No Disco

‘ANYONE FOR THE PAUL WELLER HEADBANDS ?’

‘Anyone for the Paul Weller headbands ?’ was an in-joke that often popped the air at the twin desks in RTÉ Cork that once constituted the No Disco production office. I heard this question put one night by a hawker outside The City Hall in Cork and, juveniles that we were, would deflect to it whenever we felt harassed by pluggers, chuggers, colleagues and life itself. The thought of anyone in a Paul Weller headband was so preposterous that it could dilute any situation. 

But there’s always a side-story. One of the more memorable inserts aired during the first season of the No Disco music television series in 1993/94 was an interview with Weller, the former Jam and Style Council frontman and song-writer who’d roared back to life with a couple of cracking solo elpees. I don’t recall that exchange as particularly revelatory or ground-breaking but it certainly struck a chord because, at the time, Paul wasn’t doing a lot of media. Just to get him in front of a camera was the first achievement and anything after that was a bonus.

The success of Paul’s first, self-titled solo album had confounded many seasoned industry-watchers. Difficult to credit it now given the career he’s enjoyed since but, after the demise of The Style Council in 1989, and still in his early-30s, Weller was thought by many to be a beaten docket. Little wonder that, in the spring of 1994, he had the music weeklies in his cross-hairs.

Paul was on the road with a terrific live band touring a second solo album, ‘Wild Wood’, into which Donal Dineen – the No Disco chairman – and myself had fallen head-first. Enthusiastic students of all points from Traffic and Van Morrison to Nick Drake and Neil Young, we were smitten by the pastoral vibes that sprinkled it, and played some of its key cuts from to a thread on the series. 

Like many contemporary male novelists, I too have parked a series of pivotal Top of the Pops memories, among which The Jam – Weller’s first group – blasting through ‘Going Underground’ in the BBC Studios one Thursday night, is among the most enduring. The spiky three-piece he led from 1973 to 1982, is easily among the finest British bands in popular music history. Indeed, alongside The Pet Shop Boys, Madness, Buzzcocks, The Smiths and New Order, I mark The Jam as one of the best post-Beatles British singles bands of all time. Channelling my inner and outer, Alan Partridge, the double album best-of, ‘Snap’, should be in every self-respecting music collection. It was certainly very prominent in mine and, once I’d played it to a crisp and devoured the sleeve notes, I worked my way backwards into the mighty Jam albums that under-pinned it, ‘Setting Sons’, ‘All Mod Cons’ and ‘Sound Effects’ especially.  

[As an aside, The Jam regularly surface on lists of the best and most influential three-piece groups of the last sixty years. It was maybe pre-determined, therefore, that, years later, Weller found himself sharing a label with my own all-time favourite three-piece, The Frank and Walters].

It was because of Paul Weller that I went full septic and re-shaped my bowl-cut, wearing my do for several years like he does on the front of ‘Snap’, with a canyon-wide centre-parting lashed into shape using two combs. The centre-parting was a popular look for feens in Cork during the 70s and 80s: in most instances more a spotty face look than a Small Faces one. 

I had to explain this to the progressive, denim-doused rockers in another-worldly barbershop on Paul Street called ‘Heads Only’, where I’d started to go as soon as I was allowed to have my hair cut without parental supervision. ‘Heads Only’ was sound-tracked by the double-album indulgences of Pink Floyd and Genesis, the walls lined with Roger Dean pastiches and the ceiling splattered with painted-on planets and stars. Had I asked them for a Roger Waters or a Steve Howe look, it’s unlikely I’d have had to go into such detail.   

In much the same stylistic vein, an influential Irish promoter, Pat Egan, opened a couple of record shops in Cork during the late 1970s and I was a regular nuisance around the bargain bins inside Rainbow Records, at the top of Patrick Street, next to The Swan and Cygnet pub. Pat didn’t just deal in vinyl and wax: Rainbow’s narrow body was lined with groovy badges, tee-shirts and life-sized posters of young wans who were so eager to get out onto the tennis courts that they neglected to pull on their drawers. Every week the staff would take a print-out of the week’s Top Forty singles and albums from Music Week magazine and sellotape it onto the counter. Many’s the hour I idled away in there poring over the detail, noting the names of the various bands, writers, producers and record labels listed on those charts. It was on that counter that I first encountered the name Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, The Jam’s long-time producer who, I later learned, and to no little disappointment, had actually been working with the band for years using his real name, Vic Smith.

