largely unpopular – perception, behind the veneer the band was witty, well-read and sharp. And I should know :- I spent an inordinate amount of time as Into Paradise’s butler and saw miles of European motorway from the front of their tour van.

There was a consistent internal tension about Into Paradise too, even if much of their legend has been freely gilded over the years. The band was genetically drawn to the precipice and, although this was to ultimately un-do them, it gave them a competitive edge for many years, during which they were as compelling a draw as they were as engaging in company. Anything was liable to happen, and frequently did, with Into Paradise :- the band specialized in emotional self-harm, regularly claiming defeat from the jaws of victory and usually in spectacular fashion.

I haven’t seen any of the four of them in twenty-five years, not since the band finally called time in 1993 when, after years of slow cutting, their body just gave in. Once Into Paradise lost their deal with Ensign after the release of a fine, fine debut album, ‘Churchtown’, in 1991, there was really no recovering the ground ;- there’s only so long one can continue to push a wheelchair across sand.

Long fronted them and was, to all intents, their primary heartbeat from 1986 until their very end, although he’d been active on the Dublin 16 beat for several years before that alongside the likes of Shane O’Neill and Declan Jones, who went on to form Blue In Heaven. And, in the quarter of a century since we last clapped eyes on one another, he’s posted regular dispatches from well below the radar :- he’s made more music as a solo artist than he did as a member of a band and it can be difficult enough to keep up with him.

I first met him in Cork in 1990 when he travelled south to do a piece with me for a youth television series called ‘Scratch Saturday’. And after which we repaired to, appropriately enough, The Long Valley on Winthrop Street where I fed the weary traveler with one of those remarkable door-step cheese salad sandwiches and a quart of porter. And it was there, around one of the iron-wrought tables just inside the door, that a long relationship was born.

I’m as fascinated by Long now as I was that afternoon ;- he’s one of my favourite Irish songwriters, another of those who rarely gets the credit owed to him. Into Paradise have long been purged from the history of contemporary Irish music even if, as Setanta Records’ first significant breakthrough band, they pioneered a pathway that, at the time, was less travelled by Ireland’s countless wannabes. It may be no harm to re-instate history as a core subject for all of those currently writing regularly about Irish music.

I’m not sure if I ever fell out with Long because I’m not sure if he’s ever worked like that, not even towards the end of the road. We both saw a band slowly, painfully and maybe inevitably come asunder – one of us from the inside, the other from immediately outside – and, like any long-term relationship running its course, the deathbed weeks can often be the most difficult of all. But Into Paradise, to my mind, died with their docs on and, as can often be the case, completed some of their best work in the shadow of the angel of death. I’m not sure what more any of us could have done to prolong the trip and, in the end, nature just took its own course anyway.

Our relationship is helped, bizarre as it sounds, by the fact that I actually know very little about him. We have a shared love of music, we soldiered together in the trenches in the name of the cause and, I think, have a healthy respect for one another :- ultimately, that’s as much as some of us ever need. He’s an enigmatic friend who, when the time is right and when he has new material or something of value to share, gets in touch by e-mail. And he rarely wastes his words.

For the last number of years, the pair of us have been back in more regular contact, trading tips, connections and links over the lines between South Dublin and North Kerry, where he’s billeted. The seaside air in An Riocht suits him too because he’s in a ripe, prodigious vein of form. And, earlier this month, he released his fourth solo album, ‘In Headphones’, a nine-track assembly of curios, new songs and re-worked old ones ;- his own ‘A Hatful Of Hollow’.

There’s a restlessness to much of his solo output, and no clear form line to speak of. Dave’s own material – and there’s a lot of it available on-line at this stage, especially if we consider his work with The Whens, a lively, experimental, three-piece – veers wildly and widely, often from track-to-track and routinely from smoggy, metal-machine music to elegiac, pared-back folk song. It took him a full twenty years to issue his first, full-bodied solo album, 2013’s ‘Water Has Memory’ and, ever since, it’s like he’s frantically making up for lost time.

Those expecting familiar guitar tropes will be disappointed :- the closest Long has ever come to re-purposing Into Paradise, up to now, is on the circular drawl of the epic ‘Gravel’, from that first elpee. A simple riff song with a repeated, angry refrain – a long-time speciality – ‘Gravel’ gives a teasy glimpse of where the band was going and the shape it was in just at the point of implosion decades earlier. Otherwise it’s an exotic pick and mix. Dave’s 2017 album, ‘Cities’, for instance, has no guitars at all on it:- it’s an ambient concept album that captures the sights, sounds – and perhaps even the smells – of twelve well-known cities in a series of quirky sound vignettes.

Into Paradise diehards will be far more comforted by ‘In Headphones’, an uncomplicated and far more confident affair that, like James Iha’s ‘Let It Come Down’ solo elpee [1998], barely breaks a sweat. Acoustic-led for the most part, the album was recorded with the guitarist, Adrian O’Connell and producer, David Ayers, who has worked previously with another Setanta act, David Donoghue of The Floors. And who have both put real shape and quality tanking underneath it :- it is easily the most convincing of Long’s solo material.

