The Lost Weekend: St Patrick’s Day 1991, New York City

5th avenue and Empire State building by night under the rain, New York

St. Patrick’s Day is often regarded with a deal of scorn by the New Irish in this city, for the obvious reasons. It’s an occasion when the Irish American “Leprechauns and shillelaghs” brigade become rampant, and full grown people stagger around with shamrocks falling out of kelly green hats that say “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”. That St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday this year was a bonus – no work the next day – but the fact that The Pogues would be playing the Palladium on Friday and highjacking ‘Saturday Night Live’ the following night made it even better. We wanted The Pogues for St. Paddy’s for years (they kill all known Leprechauns dead) and this year we got them.

Between the Academy Awards and The Boys From The County Hell, the celebrations started early on in the week, and continued throughout, kicking off with a riotous star-studded hooley at the Irish Consulate honoring Celluloid Men of the Week, Sheridan and Pearson of “My Left Foot”. The Musical Men Of The Week made their first appearance en masse at a launch held for the author T.J. English to celebrate the publication of his new book, “The Westies”.

Here The Pogues jam with New York band, “Morning Star” and mingle with Gerard Conlon and Paul Hill of the Guildford Four (Conlon having recently testified in U.S. Congress on the plight of the Birmingham Six), Nicky Kelly and various elements from the Irish American Hierarchy.

Later Terry Woods turned up at the second launch of the evening, in the Rodeo Bar on Third Avenue where Pat Kilbride celebrated the release of his new album “More Rock and Roses” on Flying Fish Records. Originally from Kildare, Kilbride swopped continents about two years ago after much success in Europe, and has since been a regular on the music scene here. He has recently assembled “The Kips Bay Ceili Band, which features some of the most talented musicians on the East Coast, like Eileen Ivers on electric fiddle, Joanie Madden on flute, John Whelan (uileann pipes) and Jerry O’Sullivan (accordian). Their rowdy polished blend of trad rock and folk was delivered in a spectacular performance that continued into the early hours.

On Friday, too, which suddenly became “St. Patrick’s Eve, you could step out with The New Irish of an “upwardly mobile” persuasion in the Roseland Ballroom, at what has become known as the Yuppie Ball. (Officially: “The Annual Saint Patrick’s Day Charity Ball”.) The carefully exclusive affair is run by a young, first generation “all-graduate” Ball Committee who aspire to the kind of heights described by organiser Daniel O’Leary in The Irish Times recently: “most of us are on an upward spiral in our careers. This is where we can take our place among the best”. Right, Daniel.

The one thing about The Pogues, however, is that you don’t have to wear a tuxedo. At the packed gig, T-shirts saying “Italia 1990” are popular, as is the chic, skinny white torso favoured by young Irishmen. Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 01.03.35Kicking off early, the first band, “Black47”, a new combo headed by Wexford musician Larry Kirwan provided a suitably post modern Irish intro. The band, comprised of Kirwan, Chris Byrne on uileann pipes, with an extended line up of African percussion, trombone and tin whistle among other sounds, has an eclectic blend of trad and rock with Latin and even Hip hop flavors. Their original material recently provided music for the off Broadway theatre hit, “Away Alone”, and their final song, “Paddy’s Got a Brand New Reel”, from the play’s soundtrack, brought the audience up to the right pitch of high doh to welcome The Pogues onstage with a deafening roar that was surpassed only seconds later as the Great McGowan balanced a ball on his forehead, tossed it up over the stage and then caught it, before belting into the first track.

