Thursday, 19 December 2013

The (Grey) Blades

The (Grey) Blades

On Friday the 13th, last Friday, I attended a gig.  I hadn't seen the band in question play a gig since 1986, indeed no-one had. I hadn't been as excited about a gig for many years. At the time they were 'current' I saw them a few times, once in a small room in O'Sheas hotel in Bray and finally in the fading splendour of The Olympic Ballroom in Dublin, playing their last ever gig. I often wished I had taken more opportunities to see them - some things get taken for granted. No danger of that now. The band were The Blades, and when I wrote THIS earlier in the year I had little idea or hope of ever seeing them play again, let alone with such passion and power and to such an ecstatic reception.

I even got to warm up in the company of original drummer Pat Larkin who has played in bands with a few friends of mine and who proved a dab hand at the anecdote. (Now a writer and filmmaker as well as a drummer, some samples of Pat's work can be seen here.)  Now the buzz on social media is that there will be more gigs and old material is being dusted off for release. There is even talk of new songs.

Singer and main songwriter Paul Cleary had swatted away many calls to reform but the reception when he played two songs at the recent testimonial concert for the late Phil Chevron of Dublin's other finest band, The Radiators, seems to have cemented a growing desire to go back to the future.  I was there and had a strange, Proustian feeling when he played their disaffected anthem of the underclass, Downmarket. I almost felt like I had fallen through a crack in time and when it ended I felt strangely uncertain of where I had just been.

It's a long time since The Blades were touted to be the next big thing to emerge from the heat of punk, back in the late seventies. But despite releasing two deathless singles on Energy Records, a subsidiary of Polygram, The Blades Mk 1 (Paul & Lar Cleary and Pat Larkin) fell apart when plans to release an album on Energy fell through.

I can't help imagining what would have happened if those singles had been released on Two Tone. The Blades released a string of singles that matched contemporaries like The Jam, Dexys and The Specials for both edge and pop nous. Had their early efforts met with the sort of success they deserved who knows where it would have ended.

Even their first release hinted at what was to come. While the a-side got hot for girls in tight jeans and brand new shades the b-side was already anticipating 2013. It was a song called The Reunion: "I used to write letters but threw them away / Cause I’m afraid of rejection". To this day that fear (of rejection) seems to hover in the back of Paul Cleary's mind, for while his many fans bemoan his bad luck he has repeatedly stated that if they had been good enough they would have made it. If Ghost of a Chance was not 'good enough' I don't think there would be a music industry.

But of course, although brilliant, Ghost of a Chance really tempted fate with its chorus: "Not a Ghost / of a Chance / We never had." And it wasn't their only song to do so. And fate didn't like being tempted. She never does.

The Blades Mk 2, Paul Cleary, Brian Foley and Jake Reilly, augmented by The Blue Brass (Paul Grimes & Frank Duff), recorded some more great singles and an album for Elektra. But once again label trouble struck and the album wasn't released by Elektra and The Last Man in Europe only saw the light of day thanks to small Irish indie label Reekus Records.

And more songs had seemed to portend disaster -  Revelations of Heartbreak has it's protagonist rake through the embers for the signs of the end of a relationship, those signs we can be blind to when love is in bloom.  Paul Cleary was somewhat of a laureate of regret, failed relationships seemed his equivalent of Monet's lilies.

Perhaps this is part of the appeal of the reunion. Even those who had little knowledge of regret circa 1980 will have plenty of experience in 2013. You can't live on this spinning rock for that long without becoming an intimate of regret. Even successes are tinged with regret. And for many I'm sure their memories are tinged with some regret that they didn't get behind the band a little more when they were around, remembering Paul wondering from the stage at their 'last gig' why everyone hadn't bought their records if they loved them so much.

But now it seems their failure to 'make it' left fully intact that original bond between fans and band. Evangelising by fans over the years has ensured that their name remained alive, even while their records were unavailable. The weeks leading up to the gig saw interviews from many journalists who were part of the generation who remembered the band with affection, and felt that this was an opportunity to right the wrong of the band failing to get their just desserts.

Posts on The Blades Fan Group on Facebook include one that mentions meeting Paul Cleary on the bus into Dublin City Centre to get to the gig. In an interview on the radio Paul said that he wished he could be in the audience as well as playing. One of the strongest original impulses of punk was too break down the barrier between artist and audience. In the Olympia Theatre last weekend that barrier lay in ruins and there was a sense that the audience had as much to give the band as the band had to give the audience.

But don't sit easy. Another Blades single, Those Were the Days - the last one (until when?),  suggests that nostalgia isn't all it's cracked up to be, even if people want to believe it is.
"Human instinct is a flaw
In this theory you have built
Though it’s a blessing in disguise
Now I know it to be guilt

Still they’re saying
Those were the days
So simple and so clear
Those were the days
With only God to fear
Those were the days
When people weren’t afraid
Those were the days of hoping"

But for now let's believe. The Blades are back and this time they'll have the world at their feet, and if not the world then their own little corner of it. Just watch this. If they play again "I've got the t-shirt and the bus stops here", as Phil Chevron almost said.

Some links for further investigation.
Blades on Twitter - http://twitter.com/TheBladesBand
Blades on Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/thebladesofficialpage
Lyrics and Youtube - http://comeheretome.com/2013/12/05/lyrics-from-the-two-blades-lps/
Potted History - http://comeheretome.com/2012/03/15/still-sounding-sharp-looking-back-at-the-blades/
(There are more Blades posts on the rather wonderful comeheretome.com)
Discography - http://www.irishrock.org/irodb/bands/blades.html
Lots of Blades links and music, including live concerts and radio sessions - http://fanningsessions.wordpress.com/tag/the-blades/

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