Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 2. Ghostown

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 2.
Ghostown. The Radiators.

"I guess we had to get older
And the memories are scratched"
This is one of the great Irish albums, an album which seems to capture the essence of the Dublin of the time. Philip Chevron's accent, the pool halls, the cellar bars, the remains of rock 'n' roll, the tension between paralysis and defiance. Cabaret tinted theatricality, poetry and punk meet Brylcreem and bingo on the dark side streets of a city where the anger simmers in the juices of despair.
"The town clock tells her last week’s time"

Posting this is bittersweet given the very recent news that Philip Chevron, who has battled cancer, has seen that cancer return in an inoperable form and as he put it "this time the cancer is lethal." As well as being a Radiator, Philip released an excellent solo Brecht/Weill mini album Songs from Bill's Dance Hall and a single, Dominic Behan's The Captains and the Kings. He produced Agnes Bernelle's first two albums and most famously, was a member of The Pogues. He also composed music for theatre and much else besides. Hopefully this new stage in his life will be long and fruitful. His hope, is to make some 'notable musical contributions" to add to the many already made. None, I think, more notable than Ghostown.

This is possibly the most important album in my collection. It is to punk as Bob Dylan is to folk, taking up Joyce's challenge to paint a portrait of Dublin. Seeing The Radiators on RTE  woke me to the possibilities that music could come from where you came from, and it's not too far from that to making it yourself. It also unfurls a flag of resistance to the Irish armies of conservatism: the Catholic Church, the narrow nationalists; what the Taoiseach recently called in his apology to the women incarcerated in the Magdalene Laundries, "a particular Ireland - judgemental, intolerant, petty and prim" which possessed "this mindset then, this moral subservience that gave us the social mores the required and exclusive ‘values’ of the time that welcomed the compliant, obedient and lucky ‘US’ and banished the more problematic, spirited or unlucky ‘THEM’?"

Lionised by an admitted few in Ireland, this seems to be largely unknown outside. Which is a crime. Kitty Ricketts, Walking Home Alone Again and Song of the Faithful Departed are some of the finest songs in the Irish songbook, as Phil Chevron's association with Agnes Bernelle, whose first album he had produced, brought a touch of Weimar to go with his references to Joyce, Yeats, O'Casey, Plunkett, the curdled catholicism and the subterranean history of Ireland's capital. There isn't a weak song on the album and they just improve with each listen.
"Rattled by the glimmer man, the boogie man, the holy man,
And livin' in the shadows, in the shadows of a gunman.
Rattled like the coppers in your greasy till,
Rattled until time stood still.
Look over your shoulder, hear the school bell ring,
Another day of made-to-measure history.
I don't care if your heroes have wings,
Your terrible beauty has been torn"
I'm tempted to cut and paste the entire lyrics of some of these songs here. (Here's a link to the lyrics on the band's website). Lyrically this may be my favourite album, indeed it challenges for the spot of favourite album and the more I listen to it the higher it climbs up this 'chart'.
"What can I do when there’s nothing to do
Nothing to choose means nothing to lose
In the pool hall I’m no good at all
Charlie is a shark and Dick knows all the tricks
I’ve got to break out I’m not a child
My imagination’s running wild
I’ve done it your way since I was six
Now I’m tired of dreams
I’ve gotta get my kicks"

It was recorded in Tony Visconti's studio in Soho and there are some songs that echo Visconti's past with Bolan and Bowie. Indeed Chevron used the same guitar Bolan used on Jeepster on Walking Home Alone Again. You get a clear sense that they grew up with antennae tuned to anything different, to glimpses of freedom, to the sounds that the reformed Radiators From Space*  celebrate in their recent album of cover versions Sound City Beat, which includes songs from the Irish underground of the sixties and early seventies. They are still redrawing the borders of Irish identity.

"But the tricolour TV is on the blink
The priest in the corner has turned to drink"
I finally got to see them when they reformed in the noughties, in an 'intimate' gig in Whelan's full of musicians and people whose younger selves I recognised from gigs long past. They were the most important Irish band of their generation, they said and still say more about Ireland than any other band. It struck me while writing this that people often accuse The Boomtown Rats of sounding like Springsteen but perhaps they were trying to sound like The Radiators but fell a bit short and ended up sounding like Springsteen.

I love this album. Make space for it and perhaps you will too.
"Words are only sacred if they're true" - and the words on this album are so true they hurt. How about this quote to end, as Ireland still refuses abortions to women who need them for medical reasons, leading to the preventable death of Savita Halappanavar.
"The decent folk, on All Souls Night 
Light penny candles for the sweet repose 
(Easy fortunes for fortune tellers, quick abortions in dingy cellars)
Of dearly loved and soon forgot
A word in St. Peter’s ear my darling Rose
(La la la la,la la la la la)
Such simple faith is really all it takes
To rid the land of snakes
(God speed them on their way to Hell)
But it could never break Kitty Ricketts spell"

Just found this great encapsulation of the album from Philip Chevron.
Also some great writing on The Radiators at this blog.

*(They've been The Radiators from Space; The Radiators; The Radiators (Plan 9) and The Radiators From Space again.)

Addenda - I mentioned in my post on The Knocking Shop's album that a producer had told one of the band that he  thought it could be one of the best Irish albums he'd heard in years. It was Pete Holidai. I'm proud of that, even if circumstances conspired so that we weren't able to work with him on making it better.

We did have a song which somewhat reflected The Radiators influence, called De Valera's Eire, which used the rhythm of Riverdance and opened with a loose quote from Joyce's The Dead - "As the snow falls on the stone walls" but it was never really finished and certainly not recorded. The chorus went - "and the dreams of De Valera turned into this Scary Eire."

Here's a bonus, Faithful Departed with Elvis Costello as his backing band.

p.s. - A very special Bonus Top Ten coming up.


  1. Excellent piece Seamus. Musical is so personal. Especially when it's the music of your own streets. This seems part of your DNA and I kind of envy you that passion. Me? I was a forces brat so was always moving. Never still for long enough to absorb an environment. I could pick and choose the music that became me. Musically I'm a self made man. I was the sponge. Seems that you are more the liquid than saturates the sponge. Your environment absorbs you. You had no choice but to inhabit the world of this music because that's where you lived. You have no choice but to love this and I covet that intense infatuation. It's like family love, you have no choice, you cannot deny its potency; a parochial passion indeed...

    1. As the great Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh said: "Parochialism is universal; it deals with the fundamentals."

  2. New to me but really like these songs even if they don't come from my world (in fairness nothing really came form my world there weren't too many groups writing about growing up in the fens ) Can hear the link to the Boomtown Rats

  3. Probably my favourite album of all time. Great to see Pete Holidai and Steve Rapid rocking on with Trouble Pilgrims.

    1. Bit bummed at the moment Colin as the 'flu will probably mean I miss the gig tomorrow night...

  4. Probably my favourite album of all time. Great to see Pete Holidai and Steve Rapid rocking on with Trouble Pilgrims.