Thursday, 11 June 2015

Top 102 Albums No Minus 15 - Look Away Down Collins Avenue

Top 102 Albums No Minus 15
Look Away Down Collins Avenue - The Drays

"I hear voices / said "I see the light" (I hear the light)"

After sixteen years of waiting there is a new album from Stephen Ryan, who first came took my heart in The Stars of Heaven back when I was young, passionate and impressionable. If you want to know what The Stars of Heaven meant to me you can get some clues here. He followed up his time with The Stars of Heaven by forming The Revenants and releasing two great albums with them.

The Drays feature fellow travellers from his Revenants days Conor Brady and former Would-Be's singer Eileen Gogan. Alongside them is drummer Paul Byrne, who played in Sounds Unreel / Deaf Actor with Conor Brady in the late seventies, and later In Tua Nua. (Brady has also been midwife to the re-emergence of Paul Cleary and The Blades in recent years.)

It has been sixteen years since his last release with The Revenants but he has been playing guitar in The Dinah Brand since then and has, it is clear, continued to write songs. Indeed he has been squirrelling them away against the onset of winter. (awful pun on one of the meanings of dray. Sorry). The presence of Derrick Dalton on the credits means that some of this was recorded in 2008 or earlier, when Derrick died. Also credited is Revenants bassist Naeem Bismilla who is set to be part of the touring band. Conor Brady plays bass as well as guitar on most of the album.

The Drays Paul Byrne; Stephen Ryan; Eileen Gogan; Conor Brady
(photo by ex-Stars of Heaven drummer Bernard Walsh!)
There's no attempt here to embrace anything other than Ryan's own heritage and as one of the finest songwriters to emerge from Ireland, and that simple guitar/bass/drums format harking back through the Byrds / Big Star / Replacements bloodline. With a small but exquisite body of work, why do otherwise? The quality of the songs here is an argument for longer breaks between albums. The sense of time passing hangs over this collection like a gently charged fog of years. There are songs that seem to catch life happened and happening, a sense that the people in them have changed, or are changing. Epiphanies, perhaps?

"Nothing changes then it changes a lot
Did you really think nothing would change?"

Some people other than me have been getting excited!

When I heard the first single, Fourteenth Floor on the radio last year I began to get as excited as Adolf. This was bang on form, some gentle yet gritty garage rock on a par with Stars favourite Widow's Walk. The appearance of a second single You Say the Same Thing Twice earlier this year built up further steam and as soon as I could I placed an order for the album, on 180gram vinyl and digital download. Even better, the first thirty albums were dispatched early and I have had mine for almost a month at this stage, time to let the songs soak in before judging them.

And my judgement? Well I think that this is a classic album, destined to dominate my listening for months to come. There is not a weak song on it and it contains what is my current favourite song, Playground of the Rich. It's an album of wistful defiance, full of survivor's songs that are gently but persuasively insistent on their value. Regret is there, but it is never overpowering. The songs are often wryly, and slyly, humourous and without resorting to excesses of irony or cruelty they manage to look the world straight in the eye and smile.

As is my wont I will drift through the album Track by Track, making comments and quoting lyrics as I go...


The Assignment
It's no surprise that time plays a big part in these songs. After sixteen years away how could it not be on Mr Ryan's mind. Here the singer is counting down the time to the "31st day of the year" when "the clock turns to zero and time disappears"
The good news is that time does disappear. This could have been the opening track on Speak Slowly, the more so as it includes some train imagery which would have tied in very nicely with the cover of said album...

Sorrel Hill
An image of said hill graces the album's cover and this is the first of the songs sung by Eileen Gogan. Autumn turns to winter as leaves and then snowdrops fall on the grounds of the desmesne. The gate is studded and I'm not sure if its keeping the singer out or acting as a barrier to the outside world. Gogan switches to full on sixties chanteuse mode for the thrillingly pop savvy "Ba Da Da Da / Come on" choruses.

Portuguese Trucks
Lit up by the odd, dissonant sweetness of Conor Brady's guitar this explores place and displacement. When you're looking at the traffic you're also looking at the road.
"I can't give you what you want
If all you want is this"

The Fourteenth Floor
Here The Drays go one floor higher than Roky Erikson, and that's no mean feat. But wait, he works in the basement and only hears the voices from The Fourteenth Floor. But his "mind's racing like never before", "he's on the edge of something big'.
Whatever it's fuelled by this is a swaggering technicolour Nugget.  Can't wait to hear this one live.
 "Give me a drug that's full of impurities / to make me feel so assured
Give me a lover with a string of insecurities / or tie me with a silken cord"

Queen of Time
Eileen Gogan again takes the vocals on this, and once again Time is the central theme. Tasteful country licks underline a feverish fairytale within which time brings the loss of innocence. And the melodies are delicious...
"Once I was the Queen of Hours / I sent the wide eyed to the tower"

The Seven Years War
Side One ends with another highlight. This one deals with when an itch becomes an addiction, and the journey into the place where "I loved to be cruel" and the battle to get out again. But there is always the pull of the "thrill before addiction."
"I was sick / the doctor tapped her teeth 
    With her painted      nails
She said don't expect miracles / not at this stage
Then I must admit / I tried to trick her
I held my breath / 'til my pulse beat quicker"
This also features some classic seventies style guitar breaks from Conor Brady.


