The A To Z Of Irish Rock (Solid, 1992)

The A To Z Of Irish Rock

The A To Z Of Irish Rock r

Review
One of my enduring memories of summer 1992 was A Woman’s Heart, a compilation of 12 tracks performed by six female Irish artists Eleanor McEvoy, Mary Black, Dolores Keane, Sharon Shannon, Frances Black and Maura O’Connell. My mother had it, all her friends had a copy and it was inescapable during those few months, spanning three generations of listeners. The Dara label must have been well pleased with this phenomenon as the album shifted 750,000 copies. There was no vinyl release – 1992 was the year of the big purge by Golden Discs and others – while CD players were still a luxury in the majority of cars. Towards the end of the year, Solid Records in conjunction with RTE and 2FM released a compilation known as The A To Z Of Irish Rock. It was based on an idea by Tony Clayton-Lea & Richie Taylor, authors of the book Irish Rock: Where It Comes From, Where It’s At, Where It’s Going. I had just started in UCD Arts and this was a popular Christmas present for many students, as it mixed recent up and coming bands with well-established classics.

In 1972, Leo Muller decided that his Stereo Gold Award label needed to release a Deep Purple tribute album. He had the ideal candidates for the job – the up and coming Irish rock band, Thin Lizzy. It appears that Lizzy were somewhat reluctant to take on such a commitment but money was a concern so they bit the bullet and grabbed the cash – £1,000. Fans of Phil Lynott were disappointed though – he didn’t sing on the record as he felt that he could not do justice to Ian Gillan’s voice. Benny White of fellow Irish band Elmer Fudd stepped in to take over vocal duties and Philo stayed on bass. The album – credited to Funky Junction – features five Deep Purple tracks. Fireball is intense, all molten riffs and choppy guitars while Black Night is faithful to the original with some groovy bass. A swampy version of Strange Kinda Woman concludes the first side. A mean version of Hush is a highlight complete with cheesy singalong chorus. A blisteringly good Speed King completes the quintet of Purple numbers. Elsewhere you gotta look out for two Muller originals – the bluesy Corina + the stunning psych meets prog instrumental Palamatoon. The spirit of Hendrix is alive and well in Dan (loosely based on Danny Boy) while an overwrought House Of The Rising Sun is the least memorable track here.

After the promising Shades Of A Blue Orphanage, Thin Lizzy went on a UK tour with Slade and Suzi Quatro in late 1972. Around the same time, Decca released their version of a traditional Irish ballad, Whiskey In The Jar – the opening track on The A To Z Of Irish Rock. The band were unhappy at this move, feeling that the song did not represent their sound or their image. Nevertheless the track topped the Irish charts for close on four months and reached #6 in the UK, also earning them a Top Of The Pops appearance. The B-Side was the fearsome Black Boys On The Corner which I regularly played at B-Music, Thomas House in the early 2010s. We jump forward to 1981 for song #2, Paul Brady’s epic Nothing But The Same Old Story which is lifted from his second solo LP Hard Station. The original mix of the album was quickly superseded by a late ’81 remix (primarily for US release) which has now become the standard version. It is unclear if the master for the original still exists given that while it’s available as a download from Brady’s website, the source is a mint vinyl copy. Nothing…is superb, a ballad about the struggles of the Irish immigrant that’s worthy of Springsteen. He performed a memorable version on the 1991 BBC series, Bringing It All Back Home – check out the fatbox soundtrack here.

If nothing else, this compilation is the only place where you can obtain the superior single mix of the debut Hothouse Flowers single, Love Don’t Work This Way. What a brilliant performance – full of soul and energy – that had completely disappeared when they came to record a new version for the People album. Next Van Morrison and the very hackneyed Brown-Eyed Girl before we go right up to date for Nick Cave & Shane MacGowan’s duet. “One is drunk and one is high. They complement each other perfectly. It is indeed a wonderful world.” (Stefan B) Meanwhile over here, An Emotional Fish received plenty of airplay during the summer of 1989 when their debut single Grey Matter was put out by Mother Records. Celebrate sounds weirdly prescient now, a pre-Celtic Tiger singalong that’s permanently entwined with Italia ’90 and Roddy Doyle’s writings. It’s followed by Sinéad O’Connor’s breakthrough – Mandinka, a spiky tour-de-force – but make sure to check out the debut single Troy. And then The Sawdoctors, show-stealers at Féile ’90 with the wistful departure of N17. A returned emigrant sums it up: “After spending six years in California and loving it (but homesick if that makes sense)…there’s no place in this world like Galway. Before I left I hated the rain and four seasons in a day but I’m back and love it. I couldn’t listen to this song when I was away from Galway and Ireland for fear of crying.” (EverGreen1888) I wonder do they still say nothing to Jim Carroll about his life?

