Iron Fist in Velvet Glove — the story of MICRODISNEY (Part 1)
an oral history by Paul McDermott
This oral history is a companion to the audio documentary: Iron Fist in Velvet Glove — the story of Microdisney. It contains many contributions from over 25 interviewees that due to time constraints never made the final edit of the documentary.
Cathal Coughlan and Sean O’Hagan met in Cork at a New Year’s Eve party in 1979 and formed a band. The band went through several incarnations, played gigs throughout Ireland and eventually fragmented. A two-piece Microdisney emerged in early 1982 and released a couple of 7" singles before Cathal and Sean upped sticks to London in July 1983. Over the course of the next five years Microdisney would record two albums for Rough Trade Records and a further two for Virgin Records. Microdisney performed their last gig on July 01, 1988 — a benefit for the Institute of Contemporary Arts at the Dominion Theatre headlined by David Bowie. The band split up a few days later.
Microdisney were firm favourites of John Peel and recorded six sessions for his BBC radio show. Once when back announcing a Microdisney song Peel paraphrased Thomas Carlyle’s “iron hand” idiom. “Microdisney there: an iron fist in velvet glove as always,” Peel intoned. The phrase may be overly simplistic when used to describe Microdisney but there’s no doubt that they fused beautiful, melodic music with literate often sardonic and caustic words. Journalist Andrew Mueller reflected on this theme when he wrote: “…the gorgeous slick exquisitely tuneful ballads furnished by guitarist Sean O’Hagan would be the Trojan Horse that escorted Cathal’s lyrical savagery.”*
This Oral History tells Microdisney’s story. It also inevitably documents lots of other tributaries to the main narrative: the social, cultural and political milieu from which Microdisney emerged in the early 1980s is just as much part of their story as the songs they performed and recorded. This Oral History is not just Microdisney’s story it’s also the history of other bands. Bands that are well known to many and bands who tripped awkwardly out of a rehearsal space, played a few gigs and are now long forgotten. It’s the history of defunct venues, recording studios that are long gone, disparate music scenes, record labels both Indie and major, music industry practises — that by today’s standards seem arcane— and music publications that were actually printed on paper. In reality though this Oral History is really all about the songs that Cathal and Sean wrote.
One of those songs was ‘Town to Town’. I can vividly remember a night in 1987 when the video for ‘Town to Town’ was broadcast on Irish TV. As I watched the band jump on and off the back of a moving truck’s flatbed trailer my mother walked into the room, looked at the TV and said, “You know the singer’s from just over the road?” My 14 year old mind was blown, the fourth wall was dissolved before my eyes. I think for most music fans who are familiar with the name Microdisney, they’re that Indie band that Peel loved, who made some good records, had a minor hit with ‘Town to Town’ and who upon breaking up splintered into The Fatima Mansions and The High Llamas. For others Microdisney have always been huge. The accolades, record sales, honours and tributes awarded to their contemporaries may have alluded them, but for a few Microdisney are the band that matters.
Iron Fist in Velvet Glove — the story of Microdisney forms the third part of a Cork Trilogy. Part one, Get That Monster Off the Stage, tells the story of Finbarr Donnelly and his bands Nun Attax, Five Go Down To the Sea? and Beethoven. Part two, Lights! Camel! Action! — the story of Stump, tells Stump’s story from their indie beginnings to combustion by the late 80s. All three stories have their roots in Cork’s post-punk music scene that coalesced around Elvera Butler’s Downtown Kampus at the Cork Arcadia in the late 70s.
*Mueller, A. (1998). Microdisney/The Fatima Mansions. In A. Jones (Ed.), Unknown Pleasures. IPC Magazines.
Note: band name usage in this Oral History:
Micro Disney — the first five piece band which formed in mid-1980 and lasted until early 1982.
Microdisney — the two-piece of Cathal and Sean which continued from early 1982, emigrated to London in July 1983, expanded to a four and then a five piece and eventually broke-up in 1988.
Cathal Coughlan — Micro Disney/Microdisney/The Fatima Mansions
Sean O’Hagan — Micro Disney/Microdisney/The High Llamas
Jon Fell — Microdisney/The High Llamas
Tom Fenner — Microdisney
Richard Boon — New Hormones/Rough Trade Distribution
Michael Bradley — The Undertones
Elvera Butler — Downtown Kampus/Reekus Records
Elaine Clarke — The Flaa-macs
Felicia Cohen — photographer
Terry Cromer — producer/Alto Studios
Ricky Dineen — Nun Attax/Five Go Down to the Sea?/Beethoven
Stan Erraught — The Stars of Heaven
Robert Forster — The Go-Betweens
Dave Galvin — Micro Disney
Ronnie Gurr — A&R Virgin Records
Mark Healy — Cypress, Mine!
Jamie Lane — producer of The Clock Comes Down the Stairs and 39 Minutes
Mick Lynch — Mean Features/Stump
Rob McKahey — Stump
Lindy Morrison — The Go-Betweens
Andrew Mueller — journalist/author
Jim O’Mahony — The Belsonic Sound
Ciarán Ó Tuama — Cypress, Mine!
Garreth Ryan — Kabuki Records/Rough Trade Distribution/Shellshock
Stano — artist, musician
Geoff Travis — Rough Trade Records
Giordaí Ua Laoghaire — Nun Attax/Micro Disney/Nine Wassies From Bainne
Chapter 1 — Constant Reminders (January 1980 — mid-1980)
We were just discussing music, we realised that we had sort of similar tastes, Scritti Politti, The Pop Group, that kind of thing — Sean O’Hagan
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — In a way it all began with the XTC gig in Cork City [September 30, 1978]. I was at that and so were Nun Attax but I didn’t know them. Everybody was blown away, it was an incredible gig.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — Maybe around nine months later the boys from Nun Attax were always hassling me on the street to join up. I didn’t want to because I thought Nun Attax were pretty crap at the time. For some reason I changed my mind and we rehearsed and we did a great gig ourselves in November of 1979 and that had an immediate effect because they were lots of boys and girls at the gig who went on then to form their own bands very quickly. Cathal and Sean were there and but I didn’t know them until after that particular night.
Dave Galvin — In a funny way, Micro Disney had its foundation in the Arc [Downtown Kampus at the Cork Arcadia]. Jackie Walsh and myself were childhood friends and we were queuing up outside the Arc one night and met Nun Attax through a mutual friend. Nun Attax had kind of just formed, and we just got into a discussion about music. Smelly [Keith O’Connell, Nun Attax’s drummer] and I were talking about drummers that we liked and they invited us out to the rehearsal place that they had out in Ballinora [Co. Cork town, 15km west of Cork City] the following day. Nun Attax were the first innovators really to hit the scene in Cork. On a personal level, I looked up enormously to Smelly. He was just so good. He had gone out and he had played in wedding bands, that sort of thing, just to get himself up to speed.
So we dutifully collected them [Nun Attax] and headed off out there anyway and had great craic. While we were out there Finbarr [Donnelly, Nun Attax’s singer] mentioned that he had met Sean and Cathal at a party and that they were looking for a rhythm section to get something going. That’s where the initial contact came really. I remember the first day we went out to Ballinora. It was hilarious; it was literally a fucking shed in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know was it a GAA [Gaelic Athletic Association] hall or what it was. There was obviously other groups using it and there was always loads of food out there [laughing] there was always a big nosh up after a jam out there with tea and biscuits and sandwiches or whatever else could be found in the fridges .
Sean O’Hagan — It all started for me when I met Cathal at a party in 1979, a New Year’s Eve party. Cathal was at college and I was just working in Little Island [industrial area 10km east of Cork City], doing a day job. We were just discussing music, we realised that we had sort of similar tastes, Scritti Politti, The Pop Group, that kind of thing. I was about 21, Cathal was about 19, we decided to get together and just do a kind of poetry thing, poetry with guitars. So that’s when I met Mick [Lynch]. Mick was the first person that Cathal turned me onto and through Mick we got to know the Nun Attax, as they were then. I just knew them as these four guys who were very odd characters, almost sort of like to the point of caricature, which I found very odd because I had just spent a good few years growing up in Luton, a car town just outside London. So I was in this fairly odd town or city meeting people who didn’t work in car factories, I had come from a culture where all your mates came from the same sort of suburban culture. Meeting people who were from a middle class culture and then a country culture was quite odd. And then a working class culture; because Donnelly and Ricky [Dineen, Nun Attax’s guitarist] and all that lot very much came from the city working class culture. That mixture was really fascinating to me and it was something that I didn’t realise existed until it was presented to me.
Dave Galvin — We went back out there [Ballinora] perhaps the following weekend and Sean and Cathal were there, so the four of us kind of sat down, that was how Constant Reminders got going, so we were the original four members and we started doing a bit of jamming upstairs in Heaphy’s [pub on the corner of Union Quay and Anglesea Street in Cork City, subsequently The Lobby]. We brought in Mick Lynch then who Cathal knew; it was a little bit unusual because we had two front men.
Sean O’Hagan — We used to meet regularly on a Thursday at the bus station in Cork and we’d take a trip about 10 miles west of Cork. It was near where Giordaí lived in Ovens or Ballinora, he lived in the countryside with his parents. Giordaí was a member of the Nun Attax at that time and we went to a GAA hall. Giordaí’s dad was in the GAA and he had let them use the hall to rehearse. Can you imagine getting on this rickety old bus, loose bolts all the way, heading out to Ballinora and walking for a couple of miles through small country roads into a GAA hall. Listening to the Nun Attax in that environment was completely bizarre. We used to go out there, Cathal, Mick, me and Dave Galvin and watch this. It was almost like a cartoon, watching and then all traipsing out to wait for the bus home. We’d be talking about what we were going to do. “Well, that’s what they did, what are we going to do?” It was the first time that I was introduced to the Nun Attax, I was fascinated, it was the first time that I’d ever heard music that didn’t seem to have any kind of tangible relevance to anything I’d heard before — angular music, it was the first time that I’d heard angular music.
Dave Galvin — Our first gig might have been the UCC [University College Cork] bar but it ended a bit shambolically because [laughing] Mick fell backwards into the kit towards the end of it and everything sort of went flying.
Mick Lynch — I met Cathal and Sean and we all got a band together called Constant Reminders; shock horror, what a horrible fucking name. It was kind of strange really because Cathal and I were both on vocals, so it was like having two front men.
Dave Galvin — At the end of Constant Reminders we’d an afternoon gig in Sir Henry’s [music venue on South Main Street, Cork], they used to do an afternoon gig on a Sunday about four or five o’clock. We did our gig anyway and it went quite well. Whoever was running the show asked us would we go on again around 9 or 10pm. Sure the lads were in a fierce drunk condition altogether by the time we went back on again. [Laughing] Mick just managed to collapse backwards again into the kit. It was all a bit shambolic.