I bought my first ever record – ‘Shine A Little Love’ by Electric Light Orchestra – in Rainbow Records and, just as importantly, my first ever skinny-tie, on which The Who’s logo was printed half way down. I’d only ever heard one of their songs, ‘My Generation’, but read that Weller regarded them highly. I wore that tie proudly for several years thereafter and, much later, decided to finally investigate The Who more fully. I thought they were average. 

 I was in from the get-go with Weller’s next operation, The Style Council, who were a poppier, bulkier and marvellously grandiose concern. I gathered up as much of their material as I could – and there was an awful lot of it, some even sung in French – and lost myself in the over-blown sleeve notes and the magnificent packaging, marvelling again at how and where popular music might take a fella. A year previously, The Jam were documenting the daily soap opera of life for suburban Britain’s working classes: months later, Weller was lounging, bare-chested, on a gondola, his unkempt mop-top now swept back and creamed-up. The video clip for the band’s third single, ‘Long Hot Summer’, was a study in homo-erotica, had any of us been clued in enough to appreciate it. 

Apart entirely from the music, The Style Council personified what  some of us were aspiring to from our desolate perches in Blackpool and Saint Mary’s Road. They were pretentious, engaged, politically in tune and sharp, and Weller was magnificently turned out. On the band’s inconsistent debut album, ‘Café Bleu’ and, later, on the mighty ‘Our Favourite Shop’ – which came in the most affected sleeve I’d seen – they were both outside the curve and firmly in the moment. On one level, they were the antithesis to my other favourite bands of the period – The Smiths, Prefab Sprout and R.E.M. – all of whom traded more in substance than sass and looked like they were togged out in dead navvies’ gear. 

The Style Council aspired to look good in order to play good but were an important musical counterpoint too: they dabbled freely and with more abandon than most, often with woejesus results. But they opened the door for us also to stuff that might otherwise have been lost in a welter of jangly guitars. 

I loved ‘Money Go ‘Round’ for all its clumsiness and, despite its student thesis, even ‘Soul Deep’ – released as The Council Collective – with its funky synths, percussion and shared soul vocals. ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ even began with the line ‘You don’t have to take this crap’ which, as opening gambits go, is certainly on the braver side: I just found it impossible to take issue with them. And, in one key respect, how could I have ? All that had really changed was the wrapping and much of that early Style Council material wasn’t too far removed from where The Jam had left off. From ‘The Bitterest Pill’ and ‘Beat Surrender’ to ‘Speak Like A Child’ is no distance at all, really, and that beefed-up sound had been a feature of The Jam’s lengthy last tour, where the three-piece core was augmented by brass, keyboards and backing vocals. 

The Style Council took off at a ferocious gallop altogether; Weller sounded like he was in a real hurry and it’s been regularly argued – not least of all by our hero – that he just felt increasingly restricted by the limits of the three-piece, guitar-led line-up. No harm reminding ourselves here that, when he announced he was breaking up The Jam, Paul was twenty-four years old.

After a sterling five years, The Style Council just ran out of puff. I will, if pushed, make a case for the band’s third album, ‘The Cost of Loving’, the weakest of its five elpees, even if it certainly sounds like the work of tired hands. Failing to crack the Top Ten with a fourth album, ‘Confessions of a Pop Group’ – a rare occurrence during what had been, by any standards, a spectacular and prodigious fifteen years – the band was dropped by it’s label and the main man disappeared for air off-Broadway. Weller had started the 1980s with The Jam’s terrific ‘Setting Sons’ album in the British Top Ten and ended the decade without a record deal for the first time in his adult life.

Once a regular cover-star across all of the different weekly music magazines, there was a spell during the early 1990s when Weller’s appearances in the inkies were confined to small box ads in the listings sections towards the back of Melody Maker and New Music Express. Those low-key classifieds were promoting new solo material, like the singles ‘Uh Huh, Oh Yeah’ and ‘Into Tomorrow’, which were available on his own label, Freedom High Records, the name of which told its own story. The success of the first solo album that followed saw him quickly back in harness at Go Discs, the label founded and run by Andy MacDonald that, at the time, boasted a small but spectacular roster. On which resided The Las, The Beautiful South, Billy Bragg, Beats International, The Stairs, Portishead, Trashcan Sinatras and also one of our own: The Franks.  

‘Wild Wood’ was produced by Paul with Brendan Lynch and picked up where the first solo elpee left off: two of the central themes are the natural world and Paul’s reflections on his own writing. The politics and campaigning, which had routinely deflected away from the music and perhaps even de-railed The Style Council a bit, were gone: pared back and spacious, the politics on those early solo albums are purely personal. ‘Wild Wood’ was released during the first urgings of what would becoming a defining British music movement led by Blur, Oasis and Pulp, and repeated an old trick of Paul’s: he was distinctly outside the curve and still central to the moment. 