And they’re off. The punters as well as The Pogues. My dastardly plan – since I refuse to be anywhere but right in front of the stage at a Pogue’s gig (otherwise it’s cheating) – is to grab hold of some huge young man whose knightly valour will generally save me from being crushed to bits and then, to use a slightly outmoded phrase, pogo for my life. The band are in flying form, their musicianship grows more excellent each year, and their style is expanding. Nothing too polished, mind (nothing featuring the distinctive McGowan vocal could sound too polished), retaining all the rage of Celtic soul gone wild, and yet belting out jazz (“Gridlock”) and pure pop (“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” etc) as easily as old favorites like “Streams of Whiskey” and “Irish Rover”. “Streets of Sorrow” is dedicated to The Guildford Four and Nicky Kelly (looking on from backstage) and in the middle, a genius stroke with the lighting has spots-turned searchlights crawling all over the crowd full blast like prison yard security lamps. “It’s about time the Birmingham Six were released” spits Shane.

McGowanGod knows how many passionate Irish accents are singing along to the Phil Chevron’s pertinent “Thousands Are Sailing”, hands in the air, celebrating the land that made them refugees, reluctantly or not. Destined to become a classic. As usual “Dirty Auld Town” is sung as loudly by the audience as by the band, and even has a couple of girls beside me in tears. Back then to “Cotton Fields” and “Fiesta!” madness, and Connor O’Mahoney (sans Happens!) nearly gets lost to the world as he discovers that the dancefloor is a steep three foot drop below the rest of the ground level, and that once you’re down in the crush of dancers, it’s almost impossible to get out.

After the end of the fouth encore (no, I don’t remember what it was, but it was brilliant), The Pogues are gone, the floor of the Palladium is littered with green scraps, spilled beer and one forlorn, crumpled white shirt. People are being kicked out by the management to clear the place for the club’s late night attraction: Lambada dancing (much to Spider Stacey’s amusement). The official post gig bash took place in Ron Wood’s nightclub, but the unfortunate choice of a heavy metal live band led many to head elsewhere, including The Pogues. This happened again the following night when Sean Penn, Debra Winger, Rob Lowe and Michael Douglas among others turn up to to lig at Wood’s, only to find a mysterious and contrary absence of most Pogues!

The following morning, the official St. Patrick’s Day began with orgy-style “breakfasts” in most of the Irish bars on Third Avenue. The hair of the dog was never so sweet. And this was your day if you ever harboured the pervy desire to get an eyeful of either Miss Ireland, Maureen O’Hara or New York’s dreaded Cardinal O’Connor (who, last week, in a startlingly original revelation, pronounced that “Rock’n’Roll is the Devil’s music”).

After the usual parade madness, you could get drunk with many more drunks on almost any block on any street in any section of Manhattan, where all drinking establishments have mysteriously acquired barmen called “Paddy” for the day. Then again, you might consider getting drunk. Or you could just forget consideration and get drunk anyway.

In the East Village’s Cave Canem, Wexford musician Pearse Turner gave an as-ever brilliant performance around 7:30 pm. Despite a venue which was a little too small to hold the kind of crowd Turner draws at any gig these days, he put over a great set, which included a spectacular cymbal clashing solo during “Mayhem” and involved Pearse climbing all over the pristine white linen covered tables of the cafe, much to the delight of the punters.

Another interesting alternative to the more traditional boozing sessions was to head over to the new Irish cafe on Avenue A, Sin é. Run by Shane Doyle, the cafe opened up a few months ago and quickly gathered an interesting clientele of Irish and East Villagers. The place used to be one of the area’s many art galleries, but now the walls are pastel blankness “so that people will just be able to talk to each other, not be distracted by ever changing exhibits” explains Shane. Music, however, is ever present, varying from Davy Spillane to Sinead O’Connor or The Dixons. In a sort of “coffee house” folk capacity, live music from local performers can be heard on several evenings. This scribe even hijacks a mic to deliver the “Clumsy Cabaret” an East Village Blue Jayzus of sorts most Saturday nights in the company of Elizabeth Logun, Deanna Kirk and Paul Hond.  Sin-é is an easy-going estalishment that over the St. Patrick’s weekend attracts several Pogues, East Village “anti folk” originator Kirk Kelly and a folk outfit from Maine called “The East Coast Rovers”.