Mick Lynch — We played four or five, maybe six gigs, the first one was out in UCC, the last one was in Henry’s. We played a Sunday early and of course we were on the free drink, we went down so well that the promoter said play again three hours later, so of course I was straight on the snake bites — fucked. Anyway I was so drunk that I couldn’t sing. The band split up and they went on to form Micro Disney.
Giordaí Ua laoighre — Mick Lynch was definitely gone by about April 1980. He got drunk on stage in Sir Henry’s, I don’t think himself and Cathal had anything in common anyway. Mick and Cathal and everyone else were just inspired by Nun Attax and everyone immediately wanted to get stuff together, so there was a lot of people trying stuff with each other and not all of them might have worked anyway. Mick found a proper home for himself with Mean Features then later on with Liam Heffernan and Pat the Hat [Pat Kelleher].*
*Mick Lynch would later form Stump in London. Stump’s story is detailed in the oral history and audio documentary…
An Oral History of Stump, the Anglo-Irish experimental, rock band from the 1980s by Paul McDermottmedium.com
Dave Galvin — I think that was probably the last time we played as Constant Reminders. We were all kind of writing songs, there was a broad canvas of very light-hearted stuff to more serious stuff, but as a whole it was a much more, a sort of light-hearted thing really compared to the later more serious Micro Disney. I can’t remember how long we existed as Constant Reminders, it wasn’t terribly long but I’d say it was six to nine months.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — My first photos with Micro Disney was actually when they were still Content Reminders. Finbarr Donnelly told me about them, “Boi there’s another band you haven’t seen, they’re fairly OK like, would you go and talk to them and take their photographs.” I didn’t know them at that stage but I talked to Cathal later that night in the Arcadia and he told me to meet them down near Parnell Bridge by the City Hall. That bridge featured a lot in my photographs.
Chapter 2 — Micro Disney (mid-1980 — March 1982)
I remember standing beside Mark E. Smith watching the band and Mark E. saying, [laughing] he’d love to pinch the band as his backing band, [laughing] get rid of Cathal — Elvera Butler
Dave Galvin — We had a big change then in personnel because myself, Sean and Cathal moved on to form Micro Disney, Jackie and Mick left and we brought in Chris McCarthy on bass and Giordaí joined us from the Nun Attax. Around that time Cathal and Sean had written a song called ‘Second Skin’ and that was to be the name of the new band and we were actually calling ourselves Second Skin for about a fortnight I’d say, and then the name Micro Disney came up so it was quickly replaced before we ever did a gig as Second Skin.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — In the months that went by Nun Attax did lots of shows around the place but by April of 1980 I was finding it more and more difficult, even though I really liked Nun Attax it was more and more difficult to keep playing because they were so crazy. [Laughing] That’s a simple way of putting it, and eventually I decided to leave.
Ricky Dineen — I mean, Giordaí is excellent, fantastic. Our music suited him down to the ground, it was fantastic, but eventually he jumped ship. [Laughing] He went over to the opposition, he joined Fianna Fáil [Irish political party], he joined Micro Disney. [Laughing] We never forgave him for that — ever.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — I left and because I had a small reputation at the time around the place it was easy enough to approach Sean and say, I’m not playing with anyone, if you want I could play with you, he fairly quickly said yes, and it was a real yes as well. Micro Disney was slowly coming together by the summer of 1980, May or June or something and it lasted until early 1982.
Dave Galvin — Micro Disney was a very different sort of thing altogether. It’s been described as various things, but largely there was a sort of funk feel to it. Cathal was very individual in his lyrics, Sean was playing a very funky rhythmic guitar, Giordaí had carte blanche to do anything he wanted over that, which gave it a very unusual sound and then myself and Chris were just keeping it simple enough in the background, holding it together.
Giordaí Ua Laoghaire — Sean had a very good handle on chords and harmony. He was clever, wrote all the melodies and worked closely with Cathal from the beginning. He used a Fender Telecaster and a Vox AC30. His style somewhat came from country picking. He also was a very good disco guitarist in the style of Nile Rodgers and he developed his harmonic knowledge from studying Neil Young and Brian Wilson. His single note playing was however very weak. My job was to cover that end. It wasn’t as random as Dave suggests as Sean had clear arrangements always in mind. I was always impressed with Hendrix’s more experimental work and also I liked Robert Fripp. I used to enjoy finding counter melodies or sounds that would both fit and/or subvert the song somewhat. If what I was doing got the thumps up from the boys, all the better. If they didn’t like it, I quickly found out from Sean. Needless to say, I learned a lot.
Elvera Butler — I must have known the lads in Micro Disney and [laughing] had faith in them. If there were people at the Arc I liked I kind of wanted to give them a chance. I really don’t remember [laughing] but I must have seen something in them when I recorded their first gig.* A lot of the people we liked we would ask them to help out, they’d get a bit of work and get into the gigs for nothing but also they got a few bob. Micro Disney wanted to play and recording one track was just a gesture.
*Micro Disney’s ‘National Anthem’ appears on the Reekus Records live compilation Kaught at the Kampus recorded on 30 August 1980.
Cathal Coughlan — We played with Nun Attax, Mean Features and Urban Blitz at the Arcadia at this gig that got recorded. That was supposed to be the beginning of an opportunity for all of us to become famous. We did the gig and it was recorded and the stars of the whole thing were Nun Attax. With a lot of justification a lot of people thought that they were going to become the next U2, a lot of people really did think that, in Dublin even. [Laughing] Even people who couldn’t stand their behaviour thought that that was going to happen. You know, the Nun Attax tracks were great. I mean it really caught them at what they were doing at that time. [Laughing] The Micro Disney track was shite but that’s neither here nor there.
Dave Galvin — In reality, for us Kaught at the Kampus was a huge disappointment. We had played a really good set on the night and there was some problem with the sound recording and the only one of our songs that was recorded properly was ‘National Anthem’. The thing about ‘National Anthem’ was that it bore no relation to what we were doing, it was a complete sort of a rant almost. It was chaotic, it didn’t have the feel of the rest of the material that we were doing. So we were really disappointed about that. We had a couple of other songs that we would have really liked to have gone on it. That particular recording was a huge thing for Nun Attax but for us really it was something we almost ignored because we were so disappointed with what was put down on vinyl.
Elvera Butler — I suppose I was very impressed with Micro Disney when I saw them play. Kaught at the Kampus was recorded on the 30th of August 1980 and I had them back some weeks later. I know they played support to 4" Be 2". So playing support to an English band would have been a big step up from playing second support to a visiting band or maybe a a Dublin band. 4" Be 2" was Jimmy Lydon, John Lydon’s younger brother, and Jock McDonald’s band. I brought them in on the basis that Johnny was going to perform with them. We had a gig in Dublin and a gig in Cork and we did The Dave Fanning Show [RTÉ radio programme] in Dublin, [laughing] it was mayhem, it was a mad weekend. Johnny ended up in Mountjoy [Prison], so he never did get to play in either place.*
*The tale of Johnny Rotten’s arrest in Dublin by Paddy Clancy, Irish Mirror, 09/12/2015
Elvera Butler — There was a petrol strike so we had to get down to Cork by train, bring the backline down, the lights, everything. I had a PA in Cork but I didn’t have the rest of the gear in Cork. The 4" Be 2"’s whole ethos was a bit of mayhem. The idea that the bouncers at the gig were there to protect the audience [laughing] from the band. It was good fun, but quite a memorable weekend. That was a big jump up for Micro Disney, that was playing to an audience of nearly a 1,000.
Garreth Ryan— I saw them as a five piece in the Magnet [pub venue on Pearse St, Dublin], it would have been 1980. It’s fair to say that a lot of things came together in 1980, in many ways the whole Dublin punk scene or post-punk scene didn’t really take shape until ’79 and ’80. The Magnet was a bit of a dive but quite a healthy scene with people going along and seeing music without necessarily knowing who was playing.
Dave Galvin — We had a whole series of gigs then in Dublin, based around the Magnet. The way it worked was that as soon as you got yourself established you brought someone with you. So the Nun Attax had brought us to the Magnet. I think we might have brought Mean Features, we certainly brought The Flaa-macs up with us anyway. The Flaa-macs were a short lived excellent Cork outfit who supported us at a few gigs. Elaine [Clarke] was their drummer, it was unusual for that time to have a female drummer. So there was a kind of little Cork thing going on but there was a very healthy camaraderie between the bands, if you got a gig yourself you brought someone else on board locally and you’d get them set up with somewhere to stay or what have you. Another band that was around at the time, Some Kind of Wonderful also played with us in the Magnet, they had a big brass section and a female singer — that was also kind of unusual for the time.
Elaine Clarke — In Cork at that time it seemed as if everyone was in a band. I worked at Sir Henry’s so I knew lots of these people. I was approached by the Flaa lads — Dave Moore (bass) Jeremy Bowman (vocals and guitar) and Douglas Henderson (vocals and guitar) — and asked if I would drum with their band. I don’t know why they asked me, but I decided to give it a shot. The Flaa-macs jammed [laughing] at Flaa mansions. This was a huge flat rented by Dave Moore over McCarthy’s bakery on [laughing] Flaa square (Daunt’s Square). This was a very busy flat with all sorts of people with different musical interests calling in for coffee and to visit Dave. According to Donnelly, Dave was “Sound!” This was a beautiful flat with views over the Grand Parade and I have great memories of jamming with the windows open and the summer sun setting over Cork.
Elaine Clarke — The lads supplied the drums and I arrived and belted away as best I could as this was new to me. Smelly from Nun Attax appeared one night to show me how it was done but left soon afterwards saying, [laughing] “Good fuckin’ luck with that gurl, that’s crazy shit.” Cork’s bands were so diverse but all bound together to become the core of Cork’s new-wave music at that time. The opportunity to support bands like Micro Disney was huge and the trips to Dublin were mental. I can remember one gig that sticks out in my mind, we had a van borrowed from Elvera Butler (not too sure if she knew), nowhere to stay afterwards so everyone piled into the van and we did a round trip in one night.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — In Micro Disney we had a song called ‘Come Back and Fla Me, Like You Did Last Year’.* [Laughing] We’d be playing in the Magnet and it was our encore song, it was a Country & Western song. I’ll always remember there’d be loads of people from Dublin all singing like, “Come back and fla me, fla me, like you did last year, like you did last night” or something. [Laughing] Simon Carmody [singer, The Golden Horde] came up to me when he was just a young fellow, I’d say he was just about 15, a middle class Dublin boy, [mimics Southside Dublin accent] “Giordaí, what does ‘come back and fla me’ actually mean?” [laughing]. I was naive, I thought everyone in the world said fla. I didn’t know that in Cork there was a sort of unique way of speaking. [Laughing] I just took it for granted that everyone knew this.
