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Brian McMahon Brand New Retro

Brian McMahon Brand New Retro

Brian McMahon Brand New Retro
It is only natural that the 1916 Rising Centenary has seen the launch of, literally, countless books, exhibitions, tours, talks, radio and TV programmes. Yet, as Niall Hope’s review of From Pogrom to Civil War: Tom Glennon and the Belfast IRA indicates, what makes history interesting, important and relevant are the real life stories of everyday people. That was also what I learned from Michael McCaughan’s insight into R.F. Foster’s book, the Vivid Faces: the Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, about the Rising: it’s all about the people. It sounds simple enough, yet sometimes we only learn about the great people (generally men) and the great moments in history. It is as if they came from nowhere. This is clearly not the case.

It is clear that sometimes everyday people find themselves in extraordinary times, or at extraordinary moments. To me, history’s great task is to help us understand not just these moments and events but the people and their everyday lives.

That is why I think that Brian McMahon’s Brand New Retro is not only a brilliant book; it is also a really important one. It is a lavish tome: hardcover, 208 pages, meticulously researched and beautifully designed. It is very clearly a labour of love. It might even be a work of art. I should make it clear that I don’t know who the author is, just in case this fountain of praise makes it sounds like I do. He is behind the brilliant blog, Brand New Retro, which has consistently uncovered and displayed gems from Ireland’s rich, bizarre and unusual popular culture history. It is one of the three Irish culture internet sites that I have learned the most from. The other two are the equally brilliant, Come Here to Me site, and the equally meticulous, Irish site. The book Come Here to Me: Dublin’s Other History (Fallon, McGrath and Murray) was my previous ‘book of the year’.

Back to Brand New Retro. Why do I rate it so highly? Here is one reason: I have spent so much time reading it and looking at it, and only now, for the first time, have I noticed that the stool on the front cover is glossy. Now that is care and attention. As I said, a true labour of love.

To understand the Irish music industry, we need to know the details of the small bands, the unknowns; most of information, naturally, comes from the big stars. That skews our perception of the industry and how it works. And here we have pages of material on the little bands, the might-have-beens, as well as the early features on the future stars. For example here we have pages from the incredibly important Black and White fanzine. U2 and the Blades were featured in 1979 and the magazine champions both of them. What is key about the early Irish music fanzines of the punk and new wave era is that they positioned local acts on the same playing field as international acts. The fanzines (Raw Power, Heat and Vox were the best designed) were not just writing about how much they loved local bands. They were also writing (and interviewing) the international acts they loved too.

This is really important. They were placing the local acts alongside the best new international acts. The fanzines were champions of a global music sub-culture: and very importantly for the local scene, they were stating that local Irish acts belonged to that global scene. This was revolutionary. The fanzines clearly argued that a new youth culture was challenging the accepted order, a youth culture with a Do-It-Yourself attitude, and Ireland was part of it.

And here, McMahon’s pages reproduced from Black and White invite the reader to consider how in same issue included articles about the Virgin Prunes, reviews of the Dead Kennedys, Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltaire and bootlegs too. This was not the mainstream. The book’s section on Music and Showbiz, over 40 pages of images, really brings home how the local music scene developed. It also captures the creative spark of Irish youth, even in the 1960s when Ireland was very remote from the global music industry. It also captures some of the bizarre local offerings from the Irish music industry. Brand New Retro includes ads for Michael Landers: the ‘five-year-old singing sensation’ whose parents decided to send him touring the music venues of the land. It is worth noting that the politician, Oliver J. Flanagan, argued strenuously that it would be a violation of his rights to prohibit what many saw as exploitation of a child.

The local music industry was shaped by domestic and international factors and the book includes images of early Rory Gallaher, Phil Lynott, RTE Guides, Big Tom and the Mainliners, DC Nien, Joe Dolan, nightclubs, discos, early gay rights campaigns, as well as visits from Madness, The Specials, Depeche Mode and Rod Stewart. The latter remind us that the second wave of ska, originated in Britain, was a huge cultural force for Irish youth in the 1980s. Ireland was at the crossroads and this is well documented here.