Heading on towards midnight, the triumphant height of the festivities was arguably the sight of The Pogues going out nationwide across America on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”. They belted out “White City” and “Free Born Man”, shaking the live studio audience right out of their seats. From the first time they arrived in New York, hailed as Brendan Behan’s bastard sons, whiskey bottle and Player’s non filter in hand, to that day’s half-page article in The New York Times, what they’ve gained in respect here has meant no loss of passion. They successfully conveyed a riveting, rollicking sense of Poguetry at its best, capable playing with just the right hint of debauchery that characterized the holiday. A great wind down to a celebratory week, without a plastic shamrock in sight.

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Helena Mulkerns,
New York, March 1991
Written for
Hot Press Magazine

Irishwoman’s Diary, July 1992: New Music Seminar

From The Irish Times – July 1992

By Helena Mulkerns

Sinead cameo

Sinead O’Connor
Pic: John Francis Bourke

Last week, as Uncle Boris Yeltsin posed for happy snaps on the lawn with George and Barbara at the Whitehouse, and Sarajevo shuddered under Serbian mortar fire, a whole microcosm of Western youth culture carried on regardless, at the popular music industry’s annual “New Music Seminar” in New York City.

Emerging from the subway in Manhattan’s Times Square, the brief stretch from the underground exit to the hotel hosting the seminar exposes the walker to the buzz of New York’s glitz and grime. To the backdrop of expensive Broadway theatres and department stores, yellow cabs jostle whizzing messenger-cyclists, teenage homeless pan-handle sullenly on corners and street hawkers flash fake Rolex watches at passers-by.

Once inside the Mariott Marquis, however, umbrage is assured. It is a standard-issue American luxury hotel, futuristic in form, efficient in its operation and designed to accomodate the comfort requisites of both tourist and convention-goer. Normally, family vacationers in pastel-casuals ride the elevator with gray-suited businessmen carrying briefcases. The latter might wear a badge that says “John Doe – National Insurance Representatives Convention”. For the week of the music seminar however, the Insurance reps are upstaged flamboyantly by Babylon’s most shameless upstart, Rock’n’roll. The seminar effectively provides a forum for the big business side of the music scene, becoming the hunting grounds of managers, publishers, promoters, lawyers and other sharks. But it is also an annual chance for performers of all shapes and hues to party and to be seen, as a brief stint of people-watching will prove. Post-punk Japanese Divas in day-glo mini-skirts and platform shoes ride the escalators. Pale Rock’n’roll animals from America’s East Coast contrast starkly with suntanned, muscular surf-babies from Northern California. Rap brothers in spandex and gold jewellery flank slick latino-beat masters from Miami or Seville.

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77 Lucious Babes

The most interesting thing about the “New Music Seminar” is that its very concept is essentially a contradiction in terms: it is a Rock’n’roll Convention. While traditionally Rock’n’Roll claims to be the voice of youthful rebellion, and an alternative artistic force, it is also big business, so you have the rather hilarious situation where hip and trendy managers or members of bands like “The Toiling Midgets”, “Goober And The Peas” or “77 Lucious Babes” have to walk around the lobby of this conservative hotel (complete with Chanel/Waterford glass gift shops) wearing name-tagged convention badges!

The some 50 Irish delagates and musicians, coordinated by The Irish Export Board, convened on a stand among the hundreds of business “boothes” in a main exhibition hall. Most adopted a healthy attitude that combined the seminar’s business challenge with the more easy-going pace of the rock world. Deals would be initially instigated by a form of chat known as “schmoozing”, or initial contact-making, a process which has lead to a whole new vocabulary. For instance, the hotel’s lobby became the “schmoozatorium”, the bar was the “schmoozer”. A certain irrepressible band manager from Dublin earned the title “King Of Schmooze”, and since the field of operations was not confined to the convention hall, it was not unusual to hear one delegate ask another, at a late night rock gig, “will you have a drink or are you schmoozing?” The schmoozing, needless to say, got arguably better as the evenings went on, and indeed, it is not unheard of that a quick schmooze at the back of the hall has led to greater things. Like “doing lunch”, perhaps, another great New York convention.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 22.11.13If the seminar’s daylight ethic is taking care of business (as Elvis himself used to say), the night time idea  is slightly different. With literally thousands of acts from all over the world performing in clubs around the city, the idea is basically to see who can who can catch the most gigs, who can meet the most people, who can drink the most alcohol, and who can remain coherently vertical the longest in any of the after-hours bashes that inevitably follow the night of serious music. It’s a serious rock’n’roll challenge, and one which frequently leads to a sorry malady known unofficially as “schmoozeritis”.