As part of the tour to promote that album, Weller played a live show at The City Hall in Cork on Sunday, February 27th, 1994. I was there, lost in the spread of velvet bleachers up in the balcony during the late afternoon while the formidable band, featuring Yolanda Charles, Steve White, Helen Turner and Steve Craddock, went through it’s sound-check. After which Paul joined us on a small, pre-lit perch where we’d set up our gear, accompanied by a couple of record company handlers and the formidable presence of his father, John, his career-long manager, replete in a fashionable polo shirt and leather jacket. Despite the heads-up I’d been given, he talked freely and at length about his music, politics and creative freedom. About fifteen seconds into his first answer he brought up Red Wedge, socialism, the British left and the value of protest songs. We could have gone on talking all night and he needed little or no prompting: he was terrific company.  

The cameraman on that shoot, and on many of the other first No Disco set-pieces, was Joe McCarthy, one of the real greats – and earliest innovators – of Irish film and television. Among his many other talents, Joe was an award-winning director, a fine technician and an outstanding story-teller. He recognised John Weller’s name – and then his face – having seen him box at amateur level for England during the 1950s, and the pair of them were off.

As we wrapped up the interview, and Paul was shuffled away and out of the venue, Joe and Paul Weller’s old man were still locked into a fervent conversation about an amateur bout somewhere from years earlier. I can’t remember a single note of Weller’s show later that night but I can recall the important things. 

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.

DOLORES O’RIORDAN: 1971 – 2018.

During the first series of the RTÉ music show, ‘No Disco’, the presenter, Donal Dineen and myself travelled west to Limerick on a couple of occasions to pick up long interviews that we’d use to populate what was, in essence, a niche video clip show. And because the show didn’t have a bob in its budget, our filming model – if we had one – was based on piggy-backing regional news gathering units and working in tandem with the often irregular schedules of some of the RTÉ correspondents who were based outside of Dublin.

And this worked for the most part, at least during those early days, even if we routinely left high-profile musicians and songwriters hanging-on indefinitely in hotel lobbies and cafés while we awaited the return of a veteran film crew from the scene of a crash or a local political press jaunt.

On December 17th, 1993, The Cranberries were back in Limerick, their home-town, where, having recently become the first Irish band to sell one million copies of a debut album in America, they were being feted by the city council, local dignitaries, hail fellas and the great and the good of the local social circuit. At that time Limerick’s physical heart, like many other large Irish cities, was ailing and in need of urgent renovation and an infusion of imagination and renewal. And its reputation wasn’t helped either by cheap national stereotyping.

But not too far beneath the surface, Limerick was far more a fab city than Stab City, and this was nowhere more apparent than in its emerging alternative music scene which, for at least ten years from the early 1980s onwards, was as energetic and diverse as anywhere in the country, and often far moreso. If Tuesday Blue and Toucandance maybe set the early pace, and while The Cranberries would eventually become the focus, the real heavy lifting was done for years by distinctive, urgent pop groups like The Hitchers, They Do It With Mirrors, Those Stilted Boys and A Touch Of Oliver. To this day, the music they produced between them during that period provides a formidable soundtrack to a formidable city of formidable people.

I’ve written previously about that scene and I consistently return to it to remind myself of the prominent gulf that existed at this time between some of the loftier aspects of Dublin’s music establishment and those movers and groovers who emerged and took shape far from it. And often in spite of it. From 1988 until 1994, give or take, easily the most breathtaking and enthralling new Irish music was being stewed far from the capital, and it was easy to understand how and why.

Without the distraction of the maddening crowd, removed from the lazy sloganeering and what could often be an insidious and self-celebratory circuit, a handful of bands emerged from around Ireland that displayed as instinctive a grasp of the potential of sheer pop dynamics as they did brass neck. They were bonded, not by geography or [dis]location, but by a shared sense that they neither knew better or cared less.

They crawled from Larne, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Limerick, Galway and Cork and, the sterling, energetic fumes of a selection of local promoters, hacks, hangers-on and the odd national radio producer apart, were left largely to their own devices. At least until such time as the pennies dropped – literally – and, on the back of positive press abroad and genuine label deals for Therapy?, Ash, The Divine Comedy, The Cranberries, Toasted Heretic, The Sultans of Ping F.C. and The Frank And Walters, this crack squad ceased to be mere disconnected curiosities [‘there’s something in the water, boys’] and, instead became attractive propositions in many different aspects. Unlike many of their better-known, over-hyped Dublin-sponsored contemporaries who, to me at least, seemed to often exist in name only.

