Progress is slow, but there is more to come. In the meantime there’s a few things that are worth mentioning here.
Firstly, the illness and untimely death recently of Phil Chevron received considerable coverage in the press and especially in social media. This was as it should be, and somewhat undermines this site’s regular gripe that Irish musicians only get praised if they’re famous abroad. Notwithstanding The Pogues‘ success in Britain and elsewhere, Phil could not really be considered internationally famous in his own right, yet he was respected enough at home to warrant a ‘testimonial’ tribute concert shortly before his death, with an excellent array of musicians paying homage. Phil was instrumental in putting out The Radiators From Space‘s 2012 album Sound City Beat which, as noted here before, was itself a tribute to the Irish rock music Phil was inspired by in his youth.
On a sadly similar note, a fund-raising concert was held in March 2013 in support of Henry McCullough. Henry, of course, has a stellar CV, having played guitar with Eire Apparent, Sweeney’s Men, The Grease Band (with and without Joe Cocker) and Paul McCartney & Wings, among others (and you can also hear him murmuring about being “really drunk” during a sound collage on Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon). In recent years Henry has been a regular feature of the live blues clubs of Dublin and elsewhere, but he unfortunately suffered a massive heart attack in November of last year and required some fairly intensive treatment. It’s unclear at the moment whether he is likely to return to performing, but it is worth sending positive thoughts his way and wishing him better health in the future.
Sad to report that the Sink Full Of Dishes blog appears to have disappeared. The owner of that excellent site provided some invaluable advice, support and encouragement during the planning stages of this blog, for all of which a belated public ‘Thank You’ is in order. The link from this site remains, purely out of a stubborn refusal to acknowledge its passing, but should the author of that site relaunch under another name it will be most welcome.
On to some better news, Derek Dean – lead singer of The Freshmen – has got in touch to say that the band’s 1970 concept album Peace On Earth (the subject of the very first post on this site) is due to get a limited CD release this Christmas. This is great news as this is a very overlooked album that is very hard to track down copies of, as many readers will know. Any further developments on this will be added.
Finally, it was wonderful to hear recently from Heather Muir. Heather was the partner of Ray Elliott, a fantastic musician who was the subject of a pretty detailed post here early last year. She has been very supportive of the article, and very generous in filling in the gaps and adding her personal memories of Raymond. This has all been a very rewarding experience. A new section has been added to the page to reflect this, and more may follow.
The Bahá’í faith claims to be the youngest of the world’s independent religions. In essence, in 1844 a Persian merchant named Siyyid Ali-Muhammad proclaimed himself the ‘Báb’ – the gateway to the Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam of Shi’a Islam who is considered to have been in hiding for a thousand years. He later declared that he himself was the Mahdi, inevitably leading to persecution from the Shah’s authorities and execution by firing squad in 1850. The Báb had prophesied that ‘Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest’ would follow, and in due course one of his disciples, Mírzá Husayn ‘Alí Núrí, known as Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), came to be recognised as this Messenger of God, the most recent in a line that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. In moving away from their origins in Shi’a theology and embracing aspects of all monotheistic religions, Bahá’ís emphasise that there is only one God and that all major religions have the same spiritual source; that all humans have been created equal and that diversity of race and culture are worthy of appreciation and acceptance; and that the human purpose is to learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer, reflection, and being of service to humanity. The religion gradually spread from its Persian and Ottoman roots and gained a footing in Europe and America. Currently there are five to seven million Bahá’ís worldwide, although in its Iranian heartland it currently suffers intense repression.