Symptoms include extreme fatigue, involuntary exclamations of epithets such as “Jayzus, I’m wrecked. Musicians suffer temporary lapses of memory: as they crawl offstage they will announce their immediate intention to withdraw to the hotel room, and yet will be spotted four hours later in an after-hours watering hole waxing lyrical on the glories of New York City.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 22.20.21Irish rock hounds tended to descend mainly on two venues for the post-seminar hanging out (“hanging out”, as opposed to schmoozing, involves no business element, and a deal more liquid refreshments). Brownies, once a notorious after-hours bar on Avenue A in the East Village, has become (along with Paddy Reilly’s bar on 28th), Manhattan’s home to the alternative Irish music scene, and it hosted several excellent gigs featuring Irish and Irish American musicians. For post-gig intimacy and atmosphere, however, Sine-é café on St. Mark’s Place probably topped the list, with one post-gig seisúin involving the impromptu talents of no less than The Four Of Us, Marianne Faithful, Sinead O’Connor and the erstwhile king of coffee house performance, Allan Ginsberg.

Yes, it was there in the dawn’s early hours that one and all miraculously forgot about six figure record company deals, national tours and music publishing contracts, and converged into a generous, universal musical community. Schmooze-free, timeless and often slightly out of tune, musicians would play with great abandon and without set lists in that great traditional seisúin spirit, and not a name-tag in sight. “Badges?” As one wit pronounced on the sidewalk outside Sin-é early Saturday morning, “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!!”

And the party just went on.

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From the archives: The David Bowie Interview

Bowie Cover-blog-docSo, at the request of friends, I’m uploading my one and only David Bowie interview for posterity, published in Hot Press – hard to believe – 20 years ago. (Click on the image to the left for immediate access).  In 1995, I’d long been a Bowie freak and back again, having first seen him as a vision in white satin hot-pants screaming “Jean Jeanie”, but not catching him live for the first time in Paris during the Serious Moonlight tour. 

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was the first album I ever bought, followed by every Bowie album ever after that until a certain dodgy period from the early eighties to mid-nineties, but say no more.

There was a heat wave in New York when Hot Press Editor, Niall Stokes phoned me and said, “I’m calling you because I know you’d come home and shoot me if I didn’t … ”

It had been a strange year, kicking off with twelve people dead in a weird chemical warfare attack in the Tokyo subway;  Timothy MacVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 Americans in Oklahoma City.  While an historic peace accord was signed between Israel and the PLO, in Srebrenica, Bosnian Serbs massacred an estimated 7,000 Muslim men, raping thousands of women, in probably the worst European war crime since World War II.

In the art world, a sort of misguided, pre-millennial rococo was everywhere. Body modification through self mutilation and even plastic surgery was at its height. The previous year’s Nine Inch Nails’ album, The Downward Spiral, with its themes of self-harm, addiction and despair had spawned a follow-up album in June.  Damien Hirst was suspending dead sheep and cows in formaldehyde and French performance artist Orlan was rearranging her face to resemble iconic works of Art.