It’s also his most retrospective and personal by a distance, and a thick stream of nostalgia and memory courses through it from the off. The opening cut, ‘Underground Song’, appeared in a more spartan form on Long’s ‘The Cult Of Two’ album as ‘Mysterious Sorrow’ and namechecks Fearghal McKee from Whipping Boy and Jeff Brennan, the booker at the fabled Underground Bar in Dublin. ‘Me and Fearghal in The Underground, waiting on Jeff to turn on the sound’, Long sings, before clipping a couple of lines from the Whipping Boy single, ‘Twinkle’, as the song races off and Long calls out to his peers from the small Dame Street venue that shut its doors at the end of the 1980s.

It was on the tiny stage in a corner of The Underground Bar that Into Paradise first road-tested one of their signature songs, ‘I Want You’ and, in keeping with the overall mood, Long rescues it from the drawer here, douses it with fresh guitar lines and delivers a fine take on one of his own best songs. Originally included on the band’s 1989 E.P., ‘Blue Light’, ‘I Want You’ is as magnificent a tortured love song in its own way as the Elvis Costello number of the same name, even if, unsurprisingly, it enjoys far fewer plaudits

A couple of the other cuts will also be familiar to regular Long-watchers ;- ‘London Is Fog’ and ‘Time Passes’ re-surface here having first featured on ‘Water is Memory’. ‘If She Stays’ is older again and initially appeared on the eponymously-titled 1997 debut album by Supernaut – which briefly re-united Long with Shane O’Neill – and which is up there with the best of Dave’s formidable canon, rolling with the easy efficiency of Turin Brakes or Grant McLennan. Indeed, the only time the record takes the lower road is on ‘Herons Fly’ which, with its stabby synths and noisy clutter, is out of kilter with the slide guitar lines and brushed drums that dominate the gut of ‘In Headphones’.

But its quietly reassuring to my middle-aged self to know that he’s still kicking out the jams and doing so strictly on his own terms. Anathema as it might be to some of the die-hards, he’s also included a Christmas song on ‘In Headphones’ even if, at this stage, it’s unlikely to propel him into the middle ground.

And that, I’m sure, is all fine too. Long has always been a peripheral figure on the home front anyway and, even during those years when Into Paradise were in their pomp – and like Stump and Microdisney before them – the scale of their achievement elsewhere was often lost back in Ireland. Where the band’s billing was at odds with its status in Britain, initially at least, and where, among their most zealous advocates was the late music writer, David Cavanagh, who captured the band’s magic in a series of terrific pieces from the late 1980s onwards and was generally enthralled by the racket they made.

There was always a bravery – and maybe a naivete too ? – to the manner in which Into Paradise went about their work. And, I’m glad to say, Dave has remained loyal to that ethos well into his solo career. He shows no signs of easing off any time soon, either.

Having completed his most sure-footed collection of songs yet, and about to take the boards again in Dublin, one could say that the comeback is underway. Except that Long never went away in the first place ;- he just took his time.

CODA :- ‘In Headphones’, like all of Dave’s solo material, is available on-
line. He supports A Lazarus Soul in The Workman’s Club in Dublin on May
3rd next.

ALWAYS THE QUIET ONE

 

One of the more pleasing aspects to The Trashcan Sinatras’ recent live appearance in Dublin’s Workman’s Club was the size of the crowd. Although the show was a fully seated one and the space in the room curtailed as a result, it was still sold out well in advance of the band’s return to a city where, over the last twenty-five years and in an array of different venues – some of them, thankfully, long razed to the ground –they’ve struggled to attract any audiences at all.

 
I’ve been there with The Trashcans from the start and I’m certain I’ll be there with them at the end. And in reminding myself of that, I’m stoutly ignoring the last two decades of whats been almost absolute apathy and wide-scale indifference towards them and their work. But there are others like me out there too, clearly, and its either the mind-bending effect of the remarkable summer heat, twenty years of word of mouth, the power of the internet – or all three – that’s brought us together under the one roof, of a Tuesday night, in Dublin, during the heart of the holidays.

 
The Trashcans are far more master craftsmen than Golden Pages-listed snagsmiths and, back in the city for the fifth or sixth time since 1996, they’ve maybe finally found a Dublin venue that suits them and that doesn’t impede what they’re trying to do? Down on the south quays, within touching distance of The Clarence Hotel – a gaudy monument to size, scale, success and the very antithesis of The Trashcans and whatever it is they’ve achieved – The Workmans is easily one of the best venues in the country for this mild-mannered, strictly middle-aged carry-on. Small enough to be able to read the set-lists from the front rows if you can extend your neck far enough and cavernous enough around the back to lose oneself if needs be.