A visit to the website of the Bahá’í movement in Ireland reveals that it was a former Church of Ireland clergyman in the late 1940′s who first established a permanent presence here, with an influx of new followers in the early 1970s. The ’70s was also the era when the Hare Krishna, Buddhist and various Born-Again Christian faiths first gained a small but durable foothold in Ireland, and also when, in a wider context, a huge number of post-hippie young people across the Western hemisphere looked to religion – rather than sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll – for spiritual enlightenment. It’s this demographic of the community that is most evident on the 1978 LP Peace Will Shine, credited simply to The Irish Bahá’ís. The album is a collection of acoustic folk-rock songs with close-harmony vocals, reminding me of no-one more than Crosby, Stills & Nash and – with occasional flutes and whistles – not far removed from Trader Horne. The lyrics, aside from those specifically about figures from Bahá’í history, are filled with the aspirations for world harmony and tolerance that are very admirable parts of their faith, but which also align very strongly with the kind of music championed by the Woodstock generation. The record also invites inevitable comparisons to evangelical Christian rock, and to my ears it comes close to those faithful of a different hue, Ya Ho Wa 13.
Music is “by the Irish Bahá’ís”, although more particularly the track ‘Healing Prayer’ was set to music by John Ford Coley, and much of the lyrics are taken from Bahá’í texts. The liner notes tell us that it was recorded in a three-day session at Middle 8 Studio, but neither the musicians nor the lead singers are identified. The producer, however, is named as Jack Costelloe. The Irish Rock Discography suggests that Jack Costello and Guido DeVito from late ’60s Limerick rockers Granny’s Intentions may have been involved, but this isn’t evident from listening to the music. The LP was released on the (apparently one-off) Hyacinth Records label (B134/1) and has become highly collectable due more to its scarcity than to high regard for the contents. That said, it’s a decent record and well worth hearing if the above musical references or the Bahá’í faith pique your interest. This is another case where I’m reposting contents from elsewhere on the web – in this case from Epeli’s site the linked below – which will explain why track 11 is missing and can’t be added for the time being
- Alláh’u’ Ábha
- Right On Brother
- Healing Prayer
- Waves Of One Sea
- The Báb
- Blessed Is The Spot
- Hidden Word
- Lonely Faces
- Work Together
- A Question Of Life
- Peace Will Shine
For most Irish people it’s probably difficult, in 2013, to listen to a song with a chorus proclaiming “Glory, Glory to the Provos” without a sense of unease, but 1973 was a very different world in many ways. The Northern Irish civil rights movement had led to a confrontation between the local Unionist government and factions of the republican movement who saw their role as defenders of an oppressed minority, and the polarising effect of this was to stir the patriotic sentiments of very many nationalist Irish people. The gruesome and traumatic events of 1974 would serve to undermine the heroic image of the competing Northern armed groups to a large extent but before all that there was one particular attention-grabbing stunt staged on 31 October 1973 which captured the imagination of the nationalist community.
In September Seamus Twomey, Chief of Staff of the Provisional (‘Provo’) faction of the IRA had been jailed by the Irish Republic’s government in Mountjoy Prison, where he joined senior republicans J.B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon. Plans immediately went into action to break all three men out and a man with an American accent hired a helicopter at Dublin Airport, ostensibly for an aerial photo shoot in County Laois. The helicopter and pilot were hijacked and forced to land in the exercise yard of the prison where Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan boarded the helicopter and escaped to safe houses. The daring escape made headlines around the world and was hugely embarrassing for the government. Mallon was recaptured in December 1973 (he escaped again in August 1974), O’Hagan was recaptured in early 1975, and Twomey in December 1977, but the audacious nature of the escape prompted republican folk group The Wolfe Tones to release a single called ‘The Helicopter Song’ which managed to top the Irish charts in spite of a government ban.
Meanwhile, lesser-known folk band The Freemen issued their own vinyl tribute to the episode, titled ‘The Flight From Mountjoy’. As can be guessed from the chorus, the song is unequivocal in its support for the Provisionals, and the Beal Feirste label (Belfast, as geailge) seems to have released just four singles, three of them by The Freemen, and all militantly republican. That this song was not a hit when The Wolfe Tones’ was can only be put down to bad luck or lack of promotion considering the content and style of both were much the same. The song was written by McGinley/Freeman and both sides were produced by The Freemen.