Donal Dineen fetched up in Limerick that afternoon, December 1993, for a pre-arranged exchange with Dolores O’Riordan and Fergal Lawlor, The Cranberries’ enigmatic singer and lyricist and practical pulse, respectively. The interview, which was aired on ‘No Disco’ in early 1994, had been arranged to coincide with the broader hometown celebration of the returning minstrels. To which they responded with typical courtesy and no little bafflement: for the band, it was an opportunity to thank their parents and their road-crew in the presence of their peers.

Fresh off of what could often be a torturous train ride from Cork, Donal dutifully bode his time until RTÉ’s mid-West correspondent, Cathy Halloran, had completed her own filming, satisfied that she had enough raw material for the two-minute report on the triumphant return of The Cranberries she was filing for that evening’s Six One News. At which point the master went to work.

Dolores was instantly taken by Donal’s choice of trouser: he was kitted out in one of his preferred ensembles of the time, a serious designer hoodie and salmon-pink corduroys. And as opening gambits go, ‘I love your pants’, delivered in the singer’s trademark Ballybricken accent, became one of the more memorable ice-breakers from the entire ‘No Disco’ canon. One million albums sold, still not caring less.

But Donal had been formidably briefed and knew well what he was dealing with. I’d enjoyed a long-running game of fox and hounds with The Cranberries and, without ever enjoying their patronage or breaching their inner circle, just wrote glowingly and consistently about them wherever and whenever I could. I was also, in a roundabout way, attempting to coax them onto the growing roster at Keith Cullen’s fledgling label, Setanta Records and, as I did so, I kept encountering some of the major, London-based scouts – Premier League opposition – in the most unlikely venues in the country. All of us chasing the same thing.

By now I’d profiled The Cranberries for the first time in Hot Press magazine, reviewed their stunning set at Cork Rock 1991 for the same publication and also for what was then The Cork Examiner [where, alarmingly, I managed to make a prediction that was to hold water] and saw them live in The College Bar in University College Cork and The Stables in what is now the University of Limerick campus, both times to what was general audience indifference.

I saw them live in The Shelter, a small patched-together venue on Cork’s Tuckey Street, on a magical bill assembled by Shane Fitzsimons and although they often appeared fragile and nervous, I just felt from early that Noel, Mike and Fergal were still just learning their instruments. And while Dolores may indeed have been socially awkward – she was a teenager – I never fell for the line that she was overly shy. The Cranberries knew well how to gild the lily.

And of course Dolores had already mastered her instrument: her voice, from the off, was heaven sent and, behind her, the boys were playing perennial catch-up. That learning process went on for several years, during which time the band was forced to grow up quickly and adjust or be lost. And any claims that The Cranberries landed fully-formed is just wrong: the facts see that off.

The first sessions for their debut album, ‘Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We ?’ were junked and the producer, Pearse Gilmore, who also managed The Cranberries [a reveal in itself] was dropped from both portfolios. The singles lifted from that record, ‘Linger’ and ‘Dreams’ were all but ignored, as was the album itself when it was first released in March, 1993. An early, holding E.P. for Island Records, ‘Uncertain’, was critically panned and while the band was always assured of a warm welcome back in Limerick, they were still a difficult and niche sell outside of it. One live show at Dublin’s Rock Garden during this time was attended by a score of paying punters.

By any critical standards, The Cranberries were far from the best band to emerge from Ireland during the early 1990s. Indeed, to my mind, they were far from the best band to emerge from Limerick. But they went on to become the biggest and the brightest of them all because, at their core, they had Dolores, whose voice and whose personality masked a multitude.

On the weekend of my twenty-third birthday in June, 1991, I saw fifteen of Ireland’s best emerging young bands perform over three nights as part of the Cork Rock shindig at the fabled Sir Henry’s venue in Cork city. The Cranberries performed half-way up the bill on the second night, surrounded on either side by the bulkier, more sophisticated and ultimately faceless pop sound of The Chelsea Drugstore [featuring Colin and Peter Devlin] and The Brilliant Trees, the terrific Finglas guitar band.

The Cranberries stood out because they didn’t physically stand out at all. And of the fifteen participating acts, they were one of only two – the other being the jazzy, swing-pop act, Bird – to feature a woman.

She was from another world altogether. Then, now and forever.