*Fla — Cork Slang. Verb: sexual intercourse (Come back and fla me.); noun: beautiful person (She’s a right fla.)
Garreth Ryan — Nun Attax had a little bit of a reputation already as being a quite exciting band. They played in McGonagles [pub venue on South Anne Street, Dublin] at some point in 1980 and then they played at the Magnet afterwards and I think it was Nun Attax, Micro Disney and Mean Features — they were the three trailblazing bands coming up. It was really exciting. Everybody felt that there was something quite ‘other’ about bands coming up from Cork. I think they were regarded as free of all the bullshit that was emerging into the Dublin scene, or the elite scene at the time.
Elaine Clarke — The Magnet was a shithole and I don’t think Dublin really got the Cork thing. To my mind Dublin was a totally different scene then and was a lot more image conscious than we were. We didn’t really care how we looked or what we wore it was the music that was important, in Dublin you’d see [laughing] fellas with haircuts.
Dave Galvin — Things happened very quickly for us, we found ourselves playing some big venues with some fairly well known bands. In a very short period of time, literally within three of four months we were doing the Grand Cinema in Cabra with Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Obviously we went on first, but we got an unbelievable reaction the crowd were very, very supportive of us. As we went off, we were looking at each other and grinning from ear to ear. I had really been looking forward to seeing the Banshees because I would have been big into their drummer, Budgie. The funny thing about that night was there was a gang at the front and they were gobbing up at Siouxsie, they had been doing it to us earlier on, I can remember [laughing] ducking quite a number of times while I was trying to play. It was just one of those things. Siouxsie took complete exception to it on the night and actually stopped in the middle of the first or second song and she started lecturing the audience. I was looking at her with my mouth open; I couldn’t believe she was really giving the school mistress bit, here was someone who had a background with The Pistols all over England. The gig went down the tube; it just didn’t go well for them. We were around afterwards in the dressing room and there was no contact between the two bands, they were obviously in foul humour because the gig had gone so badly.
Elvera Butler — I had Micro Disney back in November supporting The Fall. By that stage they really had matured an awful lot and playing support to The Fall was a major gig. The Fall were using Micro Disney’s backline. I brought The Fall in as a kind of promotional coup for Cork. I was fed up of not getting press reviews for my Cork gigs. All the reviews used to happen when I brought in bands to Dublin, but the Cork gig was always so much better then the Dublin gig, there were much bigger crowds. I just thought that if I bring in Mark E. Smith and The Fall and only do Cork then Hot Press will review it. You had to let the British agents see that there was a gig in Cork. If all the reviews were coming from Dublin then it was hard to put Cork on the map. That’s why The Fall came in without any backline.
Dave Galvin — The Fall were a massive musical influence of mine, and have remained so actually, that was a great night. We played with Chant! Chant! Chant! a Dublin band the same night, they were a fine band in fairness to them, really good.
Stan Erraught — The Fall was October 1980, I can remember it fairly precisely. The Fall were playing in the Arc in Cork and they weren’t playing a Dublin gig, so quite a few of us who were big Fall fans basically got the train down to Cork to go and see them. I only knew one person from Cork, Jerry Bowman who played guitar in The Flaa-macs, but on the train on the way down I met Giordaí Ua Laoighre who had been playing in Dublin the night before with Micro Disney supporting the Banshees. Giordaí was wearing quite a lot of eye makeup and glitter on his face and wearing the strangest clothes and we just had a conversation about guitar playing all the way down. Micro Disney were supporting The Fall that night and it was the first time that I’d seen them. I had heard about them because Bill Graham had written a review in The Sunday Tribune which sort of said “the best Irish band ever”, all that sort of thing. So I was looking forward to seeing them and they just blew me away. They were way ahead of what any Dublin band was doing at the time. Cathal’s presence on stage was as developed then as it is now.
Elvera Butler — I remember standing beside Mark E. Smith watching the band and Mark E. saying, [laughing] he’d love to pinch the band as his backing band, [laughing] get rid of Cathal. He was very impressed with Micro Disney at the time.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — Plink Plink Fizz was the name of the fanzine that I did with Blake Creedon, Ann Callaghan and Nick Heckett (Nick the Mod). We set up a little fanzine, we used to staple it together, Ann was doing Art in school so she used to do illustrations in it. We gave it out outside of Golden Discs and the Arc and at various other gigs around the place, we used to sell it in town and we made the money back for the photocopying that way, it was a little cottage industry. It was very life-forming for me, it was my first publishing venture and it was great to work with Blake and Ann.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — We interviewed loads of people for Plink Plink Fizz, I can remember meeting The Fall. I spent the afternoon of their gig taking them down to the train station, taking their photographs, they were a fantastic bunch of lads. I knew a little bit about them at that stage and I had heard that they mightn’t be easy to work with or whatever but they spent half an hour with me and they were fantastically cooperative. For a band who were fairly big in England at that stage they needn’t have spent time with a guy who was literally 16, long hair and scruffy, they gave me all the time that [laughing] they shouldn’t have. UB40 did exactly the same thing, they were breaking fairly big. The Specials and The Beat now were a different matter they were massive and [laughing] they didn’t give me anytime.
Elvera Butler — Then in no time at all Micro Disney supported Tony Koklin that November as well. The Fall was October, Tony Koklin was November, and then in December they supported U2. By that stage as well I had asked Paul McGuinness if they could support U2 in the TV Club [The Television Club was a music venue at 46–48 Harcourt St, Dublin and part of Eamonn Andrews Studios], we got that but [laughing] they tried to change it, I think U2 had found somebody else in Dublin, maybe friends or something, I do remember having to stick to my guns and get the boys the gig. So that was a quite a big progression to be playing the TV Club.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — Cathal did some outrageous things. [Laughing] Cathal was a bit abrasive on stage. He was chanting, “U2 boy wanks at confession” when we supported U2 in the Television Club. He got on his knees, people were throwing bottles at him, a huge crowd there to see U2, we were the support band they hated us and Cathal finished the night off with, “U2 boy wanks at confession.” Making the sign of the cross on his knees, knowing full well that somebody from U2 was looking at him. We were supposed to get £50. We got half of that. Paul McGuinness came up to us after the gig and said that we had to pay for the soundman. I think it was Paul McGuinness’s way of telling us to go fuck ourselves.
Stan Erraught — This was 1980 and U2 were one album into things, it was in its early days, but there was a sense that you could get signed, you could make a career out of this sort of thing, you could get somewhere. So bands were trying to second guess A&R men a lot and I don’t think Cork bands had that. I think they felt that they were out in the middle, on the edge of nowhere and they didn’t have that thing that Dublin bands always have of trying to impress the industry, they just wanted to make music for themselves and for their peer group. But also I think they were intensely competitive and ambitious whereas you could get kind of comfortable in Dublin because you could play a fair bit, there was an audience that was big enough, every gig you did someone would come up and tell you, “that was great”, you thought you were fine. Whereas in Cork you probably didn’t have that as much. There was probably the bands themselves and a few friends. I don’t know if there was big a supportive audience.
Dave Galvin — We played a lunch time gig in Dublin during Trinity [Trinity College Dublin] Rag Week, we played on the steps of what I think was Trinity’s biology building. We were set up outdoors at the top of the steps and as we played the kit started running away from me.[Laughing] It was going forward and I was going forward then I was trying to pull it back, I just broke down laughing, I thought it was the funniest thing ever. We ended up with Chris putting one foot in front of the bass and Sean had another foot on it but of course Chris was left-handed and Sean is right-handed so they were banging the necks of their guitars off each other so we had to stop and switch the two of them around.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — I took some nice photographs of U2 rehearsing when they were just gearing up for their October [Island Records, 1981] tour. They allowed me this interview and time because Cork meant a lot to them. Obviously Joe [O’Herlihy, U2’s sound engineer] and the crew meant a lot to them. In Cork U2’s stagecraft got far better, they learnt how to manipulate the crowds, the songs got better. They had a fanbase of 1,000 people and that meant that when the NME came over they were able to write fantastic reviews about them. They got their crew from Cork. In Dublin they played to smaller crowds in the Dandelion or the TV Club, people didn’t give a shit about them whereas in Cork people thought they were the real deal — even though they weren’t and they changed a lot, the same way as Micro Disney changed a lot, the same way as Nun Attax and Five Go Down to the Sea? changed a lot later on. A band evolves and obviously each gig is as important as the next one but U2 had all those factors: a crowd, their craft got better, they got personnel, they got press influence. If I ever hear anybody say that Cork wasn’t important to them, they’re talking through their hat. Now the band will say Cork was slightly important to them, obviously breaking into America was far more important to them. But each has a level of importance, the same way that Cork was very important to Micro Disney and what Microdisney became: their upbringing; crafting their sound; their stage presence and the style of lyrics. The shape of life in Cork was very important to them and made them what they were. If they were doing the same thing in London at that same time they would have been a very different band and I’m thankful that they came from Cork because of that fact.
Stan Erraught — It was funny because that first version of Disney — it was a real pity that they never made a proper record — with Giordaí and Sean playing guitar, there was a really strange mixture of things, there was a real avant-garde edge to them which they kind of lost by the time they got to make records but it was mixed with a tunefulness and the same sort of bite in the lyrics and things like that. I used to have a live tape from some gig around that time, I can’t remember where it was, it was recorded on a cassette recorder, it was great but I’ve lost it at some point along the way. I still think that it’s a real pity they never made an album before they went to England.
Stano — I went to see Micro Disney in the Magnet and the main thing that fascinated me about them was Giordaí. They were a really powerful funk band. There was something really strange about Giordaí’s playing — he was playing with the band and sort of almost outside the band. On the second or third occasion I told Giordaí that I was recording an album and would he be interested in playing on it.*
*Stano’s debut album Content To Write In I Dine Weathercraft [Scoff Records – DTLP025] was released in 1983.
Stan Erraught — Maybe I’m putting a couple of things together but that weekend [of The Fall] in Cork I met Finbarr Donnelly certainly, I knew Jerry from The Flaa-macs and I met the rest of them, I met Mick Lynch from Mean Features and then over the course of that year and the year after whenever there was a gig in the Arc that looked interesting or something like that, I’d generally go down because I had places to stay and it got me out of Dublin for the weekend. There was four or five bands in Cork then, that were certainly more interesting than anything that was going on in Dublin. The bands I liked at the time in Dublin were The Blades, Chant! Chant! Chant! and people like that. The Blades were great in a different way, they were a very Dublin band but nobody else had the spirit of adventure.
