Just Say Yes: Pure Phase by Spiritualized, Hot Press, 1995

SPIRITUALIZED ELECTRIC MAINLINE: “Pure Phase” (Dedicated)

A FRIEND of a friend of a passing acquaintance of a wayward second cousin of mine, who vaguely knows someone who accidentally imbibed some illicit substances once, tells me authoratively that Spiritualized Electric Mainline’s wistful, wasted rock’n’roll only really hits you hard when you have E, quite literally, coming out your ears.

As a non-partaker—I have neither the spare tweny-five-pound notes nor any desire to find myself feasting on rat poison—who has, nonetheless, been shackled to the stereo by Pure Phase for several days now, this raises one perplexing question: it gets better than this? Say no to drugs, kids; you’ll never leave the house (until you have to sell the CD player).

Drugs, particularly that ole devil called heroin, are all that The Artists Formerly Known As Spiritualized sing about, pretty much. This in itself is a turn-off; there’s nothing terribly glamorous about sexlessness, death and an absence of gastrointestinal motility. So when I think of, say, Kurt, it’s the Master Of Subversion on Top Of The Pops that I allow to come to mind, not the broken man perched on the toilet, straining till his veins popped, gulping down warm milk and laxatives.

This means that if Pure Phase was just a diary of Jason Pierce’s fondness for opiates, it’d be—to us non-usersboth completely meaningless and horribly voyeuristic, worthless either way. But it’s not. Really, though Jason may be too wired or indulgent to know it, it describes in sometimes painful, sometimes attractively masochistic detail that uniquely human foible, self-destruction, and as such is almost universal.

‘Medication’ (“Every day I wake up/And I take my medication/Spend the rest of the day/Waiting for it to wear off/Every night I stay up late/And make my state more desperate… Makes me feel so good/Leaves me fucked-up inside,”) could just as easily have been written by anyone bereft of respect for their organs, heart or otherwise: an alcoholic; a rejected romantic suicidally obsessed by the one he can’t have; Mr Lifto out of the Jim Rose Cicus Sideshow; a toenail-eater, and suchlike.

‘Let It Flow’, the soulful, ghostly ode to shooting up that is currently Number One in the indie charts, is even more weirdly enthralling, because while ‘Medication’ makes helpless apologies, this declares, to thunderous applause from the surrounding forest of Fenders, “Here it comes, there it goes . . . All I wanted was a taste/Just enough to waste the day/Just enough to make me sick . . . I’d do it all again.”

It’s all very sad, but things perk up with ‘Lay Back In The Sun’, the first and most fun summer singalong of 1995, and plummet once again with ‘Spread Your Wings’, an awesomely beautiful hymn to a deceased friend (or maybe not, but I’m afraid that at the moment I am, to paraphrase the Nolan Sisters, in the mood for death songs), while ‘Feel Like Goin’ Home’ picks up my current favourite problem, ie What The Fuck To Do About Getting Old Besides Scream Like A Mad Person, and takes it somewhere that I certainly can’t put into words.

So, we’ve agreed that you don’t need drugs to love the sprawling, torrential noise of Spiritualized Electric Mainline. What you do need is to be in a dark room, alone or with friends, in a very bad humour, all tense and attentive, with some large loud speakers and a willingness to let a mere rock’n’roll record speak for the side of you that you like to keep to yourself and, then, to sweep you off your feet. When all this has been arranged . . . Just Say Yes.

Many Thanks Mr Hannon: The Divine Comedy’s “A Secret History”, Hot Press, 1999

The Divine Comedy: A Secret History, The Best of The Divine Comedy (Setanta).

The genius of Neil Hannon lies in his ability to take the most mundane situations and transform them into the most glorious of reasons for living.

I’ve had quite a few problems with his band’s last couple of LPs, but for all that this particular gift continues to shine through: the man who tricks a nation in 1999 into finding public transport sexy is to be feared and admired in equal measure.

It was Promenade‘s lyrical evocation of the simple pleasures of a single day by the sea that reeled me in. It’s still my favourite album by anyone: the record honestly glows. ‘Summerhouse’ is here, and ‘Tonight We Fly’; pop at its most warm-hearted.

Astonishingly, ‘Don’t Look Down’ isn’t, but Liberation is well-represented by ‘Lucy’, pristine as ever, as well as ‘Your Daddy’s Car’ and ‘The Pop Singer’s Fear Of The Pollen Count’. What these songs have in common with the later, more embittered likes of ‘Becoming More Like Alfie’ and ‘Songs Of Love’ is that they all throw down the gauntlet and go out and live.

Exactly the same, but more obviously, there’s the drenching unguarded abandon of ‘In Pursuit Of Happiness’, or ‘National Express’ – a song about nothing more than the delight to be taken in the company of other people. That Neil Hannon can be called snide when his biggest hit is so blatantly benevolent, beggars belief: even his hardest and coldest moments – take ‘Generation Sex’ – have a dash and a verve about them that steer them miles away from misanthropy.

Two flaws in this record, other than the ‘Don’t Look Down’ debacle: ‘Gin Soaked Boy’, a new song, is barely a B-side, while the hollow bombast of ‘The Certainty Of Chance’, emblematic of a recent slide into over-elaborate arrangements and cerebrality at the expense of simple soul, should have been banished long since.

When Neil sings “I must break free from that part of me/That values the art over the humanity” in ‘Too Young To Die’, I hope that’s what’s in his head.

Otherwise, I could pick holes in The Divine Comedy’s songs all night, but only in the same way as you can pick holes in the personalities of your parents: it doesn’t mean you love them any less.

More power to you and many thanks, Mr Hannon.

A New Name and Start Again: Fergal Bunbury Writes About AHOUSEISDEAD

Fergal Bunbury is, in his own words, the guitarist and strategist with A House and AHOUSEISDEAD. Well: he has been both but is not both now. A House broke up in February 1997 with a final farewell in the Olympia. I was there, singing, swaying, drinking and mourning. I also attended AHOUSEISDEAD when they accepted an award for I Am The Greatest in the NCH in June 2019.

A gig I did not go to was the Pixies’ 20th anniversary Doolittle show in the Olympia in 2009. I wrote in the Irish Independent why I would not go and that is an addendum here. My essential point was “I love Doolittle too much to watch it being mummified.Fergal and I started talking about Pixies last week. He told me that Trompe Le Monde was “the zenith of indie guitar rock”. I disagreed because Doolittle is. I shared with Fergal my 2009 piece.

Responding, Fergal addressed something that had never occurred to me: the correlation and contrast between Pixies’ trajectory since breaking up in 1993 and A House’s since 1997. On Twitter, he said: “The name AHOUSEISDEAD was inspired by Death to the Pixies, which I thought was the best title ever, until they fucked it up by coming back. Call yourselves something else. PIXIESAREDEAD.” He sent me a clear, detailed, handwritten reflection on A House and Pixies on September 25th, and he agreed that I could publish it here.

Fergal Bunbury, still produces fascinating, fractious, moving music, now as FBU62. And let me just say: A House are among the bands I’ve held closest to my heart my whole life since age 17. One of my emails to Fergal ended like this: “Coda. I have the title track of I Want Too Much on right now. Fucking hell, Fergal.”

I am delighted to host fErGaL here.

Self-portrait, fErGaL, September 2022.

Fergal Bunbury. September 25th 2022.

Niall, I really enjoyed your piece.

As for the Doolittle gig? You were right not to go. (Neither did I.)

I firmly believe that once a band breaks up they should never reform. (That goes for The Velvets too. No-one talks about those gigs.)

That may sound strange, considering the I Am The Greatest gigs, but I have spent 25 years saying NO to an A House reunion, turning down far less money than Pixies were offered! 

When we were approached about playing to receive the Trailblazer Award (Microdisney & A House being the only bands so honoured!), my only stipulation was that it could not be advertised as A House. Hence AHOUSEISDEAD was born.

The idea was to play the NCH and then write new songs and play smaller venues as AHOUSEISDEAD, playing a mix of new & old songs. The NCH was a huge success but was all seated so we decided to do one for the dancers & dreamers at Vicar Street. 

Each gig’s setlist was old songs but we radically changed ‘Take It Easy On Me’, ‘How Strong Is Love’, ‘When I First Saw You’, ‘I am Afraid’ and ‘Here Come The Good Times’, and as I said the plan was always to write new songs, which we did, just before the world shut down for two years. (I spent the lockdown writing stuff that was released on Bandcamp as FBU62).

A very wise man less than half my age once told me “No Kim Deal, no Pixies”, and he’s right. The tensions that split the band—one of the best bands ever—inevitably resurfaced, and that was that. Everyone has seen some fairly laboured Pixies gigs from around this time on YouTube etc. 

Then, the new material came. As I said here, the pressure to call themselves Pixies was probably immense. Don’t underestimate the pressure we were under to use the A House name. And Pixies would have been under even more pressure. I guess what I’m saying is: they could’ve and should’ve said no. Like we said no. Come up with a new name and start again. As creative people, it should’ve been easy.

As an aside, I think there is a very good long piece to be written about the AHOUSEISDEAD Trailblazer/Vicar Street gig. Old musicians, new musicians, left-out musicians, (there were 3 generations of musicians in the band), crisps, pre/post-Spotify, acrimony, Garageband, record deals, band break-ups, promoters, trying to make a living, old against new music industry, creativity. I think some of the issues we’ve touched on here could be examined in more detail with a specific focus on AHOUSEISDEAD and a wider point of what it takes and means to be a musician in the 21st century.

That is all for now.

Take it easy but take it.

fErGaL.

The God Is Great Grocery: Malawi, 2006.

I lived in Mzuzu, capital of the north of Malawi, with my wife Sharon Brady for eighteen months from January 2006. We worked in St. John of God’s, on the outskirts of the city, which looked after the entire, vast, northern region.

On 22nd August, 2006, I sent the Irish Times a proposal for pieces based on interviews, by me and my SJOG colleague and friend Alex Nkosi, with people in north Malawi. Below is the letter I wrote to the Features Editor, which got no reply.

Alex and I went ahead and did a series of fascinating interviews. I still have the tiny tapes in a drawer somewhere.

People we interviewed included Robson Chirwa, a former Malawian Minister who had been acting President when thirty-year post-independence authoritarian President Hastings Banda was incapacitated.

We met Rose Chibambo, a human rights activist and politician who bravely opposed Banda and Chirwa, whose face appeared on a 200 kwacha note after we conducted our interview in her rose garden. We met a farmer, Henry, who grew maize and cabbages on land way out of town, who rarely left his farm and never encountered money.

Sharon and I came upon a shop in Rhumpi, north of Mzuzu, called the God Is Great Grocery. I remember lightbulbing: we have to interview the owner of the God Is Great Grocery. When we write a book, this is what we can title it.

I was texting Alex today, September 26th, and we reminisced about this work. Sadly, we didn’t interview the owner and we didn’t write the book. Although our aspiration was a book, I was depending on Irish Times encouragement to keep going. My recollection is that the lack of an IT reply told my annoyingly self-doubting brain: no-one at home is interested. They don’t live here. Why would they be? So, I let go. I had a lot on, other writing priorities, and I moved on.

Then today for the first time in sixteen years, I read my email to the Times and I was taken aback by how driven I appeared to have been to tell the story with Alex and our interviewees of their lives in Malawi. I’m sorry I didn’t.

I am posting this now because, although contrary to many views of 2022 Malawi, some observations in the piece still ring true: “People live, and they enjoy life. The focus only on horror neglects the truth that even in a culture so directly the opposite of the culture we know and imagine to be necessary, there is vigour and humour and life. People laugh a lot in Malawi. Just now, at three on a Friday afternoon, half a dozen street kids started singing outside my window. I’m not saying it’s great to be a street kid, the opposite is true—but the song happened all the same. And that is the paradox I want to illuminate.”

St John of God Centre, 
PO Box 744,
Mzuzu, 
Malawi. 

18th August 2006. 

Features Editor, 
Irish Times. 

Re: The God Is Great Grocery—Stories of Life in Malawi

Dear Features Editor,

I hope I find you well. I am an Irish psychiatrist and journalist living in Mzuzu in the north of Malawi. My writing has appeared in Hotpress magazine since 1993.

I have just begun planning a series of interviews with Malawians from all walks of life. My collaborator on this project is Alex Nkosi, who is a columnist for the Malawi Nation, and a pastor in the St John of God Service. We will conduct the interviews in the next three months, and I will write them over the next few months and into the new year. As the Irish Times is the newspaper that consistently has the broadest and best coverage of Africa, I am writing to ask whether you would be interested in reading our work as we proceed, and considering a sample of it for publication. 

The reasons for these interviews are simple and—to us at least!—compelling.

The first is to let the intriguing life stories of ordinary people in this beautiful and complex country tell themselves. The second is to question our assumptions about the lives of people in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Malawi is a fairly typical sub-Saharan nation, which is at an interesting time in its development as a democracy. It is more politically stable and transparent than other countries in the region, but this state of affairs is brittle, for any number of reasons—not least poverty. As of 2004, Malawi was, according to one of the two methods the World Bank uses to calculate wealth, the poorest country in the world, its gross national income per capita one-third of the sub-Saharan average. By the other method, it was the sixth poorest. It has not gotten any wealthier, and its debt has not been cancelled. 