The sections on Sport, Readers’ Lives, Lifestyle and Fashion also show Ireland at work and at play. Brand New Retro then is not just a series of snapshots, or a scrapbook of ‘how things were’. It is a vibrant document of a changing society. A society being challenged by forces from inside and outside. And as McMahon makes clear in this incredible collection, popular culture was often a means by which accepted practices were challenged. This was a world where Youghal Carpets were a source of national pride and Cork possessed a competitive cosmetics firm. Take a bow, Melinda.

It was a land where people were consumers, increasingly young people. As we see here, they were urged, cajoled and persuaded to buy Dingos jeans, Clarkes shoes, Glen Abbey tights, and Dulux paints. And they might even get Green Shield stamps with those purchases.
If the book is a shrine to love it is features a fair share of heartbreak. While some forces advance youth culture, there will also be others who will exploit it. The 1971 magazine advertisement for Hibernian Insurance, for example, features a crying, vulnerable young mini-skirted lady. The emotive headline reads: ‘Sue won’t be going to the dance tonight’. Why? Because heartless thieves have broken into her flat. She made the mistake of not having insurance and she now dabs her eyes with a hankie amongst the strewn remains of her possessions: including a box of Weetabix, coat hangers and boxes of matches. Presumably the Gardai were now looking for well-dressed, breakfast-hating, non-smoking criminals.
McMahon points out how the advice given in Ireland’s ‘problem pages’ generally consisted of: ‘discuss with a priest’ or send off for that special book from Easons (book shop)’ (p. 179). But this highlights how prominent the clergy were in Irish cultural life during this era. Yet, this was often in under-documented and surprising ways.
Some of the most startling images are the early 1970s covers of the magazine, An Gael Óg (the Young Irish). They evoked music, fun, freedom and even boys and girls having fun together. The poignant drawings, which must have been cool in their time, feature a young man playing records as well as a young woman playing guitar with concentration. Listen to, and playing, music was a source of pleasure. Another cover features a young man and woman singing, notably she is the guitar player. One even features what appears to be a joyously happy telephone conversation between a young man and young woman. Perhaps the most surprising image though, is of a young couple on a motor bike. The mountain scenery in the background looks familiarly Irish. Yet the smiling young woman holding onto a young man as the motorbike transports them together was not the traditional Irish establishment image of a rigid separation of the sexes. In one of the book’s many surprises I learned that the magazine was published by the Christian Brothers order whose vice-like grip on Irish education has been well documented, often chillingly, elsewhere.

The book perfectly encapsulates an ever-shifting cultural terrain. And it is clear that the consequences of these shifts were important. The gleeful images shine with important examples of struggles over consumerism and commercialism; uniformity and self-expression; as well as craft and identity.

A fun book. A beautiful book. An important book. Everyone who wants to understand Ireland’s history should get their hands on it.

Michael Mary Murphy

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2015 Gigs of the Year: Heathers

Gigs of the Year

Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology
15 September 2015

In mid-September, the sounds of both the veteran and new upstarts of punk rock were still fresh in my ears. The annual Blackpool Rebellion summer festival is a parade of punks that would be spectacular anywhere. Yet it is particularly spectacular because of its location. While, as John Robb so eloquently stated, Blackpool is the ‘tatty seaside town’ personified, the punks gather and stomp in the mighty and magnificent ballroom that in the past hosted the bright lights of ballroom dancing, comedy and even politics. Do the punks have a good time? Oh, yes they do.

And here I was in another seaside town, this time the Dublin suburb of Dun Laoghaire when I chanced upon a gig that was so quietly ‘promoted’ that it was almost a secret. Naturally I recalled the first time I saw the Heathers live, in the summer of 2007, in what I believe was their debut gig, in Dublin’s Lower Deck venue, appropriately by the banks of a canal. I saw the band many times in the two or three years after that introduction. And I never saw them do anything less than a fantastic show despite the variety of venues in which they performed. I saw them in a suburban Deansgrange back garden, and I even remember them playing in the lobby of the Project Arts Centre with their extraordinary ability to make everyplace feel like home, and every member of the audience feel like a welcome guest into that home.

To my ears, Ellie and Louise MacNamara, who make up the Heathers, were the best band of that mid-2000-2010 generation. And so tonight, at a post-tea time gig, was like seeing old friends I had not seen in a long time. The audience was hardly inspiring; in particular a few drunken student lads who were probably giggling at the same jokes as they had been in secondary school. Banter and bluster and pre-drinks, I suspect, or ‘prinks’ as they are now known as in this part of the world.