Mark Healy — I was about 16, and I saw Micro Disney support The Beat and The Specials which was absolutely packed. Just to see a local band supporting a band from the UK [laughing] would leave an indelible impression on you. The same way I felt after seeing Nun Attax supporting UB40. It was an introduction to Cork bands that you wouldn’t otherwise had known even existed. To see them able to hold their own with these “chart topping bands”, meant that all of a sudden even if you were only 16 and living in Cork there was the possibility that some people in your town were capable of creating music that was of interest. I only saw the five piece once , it was frantic, there was a lot going on.
Elvera Butler — I related to Cathal and Sean more than the others, you tended always to relate to the people who fronted the band, but I knew all of them. Micro Disney were a more serious band I guess than Nun Attax who went in for being ostensibly shambolic, they weren’t, [laughing] but they were a bit mad. Sean and Cathal were very serious, much more. A lot of the local bands were 16, 17 or younger, 14, 15 even. Looking at some of the pictures of the kids queuing up for The Specials and The Beat [laughing] some of them look about 12. Some of the bands like Urban Blitz seemed a lot younger whereas Cathal and Sean were a little bit older and a lot more focused, more serious. Punk-funk is a pretty good description. I remember Cathal’s passion he was a very forthright performer, a very passionate performer. Cathal, Donnelly and Mick obviously influenced each other. I know Mick and Cathal have spoken in the past about seeing Nun Attax on stage but the fact that they saw each other on stage encouraged them to give it a go. Three real characters.
Elaine Clarke — I think Cathal, Mick, and Donnelly stood out as being contenders for something big and the opportunity to impress Dublin was huge despite the surroundings. Micro Disney, Mean Features and Nun Attax were all so exciting and original and must have been a real treat for anyone out and about in Dublin looking for something different at that time.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — We took photos in Fitzgerald’s Park one morning and it wasn’t raining but in those days in Cork with the smoke from fuel mixing with fog, it became dense and you just couldn’t see. It played havoc with the camera and not alone could you not focus but there wasn’t enough light to hold the camera still. I can remember them passing a balaclava around for the photographs, they were never serious that morning. They were just constantly messing, the interesting thing about them and other Cork bands is that they never wanted to take a straight photograph like a lot of the Dublin bands I used to photograph. They could never behave themselves, all the time with Cathal I had a love hate relationship. Because I was a young fellow he used to take the piss out of me. I knew he was taking the piss out of me. He thought it was funny, which it was but I knew that if I tried to play along with it I’d get good photographs that way. I didn’t always understand what he was on about because I was too young, [laughing] to this day I’ll never understand what’s going through his head anyway.
Garreth Ryan — On one hand you had U2 and The Virgin Prunes and the Lypton Village thing and they would simultaneously have been doing shows or a series of shows in the Project Arts Centre [multidisciplinary arts centre on East Essex Street, Dublin]. People weren’t necessarily wanting ‘rama lama ding dong’ punk rock but what they got from the Cork bands was something that was just as exciting as what was being imported or being heard from the UK. It wasn’t identikit stuff, it was really quite original gear. In Micro Disney’s case I was a fan from the very start of the five piece. I think they had Giordaí playing guitar the first time that they were up in Dublin, so you had Sean’s funky guitar, you had Chris’s bass and a lot of anger. A lot of real attitude from Cathal, but at the same time it was all very literate stuff. It was really good stuff and it would have been very difficult to pinpoint anything that the five piece sounded like.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — The five piece didn’t play that many gigs, their style was very experimental and it wasn’t that brilliant in many ways, they were OK. I didn’t particularly like that funk sound and it wasn’t real funk either, it was Cathal feeding from the stable of Mick Lynch and Finbarr Donnelly, feeding that kind of quirkyiness, an angular kind of singing and presenting style on stage. Obviously Giordaí’s guitar was a driving force and Sean’s guitar would have been slightly to the back. I wasn’t totally impressed with it but then when I heard the Fanning Session I just loved ‘Mitchelstown’.* To this day anytime I drive through Mitchelstown I think of the “Cheesy boys and cheesy girls” and I start humming it. After that I started to like them a bit more.
*Micro Disney recorded a radio session for RTÉ’s The Dave Fanning Show on 31 March, 1981 featuring five songs: ‘Let’s Get Married’, ‘Victory’, ‘Leper’, Knackhead’ and ‘Mitchelstown’. ‘Leper’ was officially released in February 2018 on Quare Groove Vol, 1, a double 12" on All City Records. The two-piece Microdisney would record a Fanning session on 13 June, 1983 featuring three songs: ‘Dig Me Up’, ‘Idea’ and ‘Sun’.
Garreth Ryan — We used to go along religiously to the gigs. [Laughing] Religiously: probably the wrong choice of word in Cathal’s case. We’d go along to the gigs and they became a draw, the Cork scene became a draw, so we’d take the train down to the Arc, Micro Disney supported The Fall in 1980 and Nun Attax played with The Virgin Prunes and a lot of people came down for that and there were a couple of other trips down. It took a long time to get down to Cork in those days but it was well worth it. I became quite friendly with Sean and Cathal as well as the Nun Attax. We were already having a few scrapes by ’80 and ’81. We’d meet them whenever they came up to Dublin.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — When we supported people we met everyone of them, maybe not every member but you’d met somebody from every band. Mark E. Smith came into the dressing room that we were in. [Laughing] We were completely blown away that we were talking to Mark E. Smith. We met The Undertones after the gig, they came on stage and one of them [Michael Bradley] was in crutches. They were really super nice guys, all of them. We’d have had a bit of fun if we had managed to tour with them. I can remember John McGeoch the guitarist from Siouxsie and the Banshees helping me to get a good sound on stage before them. We met members of The Specials as well. But we never once met U2, when I was in Nun Attax or Micro Disney. They kept completely separate. They kept themselves amazingly separate. I never once met them, they never came into a dressing room.
Dave Galvin — Later on we played with The Undertones in Leisureland in Galway. The night went really well for us and it went really well for The Undertones also. I remember having a long conversation with some of them afterwards and I don’t think we left Galway until four or five o’clock in the morning. We were signed up to do the Irish tour with The Undertones but it got cancelled. The next date of the tour was in Omagh and I don’t think any of us had ever been in the North [Northern Ireland], I certainly wasn’t and I was really looking forward to it but the two brothers in The Undertones, the O’Neills, their dad passed away suddenly and the tour was cancelled.
Michael Bradley — It’s not true about the O’Neill’s father’s death. He died in 1990. Of course we could have told Micro Disney that he’d died to make them go home. But the shows in the North did go on, I’m not sure why Micro Disney weren’t on those shows.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — Sean was a very good disco guitarist. He was unusual in that he could really play very tight disco chord lines, very authentic sounding, it was like he had studied it. He really had that technique down. It’s actually very difficult to play that type of guitar playing and everybody kind of laughs at it and thinks it’s easy but actually it’s difficult. He was very good at it.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — I hardly ever took photographs of them playing live because when I went to see them I got more involved with seeing the band than taking the photographs. That unfortunately is to my detriment because I don’t have as many photographs as I would have wanted of the band.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre —The Cork band that I was in was chaotic, I don’t think it was that good, I don’t think it was as good as Nun Attax. It was interesting but it was chaotic because Cathal was still learning to sing and the rhythm section was fairly dodgy and I was pricking around on the guitar in a different direction from Sean which kind of worked I guess — chaotic, slightly funky but not really. Kinda spadgie-funky if you like.*
*Spadgie — Cork Slang. Noun. Someone who is thought of as pathetic and a fool. Someone who is thought of as either annoying and of low intelligence or somewhat malignant and of low intelligence or all three.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — Their stage presence was fairly serious but you’d get the odd sarcastic quip from Cathal. As he grew up he became a different type of performer. Earlier with Constant Reminders he was more quirky and then towards the later period of the Micro Disney five piece the sarcasm was still there but he wasn’t trying to be funny or pushing that quirky side of things.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — It wasn’t funk, to be honest in any way. There was a fashionable thing about funk at the time, it was seen as somewhat subversive, people were looking back to the time of Hendrix playing the Band of Gypsys [Capital Records, 1970], supporting the Black Panthers, Funkadelic and George Clinton, Sly & the Family Stone and James Blood Ulmer. Rip Rig + Panic were on the go and there was a slightly interesting more avant-garde side of funk: free jazz funk and Don Cherry, The Pop Group. It was a direction that Sean liked. It was kind of fashionable but not in the same way as Joy Division were fashionable.
Mark Healy — I remember fanzines around Cork, and there was a great picture of the five piece all standing down by the statue of the Virgin Mary at the end of the Boggy Road [Kennedy Park, Victoria Road, Cork], [laughing] that was one of my favourite photographs, you were looking at it going what in bloody hell are they doing? I think Cathal would occasionally wear a white collar at some of the gigs, I was trying to think did I imagine that or did I want that to be true, it could possibly have happened. All that stuff, even the lyrics to ‘National Anthem’ on Kaught at the Kampus, was really in your face if you were a proper little Catholic in Ireland in the late-70s and early-80s. That stuff was absolutely nuts.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — When I was with Micro Disney we played in Southampton, it was one of Elvera’s things, I don’t know how she managed it. After the gig an American black guy came up to me and offered to buy me a drink. We got talking about Hendrix and jazz and stuff like that. He never mentioned the band but for whatever reason he liked my guitar playing. We got talking about James Blood Elmer and experimental music. He left and I went back to the boys. They were really fascinated to know what the guy said about us. I said, no nothing much about ye, he was just talking about Hendrix and jazz. [Laughing] They were super disappointed. [Laughing] I was quite pleased but they were quite disappointed in the fact that their funkiness didn’t come up in the conversation one bit.
Dave Galvin — By the start of 1982 the original Micro Disney had begun to fall apart and people have different ideas on why it fell apart really. For myself the unreleased single had a big influence on it. We had recorded a single, ‘12 Novembers’ with Elvera, it was done between midnight and eight o’clock in the morning at Windwill Lane [Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin] because it was cheaper studio time, the whole thing was quite kosher really. But that single was never released, I can’t remember why exactly, but that was a big blow for us.
Elvera Butler — They got a raw deal on the night of Kaught at the Kampus with only half a track recording that was usable. I decided to bring them into Windmill, it might have been daunting for them of course, first time in a studio. I had connections with Windmill so it was easier to get it. They came up to Dublin for a few days. I remember them being around my flat. I don’t know why the recording got left at the time. I think maybe we didn’t have the right producer and we were getting a bit lost with them. They were moving on more quickly. I really don’t remember why it didn’t happened. I remember being in Windmill with them. I remember Giordaí discovering my Jimi Hendrix albums and taking a real interest in them [laughing] which kind of surprised me, because I knew the lads from the gigs but I didn’t really know them otherwise. So why it never got released, I don’t know. I said it to Sean recently that around the time they had left Rough Trade, I had read something about them dismissing Indies, the lack of quality control or something, [laughing] I thought I had better never release those Micro Disney tracks, that’s why they sat there for years.* Micro Disney seemed more focused, they always came across as serious about what they were doing. They wanted to be better and better. Maybe that was one of the reasons that I didn’t put out those tracks to begin with. They had aspirations whereas some of the other bands were great and had great energy, great fun but that was it.