 
But I like The Workman’s best, I think, because it lends itself to the soft and the silent, neither of which I get half enough of. And so because of that, The Trashcans – stripped back to an acoustic three-piece to play their first two albums, the rascally first-born Cake’ and it’s imperious, more sedate follow-up, ‘I’ve Seen Everything’ – are already ahead on away goals before they’ve even left the dressing rooms. Throughout the long show – there’s even a welcome interval that’s used variously as a toilet break, beer stop and an opportunity for one loud, feuding couple to resolve a running row they’ve been having since just after the band came on-stage – their set is sprinkled with hush. And is received with a reverence last seen when my late mother famously hosted The Stations Of The Cross in our house one time back in the early 1980s.

 
I’ve never been convinced that popular alternative music, particularly in Ireland, has ever felt completely comfortable in the calm. Almost exclusively since Rory Gallagher was in his pomp– and, to be fair to him, he could do slow and serene with the best of them – far too much of it has been plagued by fever and speed. And of course its long been a useful mask :- many’s the outfit who’ve covered over their obvious creative cracks with a battery of pedals and effects, absolute on power-drive and, whenever in doubt, just went one louder. So much so that you’d think we’re nursing a decades-long, post-showbands hang-over where there’s a deficiency to the natural order if audiences don’t go home sweating.

 
Regular Sentinel subscribers will know all about the soft, kindly magic that races through Hinterland’s 1990 album, ‘Kissing The Roof Of Heaven’, the Dublin band’s only long-form release on a major label. And although it’s far from a perfect record – it’s lyrically clumsy in part, it mistakes introspection for heavy-handed nostalgia elsewhere etc – there’s real beauty in its vulnerability. ‘Kissing’ is a dark, lonely record that isn’t afraid to let the silence sit and play a part.

 

From the first time I saw Donal Coghlan and Gerry Leonard perform the sullen single, ‘Dark Hill’ on an RTÉ youth magazine show back in the late 1980s, I was sold. Hinterland were elusive and out on a limb and, although both of them had good cutting and obvious form, I wasn’t surprised to hear that they were a studio-construct, to all intents, who rarely ventured outside the bunker or breached the fourth wall.

 

 

Ten years after them, Ten Speed Racer were in the vanguard of another wave of fine, spiky Dublin guitar bands, many of them seduced by pedal power. Like another excellent local outfit making hay at the time, Bawl [later Fixed Stars and then Pony Club], they also featured three brothers – Dermot, John and Patrick Barrett – among their number. But that novelty aside, they had plenty more to recommend them :- The Racers were a full-bodied outfit cut from the same layered, pop-smart traditions as Silver Sun and Posies who, over the course of their career, released two decent elpees and held their own as best as anyone. For the sake of reference and by way of an introduction, I respectfully suggest both ‘By My Side’ and ‘Fifteen’ from the band’s second, self-titled album and ‘Don’t Go Out’, from their ‘Girls And Magazines’ EP. Which, apart from its obvious affability, also hints at what one of the band, guitarist Joe Chester, would do with his subsequent solo career.

 
And some of 10SR’s various components are still at it. Like David Long of Into Paradise, about whom I’ve recently written here, there comes a point where its just impossible to turn back or change the horse. Joe Chester is easily The Racers’ best-known graduate ;- he quickly found a vocational calling as a sure-footed producer and arranger but, as a writer and performer in his own right has also released some of the most endearing records in the recent history of mildly alternative Irish music.

 

For the last decade or so, he’s worked alongside another of his former bandmates, Patrick Barrett, on a loosely-assembled but stylishly-fitted outfit called The Hedge Schools who, earlier this year, released their third album, ‘Magnificent Birds’, one of the most under-regarded but quietly impactful Irish issues of the last twelve months. It’s the assembly’s third long-player in ten years and, in their current guise at least, the last :- a couple of short messages posted recently on-line by the co-leads suggest that they’ve amicably drawn a line in the sand. And hinting too that this fine, vocational work will continue in some way, shape or form in the future.

 
And so, as one phase is boxed off, it’s probably only fair to approximate an Irish band that never really existed as a band at all and who, because they don’t do boisterous, struggled to ever have their voices heard over the clatter. Its a line once walked, to similar effect and with the same sort of purpose, by Hinterland.

 
But placing them, even for the sake of critical reference, is a hard ask and they’re difficult enough to catalogue ;– too rounded to be truly alternative, too dark to be wholly popular, often just too quiet to be heard. Structurally they’re cut from the same seam and have the same broad shape as This Mortal Coil in as much as Barrett’s songs are enabled by his producer – acting betimes more like an interpreter – and then hand-polished by a small cohort of like-minded guests. Its an exercise in discretion, pretty much, and often not much more than the sound of silence. And all three Hedge Schools albums are beautiful, velvet affairs because of that.

 

The band’s second long-player, ‘At The End Of A Winding Day’ [2015], for instance, features a typically minimal use of percussion and the first lonely, almost reluctant jab appears only introduced towards the end of the record’s last track. Lyrically, meanwhile, The Hedge Schools’ songs are forever on the run :- Barrett’s material is awash with ghosts, past and present, and its fair to assume that they’ll never be heard in weight-rooms, during motivational seminars or on any broadcast medium until well after the watershed.