If I was playing for them I wouldn’t have felt the urge to deliver my best….but that’s where I am differ from Heathers. Ellie and Louise played as fine a gig as anyone could expect, the sort of gig I imagine people play when the audience numbers in the thousands rather than the tens. It was noticeable how much stronger their voices are since those early, precious and spell-binding gigs. Yet the magic is still there, and is just as potent. They introduced their brother Martin, who played the perfect accompaniment on electric guitar. And while Louise and Ellie used to generate their own electricity with just their voices and acoustic guitar, tonight Martin MacNamara brought shadows and light to their sound, never taking anything from his two sisters.

They delicately picked Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ apart and made it the perfect sound for September suburbs; equally they embroidered Lana Del Ray’s Summertime Sadness with a delicacy the original lacks. And between these covers they played a new song, which might have been called Winter, which held its own even in such mega-selling company. They have also lost some of the shyness which marked their early shows, and are happy and engaging and funny in a spontaneous way. They told tales of hypochondria and fears of the ‘freak spiders’ which have begun to appear in Ireland; tourist spiders perhaps, attracted by the Irish Tourist Board’s use of Heathers’ music in their ads.

Songs like Forget Me Notes sparkled even in the Spartan setting, and it was not just nostalgia that made songs like Remember When, sound great. They were also gracious to the audience, and not in a creepy crawly way that the fake pop starts can be. They reminisced about how they ‘always have such a great time at IADT’. They are probably unaware just how much wonderful gigs by incredible artists can bring magic, artistry and inspiration to any school or college. It should never have been a remarkably gig, yet it was. Brilliant and wonderful.

It was a treat seeing a band I had not heard for a few years and discovering that they were even better now. I look forward to hearing more from them, and from their brother Martin, in 2016.

Michael Mary Murphy

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Jello Biafra and John Lydon…the punk jesters.

The punk jesters

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine came to Dublin this week and they entertained a large and receptive crowd in the Button Factory. When I say ‘they came to Dublin’ I actually mean that some promoter brought them over and make it happen….in this case, as Jello acknowledged from the stage, the promoter was one Timmo, or Paul Timmony. Jello explained to the crowd that Timmo was the only person who ever promoted shows for him in Dublin.

In which case, Dublin has a lot to thank Timmo for, Jello Biafra is one of the most articulate, thought-provoking and interesting characters from the early US punk/hardcore movement. Yet with the Dead Kennedys he always seemed to stand apart from that movement…if he was one of its leaders, he was also one of its innovators and most unorthodox figures. Maybe people like that are what stopped punk becoming so (or more) formulaic and standardised, even when commercial forces seemed to drag it in the direction of a generic identikit market segment.

So we have a lot to be grateful for to promoters like Timmo and acts like Jello B.

Seeing Jello with, what was a really cracking band, in Dublin, also brought home how funny he is. Onstage, he was almost a cartoon character, which rather than make his words feel like gimmicks, or his points silly, actually made his message sink deeper. He runaround actions drew me in, made me pay close attention…and made me smile. He would probably have been an excellent stage actor..although probably one who would not be constrained by a script. I can imagine: “To be or not to be…..hey, why don’t we think about that for a moment!”

So he is a Merry Prankster, making serious points and making us laugh by ridiculing situations and power. What an intriguing way to Fight The Power. Maybe laughter is the best medicine.

Mirroring this idea..punk frontmen as Merry Pranksters, this week Neil McCormick (former Hot Press writer/artist) printed a really good article/overview of one John Lydon, whose excellent PiL have released a new album.

I haven’t heard it yet, but the interview reminded me why I look forward to buying it. Lydon achieved the unthinkable when he formed, and maintained, PiL and became an even more fascinating front-man that he had been with the Sex Pistols. And that is not to deny what a thrilling and innovative frontman he was with them!

Funnily enough, for such a lightening rod of controversy, for such an engaging and vibrant front-man, he also professes to be a very shy individual.

In the interview, he spoke about how humour was a great weapon….and clearly in his hands, just as with Jello, it is a wonderful tool/skill to make your point, to be heard, and to be sensational!

To me, Jello and Lydon are valuable contributors to our culture, and also possess sharp minds and know how to cut through a cluttered media landscape.

Long may they entertain us.