*The recordings of ‘12 Novembers’ and ‘Victory’ were eventually released on the 2011 Reekus Records 30th Anniversary 2CD compilation Too Late to Stop Now.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — We played in Danny Leane’s in Tralee [The Abbey Inn] and were booked for two nights but were told to fuck off back to Cork after the first night. There was a tension in the pub the whole night through. The place filled towards the end and the audience, who hated us clearly, called for a local older character to come up and sing. They were doing it just to give us a clear message but we invited him up anyway and then we backed him in a spadgy Nun Attax-type fashion as he performed a Joe Dolan classic. This annoyed the audience even more. It was funny, the local lad enjoyed himself but I think that that was enough for the management. Then Danny Leane told us to fuck off back to Cork.
Cathal Coughlan — Other bits of sarcastic behaviour were amusing, [laughing] doing ‘The Hucklebuck’ in the Abbey Inn in Tralee sung by the guy who collected glasses to the spadgie beat. The guy might have attempted something more heartfelt from Joe [Dolan] or Roy [Orbison] afterwards but it started off as ‘The Hucklebuck’.
Dave Galvin — That was the last time that I ever played with Micro Disney and I’ve a funny feeling that it was the last time that Giordaí and Chris did as well.* We were booked for two nights. Sean and Cathal had become a bit disillusioned with the set we were doing and they cut out a good amount of the set, so we went down there with a very short set and the guy who was running the place put us on very early and we were saying, “Jesus lad hang on a while now, there’s very few people here, we should perhaps go on later.” So we went on anyway and did our bit and then he turned around and said that we’d have to go back on again at 11pm or whatever and the lads sort of said, [laughing] “Well no actually, I don’t think so, we’ll be playing again tomorrow night.” So they literally turfed us out of the bar, they had bouncers on the door who came in and put us and our gear outside the door. That was very disillusioning.
*Chris McCarthy died in 2004 following an accidental fall.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — It wasn’t particularly acrimonious, there was no real fighting, it was just that we weren’t really friends. None of us were, so we just drifted apart naturally. There was no fighting.
Dave Galvin — I don’t think we ever kind of recovered from that, not long after that I got a phonecall from Giordaí and he said that he was out, that it just wasn’t fun anymore. I said, “ OK fair enough.” Once I heard that Giordaí was out I was more or less out myself, I had fantastic time for Giordaí. It would never have been the same for me without that something special that Giordaí gave it, even though it was completely carte blanche, and completely unstructured it gave the original Micro Disney its sound to a very large extent. That was it really I’d a very long talk from my perspective with Cathal and I finished that night, I never actually spoke to Sean. So that’s how the first group broke up.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — I had had enough by then though I don’t remember ringing Dave to inform him of my intention to leave Micro Disney. The band did dissolve after that.
Dave Galvin — From my point of view by the time I left Micro Disney I was engaged, I was working, I was getting married. There were a lot of other things happening in my life. I thought about it at one stage when they were talking about going to England and I just decided that it really wasn’t for me. For a number of reasons: I had a very quiet personality; I didn’t drink, [laughing] and I didn’t do anything else either; I was very straight-laced and [laughing] I did a lot of minding and stuff. Cathal and Sean had more or less decided that they needed to go to England. It was a very different scene then, there was no homegrown way of doing things as there is now. You had to sign with somebody and I suppose we lacked a manager as well, which was a drawback. I think Sean and Cathal had it in their heads to go. We talked a few times about going to England, they got it into their heads that they very definitely would go. I look back on those days with great fondness. I was conscious that it would be tough when they were talking about going to England.
Giordaí Ua Laoighre — Sean was very musically educated from the word go. He knew what he was doing. Cathal, though yet to become a singer, definitely was a vocalist and had very good ability with lyrics. They had the ambition. They pretty much had everything then really, Sean had the musical skills which Cathal then in time would develop, he would match Sean as time went on. They had a good pop sensibility. They had good melodies and good arrangements and the version of Microdisney that they put together in England can’t be underestimated — the quality of the musicianship.
Chapter 3 — Daunt’s Square
When we got to actually play this stuff to confused curious audiences we didn’t mind, I can remember just being joyful — Sean O’Hagan
Ciarán Ó Tuama — I was a little bit heartbroken and annoyed when I heard that Micro Disney had broken up as a five piece. I got to know them and I liked them and I loved their music but not as much as I came to love them as a two-piece afterwards, and consequently the London band, I thought they were absolutely superb for the first few albums.
Cathal Coughlan — We were starting off again anyway. It was just the case that the original number of people couldn’t really stay focused together because the place was falling apart and people’s lives were moving on as well of course.
Elvera Butler — The Arc finished in May 1981 because of that awful fire in the Stardust [Dublin nightclub]. Insurance premiums rocketed after the Stardust fire and capacities were reduced. But also what happened of course was the Hunger Strike. A lot of British bands started cancelling Belfast and then it wasn’t viable for them to come in.
Giordaí Ua Laoghaire — It was only a small scene that collapsed after the Arc died. Nothing happened in Cork then for ages. The Arc died around 1981. It was just a golden era from 1977 to 1981.*
*For extra insight into Cork’s post-punk musical landscape, the Downtown Kampus at the Arcadia and the Kaught at the Kampus EP read…
The story of Finbarr Donnelly and his bands Nun Attax, Five Go Down To the Sea? and Beethoven — An Oral History by Paul…medium.com
Cathal Coughlan — When the Arcadia closed really the opportunity to be just put in front of large numbers of people had disappeared for the foreseeable future. I suppose you could say there was a lot more rehearsing than there was gigs then. That kind of thing really exaggerates the things people want to do with the music. I think the slimming down to two was more a consequence of the disappearance of the platform for playing regularly then any kind of taking the bit between our teeth because that was a reality that we faced anyway.
Sean O’Hagan — The complications of a slighter larger band and the personalities that go along with that were gone, even though there were no problems, we were absolutely great friends, we were just a bunch of happy, young boys. The resolute thing that we pursued once myself and Cathal rented a flat on Daunt’s Square and started writing songs on a daily basis, almost eight hours a day, it was amazing, a fantastic, brilliant unacknowledged dedication and a sense of united purpose. We were so happy with the songs we were writing, we were so proud and we couldn’t wait to play them. Instead of going to rock clubs we were playing them in very strange places: little hotel bars; going to strange little country dances, because the music could be played like that, because effectively we’d created a friendly sound.
Giordaí Ua Laoghaire — After the Arc closed down there was a huge vacuum that was never filled. It might have been filled later on with Sir Henry’s a bit. Places used to pop up, gigs used to appear in odd places. There was a place on Coburg Street, an old hotel and there was at least one gig there that Microdisney played. I think in and around this period of the two-piece Microdisney they were trying out with Rob McKahey.
Rob McKahey — There was bands sprouting up all over the place, everyone was wary of everyone else, the standard was very high, very experimental, very radical. It was fantastic, bands came and went. Cathal and Sean got rid of their backing band and asked me if I wanted to play drums. I rehearsed with them but I never gigged with them, we never even got to the stage of gigging really. I think we recorded a rough demo but it was obvious from the onset that we didn’t gel musically, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to work. They were cultivating that Pet Sounds, Hall & Oates thing even back then, a kind of Prefab Sprout/Aztec Camera perfect pop thing. I wanted something more experimental which I found later with Stump. When we parted ways I think they were very relieved it was just the two of them, they were glad to get off on their own.
Jim O’Mahony — What was great about Cork at the time was that you had your tribe. You had your mods, skinheads, punks, and you had kind of weird people who just dressed in black with raincoats [laughing] you didn’t know what to make of them. We all kind of stuck together in a way because if you did look dramatically different you risked getting the shit kicked out of you from different gangs. You’d be going home from gigs late at night and it was like an episode of The Warriors, you’d get to the river where you’d have to go up into the Northside and you had to go up the hill and you’d be wondering, should I go Leitrim Street, will I go Shandon Street? It could go either way depending on which way you went. When you had all that there was never any aggro between punks, mods or skinheads. You had scenarios in Dublin where mods from each side of the city used to fight each other but that never happened in Cork, because we were all in the same boat, we were all cannon fodder.
Rob McKahey — There was a big class divide in the city. You had the Norries, the Northside lads and you had the kind of posh Southside boys. I was from Blackpool [Northside] so to us [laughing] Mick was a posh Southside boy. Liam [Heffernan] was Northside as was Pat the Hat [Pat Kelleher]. Cathal then was from just outside the city so [laughing] we thought that he was posh. In The Flaa-macs then you had Douglas Henderson and Jeremy Bowman and I can remember they expressed an interest in me drumming and it was like a fucking interview. [Laughing] “Who’s your favourite existential author?” “Do you prefer ‘Closer’ or ‘Unknown Pleasures’?” [Laughing] Now in fairness you don’t ask a drummer [laughing] who’s your favourite existential author.
Elaine Clarke — The Flaa-mac lads were quiet UCC boys, some of the Micro Disney lads were quiet also — unlike the people I was used to hanging out with. There was nothing unusual about being the only girl in the band at that time as there were lots of girls in Cork bands and Porcelyn Tears [all girl four piece] also had a female drummer. We slagged each other — that is what Cork bands did. Slag each other and still back each other up by bringing each other to gigs as supporting acts. So this was my lifestyle for a short time as The Flaa-macs were short-lived but we did record a demo which [laughing] I’ve never heard.
Mark Healy — After the Arc closed there was very little outlets for Cork music. I remember there was a committee [Cork Musicians’ Co-op] set up to try and promote music and that ended up in the Bodega [music venue off Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork], which was an absolute dive, it used to be a knocking shop apparently. There was about six weeks where they had bands in there every week. It was fairly chaotic. One of Microdisney’s earlier gigs was there with the Unknown Wreaks, Real Mayonnaise and other bands like that.
Jim O’Mahony — The Bodega was off Oliver Plunket Street. You walked through the front of it, and it was like walking through a scene from a Jacques Brel song or something, you then got into the back and you were playing there to your friends and [laughing] their dogs. I saw some great gigs there. I can remember seeing Some Kind of Wonderful inside there, a great gig. That was the only time I ever saw someone changing their clothes before a gig. The singer changed out of his jeans into a kind of zoot pants and [laughing] during the gig someone stole his jeans. It was a brilliant gig though, they were a great band.