 
The writer himself covers the background to ‘Magnificent Birds’ in detail on a recent pod-casted conversation with Cathal Funge, so its not really necessary for us to dig much further into the creative origins here. But it’s safe to say that the material continues along established lines :- the songs are at the same time proud and shy, personal and slow-moving. Barret is literally singing all his cares away, his terrific voice given air by his producer on a record that, in respect of a general theme, confronts the vagaries of family life.

 
One song is about his elderly mother, another about his daughter and much of the rest of the record snapshots the break-up of a long-term relationship. All standard lyrical tropes for sure, but they’re dealt with here in a manner I’ve not encountered on a domestic release since ‘Kissing The Roof Of Heaven’, where a similar use is made of the space.

 

And that’s reflected best, perhaps, on ‘Magnificent Birds’ standout, ‘Still, Life’, where Barrett’s fine voice is captured beautifully over a plaintive piano line, redolent of both ‘Puncture Repair’ by Elbow and maybe not entirely co-incidentally – the saddest song in all of contemporary alternative music, The Blue Nile’s ‘Family Life’ – and emerges screaming through the whisper.

 
But the tone has, by then, long been set :- the title track and the record’s lead cut, opens and closes with what sounds like a long, low note on an old, foot-powered church harmonium, not so much a statement of intent but, rather, a call to prayer. And that mood endures, more or less, for the guts of the hour :- on ‘The Flood’, ‘Undertow’ and ‘Navigate’, ‘Magnificent Birds’ is a search for healing that wouldn’t be out of place at a Novena.

 

To that extent its perfectly in tune with the last Joe Chester album, ‘The Easter Vigil’, which we’ve previously dealt with in detail here and which may well be its great sister piece. The sphere of influence and musical reference extends as widely as you’d expect, from Shelleyan Orphan to The Gloaming and various points in between, while the lyrical ambition is rooted in the soft, personal meditation that underscores much of the work of Van Morrison, especially his mid-1980s albums, ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher’ and ‘Poetic Champions Compose’.

 
And so its maybe no surprise that I can’t listen to The Hedge Schools without feeling the  iconic pull of Seán Ó Riada’s ‘Ceol An Aifrinn’, to which many of us of a certain age were first exposed in primary school. A musical accompaniment in the Irish language for a Catholic mass that was initially performed fifty years ago, ‘Ceol An Aifrinn’ is easily one of the most enduring and distinctive pieces of contemporary composition in the creative history of the state.

 

And which, coming at it decades later and knowing far more about ourselves and the more complicated and darker aspects of our own history, might easily have been sub-titled ‘Did Ye Get Healed ?’.

 

JOHNNY MARR AND THE LONG SHADOWS

Into Paradise

courtesy of Fanning Sessions

 

Johnny Marr’s kept his Into Paradise hang-ups very quiet, hasn’t he ?

The Dublin band, who endured for the guts of a decade from the mid-1980s, were one of the first acts signed to Keith Cullen’s then-fledgling Setanta Records imprint and paved a path on many levels for a far better known slew who came after them. They were never the coolest or the most radical band on that label but were certainly one of its most complicated and, consequently, its most interesting. And they certainly generated no little blind devotion :- it’s just that there was never quite enough of it to help them pay their way.

 

 

David Long, the band’s formidable singer and leader, is easily among my favourite ever Irish songwriters and performers. For those who still haven’t converted, and history tells us that there may be a few, I respectfully suggest the band’s debut E.P. ‘Blue Light’ [1989], it’s 1992 single, ‘[Why Don’t You] Move Over’ and ‘Sleep’ [1991], Into Paradise’s own ‘How Soon Is Now’. That epic, seven-minute riff-song first featured as a b-side and was once played in its entirety on Irish national afternoon radio by Larry Gogan, a long-time champion of the band, as he was indeed of all new Irish music. And I recommend it as as good a starting point as any.

 

All three cuts – and I could have easily mentioned twenty-five – are fine representative aspects of the band’s more dominant personalities ;- serrated guitar pop, Crombie-cut indie and sulphurous rock music.

 

I’m happy to report that, although we’ve basically completed a full-on life swap in the twenty-five years since we last shared a bar tab, I’m still in touch with Long, even if its  irregular enough stuff.  He e-mails on links to his most recent work and general updates from his garret in An Ríocht and sounds, on the surface at least, like he’s keeping busy and well.

 

That once-furious, dense Into Paradise sound has been lazily characterised, diluted and transubstantiated over the years but I can still picture Long – with respect to Seamus Heaney and his gorgeous poem, ‘North’ – ‘hammering away at the curve of a bay with the powers of the Atlantic thundering behind him’. A vintage craftsman, whiling the small hours in an improvised studio, knocking out the riffs, whipping it up on the biscuit tins, sorcering out the tunes.