Wild hearted outsider

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Rebellion Festival 2015 Review Day 4

Rebellion Day 4 Another day of highlights New Model Army Probably the band that I have seen the most, as well as a band whose albums and songs I have looked to for inspiration for almost 30 years. At Rebellion a snippet of a documentary about the band as shown, followed by a Q&A with singer, Justin Sullivan and art-work designer, tattoo artist, author and one, manager of the band, Joolz Denby. She described the process of managing musicians/creative people as not just herding cats…but herding headless cats! And that is the crux of the inter section of art and commerce….by both of their admissions, Joolz and Justin have no head for money….their focus is naturally on creating art and expressing themselves. The film looks great, although getting the human first-hand version of the story was even better. They are a disarmingly honest pair of modern troubadours…and it was interesting learning how the decision by Malcolm Gerrie from The Tube to put an unsigned independent band on the show changed the band’s fortunes. Every artist needs a break. I look forward to taking time. To watch the film when it is released next month…so much to be learnt for New Model Army. The Avengers and Penelope Houston were another eye-opener. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that The Avengers were one of those bands I knew I should listen to…yet never had! They were fantastic on the main stage. Tuneful, dynamic, exciting, vibrant and with so much to say about youthful possibilities and challenging orthodoxy. And this was a female-led band from San Francisco in 1977!!! It is funny how history coalesces around big names and chart bands….the strivers, the innovators, the pioneers get undeservedly forgotten. That is why a festival like Rebellion is so enlightening for me. The Q&A sessions are a big part of how I learn the secret history of punk. Theorem Peneople spoke about how small yet innovative and exciting the early SF punk scene was…and this was all pre-Dead Kennedys. To her, thee were no barriers to entry…anyone could do it regardless of class, colour, sexual preference etc. It was fascinating to learn how before the ‘codification’ that came with hardcore….punks rock was an open canvas! The Q&A is naturally enhanced by a good moderator…and the ‘battle of the Dead Kennedys authors’ hosted by Andy Higgins was fantastic. Alex Ogg’s book is, quite simply, one of the best books I have every read about music. It is funny and heart-breaking and full of lessons, not jus tab out the music industry and cultural files, but also about art, creativity, collective action and the law, I bought Michael Foley’s book, and have not read it yet but it promises to be excellent, covering the political and social context to the band in the tumultuous times of late 1970s San Fran. Foley spoke about how the band emerged from a highly politically city where young people were taking an active…and creative…stance in the democratic process. As a historian he placed this activity in the context of other social movements and concluded how the pivotal Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables album was one of the key documents/artefacts from American youth of the era. That is a remarkable legacy for a band who were formed with the idea of: ‘imagine if Crass were funny’, I felt very privileged to be in a room listening to Higgins, Foley and Ogg speaking with such knowledge and insight about the band. I only wish they had longer to discuss it. Ignite They were new to me…that exciting tight passionate intensity of the Revelation bands. Quicksand always have a special place in my heart. Anyhow, Ignite had plenty to offer musically and in terms of advocacy. The singer urged people to get involved in the political process and democracy. perhaps the legacy of the Avengers and the Dead Kennedys survives and thrives! He urged the audience to think about. The consequences of war, the reality of migration from war-torn places, and also about the conservationist group, the Sea Shepherds. In one of the most shocking moments of the festival, he dedicated the band’s next song to them and it was Sunday Bloody Sunday. Yes, a U2 cover by a tight and talented post- hardcore band!! And guess what? It worked. They pulled it off….dragging an 80s MTV staple into the punk present. It was surprisingly great…..the song really invigorated by Ignite’s classic up-to-date punk rock vision. And it made sense because punk has always been able to draw from its neighbours…to recombine different music in different ways and make something fresh and new. And here was a youthful and exciting Californian band who were inspired by One Way System as well as Peter and the Test Tube Babies….and also found something in early 1980s U2! I don’t think any band in Ireland could openly admit to being influenced/inspired by the UK punk of the class of ’82 and play a U2 song without ridicule..or ridiculing it. Good on Ignite for their open hearts and open minds…they inspire me and make me feel that the future of punk is in great hands. And that is important when both Justin Sullivan and Penelope Houston spoke today about how in 1980-1982 punk began to have rules and restrictions placed on it…it was ‘codified’ as Penelope said….and here’s to the rule breakers….The innovators..long may they bring excitement to punk, art and life! Other highlights Snuff….one of my fave bands….a band I saw countless times back in the day…and here they were….with new members, granted, yet still playing barmy, brilliant, playful, tuneful funny and exciting songs….hooray for trombones and punk rock! Roy Ellis Always a highlight…..ska from a pioneer….fun fun fun. John Langford The soundtrack for young Niall McGuirk…and a big part of the soundtrack of my youth too. Very inspiring to listen to his songs about democratic struggles in Wales in the 1800s, as well as his songs about gamblers, outlaws and do men who didn’t ‘walk the line’. He played a song he wrote with The Sadies (who opened for Treble Charger all those years ago in Toronto) as well as X-Ray Style by the great late Joe Strummer, and even Waco Brothers and a Mekons’ song! Another pioneers at the crossroads of punk and so much more… Carly Slade No disrespect to all of the other acts that I saw over the 4 days…but this was the voice that stopped me in my tracks…incredibly beautiful. I only saw a little of her set with Josh Chandler Morris, but that was enough to make me want more….it didn’t sound like punk rock..maybe Americana is how it would be described…and maybe that made it very punk rock at the punk rock festival!! And finally….the night belonged to TV Smith the quintessential punk troubadour….getting hoarse by the end of the weekend yet still leading the singalong with veins on his neck bulging and his skinny frame straining in tie-dyed outfit. A prefect summation of all that is great about the Rebellion festival punk rock and music!


