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A Little Soul

05/13/2010

Pulp – This Is Hardcore

circa 1998

Martin and I had been mates since about 1989. He was from Ballymun on the Northside of Dublin. We met through the annual Irish Youth Science & Arts Week held at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Ballsbridge. We didn’t get to know each other until a few weeks later when we worked together at the RDS Horse Show in our capacity as Litter Attendants (road sweepers).

Around Christmas ’97, Martin joined me and some of my Lucan friends for drinks in the Pravda Bar in Dublin. My mate Richard had just spent a fun year in Sydney and encouraged all that would listen to do likewise – Australia allows Irish citizens to come and work for up to one year.  Martin was working with IBM, and I was with a small publishing company, but neither of our careers were going anywhere. Sunnier climes sounded very attractive indeed, so over many pints we plotted our escape.

Getting the visas was easy, but it took awhile to get enough cash together. By September we’d booked our flights: Dublin-London-Tokyo-Sydney. We finished our notice with work, packed our sleeping bags, a box of tapes, and were off. We stayed a night with my sister in London, posed for photos with my newborn niece, Megan, and then it was off to Japan.

Incredibly long flight, followed by a short one south to Miyazaki, and then a night train to meet one of Martin’s mates, Stephen. We crashed at his place for a week. Stephen was teaching English. He introduced us to his class – they were very much amused by the two pasty faced lads from Dublin. We hiked to the top of a volcano, the one next to the one featured in James Bond’s You Only Live Twice. Crowds of school kids gathered around to look at our hairy legs. They made monkey noises. They were very, very amused. We went to a karaoke bar. Martin and I duetted on The Beatles’ Help – the audience were not amused. A couple more nights up in Tokyo and we were off again.

Next stop, Sydney. Another long flight. We’d arranged to stay with the brother of a friend of Martin’s mother. Gerry lived in the Coogee Beach area. He gave us great advice – stay in Coogee, work and drink with all the Irish, have a great time, or get in with the Aussies and sample the real Australia.

Eventually we got our own place in Randwick. We’d no furniture. We bought a couple of mattresses. Mine had pictures of spaceships. We took turns sitting on a milk crate to eat our dinner from an ironing board doubling as a table. Martin quickly found work in IT working on the new Sydney Airport. I found things a bit more difficult. I took work as a bartender in the only straight club on Oxford Street.

"this is the eye of the storm"

What channels our TV’s rabbit ears could pick up were crap, so I joined the library. I read voraciously. The library loaned CDs so I picked up the recently-released This Is Hardcore by Pulp. They had become huge during the height of Britpop a couple of years previously. The Different Class album with its infectious hooks and wry lyrics drew me in, but I just couldn’t take them seriously. I didn’t expect much from this new effort.

Lead track, The Fear, set the tone. It begins with a mournful, siren-like wailing, the song itself down-beat and dark, its themes – drugs, loneliness, despair. Gone were the disposable pop beats and ironic singalong lyrics. Chief songwriter/singer Jarvis Cocker had got to the heart of the darkness. While the humour was still evident, check Help The Aged, this album is the big come down. It’s the soundtrack to the morning after the night before of Britpop. All the bottles are empty, the drugs are done, and all that’s left is a full ashtray and a thumping hangover. Brilliant.

This album is a slow burner too. It will take any listener expecting Disco 2000 many listens before feeling comfortable with its dark themes and soundscapes. Its worth it, the payoff is much more satisfying than any of the band’s predecessors. The relatively poor sales that followed its release eventually did the band in, though they would release the excellent We Love Life before breaking up.

I found work in publishing and ended up extending my stay by an extra year. Evin, Ronan, Melanie, Peter, Suzanne and Aefa all joined us in Sydney. We took Gerry’s advice and got well-in with the Aussies, made some great friends and had good time. Not hard really when you consider that Australians are basically the Irish with suntans.

P.

__________

Artist: Pulp

Album: This Is Hardcore

Label: Island

Released: 1998

Recommended Tracks: This Is Hardcore, The Fear, A Little Soul, Dishes.
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This Is A Low

05/11/2010

Blur – Parklife

circa 1994

In the Summer, Me, Ev and Richard decided to make the move from home and get ourselves a flat in the city. We plumped for Rathmines, an area 20 minutes walk south from Dublin City Centre. Rathmines is one of several inner city residential areas that form a belt along the Grand Canal. What was once a mainly middle-class borough had in large part been taken over by the many students that attended the various colleges and universities in the area. The rows and rows of red brick Georgian family homes had been hacked up by unscrupulous slumlords to create bedsits and tiny flats.