Partly because of its extreme poverty and HIV crisis, and because of periodic food shortages, Malawi has recently received quite a lot of coverage in the West. (Also—Madonna.) This is good news, with one proviso: the tone of the coverage, representative of that of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, is almost always apocalyptic—specifically, it’s all HIV, all of the time. A well-read Westerner could be forgiven for thinking that all a Malawian does with his life is to queue up for death. It’s difficult for even the best writers not to leave this impression. 

In July, in a nuanced and moving piece in the Times, Rosita Boland wrote, “We have Spars and Centras. In Malawi they have coffin shops.” She cited the sign for Energy Coffins on the main Lilongwe-Mzuzu Road. I know Energy Coffins, and I also did a double take the first time I saw that sign, and she’s right: They’re everywhere. For an Irish visitor, the nearness of death, and the acceptance and advertising of that proximity, is staggering. But I read her piece, and read it again, and thought of the other shops, small businesses and signs that populate that trip north.

Cellphone call-card stalls do business in the villages. Small farmers sell “Irish potatoes” all along the road—spuds introduced by homesick Irish missionaries, queasy at the thought of yet more maize. You see hand-painted signs for Coke and Carlsberg every few kilometres—and then there’s my own favourite, the mêlée of the food market in Jenda, over the hills from Zambia, two hours from Mzuzu. Further north in Karonga, you’ll find the companion piece to Energy Coffins, or the anti-Energy Coffins—the God Is Great Grocery. This is wit: a sign of life, alongside signs for death. 

Extreme poverty and the HIV crisis—the obliteration of half a generation—are of course real problems. It feels facile even to write that. They are arguably beyond our grasp as modern Europeans. They are devastating for Malawian society, and devastating for each person affected. But people don’t spend their days being devastated. What would that even entail? 

People live, and they enjoy life. The focus only on horror neglects the truth that even in a culture so directly the opposite of the culture we know and imagine to be necessary, there is vigour and humour and life. People laugh a lot in Malawi. Just now, at three on a Friday afternoon, half a dozen street kids started singing outside my window. I’m not saying it’s great to be a street kid, the opposite is true—but the song happened all the same. And that is the paradox I want to illuminate.

Because once you realise that life thrives in Malawi, the interesting question is no longer what it was before—why is this place so awful? (Or, when’s the next plane out?) Instead, the question becomes: Given the everyday struggles for existence here, how do ordinary people get on with their lives? Can people really prosper in a failed state—and what’s their secret?

The only way to answer this question, for a Malawian or an Irishman, is to ask.

Of course the first rule of interviewing, as far as I know, is: don’t ask leading questions. Don’t have an agenda. Let the stories tell themselves. Alex and I will not be visiting villages asking everyone why their lives are so fabulous. We will ask people to tell us about themselves and their families, and their losses and sadnesses and loves and joys and hopes. We can’t and won’t pre-decide the outcome of any conversation, but we’ll listen for stories that others aren’t hearing. 

Beyond the human interest, is there a point? I think so. 

My friends here are often perplexed at the stories written or broadcast in the West about Malawi, and these include friends who have recently visited Ireland. I worry too that however well-intentioned the apocalyptic pieces about Sub-Saharan Africa are, that they can be counter-productive. The situations described seem so desperate and the people’s lives so different as to be alien from our own. This reporting distances us from the people in countries like Malawi and may inhibit us from acting in the interests of those people, when our instincts are to act. Feeling overwhelmed and impotent, we switch off. (What’s the point?) 

The fact is that in every important sense, people in Malawi are just like Irish people. Without wishing to state the obvious—and I will re-state that for Irish people, I believe this is not obvious—most Malawians are busy dropping the kids to school and preparing dinner, and falling in love, and fixing punctures, and checking email, and arguing about politics in the pub, and getting their hair done four times a week. (Also, ringing in sick when the World Cup’s on.) 

Bono is in the habit of saying that we must not believe Africans are equal to us—otherwise we couldn’t stand by while endless endemic disasters happen here. He must be right, and I wonder what role the reporting on Africa plays in this when it conveys and re-conveys the message that African lives are just not like ours.

I have been listening to the stories of ordinary Malawians all year, and Alex Nkosi has been doing so all his life. Like Irish life stories, they are fantastic stuff, and people should hear them. 

We plan now to conduct 12-15 interviews. Our final list of interviewees is not yet drawn up but we have a longlist: village chiefs and banana farmers, traffic policemen and kids selling paintings on the street, children and ancient grandmothers and the man who runs the God Is Great Grocery. Among others. Our interviews will start next month. 

I understand of course that it is too early in the project for you to have any kind of firm response to this proposal, and we will carry out the work anyway—but it would be a big boost to know that back in Ireland, the Times was even embryonically interested. So I look forward to hearing from you. And I apologise for the length of this proposal. 

Thanks for taking the time to read it.

Yours, 

Niall Crumlish 
+265-8-594035 (mobile) 
+265-1-332690 (work)

Review of David Holmes’ The Holy Pictures, State, 2008.

In 2008 I started writing for State. I was recruited late one night in Whelan’s. I met John Walshe who was DJing and he told me about the new magazine. I’d known and been colleagues with John in Hot Press since about 1994 and I thought really highly of him (and Phil Udell and Niall Byrne, all involved in State) so I asked: can I write for you? State was great and ran for about ten years. For a few months, State was a print as well as online magazine – hence the relative brevity of this piece. When they went online only, my writing got a bit more expansive / waffly. In terms of The Holy Pictures, ‘The Ballad of Sarah and Jack’, the ballad of David Holmes’s parents who are on the cover of the record, remains the standout track. My final paragraph covers just how beautiful and powerful a piece it is.

David Holmes: The Holy Pictures (Canderblinks / Mercury / Universal)

David Holmes has spent half his career scoring huge Hollywood films, and half the rest scoring imaginary films. So, the challenge facing any reviewer of The Holy Pictures is to avoid the dreaded reflex adjective: cinematic. Like trying to review the Magnetic Fields without using the word “arch”, it’s a fricking impossible challenge.

Still, there are as many types of films as songs, so cinematic never tells you very much. Usually, it means Monument Valley-style widescreen, but that only applies here to the opening track. ‘I Heard Wonders’ fades in on an insistent, staccato bass line, adding instruments until it reaches one of those supernova moments like the Pixies’ ‘Tame’ or old-school trance, and thundering along from there.

Then, there’s ‘The Story of the Ink’, which Tarantino could surely use, with slashing guitar and gorgeous contrapuntal glockenspiel. ‘Theme’ and ‘Hey Maggie’ have an ache to them that you don’t have room for in Soderbergh soundtracks; but the film I would watch again and again is the one ‘The Ballad of Sarah and Jack’ is from.

Holmes has said that The Holy Pictures is inspired by his mum, Sarah, who died in 1996. Without that context, would ‘Ballad’ be so beautiful? Who knows, but it ends the album on a note of grace and simplicity – five or six interchanging chords on guitar and piano in the straightforward key of C – that leaves the listener in a welcome contemplative melancholy, with an appreciation of those around them still living that maybe they didn’t have when the song began. Music doesn’t do much more than that.

Niall Crumlish 4/5

Dexys’ One Day I’m Going To Soar: State Review, July 2012

Dexys: One Day I’m Going to Soar (BMG)

To say that it One Day I’m Going to Soar is the least great of the four Dexys albums is to praise it with faint damnation.

From 1980 to 1985 Kevin Rowland led Dexys Midnight Runners through one of the purplest patches in pop music history. They were lyrical, sharp, ultra-intense, and preposterously ambitious. To borrow their own verb of choice: they burned.

Dexys peaked with Don’t Stand Me Down, which was a failure in every sense but artistic. The high watermark was ‘This Is What She’s Like’, eleven dizzying minutes of sui generis genius. I can’t describe it, but I will say this: ‘This Is What She’s Like’ was the only song cited in my wedding day speech, because I knew I had met my future wife when I felt the joy conveyed by Rowland’s closing wordless whoops, and I understood his articulation of the limits of language.

1985 did not know what to do with Don’t Stand Me Down, and it looked the other way. Rowland dropped the band and took up cocaine. He was bottled offstage at Reading in 1999, wearing a camisole in front of a field of Red Hot Chilli Peppers fans. This was the kind of thing we expected from Kevin (“Compromise is the devil talking”, goes ‘The Occasional Flicker’), but at times you wished he would compromise more and risk skull fractures less. So the fact that Dexys even exist, that there’s even an album in 2012, is a cause for celebration. I would give Rowland 5/5 just for being alive. But you have to ask in an album review if the idea of a 2012 Dexys is matched by the reality of a dozen new songs; whether the new music lives up to the legend. Well: sort of.

One Day I’m Going to Soar is an intelligent, moving album with a beginning, an end, and not much of a middle. There’s a clear linear narrative: the story of a relationship between the protagonist (they’re a little coy about this, but it’s real-life Kevin) and a fictional woman to whom he may or may not commit. Ultimately, you find, the relationship never had a chance, as the story becomes more about Kevin Rowland’s inability, apparently hardwired, to be anything other than alone. “I still believe in love,” he asserts in ‘It’s OK John Joe’, “I just don’t know what it is / Not really.”

‘Now’ opens the album, an old-school, storming Dexys statement of intent: “Well I know that I’ve been crazy / And that could not be denied / But inside of me there’s always been / A secret urge to fly”. ‘Lost’ introduces the main character (“I am so lost! / I am lost inside”), and the relationship tentatively begins by track four, ‘She Got a Wiggle’, a better, more subtle song than its title suggests. Beyond that there is a dip, as duets between Rowland and fictional squeeze Madeline Hyland (‘I’m Always Going to Love You’, ‘Incapable of Love’) fall flat, partly because of a restrictive lyrical concreteness and partly because of a lack of chemistry. The songs have the comfortable, languourous feel of Seventies soul, but the arrangements lack the drama and sheer force of personality of peak Dexys.

Then, though, the album concludes with a brace of the finest songs we will hear this year.

‘Free’ reframes a lifetime of doomed relationships as a choice, an expression of intransigent untameability: “At first I didn’t know how I would be / Without somebody loving me / Would I be lost inside / But now… I’m better off alone”. Pete Williams scolds in counterpoint “If you don’t marry you will be lonely / All good men raise a family,” but Rowland is having none of it. “Some of them they don’t seem so happy / They tolerate misery / And that is not for me,” he retorts, reasoning“Why would I want to buy a book when I can join the library?” Whatever doubts you might have about Rowland’s rationalising here, the exuberant defiance is irresistible, and the band is thumping, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels-style.

Plus, whatever doubts you might have, Rowland has beaten you to them. On the album’s desperately touching closer, ‘It’s OK, John Joe’, he self-laceratingly recounts his failures to relate to people. He’s not easy on himself: “I know about controlling people / I know about using people until I’m tired of them… And I know about getting someone to love me as a challenge / Then not wanting them when I have them”.

‘It’s OK John Joe’ seems to be intended as a reassurance to someone worrying about Rowland (“It’s OK, John Joe / It don’t matter if I’m alone”), but it’s not always reassuring. “I try to find some peace / But at best it’s only fleeting / I can’t last much longer like this like this,” he despairs, before – like the Cavalry – a reprise of ‘Free’ rides back in, in all its dauntless feckless glory. The message: no, really, it’s OK. There’s hope elsewhere too: “I’m only learning, just learning to operate in this world,” he says, “I’m gonna do it Johnny / I’m moving towards that thing”. It’s not over; he’s still growing, still searching, still burning. More luck to him.

Niall Crumlish 3/5

We Can Just Let Go: Indo Piece on Michael Jackson and Julia Jacklin, 2019

In March 2019, as Leaving Neverland, about Michael Jackson, was about to come out, the Irish Independent rang me. They asked if I could address how wrongdoing by an artist, especially sexual crime, could or should affect our enjoyment or appreciation of their work. I first thought: I can’t add anything. We’d been thinking about this since the 1970s. And I was in clinic and super-busy. So I said no. Fifteen minutes later I called back. Julia Jacklin’s extraordinary Crushing was just out, and I’d figured out how to get a mention of the record into a popular Irish paper. So I wrote the below. I interviewed Julia Jacklin a couple of weeks later. Julia’s 2022 album, Pre Pleasure, is also brilliant. The Indo used pictures of Michael Jackson in the printed paper and online here. I understand why, but I’ve stuck to videos and pics of the people on the other side of this.

Niall Crumlish: ‘Don’t listen to predatory artists’ music – hear the survivors’ stories instead. Irish Independent, March 9th, 2019.