 

I’ve been thinking of him a lot over the last few weeks – him and the secular powers of the Atlantic – as I’ve lazily warmed to the new Johnny Marr album, ‘Call The Comet’. Which, like a lot of David’s own solo material – and at this stage there’s been quite a bit, even if you have to search hard for it – is another personable, breezy affair cut in the restless likeness of its creator.

 

 

Marr’s story is a remarkable one by any standards and although those who came of age during the 1980s with a love of music have long been familiar with the bones, I’d contend that its body lacked real meat until his first fully-blown solo album, ‘The Messenger’, in 2013, after which he finally cut loose. His fine memoir, ‘Set The Boy Free’, released three years later and in which he captured the topline aspects of a long, prolific and varied career, joined many of the dots. While beyond on the main stage, the stick-thin bridesmaid, long-time sidekick and flexible hand-for-hire, finally made it up the aisle and found a genuine voice and an escape route out of the shadow.

 

‘Call The Comet’ will almost certainly be troubling the All-Star selectors at the end of the season as they try and get the year’s best and most stylish fifteen releases into their best positions. Its certainly the most cohesive of Marr’s three solo albums to date, for sure. And even after almost forty years at the crease, there’s something perennially re-assuring about his work. Indeed it’s instructive to see it listed chronologically if only to remind oneself of its scale, spread and the diversity of it, and the easy command of the fundamentals that have long under-pinned it.

 

But he’s never been one to pause it on the past, either. Like the great Cork hurler, Christy Ring, he’s long known that better is always around the corner.

 

Into Paradise were never as overtly influenced by The Smiths as they were by two other Manchester bands, Joy Division and Magazine, the group founded by Howard Devoto after he left Buzzcocks in 1977. Like many other sussed young bands during that period, they certainly saw how The Smiths took a more lateral approach, not just in respect of their sound and demeanour but in how they related to the music industry itself. Even if  much of it was uncompromising to the point of being ultimately self-defeating.

 

And Into Paradise would have certainly seen merit and possibilities in there somewhere :- every half awake, semi-decent emerging group at the time did.

 

The band’s most dominant primary influence, though, was a relatively outlying band from South London called The Sound, founded and led by the late Adrian Borland, who subsequently produced the first two Into Paradise albums, ‘Under The Water’ and ‘Churchtown’. The Sound, whose positive critical notices never translated into either a broader breakthrough or good coin, were themselves a powerful cross-breed ;- a pent-up, new wave combo who took many of their lyrical cues from the cold simplicity of Joy Division and who sound, for the sake of reference, like a compound of the best of Echo and the Bunnymen, early Cure and even earlier U2.

 

 

The Sound were falling apart at the same time as The Smiths. Johnny Marr ended 1988 playing live with Bryan Ferry and was quickly co-opted into the ranks of The The while  Adrian Borland was recovering from a serious mental breakdown as his band – critically-acclaimed and a commercial disaster – had reached the end of its days. A world away in Dublin 14, meanwhile, Into Paradise were finally making hay, natural heirs on the move.

 

Several of their peers – Something Happens, The Stars Of Heaven, A House and especially their South Dublin neighbours, Blue In Heaven, with whom they’ve had a long-standing association – had already driven on, inked deals and were dropping quality wax. But Into Paradise were late bloomers in this respect – a recurring theme across the group’s career – and were never so much behind the curve as utterly unsuited to it, almost disdainful of it.

 

Its not that they were in any way less personable than any of their associates within the milieu at The Underground Bar on Dublin’s Dame Street ;- if anything, they were terrific fun and always great company. Its just they just lacked a simple signature dish. But quick wins and affable pop songs never came easily to them, and there was no ‘Snowball Down’, ‘Burn Clear’, ‘Widow’s Walk’ or ‘Across My Heart’ to remember them by. While others tied themselves to verse-chorus-verse-bridge-verse-fade, Into Paradise preferred to deal in texture, sound, nuance and fracture instead.

 

They sounded like they just wanted to implode live on stage, where they were genetically incapable of being as playful, flippant or fey as they were off of it. And they were also exceptionally straight – you could say they were dour, albeit smelling of cordite – and, both live and on record, just couldn’t do the light stuff. Which is to their credit, but …

 

Into Paradise aspired, instead, to the layered, grimly fiendish industrial sound pioneered by another late producer, Manchester-born Martin Hannett, at Cargo Studios on Kenion Street in Rochdale during the late 1970s. A sound that’s arguably best captured on early releases by the self-same Joy Division and Magazine, and perhaps also on key releases by Gang Of Four and Psychedelic Furs.

 

[As an aside, I don’t believe its entirely co-incidental that Into Paradise were so well got with another of their peers, An Emotional Fish. A meaty four-piece who, beyond their obvious pop songs, also traded in the same sort of depth. And much of whose later and more interesting material, especially that produced and engineered by Alan Moulder, is as curious and expansive, if not always as successfully executed, as anything that emerged from Ireland during the 1990s. And I include My Bloody Valentine here].