My Dad got me work for the summer with Jacobs the biscuit manufacturer out in Tallaght at the foot of the Dublin mountains. I worked in a large warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of biscuits. My job as “Order Picker” entailed driving a little electric cart around, collecting the orders and putting them on the delivery trucks.

Busy as I was with work, I left it to Ev and Richard to find our new abode. After much searching they found a two bedroom place on Ardee Road. The flat constituted the whole ground floor of what was once a two-story single family home. The landlord in his wisdom converted the two floors into self-contained flats with a common front door. The hall door opened into a tiny kitchen. The table was so small we had to take turns eating our dinner. The living room was to the left off the kitchen with both bedrooms to the back also off the kitchen. The only snag was that access to the bathroom, a former out-house now attached, was solely through the smaller of the two bedrooms. Ev and Richard took the larger of the two bedrooms I got the smaller to myself.

To celebrate our new found independence we invited all of our mates over for a house warming party. We started out in the Rathmines Inn, getting a few drinks down us before heading back to the house to get smashed. It’s probably appropriate that I don’t remember much of what went down at the party. I have hazy recollections of one of Matt, Alan, Paul or Ciaran crashing their motorbike while racing in the street outside. When we did come to in the morning we discovered that one of the windows in the lads bedroom was broken. I went to the hardware store and bought replacement glass and glaziers putty. While the lads cleared up the mess I installed the new pane.

"this is a low, but it won't hurt you"

One of the lads mates from UCD, Piaras, had brought over his copy of Blur’s Parklife album for me to tape. Although I liked their exuberant There’s No Other Way single from a couple of years back, both Ev and I had been pretty dismissive of their Girls & Boys single and mock-Cockney shenanigans. Piaras though was adamant that these guys were cool, so I thought I’d give them a whirl.

That morning, as we sat down in the living room with our cups of tea and pounding hangovers, I stuck it on. The lead-off track was Girls & Boys, its thumping beat was a bit much considering our delicate situation but that quickly segued into the much more palatable Tracy Jacks and that into the wonderful End Of A Century. Badhead, To The End, Clover Over Dover – each track was better than the preceding one. It’s fair to say it was love at first listen. Alan, who’d just dropped in, thought so too. By the time we got to the magnificent This Is A Low, a song about the weather forecast, I was well and truly hooked. The singer and chief songwriter, Damon Albarn, has that rare artistic gift – the ability to take a mundane, ordinary, everyday subject and turn it into something beautiful. Pure genius.

When the lads caught up with Piaras a few days later he somewhat sheepishly admitted that it was him that had broken the window – with his arse? After several weeks the putty still hadn’t set in the window and to the best of my knowledge never did.

P.

__________

Artist: Blur

Album: Parklife

Label: Food

Released: 1994

Recommended Tracks: See above.
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Heart And Soul

05/11/2010

Joy Division – Closer

circa 1991.

My mate Alan had been playing guitar since his early teens and had become quite accomplished at it. One afternoon over at his place he hooked his imitation Gibson Les Paul up to the stereo. By turning the input volume up but turning the headphone volume down he achieved a really good distorted sound. He handed me the guitar. I hadn’t a clue about chords or notes or anything but when I struck it I sounded just like Jimi Hendrix. Well I thought so anyway.

Brian had borrowed an old acoustic from Alan and had been plucking away for a short while. I asked Al if he could show me a couple of things too. So shitty was the guitar I couldn’t even press the strings hard enough against the fretboard to play a note. I’d been listening to the likes of The Sisters Of Mercy for a while and was really drawn to the bass guitar sound. Unlike most bands who often bury the bass in the mix, they pushed it to the forefront to dramatic effect.

Ferg’s mate Jim was looking to sell his bass. I didn’t know Jim played guitar and certainly never heard of him being in a band or anything. It was covered in splodges of paint and newspaper print where Jim had attempted to give it a cool custom paint job. It was missing two of the four strings (the fat ones), he’d no amplifier either. Unperturbed, I sat on the floor of my bedroom for the next two weeks and tried to figure out what to do with it. I eventually had to give it back to Jim once my parents gave me a firm NO – they’d just been to see Neil Diamond and couldn’t understand what I wanted with a guitar that had less than six strings let alone just two.