Dave Galvin — Microdisney started off then as a duo and their first or second gig was in the Bodega and I went in to see them and they were very good actually, it was a completely new set and it was the two of them and a girl on violin [Aisling Hayden]. Cathal and Sean were ambitious, Cathal was really committed to the music and Sean was always very talented. I was always delighted afterwards that Sean became very recognised for his production work. Sean lived it really.
Rob McKahey — I can remember one night being in the snug in The Phoenix [pub on Union Quay, Cork] with Cathal, Giordaí and in total there was probably about six bands represented there and drinking away getting on grand. Mar dhea [as if]. That was it, everyone was very wary of everyone else, it was very healthy competition. Bands came and went and it was a great scene. Compared to Dublin it was very different, in Dublin U2’s success had spread like a kind of corporate, bland, toxic disease.
Sean O’Hagan — Garreth Ryan and Dave Clifford are massively important in Microdisney’s story. Dave brought us into the London Underground diaspora; he introduced us to Wire, Cherry Red Records, that London post-punk sub-culture. It was really, really important. When Microdisney was effectively Cathal and myself and our project had moved on from being this post-punk band to a strange Art project. Dave helped us contextualise that, we started to perform at the Project Arts Centre, we started to play with people like Michael O’Shea and Roger Doyle. There was a real shift from these kids driving a pop-punk machine to a possibility to pursue your creative music. We realised that there was this other musical existence, where the Art world and the music world merged. Dave was very interesting because there was two things going on with him: he was an artist but he was also a business man, and a creator. Dave had a performance art background, he had this fantastic mixture of fascination and disdain. We found that very fascinating and very funny. Here we were in Ireland in a very parochial bubble where we were developing strange ambitions and suddenly there was somebody who said, “this resonates with these guys”. Cherry Red, Eyeless in Gaza, he knew all the labels that were pursuing the same kind of art, under the radar agenda: Gilbert and Lewis, Jim Thirlwell and Foetus.
Garreth Ryan — Dave Clifford from Vox magazine had an infectious enthusiasm as well as being quite experienced in the Art world at the time, I always found him terrifically supportive and full of ideas for what might be possible.
Stano — The first time I ever met Dave was in the Project Arts Centre. I didn’t know anything about performance art. I can remember seeing Nigel Rolfe walking around the Project Arts Centre in the nude with a mackerel hanging out of his bollocks, I was blown away. Mad stuff like that. I saw Dave Clifford do a piece where he dug himself a hole in a wall and buried himself inside the wall for two days with his arm hanging out.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — They re-launched themselves as a two-piece and they invited me up to Daunt’s Square, they sat me down in rehearsals and Cathal was playing keyboards, a Casio keyboard. I never knew he could, [laughing] he never knew he could, Sean was playing this different style of guitar which I’d never heard before, I never knew this style existed, it was melodic, very picky but he used a lot of glass slide but the fingering was very particular. You could see that it was going to make it easy for Cathal. There were songs coming out in minutes. Cathal was learning the Casio and songs were just bouncing off whatever he hit, it was almost by accident the way it grew. His style was organic, he was able to hit chords or notes even though he was purely learning the instrument but it allowed his voice and the melody to grow and whatever he didn’t have musically Sean was able to fill in with the guitar, Sean was a genius with the guitar. They built up the sound with guitar, keyboard and drum machine. I had never heard anything like it before. People have mentioned Scritti Politti or the fact that Echo & the Bunnymen started with a drum machine but the closest thing that I could hear to their melodic sound was The Durutti Column, where the guitar was doing a lot of the work alongside the drum machine and the voice. You’d think, oh there’s a nice melody, four bars of it, verse and then all of a sudden the chorus would come along and bring you in a different direction completely.
Sean O’Hagan — The music we were writing was actually music that was very friendly, even though it wasn’t friendly music, it was kind of odd music. I really remember being so excited playing to small crowds of curious people who didn’t really quite get the fact that there wasn’t a noise, that there wasn’t any stomping going on, and there were these strange tunes that were influenced by all the things that Cathal and I were stumbling over. At the time we were stumbling over some contemporary stuff, which we loved, things like Billy Mackenzie and The Associates, but lots and lots of Scott Walker. We were getting accustomed to Gram Parsons, early renegade country music and John Barry. Connections were important, in Dublin there were a group of people [The Letters] who eventually became The Golden Horde, and that group of people were very studious: Stan Erraught and Stephen Ryan, who became The Stars of Heaven.
Jim O’Mahony — The first time I saw any of these groups was when I saw Microdisney in the Metropole Hotel [MacCurtain Street, Cork], of all places. I had never seen them as a five piece, they were just down to a two-piece. There was a wedding on the same night and the room that the wedding was booked into was next-door to the room where Microdisney was. You had all these people in suits and bridesmaids’ dresses walking into see Microdisney and the wedding was subjected to all these freaks who were wandering into the wedding, it was the most bizarre night ever.
Mark Healy — Then when they played their first two-piece gig in the Metropole it went from maybe a thousand people in the Arc to a tiny little room, there might have been a hundred people in a small room, if even that. Tiny room, very sweaty, there wasn’t even a proper bar in the room, it was a mobile bar that they pushed in on wheels. The crowd that were at that particular gig didn’t know what to expect because they hadn’t seen them since they played in the Arc with Giordaí and the rest of them and then all of a sudden it was just down to a two-piece. There was still a lot of anger and shouting and stuff from Cathal but it was a completely different experience from when I’d seen them as a five piece. Finding somewhere for a gig back then was always difficult. It was a great gig though. It was late summer I think.
Jim O’Mahony — I can remember that Cathal had a microphone stand that wouldn’t stay up so for the whole night this guy had to hold the top of it and the middle of it while Cathal was singing. There was an election coming up and in the interval between every song your man, who was holding the mic stand, was ranting about the government doing this and that.* I think he thought that because he was in a room full of alternative people that everyone would be saying, fuck the government, but they were all saying, [laughing] “Fuck you, fuck off, you’re boring the pants off us.” It was a mad night, Sean walked around to everyone after they’d played asking them did they enjoy it. I was there thinking, Jesus, does this happen after every band has played. Cathal kept pretty much to himself. I always thought Microdisney as a two-piece were amazing.
*An Irish General Election took place on 24 November, 1982.
Mark Healy — I remember an old friend Seán Beechinor was at that gig in the Metropole. Seán was well into his music, he used to go to all of the Arc gigs. He loved Postcard Records, he had everything and anything. Yazoo were only in the charts more or less that week. He came up with the line, [laughing] “Sure they’re just Cork’s version of Yazoo.” [Laughing] I thought is was cynical but very amusing.
Sean O’Hagan — Bill Graham from Hot Press, was also very, very important. When he first saw us he just gave us fistfuls of records, he just said, “Right, you guys need to listen to this, you need to listen to Coati Mundi, you need to listen to Link Wray.” He was very, very, very keen that we listen to Link Wray.
“Do you like Curtis Mayfield?”
“Yeah, I like Curtis Mayfield.”
“But no, have you heard the real Curtis Mayfield, the protest Curtis Mayfield, Back to the World [Buddah Records, 1973]?”
“There you go, do you like Miles Davis?”
“Yeah, I know Miles Davis.”
“No, but have you heard On the Corner [Columbia, 1972]?”
“There you go.”
Sean O’Hagan — Bill was in his 30s and he knew so much, and he was a font of knowledge he had this ambition to articulate American music that he thought hadn’t been articulated. Everyone knew about Patti Smith, the Ramones and Television but he thought there was something else going on — he was obsessed with ZE Records. ZE would have been tiny at the time, Was Not Was had just started off, it would have been absolutely tiny, Suicide was on ZE at the time. He was obsessed with Suicide, he said, “You guys are so connected to ZE, you should be on ZE.” He saw the American mutant funk thing and he wanted us to plug into it. That’s where the flow of information of music definitely came from.
Cathal Coughlan —We supported Depeche Mode and I remember it being a relatively kind reception, that’s about the size of it. It was a big gig but maybe people hadn’t come in yet, I don’t recall being particularly intimidated in any way. The promoter wanted us to go and do Galway the following night but we would have lost a shed load of money, it wasn’t going to happen. The Unknown Wrecks played as well, they were astonishing, they probably could have become good but the absolute incompetence, I can’t even quite describe what it was, it wasn’t like Nun Attax or Five Go Down to the Sea? They didn’t have proper punk gear but they tried to tape stuff together and I think they had two drummers and the two drummers played stuff that had nothing at all to do with eachother and it was just the most random, I mean you have no idea how random this thing was and the guy who was the singer, he was a really nice bloke actually, he would kind of start doing kick dancing in the middle of the stage and you think, what the fuck are you dancing to? [Laughing] People would just be awe struck at this. It was the closest thing to the original Mekons’ ‘Never Been in a Riot’ [Fast Product, 1978] or something like that crossed with The Shaggs. It was out there, it was so punk it was like Derek Bailey, it was astonishing.
Mark Healy — I saw Microdisney with Depeche Mode in the City Hall. That was a particularly strange one because Depeche Mode were at their height to a certain extent. All of a sudden Cathal and Sean were standing in front of 700 or 800 hundred Cork teenagers who had absolutely no understanding of who they were, they went through the motions and played the gig. I don’t know what they were hoping to achieve out of that, they weren’t really hitting their target audience, but then they probably didn’t know what their target audience was at the time. The Unknown Wrecks played that night as well. Dave Fanning came out on stage and introduced the Unknown Wrecks as Urban Blitz [laughing] which was news to me as at that time I had been the drummer in Urban Blitz for about a week and [laughing] I was standing in the crowd. At this stage Microdisney’s musical dynamic took a bit more shape and Sean’s guitar playing made all of the difference. Around this time Cathal, defending their use of a drum machine, made a comment in a fanzine suggesting drummers were dead from the neck up. [Laughing] Very harsh but, back then, mostly true.
Sean O’Hagan — As writers as the two piece we were listening to Scott Walker, John Barry, Erik Satie, we were listening to lots of Suicide, we were massively obsessed with Suicide and the minimal noise that Suicide made. We were listening to ambient music, a lot of Crépuscule and the Crépuscule collections. We’d be listening to bits of John Cage, listening to Glenn Branca, The Reidents, Beefheart, things like that, but the melodic thing was very, very important to us and obviously Cathal and I were the only two people we knew in the world who were obsessed with The Beach Boys. Back then nobody was obsessed with The Beach Boys, it was a slightly embarrassing thing to talk about. Those late 60s early 70s records hadn’t really resurfaced. We’re talking about 1982, ’83, so it’s only ten years, so people’s attitude was, “Oh, those recent bad records.” The Beach Boys were the surf band and then they went a bit strange and then they were forgotten and then they became a cabaret act.