Leaving Neverland was the kind of film you cannot ever unsee. In the four-hour documentary, Wade Robson and James Safechuck described being groomed and sexually assaulted by Michael Jackson. They did so in excruciating and incriminating detail. Safechuck said that Jackson took him on the Bad tour and initiated sexual contact with him in June 1988 when he was 10. It is jarring to remember the worshipful welcome Jackson received in Ireland a month later when he played Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

I felt viscerally angry watching these men, still young, describe the egregious abuse of trust and absolute power perpetrated by Michael Jackson and his enablers. I thought of all the people I meet in my work as a psychiatrist who experienced rape as children. I came away from Leaving Neverland feeling that Jackson must finally be made a pariah, and that his work must be expunged from the record. I didn’t want my kids hearing Thriller. Radio stations around the world have already taken Jackson off their playlists and some stations that did not remove him have felt compelled to explain why not.

A central question here is: Does monstrous behaviour by an artist render his work toxic too? The culture at large is confused on this matter and the response partly depends on how long ago the alleged crimes were committed.

In 1977, Roman Polanski was charged with the rape of a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer. He fled the USA to evade justice and continued to work. He won the Academy Award for Best Director in 2003, in absentia, and the Oscars audience erupted into a standing ovation. His victory was announced by Harrison Ford, of The Fugitive, in a possibly unintended irony. Woody Allen, too, continues to make film after film despite longstanding allegations of child abuse, and he won a lifetime achievement Golden Globe award in 2014.

Then there are the myriad accounts of sexual predation of underage girls like Lori Maddox by 1970s rock stars. Far from being erased from history, those men remain some of the most revered names in music. A reckoning with those times must, surely, be coming.

Artists exposed as predators more recently have faced consequences.

The singer Ryan Adams and the comedian Louis CK have both had to take time away after each was accused of sexual misconduct and abuse of power in respective New York Times stories. Adams has denied the allegations, while CK has half-apologised. The Louis CK story was huge news in November 2017, but within six months he was venturing back on stage. So it remains to be seen how enduring the consequences for sexual misconduct are even now, and how much of a deterrent the #MeToo movement will be.

Why is it even a question that we reject the work of men who behave despicably? Why is it not the most obvious thing in the world? Maybe because it’s hard to do.

For instance, I loved Louis CK’s show, Louie, which he starred in, wrote and directed. I identified strongly with the title character, a frequently perplexed father. When I first read the allegations about CK, I prayed there was some awful misunderstanding. Likewise, I watched Woody Allen’s Annie Hall a hundred times in my twenties. It was a blueprint for the romantic, wisecracking life I longed to lead.

What I’m saying is that these works of art do ingrain themselves in you and rejecting them can feel like betraying an important part of yourself. But we don’t have Louis CK or Woody Allen in our house any more.

More broadly, there is the problem of how a culture abandons art that is everywhere. The hosts of a New York Times podcast on Leaving Neverland said Jackson’s music is in the culture “at a molecular level”. They said “You can’t unbake that cake”. But that is a problem of logistics, not ethics, and I’m not sure that response is enough.

I think the culture should do everything it can to turn away from Jackson and other predators. Opposition to sexual violence is too important to be a secondary consideration. If we decide we reject sexual predators in the arts, we’ll find a way to implement that rejection. My kids have already heard Thriller, of course, but maybe their kids will not.

And it’s not enough to turn away from these people. We can make choices about who we turn to.

An Australian singer, Julia Jacklin, has a brilliant song, ‘Body’, which recounts a threat of sexual violence looming over the end of a bad relationship. ‘Body’ closes with a sobering repetition of a couplet that could easily apply to any victim of emotional, physical or sexual abuse: “Well I guess it’s just my life / And it’s just my body.” The way she sings those lines is so resigned that it is enraging: it tells you that the culture that produces the song tolerates this behaviour.

I propose we use what we can, including our cultural choices, to ensure that women now and in future don’t have to sing songs about their bodies being the property of careless men. I propose we cease agonising over whether to keep listening to predatory artists. We can just let go. Perhaps listen instead to the people who survive their predation.

They might have important things to tell us.

The Wormholes: The Past Is Rushing In

September 2022. In 2019, Eamonn Crudden of Dead Elvis asked me if I would write liner notes for a forthcoming anthology called You Never See The Stars When It Rains by the great Dublin band The Wormholes. I had loved The Wormholes for twenty-five years and I was thrilled to be asked. I wrote my liner notes in July 2020. It took me quite a while; the guts of a week, much of which was a scuba-deep dive into the wonderful music of The Wormholes, the rest of the Dead Elvis oeuvre, and much brilliant mid-Nineties Irish independent music. You Never See The Stars When It Rains came out in November 2021. Pieces by me and musician & historian Stephen Rennicks were included in the vinyl sleeve beautifully designed by Niall McCormack, who was back in the Dead Elvis days the singer with Jubilee and a Hot Press colleague of mine. The Blackpool Sentinel published my piece last December. This month, I asked Colm O’Callaghan from The Blackpool Sentinel if it was alright for me to publish it here, just so it’s archived online alongside my other stuff. He said yep. Thanks Colm.

In 1995, opening a review of The Wormholes and Jubilee Allstars in The Attic, I wrote: Now is as exciting a time to be a rock n’roll fan in Dublin as I can remember. No longer do you have to wish that you’d been aware of the existence of the Underground a decade ago; everywhere you look, these days, there’s another crowd of lo-fi misfits getting it together to borrow or steal distortion pedals and to promise as fantastic a few months as that legendary summer of ’85.

Music journalism rewards strong opinions whether or not they are not supported by facts but here, for once, I was on to something. As Daragh McCarthy’s film The Stars Are Underground depicts, the mid-1990s were genuinely great days to be into independent music in Dublin. 

The sequence of events is broadly as follows.

The DIY ethos of the first wave of punk and post-punk dwindled in the 1980s, when the intrusion of major labels into Dublin in the search for U2’s successors became stifling. As the Nineties arrived, bands who were more energised by creativity than careers chose not to await A&R department approval and punk ideals reignited.

Artisan labels like Blunt and Dirt released amazing music by the likes of Mexican Pets, Pet Lamb, Female Hercules, Luggage, and The Idiots. Sunbear formed their own label to release their evergreen, eponymous, and only album. Niall McCormack of Jubilee Allstars, interviewed in The Stars Are Underground, said it simply: “There’s just loads of people putting records out. You don’t really care so much about being part of an industry, but just purely for the love of putting out records”.

At the centre of things was Dead Elvis Records, the label founded by Eamonn and Óg Crudden, brothers from Dundalk, along with Eamonn Doyle and producer/ engineer Marc Carolan. Between 1994 and 1999 Dead Elvis was at the heart of Dublin’s lo-fi flourishing and another band of brothers, The Wormholes, from Ringsend, was the heart of Dead Elvis. 

Anyone reading this will already know that the late Dave Carroll played the drums and sang in The Wormholes while his twin brother Anto Carroll played the bass and keyboards and Graham Blackmore played guitar and sang. They all wrote songs although increasingly as they went on their songs became the sounds they unearthed in the ether as they played together, improvising with inhibitions in abeyance. When Dave, Graham and Anto joined together in full flow they made an almighty and liberating noise. Three was the magic number.

The Wormholes’ Chicks Dig Scars, named by Evel Knievel via The Simpsons, was Dead Elvis 001 and Dead Elvis’ final release in 1999 was The Wormholes’ third release, long in the works, Parijuana: Four Years In Captivity. The album Scorpio, recorded after Parijuana but released before it, was released in 1997. All three albums are represented in this anthology.

The Wormholes were the first band to release on Dead Elvis but they were not the first Dead Elvis band to whom I became devoted. 

My ideal album in my early twenties was sparsely recorded, direct in its storytelling, melancholy in tone, and immediately relatable. As in: Big Star’s Third, Smog’s Julius Caesar, American Music Club’s California, Magnetic Fields’ The Charm of the Highway Strip, and Kristin Hersh’s Hips and Makers, specifically ‘The Letter’, because the lyric of ‘The Letter’ was so obviously autobiographical and was the most anguished on the album.

So into this aesthetic, some Dead Elvis bands fit more snugly than others. 

I connected instantly to The Sewing Room’s And Nico, with its loping careworn chronicles of doomed attempts at romantic connection and loneliness numbed by intoxication. The dreamed denouement of Eamonn Davis’ ‘Lord Let It Be Over Soon’ was that he and his disappearing lover would “achieve a kind of intimacy that drink would only ruin”, a far-off prospect for me and my social circle, reliant as we were on pints for social ease. I laughed in wincing recognition at Stan Erraught’s ‘Miles Away’, which laid responsibility for any failures of connection with the protagonist, not his hard luck stories: “All she wanted was a word from me / All I needed to say / Was ‘I am here beside you’ / But I was miles away”.

Jubilee Allstars, another fraternal outfit, delivered pointedly uncomplicated yearning lyrics sung shakily by Niall McCormack and accompanied by taut strumming and drumming. In Motion’s Alan Kelly, on ‘Until My Dreams Come True’ from The Language of Everyday Life, sang “No matter how far I go / Loneliness is around / No matter how far I go / It will follow me around”, and he buried the pain in jangly harmonies, so even better. These Dead Elvis bands got me through my left brain—my more readily accessible hemisphere. They got in through their use in lyrics of language I understood, through the literal meaning of their words aligned with vibrant melody and empathetic arrangements. I really loved those bands and I do to this day.

The Wormholes got into you in other ways—right-brain ways. 

They were viscerally thrilling and their music bypassed the usual central processing. When The Wormholes initially engaged my heart it was not in the way that other music engages with the heart as the metaphoric seat of warm emotion. It was the way a jolt of adrenaline engages your heart. And The Wormholes required you to listen with your whole body. The crunch of the guitar on ‘Leave The Blanket In’ and ‘Lay It On’ and ‘Riotman’ is not just a cerebral or auditory experience. It is somatic, experienced just as much in your stomach and sternum.

I always loved The Wormholes live where they took the roof off the place but it took a while to appreciate their records properly; the love and bravery that went into them and how music can speak to you in a different way if you learn to let it. And then for me their music acquired, alongside its raw chaotic energy, a beauty and depth that was obviously always there.

If Jubilee Allstars were The Replacements and In Motion The Byrds, The Wormholes were The Stooges. They were loose and electrifying, intense and poetic, furiously tilting at transcendence. Like The Stooges or Sonic Youth, like Sun Ra or Slanted and Enchanted, the freedom with which The Wormholes played their music was the meaning of their music.

The tracks from Chicks Dig Scars are tricky to write about in 2020. I played this album a lot quarter of a century ago so my impressions of Chicks are embedded in my memories of those years and obscured by everything that has happened since. It is hard to have a clear view of songs that are ingrained in you. Like ‘Leave The Blanket In’ says: the past is rushing in. 

But it is an extraordinary album and the songs chosen here are classics.

‘Leave The Blanket In’ is a force of nature, with its open longing (“I want to see your skin / I wanna touch your / I wanna lick your…”) and its distorted vocals and heavy guitars somehow comforting, like a layer of cotton. ‘12AM’, which live was an immersive exploration of unyielding noise, is taut, then explosive, then joyful, and the glorious jubilant “A-roo doo doo doo doo doo” that underpins the second half of the song – well, that’s always been just one of my favourite sounds. ‘In My Head’ is immense, rocket-fuelled by anxiety and frustration and a touch of tired malevolence. ‘Tryen Alone’ is touching and empathogenic. The Wormholes had range. 

‘Lay It On’ is gloriously riotous (“Get out of here you ain’t no good / Leave this fucking neighbourhood)”. Also, in ‘Lay It On’, The Wormholes may have been responsible for the greatest music video of the No Disco era, their friend Phil Doab jerkily dancing up a storm in Ringsend. It was good to check in with the video while writing this; I’ve taken The Wormholes pretty seriously in this piece and it was good to be reminded, via this pandemonium on Pigeon House Road, that they didn’t take themselves too seriously.

Then, ‘Rooftops’ has a poignancy that—well, in the aftermath of Dave Carroll’s untimely passing, ‘Rooftops’ just aches: “Miles and miles of rooftops / Grey bleak and unrelenting / My life is like a rooftop / It goes on forever and ever / And I wanna know / Does it end? / Does it ever end?” The final representation here of the Chicks era is ‘White Coat Ilyad’, from the ‘Lay It On’ EP, the descending minor chords of which attain peak Pavement’s unsteady grace.

The anthology continues with two sides composed largely of pieces from Parijuana: Four Years In Captivity. The central positioning of Parijuana makes sense: it is a highly distilled expression of Wormhole personality. I came to Parijuana relatively recently and I always understood it as the bridge between the song-based Chicks Dig Scars and the improvisational music that Dave and Anto later made with E+S=B and Amygdala. Parijuana was improvised and made over a period of four years from 1994-98 with production by Stan Erraught and Marc Carolan. 

The first Parijuana track here is ‘Out Of Place 94’, a masterpiece of unease. “You want it all,” sings Dave Carroll, alongside ascending guitar chords above a rumbling distant bass. “You won’t let me in / I see it in your grin”, he continues, and there’s no satisfying resolution afoot. The song ends with waves of electronic noise and I imagine the band in the studio researching which wavelengths of sound are the most unsettling. And yet: Dave’s vocal on this is just so gentle, so defenceless, like something ineffable disappearing across the horizon. 

