Monthly Archives: August 2012

Garth Brooks: A Warning In Retrospect

In the way that mushroom clouds are a thing and gaping head injuries are a thing, Garth Brooks was once a thing in Ireland. For a period in the mid-nineties, he was probably the biggest thing of all the things: bigger than Dustin, bigger than Bishop Eamon Casey, bigger than Barry O’Hanlon’s bald spot. He swooped onto the world stage in a dusty haze of snappy, singalong country music, branded with innocuous moral code and sensitive cowboy shtick. Ould wans spoiled by Philomena Begley seized his coattails and hung on for dear life. Married couples took to their fringed boots and started spending every Saturday night clicking their heels in formation with their thumbs hooked into their belt loops. Teenagers – teenagers! – learned the words to Brooks’ ditties and belted them out of car windows and school auditoriums and youth disco dancefloors. No one was safe from Garth Brooks. No one.

Look at him there with the head on him.

And because no one was safe, I was no different. Like all inexplicable crazes, Garth Brooks ended as suddenly as he’d begun, but a couple of notes from ‘Friends In Low Places’ or ‘Standing Outside The Fire’ and still I burst into involuntary playback like a subject chewed up and spat out by Derren Brown.

In the mid-nineties, I was far too cool to ever go line dancing – I even refused to learn the Macarena – and I certainly eschewed such trappings as cowboy boots and tasselled blouses, but even an aesthetic forged in army navy surplus stores and by a weird attraction to Jarvis Cocker couldn’t save me from the magnetic wrench of Brooks’ melodies. It may be partly down to south county Galway society and the heady scent of silage in the air, but Garth Brooks felt like communal madness. I had a copy of his album The Hits – didn’t everyone? – and it nestled beside Pablo Honey and Music For The Jilted Generation on my dressing table. I have no idea where it is now. I can only assume I burnt it during my repatriation ceremony to the land of the living.

Oh, the horror!

It kind of makes sense when you examine the phenomenon with a forced level of detachment. Ireland has long been a slave to folk music and country is like folk music as understood by a Teletubby who fell out of a pickup truck straight onto his head. It’s folk music you don’t need a social conscience or patriotic pride to get in on. You just need to like easy little stories about rodeos and whiskey chasers and patriarchy, all told in metre-perfect rhymes.

What doesn’t make sense is that it wasn’t just Ireland that was enslaved by the honeyed twang of Mr. Brooks, but countries of varied cultures and levels of cop-on. Brazil loved him, as did Australia. The British media were sniffy, but the people were smitten. Garth Brooks was a one-man religion.

And we were, briefly but totally, disciples. What set the Garth Brooks craze apart from all of the other childhood crazes I’ve weathered was that unlike pogs, Saved By The Bell, and those stupid oversized beanies that East 17 used to wear, Garth Brooks was one you could get in on with your parents. Generations were united by a common adoration for the stetsoned one and his warbling tributes to unanswered prayers and sleeping loved ones and cougars he plumbed when he was a teenager. Which may have seemed all facets of creepy, but it is a credit to Mr. Brooks that every passion he ever sang about was declawed as soon as it left his throat. Never before has a singer turned so much everyday mundanity into so much anthemic yodelling into so much lyrical docility. It’s so straightforward it’s genius.

Like Mother Goose, Garth Brooks had universal appeal because there were no stipulations attached to enjoying his work, like the need to have a working brain or a basic understanding of metaphor. Mid-nineties Garth Brooks was as simple and as appealing and as bad for you as apple pie. Why, even Garth Brooks himself has taken great pains to limit the damage done by his perfect universal appeal, by making his music unavailable on most of the social media giants and burying – BURYING – the master for The Hits underneath his star on Hollywood boulevard.

Ponder all ye on what horrors lie beneath

It is my solemn conclusion – the only logical conclusion, really – that Garth Brooks took root because everyone has… a weak spot for country music.

Oh, you may think such aural failings don’t apply to you, pouting there in your biker jacket or skinny jeans, but it happened once, and it will happen again. Keep your eyes out, kids. And your ears closed.