THE SWINGING SWINE / THE GLEE CLUB

 

Guest post by Hugh O’Carroll… 

In late 1980s Dublin, having played a bit part in The Babysnakes’ story and a bigger part in The Stormcrows’ story, I was called on by Mr. Eamonn Dowd to guest with, and then join, The Swinging Swine. They had formed in Galway and had already gone through some line-up changes but the core of the band was Eamonn on guitar, vocals and some fiddle, Joanne Loughman on vocals, Doug Steen on lead guitar and John Lalor on bass. They were using the drummer from The Stars of Heaven at the time but that was a fluid situation!

The guest appearance was on a show called ‘Borderline’ on RTÉ and it all went well, though a cameraman pulled out my jack plug, but the vibes were good and I joined for full-time fiddling.

 

Swinging Swine

The Swinging Swine. Picture courtesy of Hugh O’Carroll

 

The Swine had been playing in and around Galway for a couple of years in the same circles as The Stunning and the infant Sawdoctors and all three were garnering interest. We added Billy Geraghty to the line-up as our most permanent drummer. In Dublin we started a residency in a nightspot called The Speakeasy and this became legendary. The band thrived and started creating some really energetic folk, country, and rock music to the delight of an ever-colourful audience. Besides the highly engaging activities of the Swine onstage, there was always the possibility of a guest appearance by a Waterboy or a Hothouse Flower or other luminaries of the day.
We gigged around Ireland to pretty good audiences as well and started recording a lot with help from Larry O’Toole, Donal Lunny, James Delaney, Paul Thomas and other Dublin-based legends.

Eventually we released an EP with the lead track being ‘Them Ghosts Do Come’, which sneaked into the Irish charts for quite a few weeks and thus we got quite a bit of radio play.


RTÉ were good to us and we were constantly on TV, on shows like Nighthawks, Check It Out, Púiríní and other shows of the day along with other bands of the day, like Interference, The Dixons, The Stunning, The Golden Horde and the like, who were all good buddies of ours.


We switched our main Dublin residency to Walters in Dun Laoghaire and, if anything, this became even more exciting than The Speakeasy. We also played other big gigs, including a few Trinity Balls and a couple of Olympia gigs etc, aided by an array of management characters including Horslips legend, journalist Eamonn Carr and Robbie Foy.

We were on the verge of various different record deals and bigger gigs and tours when the years of constant gigging and partying and general rowing over wee things started to take its toll.

We’d been like a family for a few years but concentrated familiarity can breed a little friction and even though there’d been no lack of encouragement from our supporters, the band fell apart. The whole folk rock frenzy of the Swine was highly enjoyable though and certainly had some serious highs!

From the time I first joined The Swinging Swine I’d always got on really well, musically and personally, with Joanne. I gelled musically with all the Swine but particularly with Joanne. When the group broke up I joined Niall Toner’s Hank Halfhead, which was a country-rock band which had at times been home to many a famous individual! While gigging away with the boys I was writing and recording with Joanne. We were heading down a more left of field indie alley.

Kevin Boyle, a mate of mine from Hank Halfhead, was a wiz with a fancy four track and a nifty guitar and bass player. We recorded demos with Joanne on vocals, myself on guitar and fiddle and Kevin on guitar, bass and programming.

We tried some other mates in the band but the three gelled recording wise and we decided to do some recording with our old mate, Larry O’Toole, in Temple Lane studios.


We decided to call the band The Glee Club, which was a suggestion from a friend of ours inspired by the Cork band, Five Go Down To The Sea.

We mixed up the recordings and made a wee demo and sent out about 3 or 4 and got a quick response from Keith Cullen from Setanta Records, home to The Frank And Walters and The Divine Comedy, to name but two. Keith signed us up pretty quick and in a flash we were going to London for a spell.

It was agreed that we’d record a mini LP with Angelo Bruschini from The Blue Aeroplanes producing.

We went to Bristol to start and got some backing tracks together before heading down to Dave Stewart’s Church studio to do the tracking. It all came together pretty quick and the album was released in 1993 to reasonable critical acclaim. We gigged as a 3 with backing tracks and played a little around London with Radiohead, Slowdive and The Gang of Four to name a few !

We also gigged a bit in France and were getting good feedback from Europe in general.
Melody Maker then gave us a great review and we got more positive feedback from press in Ireland, U.K. and Europe.

Around this time it was decided we should fully move to London.

Kevin had a new baby and this was not practical for him so we were down to a core of two members, but we were joined by Magnus Box on bass and an auld buddy of mine from Dublin, Justin Healy, on drums. This line up played another few gigs and around this time there was interest developing from Ivo from 4AD records, home to bands we loved like The Cocteau Twins, Pixies and Dead Can Dance etc.