‘Mission Hall’ is the Wormholes at their most simultaneously ragged and delicate. It opens with a hesitant piano melody before Dave’s drums join in, and you hear the band coming together, then separating, and the music waxing and waning before ending violently. Parijuana songs like ‘Mission Hall’ work well with your eyes closed so you are in the room with them while the music ignites. The room the band recorded this song in was Mission Hall in Ringsend, where Graham’s parents worked. ‘Mission Hall’ sounds different each time you hear it, although knowing it was recorded on The Wormholes’ home turf adds a grounding sense of place.

‘We Can’t Play for Shit E’ is rooted in Anto Carroll’s bass. It has to be rooted in something; something has to keep this music moving forward as it drifts and hangs like a dark fog. There is a lot to love about this piece—its serrated energy, its abundance of ideas, the vocal that arrives at six minutes for one line only—but what I love most is the trust in the band; the attachment. ‘We Can’t Play For Shit E’ is the sound of unshakeable connection.

‘Riotman’ could have graced Chicks Dig Scars. It is more of a song than an improvisation and it has a clear direction, with unrelenting bass, drums, guitar, and squeals of harmonica. In my mind this song sits alongside Sonic Youth’s ‘Cross The Breeze’. There is a pummelling urgency and the refrain of ‘I wanna know’ echoing Kim Gordon’s ‘I wanna know / Should I stay or go?’ These are earnest agitated demands yet there is a meditative stillness that music like this allows you to enter, as phrases reassuringly repeat themselves and your body’s rhythms and the rhythms of the music are aligned. You are in the song, not separate.

Like Faust covering The Fall, ‘Blame Superstition’ is a Krautrock-grounded stream of poetic consciousness. The kinetic driving rhythm frees up Dave Carroll’s singing in form and content, his tone drawling then abrasive, his improvised lyrics harsh then daft and playful (“The people around here / They can’t understand me … I think I’ve been abducted by aliens, I think I’ve got a rash”). This is how you sing in a lyrical language you invented. Someone in L7 once described J Mascis’s guitar playing as the ultimate expression of freedom and I think of that description when I hear the howls and squalls and raucous applause that close ‘Blame Superstition’, the unleashable exhilaration of Parijuana. ‘No Second Chance’, then, could have been on Nuggets.

‘Mark Chapman’s Revolver’ is expansive in its ambition—a reimagining of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ named after John Lennon’s assassin no less. But you don’t need to know the backstory to immerse yourself: to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, as it were. A classic Dead Elvis meandering guitar line threads through Dave’s vocals surrounded by a sonic landscape that could be Neu! covering Panda Bear, and it is quite rapturous.

1997’s Scorpio is represented here by ‘Go Under’, which has a harmonica-led litheness recognisable to fans of Brian Jonestown Massacre, and ‘Bee Mee’, which is somehow both pugilistic and plaintive. ‘44 Bulldog’ and ‘Free The Tones’ round out the choices. ‘Free The Tones’ is a collaboration with Dublin electronic pioneers Decal, a spacious piece that showed the openness, inventiveness, and curiosity that Dave, Anto, and Graham would bring to E+S=B and their other post-Wormholes incarnations.

It was incredibly exciting to be in Dublin when the bands of The Stars Are Underground were in their pomp and years later I used to look back on that time with a sense of sadness, a feeling of something somehow unfulfilled. The Dead Elvis / Blunt / Dirt bedrock bands did not become successful in the way I thought they might become, and that I thought they deserved to become. They broke up, or moved on, and most never played anywhere bigger than Whelan’s.

This was and is the wrong way of thinking about it. It may even be an 80’s A+R man way of thinking about it. When you look in 2020 at what came out of the Dead Elvis era and you see that so many of the mid 90s players are out there even now continuing to create art.

Eamonn Doyle, who left Dead Elvis early on, is now a painter and photographer. Eamonn Crudden teaches film. Marc Carolan is a successful sound engineer and has toured the world with Muse. Pat Clafferty of Mexican Pets paints. Stan Erraught, PhD, is a lecturer in the School of Music in Leeds, working at an intersection that I didn’t know existed between Immanuel Kant and popular music. Brian Mooney of The Idiots recorded some of the most painfully beautiful songs of 2020 as The Next New Low. Of Sunbear, Colin Morris and Joe Chester released new music in 2020 and Chester has a prolific output of solo work and collaboration. Niall McCormack of Jubilee Allstars is a visual artist, his design company called HiTone, which was the name he gave the label on which his band released their first single. His brother Barry, too young to be allowed into Jubilee for their first few songs but who later joined, has released six solo albums.

Brian Brannigan, an inspirational writer and performer with A Lazarus Soul who found his own inspiration as a fan of all these bands in The Attic in 1990s Dublin, told me in 2019 that the scene in the city at that time was “probably the greatest local music scene ever… every band was different. They were just such great bands”. Brian told me that Dave Carroll in particular was an inspiration to him: “I never met a more infectious and passionate person in my life”.

I wrote earlier half-apologetically that I’ve taken The Wormholes very seriously and if I do, which I do, I am encouraged to do so by the likes of Brian Brannigan elevating them and proudly stating how they influenced him. It’s important to recognise when art has an effect on your life and I think it’s important to let artists know that they do, when they do. When I think now about The Wormholes I think that they are an example to us all. They had the courage and integrity to follow their music where it took them. The anthology you are holding demonstrates this. In this way, they behaved artistically the way idealised artists do and created a body of brilliant work. 

I think I owe The Wormholes and although I am not a musician I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve learned to appreciate how master musicians who are committed, close, and courageous, can take an idea, flesh it out and run with it, to follow the idea towards its conclusion: a piece of music that could never have arisen any other way than the way it just did. How those musicians go straight on to the next piece because the next piece is the interesting one. How it never stops because the music is right there. You can reach out and touch it. Just follow where it goes.

The Wormholes’ music showed me how staying with master musicians while they take that high-stakes journey is thrilling; how trust between musician and listener pays off. How when you listen back to an improvisation it won’t sound quite like it did before because your listening is part of the creative act and you are different now than you were when you heard it first so the music is different too. How improvising can reach an ecstatic conclusion that could not have been reached any other way except by those people in that room in that combination at that moment. How the music made in those moments by The Wormholes, by Dave Carroll, Anto Carroll, and Graham Blackmore, is music at its most sublimely alive.

You Never See The Stars When It Rains 1994​-​99: https://thewormholes.bandcamp.com/album/you-never-see-the-stars-when-it-rains-1994-99

Love and Bravery: In Memory of Mary Crumlish, 1948-2022.

Good morning everyone. 

In a song by R.E.M. called ‘Untitled’, Michael Stipe proclaims his love for his parents.

I made a list of things to say
But all I want to say
All I really want to say is
Hold her and keep him strong
While I’m away from here.

In April, Mum attended the funeral of an old family friend online with my wife Sharon. She couldn’t attend in person. The eulogy that morning was a moving account of a life well lived and Mum said to Sharon, “I wonder what they’ll say about me”. Two weeks ago, I held her hand and I asked her what she would like us to say. But I had waited too long and she couldn’t tell me. So I tried to tell her what I would say.

I told my Mum I would say how much I loved her. How much we all loved her. How much we appreciated her. What a wonderful mum she had always been. How grateful we were that she and my dad, Tom, had founded and shaped our close and happy family. That all this closeness and happiness was her doing. I told her I would talk about her happiest moments.

When I think about these moments, I think about photos of Mum across the decades.

The one I’ve been thinking about most is a picture of Mum and Dad in Dublin in Spring 1969. They have just come out of the cinema. There was a man on O’Connell Street who would take your picture as you passed by, and you could go back and buy it off him. Dad told me that he only took photos of the handsome couples. Looking at this picture, you’d well believe him. Dad is dark and dashing and Mum is so beautiful. She had just turned 21. Her hair is pulled back by a band and it is hard to look away from her face. Conjure in your mind the brightest smile you can–now brighten it. She is luminous.

Many of Mum’s happiest moments were in Mayo. Mum was born Mary Lavelle in Westport in 1948 and was lovingly reared by Paddy and Nora. She had one sibling, Michael, who is still in her phone as Little Brother. When they were young, Mum dearly loved Michael and also found him annoying, because that’s the deal with little brothers. Mum moved away and Michael stayed in Westport but he would drop everything in a heartbeat for her. Some of Mum’s sweetest smiles in her final few days were for Little Brother. The corners of her eyes would crinkle up when she saw him.

During her Westport childhood, Mum developed her remarkable gift for friendship. There are school photos from the Fifties of Mum with her best friends Mary Mulhern, Maureen Moore, and Bernie Conway. Photos from sixty years later show the same quartet, thick as thieves, in hotels around Ireland, sharing afternoon tea and a sneaky G&T.

Mum moved to Dublin to go to Carysfort in 1965. She met Dad on Halloween night 1966 and they married in Westport in August 1969. Mum and Dad have always lived in Dublin, but she retained dual citizenship. Mum and the four of us boys would head down to Mayo during 1980s summers and luxuriate in western freedom for two long months. Dad had to work and I felt so sorry for him heading back east on Sundays. Something we learned from Mum that we never unlearned was that dread of the return to Dublin after a trip to Croy.

Mum taught primary school for over thirty years. She taught in Rutland St from 1967 and loved it. She started in Our Lady’s Girls after her first baby boy arrived in 1970 and the fledgling family moved to Woodpark in 1971. She taught here for the remainder of her career. She loved when a child she had taught greeted her as an adult and told her what she was up to now. She loved to help people flourish.

Mum never lost her gift for making friends: in her schools, in Chestnut Grove, on holidays with Dad, and even on John Houston Ward in St. James’s, where she spent a couple of months last year, becoming the matriarch of her six-bedded room. I work in James’s so during a visitor ban I could still sit with her and get the gossip. She knew everything that was going on for the ladies in her room. She was endlessly interested in other people and when she trained her attention on you, you felt you could tell her anything.

Another joyful picture shows Mum and Dad in Malawi in 2007, when they came out to visit me and Sharon with Sharon’s mum, Geraldine. Mum loved to travel but she was not fond of flying, and Malawi meant flights from Dublin to Amsterdam to Nairobi to Lusaka to Lilongwe. At least those four were all on proper passenger aircraft. 

We then took them to Nyika, a mountainous national park in the remote north. Nothing that you could reasonably call a road went into Nyika so Mum had to fly again, this time in a tiny six-seater Cessna, bumping and swerving around clouds. Mum dreaded this, but she did it. The joyful picture is of Mum in a jeep on a bright blue day on a game drive to spot leopards and zebras. Dad’s arm is around her and her smile expresses ease and affection and fulfilment and shared adventure.

I keep coming back in my mind to that picture of Mum and Dad on O’Connell St in 1969.

I sometimes wonder, when I see an old photo of a beaming young person, how they would feel then if they knew how their life was going to turn out.  So I’ve been imagining a conversation between Mum at the end of her life and her younger self.

Here’s what I think Mum would say to young Mary:

You’re going to marry this man. You are going to keep teaching. You will nurture generations of kids. You will nurture your own children. You will have four boys. Your home will be filled with laughter and music and books. You will rear your boys to be secure and happy and they will all do fine. They will have their own families.

Young Mary asks: Will I have a daughter?

No–but you will have four daughters-in-law who become your daughters. 

Now–It won’t all be easy. There will be sickness and sadness. You will suffer a serious depression after one of your boys is born. But that does not rupture your bond with that boy. If anything, it makes it stronger. Your grief when your mother dies will be hard to get past. It will take you a few years to recover. You will recover.

Young Mary says: Listen, I know life can be hard. I accept it. Can we get back to the good stuff?

You will have nine grandchildren. When your grandchildren arrive you will thrive, and you will help them thrive. You’ll be a hands-on, go-to Granny. You and those kids will dote on each other. You will give and receive an astronomical amount of hugs. You really enjoy living, Mary.

Young Mary says–that all sounds pretty good. But what about Tom?

Oh, but Mary. That’s the best bit! He is by your side every step of the way. For the fun and craziness of raising the boys. Through all the harder times. For all your travel. For sunsets in ancient cities. For cocktails and cruises. You navigate your lives arm in arm. You have the romance of the century. And when you get sick for the final time on the day of your 51st wedding anniversary, he is there with you, and he is there for you to the very, very end. 

And young Mary says: Sign. Me. Up.

Now, we are here and we are stunned and we are so sad. Mum was the beating heart of our whole family. We have no concept of a world without her in it. We have a lot of fumbling around, finding our way, ahead of us. But I also want to remember to be grateful, to be happy for her and for all of us who got to be with Mum and experience that boundless love of hers.

I must mention Mum’s final few days. An Irish Cancer Society nurse who cared for Mum on the last two nights of her life told us that witnessing how Mum was while dying made her less fearful of her own death. Mum modelled a way of living in her final moments that could give anyone courage. She stayed so plainly herself. She kept minding us. In her final week, when she opened her eyes it was to beam that luminous smile and tell us, so tenderly, that she loved us. We told her too. Nothing was left unsaid. 