The ‘B’-side was ‘The Ballad of Billy Reid‘, a cover of a fairly well-known republican song written by Brian Lyons (and also recorded by The Wolfe Tones, among others). Billy Reid was another member of the Provisional IRA, and is believed to have shot dead the first on-duty British soldier to be killed in Ireland since the 1920s, in Belfast on 6 February 1971, and in so doing provoked an all-out war between the Provos and previously (officially) neutral British army. A few months later, in May 1971, an army patrol was ambushed in Belfast and Billy Reid was killed in the subsequent shoot-out. Lyons’ ballad emphasises the view that Reid was an heroic victim, thus earning a place on the list of martyrs to the republican cause.
The enigmatic Freemen left behind a number of singles that will be offensive to some, patriotic to others, but they offer us a glimpse of one of the more bloody and divisive periods in Ireland’s turbulent history.
- The Flight From Mountjoy
- The Ballad Of Billy Reid
This post coincides with the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest weekend, and might hopefully serve as an inspiration to whatever bland balladeer has been chosen to represent Ireland this year or in future years.
In March 1978 Sheeba took part in the Irish National Song Contest to select that years Irish Eurovision entry, with It’s Amazing What Love Can Do. They finished 6th out of 8, behind such luminaries as winner Colm C.T. Wilkinson, Chips and Reform. But the group, or rather the group members, were far from unknown. Frances Campbell had appeared as a teenaged solo singer on Opportunity Knocks, and Marion Fossett was a member of the very well-established Fossett’s Circus family. But it was Irene ‘Maxi’ McCoubrey (“Mac-C”, you see) who was a household name, having already been with late-’60s pop girl group Maxi, Dick & Twink and – following their acrimonious split during a Canadian tour – with country-pop group Danny Doyle & Music Box (Doyle himself finished in last place in the 1978 run-off). Maxi had in fact represented Ireland already in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest, but ruffled some feathers when she threatened not to perform because of problems with the live rehearsals. RTÉ even took the precaution of flying Tina Reynolds to Luxembourg as a possible replacement, but it’s not clear if this had any impact on Sheeba’s chances in 1978.
Undeterred, Sheeba launched their recording career in 1980 with the Roberto Danova produced single Woman Without Love / Like A Falling Star. They soon followed this with Ain’t That Enough / Baby Come Back, produced by future Riverdancer Bill Whelan. There was a definite disco feel to these first singles, but Baby Come Back is credited to Grant, which would appear to suggest a cover of Eddie Grant & The Equals 1967 hit single – it’s not, and this may be a label error, but it’s a pretty catchy song. In 1981 the girls tried out again for the Eurovision, this time securing the Irish nomination and representing the country in Dublin with Horoscopes, in which they got unreasonably angry about astrology (“Don’t let the planets take control of your lives, believe in the truth and not celestial lies…”), and finished in 5th place. They embraced the exposure of the European contest with inter-galactic disco outfits and earned a following internationally. Horoscopes was inevitably released as a single, backed by the ballad You Came Through Love With Me, produced by Freshmen frontman Billy Brown (note, however, that the single version almost doubles in volume during the course of the song for some reason – this is one of the few occasions where I’ve done substantial digital altering on an original recording, as it’s quite jarring).
Sheeba decided to try again for the Eurovision nomination the following year with the somewhat corny Go Raibh Maith Agat (Thank You Very Much), but finished a disappointing 7th, ahead only of Chips. 1982 also saw the release of two more exceptionally europop singles: the Brown-produced The Next Night (“Well I wasn’t very good tonight… you were really in the mood tonight… I can’t forgive myself” – not the most empowering of lyrics) / I Like My Love Like This; and Coming To You / Don’t Know How (in which the girls adopt a country twang to sing about “the thangs you do”). They were heavily promoted through their extravagant and risque outfits and were arguably the first Irish group to use their sexuality in such an explicit way. The group were also regular performers on the ITV series Name That Tune.