Ivo had spotted Joanne previously and loved the voice and was interested in working with The Glee Club but thought the mini album was a bit ‘rock’.

We recorded a pared down version of Need, with Ivo and 4AD’s opinion in mind.
The recording took place in The Drugstore, which was The Jesus And Mary Chain’s studio, with engineer Dick Meaney and both Setanta and 4AD were impressed. Plus, we were loving it too!

It was decided that we’d record some tracks in Eden Studios with Hugh Jones of Echo And The Bunnymen fame, with Dick and others engineering. This resulted in 4 new tracks which we were all thrilled with.

The end result of this period was an agreement that we’d add re-recorded versions of songs from the mini-album to the new tracks recorded with Hugh and release a full length album on Setanta in Europe and on 4AD in the U.S..

We spent most of 1993 recording the rest of the album in The Drugstore with Dick Meaney in London, where we now were living full-time. Magnus was still playing bass and a friend of his, Adrian Meehan, was playing drums as they had on the tracks with Hugh Jones.

Everyone was happy with the album when finished and it was decided that we would go to the CMJ festival in New York to push the album, which was called ‘Mine’. Mazzy Star and Mercury Rev, amongst others, played at the festival. We played three sets there ;- one at Sin É, which at the time was a buzzing venue having been home to some golden gigs by Jeff Buckley.

All in all the trip to New York was a success. We were featured on the excellent No Disco show in Ireland and reviews in the home country were glowing!

It was decided that we should move to the U.S as the reaction to the album was good as 4AD had pushed it with the radio stations and the band was now a long-term feature in the College Radio charts.

Setanta had a friend, Gina Orr, who was interested in managing the band Stateside and it was agreed that myself and Joanne would move to San Francisco to make the most of the fact that the 4AD push was exposing a lot of people to the band and we continued to do well in the College Radio and Alternative charts in the U.S..

We moved to San Fran and played some shows, just the two of us in S.F. and Los Angeles, and also went to play at South By South West, where other 4AD acts were on the bill and other people we admired such as Beck.

We were going down grand as a 2 piece but to get more into the shows we enlisted a bass player and drummer, Chris and Dave, to play along with us. Our record deals weren’t lucrative enough to have moved the English boys to The States for a year.

Gina got us a tour supporting the band LOW and off we went from coast to coast for a month. That was a great experience. We went down well and enjoyed their music too!
We went home to Ireland to do Féile, -The Trip to Tipp.

On the bill were lots of bands we liked, like Cypress Hill, Rage against The Machine and Blur, to name but a few.

Things seemed to be going really well but both 4AD and Setanta were losing interest in what was a slow build and, even though we were going back to America for another long tour, we kind of knew that they both mightn’t release another album for us.

It had been a great run for The Glee Club but when that tour finished and I realised that we were losing the support of our backers, I would have found it hard to go back to London and record another album and try to build momentum again. So I rang Joanne and we decided to stop things for a while.

The proceeding couple of years had been intense. Constant touring, recording and schmoozing is both living the dream and not so much!! Either way we went our separate ways for a brief 20 years and then, having meandered around the world and around Ireland playing all kinds of gigs, I started releasing some original material again ,singing a bit and collaborating with various people.

I got to thinking that I might collaborate again with Joanne and rang her up and
we re-gelled well over a single, ‘Platitudes’.

We decided, while doing some promotional work for the single, that we might as well do an album together, and this is how the new album ‘HIVE’ has arrived!
It’s been a long and winding tale but I’ve enjoyed recording this album as much as the earlier stuff.

The album will be released in July, 2017 and The Glee Club are about to announce a couple of gigs in Dublin, where it all started!

MORRISSEY AND MARR AND ROGAN

 

 

Johnny Rogan’s ‘The Severed Alliance’ was the first in-depth biography of The Smiths and, consequently, generated much reaction, not least of all from Morrissey, its loudest central character. Published in May, 1992, five years after the band split on the eve of the release of its fifth studio album, ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’, the book was launched during a peculiar period in the singer’s solo career. With Johnny Marr long gone free-lance, most visibly alongside Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant as part of Electronic, Morrissey had released his third – and, at that stage, easily his best – solo album, ‘Your Arsenal’ and had finally started to make commercial inroads into the American market. A market where, for multiple reasons, The Smiths had failed to generate traction. But in early August, 1992, he was forced off-stage at London’s Finsbury Park during a factious live show while supporting Madness and, not for the first time, faced suggestions that he was toying, deliberately or otherwise, with dangerous, racially-loaded themes and images.