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Rebellion 2015 day 3 – the wildhearted outsider

Rebellion Day 3

The Boomtown Rats were Eire’s best ever popular music band…Eire’s Best Pop Band. That’s a bigger compliment that it might appear at first.

Few areas of human endeavour are more competitive than pop music. So mane people want a hit single or to be a pop star: so few get there.

Since it is so competitive you have to be single-minded to get there. And Bob Geldof embodies single-mindedness,

The Boomtown Rats were pop in the way that other brilliant tunesmiths of the punk/new wave era were: XTC, Squeeze and even Elvis Costello.

But the Rats were from Eire and Eire didn’t have pop bands…especially not pop bands with international appeal. That makes them really significant in Ireland’s culture. They broke with the past and the consensus: that makes them revolutionaries.

They were cranked up on Dr Feelgood and dug deeper back into the Blues of John Lee Hooker…and both are clearly heard in their set in a Blaclpool ballroom full of 40 years of punk survivors.

They also drew from Thin Lizzy’s pop smarts…Van Morrison and Springsteen’s late 20th Century troubadour style…the best of glam rock’s stomping beat in a ballroom blitz. And the swagger of Jagger.

Beyond Ireland that May not have seen remarkable…yet in Ireland it was transgressive and daring. Naturally being single-minded might lose you admirers as it wins you fans…and that is for another time.

The band were tight and punchy and went down surprisingly well for a band that don’t fit comfortably into punk history.

She’s So Modern launched a set preceded by Hugh Cornwall, half of whose really great set was comprised of Stranglers’ songs. The Rats then charged through hits including: Like Clockwork, Someone’s Looking At You, I Don’t Like Mondays (which featured a raucous singalong by the massed choir assorted generations of punks and skins and crusties! It also featured a literally heart-stopping moment in pop music terms: the band standing still and silent poised to continue, teasing the control if the crowd…but only by the slightest thread!). Mary of the Fourth Form was also included before the set concluded with Looking After Number One and Rat Trap.

Can any other Irish pop band pull as many original songs out of their back catalogue and deliver them with conviction and intensity?

Being Bob and the Rats this was a show….the final burst was a pre-recorded chant of The Boomtown Rats over a pulsing dance-beat…very AC/DC meets X-Factor…perhaps ironic!

If the band got cheers they also got the loudest boos of the festival: Geldof yelled mid-set: we are the Boomtown Rats…we are Mega!…you (the audience) are dressed an in black uniform of t-shirts with shit bands written on them….I am wearing a fuck-off suit of fake snakeskin!

It was perhaps irony…yet what other performer would dare such an outburst at the audience?

In 1977 the Rats screamed that Ireland could be changed…more doubted them than believed them….40 years later it is clear that Ireland has changed…..beyond imagining….it appears the Geldof and the Rats were right after all!