Cathal Coughlan — There was this interesting overlap between performance art, theatre and music especially that was inspiring and it was more open in Dublin just because there were more practitioners there. Cork was always a very creative place, but it was within particular genre boundaries I guess you’d say in those days, and Dublin was less like that. You had people like Roger Doyle, The Virgin Prunes, Michael O’Shea, a lot of people doing performance: Nigel Rolfe; and the spin offs from the Prunes; Daniel Figgis and Princess Tinymeat. I knew that Daniel had done a lot of that tape stuff in the Prunes, that was what we liked most about them really. Giordaí was working with Stano shortly after he stopped working with us. Terry Cromer had that studio in Milltown [Alto Studios] where we first did some demos with the five piece band but then we started doing stuff as a two-piece, and the first couple of singles were done that way. It had been a school and the live room was the old gym.
Stano — The studio was in Robert Emmet’s house in Milltown, Terry Cromer had a studio there.* It was basically a big mansion and the basement was a basketball court and there was a control room up a stairs. That’s where I also did my first album.
*Alto Studios was in Emmet House, in Milltown, Dublin. The house was originally named Casino House and was the former residence of the Irish Republican Robert Emmet.
Cathal Coughlan — I had no idea it was Robert Emmet’s old house, the revisionist approach that we all had to Nationalism at that point probably would have precluded any sense of identification.
Terry Cromer —Emmet House was owned by the Marist Fathers. The studio was actually in a performance hall. Alto was an acronym for An Lárionad Teicneolaíocht Oideachas Teoranta (The Centre for Technology Education Ltd.).
Terry Cromer — Primary schools used to teach Irish using filmstrips. You’d put the filmstrip on a projector and it would advance one frame at a time. Alto was basically set up to do produce those films: [laughing] “Colm agus Nuala”, everyone who went to school at that time would remember “Colm agus Nuala”. There was a video studio there and I ran the recording studio from early 1981 until mid 1982. [Laughing] I’d a big row with the owner and I was fired out of the place — but that’s how these things happen. The majority of recording was done out of hours, largely because most people had work.
Terry Cromer — A lot of this started with Dave Clifford. I can’t remember who introduced me to Dave Clifford but the two of us got on like a house on fire. He was really into the music and he had these bands that had no where to record and I had the studio so we sort of hooked and he would send someone over to me to get them recorded and that’s how Vox Enterprises, his record label, started. There was a kind of synergy there between the two of us. Dave had a finger on the button of what was happening in Ireland at the time. At one stage we were actually the busiest studio in Dublin — we had a different band in every day for 20 days in a row.
Sean O’Hagan — Cathal was really the one who drove Pet Sounds to me, he would say, “Pet Sounds is really, really important”. That was very important to me. He was obsessed with Pet Sounds because of what Nick Kent said. Nick Kent was obsessed with Brian [Wilson]. All the key people were obsessed with Brian Wilson: Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac; there were weird things, like Iggy Pop liked him, John Cale, all these people and there were enough of them to think, hang on, there’s something going on here. This new writing ambition that we both shared, which was hidden in bits of ambient music, bits of film music, Scott Walker was very, very important to us. We were isolated and we were trying to ferment these interests in a little flat everyday in Daunt’s Square. When we got to actually play this stuff to confused, curious audiences, we didn’t mind — I can remember just being joyful.
Mark Healy — As a two piece I always thought that they worked really well. Before Sean started singing, Cathal could be fairly angry, there was a lot of foot stamping, occasional shouting and roaring but always in a good way. There was a couple of demo tapes, one of them had a song about the house they lived in on the back Douglas road, they gave the address in the lyrics. As far as I can recall there was a lyric about coming out to the house if you wanted to. There was another song they used to play quite a bit called ‘Get Away From My Car’, [laughing] which was self-explanatory, again it was a very angry song. As they gradually went along then they’d play ‘Dolly’ and a couple of others that eventually featured on the Peel Sessions and the first album. When it was only the two of them it was Cathal on keyboards, a drum machine, Sean used to play a Gibson SG, a lot of reverb on his guitar and that was it.
Chapter 4— Kabuki
The excitement that Peel brought to it, was almost like suggesting that there was a little mini-ripple of cultural excitement going on here — Garreth Ryan
Garreth Ryan — At the time I was living with a band from the North of Ireland called Kissed Air. They had moved down from the North to get more gigs. They thought there was a bit of a scene down in Dublin, and there was to a certain extent, there was a decent community of bands. We were sharing a flat in James’s Street. They’d be gigging a couple of nights a week and we’d be in fairly regular contact with Dublin-based bands and other visiting bands.
Garreth Ryan — I had been working in Golden Discs in Liffey Street, so I had some experience of working with music and in September ’81 I moved to London so within a week of arriving I went down to Rough Trade in Notting Hill and basically said, “Gizza job!” To my surprise they said, “Yeah, come back in on Monday.” I did that and it took a while to get established. Within a few months Kissed Air had a single ready to go and we conspired to get that single released. Cormac Tohill from Kissed Air chose the name Kabuki Records for the label. That was essentially their self-released debut single.
Sean O’Hagan — Garrett was already in London. We knew him in Dublin when he was working in Golden Discs and living with Know Authority, the Kissed Air boys up behind the Guinness Brewery. Garreth was starting Kabuki and he was established in London working at Rough Trade, so that was a fantastic connection.
Cathal Coughlan — The stuff that I wrote at that time was pretty unfocused. It was a little bit of an offcut of my everyday patter I suppose really. I don’t know if a lot of the sarcasm and the ribald jumping off points necessarily stand up all on their own. ‘The Helicopter of the Holy Ghost’ for example was all of those things, it was a ribald jumping off from the idea of deities arriving by helicopters, [laughing] which seemed to be quite commonplace in ’79, ’80 especially.* In a sense there was no discriminating between targets and there was no congruity of purpose even within a single verse of a single song. It was all over the place, possibly by virtue of being untutored but more as an expression of unfocused frustration as well.
*Pope John Paul II visited Ireland from 29 September to 1 October 1979. He travelled around the country by helicopter.
Stan Erraught — My favourite track was always ‘The Helicopter of the Holy Ghost’. I don’t know if the conversation gave rise to the song or not, but I can remember walking through Cork one night really pissed and we were looking up at a big neon cross, possibly in Douglas, and Cathal said something about it being [laughing] the landing lights for the helicopters of the Holy Ghost. [Laughing] It was just one of those moments where it was just really funny at the time.
Garreth Ryan — By early 1982 Sean, Dave Clifford and Dave Freely were in town and they stayed in my flat in Hackney. I remember there was one spare double bed and [laughing] all three of them stayed in the bed in time-honoured Morecambe and Wise fashion. Dave Freely was a recording engineer who was in town to pick up some specific piece of studio equipment, he had worked with Microdisney and various other Dublin artists along the way. The key point about this is that Sean had a cassette of the demo of ‘Hello Rascals’ and ‘The Helicopter of the Holy Ghost’. I think they were intended as demos but I was completely blown away by them. First of all because they were so completely different, I didn’t realise that he and Cathal had been doing quite different stuff to the original five piece. This would only have been a matter of months after the five piece became inactive. Both of these tracks were great, even to this day they stand up and they would have been recorded on a pretty limited budget. Having just put out a single with Kissed Air, I thought that we’ve got to release these, after a little bit of coaxing that is what happened. There were no rules in those days, nobody was going to tell you that these weren’t release quality.
Garreth Ryan — We decided out of a sense of continuity to keep the name Kabuki, we had one release under our belts and this was discussed with Kissed Air. Simultaneously Dave Clifford was being very, very encouraging about the idea of creating a more solid functional outlet for Irish artists, this is sort of what we embarked upon at that point. It would appear that there’s been a bit of revisionism going on about whose label it was. I think things were too chaotic to even be considering whose label it was but it would have been me running the label.
Jim O’Mahony — I think Microdisney always saw a future for themselves because they were a bit off the scene in so far as they were very into what they were doing themselves, they always kept their hand in Dublin. I can remember seeing Microdisney in Dublin in 1982, they played in some hotel off Parnell Square and they rammed the place, really stuffed the place. People were aware of them, their records used to sell here, they were held with a certain respect. I think they saw that they had to move, Cathal didn’t like Cork anyway, I don’t think Cathal liked Ireland, [laughing] I don’t think he liked anywhere at the time. [Laughing] If you’d sent him to Tahiti, he probably wouldn’t have liked that either. They had to move.
Garreth Ryan — At the end of the day releasing singles back then was a break-even business and [laughing] it’s a break-even business if you’re lucky right now. In those days in the UK the actual price that a wholesaler would sell a 7" for was 60p or 65p — if you were lucky. So that’s what the shops would pay and manufacturing would cost a big part of that and as was the fashion at the time, post Factory Records, you’d try to put a decent sleeve on it, then you were almost destined to lose money from the very start. [Laughing] But we had a good innings of about six months. If someone had told me, as a 19 or 20 year old then, that actually you need to get albums if you want to run this as a serious going concern, [laughing] then obviously that would have been quite helpful.
Sean O’Hagan — The ‘Hello Rascals’ single came together and it was a collision of four of us: myself and Cathal, Dave Clifford and Terry Cromer. Terry ran a small studio [Alto Studios] which was the only studio that we could get into at the time, it was in a religious institute and it had a media outlet probably because they were missionaries, so they had a four track studio. We recorded there with Terry and eventually we ended up in Maynooth where we mixed ‘Pink Skinned Man’. Four of us getting together and we put this four track thing together and it was really easy, we had no nerves, we would go up and we were very excited. We’d get a bus up from Cork, very, very excited. I remember we were renting a house somewhere in Douglas and I remember getting up and going up to do the recording, very excited on a train. John Peel starts playing ‘Helicopter’, I thing he made a wise choice of the two songs.
Sean O’Hagan — There’s a brilliant picture that I took, I had an Instamatic camera and I took a picture of Cathal. I remember him getting up and doing this mock shock, looking at the time: “My God is it that late?” I’ve got it somewhere, a lovely picture of him. We were very excited, we’d go to Rialto [Dublin suburb] where Dave lived and we’d sit up the night before we’d go to the studio, the recording was a wonderful experience, Terry was fantastic and I remember going back to Dave’s house and sleeping on the floor we were just so happy to be doing something that we wanted to do, and thinking that we were making a difference. At no point did we ever think that what we were doing was wasted. We were just absolutely, completely convinced that what we were doing was going to be out there in the world and people were going to hear it and people were going to react to it. We had total belief in what we were doing, unbelievable.