It’s hard to believe that just two years previously, Bowie had produced the unspeakably bland Black Tie White Noise.  As a massive contrast, Outside was dark in the extreme, offering a musical reflection that sought to capture the prevailing fin de siecle angst.  Bowie had been graduating more towards fine art, and had begun to work with Brian Eno.  They even visited the Psychiatric unit of a hospital in Vienna to interview artists who had gone to the extreme end of Outsider art. Based on a short story written by Bowie, which is in the sleeve notes, it was filled with deeply disturbing imagery.  (more…)

“When birds do sing … “ – Mongoose live

MongooseTripping in like troubadours from some far Faerie galaxy, Mongoose hit the stage amid a barrage of rapid-fire ripostes, disarming any of the audience not yet acquainted with them, and charming those who are: glorious.

Firstly, there was that promising stage … not everyday does one see instruments such as a cello and a double bass nestling cheekily among the requisite guitars and keyboard. There’s even a mysterious blue casket thing that I later interpret as some kind of post-modern glockenspiel.   (more…)

Happy Birthday, Mr Bowie: first published article

Since it’s Bowie’s birthday today, I thought I’d post my first article ever – which was published in Hot Press magazine, by Niall Stokes – who was a great Editor, and responsible for encouraging many young writers down the years, who made their debuts on the pages of this publication, with Niall and Mairín at the helm.  Their motto at the time was, Hot Press – keeping Ireland safe for Rock’n’Roll … and I certainly made the best of my rock chick aspirations down the years, covering music from Paris and then New York.  Probably not surprising that I started off writing about my long time musical hero, David Bowie:  a review of his “Serious Moonlight” tour stop in Paris, in 1982.  Note “The new spectacular full-colour” edition of Hot Press.  With Spandau Ballet as cover feature!!   For PDF version, click here

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Ag seinimh léiriú Cháit

1978:  Emerging bleary-eyed out of the silliness of Glam Rock (Bowie’s genius excepted), the generation that reticently followed the Hippie years was were thrown into high energy pogo-mode by extreme punk with all its spikes and clamour with a short, sharp shock. The interim solace of … say Pink Floyd’s glittering Wish You Were Here  in 1975 collided so fast with the rebel sounds of Richard Hell, The Sex Pistols and Throbbing Gristle we could hardly catch our breath.

Kate-Bush-earlyAspiring hopelessly to cool in leather jackets and safety pins, how great was it, then, in the midst of it all, to encounter a wild-eyed girl from some distant free cloud soaring out of our TV screens with “Wuthering Heights” the most perplexing song of the year – about a romantic Hero – SO not punk, but so SO mesmerising and beautiful.

Since then, Kate Bush has never really let us down, and many a well-meaning soul trying to reinvent or interpret her work (and we all know how many have tried) has succeeded only in embarrassing themselves publicly.

Ehm.   Yes.  Can I say until now?    I think I will.   Until now.

2-COL-10-14-BLOGAt The Grand Social Club in Dublin this week, “Port a’ tSaoil: Tionscadal Kate Bush” took place as part of IMRAM, the Irish language Literature festival.

The show is an amazing feat of daring and delight:  Songs sung by the glorious Caitríona O’Leary (Dúlra, Ex), backed by a superb stageful of musicians (Roger Doyle, Adrian Hart, Éamonn Galldubh and Mark Keogh).   The songs are those of Kate Bush, and the language is Irish.  Translated – or transcreated, as the blurb says –  by the renowned poet and scholar Gabriel Rosenstock.

The effect is mesmerizing. The show features on-screen projections of the lyrics with images created by Margaret Lonergan.  Lyrics are back projected – and the sound and feel of them, as delivered by Caitriona O’Leary is lush and memorable.  In fact, the songs are given a new life – and the traditional instruments used by the musicians bathe the songs in a whole new layer of emotion.

Perhaps the most singular aspect of the project is the singer’s voice, which, as opposed to trying to recreate the unmistakable sound of Kate Bush, projects them anew in the very gorgeous, unmistakable tones of Caitriona O’Leary – velvety, sensual and evocative.

The audience was completely enthralled, and left the venue with the desire to see the show again – certainly it’s something that should be developed and will hopefully come around again soon in a live context.  To see more of Caitriona, click here.

 

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All pix © Helena Mulkerns