A House’s Endless Art was my favourite track of 1991. It was originally released on the Bingo EP, a 12″-only release that arrived at the end of the intense and circular summer. The NME made it Single Of The Week. Beethoven’s Fifth over a list of male artists (in various fields) along with their dates of birth and death. I saw their final gig at The Olympia, February 1997. And the resurrection of last June at the National Concert Hall. Top show. I Am The Greatest played in full. Daughters playing on I Am Afraid. Endless Art updated to include Mark E Smith, John Hurt, Kurt Cobain, Aretha Franklin etc. “Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, A House RIP.” And a four song encore: No More Apologies, The Comedy Is Over, Call Me Blue, I Want Too Much. Another memorable A House performance was with The Frank & Walters at McGonagles on 13 December 1991. The latter are next; their fourth single, the heartfelt swirl of This Is Not A Song. Go disc.

In endless time: this photo from Féile ’92 is from Eamon Brennan (Thurles Camera Club)
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When I watch the video for Clannad’s In A Lifetime (featuring Bono) I can feel the low temperatures. 1985 and early 1986 (when the single came out) always seemed very wet and cold. I often got soaked walking home from school. Skipping forward to CD2 for a second: U2’s contribution to this compilation is Out Of Control but unlike the album mix of the song, this version is edited so you cannot hear Into The Heart. On the Boy LP, Into The Heart never fully fades out and the last notes of that song can be heard on the next track, right up until Out Of Control kicks in. This is very faint and almost not noticeable, but it is present on various pressings of Boy. Riding on, Christy Moore’s keenly-observed Lisdoonvarna is a fond memory from the hot summer of 1984; Larry Gogan counting down the Irish Charts on Radio 2. It namechecks a most unusual rogues gallery of oddities and eccentrics from our political life that’s hard for a non-native to appreciate. Elsewhere Aslan (like many others) were touted as The Next Big Thing; after a well-received debut Feel No Shame, they disintegrated in late 1988. The earnest yet powerful This Is still packs a mighty punch. After splitting with Christy Dignam, the rest of the band continued as The Precious Stones whose third and final 7″ single, the soulful and plaintive Red Sky (which wasn’t released until 1993), is included here and remains its sole CD appearance.

Ireland 1990: what a year for albums.
Ireland 1990

The Stunning’s Paradise In The Picture House was released by Solid Records in June 1990 on vinyl and cassette only. It topped the Irish charts for five weeks. The CD version would not follow for some months afterwards and a result was somewhat scarce. The original incarnation of the album was brief – just under 29 minutes – around the same length as Slayer’s Reign In Blood and it just contained eight tracks, four of which had previously been released as singles. One of these – Romeo’s On Fire – was re-recorded. Even now, it’s a brilliantly melodic rock album, a key snapshot of the band’s early days and a souvenir of their relentless touring – venues all over the country that could accommodate a band like them. The hard-hitting Brewing Up A Storm is compiled here: “I remember being in the Kilmurry Lodge disco in Limerick in 1996 and this came on, crowd bouncing up and down wave like almost in slow motion, dozens of people being crowd surfed through the air, surreal. An anthem.” (The Fall Of Doonass) The album was reissued in 2003 with four extra tracks while a red vinyl edition came out last year featuring two of these additional tunes (which appear to date from ’93) & order is now changed – Brewing kicks off side 2.