Garreth Ryan — The radio plugger at Rough Trade at the time was a great guy called Scott Piering and I had given him a copy of the single [‘Hello Rascals’]. He was under no obligation to do anything for us but it was an easy inroad because he was the hotline to John Peel. Peel would have gotten a huge amount of the contents of his programme from this one source at Rough Trade. But Scott didn’t like the A-Side. A couple of months later Peel started playing the B-Side [‘The Helicopter of the Holy Ghost’] and he later declared it on-air as his favourite B-Side of all time, which is a curious epitaph because [laughing] had it been the A-Side I don’t know where it would have fitted into his sliding scale of greatness. That’s what he said, I think it was just a back-handed way of saying that it should have been the A-Side.
Terry Cromer — Ivan O’Shea was working in Eamonn Andrews Studios. Ivan was a friend of mine and he gave me the studio one Sunday and we recorded ‘Pink Sinned Man’ there. I had borrowed the tape machine off a friend but I had to give it back and I had nowhere to mix it but I found out that Kairos in Maynooth had the same 8-track tape machine.* So I went up and introduced myself to them. I went down with Cathal, Sean and Garreth and we mixed it down there. We mixed it twice, I can’t remember what was wrong with the first mix, I think we came away and there was just something that we weren’t happy with so we went back and mixed it again and then Garreth took it straight to London and got it cut straight away and got it released.
*Karios Communications is a not for profit, media production and training company set up by the Irish branch of the Society of the Divine Word (more popularly knows as the Divine Word Missionaries).
Garreth Ryan — Peel played it quite a lot and that got a level of anticipation up for the follow-up single. In early 1983 Kabuki released three singles at the same time. There was the first Five Go Down to the Sea? single [Knot A Fish 7" EP], there was the fantastic ‘Pink Skinned Man’ by Microdisney and Rueflex’s ‘Capital Letters’. The Rueflex tracks were a radio session that had been recorded a couple of years previously. We released all three of those within a couple of weeks. After a time Peel hadn’t played anything, I was living in Cricklewood with Kissed Air at that point and Microdisney and Five Go Down to the Sea? were occasional visitors. We were there on a Tuesday night and ‘Pickin’ the Blues’ John Peel’s theme music started and normally he would read out a selection of what was coming up on the show over the theme tune. He said, “Tonight we’ve got records from Microdisney, Five Go Down to the Sea? but to start tonight’s show off it’s Rueflex.” At that point we just went completely crazy in the flat [laughing] smashing things up, it was more then we could possibly have hoped for in one go. The excitement that Peel brought to it, was almost like suggesting that there was a little mini-ripple of cultural excitement going on here. True to form he then played ‘Pink Skinned Man’ a great number of times. Kid Jenson and his producer Chris Lycett were getting into it and Kid Jenson actually asked on air for promos to be sent in. We had been sending in promos anyway but he said on air that he hadn’t received them, so eventually we had to go down and hand it in in person. He played ‘Pink Skinned Man’ several times. Peel played the Rueflex record many times.
Garreth Ryan — Within three or four weeks from that Dave McCullough from Sounds got in contact. It was well acknowledged that Dave was an Irish voice writing for the papers and he had been closely tied with U2’s emergence. He could see an angle on this, ostensibly it was a three or four page spread about the label and each artist had their own section. It’s probably quite notable [laughing] that they flew Dave and the photographer Paul Slattery to Cork. They would have had the full reception committee down on the quays in Cork in Hephy’s or The Phoenix, they [Five Go Down to the Sea?] jumped him on arrival basically. It sounds cheeky but the headline on the article was in big letters [laughing] ‘Cork Scratchings’.
Garreth Ryan — The records sold well and they sold far and wide, they sold to Japan and to Europe. Within the confines of a huge amount of singles getting released via the independent distribution system every week, they sold well, it could and should have been continued. Microdisney and I would probably have been quite frank with each other about the next step. I don’t think there would have been any pretence that the next step would have been with Kabuki Records.
Mark Healy — I remember at one stage being in Paris. I went over to see David Bowie, you had to get a boat and a train and plan it for months in advance. I went into a record shop in Paris and they had the Microdisney and Five Go Down to the Sea? Kabuki singles. [Laughing] It was unreal, it really was, that sort of stuff didn’t happen. It was amazing.
Cathal Coughlan — I remember we did a great gig at the Mansion House [official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin] in Dublin. It was The Three Johns, Five Go Down to the Sea? and Haystacks, there were only about 50 people there. Haystacks was Mick Stack [Five Go Down to the Sea?], Sean, I think Ricky [Five Go Down to the Sea?] played bass and I played drums some of the time, I was and still remain a deeply ungifted person on the drums. Sean was the lead vocalist and [laughing] it wasn’t really like the lead vocals he does in The High Llamas it was difficult to describe. [Laughing] Kind of Balkan, Country & Western with a bit of a rockabilly flavour. The Mansion House looked like it hadn’t been decorated since the 30s, so it was just like playing in de Valera’s [the third president of Ireland] front room, it was extraordinary. There was a lot of like-minded people there, there was a sense that this thing was going to be departing shortly and it did.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — The bigger plan was to go to London, obviously they were playing up in Dublin and they were making impressions there, but the two of them, I’d say for the first time in their lives, were thinking, we can bring this to a higher level. From Kaught at the Kampus now other people were picking up on it, Dave Clifford and Vox, Dublin are picking up on it, we’re a two-piece, what do we do now, with a five piece we had a great presence on stage. What are we going to do on stage now? How are we going to present this as a different type of band? Visually for press work, visually for stage work, from Cathal’s point of view how was he going to perform on stage? That was their ulterior motive, they brought me in, they told me that they were going to be playing a gig in a theatre. The Ivernia Theatre was down on the Grand Parade. The Ivernia was small, Five Go Down To The Sea? were at the gig, they were friendly with them. They wanted me to get a slideshow up and running, I loved the idea. I said, “Yeah, I’ll do it. I’ll get a projector, I’ll take photographs and project them onto the screen.” “Why not get two projectors and screens?” “Grand.” I did that, I was able to get them. They said, “What’ll we put up on it?” I said, “let me listen to the songs.” I listened to the songs, Cathal gave me lyrics and I took down some lyrics. I probably had a month or two to take photographs all around Cork, they were all abstract. I spent weeks working with them on this. [Laughing] We went to the Ivernia and don’t forget they were playing a theatre, not because it was an Arty thing to do, it was one of the few possibilities at the time in Cork. They wanted to present things in a different way, this is not the Arcadia anymore, this is not the Bodega or the Phoenix. This is not a punk thing yet a load of lads from Dublin came down to the gig. Microdisney came on, I had it all set-up, two screens either side of the stage, I had it all synced up with the music, I had remotes and I knew every beat and lyric of those songs. The images were changing with the lyrics, different speeds and sequences.*
*A selection Ciarán Ó Tuama’s original photographs from the Ivernia Theatre gig in 1983 can be seen in the video below.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — They started off and within two songs people liked what they heard, the crowd got off there seats, they were drunk and started dancing, started going fucking ape shit and started tripping over the cables for the projectors, I managed to control that but I was losing the beat and losing where I was at but I tried to catch up. They started moving the screens around, [laughing] it became bleeding chaos. The whole show, from a visual point of view, went out the door. It was a disaster from my point of view. I was really pissed off, months of work went into it. [Laughing] But the crowd loved it, Cathal and Sean loved it because they had a great reaction but visually it didn’t do what it should have done. The crowd got it, hang on there’s something different here, there’s a different sound, there’s other things going on.
Jim O’Mahony — I remember the Microdisney farewell gig in the Ivernia, Sean and Cathal were literally going off the next day. We went to the gig with Donnelly who was pissed as usual; we had been drinking in the Phoenix for hours beforehand. The band was playing and Donnelly was out dancing away, waltzing and disco dancing in front of Cathal. Cathal wasn’t in great form that night. Cathal was doing his moody Microdisney thing at the time, the last straw was Donnelly went up when Cathal was in mid sombre moment and pressed the keyboards and Cathal punched him and a fight broke out, the gig was stopped and Donnelly came back over and sat on the floor in the middle of us. There was silence in the place after this fight; people couldn’t understand what had happened. The next thing Donnelly shouts out, [laughing] “I hated you for years.”
Mark Healy — I was at that gig. Donnelly was hammered and, if I’m remembering this correctly, before the gig he jumped on top of some poor woman on the dancefloor and I think it was Cathal who had to drag him off her, which probably added to the tension Jim describes. None of the rest of us had any idea how to deal with a locked Donnelly.
Ciarán Ó Tuama — I was devastated when they went to London. That Ivernia gig was terrible from my point of view. I was talking to Donnelly afterwards, I didn’t walk out with Cathal and Sean, I walked out with Donnelly and Ricky, I was pissed off with Cathal and Sean that they didn’t take command of it and tell people to cop on. Cathal was pissed off, he didn’t know how to control it, it had gone daft. At the end of the night I went home really disappointed, but of course I didn’t see the bigger picture. The bigger picture was the start of their next stage, great new songs, a great new vision for the band. Maybe it gave them the confidence that this new sound could survive on its own. It was great and it did and it grew from there.
Mark Healy — The last time I really remember them playing in Cork as a duo, before they moved [laughing] to the mainland, was in Sir Henry’s, this was before the Ivernia gig. A group of us had gone up, it was in the old Sir Henry’s where you walked in the door and the stage, instead of being in front of you, was on the left hand side, the bar was on the right. It was the usual thing, Cathal would stand on the left and Sean on the right. The drum machine would take off and they’d play away. Everything was going normally, they played a few new songs, drum machine trundling along. All of a sudden they play ‘Dig Me Up’ with Sean singing. I can remember looking around the place because we couldn’t work out who was actually singing, [laughing] it was a very surreal moment, looking for the mystery vocalist. Normally it was Cathal giving it everything that he had, and to hear Sean O’Hagan actually start singing and playing at the same time was just fantastic. It was really, really good, from that moment on they just blew me away. This came out of nowhere and suddenly everything made perfect sense. And then they were gone…
© Paul McDermott 2018, All Rights Reserved
Part 2 — The Rough Trade Years (is here)
© Paul McDermott 2018, All Rights Reserved
A special tribute to Nigel Grainge who passed a way on 11 June, 2017. Nigel founded Ensign Records in 1976 and released…www.mixcloud.com
On this episode I'm joined by Niall McCormick and Dr Ciarán Swan the curators of the Green Sleeves exhibition currently…www.mixcloud.com
Two of the compilers of Quare Groove Vol. 1, John Byrne and Jeremy Murphy, join me for a chat about putting the album…www.mixcloud.com
© Paul McDermott 2018, All Rights Reserved
The story of Finbarr Donnelly and his bands Nun Attax, Five Go Down To the Sea? and Beethoven — An Oral History by Paul…medium.com
An Oral History of Stump, the Anglo-Irish experimental, rock band from the 1980s by Paul McDermottmedium.com
© Paul McDermott 2018, All Rights Reserved