(by Lisa McInerney)

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Ireland’s Small House Tradition

Once, Ireland had Big Houses. Before they were set to the flame in the name of civilisation (or fell over for want of Big Incomes) every Big House contained a Small House. A Georgian mansion, fully furnished by minuscule furniture craftsmen.

Every little girl in Ireland wanted one of those Dolls’ Houses.

Eventually, those little girls became mothers to little girls of their own and were intent on making those dreams come true. Until they discovered (a) there is a reason Dolls’ Houses were found in Big Houses. They are fucking enormous. And (b) they cost all the money there is in the universe. It is possible Dolls’ Houses caused the fall of the Ascendancy classes, like front hinged Easter Island heads.

The solution: The Cardboard Dolls’ House.

Doll House Box

Doll House Box

Folds away flat, it assures us. Check out those All Mod Cons decorative choices. Check out the grammatically mysterious promise; “A Charming House Any Child Will Wish To Own”.

Check out, above all, the gender neutral Child:

Dungarees are for everyone

Dungarees are for everyone

The problem with replacing boring old wood with thrusting and modern laminated cardboard is that… well, let’s just say that entropy increases.

Cardboard Doll's House from the Front

One Careful Owner.

The once verdant foliage has bleached to a cold and eerie blue. The roof, held in place with slots and tabs, sits askew on the building, speaking of a thousand indoor storms.  Even the upstairs windows are weeping at what time has wrought. But there is worse to come. There is the interior view.

Interior Cardboard House

The Old Murder DollsHouse

Oh Lord. This is where two generations’ dreams have gone to die.

(by Simon McGarr)

Dirty Dancing 25 years on…

A couple of years ago, on a night out with three friends, a shocking revelation came to light. During a random chat about films close to our once-teenage hearts, one of our number took a deep breath and blurted out that she’d never seen Dirty Dancing. Three sets of eyes widened and stared. “But . . . but . . . how? Why?” one of us stuttered. It was like admitting you had never watched Top of the Pops, eaten a cool-pop or jumped off a wall while simultaneously attempting the splits after one too many episodes of Fame.

Without exception, every girl I knew in 1987 had not just seen Dirty Dancing, but the number of viewings per girl bordered on obsessive compulsive. We would quote lines (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner” was the perfect melodramatic opener or door-slamming endpoint to any teenage strop) and try to recreate the film’s famous “lift” scene, often resulting in sprained shoulders and pulled muscles. And then there was Patrick Swayze, all tousled quiff and cut-glass cheekbones – not to mention those snake hips. Sadly, there were no sexy dance instructors on any of our collective family holidays growing up. The daydream of meeting some mentor-ish older man who would liberate your teenage self through the medium of dance was one harboured by several friends.

The film’s slightly cheesy and deliberately provocative title always (I felt) did the film a disservice. It wasn’t about dancing. And it was only barely about the dirty elements of said dancing. It was a story about growing up, about asserting your independence and about tentatively cutting the apron strings. In every sense, it’s a classic bildungsroman, where over one long, hot summer, a young girl comes of age.

The casting of Jennifer Grey was also inspired. A complete unknown, she was pretty but not gorgeous. She was also the precursor to Britney’s Not a Girl, Not Yet A Woman and completely relatable to a generation of girls who wanted to grow up fast after two hours in the cinema. As films about awakening sexuality go, it rates highly and captures Baby’s journey from girl to woman in a way that many Hollywood films bungle.

Horrified at the glaring gap in our friend’s film history, a Dirty Dancing  screening was organised. A special edition DVD was purchased and we duly trooped over to our unenlightened friend’s flat. What struck me most about the experience was the reminder that, in all the times I’d seen the film, I had rarely watched it alone. It had always been a communal experience, involving singing along with the songs and shrieking at Patrick Swayze’s moves. Would it hold up all these years later? Well, yes and no.

Like many films, it’s very much of its time. The dancing – surprisingly – was far more risqué than my younger self remembered, but the story of one girl finding love with Mr. Wrong who becomes Mr. Right is fairly timeless. Much cringing and laughter accompanied the scenes as we heard those familiar lines again (“Go back to your playpen, Baby”). Our friend declared herself largely unimpressed – but, then, 20 years on, we expected as much. Dirty Dancing spoke to a generation of idealistic girls not just about boys, but about being assertive and being yourself. It was also meant to be watched with a banana comb in your hair and sporting a batwing jumper.

