Saturday, 16 September 2017

In Concert - Favourite Gigs of Ireland's Music Community

In Concert - Favourite Gigs of Ireland's Music Community

This book came out last year and I've been meaning to get it ever since. I finally got around to buying it this week and am enjoying dipping into it.

I remember when I was younger there were many conversations about who would win if Ali fought Dempsey, or if Superman fought Batman... The very fact that these were unanswerable questions was what made them interesting.

Best gig is one of those questions. I can't really answer it for myself let alone hope to come to a consensus with any group of people. The other question is what gig would I go to if I could travel through time? This book asks people to name their favourite gigs and provides ample material for me to consider when I think upon these things.

I know some of the contributors and was at some of the gigs. The book is probably mostly of interest to people who have some familiarity with the Irish rock scene of the seventies, eighties and nineties. It brings up feelings of envy, nostalgia and sometimes, bafflement. Rather than try to review it in any objective way I am going to spend some time reminiscing about some of my favourite gigs. A infamous pub bore like myself doesn't do one favourite, this will be many favourites.

The Blades
Let alone pick a favourite gig I would find it hard to pick a favourite gig for some artists. One of my very first gigs was The Blades in O'Shea's hotel in my hometown Bray, in, I think 1983. The gig took place in an L shaped room and I was unable to actually see the band but that only added in a strange way to the purity of the gig. The music, driven by a huge brass sound and some of the greatest pop songs to ever come out of Ireland was enormous, infectious and still rings in my ears.
The next Blades gig that really stands out was their 'last' gig at the Olympic Ballroom. Enormously drunk as I was I still cling to a huge sense of occasion and a memory of dancing and pogoing and sweating; a celebration tinged with sadness.
My memory of these Blades gigs has been changed by their extraordinary return to the stage after a few decades. when they walked out onto the stage at The Olympia it was as if we had all spent the previous 25 years waiting for this moment. Some possibly had.

And my favourite? - probably the last time I saw them, in Whelans, leaning on the stage, watching them mix new songs effortlessly with the old and coming away with a copy of their new album... It seemed that resurrection was possible...

Echo & the Bunnymen - SFX Dublin, 10th February, 1983
I remember getting dressed to go to this. I was nervous, and wore a studded belt which I could whip off and use if fighting broke out. At the time I had an unhealthy obsession with The Bunnymen and doom laden post punk in general. Most of the practice I had had in going to mass gatherings was well, from going to mass.
The concrete walls, the high space, the smell and haze of dope and cigarette smoke, soon to be added to by clouds of dry ice. The backcombed hair, the overcoats, torn tights and eyeliner, an army of outcasts - the excitement is still there, somewhere in my bones. I had found a religion to replace the one that had lost me.
And they were a great live band, particularly the drumming of Pete DeFreitas, who was situated right front of the stage rather than at centre back. And Mac, who I thought the coolest man alive, getting a tap on his shoulder when he was walking past the mic stand which he proceeded to cling to for the whole gig. His chronic short sightedness had even led to him walking off a stage somewhere. I would have known when and where back then, when Bunnymen trivia was my Mastermind subject in waiting.
I would see them again, and perhaps they played even better gigs, with impassioned covers of Roadrunner, It's All Over Baby Blue and Fiction lifting one gig into the stratosphere but this was my first time going in to Dublin for a gig and it will always retain a special place in my memory..

Billy Bragg - The TV Club 1983/84
I saw Billy Bragg on an all night rock music programme that was broadcast across Europe with sections from various countries. He was on the BBC section and made an immediate impact on me. I bought Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy for the bargain price of £2.99  When he came to play the TV Club in 1984 a few friends and I headed in to Dublin in my friend John's Fiat 850. We had to push it on more than one occasion on the way in but it only added to the sense of excitement. We were in for all the support acts - a really good set from a band with a lead singer in full convent schoolgirl uniform who had an almost Morrisseyesque line in humourous angst and the dull (or so I thought) guitar and effects noodling of Pat O'Donnell and Steve Belton, soon to morph into The Fountainhead.
But all that was forgotten when Bragg took to the stage. We were leaning on the stage and there was a large, almost empty ring behind us filled with slam-dancing skinheads who would occasionally bump into us. One man and his guitar made a rousing, exciting noise and the he peppered the gaps between the songs with stories, jokes and calls to arms. It was a revelatory gig and on the way home, fuelled by our excitement, the Fiat 850 made it all the way even with a few extra passengers somehow squeezed into it. And my friend Dave had the setlist. Would that all gigs were so much fun..

The Stars of Heaven - Dublin, mid to late eighties.
I probably saw the Stars of Heaven more than I have ever seen any other band that I wasn't involved with. I still remember counting up sixteen at the time. Some gigs are misty but moments and venues stand out - McGonagles, The Underground, The Waterfront, The New Inn, Sides, Trinity College. They never progressed to bigger stages, let alone stadiums but when I heard they had broken up all I could think of were the gigs I had missed, and that there would be no more.... They were a great band and live they had more edge than on record. Their nervous intensity added an extra something. I think my strongest memories are of a gig in a basement club that was called Hawkins if you entered from the Hawkins Street side and Club 21 if you entered from the D'Olier St side. I loved their songs and the covers, from Alex Chilton, The Seeds, Richard Thompson and Neil Young amoung others. They helped kick start an odyssey into music which still continues.. And somewhere in my head the opening chords of Hey! Little Child ring out and I'm falling in love with music, myself and the world all over again.