 

The Smiths were together for only five years, during which Johnny Marr was at his most prolific. He regularly reminds folk that he was 24 when the band split and that he’s now spent six times as long working for himself as he did as Morrissey’s writing partner. But even as a callow youth, he boasted a fine, broad frame of reference, from where he borrowed and lifted as he pleased.

 

Morrissey and Marr might well have invented indie – Marr also does a fine line in self-deprecation – but in as much as Morrissey routinely dipped into his own catalogue of favourite books, plays and films for couplets, one-liners and pay-offs, Marr too would infrequently pull a familiar riff or an old refrain from beneath his fisherman’s hat.

 

 

And he’s even borrowing from himself at this stage. One of the softer cuts from ‘Call The Comet’, ‘Hi Hello’, lifts its gut from two old Smiths numbers, ‘Half A Person’ and, particularly, ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, which itself pulls from Patti Smith’s ‘Walking Barefoot’. While over the course of its dozen other cuts, ‘Call The Comet’ is an anorak’s all-you-can-eat buffet.

 

A record that lyrically imagines a future where human values [must] trump commercial and economic ones, Marr moves wilfully from one past further into another, at several junctures all the way back to Rochdale. And at its most interesting, ‘Call The Comet’ summons the emerging, desolate sound of Manchester just before The Smiths. The titles alone – ‘My Eternal’, ‘New Dominions’, ‘Actor Attractor’ – nod to those two ground-breaking Joy Division albums, ‘Unknown Pleasures’ and ‘Closer’ that, perhaps above everything else, succeeded in capturing the mood and humours of the forlorn suburbs in which they were conceived.

 

Elsewhere, the raw popular mandate is served by the radio-friendly, souped-up opener, ‘Rise’, the fibrous ‘Hey Angel’ and the closer, ‘Different Gun’. While in the middle order, ‘Spiral Cities’ borrows a guitar strain from ‘A Love Like Blood’ by Killing Joke. No bad thing, either.

 

But I can’t listen to it without thinking of Into Paradise. ‘Call The Comet’ is awash with familiar David Long and Adrian Borland tropes :- the melodies are multi-layered and, lyrically, the world is presented as a daunting prospect, the future riven with fear. To trainspotters and long-time Into Paradise oiks, the record is flecked with familiar bits, riffs and progressions.

 

‘The Tracers’ – the first single could, for instance, be any one of a number of  Into Paradise cuts, but particularly ‘Burns My Skin’, from the band’s only major label album, ‘Churchtown’, released in 1991. And when Marr takes those lethal guitar solos – some of which are even up there with the magnificent lead lick on ‘Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before’ – and then spoons on those production layers and the insulation – I’m reminded of that prime Into Paradise cargo. Much of which has long been ignored, still-born, derelict and forgotten.

 

I’m reminded of those greatest hits that never quite cut through :- ‘Here With You’, ‘Piece Of Paradise’, ‘I Want You’, ‘Bring Me Closer’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Red Light’, ‘Dreaming’, ‘Sleep’, ‘Move Over’ and ‘Stand Still’. And you’d be thinking of Long, squirreled away down in An Riócht, laughing away to himself against the sound of the Atlantic thunder.

 

 

But ‘Call The Comet’ is also the sound of contemporary technology, time and money, luxuries rarely afforded Into Paradise, and Marr’s grasp of production is as finely-honed and precise now as it was since he first began to formally direct the sound of The Smiths thirty years ago.

 

Into Paradise were never blessed with Johnny Marr’s gift for casually knocking out the  wonder so effortlessly and so prodigiously. But thirty years on, its interesting to hear their many ghosts, deliberately or, more than likely not, on one of the spikiest and most robust records of the year.

 

‘Call The Comet’ is a terrific Johnny Marr album, easily his best full-blooded solo elpee. But much of it, to these ears, is also the biggest and brightest sounding album Into Paradise never quite made.

 

Adrian Borland endured an adult lifetime of mental illness and took his own life in April, 1999, when he threw himself in front of a train in London. He was 41 years old when he died. A number of years previously, he arrived unannounced into Dublin and, for a while, was taken in and minded by Into Paradise. He was drinking heavily, was in a bad way and it required a real effort to have him repatriated with his family in London.

 

This aspect of his life is covered in depth and at length – as of course is his career in music – in Marc Waltman’s 2016 feature-length documentary film, ‘Walking In The Opposite Direction’.

 

His band, The Sound, were a primary influence on many bands, not just Into Paradise.  And perhaps, consciously or not, even Johnny Marr.

BACK TO THE GLENSIDE WITH INTO PARADISE

welcome to churchtown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN THE ROCK GARDEN

 

I worked for a couple of years with my friend, Jeff Brennan, in The Rock Garden, the live music venue and sometime restaurant that opened in Crown Alley, in Temple Bar, Dublin, almost 25 years ago. It was the late Aiden Lambert, Blink’s manager, who brokered that job for me and I’ve written about our relationship here. Officially, I was charged with publicising the wide disparity of acts booked into the old cellar but, in reality, I was hired to play a straight bat to Jeff’s jokes and routines. And there were many.