Around this time I was over at Evin’s, Jim had loaned him a copy of Joy Division’s Closer album. I was familiar with their hit from a few years previous – Love Will Tear Us Apart. It was played at some of the school social and “No Name” (read “no alcohol”) discos we’d go to. Ev didn’t seem too bothered by it so I borrowed it from him.

"This is the way, step inside"

The first point of entry is its stark, ethereal cover. There is no mention of the band just the album title in all caps above an image of a family in mourning by the body of a loved one. Musically the bass and drums are dominant yet sparse, accompanied by shimmering guitar and an economical but effective use of synthesizers. The singer Ian Curtis’ booming, almost monotone vocals oversee the proceedings.

While the music and lyrical themes are dark, this album is not depressing. Quite the opposite, at times it is very uplifting. Stephen Morris has got to be one of the most underrated drummers in rock – I don’t know how he managed to keep the beat on my favourite track, A Means To An End. Its tempo is slow but not slow enough, every time I listen to it I expect him to fall off his stool. Heart And Soul has got to be the best opening track to a Side Two of any album made. The throbbing bass line made up my mind that I need to pursue the bass guitar after all.

I did. I got a very heavy Vox with all four strings from a guy over in the nearby Ardeevin estate. We put a short lived band together – Lungcut with Richard (guitar), Ev (vocals), and John (drums). One night John’s friend Hatchet, another guy from Ardeevin, dropped by unexpectedly to our rehearsal space. He was an amazing bass player with local band Pincher Martin – I was mortified. We ran through our “set” and sheepishly asked what he thought? He must have been high or something because he said we sounded like Joy Division. He never said we were good, just that we sounded like Joy Division. Good enough for me.

P.

__________

Artist: Joy Division

Album: Closer

Label: Factory

Released: 1980

Recommended Tracks: A Means To An End, Isolation, Decades, Heart And Soul.
__________

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Sunday Girl

05/09/2010

Blondie – Sunday Girl

circa 1979.

"I know a girl from a lonely street, cold as ice cream but still as sweet"

Blondie burst on to the music scene in the late Seventies, their perfectly crafted songs giving them a string of hits. To say I had a crush on Debbie Harry is a bit of an understatement – I was besotted.

Their third album, Parallel Lines, came out in 1978 to critical acclaim. For me though, Blondie will always be a great singles band. Over the course of a few short years, they released classics such as Denis, Hanging On The Telephone, Heart Of Glass, One Way Or Another, Call Me, Atomic and The Tide Is High.

Some time in the early 90s I got back into listening to them for the first time in years. One afternoon an ad came on the TV for a blindness charity, its soundtrack – Blondie’s Picture This, get it? Of course I didn’t make a donation but instead went straight out and bought their Greatest Hits.

In 2000, me and Paul A. got tickets to see Mad For The Racket at Whelans in Dublin. They were a sort of alternative super group consisting of Wayne Kramer (MC5), Mani (Stone Roses), Brian James (Damned), and Blondie’s Clem Burke on drums. They’d just put out an album, unfortunately it was not the sum of its parts. The show was really poorly attended, just me and Paul and a couple of other guys standing around. I felt really bad considering the calibre of talent on show. Turned out we’d walked into the soundcheck – the place filled up within an hour so we watched the set all over again. It was great to see these legends in the flesh even if the music wasn’t brilliant, though their version of Kick Out The Jams lifted the roof off.

Anyway, I will always remember those few weeks back in May 1979. Blondie were at number one with Sunday Girl. Debbie Harry was fucking gorgeous – I was 7 and I was in love.

P.

__________

Artist: Blondie

Album: Get Parallel Lines to be cool, but you can’t go wrong with the Greatest Hits

Label: Chrysalis

Released: 1979
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Welcome To The Jungle

05/07/2010

Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

circa 1988.

Back in ’88 me and my mates were into what I suppose we thought to be smart, cerebral music – The Smiths, R.E.M., Echo & The Bunnymen etc. We weren’t total squares – Brian had Bat Out Of Hell and recently picked up Electric by The Cult, which I loved. A lot of the lads at school were into AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and pomp rockers Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and their ilk. By our standards though, anything with even a vague sniff of long hair, denim, or god forbid leather was considered dumb, excessive, moronic. We were of course totally right.

Until now cable TV (or Piped Television as we called it) in Ireland meant you got 6 channels – RTE1, RTE2, BBC1, BB2, UTV and Channel 4. At some point we started getting more, one of which was Super Channel. I think this came through Italy because late at night they always showed soft porn clips consisting of a naked chick provocatively dressing – go figure. Another, SKY Channel, had a weekly metal show called Monsters of Rock. Although I wasn’t into the music, its presenter, Mick ‘Ello Rockers” Wall, was a laugh. On one such episode he interviewed another in a long line of preening new comers, Guns N’ Roses. I didn’t pay them any mind.