As with John Hughes’ classics The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, abandon hindsight and cynicism and watch them for fun with open-minded nostalgia. You might even have the time of your life (and you’ll owe it all to Patrick Swayze).

“This piece was originally published in The Irish Times –

(by Sinéad Gleeson)

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When the Cureheads invaded Ballsbridge

It had been hot all week. On Monday 10 July 1989 I was woken by powerful sunshine. “Five days to go” I thought to myself. The Cure were playing in the RDS the following Saturday and I couldn’t wait. I had been to a handful of concerts before but this was the big one. For the previous two months I had been playing Disintegration every night. My favourite way to absorb it was via headphones as I drifted off to sleep.

After a televisual diet of Wiseguy, Snub TV and Degrassi Junior High, Friday afternoon finally rolled around. I left work at 3.00pm and went home to grab my gear. Bus Eireann’s New Ross to Dublin service was taking off at 4.50pm and this quartet of Cure fans were determined to get on board. We touched down in Busáras at about 8.00pm and were met by some friends. Some unimpressive fast food followed. We then toyed with the idea of checking out Bartley Dunnes [none of us had actually been there at that point] but eventually decided on heading towards our base in Sandymount.

Some pints were consumed outside O’Reilly’s pub on Seafort Avenue and additional food supplies purchased from the 7Eleven. The remainder of the Friday night passed by in a haze of smoke, The Smiths on the stereo and some interminably long-winded party game called Personal Questions. We eventually crashed at about 3.30am but none of us could sleep – presumably due to the mounting excitement. Instead we made a quick trip to the nearby beach to welcome in the dawn and watch the tide go out.

Saturday was another glorious day. At times like these I really wish I had the foresight to carry a camera. Thankfully some people did manage to capture the moment. Here is a marvellous snapshot of Cure fans taken outside an Inchicore house on that morning of 15 July.

It was time to use the DART for the first time. The morning was spent in and out of record shops like Comet, Freebird and the Virgin Megastore. All of us bought at least one record. The Fall’s Seminal Live and The Wedding Present’s Ukrainian Peel Sessions were among my purchases. There was no turntable in the apartment so we spent the afternoon listening to Japan and The Sugarcubes on cassette. At about 4.00pm the preparations began. The black clothes went on and the front room was turned into a mini hair-salon. Let the backcombing begin!

By the time we left for the RDS the conditions were extremely hot and sticky. We walked up Sandymount Avenue and almost wilted. Black-clad, mascara-streaked and hairspray-soaked temples. Then we reached the top of the road and gasped. The Curehead army was marching through Ballsbridge. Our time had come; this was our day. We may have been marginalised in our respective hometowns but this was truly a gathering of the tribe. A number 18 bus swung around onto the main road; its occupants stared at us with a mixture of shock and probably pity.

Finally it was time to get out of the searing sunshine and into the fiery, sweaty cauldron that was Simmonscourt. The atmosphere was highly-charged with expectation. I saw a number of guys standing at the side of the arena. They were inhaling Tippex in full view of the St John’s ambulance men. The first support act came on – Shelleyan Orphan – and gave us a competent set, Shatter was the highlight. It was still quite easy to get to a decent vantage point so I made my way towards the front. There were loads of Dead Kennedys Bedtime For Democracy t-shirts. All About Eve came next and Julianne Regan wore a see-through white dress. I thought she looked amazing. Martha’s Harbour and all that.

The Cure finally came on stage to the chimes of Plainsong. Robert Smith sang those immortal opening lines.

“I think it’s dark and it looks like rain.”

A young female goth approached me and asked to get on my shoulders. She wanted to take some photographs. Being a gentlemen I obliged her. The crowd surged forward and I temporarily lost my friends in the crush. I didn’t drop the lady at this point but her dead weight gradually began to have an effect. By the end of Closedown she was thrown on the floor. Sorry again – whoever you are. During A Night Like This I took a breather. The lack of sleep was taking its toll. My mates were at the right hand wall where a guy had fainted and was being stretchered off by paramedics.