 

He’d moved the short distance to The Rock Garden from The Underground Bar on Dame Street where, working with his father, Noel and Johnny, the weary drayman, he held court and booked bands for most of the 1980s, during a period of terrific optimism and no little quality for alternative Irish music. Bands like A House, Something Happens, The Stars of Heaven, The Slowest Clock, Rex And Dino, Power Of Dreams and [Backwards] Into Paradise took root in The Underground and, for years, were regulars on the tiny stage that often defied the laws of, if not physics, then certainly health and safety. Paul Page, Whipping Boy’s guitarist, was also one of that number – onstage and off – during The Underground’s heyday and has written about the peculiar sense of purpose that characterised the place in an excellent post on his own blog. That piece is available here

 

live at the underground

IrishRock.org

 

The Underground Bar features prominently in any credible history of the live music circus that pitched up around Dublin in the wake of U2’s initial breakthroughs in Europe and America. The venue hosted many fine emerging bands between 1984 and 1989, helping several of them to add muscle, over time, to what were often callow bodies at source. And to this end, Jeff’s role in the real affairs of state shouldn’t be under-estimated. Although he took his music very seriously, and while he was a generous support to any number of dreamers who landed in on top of him from all sides, he treated the more helium-filled aspects of ‘the industry’ with a healthy suspicion.

 

From behind the small bar, he traduced many reputations over the years while running a decent and honest shop founded on the principles of fair play and good spirits. What was once The Underground – ‘don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore’ – is now a lap dancing club and, tellingly, the old venue isn’t commemorated by either a plaque on the wall or by Jeff’s hand-prints on the pavement outside.

 

During his first couple of years at The Rock Garden, Jeff certainly had the place fizzing. The step up in scale, size and budget – if not necessarily class – gave him a bit more leeway and he snagged memorable live shows from the likes of The Frames, Radiohead, The Afghan Whigs, Pavement, Swervedriver, The Young Gods, The Sultans, The Frank And Walters, The Senseless Things, Adorable and countless others, all of whom lugged their back-lines in around the back of Crown Alley and down the concrete and iron stairs to set up.

 

New Year’s Eve was always a real highlight at The Rock Garden and I’d make sure I was back up from Cork in good time to see out the old and to ring in the new there. Maintaining a long-standing tradition started back in The Underground, Jeff would opt for heft, clout and loud guitars to headline the last night of the year. Sack, Blink and The Brilliant Trees in their pomp regularly stuffed the place and, playing to fans, friends and families, they’d always blister through mighty sets. And then, as the night wore on, Tony St. James and The Las Vegas Sound would take the late-shift and carry us over the threshold and out into the open promise of the twelve months ahead.

 

Along one whole side of the venue, meanwhile, the bar staff would be royally lashed and the punters at the taps would often stand six, seven or eight deep, all of them roaring for porter. Jeff and myself would mingle readily around the place, annoying the door-staff, insulting the easily insulted and roll out what was a well-honed double act. And, once the doors were eventually locked behind us, well into the tiny hours, we’d kick back with a handful of regulars, stretch the New Year out in front of us and begin to unpick the world and many of those – saps, twits and dibbicks among them – who sailed in her.

 

I formed some wonderful friendships down in The Rock Garden and I fell out with as many people there again. But never once did I feel like I was actually working. In the early evenings I’d often drop whatever I was doing and slip down into the belly of the beast to eavesdrop during a sound-check. From deep in the shadows I heard Sack repeatedly do ‘What Did The Christians Ever Do For Us’, ‘How The Stars Became Stars’ and ‘Omnilust’ one afternoon as they were fine-tuning their shapes. And those, indeed, were the days.

 

We answered to a bearded, heavy-set American boss called Mark Furst, who fronted the venue. Jeff was tasked with booking decent live music into the place on a nightly basis and, given the vagaries of live music, we had some right old disasters over time, some of which defied all odds. Pulp and The Cranberries both died spectacularly in The Rock Garden ;- The Cranberries attracted eighteen paying punters and, at one point, the band and it’s handlers out-numbered the crowd.

 

Pulp pulled into Crown Alley one lazy Saturday afternoon and, although the band was on the cusp of a real commercial cross-over in Britain, they attracted less than one hundred die-hards on the night. Half of the band’s backline had been stolen after a show in London the previous evening and, compounding their humour, Pulp’s dowdy tour manager wasn’t overly pleased to find that Jeff had billeted them in what was then proudly slugged as ‘Dublin’s cheapest hotel’ – a ten-buck-a-night bed-and-breakfast up on Gardiner Street. ‘Sorry to hear about the gear’, Jeff told the group. ‘But I’m sure the rest of it will be robbed on ye tonight’.