According to Maxi the trio were working on an album in Mayo at the time of the horrific accident that abruptly interrupted their career in 1982. Driving to Castlebar on a rainy afternoon, their car hit that of a woman on a school run, killing the mother and one of her children. Campbell suffered a collapsed lung, Fossett a facial injury, and Maxi had a fractured skull and lost her short-term memory. With Maxi unable to remember song lyrics and her hair shaved off to facilitate over 100 stitches, and after the trauma of the fatal crash, the group’s confidence was crushed. Although Maxi’s memory returned and they flew to Japan for a short tour in 1983, they soon decided to stop touring altogether. Nevertheless, they entered the Irish National Song Contest one last time in 1984 with the ballad My Love And You, finishing 4th behind Linda Martin. That was the end of Sheeba, but Marion Fossett turned up two more times as an unsuccessful solo entrant: in 1985 with Only A Fantasy, and in 1996 with This Time. Fossett returned to the family business and remains the ringmisteress and public face of Fossett’s Circus today. Frances Campbell joined BBC Radio Foyle in Derry where she hosted an afternoon show for six years before retiring to raise her family. In November 2012 she returned to the music scene with her solo album Beautiful Age. Maxi also became a radio broadcaster and presented RTÉ’s breakfast show up until 2010. She has also presented TV and was a special representative for UNICEF Ireland, highlighting the problems of AIDS-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa.
- Woman Without Love
- Like A Falling Star
- Ain’t That Enough
- Baby Come Back
- Horoscopes (live INSC)
- Horoscopes (live ESC)
- You Came Through Love With Me
- Go Raibh Maith Agat (Thank You) (live INSC)
- The Next Night
- I Like My Love Like This
- Coming To You
- Don’t Know How
- My Love And You (live INSC)
- Marion Fossett – Only A Fantasy (live INSC)
- Marion Fossett – This Time (live INSC)
Though these two pop groups probably deserve separate posts, we’ll deal with them together for now as they have a complex interlinking history. The story really begins with the infamous Miami Showband Massacre of July 1975. The Miami was by that point a very well established and popular group despite the fact that they had shed all of their original members over the years, with firstly The Sands and later frontman Dickie Rock departing for greener pastures. But in fact, the young new band members had revitalised the group by the time of the devastating incident in County Down. Stopped by a UVF roadblock, their tour van was being fitted with a bomb for transport into the Republic when it exploded prematurely. The panicked gunmen opened fire on the hapless musicians and killed three of the six members. With remarkable resilience, the three survivors – Des ‘Lee’ McAlea (saxophone/vocals), Ray Millar (drums) and Stephen Travers (bass) – rebuilt the band and were touring again before the end of the year, but Travers and Millar soon dropped out and The Miami carried on even after Lee quit in 1978.
Free of the baggage that came with their former group, Lee, Millar and Travers reunited later the same year and recruited former Chips keyboard player and mainstay Adrian Mullen, one-time Mushroom guitarist Aonghus McAnally, and little-known singer Dee ‘Julie’ McMahon to launch themselves as Starband featuring Des Lee and Julie for their debut single Kiss Me, Kiss Your Baby. Managed by Louis Walsh, they were slightly renamed as Des Lee, Julie & Starband for a series of bouncy bubblegum pop singles, mostly on the Spider label. It is surprising perhaps that Starband never seemed to gun for Eurovision glory like Chips or Maxi, as their music would have been a perfect fit. The uncharacteristically risque picture sleeve above (which perhaps would have better suited The Crack!) also housed a single on luscious yellow vinyl. A second ‘Julie’ – Liz Allen – temporarily replaced Dee McMahon from late 1979. Soon after, Travers and McAnally split to form their own group, and Lee also departed for a time. Starband ploughed on but even the return of Lee and McMahon could not revive the chart prospects of the group. Des Lee and Liz Allen formed a new band which emigrated to South Africa in about 1982.