"You're gonna dieeeee"

Brian and I were good friends with Dave and Eddie in school. These guys were mad into metal. One evening Ev and I were over at Brian’s – he’d borrowed an album called Appetite For Destruction by Guns N’ Roses from Dave. I thought I knew them from somewhere. The cover depicted a fucked up, horror metal monster rape scene, the inner sleeve debauched backstage antics and the lyrics – how we laughed. We dismissed the album out of hand.

Brian was not put off. He fucking loved it. Every time I’d go over he’d have it on the stereo, and I have to admit it started to grow on me. I’d been hasty in my criticism – this did have something more to it than the usual macho stupidity I’d come to expect from the LA bands of the time, and it rocked. The music was more akin to the Sex Pistols than their poseur contemporaries. Nightrain, Outta Get Me, It’s So Easy, Mr. Brownstone – the lyrics and music were tough and uncompromising. These songs had a real sense of menace about them. The opening guitar siren wail of Welcome To The Jungle gave me a chill. Looking back now, I imagine that’s what it must have been like for previous generations hearing the searing intros to Anarchy In The UK or I Wanna Be Your Dog for the first time.

Then Sweet Child O’ Mine was released and they became the biggest band in the world. Their videos were on heavy rotation and everyone was a fan, except Ev – he stuck to his guns while the rest of us stuck to er, the Gunners. Within a few short years they’d blown it. In 1991 they released two double albums Use Your Illusion 1 & 2. What were they thinking? Although a lot of the material came from their pre-Appetite days, the whole production was a bloated, incoherent mess. Dig and you’ll find some great songs amongst the dross – Estranged, Civil War, a great version of Wings’ Live And Let Die. Even Don’t Cry had something.

Undaunted, I went with half of Ireland’s youth to see them play Slane Castle, a natural amphitheater an hour’s drive North of Dublin. Faith No More were the main support – they’d already started by the time we arrived on site and I don’t recall much of their set. Me and the mott (slang for girlfriend) recognized one of the security, Vinnie, the head bouncer from a club in Lucan. He got us into the front area where we scurried right up to the barrier, just a few feet from the stage. It was two long hours before the Gunners finally came on, and the crowd went ballistic.

Duff McKagan was right in front of me for the whole show – he was fucked up. As my Mother would say, “His eyes looked like two piss holes in the snow.” Axl, wearing very tight white shorts for the ladies, was running around like a maniac, and Slash was shredding like a true axe hero. At one point he climbed down right in front of me to take a solo. I seriously thought of jumping the barrier to run over and give him a big hug. I must have come to my senses because before I knew it the show was over and exhausted, we began the long walk back to the buses.

The Gunners had succumbed to the pressures of fame and fortune and in doing so became everything that I despised, but Appetite had made a lasting impression. I was no longer closeted in my musical tastes and learned to love metal in all its bombastic, glorious stupidity.

P.

__________

Artist: Guns N’ Roses

Album: Appetite For Destruction

Label: Geffen

Released: 1987

Recommended Tracks: Welcome To The Jungle, Nightrain, Mr. Brownstone (it’s about drugs) and Rocket Queen.
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Monkey Gone To Heaven

05/06/2010

Pixies – Doolittle

circa 1989.

Ev, Brian and I were in our 5th year of secondary school. Ev’s older brother Fergal was doing an arts degree in UCD. He went to Boston on a J1 Summer work visa to paint houses or something. Don’t remember what we got up to but I’m sure it wasn’t very exciting.

Ferg returned in September with a selection of miniature bottles of aftershave for Brian and a tape of The Head On The Door by The Cure for me. Cheers Ferg. We’d gather round him, rapt as he told tales of exotic radio stations that played non-stop alternative music for American student types. Terrific.

The closest thing we had to this in Ireland was the late night Rock Show on 2FM. It’s presenter was Dave Fanning – the biggest wanker I’ve never met. He styled himself as Ireland’s answer to the BBC’s John Peel, though the gulf between Fanning’s gigantic ego and the latter’s humility couldn’t be greater.