 

I had a real soft spot for The Dadas, a Northside combo led by Andy Fitzpatrick, who later went on to buttress William Merriman’s excellent Harvest Ministers ;- I honestly thought that The Dadas’ honey-coated canon had a real sparkle to it. After they attracted less than a score of paying punters into what could often be an unforgiving old cavern, Fursty took off on one in the offices upstairs. Like Brian Blessed in leather biker’s keks, he upped the ante and the volume ;- ‘The Dodos [sic]’, he drawled, ‘will never be booked here again’. An arrangement that, I suspect, suited the band as much as it suited the venue.

 

But we had our nights of glory too. The Rock Garden was accessible, available and well-equipped and, during the time I spent there, we hosted a wide range of artistes, musos, pissheads, chancers, thieves and poets – the full travelling circus. Indeed one of the most memorable performances there was actually by  a circus ;- The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow fetched up with bearded ladies and a bloke who hung breeze blocks off of his nipples and his penis. The queue outside wasn’t the only thing that stretched far and long around The Rock Garden that night.

 

We’ve lost a fair few of our own stellar performers in the years since and, when Jeff and myself meet each other these days, it’s more likely to be at a removal or a funeral than it is at a venue. We met twice last year ;- at our friend Aiden Lambert’s funeral last month and back last April when we waved off George Byrne, the writer and collector. I always doubted whether George actually liked The Rock Garden, and he certainly didn’t like it as much as he did The Underground where, over the years, he saw frenetic live sets from a host of his local fancies.

 

One Easter Saturday night, during a Something Happens/Cypress, Mine ! double-bill – and after a hard few days of it with both bands in Cork – he fell down the end of the stairs and onto the stage. This trick was far more difficult to complete in The Rock Garden although, to be fair, George manfully attempted it on several occasions. I wrote a longer piece about George after his funeral in April, 2015, and that piece is available here.

 

It was in The Rock Garden that I first met Uaneen Fitzsimons. She’d been a college-mate of the two Dónals – Dineen and Scannell – and, like the rest of us, was standing-by, waiting for a break. And it was in The Rock Garden, with the Dónals, Des Fahy, Jeanne McDonagh, Jim Carroll, Ritchie Flynn and Eamonn Crudden and many others that the basic idea for the No Disco music television series started to form. When Uaneen took No Disco’s reins from Dónal Dineen, it just felt like we’d completed another circle and made good on a conversation that may, or may not have been had years previously in Wild, one of the many clubs run upstairs at The Rock Garden.

 

Martin Egan was another gentle soul who’d turn up unannounced in Crown Alley every now and again and he’d leave with a handy support ;- Jeff would always make sure that he was looked after and sorted. Martin is one of that number of decent scouts we lost in the trenches during the last twelve months.

 

It’ll be ten years next April since I stood under my friend Philip’s box up in The North Cathedral in Cork and, with his brother and a handful of others, lifted him out and on his way. I think about Phil a lot ;- we lived in each other’s pockets as we dreamt our way through our teens and into our twenties and yet I often wonder if I ever really knew him at all ? But when The Trash Can Sinatras unveil their upcoming album later this year, I’ll instinctively ponder how he would have rated it ? He once ended up backstage with them after a sparsely-attended show in Nancy Spains in Cork and spooked the band by knowing their back catalogue more intimately than they did themselves.

 

I moved out of Cork twenty-five years ago and, for the most part, tend to keep a respectful distance now. I love the streets and the lanes around the Northside but I’m not one of those exiles who consistently yearn to get back there ;- I left for a reason. But for an important few days every Christmas, I’d make my way back home from Dublin and, before I’d even get to my family, I’d have already dropped in on Phil at the shop on Patrick Street where he worked.

 

And, from the door of the premises, we’d determine the year’s best releases and consider the previous twelve months, just rabbiting on. He’d make sure I knew just how great everything was and it would never dawn on me to probe a bit deeper ;- it just wasn’t how we rolled. Music and records brought us together in the first place and it was music and records that we last spoke meaningfully of. Indeed in truth, music and records were all we really ever spoke of meaningfully, more’s the pity.

 

That journey home becomes harder and more important by the year. Three weeks ago I hit the road South straight after Aiden Lambert’s funeral and I couldn’t wait to leave Dublin behind me. I made several other car trips over Christmas and ran up a fair few miles and, every now and again, from behind the wheel, my mind would drift off a bit. And I’d think about Aiden. And George Byrne, Tony Fenton, Mick Lynch and Martin Egan. In the low light I’d picture Uaneen and Pat Neville and Eugene Moloney and Brendan Butler ;- some of whom I knew well, some of whom I barely knew and yet all of whom, back the road somewhere, were there with us during the bright nights and the dark nights down in The Rock Garden and The Underground and Sir Henry’s and wherever else.

 

But I’d keep driving on. Because we’re always just driving on.

RockGarden

Courtesy of Nessa Carter