From the same era, That Petrol Emotion’s Sensitize, the sun-drenched slice of joy from Chemicrazy. So beguiling. Some called it the new Irish national anthem. I saw a sweat-filled show in The Bridge Hotel that autumn; Steve Mack bounding around the stage like a messiah. From one to another, the music video for Phil Lynott’s Old Town remains one of the most evocative of the decade. All those Dublin locations: Ha’penny bridge, Ringsend, Grafton Street, The Long Hall, the Bandstand at Herbert Park and Ringsend Pier. Old Town was the first record to be officially played on Irish legal Independent Radio – Dublin’s Capital Radio 104.4 on its launch, 20 July 1989. We then go traditional and to Sharon Shannon’s squeezebox miracle, The Munster Hop, taken from her self-titled ’91 LP. And in a full circle, we’re back to A Woman’s Heart as CD1 ends with Mary Black’s emotionally devastating No Frontiers. Remember the haunting black & white video set in a church with a John Aldridge lookalike: “We sing until dawn of our fears and our fates.”

A staple of compilations ever since, The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks starts off the second half. Having heard the song hundreds of times, it’s hard to shake off the familiarity. But I do remember the first time I played it, never was such exuberance perfectly matched to my hormones. In 1993 Castle Communications released a decent one CD Best Of that brought a lot of new fans into the fold, many of them who had picked up on The Petrols and were wondering about the lineage. Sharing its DNA, The Golden Horde struck many chords in late 1989 with the furious 100 Boys. A “joyride fusion” indeed as students in RTCs up and down the country dug their crazy grooves. Another member of the class of ’92, The Pale drop some eastern promise with the endlessly catchy Dogs With No Tales. Their debut album Here’s One We Made Earlier just sold a handful of copies on vinyl back in the day – I remember a ton of unsold copies in Virgin – but when it was reissued in 2018, you could not move for all the clued-in BAVJs loudly announcing their intention to purchase it.

On the same topic: during 1990 I began to notice a change. Quantities of new LPs started to decrease. My local shop would only get in a handful of vinyl copies for major label releases while a couple of boxes of cassettes would arrive for the same titles. One example is Something Happens! – Stuck Together With God’s Glue album which was released in May 1990. KG Discs, Waterford sold 150 copies in the first week – 100 on cassette, 45 on CD and 5 on LP. As Donny Keane once said – “1990 was vinyl’s last Christmas while cassette was king.” Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello (Petrol) was the lead single, a song that epitomises college rock, just sheer brilliance from start to finish. I remember a fellow student from the RTC – a female from Leitrim – buying the 12″ in the Lisduggan branch of KG Discs. I subsequently bumped into her when she was running a coffee shop in Liffey Street during the late 1990s. The album is a gem from start to finish – from What Now to Skyrockets – a wonderfully melodic accompaniment to our last family holiday together.

Out come the classics: Stiff Little Fingers’ Alternative Ulster a surefire pogo-a-gogo classic; caused ructions when I played it at The Old Rectory in June ’92. Zip forward a bit to The Radiators From Space and the frantic Television Screen, a 1977 baby. Philip Chevron would later form The Pogues who also appear in this sequence – the timeless yet grubby Dirty Old Town – immortalised in Fergus Tighe’s Clash Of The Ash. Let’s hear what The Knocking Shop have to say about The Stars Of Heaven – Speak Slowly: “The album is soaked in melancholy like a beermat on a late night pub table. Relationships and their aftermaths form the core of the lyrical concerns. The music is restrained, stately, melodic and often country hued, stays simple but I can hear orchestras in my head.” A slowie taken from side 2, Every Other Day, pops up now. You might also remember it from a 1985 Anything Goes performance or a faster John Peel session from around the same time.

Classics: the sequel. Them’s Gloria dates from 1964, the year my parents married. A killer B-Side to the equally magnificent Baby, Please Don’t Go, it transcends time. And equally sublime, Rory Gallagher’s blistering blues-rock of Tattoo’d Lady, released in November 1973 and frozen in time on the Irish Tour of the following year. Stephen Majury recalls “Rory lit up Belfast in the ’70s when it was a dark place. No fuss just hard rock, a true rock god.” Lesser mortals, The Boomtown Rats serve up Lookin’ After Number One, a catchy but ultimately ordinary pub rock. I was always bemused by Mary Of The Fourth Form as the title made it sound like an Enid Blyton novel. Unusual for an Irish band. From one Mary to another; The 4 Of Us were hot stuff in 1989, releasing Songs For The Tempted shortly after the Leaving Cert results landed and the girls’ school debs were about to take place. There’s something about Mary – it was immediate and catchy, simply played but very effective. There were two single releases – one in June 1989 and a remix in May 1990.