The title says it all. The spidery, late night guitar weaves a web of vague shadowy threat.
"When I was a kid I got spooked / By the emptiness of this place."
A feeling of illness and mortality seems to hover in the shadows here.

Playground of the Rich* 

This is a work of genius which I have been listening to over and over again. Someone has to evolve a road movie from this song. I am already seeing it in my head. The WOO WOO WOO's are delightfully mock heroic.
Here are the lyrics, with apologies for the inevitable mistakes:

"I took my girl / to the playground of the rich
Eight days in a diesel three door
First she got bitten / Then she got sick
But I was fine / Just a little sun-sore
She became serene / With the anti-histamine
         The supermarket gin
HEY GIRL, it's the playground of the rich
and we're in it
               WOO WOO WOO
There's a sun the colour of lava / Hanging over the exit ramp
Maybe we'll reach the cove just as it sets
A glass of cava / and you know Roger from Supertramp
Is playing on the cliffs tonight
Hey girl, that's as good as it gets
Maybe we'll be seen / Among the pines and evergreens
While The Logical Song rules the night
It's you and me in the playground of the rich
And it's alright

The icy smile that sometimes steals across your lips / is glacial
This country pile where we cool our heels / and come to grips
Is palatial / Here in the playground of the rich...
                     WOO WOO WOO"

You Say the Same Thing Twice
The second single was another instant hit around here and it sits well in the album too. More time spent with those gentlemen sitting in the Sacred Heart Hotel drinking themselves down the drain. Here time reveals the truth as repetition dulls some pleasures. You can't stand still, even if that's what you want. Maybe there's another humourous nudge at Ryan's own pursuit of an unchanging muse, as there is in the opening line of Fourteenth Floor "Don't stop me if you've heard this before".
"She sat on the bar top / hugging your knees
And she answered my question with one of her own
Tapping the keys on her telephone
Is your memory not so good?
You ask the same things twice
It seems to me you should / listen to your own advice

She sat in the sky with the sun in her hand
Like truth unveiled by time
And the world at her side / turned a revolution
Every once in a while
She was lying on  a snow white cloud
Safe in the hands of time
Staring at the usual crowd / hanging around"

"She stood at the counter keeping the score
The click of a ring on her empty glass
Slowly echoes back
Who's drinking? Who's pouring? Who's keeping track?
 She said your memory's not so good
You say the same things twice
If I was you / I'd listen to my own advice"

Silver River
This one features tasteful horns from Brendan Tallon and Barry O'Mahoney a.k.a. Saturday Captains, as well as once again switching vocal duties to Eileen Gogan.
"Nothing changes then it changes a lot
Did you really think nothing would change?"

Look Away, Look Away
A riff that reminds me of Joan Armatrading's Love and Affection and a lo-fi sound that echoes the Velvet Underground with dissonant guitar sounds reminiscent of John Cale's electric viola. This is the late night instrumental jam to end the record. Downbeat but still defiant. This one has a songwriting credit for Derrick Dalton.
(Additional observation: I have realised since writing this that Look Away, Look Away is an even closer relative of Four Tet's Slow Jam. Perhaps even a blood relative?)

Time to flip it over and start again.

Follow The Drays on Twitter - https://twitter.com/thedraysmusic
Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Drays/1465090043753905
Website -  http://thedrays.com/

The album is due to hit selected shops (@Rollerkilkenny @TowerDublin @FreebirdRecords @MusicZoneDC ) tomorrow June 12th, as well as iTunes.

Go on, justify the existence of this blog and buy a copy! 

Bonus Features.
Other reviews
Irish Times - http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/music/the-drays-look-away-down-collins-avenue-album-reviewhhhh-1.2246009
Between the Bars - http://www.betweenthebars.net/the-drays-look-away-down-collins-avenue/

Here is a video of the album being pressed.

*Playground of the Rich comes before You Say the Same Thing Twice on the vinyl and after it on the cover. Probably means this copy is worth a fortune. Just saying.

As for a connection to The Knocking Shop. Well, apart from the fact that we may be making a long awaited second coming on a vinyl compilation album this year we were supposed to record Moonstruck from Sacred Heart Hotel for the legendary Stars of Heaven tribute album that was never released but we didn't manage to get through all the songs we had lined up when we went into a recording studio. We had slowed it down to a crawl and it sounded more like Nirvana than The Stars. Sorry not to have even a rough version of it. Here's the original.


  1. Loved the stars of heaven but never followed up on the later bands so got some catching up to do. Wood bees ? Did they do hardly ever wrong ? Name rings a bell and I think I have that on a single in a box somewhere

  2. They did indeed! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCmssbQ0mk0