- Kiss Me, Kiss Your Baby / If I Had You Back Again (Release Records RL 942; 1978)
- Kiss Me, Kiss Your Baby / Don’t Hurt Me Anymore (Release Records RL 942, 1978)
- Hold On To Love (Release Records, 1979?)
- If You Wanna Make Love / Still In Love With You (Spider Records WEB001, 1979)
- Mamacita / Summer Lady [Still In Love With You] (Spider Records WEB010, 1979)
- Don’t Hurt Me Anymore / Don’t Hurt Me Anymore (instrumental) (Spider Records WEB023, 1980)
- The Hucklebuck / Rest Your Love On Me (Spider Records WEB031, 1980)
- Johnny, Oh Johnny / Baby Come Back (Release Records, 1981?)
Crackers, who sadly didn’t take the country by storm.
Meanwhile, Stephen Travers and Aonghus McAnally had formed Crackers, with Tommy Lundy (guitar/vocals), Ronan O’Callaghan (keyboards) and Pat Waller (drums). Based on the above evidence, Crackers were a hyperactive pop outfit, but after this first 1980 single McAnally and Waller departed (McAnally to release a solo single and become a TV presenter). With Lundy stepping forward as frontman, and with new drummer Barry Patterson, the band changed their name to The Crack.
As mentioned elsewhere, Crack was also the name used for a 1980 Irish novelty single about Paul McCartney’s Japanese drug bust, but the groups were not connected. Coincidentally, Lundy’s singing voice bore a strong resemblance to that of McCartney, and the new Travers/Lundy songwriting partnership (only these two were pictured on record sleeves) crafted soft rock & pop tunes not unlike Wings’ output. A 1981 single on their own ‘Cracked Records’ label was followed by two more and an LP on CBS. That album – the amusingly titled Dawn of The Crack – was released early in 1982 and featured Travers’ former Starband colleagues Adrian Mullen and Dee McMahon, and Jim Barry of The Memories, as guest backing vocalists. Drummer Martin McElroy soon replaced Patterson, but nothing more was heard from the group despite their undeniable songwriting talent. Tommy Lundy passed away in 2003. Stephen Travers led a successful campaign to have a memorial erected for his three murdered band-mates, and in 2008 events came full-circle as Des Lee, Ray Millar and Stephen Travers once again reformed The Miami.
- When The Time Comes
- Kickin’ At The Kickham
- Go Away
Navan guitar player Jimmy Smyth had, like a slightly earlier generation of Irish rock musicians, learned his trade on the showband circuit. His father Jimmy had played with The Arcadians, while he had been with The Big Valley in the early 1970s. His sister Gloria had an Irish number 1 hit with country ballad One Day At A Time in 1977. Taking a heavier route, Smyth formed The Bogey Boys around 1978 with Donald ‘Doish’ Nagle (bass) and Paul Moran (drums). Smyth’s guitar playing took center stage in high energy blues and R’n'B material, much like the New Wave/Pub Rock movement making headlines in Britain at the time. Aptly, they gained further recognition supporting Rory Gallagher in 1978 and released their first single, Friday Night, in 1979, followed shortly after by their debut LP of the same name. The album blends Rock ‘n’ Roll with harder rock (as on tracks like Hard Times) and sits easily alongside Reform’s album and ’80s acts like Mama’s Boys.
The Bogey Boys rip through Dr. Feelgood’s She Does It Right at the Cork Opera House in 1980. U2 were the support act.