Huge Highlights:

Goldblade…to me they are the very essence of what punk rock means in 2015: vibrant….relevant…funny…..really funny, yet capable of making the most serious points….serious music, serious fun, a seriously positive force. Brilliant in an afternoon ballroom whose history singer (and punk historian) John Robb recounts as he cavorts in a manner that would have the ballroom proprietors turning in their elegantly constructed graves.

They reminded me of a point so elegantly stated yesterday by Joolz Denby: young people have no idea how much fun it was going on marches…you didn’t feel like people were going to change their ways or policies just because you were marching…yet you were having a laugh and felt good and that you were at least trying,

Youth, youth, youth….wasted on most of us….Yet this dynamic four-piece full of energy and yelling, screaming, guitar-shredding passion and decent tunes draw ing from decades of (punk….think about it!) and other forms of rebel rock,

Louise Distra on the big stage as part of a three-piece band…no compromise…connecting with the spirit of Patti Smith as well as Riot Grrl rockers,

Barry Cain….great journalist and chronicler of the early punk scene…and one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the magnificent Radiators from Space…recalling when NME sold 250,000 copies weekly, and later when Smash Hits sold a million every fortnight! Astonishingly influential!

Steve Drewett from the Newtown Neurotics rocked the acoustic stage…and was superbly assisted by his daughter. She was fantastic and it was quite a thing to hear a young person who might be half the legal voting age, urging the old punk rockers to vote, take hope and change the world!

The Buzzcocks were majestic… many bright, brilliant and energetic songs….how many bands have so many singles of that calibre? It fills me with joy every time I see them! Funny to think that when they came to Dublin in the first rush of ounk that the authorities forced them to play practically with no amplification!

For some…noise annoys…for some of us noise is truly inspiring. What a day..what music…what memories!

wildhearted outsider

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Rebellion 2015 day 2 from the wildhearted outsider

Rebellion Day 2

Here’s the thing…a few thousand punks gathered together in a Northeastern English Seaside town in August 2015…why would that matter? Is it all nostalgia? An attempt to recapture, relive, or even reimagine youth?

The Q&A conversations provide an opportunity to hear first-hand reflections from some of the people who were there. Pioneers.

Jules Denby has lots to say. Se is also fantastically articulate about what it was like to try to break into the music industry in the post-punk era. To get New Model Army gigs she pretended to have he own agency…yet as she reflected on how hard it was to break into the inner circle of culture…she concluded that it is harder now. To her freedom of expression has become more difficult for young artists…it has become a declining circle of opportunities….now parents pay thousands of pounds to get their kids’ bands started. Never mind DIY.

Today’s highlights included a number of female-fronted bands. And the most positive thing is that the female musicians and singers didn’t appear to be pandering to some cliched idea of what ‘rock stars’ or ‘girls in bands’ should look like. These were young women worthy of respect…commanding respect.

In Evil Hour showed another way that punk had reinvigorated and inventing itself:by getting a blood infusion from heavy metal. The female singer had a great tuneful voice and wasn’t afraid to screech when the music called for it. A band with a kick and a punch….and looking comfortable on the main stage.

Brassick were also impressive….powerful, packing a blast of energy and exciting to watch. I know I am using the language of fighting to describe these bands and that seems appropriate when there are so few women being taken seriously by the music industry…or taking the brave decision to bypass it.

The Ruts DC in conversation with Alex Ogg was another highlight. I feel that punk’s history and legacy is in good hands with people like Alex around to research and champion it.

The Ruts DC were fantastic in conversation and just as impressive on both the acoustic stage and during their full electric set. They took the essentials of that early punk movement and made songs that were pared down to their essentials yet had room to breathe and have a deep rhythmic resonance. They always bring to mind Fugazi…that no-nonsense economical approach…nothing wasted…everything in the perfect place. It sounds easy but is meticulous. They both make music that stands the test of time.

The Gang of Four’s debut, Entertainment, was one of the great albums of the era. So different….so exciting….funk rhythm….dance music with considered lyrics…words that made us think about our consumption…how we lived…how we received our information…..isn’t that a fine legacy?

To sum up Jules Denby and to quote Segs from Ruts DC: this is about “people unite”! It is about a caring community. And what could be more inspiring than that?