There is a live recording of The Stars here - https://fanningsessions.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/stars-of-heaven-in-concert/

These Immortal Souls - 12th September 1988, The Loft, Berlin
There is a neat link between The Stars of Heaven and These Immortal Souls - both included covers of Hey! Little Child in their sets. We had gone to Berlin partly in the hope of seeing Nick Cave but I was just as excited to see his compatriot in crime from The Birthday Party, Rowland S. Howard, playing with These Immortal Souls.
Rowland was one of the most charismatic performers I have ever seen, is one of my touchstone guitarists and seemed to be almost luminescent, almost transparent. Impossibly thin, he just effortlessly wrung incredible sounds from his guitar while his haunted, despairing vocals were lightened by a swaggering black humour and yearning romanticism which was already apparent in Shivers, written by the 16 year old Rowland "I've been contemplating suicide / but it really doesn't suit my style". It was the only time I got to see him and remains a touchstone gig, heightened by the fact that I stalked him later that night...

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Town and Country Club, London Town
Anyone who knew me in the 1980's is probably aware the I was a little bit obsessed with Nick Cave. In the summer of 1988 I went to Berlin, partly because there would surely be an opportunity to see Cave up close, in his chosen habitat. Unfortunately it was not to be, as Cave ended up spending much of the summer in rehab as a result of a court order. But we got to see his one time conspirator (above).
 We bought tickets for this gig on the way home through London, and the gig involved a return trip via ferry and train. We were all wondering what the gig would be like. Would Cave be a shadow of his former self? Could he still cut it or would he be more like the broken shadow of Johnny Thunders we had seen that summer?
It didn't take long to find out. Stalking to the front of the stage Cave perched like an angry, evangelical raven on the monitor at stage centre and he wanted to tell us about a girl, hurling himself backwards, flailing and screaming... The venue erupted and over the course of the gig relief turned to astonishment as Cave drove himself into paroxysms of rage, wallowed in the depths of despair and held the crowd between his bloodied claws....
The highlight, as it would be during many of the shows I saw, was a long, loose despairing howl of bruised and broken blues that was/is Knocking on Joe.
I would see them again a few times and they were all great gigs but this was the one that stays.

Einstürzende Neubauten - Saga, Copenhagen September 9th 1989
This was the second summer I had spent in Copenhagen, both sides of my Berlin sojourn and I guess the two gigs above and this make a neat trilogy linked by The Birthday Party, Blixa having played with The Birthday Party before becoming a mainstay of The Bad Seeds for many years.

Einstürzende Neubauten were an extraordinary live band and the use of strange hand made metal instruments, drills, barrels, shopping trolleys and such, alongside the hypnotic, ferocious Blixa and the pumping bass and metallic guitar was a gripping spectacle, visually and sonically. (If you can have a sonic spectacle)

The fact that the fuses blew twice and that Blixa almost roused the crowd to riot saying he would walk away if it blew again and inciting us to get our money back if that happened.

I have been  able to find footage of this gig on Youtube and as well as opening with shots of the poster to match my own photograph it also appears to feature me and my friends standing outside the theatre for a few brief seconds. That's made this post worthwhile for me!

Not my Setlist, found on the net..
Sonic Youth / Teenage Fanclub - McGonagles 1990

The following year I would see them at The Top Hat in Dun Laoghaire and hear great reports of their support band, one Nirvana. However, this is the Sonic Youth gig that I remember as the best. McGonagles was jam packed far beyond any reasonable fire regulations. It was fairly well known that a fiver to the bouncers at the door was every bit as good as a ticket which is why I was surprised to be offered over £100 for my ticket. I'm glad I wasn't tempted to take it.
Although this was the Goo tour the setlist leaned heavily on earlier material, even going back to their debut album's metallic, feedback washed no wave material. Incredibly the feedback seemed almost exactly as it was on the records...  It was a blistering, loud frenetic gig and the walls and ceilings were dripping and my skin was as white and wrinkled as if I'd been soaking in a bath for hours.

I've stuck with the 1980's (and 1990) here, mainly because I've run out of energy and really need to go to bed. I hope you've enjoyed it and perhaps some of you may even want to comment with memories of your own 'best gigs'.

In Concert, the book which inspired this post, is available from the Hope Collective for €15 including P&P. All moneys raised go towards the Irish Red Cross. https://hopecollectiveireland.com/category/in-concert/


  1. that's a fantastic list of gigs that meant so much to you. I had a similar pattern...obsessed with the Bunnymen, then Nick Cave and Sonic Youth. I got to see Neubaten on their first tour of Britain (in a place in Ladbroke Grove called Acklam Hall). Absolutely incredible. I got to se them later when I was working with Henry Rollins and they were always ferociously intense. Michael Murphy

    1. Thanks Michael - Looking it at it this morning I'm wondering how I left out The Smiths and Tom Waits from the 80's and That Petrol Emotion supported by The Young Gods in the Town and Country Club in 1988. And then there was Foetus, and Jonathan Richman in Berlin... and The Pogues in the Olympic Ballroom.. and A House and The Golden Horde in St Patricks Park and and and...