The Fat Lady Sings are most associated with Arclight but it’s Fear And Favour, a long lost 1986 single that’s here. Following are The Virgin Prunes (who supported Siouxsie & The Banshees, SFX, 1985 – venue full of goths) and the jerky darkness of Baby Turns Blue. Like John Lydon vomiting into a microphone while performing Talking Heads covers. Blowing it away, Raytown’s finest – The Blades and the sublime mod groover Ghost Of A Chance. Brings me back, and forward – Ireland’s answer to The Jam. In the Z position are a band from Kingscourt, The Would Be’s, who caused quite a stir when they arrived in early 1990. Debut single I’m Hardly Ever Wrong got Single Of The Week in the NME and reached the dizzy heights of #12 in John Peel’s Festive 50 of 1990. A classic indie pop tune with a lovely trombone intervention. A&R men came and went; the band signed to Decoy and the lead singer – Julie McDonnell (17) – quit and went back to school. I met her on a 49 bus in 1991 and in the 18 month period ending around April 1992 had seen the band play live a dozen times. Including a support slot with Morrissey at the legendary National Stadium gig of 27 April 1991. Eileen Gogan took over for singles #2 and #3 – Funny Ha Ha and My Radio Sounds Different In The Dark – while the very elusive Must It Be remained a highlight of their live set. If you buy the Japanese CD of Silly Songs For Cynical People you get all 11 tracks from those three 12″s and have possibly the greatest Irish debut that never happened. To find out what came later on, check out this wonderful 2009 interview.

Epilogue: What more can I say about The Would Be’s? I think signing to Decoy was a rum move. They did not know how to properly market the band. The second EP was called Silly Songs For Cynical People. DYS 18T. It had four tracks. Some months afterwards, Decoy released an eight track LP with an identical sleeve aside from the removal of the letters EP. DYL 18. The other four songs were from the 12″ of I’m Hardly Ever Wrong. In 2015, they released a 12″ for Record Store Day – Bittersweet – which contained a so-so new song and the four tracks from the March 1990 Peel Session including Must It Be along with Julie-sung versions of Funny Ha Ha and My Radio Sounds Different In The Dark. The latter was my second favourite song of 1991 and I ended up buying three copies at £5.49 each.

Epilogue #2: So what else should have included? I appreciate the need to include crowd-pleasers like Brown-Eyed Girl etc but a few notable omissions are as follows:
Microdisney – Town To Town or Singer’s Hampstead Home. Unlike most, I actually prefer the two Virgin albums – especially 39 Minutes, which I think is their masterpiece. But I think Lost In The Former West is the best Fatima Mansions LP so what do I know?
Engine Alley – The Flowers or Infamy. Either would have sufficed. Another live act that I caught a few times then; there was one particularly memorable show in UCD Bar around October 1992. Freshers rock. Emmaline Duffy-Fallon’s drumming was always a highlight.
Into Paradise – I Want You lifted off the Blue Light EP would have been perfect. An NME Single Of The Week from June ’89 and it’ll always remind me of cramming for exams.
Whipping Boy – I Think I Miss You. Or anything from the first EP. Their incendiary live performances of 1989-1992 still shine brightly.
Power Of Dreams – 100 Ways To Kill A Love. Flashback to summer ’90 when it and all the rest of the storming debut Immigrants, Emigrants & Me made perfect sense.
Still want more? Check out my virtual 3CD set The Last Bus Home & stream on Mixcloud.

“It changes your ways, but only for a day, and a day is not enough”

Favourite tracks
The Would Be’s – I’m Hardly Ever Wrong

Paul Brady – Nothing But The Same Old Story

Something Happens! – Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello (Petrol)

The Blades – Ghost Of A Chance

Lest we forget
Hothouse Flowers – Love Don’t Work This Way

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2 Responses to The A To Z Of Irish Rock (Solid, 1992)

  1. Enjoyed that! Nice details about the Hothouse Flowers recording, The Would He’s etc. Might have to get a copy now 😎

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