Three days before she died, Mum turned to Dad, seated a few feet away. She said “Tom–don’t be afraid”. I have to say I gasped. Mum was days from dying and she knew it. She was accepting our care and still bestowing her care upon us. The way she stayed present and nurturing, to the end, was her final and greatest lesson in love and bravery.

I sent Mum a poem last summer. She shared the poem, so I have taken that as her blessing to end with it here.

Late Fragment. By Raymond Carver.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Goodnight, Mum.
Goodbye, Mary.
Our beloved.

21.06.22.

It Comes From The Heart (2003): A Dave Couse Interview of Paris Review Proportions

I met Dave Couse in Ryan’s of Sandymount on April 2nd 2003, just as his first solo album Genes was coming out. The resulting interview was published in Hot Press but a lot had to be omitted. You have about 1200 words in a two page print interview and you have about 15000 words in a ninety-minute Couse conversation. It is rapid-fire stuff and I was transcribing for days. We both thought there was good material that we had to leave out so we published the transcript on his then-website designbyte.net/couse, only for it to disappear during a site redesign at the time of his next record The World Should Know. I didn’t keep a copy of the transcript, so disappeared I thought it was until Paul McDermott quoted from the piece last week on the I Want Too Much episode of his fantastic podcast To Here Knows When. Paul has bewildering internet archaeology abilities—he somehow remembered a comment Dave had made about the ranking of A House records (“I suppose our three albums would be I Want Too Much, I Am The Greatest, and No More Apologies”), remembered this comment was from an interview of mine, and figured out how to find the quote and piece here. So I’m really grateful to Paul for finding this. I think it is a nice interview. I did OK in the conversation given the ridiculously high esteem in which I held and hold Dave Couse, and Dave was in generous reflective humour right from the off. I have posted here everything that was on the old Couse site. I considered editing it down a touch, but figured if you are at the end of this paragraph you are already in pretty deep, so I left it all in. I did want to mention that Martina Brady, Dave’s wife, about whom he speaks here with such love and appreciation, passed away in 2013, just over ten years after this conversation took place.

If you have read the necessarily truncated version of this interview in Hotpress, you know that Dave and I met in early April in Ryan’s of Sandymount, the pub near his work that his father Greg Couse used to frequent. Greg died last summer and Genes is dedicated to him. In fact Dave’s disarming first words to me, as we stood on the street having just met for the first time, were “I cycled over thinking it might be a nice idea to do it here. The old man’d be with me, you know?”

Before we begin, a correction, to make a point. Early enough in the interview I asked Dave about his cover of ‘Close Watch’, the John Cale song that I first heard him do in the Temple Bar Music Centre last year, when I nearly had a stroke I was so happy. Now the penultimate track on Genes, it’s a song of astonishing beauty, lovestruck and grief-stricken, and could have been written for Dave Couse’s voice, so my question was: how can your own songs here match up to this perfect thing?

Of course he had an answer, and had I waited a week longer in the company of the LP the question would have been redundant—play ‘For Sale’, ‘I Almost Touched You’ or ‘Everybody’s Got Their Own Troubles’ a few times and come back to me—but the episode illustrates a couple of critical constants that have resurfaced in the reviews of Genes: Subtle songs are never given their due, and quietly happy albums are inevitably minor works. “Low-key” is faint praise.

It’s not that I could not have imagined Dave Couse equalling John Cale’s finest hour. It was ‘13 Wonderful Love Songs’, not ‘Close Watch’, whose words were inscribed in diaries in my late teens. Never was I, and never again will I be, so sharply pierced by a song as I was by ‘When I First Saw You’. But these were grand operatic cries of anguish, easy to feel and recognise and relate to. They’d have you in tears from ten miles off. The new songs are different: time has passed and Dave Couse has no business bemoaning unrequited love anymore. He’s writing about his baby and his wife and how your feelings for your family and friends fulfill you: you live for them. The songs are appreciative and affecting. And the hardest thing to do is write a song about contentment and not cause a mass coma.

I don’t mean to criticise critics—but I don’t want Ian O’Doherty to be the only one saying that this is Dave Couse’s best work. If you can compare these things, which you can’t. A House fans fucking worship that band, and I think find it difficult to imagine anything up there with I Want Too Much. I know I did. And the songs of Genes will not have you in tears. These songs don’t pierce your heart: they fill it.

Dave—You said that you walked in here and you felt your dad.

Oh yeah definitely. The last few times I’ve been here, you know what I mean? There’s a real sense that he’s here. You can hear him laughing. That’s the kind of character he was. He was very sociable. You could imagine that his meetings with all his mates would pretty much revolve around him. That’s the kind of character he was. So I get a real sense of him. I haven’t had that since . . . since the day he died.

How long is that?

It’s about ten months now. It takes a long time to settle in. The realization of the whole thing. There’s no songs written on this album about that situation. That will be next. It takes that long for your feelings to become… to become sensitive to those feelings, even. You’re just left numb when something like that happens. In the next album he’ll be featured in the way of a song. This time all I could do was honour his memory with the idea of it. The whole genes thing.

Is that his face just as you open it up?

No . . . it’s the second one. He’s the second one, as a 21-year-old man. The man with the banjo in 1900 is my grandfather; 1935 is the old man. Then me in ’64 and then there’s my daughter.

I didn’t even know you had a child until today.

It’s the weirdest thing about life, death and birth; it’s a very scary thing. When you realise that, because up to now, life’s just great, you just doddle along; you’re in your twenties, you’re in a band and you’re touring the world, it just seems…  great. Let’s have some more of this! Until you realise the bigger plan, you know (laughs). That you’re only here for a little time, so try and make the most of it, I s’pose. You hear people saying it all the time and you go ‘Oh go on, go away out of that. I’m infallible, I don’t die!’ Then when something like this happens you realise you do. You’re next.

Well there is that about it. There’s no longer a generational safety net.

That’s it, you see, yeah, I don’t have a buffer zone any more, you know what I mean?

Will you write songs about your dad?

Oh, undoubtedly, yeah. I’ve already written one, in my head. Got a lovely little title for it and everything. Yeah, I mean it’s a big thing, I’ve never ever experienced anything as big—well, the birth of my daughter was pretty massive. Add it all together, not long after that he died, it’s a pretty bizarre experience. To have two such massive events so close together focuses you as a human being. I mean, I was a no-nonsense person anyway; I’m undoubtedly that now. Because you realise what life’s about, when something like that happens. And as I said, here, I can feel him in the place, and it’s amazing really. I used to pick him up from here every now and again, bring him over to his mates at Christmas. So I remember him from here as well.

I was wondering if you had a physical memory of him from here.

Oh yeah, lots of them. And he’d always have stories from here, and conducted most of his business from here. It was one of those things, you’d sit in the back garden and he’d give you all the stories about Gus Ryan and all that kind of thing. Just his life, you know? And now that he’s gone . . . and then the strangest thing was, I was going down to the girls, and I had proofs of the artwork in my bag, and I had taken them out, just to check them and look at them, and it was like I brought him back in for one last look, if you like. Because unfortunately, he had a long illness, he died of cancer, it took a long time, it was pretty horrible. But it was weird when I took out these things and . . . there he was. Back, and I know it was only a photo of him, but he was here again.

I couldn’t cover it because I was too close to it. All I was, was numb, you know. That’s all I felt from it. You have to get in touch with your feelings about something like this, something as huge as this; and realise what the loss is. Exactly what you want to say. I know what I want to do now. I think you must cover this. That’s what music’s all about. If you’re lucky enough to be able to do that, to express your feelings in song, and make an emotive song about it that might touch somebody else, somebody else may empathise with the way you feel or the words—I mean, Jesus, that’s great.

And are these feelings you can express in song? In words?

Yeah, they are. Always simply, as simple as possible. You just blurt out what’s in your head, right, and then try and tidy it up a bit, so it’s not written by a four-year-old. You’ve just to tidy it up a little bit, but the honesty has got to be at that level, like a four-year-old, nearly, because young kids have this amazing knack of honesty, which I’ve found with our little one. They don’t hold anything back at all. There’s a beauty, and freedom, and strength. I always try to apply that, well not always, ’cos sometimes I do wordplay and all that nonsense, but always, on any album, there would be songs where the lyrics were incredibly simple. A song like ‘Satisfaction’. “Loving you is easy, and that’s the way it should be.” It’s almost a Westlife line. Obviously it’s in the delivery. The hardest thing in the world is to write a simple lyric and make it not sound embarrassing.

The same thing, when I wrote ‘For Sale’, for Eva. I remember seeing her for the first time, when she was born. That’s what ‘For Sale’ is about. I just felt this bang. If you listen to the lyrics, it’s all about: seeing you now, the whole world is here for you, and it’s my responsibility to look after it for you, and if you just hold on to the truth, and love, and passion, you’ll get through life. Without preaching to the child already. ‘Now listen!’ The child’s still red, you know. Blue! ‘You listen to Daddy!’

It means, now that I’ve seen you I will never ever be the same person again. So as long as I am here on this earth, it’s always going to be there for you, no matter what. Under any circumstances. People say that, and believe it or not, when it happens, you become a bigger person. They say that. I don’t know if I have or not. I try! I mean life is so simple. We complicate it.

How old’s your daughter now?

She’s two and a half. There’s four generations of the Couse family in the hundred years. I’m sure it’s the same in most families. It is fascinating, really. And the artwork is built around the whole idea.

Fergal did all that, didn’t he?

He did, yeah. That’s totally, totally personal to me, which I could never do with A House, obviously, representing a band. But when you’re doing a solo thing, the freedom that you have, just to be totally yourself, is great. You get to veto everything—I like that, I don’t like that! It doesn’t have to be passed by this, or passed by that, which is of course the strength, though, and weakness of a band. You need a leader in a band, obviously, to guide it, but it is a band. A voting thing, nearly, you know what I mean.

Everything on the artwork—when you pull the disc out, the tree underneath, that’s the tree out my back garden. Yeah, we got a bit anal with it. We gilded the lily! Even, if you look down the side, the spine? A DNA strip. So when you file it, ’cos I have a big record collection, and I never ever end up playing what I go looking for, which is exciting, but annoying at times. I tried that A B C nonsense, but two years later, it’s just back to chaos again. They slip down in between each other, and so I’ve always been fascinated to try and find a way that something will be instantly recognisable. I thought how, and it just happened to be the DNA strip. So I tried it in mine, in a few different places, and, like, from the back of the room, it’s ‘There it is!’ If you look at it you’ll see what I’m talking about.

You don’t have much to do with your time, do you, Dave.

Ha ha, no seriously, ah no. That’s what I’m saying, though, like, every single square millimetre of artwork was scrutinized, and agonised over. It was the same with the music—well, the music wasn’t as much, really, to be honest. That moved at a nice quick pace. Edwyn likes to work that way, and so do I.

You were saying this is more personal than A House.

Oh yeah, completely, it’s completely and totally personal. 100%, like. It’s all about me. Even the trees. The family tree. It’s getting out of hand. Even the 1’s and 0’s on the disc itself, that’s the binary code, which Ferg thought was, like, the genes of the computer age. I thought ‘I like that idea!’ We actually had to stop at some point. ‘We’re going to overdo it now.’ So we drew the line. But there’s so many ideas! I’m delighted with the idea, I really am, I think it’s a great title for an album. I mean, the album title is conceptual, but the music on it is nothing to do with it. The music was all written beforehand.

I certainly remember these songs from late 2001.

Yeah, the music’s about a year ahead! I haven’t written a song now in about ten months.

For obvious reasons?

No no, not even that. I’ve been so busy putting this whole thing together. Getting it recorded. Everyone’s been so fantastic that’s worked for me, because they’ve all worked for nothing! Nobody got paid on this. They’re just fans. If you go on to www.davecouse.com (now defunct – NC 2022) a fan did that for me, designed the whole thing—it’s just fantastic. I’ve had so much good will, from fans and from the media, which is fantastic. I did of course have to deliver a strong record. If I’d delivered a weak record, it’d be meaningless, it’d be gone.

It’s a couple of years since we started expecting the record now—since the first return show in Whelan’s.

Well yeah. It was a very slow return. Getting the album finished and written, and getting it recorded! Edwyn’s obviously a very busy man, and again, he was doing it for me for nothing. What a gift! Not only did he give me all his time, and everything, he gave me his studio—with him in it. And all his equipment, and all of his instruments, and everything, and he plays most of them. He’s on this album as much as I am. Which is fantastic! You don’t get friends like that too often.

Edwyn does it just out of love of music and no other reason. He’s certainly not a commercial producer, as such. I don’t think he has any interest in being that. I think he’s a musician at heart. He just loves making music, you can see him, he’s one of those characters. He’s passionate about sound to a point of obsession. He got me really into guitars. He’s moved on now, he’s into microphones. Takes them out of boxes, ‘Dave, look at this!’ I’m like . . . yeah, it’s a microphone. He collects them and he collects all this really old equipment, he got bucketloads of it when it was cheap and nobody wanted it—the birth of the digital age and all that, everyone was getting rid of all their old analog stuff. He collected loads and loads and loads of it and now, of course, it’s coming so much back into favour. He’s the man in town! He’s got all these producers ringing him, ‘Jesus, Edwyn, you know, any chance of borrowing this or borrowing that’, like, so for him to be able to do that for me was remarkable.