To his credit Fanning did play a lot of stuff you wouldn’t hear on daytime radio, and he did try to give a leg up to bands on the burgeoning Irish music scene. Unfortunately, back in the 80-90’s, if you were to believe Fanning, and pseudo music journal/political mouthpiece, Hot Press magazine, seemingly any four fuckwits with guitars were going to be the next U2. The sad fact is that in the past 30 odd years Ireland has produced only a tiny number of successful bands of any real quality.

Anyway, no sooner was Ferg back than he bought a copy of Doolittle by Boston’s Pixies. I’d never heard of the Pixies before and I’d never heard anything that sounded like them either.

The bizarre, vivisection-astronaut-monkey freak show on the outside only hinted at the sonic science-experiment-gone-wrong on the inside. I don’t recall listening to the album for the first time – I know that I didn’t get into in the beginning. In fact I think I kept the album at arm’s length, so new, so different was it that I could not figure it out. I just couldn’t get my head around it. Brian loved Doolittle straight away. He’d play Crackity Jones over and over and delighted in the whoop, whoop yelping vocals.

Powerful drums,  pounding bass, and ferocious surf guitar, the music was all over the place, but direct and focused at the same time. The album’s lyrics – half yelled, half screamed, half in Spanish? – what I could make out I didn’t understand, but I grew to love it all the same.

There was little mention of the band in the liner notes. No photos either. I imagined a gang of greasy long-haired rockers wearing black leather motorcycle jackets. Months later I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the four members were giant nerds. They looked like they’d walked off the very college campuses whose radio stations championed them.

The following year Ev gave me one of the two tickets Ferg had bought him for their October gig at the National Stadium in Dublin. That might sound a bit grandiose, but in reality the National Stadium was a smelly boxing arena that maybe held 1,000 people. Back in those days we’d always get to gigs super early to see all of the opening bands. I wouldn’t usually drink either for fear I’d have to go for a slash during the headliner.

Eventually the Pixies came on and blasted everyone away, tearing through Doolittle, its predecessors and the new album Bossanova. When the houselights came up at the end we walked out into the cold night air, the sweat steaming off us with giant grins plastered across our faces.

P.

__________

Artist: Pixies

Album: Doolittle

Label: 4AD

Released: 1989

Recommended Tracks: Where to begin? Debaser, Gouge Away, Tame. Look, they’re all fucking great.
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Joey Santiago endorses TheSpiralScratch, thanks to Sonya & Twitter.

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In Between Days

05/05/2010

The Cure – Standing On A Beach

c.1986

Brian was in my class in primary and when we moved to the secondary school, Coláiste Phádraig, up the hill we were the only faces each other recognized so we stuck together. He introduced me to his neighbor Evin from the classroom next door. As it turned out we all lived a few streets away from each other in the Hillcrest housing estate.

After school and on the weekends we’d hangout and occasionally sneak booze from Ev’s parents drink cabinet. Sometimes we’d get Ev who was already pushing 6ft to get us cans from the offie (off-license). Top of the shopping list was Ritz Cider. Considered a drink for the ladies, it’s strength and therefore particular ability to inebriate earned it the nick name the leg-opener.

We spent a lot of time hanging out at Ev’s. He was the youngest of four. His older brothers and sister had a bunch of lps and singles that we’d stick on their rickety old record player. Thin Lizzy, Depeche Mode, Queen and Madness were staples.

At some point Ev’s brother Fergal picked up The Cure’s singles collection Standing On A Beach. I’d heard them before, The Lovecats was a pretty big hit a few years previous but this swept me up. At a time when the last thing awkward teenagers want is to stick out from the crowd, saying you liked The Cure allowed you to express your singular identity in the safety of large groups of similarly black-clad, pale-faced individuals.

Ev would disagree, but I never went in for the whole Curehead look, though I did grow my hair long at the front like everyone else. No one understood me, or so I thought. In actual fact everyone but me realized I was a mopey faced teenager with a ridiculous haircut.

"No one understands me" - apparently.

However, the importance of Standing On A Beach in my musical development cannot be overstated. It tapped into a desire for something different, an alternative to the pop and rock shite of top 40 radio. Side A featured dark and edgy material like Killing An Arab and A Forest. Flip over to Side B and there’s the poppy psychedelia of The Caterpillar and the sheer exhilaration of In Between Days.

All in a terrific lp of groundbreaking original songs. Highly recommended and their videos were always cool too, check out Boys Don’t Cry below.

__________

Artist: The Cure

Album: Standing On A Beach

Label: Fiction

Released: 1986

Recommended Tracks: A Forest, Boys Don’t Cry, Close To Me.

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