 

Ten days after that show, the front of the New Musical Express carried a spectacular shot of Morrissey taken at Finsbury Park, in a gold lamé shirt, draped in a Union Jack and in front of a huge black and white backdrop featuring a striking image of two female skinheads ;- ‘Morrissey – Flying the flag or flirting with disaster?’, the supporting text asked while, inside, the magazine rolled out several of its brightest and best writers and went in hard and high. At the core of the argument – a recurring one ever since Morrissey claimed that ‘reggae is vile’ during an interview in 1985 – was one of the songs on ‘Your Arsenal’. ‘The National Front Disco’ tells of a young man, David, who fore-goes his friends in favour of more extreme right-wing company :- ‘Where is our boy? We’re lost our boy’, Morrissey sings. But it was the line ‘England for the English’ that provided the song with its most questionable edge, in much the same way as one of his earlier solo songs, ‘Bengali In Platforms’, had done years previously with the line ‘life is hard enough when you belong here’. The singer refused to speak to the N.M.E. for the guts of a decade thereafter and, in his own book, ‘Autobiography’, published in 2013, makes the not unreasonable claim that he had been deliberately targeted by the magazine which, at the time, had come under new editorial management. And he goes on to robustly defend himself too, something he chose not to do at the time.

 

 

And so it was against this curtain and to this soundtrack that ‘The Severed Alliance’ was published. The Smiths had enjoyed an almost exclusively positive relationship with the music press during the band’s momentous five year history and often the raw devotion of some of the writers at the inkies mirrored that of the group’s support base, much of which was slavish. The band, only ever together for five years, was prolific, prodigious and panned gold at a furious rare. In support of its releases, off-stage and on, Morrissey gave sensational copy and, as a cover star, had become an enormous draw ;- the music magazines couldn’t get enough of The Smiths and even the most passive press releases from the group’s publicists were given serious news currency. And yet, even by 1987, little of substance was known of them – and of Morrissey, especially – outside of the carefully tailored narrative that had been spun out since the band first blazed into public view. Indeed one of the more interesting aspects of the story of The Smiths – and it is, even now, an incredible story – is how the band so carefully controlled its own story, especially when, in almost every other respect, they were clearly unmanageable. I can’t recall another group from 1980 onwards about whom so much was written but of whom so little of real substance was ever given away. Most music fans – and many more non-music fans, it seemed – had an opinion on The Smiths supported, one way or another, with either leggy clichés or the party line, and no more than that.

 

morrisseypointticket

 

And I, like many of my peers, was one of those. I was a devoted Smiths fan, the band who, to all intents, changed the way I listened to music forever. In fact, for years, they were more than just a band ;- its glib to say so now but there was a time too when The Smiths were a genuine lifestyle choice and, for five glorious years, I obsessed over them. I’ve regularly trotted out the line that they were, for the post-punk generation, what The Beatles or The Clash must have been to those who went immediately before us ;- incendiary, liberating, vital, all-consuming. And I saw that manifest directly in the cross-demographic nature of their audiences :- around Cork, The Smiths’ appeal transcended the usual parameters of class, gender and creed and their two live shows in The Savoy on Patrick Street attracted punters of all hues and from all arts and parts. Which is why I found ‘The Severed Alliance’ so absolutely compelling. Here, for the first time, I thought, was a profile of one of my favourite groups that went in where few had dared, finally putting real body on what had, in the ten years since ‘Hand In Glove’, been a finely-curated skeleton. The book clearly and comprehensively confirmed what many of us had long suspected, and which I’d heard around the gossipy fringes of the London set at the time :- that Morrissey was an obsessive and abrasive character who, often giddied by money, had still to get over the wonder of himself.

 

The book is especially strong on the personal and social backgrounds of the primary cast of Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce, the almost fairytale aspect of much of the group’s early career and is particularly effective when dealing with the band’s demise in 1987. The popular narrative at the time of the split was that, in the familiar traditions of popular music, the group simply fell asunder as its constituent parts grew apart. And there is no doubt that, on one level, this was indeed the case. But, using a wide breath of core interviewees – Morrissey was the only one of The Smiths who declined the offer to take part – and three years of forensic research, Rogan gets deeply in under the bonnet. And in doing so, got spectacularly on Morrissey’s wick.