’Cos I think myself there’s a beautiful sound off the record, it’s that gorgeous valve clarity. If you listen to all the modern records, the skater boys and all that—even though they are fantastic-sounding records, they do sort of start to sound the same, with digital sound. I think there’s much more nuance in valve music. You can hear it.

Tell me a bit about valve technology. I know nothing about this stuff.

It’s just the old technology. In his control room is an old valve desk, on the EQ there’d only be about three buttons. They all go (mimes turning a creaky old dial) and they’re all phenomenally expensive now. Really, really hard to get your hands on. They just give a real quality. Like everything in the old days. They’re better, they had a lovely warmth. You can push the music much more. There’s much more give in it. I think. It doesn’t distort, you know, it lets you into that territory where digital won’t let you in, where it starts to crack and fizzle at the top.

Is this what Neil Young talks about? I remember him comparing digital sound to sensory deprivation.

Yes, it is, a bit, yeah. A lot of people are very passionate about valve recording. None more than Edwyn. I think I came over to the studio at the perfect time because he and the studio are one, they’re like two people. If something goes wrong he knows what it is, and how to fix it. He knows the full capabilities of the studio. I think if an engineer was to come in fresh, they wouldn’t have a clue how it worked. It just works completely around him. He has learned it and really optimises everything in there. And I just came in with a bunch of songs, and he put the whole thing together.

Now I brought musicians with me, they’re really young guys, they’re 22, 23. I brought them over for two reasons—number one, they’re really really excellent musicians, but their youthfulness too, you just cannot get that off a seasoned hack. It just doesn’t work.

And what were they doing when ‘Kick Me Again Jesus’ came out? Being born?

Well who knows? Dave Couse and sons. Well they’re going ‘Aw Dave, ha ha, you’re 38 now’ and I’m going—Oh yeah? Listen boys, when I was 22 I was going to America to tour ‘Call Me Blue’, so shut up. Puts them in their place quick enough. But having said that—they were willing to leave their jobs, in order to take up the opportunity to go to London, to work with me and Edwyn. And you don’t get that, you know. And again, I think that comes out in the record. Their belief in this and their really wanting to do it. And again, they got paid no money. That youthful exuberance, you just can’t capture it, it’s either there or it’s not. You can hear it on the bass and drums. It’s there, you can hear it, it’s at breaking point, you can hear the keenness, nearly, which you wouldn’t get from a real pro, like. And it’s so vitally important when you’re making a record. People maybe discard that kind of thing, but it’s vital. I think it is, anyway. I could be wrong! I have been before.

That leaves a lot of responsibility with you.

Yeah! I had a huge responsibility making this record too. Because when you’re coming off the back of A House, and some people regard the No More Apologies album as one of the finest albums made ever by an Irish act, it does get those kind of glorious reviews. So when you’re coming off that, it’s a tall order, like, you’re thinking, ‘God, I could do this, I could make an album . . . and it could be piss-poor’. And everyone will go ‘Ah well, you know, there you go, look at him now—it was obviously very much a band situation’… and Dave wasn’t a big part of it.’ So I had a big thing to prove here. And I did! I think.

How do you know that when you’re doing it? That it’s not piss-poor.

You don’t! You have no idea, you’ve just gotta go with it. I thought that I had everything in place, I thought I had the songs, thought I had the musicians, and I needed Edwyn so badly. I had to wait on Edwyn. And finally the whole thing just worked and we recorded it in two weeks. Kind of strange. Just record, record, record the whole time. Fascinating, and interesting, and fun. Recording as it should be. It shouldn’t all be laborious nonsense, you know. You know when it gets too earnest. You can’t wander into that territory, you know, because then you end up just going up your own arse.

But this is an album about serious things. If you can’t be earnest, how does that work?

You see, earnest, when I’m referring to earnest I just mean just taking yourself too seriously, like ‘I’m a real artist’, you know, ‘I’m a cerebral artist, I’m going to take myself very seriously’; you can’t do that. It’s just got to come out of you effortlessly. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. You can either deliver the goods or you can’t. So you just go in there, you do what you’re supposed to do. You don’t take yourself too seriously. You give of yourself. You don’t overdo it. You don’t… 

… gild the lily.

Exactly! That’s OK for the artwork, right? But not when recording. You know, some people have to have themselves in a nice frame of mind, they start a vocal, they go into a certain space, they have to do all this head nonsense. You go in there, you’ve got a job to do, you’re supposed to be able to deliver it. It’s part of your being, it’s what you are. So just get in and fucking do it, like.

You really need to know what you’re doing. You need to know exactly what you’re saying.

You do, yes. You have to know those two things. You don’t have to have an exact plan of where you think you’re going because the music, an awful lot of the time, will just carry you. On the day, you’ll invent a new sound, that will lead you to another thing, and another idea. When you’ve got an amount of creative people in a room, it just keeps going! One thing leads to the next, leads to the next, and you can’t be precious about how you thought it was supposed to be…

You can’t be a prima donna.

Yeah, you can’t. Exactly, you can’t. You can’t be, like, an earnest prima donna! You’ve got to keep running with it. Once it’s going in a direction you like. If it’s turning into Limp Bizkit, obviously, you’ve got to pull in the reins: ‘OK boys! Hold on! I’m 38 here’. But if it’s going where you like…

I’m really, really pleased with it, I have to say. And I love the country flavours on it, as well. The little flavours that come out. Songs like ‘Everybody’s Got Their Own Troubles’, as well, that’s just got a beautiful kind of a Glen Campbell country rip-off. That’s what I said to Edwyn, I said ‘Look, I want this to be Glen Campbell!’ And he goes ‘Oh, I know exactly what you mean, Dave’. And it’s great when you know, and you can get on with somebody at that level. So you go for it. You don’t get it, of course, but you aim for that, and that’s what you use as your goal. Of course you end up with something totally different, but that’s great. That’s what you’re supposed to do.

The vocals, as well, this time round. Before, in A House, I used to labour the vocals a lot. There were perceptions of A House, and we had to deliver a certain thing. With A House lyrics, as well, there’d always be a twist in the tail, usually a negative one. This time round, I didn’t, I had that sort of freedom to be more me, like. I didn’t have to represent anybody else.

But getting back to the vocals, I had a whole new approach. Every single song on that I just sang once. I just went in and sang it, like a singer, like you’re supposed to do. Whereas beforehand, I’d do four or five, compile the best bits of each one, and then repair the last one, say there was a line or two you didn’t like. So what you ended up with was a fine vocal, nicely in tune, and everything in place, but at the end of the day, it loses something as well. There’s nothing like the delivery of one vocal performance. Even if some notes are a little bit flat, a little bit sideways, a little bit sharp, it’s all part of the delivery. Record, stop, and there’s the voice. And I realise I can do that now.

Is that a question of confidence?

I don’t know! I think so, yeah. I’m more confident now, I suppose, than I have been in a long time. I can actually sing now. I never, ever had confidence as a singer, because I’m not really a singer anyway. I’m never referred to as a singer, either, it’s always Dave Couse, the songwriter or Dave Couse, the lyric writer, or the miserable bastard, or something like that. Never EVER as a singer.

It’s great this time around, ’cos my voice is louder than it would have been on A House stuff as well. We pushed it up there, and built the music around it. I did all my vocals really early. We used to always do it the other way round. We’d do a guide vocal, which is an insignificant thing there ticking away in the corner telling everybody the chorus is coming up, here we go into the middle eight section, so no-one really gives a toss about the vocal until all the music is recorded, right, and you go in as the vocalist and sing over this lovely piece of music or whatever. I see now that that was probably the wrong way to do it, because working towards a beautiful vocal is a lovely thing. It’s there, and you love listening to it while you’re recording, so you work the music around the voice the whole time. The voice, in songs like these, is paramount. It’s the most important thing.

And I can’t wait to get on to the next record now. Having finished it, when I finally got this album made, and got it back from RMG and it was in my hands, of course I was so excited that day, because this has undoubtedly been the greatest achievement of my life. Because I mean it’s been so difficult for me to come back, with the pressures I’ve been up against, two failures I’ve had, back to back, and also people would expect a lot of a solo album. But having to form a band, write the songs, find the musicians, find a producer, then put on a business hat and get artwork done, get distribution, manufacture, form a record company, do everything basically.

I am now chief executive of the record company, the CEO, I am the A&R; department, I am the artist. I’m the talent. But I’m also the post boy. Yesterday I got a phone call from the PR people, the Late Late Show need the DAT, and I had to jump on a bike from Rathfarnham over to Donnybrook and back again. It’s just a bizarre situation, you’re dropping the thing in to these people behind reception and you’re the person going on, then, later on. It’s a really weird position to be in and I’ve never been in that. I’ve always been, you know, the star.

So there, again, there’s been a whole learning curve, but fascinating, and really good for you, you know. It’s good for the humility levels as well. It humbles you again and brings you back down to earth. It makes you see, like—I had nothing but disdain for record companies. Now of course I have the greatest respect for them! You learn a lot, like, and you’re much more in touch with the entire thing. Like this interview. Before, I would have had a different attitude about this as well. Whereas the whole thing is the whole, every single thing is vitally important. You must get it all right.

So when I got the album, finally, as I said, it was one of the greatest days ever of my life, but also there was a sense of closure, because now it’s done and I’ve delivered it, I can never go back. And now, I can just start again, because I do want to get writing again. I have lots of ideas. I know where I want to go on the next record. I dream to be able to make the next record quickly, like, get it out within a year. I mean that’s not going to happen, I’m sure. I’d love to be able to do it, and then just move on, do three or four albums as a solo artist, see what happens after that. Maybe call it a day after that. Just leave it. You know, with A House, it was really important that we did a body of work and we had a number of albums and then we finished, and that was it.

As distinct from what? What’s the alternative? Going on and on and on?

Yeah. On and on and on. I don’t think you can. I think it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult to maintain the standards that you set yourself, and I set myself, like, really really high standards. Like, I don’t compare myself to anything other than all the great records that are made. When I make a record I want to make it as good as Astral Weeks or better. I’m not interested in making the new Coldplay album. D’you know what I mean, I want to make classics all the time. When I start out making a record, I’m going for Pet Sounds. I see no point in doing anything other than that. You must reach that high. Whenever I’m in the writing process, these are the albums I listen to all the time. Not for inspiration, but to compare.

And when you put your albums on, when they’re made and they’re finished, do they…

Do they stand up?

Yup.

Yeah, in my eyes, they do, yeah. To the absolute limits of my abilities, when I have brought them as far as I possibly can. I’m not saying I’m any Van Morrison or any Brian Wilson, but…

Well are you? Are you or are you not?

I’m not! I’m not, you know—Brian Wilson made one of the classic albums of our time; but I would love to get there.

The next question then must be: If you put a cover of John Cale’s ‘Close Watch’ on your album, how hard is it for your own songs to stand up?

That’s another thing there, because ‘Close Watch’ is such a fantastic song, that I was under pressure there. I couldn’t have ‘Close Watch’ be the best song on the album. So it was great for me to have it.

That’s tricky. ‘Close Watch’ would be the best song on almost any album.

Yes! It’s a beautiful, beautiful song. I put in a nice treatment to it. I tried to put this big boom on the end of it, just to give it some mark of my own. I think that big end really works. I think if John Cale hears it, I’m sure he will at some stage, I think he’ll like it. It’s with the greatest respect I have treated that song. Lyrically, it’s beautiful. And I can deliver it effortlessly. I sang it, again, once, with Simon on piano. It was done in two and a half minutes, and that was it, then we designed the end around that. Then Edwyn bowed all these weird guitars and I sang into a Fender Telecaster. I was sitting at the desk, I was talking to Edwyn, he was in the control room, and I could hear myself coming back through he guitar. So I started singing ‘Aaaaah’, he fed it back through the amp and that was the noise. That’s probably one of the special moments on the record, when that moment comes in, it’s a great moment and a great, great song. I don’t think that many people get to that level. I still get shivers when I hear the record. I don’t know whether that’s completely arrogant, or—but I know Ferg does as well! He’s told me he does, so that’s OK. But I do think, it’s such a good song. And it’s not the best song on the album.

You don’t think so.

I don’t think so, no. ‘Will It Ever Stop Raining’, I think, is beautiful. ‘For Sale’ is a beautiful song. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s up there. But there are songs there that match it, anyway. And I think if you have a yardstick like that on an album, then you’re always reaching for it. You’re always pushing it.

Is there something about the emotional pitch of ‘Close Watch’ that is easy for you?