It was an epic set. Poppier numbers mixed with brooding epics. Lovesong‘s drift into Charlotte Sometimes was fantastic; A Forest was immense while the “gloom trilogy” of Same Deep Waters As You, Prayers For Rain and Disintegration was thrillingly miserable on a massive scale. We got two encores – a short sharp set of more immediate tunes like Close To Me and Let’s Go To Bed before a longer a meandering seven track sequence of brilliance. Hot Hot Hot was quickly followed by a beguiling version of A Strange Day and the two “Boys” numbers. By the time they concluded with an epic 14 minute best-version-ever Faith (with added lyrics – listen to it below!), almost three hours had passed. I was exhausted. 23 years have passed and I’ve been to hundreds of gigs since then. This is still number one.

We walked back to Sandymount afterwards in a state of quiet contentment and unexpressed awe. Sleep finally came after a few beers. Meagre funds and work commitments (a “proper” summer job in an office) did not permit me to stick around for the following night’s gig. My abiding memory of the Sunday morning is being part a group of dishevelled youths dressed in black frantically half-running through a pre-regeneration Temple Bar and down the Quays. We had a bus to catch. Time to return to civilian life.

Set list
Pictures of You
Kyoto Song
A Night Like This
Just Like Heaven
Last Dance
Fascination St

Charlotte Sometimes
The Walk
A Forest
In Between Days
Same Deep Water As You
Prayers For Rain

Close To Me
Let’s Go To Bed
Why Can’t I Be You

Hot Hot Hot
A Strange Day
Three Imaginary Boys
Boys Don’t Cry

4 August 2016: It turns out that somebody had taken a photograph after all. I’m on the left.


Photo credits
1) Ryaller, 2) Blogtrotter Revival, 3) Where Were You / Vincent McCormack / Gavin Paisley
4) Jarlath Slattery, 5) Impression of Sounds, 6) Jenny Murphy O’Neill

(by nlgbbbblth)

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When I was growing up, Shay Healy was as ubiquitous as anyone in gainful employment in Ireland could be; he seemed to have a hand in almost everything musical in the country. He and Phil Coulter looked to have Irish popular music carved up in their own duopoly. Not much of Healy’s work from those years is remembered now – except, of course, the 1980 Eurovision winner he wrote for Johnny Logan – and that’s not too surprising given his work was almost quintessentially ephemeral, written and performed for a living.

To give Healy his due though, he and his work had an edge and wit that was lacking in most light entertainment emanating from the official culture of Ireland in the 1980s. He also never took himself too seriously, even if he did have the semi-legendary attribute of indirectly causing Charlie Haughey’s downfall. His interview with Seán Doherty on Nighthawks in January 1992 elicited the claim that other members of Haughey’s cabinet knew about Doherty’s phone-tapping while justice minister. Haughey was gone within weeks.

One song I do remember introduced me to the man who is now the head of the London Olympic Games Organising Committee. I was too young to remember the Moscow Olympics but three years later I heard “If I Were Sebastian Coe” and its jangly pub-rock was sufficiently catchy to lodge the middle-distance Olympic champion in my conscience. It was so impressive that I was a bit surprised to discover that Sebastian Coe was not some crusty old dignatory but a fairly young man with a few years on the track ahead of him. The song is an amusing ditty, with the inevitable Steve Ovett reference, and the title and refrain demonstrate a command of the subjunctive mood rare in pop music. As Healy explains on his own YouTube channel, Coe himself was not too impressed at the tribute:

I wrote “If I Were Sebastian Coe” in 1983 as an homage to Seb, one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time, whose frequent jousts on the track with fellow Briton Steve Ovett were the stuff of legend. I sent a copy to Seb and he said he would sue me…I hope Lord Coe, Olympic supremo 2012 has a better sense of humour…


(I first saw the video for this song on Youngline, an RTÉ youth programme of the day, and a precursor to Jo-Maxi. I have a very dim recollection of Youngline, though it also provided me with my first ever glimpse of The Jam around about that time. I always imagined it to be short-lived but I had in fact only caught the tail-end of it. It ran from about 1978, in which year U2 made their first ever TV appearance on the show. Well, we won’t hold that against it.

(by Oliver Farry)

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