Honourable mentions to the energy of Cynadie Pills, Arthur Brown who pioneered the theatre of heavy metal in the 1960s, and the Damned whose Neat Neat Neat and Smash It Up were still joyous after all these years.

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Rebellion Day 1 – the wild hearted outsiders view

Rebellion 2015 day 1

I don’t look like a punk, so perhaps I am not a real punk in the sense of living and looking the part. Yet punk has had a profound impact on the way I see the world, and even on the decisions that I make. If I am not a punk…punk and punks are a source of fascination to me.
So here I am back in the strange and wonderful place called Blackpool…in a sense the perfect place for the gathering of the disciples of punk.

Two acts today define what punk means to me: T.V. Smith and Andy Higgins.

T.V. Smith proves that songs that sounded brilliant, exciting, meaningful and insightful in 1977 are still just as vibrant and relevant today. Smith’s energy and enthusiasm make him the perfect statesman for punk with a message: think for yourself…and just do it!

Andy Higgins delivered a passionate performance on the acoustic stage that will have given Pavarotti little cause to concern in the vocal stakes. He may never win Britain’s got Talent yet Andy asks pertinent questions about how things work….why power is concentrated in certain hands, and what that means for all of us. Andy ran a very creditable campaign in the last general election in England: he doesn’t. Just talk and sing about the concentration of power, he rolls up his sleeves and gets involved. That is perfect punk to me.

Musically Neville Staple delivered a wonderful and joyful set of reggae, ska and Specials songs. The mass singalong in the big booming ballroom showed what a vibrant community sprang up with punk and its exciting offspring, post-punk.

And post-punk received another injection of power and passion with hardcore from the US, and tonight Sick of it All reminded me of how exciting hardcore was when I first heard it in suburban Dublin.

Elsewhere, David Schall delivered a really evocative about growing up punk and going to see bands like Theatre of Hate. It says something about punk that memories of gigs almost 40 years ago now inspire people to get up, do something, make art, and have fun.

And that is what punk is all about.

wildhearted outsider

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Cry Before Dawn. Review. Button Factory October 11 2013


I have always really respected Cry Before Dawn.

I first came across them when Mick McCaughan brought them to Trinity when he was Ents Officer. He had a real knack for spotting and supporting talent. And a great big heart that felt everyone should get a chance to listen to music they liked. And if they had talent they should get a chance to be heard.

It was through Mick that I first heard the Pleasure Cell and that proved to be a life-changing experience. Mick also brought the Pogues to Dublin for their first head-lining tour of Ireland. And he gave a young singer called Sinead O’Connor a chance to play for some visiting record label folks…and the rest is history as they say. He also brought Five Go Down To The Sea as well as Serious Drinking to the college!

He liked Cry Before Dawn so much, he brought them back to Dublin for his end of year Trinity Ball. I even headed down to Wexford to see them play in their home town once and the guitarist’s parents very generously invited me and my record-selling friend Timmy to stay with them.

So here I was again watching Cry Before Dawn in Dublin. The last time I had seen them here was at the Cathedral Club. It was a memorable gig and the performances of ‘Girl in the Grotto’ and ‘Black is the Colour’ have stayed in my mind ever since.

The band made a statement of how highly they regard the new single ‘Is This What You Waited For’ by playing it first. It was a fine move; the song works ever better live that on recording. The guitar playing of Steve Belton really brought the song to a new level in the Button Factory and the audience received it with gusto.

The band always benefited from an ideal rhythm section, Vinnie Doyle on bass and Pat Hayes on drums. They never had to be showy; they were solid in the very best way and gave the songs the best foundation possible.

Next up was the band’s early single for Epic/CBS, ‘The Seed That’s Been Sown’, the haunting song of decisions to leave small cities and town. It was a monumental statement for a pop band at the time. It still is today. Singer Brendan Wade is blessed with the kind of voice that makes for folk singers of the highest standard. And that adds strength to the songs that auto-tuning and special effects just never compensate for. Another great early song, ‘Sentimental’ follows, then ‘Yesterday’s Girl’ from the second album which rocked harder than the debut yet lacked some of the intimacy of that first one.

Curiously, Cry Before Dawn were a band that seemed at once more friendly and wiser than their contemporaries. The songs indicated a world view and wish for a better world. The conveyed a sense of a search for justice. If, as Brendan announced tonight, some of the songs were from “more innocent times”, those songs also asked very pertinent questions of those apparently innocent times.