It’s easy, yeah. I could identify with that song. I loved it, I adore the song myself, and when I realised I could do it, it just suits my voice. So, why not do it, you know? I never did covers as A House. Well, one B-side, but never on albums. I didn’t need to do a cover on this album either, but it was really good for two reasons. One, it’s a great song, and two, it kept standards up. There may be one or two people who think that it is the best song on the album but, genuinely, it’s not. It’s certainly one of the better, stronger songs. Of course it is, it’s fucking John Cale’s crowning moment! It should be. And it’s never been covered! It’s phenomenal. So when I heard that, I thought, I have to. I’d love John Cale to hear it. He will—I’ll send him a copy of it. There’ll be a small royalty cheque in it for him. I’m sure he’ll be concerned. ‘Here you are John, here’s your fifty quid. That’s more than I got out of the album.’

It’s at an important point in the album too.

You must keep an album strong! You must because a lot of people let it peter out near the end. It’s very important to have a strong ending. To me, an album should be a complete thing. Ian O’Doherty, as he said, ‘Satisfaction’ is as good a choice and as bad a choice as any single can be from this record. And I think that’s a great thing because each track feeds off each other. And it is an album. And I can do albums, ’cos I’ve done them before, and they’re vitally important. And I wouldn’t sacrifice, again, ever, polishing up some song to be a single, have it sticking out on the album. That’s not really that important any more. It’s important that the album is a thing, and it lasts, and it’s really really important that it’s strong enough that people don’t just fucking fast forward to the next track, next track, and there’s four or five good songs on it, I hate that!

The album lyrically works together and musically it feeds off each other, goes in and out of moods. This album definitely starts quite rocky, more like the old days, really, the old A House stuff. I got that out of my system, nearly, the first four songs. And then it moves slower down with ‘I Almost Touched You’ and ‘For Sale’, and turns then, the songs are slower, more country. That’s where it changes, where I change. The album takes a different mood and it goes off somewhere else. It’s great that an album does that. They should. So, I mean the attention to detail is very important… he said.

You talk quite a bit about the difference between now and then, the freedom now and the apparent restrictions on you in A House that we didn’t hear about at the time. I’m always slightly suspicious of comeback interviews like that.

Well I had to represent six people. I mean I couldn’t have done Genes. Think of it! How could I present that album to the boys? Listen boys, this is all about my family, this is all about me, and these songs are completely and totally about my relationship with my wife and my daughter. You can’t do that and so, there were restrictions. You worked around it. You had to represent all the people that were A House.

Lyrically?

Not lyrically. I couldn’t. You couldn’t let it get that personal, you know. I don’t think so. I mean, it did, I did let it get personal on songs, of course I did. Those songs in A House, I mean they are all essentially about me and my life. It is my story, that’s the history of me in there, but within the confines of not being embarrassing for the boys! They had to stand there and do their own thing, with me banging on about songs that were intensely personal to me.

VERY personal. There were songs that were capable of being very personal for me and for people like me.

Well, every now and then, I got into, like, ‘Sister’s Song’.”

But even songs that weren’t explicitly about people close to you. Songs that were about emotions that are close to the bone; that speak to people’s vulnerabilities and do so partly by exposing your own. It’s not important ultimately whether a song is about your personal life, but think of ‘When I First Saw You’. That’s not just something you dream up over a few pints, that’s something you have felt.

Yes of course, it comes from you, it comes from the heart. It’s the truth. That’s what I’ve always done as a songwriter. I’ve always given that much of myself. I must have a lot to give! Six albums later, we’re still goin’. Jesus, how many stories can one person have? You know, you do undoubtedly regurgitate stories, you have to, but undoubtedly getting in touch with your feelings as a writer is, for me, where it’s at, like. Giving something of yourself. I think that’s the greatest thing you can do. And I think if you have the gift of being able to put that into an art form, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to do. Just put yourself in there. And people really can connect with that, and they connect with you, and the person, and the lyrics. They may see themselves in there as well, and it really means something to them, you know? I’ve always been that kind of a writer.

So it makes it easier for people to access those feelings themselves.

It does. I think that’s what people like about me, isn’t it, as a writer, is that. You undoubtedly feel, I don’t know, part of the team! A sense of me, they must have that. That’s obviously what they get off it. I presume, I don’t know. I don’t care, really, I mean I do what I do, and I hope that people like it. I mean what’s the point in doing it if people don’t like it? I know people say ‘Oh man, I do it cos I need to do it, and I don’t give a shit if anyone doesn’t like it’. I really hate when people don’t like it! I take bad reviews really badly! Especially from writers that I would respect. If I get slated, I just feel really hurt. Something so personal to you, someone taking a stab at you. I mean, someone referred to No More Apologies  as ‘a mediocre swansong’, you know. And you’re going Jesus, how can you dismiss a piece of work like that, so, so easily.

Because there’s so much in that album, you know. It’s anything but a mediocre swansong. You either hate it or you love it, like. It’s a very polarising album. It’s not mediocre. That’s a really bad word. I don’t mind if someone hates it! If someone hates me, that’s OK. I can live with that! At least it’s a reaction. If someone thinks I’m mediocre, though; patron saint of mediocrity, you know. I don’t want to be him. I hold myself in a little higher regard than that! Just. And with regard to A House, what you said earlier, no! I am so proud of that band. I never ever would diss them or feel that, like, now is the best thing I’ve ever done. A House is still, to me, the greatest thing I’ve ever done. Five albums! To be part of such a great band, as well. I still love playing those songs. I will always do them live. Why would I not do them?

You’re not doing the Morrissey thing then.

No! I love them. They are my words, so why would I not sing them? I mean I’m never going to re-record them, obviously, and I suppose as my catalogue of new material builds, I’ll cut down the numbers. It’s nice to do the more obscure ones, as well, for the fans that come along. I know if I went along to see someone I was a fan of, and they didn’t play something from the back catalogue, I’d be well pissed off.”

The second album seems a particular favourite.

I Want Too Much? Yeah, people love that album. It’s a complete album, you know? It’s like I was talking about earlier on, it is an album, and it all feeds off each other, and it’s got one sound. We went to Inishbofin to make it, we made it with Mike Hedges, and the whole thing comes together. We were, of course, coming after ‘Call Me Blue’ and ‘I’ll Always Be Grateful’, and the record company had no interest in us, and we were only 23, 24, so we had have that kind of youthful angst as well, and something to be pissed off about. We were pissed off at the fact that we weren’t hugely successful! So the only way to react to that was to make I Want Too Much, to make us even less successful. It gave the band, I think, the credibility that we needed to regain. We lost a lot on the Merry-Go-Round album. Then of course Keith Cullen became interested in us as a result of I Want Too Much. Then we went on to make I Am The Greatest. I suppose our three albums would be I Want Too Much, I Am The Greatest and No More Apologies.”

Not Wide-Eyed and Ignorant?

It’s very disjointed. There’s a lot of producers involved. You know, we took on a major record company, and when you take the money, you kind of have to take the shit that goes with it. There were remixes here and remixes there, and try a different producer, and it did lose something as a result of all that. The album did. You know, we gained some really nice songs.

Maybe that’s it. There are moments on it. ‘The Comedy Is Over’, ‘These Things’great moments.

We really tried to make that album work. The songs you’re referring to are the ones that got mixed and remixed, and ‘Here Comes The Good Times’, of course. ‘Why Me’ was another one. These were the songs that everyone thought were going to be big hits. It’s funny they turn out to be big hits later on. Seven years or eight years after the event! Joe Dolan’s done it now, as well, you know. I haven’t heard it, like! I’d be really keen to hear it, I have to say, cos I’ve never heard anyone cover any of our songs.

You’ve talked about ‘For Sale’, about Genes; we’re here in Sandymount because of your dad. As you get older has your family become the thing? Do other aspects of your life fade in significance in comparison?

Well, family and friends, yeah. In that song ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’, I’m just going on about people in general. “Can’t you love him like I love him”, that line, is about a friend of mine, about how much you love your friends, male friends, how much respect you can have for them, and if you see someone treating them badly, you know, it’s upsetting. Again, that honesty. And again, how important people are in your life and that’s really all there is to it, and getting on with them, and standing by them, and having them stand by you. There is a strength that you need to go through life, and generally it is people, and I would hate to be going through this life without people really close to me. It must be difficult not to have people you care about. People who care about you also.

Impossible.

Yeah, it is. But there are people who do it. I’m sure there are. Just live in a vacuum. I’m sure there are, I could be wrong, but I judge the book by its cover quite a lot. I’m very bad for doing that kind of thing. I’m probably wrong most of the time, but you know, I just find it fascinating. Even when you’re sitting in a pub watching people, trying to figure out what’s going on in their minds. What they’re like. The song is all about people, isn’t it, if you think about it. ‘Everybody’s Got Their Own Troubles’. You know, why do you want to be somebody else? What’s the point? There’s absolutely no point. So many people waste so much energy on wanting to be someone who’s richer than them, or lives in a better house, or has a better car…

Surely they’re unhappy.

Oh yeah, of course they are. They’re always wanting more, but they don’t realise that with that more, comes more trouble. ‘Look what that person has, look at them over there’. OK, the guy in a massive big house, with fucking two S-class Mercs outside, I’m sure people pass the house and go ‘fucking lucky bastard!’ I know I do. But when I go past I go ‘Who fucking cares, I’m on my bike. I’ve got my own thing going on’. But there’s some people don’t get over that. There’s people pass that house and it stays with them. And they let that kind of thing eat them up. And they don’t realise, the person in there probably has problems way beyond what they have. That’s essentially what that song is. It’s really simple. “What’s the point in wanting?” There’s none.

And Ferg did the artwork, as well, he’s been very supportive. He always has been. He and I are best friends and have been for years, ever since we were four. He lived right beside me. He has been a great inspiration throughout this record as well. He was always the man in A House with the attitude. He nearly gave the band its credibility. I was always the buffoon. I suppose I still am. He was always the stronger character, quiet. And of course he has been a great support on this record as well. He chose the tracks, he did all the artwork.

He did what?

He chose the tracks. Which songs I did.

Did he?

Yeah. I just gave it to him. I gave him all the demos and he says look, do that, that, that.

That’s a large responsibility to abdicate.

Yeah well I kind of trust him that much, you know what I mean? He’s got a great innate sense of what’s right. And he was absolutely right. Every single track that he chose was undoubtedly the strongest song. So in that way, he’s been a great help. Spiritual help, as well.

Why did you delegate that job?

Because he and I are close friends. We go through everything together. I go through it if something goes wrong in his life, and he goes through it with me. I asked him… I don’t understand…

My question is why would you give that job away at all on an album like this.

On all the A House albums I would write 30 or 40 songs but this time round I didn’t. I concentrated more on the idea, and I binned them as I went along. I didn’t go through the effort of writing all these songs. So I only wrote about 18 or 19. I was doing quality control all along. I got to the stage where I had that many songs and they were all on demo tapes, and at that stage I knew which ones I really liked, but Ferg was there listening to the demos as well. I really value his opinion. So he knew it nearly as well as I did. I asked him ‘Will you put an album together? Out of these songs. I would be interested to see what you would choose.’ So he did. He did that really quickly, and I looked at his list. I didn’t tell him it was going to be the album, I didn’t put that responsibility on his shoulders, I asked ‘What would you put as the album?’ He came back with those thirteen tracks, and I looked at them, and I remember going, Jesus, you know, you’re right. I suppose I must have some ego problem. I probably would have chosen different songs, because it’s hard to admit that one song is weaker than another, ’cos you’ve put so much into them all. You’ve finished them all. Lyrically they were all finished as well. He’s a bit removed, it’s much easier for him to go ‘Well that’s just not as strong, Dave’, you know. Then, looking back, I agreed.

So you’re talking about insecurities there.

Yeah, it is. Of course it is. And it’s great to have someone that you can rely on, on that level. To come up with the goods. So in a way, I mean, he is there still. Because I was so alone, doing the whole thing. And you do, every single day I was stopping, thinking can’t do this, it’s too hard. It was bad timing as well, and I’d come off two failures. I don’t have the strongest nervous system.

The failuresI’m not sure what you mean.

Brianna and Ferg. They never saw the light of day, so I would judge that as being a failure. And, you know, two of them, back to back. It’s really really difficult, where do I go from here? Every day you’re stopping. You’ve no idea what makes you go on.

When did this project begin?

Two years ago. That May gig that I did must be two years ago. Sketches of this album. I only started writing the album a month or two prior to that. Lokomotiv and Brianna took three years between them.

So two years. And there are times through that that you think this isn’t going to work. What got you over those days or weeks?

Well when I realised the Brianna thing had gone, Ferg had spent a year and a half doing this Lokomotiv thing. I thought it was fascinating music. He put it all together on computer, he lifted all these samples off all of his record collection, so it was from him, and the sounds that he loved. He’s very big into a whole lot of guitar bands and rap, and he got very big into jazz, as well. So he just took all those samples and he put loads of music together, and it was fascinating. So I jumped in on that level then. When the thing with Brianna stopped, he was half way through it, so I jumped in, started forming them into songs. That kept me interested, kept me going, kept me open. And I really thought Lokomotiv was going to be something. I knew it wasn’t going to be commercially successful, but I really thought it could be, critically. I still think it can. I really hope that some day it will see the light of day. If I could just get my act together and get something rolling, something happening, get involved again. Ferg wants to make a solo album. And he should—he really is quite a gifted man.