A Peter Green-influenced second album quickly followed in 1980, titled Jimmy Did It!, and a number of singles reached the charts in 1980 and 1981, but despite a devoted fan base and good press publicity, the band never quite hit the big time in the way they probably deserved. Line-up changes also broke their momentum with the departure of both Nagle (to Phil Lynott’s post-Lizzy group Grand Slam) and Moran. Jimmy’s brother Tony Smyth took over the drums, while a succession of bass players included Davy Watson, Neil Whiffen and Iggy Ward. The band went to the USA in 1982 and spent a year gigging and trying to secure an American record deal, but broke up in 1983. Jimmy stayed for some time in L.A. while Tony joined The No Name Band back in Navan. At the end of 1985 the Smyth brothers reunited for one more Bogey Boys Irish tour and again for a gig in 2005. They also gigged with Watson and with Francis Geraghty of The No Name Band as Deep 6, who released an album called Undercover. In 2012 The Bogey Boys reformed with Smyth, Smyth and Nagle, and set about making up for lost time with a whirlwind of gigs in Ireland and London.
- Friday Night
- Success Story
- It Could Happen To You
- I’m Alright Jack
- Rock n’ Roll Romance
- Hard Times
- In My Own Time
- Closing Time
This is far from rock music, however at this time of year, as everyone with a tenuous connection to Ireland celebrates the anniversary of the death of a Christian evangelist, attention turns to Irish culture and heritage. And (here I go again on another rant) as rock music doesn’t make the grade as far as approved Irish culture is concerned, here instead is the acceptable face of Irish music. Seán Ó Riada is widely considered the godfather of a revival of traditional Irish music during the 1960s. From a varied background as a dance band pianist and an avant-garde composer, Ó Riada began to write soundtrack music for Irish films at the end of the ’50s and formed a traditional music ensemble named Ceoltóirí Chualann in 1961. In truth, Ó Riada’s music owed less to the bar-room trad session music of the ceilí bands and more to an Irish classical music in the tradition of O’Carolan. He himself played the harpsichord – not generally regarded as a traditional Irish instrument – as an approximation of a traditional wire-strung harp.
Seán Ó Riada died in 1971 shortly after his 40th birthday, his liver disease and premature aging a result of many years’ heavy drinking. Soon after, the LP Ó Riada’s Farewell appeared, not as a cash-in on his legacy as the name might suggest, but rather a collection of his cherished final recordings, packaged with many tributes in the liner notes written in English, Irish (both traditional and Latin script), French, German, Vietnamese and Japanese, representing the esteem which he had earned in his relatively short life. The recordings were made, unaccompanied, on a gorgeous eighteenth century upright harpsichord built by Ferdinand Weber of Marlborough Street for a town house on Kildare Street, and pictured on the front cover. The instrument could be “disagreeable” and the percussive noise of the keys on this record, akin to someone constantly thumping the far side of a door, can be quite distracting. Nevertheless, the ancient music is revived and heard as it was originally conceived, and its fragile beauty can be both haunting and uplifting. This music is, I should point out, widely available on digital remaster and mp3 download and whatever other new-fangled methods people use these days; what is here is merely a scratchy vinyl transfer so if you like it, buy it.
- Fanny Power
- Mabel Kelly
- Aisling Gheal
- Kerry Slide
- An Chúilfhionn
- The Three Sea Captains
- Suite: Túirne Mháire/Na Bearta Cruadha/An Brianach Óg (two versions)
- Cúil Aodha Slide
- Mo Ghile Mear
- An Cailín Deas Rua
- An tSean Bhean Bhocht
- Aon Lá sa Mhuilleann
- Sí Bheag a’s Sí Mhór
- Seán Ó Duibhir an Ghleanna
Of arguably more interest is a tape that I came across some years ago consisting of soundtrack music recorded by Seán Ó Riada in about 1966. Recorded once again on solo harpsichord (perhaps even the same one), the 13 minutes or so of music were made for a short film titled Celtic Gold In Ireland, sponsored by the National Museum of Ireland to showcase some of their collection of ancient artifacts. The brief musical cues are in much the same vein as the final album but, to the best of my knowledge, have never been made available before now. Ó Riada’s bandmates in Ceoltóirí Chualann carried on and nurtured his legacy via The Chieftains, and his influence can be heard in everything from Van Morrison to Riverdance, and will most likely be in evidence over the forthcoming celebrations. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day; next time we return to rock.