 

It is to Rogan’s credit that he fairly wires into much of the mythology – plenty of it created by Morrissey and Marr – that surrounded the band, concluding that, far from being the last great gang in popular music, four like-minds shaking the world in unison, there was a point where The Smiths were really just another business construct too. And as was revealed subsequently through the British courts, the rhythm section of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce were, essentially, no more than salaried session players. In delivering his verdict in a High Court case brought by Joyce against Morrissey and Marr in 1996, Judge John Weeks tellingly described Morrissey as ‘devious, truculent and unreliable’. Which more or less tallies with Johnny Rogan’s summary in ‘The Severed Alliance’.

 

And yet for all Morrissey’s disdain – he dismissed the book before and after its publication, despite claiming to not have read it and launched a coquette-ish personal assault on Rogan – its long struck me that, had the book been released nine months earlier, much of the fall-out from Finsbury Park would have been, if not wholly averted, at least diluted. Given how meticulously Rogan delves into Morrissey’s own background, it would at least have provided far more of a substantive context to much of the singer’s social and cultural peccadilloes.

 

morrisseystadiumticket

 

Like all four members of The Smiths, Johnny Rogan is an English-born child of Irish emigrant parents who, from where I stood, sounded like a pretty compelling character in his own right. I liked the cut of his jib and his approach to his work ;- ‘The Severed Alliance’ was his tenth book and, backed by a store of knowledge and a wide breath of reference, he was never going to be unduly intimidated by Morrissey or blinded by the sparkle of the tidy one-liner. Unlike, it has to be said, many of those who’d encountered him over the years and rarely went too far beneath the surface, myself included. And I alluded to that in my Melody Maker review of the book, which originally appeared in the edition dated May 9th, 1992 and which we’ve re-produced below.

 

The following year, I brought Johnny Rogan to Cork and interviewed him at length for the ‘No Disco’ television series. He gave us formidable copy and, once we’d stopped recording and put the camera gear aside, I walked him across The South Mall and took him for a long lunch in The Long Valley, a regular ‘No Disco’ perk that reflected the extent of the programme’s entertainment budget. Over door-step sandwiches and mugs of coffee, he held court for ages and went into fine detail on some of the key, and most contentious, passages in ‘The Severed Alliance’ and, for good measure, told a host of anecdotes he couldn’t, for various reasons, include in the book. But we spoke too about a couple of his other favourite bands – and subjects of some of his other books – notably The Byrds and The Kinks. And, at one stage, I think he even removed his shades.

 

MORRISSEY AND MARR – THE SEVERED ALLIANCE

[Omnibus Press]

 

Morrissey doesn’t like ‘The Severed Alliance’ much. He has wished motorway death on its author, Johnny Rogan and would, apparently, rather lose the use of his limbs than pick it up and flick through it. All of which adds some kind of strange allure to this, Johnny Rogan’s tenth book, one born of frustration, fascination and a belief that : ‘The Smiths were the most important group of the Eighties. Rogan originally slated 15 months for this book. And now, three years later, it’s here.

 

‘The Severed Alliance’ is a wonderful love story. About two young men desperately in love with records and pop music and fame and style and themselves. Two young men who just knew that they were going to do something. Along the way, starry-eyed bit-players like Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke pop in, a bus-full of managers say hello and we get to meet the ‘belligerent ghouls’ who ran Morrissey’s schools. We meet lots of women in Morrissey’s life [Linder, his mother, his aunts, Jo Slee, Gail Colson, Caryn Gough and Sandie Shaw], and there are some great photographs. This is very ‘warts-and-all’. And why not?

 

Rogan turns over lots of stones. He digs deep, reads Morrissey’s juvenilia and he dares to question the man’s motives, sources and opinions. But it is Johnny Marr that provides the central slab here. For almost the first time ever, here he is talking about The Smiths songs, about guitar lines and recording. Here he is, the pragmatic street-wise, cocky kid with a guitar, a pop-zelig who always knew where to draw the lines and who always played to his strength. The kid with the quiff who rescued Morrissey, handed him a vat of fame and some of the best songs ever and who, ultimately, created both the band and the singer as focal point and mouthpiece.

 

The story of The Smiths is a charming one, filled up with naivety, downright stupidity, lots of laughs, loads of contradictions and some frightfully important pop music. Sometimes it’s cold, often pitifully sad, but always pinned through with an air of utter romance. The Smiths were Morrissey and Marr. Even at the very end, amid confusion and despair and bitterness and the court-room, there is an on-going respect. The Smiths, strangely, remain guarded and gang-ish, still very respectful of what they had and what they did and who they were.

 

‘The Severed Alliance’ paints a wonderful picture of all that and it’s a bloody marvellous book. There is, of course, more to life than books like this, you know. But this week, at least, well …. Not much more.