It was a workshop, there were five or six different singers. Brianna was involved in that as well, I did some singing, and all to the backdrop of Ferg’s music, which was really fucking kind of weird, you know. In a really really good way. Very left of centre and very interesting. We messed with the boundaries of the songwriting process, to see how far they could be pushed. And you can push them quite far! On ‘Next Time Round’, the single we got released on Shifty Disco, we put this three-minute musical break in a different time signature in the middle of the song, and it worked beautifully. The song’s 4/4, it’s going along nicely, then all of a sudden it just floats into ¾, which is a fucking waltz! Virtually impossible, you would imagine, to do, and we managed to pull it off. And it goes off into this big huge orchestral arrangement, you know, and massive big Led Zeppelin drums, loads of other sounds, and then falls back into the song again. It’s about 5½ minutes long, and again, it was just a great thing to have done. I remember singing it on New Year’s Day of 2000. I must have been the only person in the world with nothing to do that day. I was up in my parents’ and I remember going down to the house and singing it, ’cos I thought it would be a good idea, actually. First day of the millennium, to sing a song called ‘Next Time Round’. It’s so unusual, and it got really good reviews in England. It was their biggest selling single that year. Shifty Disco are dedicated to releasing a single every week for the 52 weeks of the year. I thought it was a great idea, and ours came in November or October or something, and it was the biggest selling single that they had all year. Couldn’t believe it. Which was fascinating, but they wouldn’t commit to doing the album. ‘Next Time Round’ is rather special. I think the album needs to be finished but there’s undoubtedly an album in there and a really interesting album too. You see, if I was to have any level of success, now, with this as a solo career…

You’d be able to get that going.

I would. People would take it seriously. And if we were to get it finished, and I was to put it out, just get it out, press 500 copies even, just give it to the journalists, even that would be an achievement. Even that is a sense of finishing the project, so it’s out there, somebody’s got it in their record collection and somebody loves it, like. And who knows where it’ll lead to, you know? Unless it’s out there nothing’s ever gonna happen. Hopefully we will get that done, Ferg’ll finish it. It really is interesting because, as I say, I don’t think anyone’s ever pushed the boundaries in songwriting so much. That helped me with this as well, because as a songwriter you gain knowledge all the time. You know the ingredients: obviously, it’s got to have heart, it’s got to have meaning, some lyrics, melody. It’s a very set format. Intro. First verse! Last verse. You know what I mean? The story. The chorus, the middle eight section. So what can you do? It is restricting. It’s a beautiful format, it’s worked forever and will continue to work, on this new record, but we just did everything arse about face. Started with the end. It’s something I’m very very proud of.

There are two tracks on it, the other one’s called ‘Intercourse with the World’. I thought that was a lovely title myself. It’s all about a sad, lonely old bastard. He lives an insular life. ‘These strangers are my only friends’ is the opening line. Again, lyrically, it was a bit left-of-kilter as well.

I would go drinking on my own; I did live a lonely life for a while, for a year or two. While I was writing this album, as well. By choice—I wanted to. I just enjoyed it, you know. I would go to my local there and sit with all the lads, sat there drinking on their own. And just sit there with the paper or whatever. I didn’t want anybody in my life, I was happy with, just, space.”

Is that what ‘Peaceful’ is about? “You know I love you/You know that I do/I just need to be left alone”.

Yeah, I think so. It probably is—it is, really. I love being on my own. I love going out on my own, even. I’m a very contented person on my own. I don’t really need conversation. I find—nights when I’m out meeting people, nights that there are gatherings, I’m uncomfortable on those nights. I don’t know why; I’m just not the greatest mingler in the world. I think, with ‘Peaceful’, myself and Martina have such a strong relationship at this point in time, we know each other. I can say something like that and she won’t get offended. ‘You know I love you, I just need to be on my own’, and there will be no offence taken. Which is, I think, testament to how strong the love between us is. And she knows the song.

So it’s not news to her.

No! And a lot of people, I would imagine, feel that.

But it’s more maybe difficult to accept earlier in a relationship.

But why? I just need tonight, like, you know? Not just tonight, I need a lot of nights, I need time, on my own. I think everyone does, I think it’s a really healthy thing. For your inner peace, isn’t that what we all search for, that?

Has that changed as you’ve gotten older?

I think I’ve always been like that, just never allowed to believe it. I always thought I was a social type of character because, as I said earlier, my father was a very social man. Always the centre of attention. He was always the man with the stories and the jokes. I suppose, on some level, I thought that was me as well. But it’s not, like, it’s not me at all. I was always the focus in the band. I was the lead singer, so the centre of attention was always put on me.

And did you find, then, at times that you would have been touring and promoting yourself, did you have to curl up afterwards? Did it take a lot out of you?

It does. You’re emotionally drained, and physically and mentally drained. And I don’t have, I’ve realised, the strongest nerves in the world. I find it hard sometimes, and I suffer a bit with anxiety, For someone who suffers with anxiety being the centre of attention is not a great situation to be in. Again, maybe that’s that ‘Peaceful’ thing. My life and what I do is a real conflict of interest, because I’m trying to sell myself, as a musician. It’s a bizarre thing to do, because you’re talking yourself up the whole time. I sell Couse. I proof artwork with my name written on it. Like these things, fliers that are going to be all over town, I’m in the printers going ‘Yeah, that looks nice’, and that’s me, you know; you’re looking at yourself all the time. Ferg says to me, “I’m sick of looking at your name and I’m sick of your fucking family!” It’s a pretty bizarre place to be, for someone who doesn’t essentially like being the centre of attention. It’s a conflict. A paradox.

And how do you overcome that?

I can’t overcome it. I can stop making music, and I could go off, but then, after a year or two of doing my thing on my own I’ll go: ‘I really need to make a new album!’ And it starts all over again.

So if you could just make the album and let it sell itself, would you do that?

Oh yeah, oh absolutely, yeah. Really. Totally. If I could do that I would do it. Oh Jesus I would have no qualms, I would love to be able to do that. I would love to take a back seat, be imageless, and be nobody. Just send the music out there. I’d prefer if people didn’t even know what I looked like. Unfortunately, you just can’t do it, it’s impossible. You’ve got to create this image, and you have to look vaguely interesting, because it’s demanded of you, on some level, if you’re going to compete. And I want to compete. I want my music to be heard. I see no point in making it unless people are going to hear it. I’m not that kind of an artist. ‘I don’t care, man, I just make it for myself’.

It is, of course, the whole thing is just a contradiction. Life’s a contradiction. A lot of people, you’ll find, are the same, in the same situation. I mean how easy would it be, I would love to be able to make music and then yeah, great, out you go. But then again in music people want you. People hear this record, they want me, they want to know about me. They wouldn’t accept the record just on the basis of the music. We all do it. Like when I say to Edwyn ‘I want that track to sound like Glen Campbell’, he’s so part of the music, so when I refer to Glen Campbell, I’m talking about the man, I see him, his face, you see the hat. I see him singing the song, the interviews. He is the music. It’s so woven together, there’s no separating it. It’s the same with my music. It has to have a face, and a personality. And that personality’s mine. I’m not moaning here, I’m just accepting that.

But you would imagine that people who write serious songs are likely to be introspective and therefore unlikely to enjoy being at the centre of things. That personality often goes hand-in-hand with social anxiety and self-doubt.

Jesus, definitely. Oh yeah. If there’s anything typical of writers, it’s that every single day is just filled, racked with doubt. It’s very hard not to pass a mirror and go ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ You do, seriously. I can’t imagine any writer thinking that they’re just God’s gift. It is such a fucking weird thing to be doing. There’s no answer, there’s no real way of doing it, there’s no applied science. So it’s a very strange place to be. I take these ideas out of the air and I turn them into something.

In my own way.

Yeah, in my own way. The only way I know how, because there’s no absolutes, there’s no fucking rule book. It’s really really important that you try to be unique.

Surely you have to. You must use your own voice. Otherwise what’s the point?

Well yeah. Exactly. What is the point? Self-doubt is massive.”

There’s no objective measure. No-one who can pat you on the back and say ‘full marks’.

Yeah. ‘Well done. Good job. We’ll sell that, that’s lovely.’ There is nothing, there is no answers, there’s no solutions; it is what it is. But it’s a beautiful thing, now, in fairness, to be able to do that. Because I once—I thought about getting into advertising there for a while. I thought maybe I can apply my skills to making some money for a change. ‘I can write ads!’ I mean Jesus, you know. When I went into these advertising agencies and I met these guys, now they met me for who I was, they knew me. So I sat in these meetings and of course informed them that I thought that advertising was undoubtedly the lowest form of art. Strange I never got taken on! I thought, art is not something that you can be restricted in. If you’re working to a client’s requirements, it’s very very difficult to have the freedom to be artistic. You go ‘Ta-da! This is my idea! That’s it, and I’m not coming up with another one, ’cos I wrote this one!’ Then the client goes ‘No no, fuck off, that’s crap’. You see, I couldn’t take that. I couldn’t take that level of refusal. So I realised I could just never fit in, I could never be in advertising, you know? That would be me, I’d be going, I’ve thought about this, I’ve thought about every single angle, ’cos I do, and this is undoubtedly the best way to go in selling this tin of beans.

Talk a bit about being a songwriter in our economic climate. The rewards are very different to the rewards everybody else has wanted in Ireland in the last ten years.

I’ve never been, ever, money-motivated. Money has always been a means to an end for me. I’ve never ever been impressed by people with money, what it can buy or its powers. I mean, there’s much bigger powers in the world than money. Creating an album is infinitely more powerful. What are you going to leave behind you? Buy a big house, then will it to your family and they become crackheads and spend it all in about four years. End up on the scrapheap.

Now of course that’s a little shortsighted I know! And I’m a very fortunate man in that I have a wonderful wife who has been totally committed to what I do. She has a good job, and she has never once asked me to get a job! Never once, and I’m going out with her now, like, sixteen years. Never once, not even in a row, has she ever turned to me and said ‘Would you ever get a fucking job!’ Which I’m expecting. Any day! And even if she did, I wouldn’t blame her. So money is just a means to an end, and you get to leave something behind you. Like that body of work of A House, you have to be proud of that. What a great thing to have achieved in your life! And now Genes, and now we’ll move on and do something else. And then stop, at 45, and get a job! I don’t think I could get a job, actually, to be honest. I’m unemployable at this stage.

You’re deskilled.

I’m sure there’s loads of jobs I could do, but no-one’s going to take me on. I mean, who’d take me on? Jesus, this odd, quirky, maverick type of character. I mean I couldn’t take orders from anybody, ’cos I’ve always been so much in control of what I do. I tend to be a bit of a control freak that way sometimes. So I would be virtually unemployable, I would imagine. Now mind you, having said that, like, two years from now, I might have to get something. If I can’t do it with music. I don’t see how you can make money. This has cost me so much, even though everyone has done it virtually for nothing. If I was a record company, it would have cost the guts of a hundred thousand pounds. If I was to pay everyone their dues. But I haven’t, I haven’t paid anyone, and it’s cost me a fraction of that, maybe a tenth of that, to get this far—which is a remarkable result. And all credit, I mean, if I ever do get an award for this, I’m going to be up there for a long time! ‘I’d like to thank…’ I’ll do it alphabetically. Having said that, there’s a very short thanks list on the album, and I couldn’t have made the record without those people. My wife, my mother, Edwyn, his wife, Ferg, and all these people who were just so important and played a huge part in it. I mean, without those people where would you be? What’s money, what’s money when you compare it to that?

I don’t know if that answers the question you asked, what’s it like for someone like me at a time that everyone’s got fucking BMWs, you know. I mean I’m 38 and if I’d stayed in normal employment I’d probably be—I don’t know! A successful businessman or something like that. I’d have my top of the range Beamer, you know. What kind of character would I be, though. Jesus!

It begs the question.

I’ve no idea. I think what’s coming around now is, there is a global change, obviously, economically, and money is becoming a lot more tight, right? And I think, now this is my theory—and it could be fucking horseshit for all I know—that music, music does really well in hard times. In the eighties, when it was hard, that was when bands were getting big advances. I was wealthier in the recession than I’ve ever been. Then the boom came in the early nineties and we started running out of money really fast. So I’ve kind of ridden this boom time pretty much as a pauper. So if there is less spendable income for people, to be into music is really cheap! It’s a really cheap hobby. In fairness, say you want to be a fan of mine, it costs you 18 quid for the CD, and 14 or 15 quid to go to the gig, right? So that’s it, you’re done and dusted for thirty fucking quid. Then you wait until I’ve released another album, and say you do ten or twenty people in a year—that’s so inexpensive, isn’t it? And it’s such a great thing to have, for such little money. Sell the BMW, and you could be into music for the rest of your life.

So the economic downturn has its up-side.

I’m praying for a recession, yeah! ‘Please God make the recession come quicker.’ Everyone else in the world is going ‘Please God, Jesus. . . if this recession comes in, I’m homeless!’ I’m going, ‘Make them homeless, Lord!’ At least I’ll be successful!’