‘White Strand’ was next, and it demonstrated one of the distinctive features of the band. This was their ability to combine elements of rock music with traditional Irish music. And I don’t mean some kind of soul-less fusion. The elements were never forced. They were deftly merged by the Wexford musicians. The tin whistle tonight was certainly evocative of the Wexford home which many of the songs were about.

There were a few white strands in the audience tonight, too. Most of them sported by lads in the audience which seemed to be aged between late thirties to early fifties. Most were probably teenagers when the band released their early material. And here they were celebrating great music. And like the band, who laughed that only bands like the Dubliners and the Wolfe Tones were supposed to have 30th Anniversaries, we all had a great night.

Other highlights were hearing about pre-Cry Before Dawn musical collaborations at the Sloghadh festival and how the band got the boat from Rosslare to sign their record deal. Nice to hear of young people leaving Ireland in the 80s for something so positive and full of promise.

And if Cry Before dawn never did sell hundreds of thousands of records, they never betrayed or compromised that early promise. And that is an achievement in itself.

‘Flags’ was one of my favourite of their songs and it sounded great tonight. I left the venue with the sights and sounds of the entire crowd singing the debut single ‘Gone Forever’. In this case, and not to sound cheesy, this is one band I am glad have not gone forever!

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Starter for 10


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First off the soundtrack was very evocative and captured the highly charged and equally fun times in college in the 80s. Three of the band featured played at Trinity either right before, or while I was there; The Smiths, The Cure and the Psychedelic Furs. It was also great to hear a bit of Paul Weller too.

The basic idea of the film was pretty simple; smart boy from less privileged background goes to University. Just as the Undertones sang “He loves University Challenge” and the fun ensues. It doesn’t sound like much, yet the film is really well written and a lot of the characters reminded me of people I met/avoided when I was in college.

One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much…I laughed out loud quite a bit…was that the acting was so good. You probably couldn’t afford to assemble a cast like this in 2013:

Catherine Tate as the mum? Priceless!

James Corden as the ‘I love heavy metal’ pal.

Benedict Cumberbatch as the over-zealous, pompous quiz fanatic.

There was even a chap from Holby City in it…not that I watch soap-operas!

The lead actor James McEvoy was also excellent in the Last King of Scotland, and apparently was in an X-Men film.

Rebecca Hall has done lots of big films since, while the other main actress is the daughter of Trevor Eve (Shoestring! And Waking the Dead!)

It had that great witty banter that Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead had. And I can’t think of a film that made me laugh as much since those two. Well worth a watch as the cold autumn nights draw in.

And yes there really was a guy EXACTLY like the ‘man just back from India’ in Trinity while I was there.

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What Richard Did


This was not the film I was expecting.

I recall hearing vague pieces of information about it that make me curious.

I knew that it might have something to do with a book called Bad Day At Blackrock, which I have not read. A book I suspect had something to do with a real life incident that happened while I was not living in Ireland.

So it was all a bit vague and cryptic.

It is directed by Len Abrahamson and I have not seen any of his other films (Garage, Adam and Paul) although I am very excited about his up-and-coming film Frank. Anyone who remembers the fantastic oddity who died recently, Frank Sidebottom may be just as excited. I saw Frank Sidebottom live a few years ago and he was eccentrically funny and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. He came over to Dublin with the mighty Hope Collective back in the day. How many Hope acts have had a film made about them?

I have a pretty low tolerance for films that I don’t find interesting. And for the first ten or fifteen minutes I was on the edge of my seat. The edge of getting from that seat and finding something else to do with my time. Yet I felt something was building and it was enough to sustain my interest.

And I am very glad I did. I don’t want to give much away about this film. I found it exceptional and I don’t think I have ever seen a better Irish film. It made me think, it made me reflect, it made me wonder. The acting was superb. In particular the main character and his dad were exceptional.

Another aspect about What Richard Did that drew me in deeply was the music. It was a perfect reflection of the film. It drew me in without making me feel manipulated. It evoked and sustained the mood. It’s funny how seldom we hear about Irish film soundtracks. Can anyone think of great Irish film soundtracks? 

The music was composed by Stephen Rennicks, he appears to have done the music for all of the Len Abrahamson films…so it is time for me to watch those films and listen to more of his music.

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