Learn & Sing
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Learn & Sing

The Magpie

the story of STANO

an oral history by Paul McDermott

Musings on: Dublin punk and post-punk — Vox magazine —U2 and Mother Records — My Bloody Valentine —Michael O’Shea — Alto Studios — Roger Doyle —Micro Disney’s Giordaí Ua Laoghaire and more…

Introduction

In 2018 Stano’s 1983 debut album Content to Write in I Dine Weathercraft was reissued by AllChival (All City Records’ reissue label). In 2020 AllChival issued Anthology 1982–1994 a compilation of Stano’s first four albums. The original records have been exchanging hands for lots of money in recent years so these are timely releases. Stano’s debut album of avant-garde electronic music was years ahead of its time and quite rightly deserves its place in the pantheon of seminal Irish post-punk releases. Stano started out as a member of Dublin’s legendary The Threat before releasing his debut single in 1982. Punk was the great enabler: Stano couldn’t play an instrument but he did write poetry, he also had two tape recorders. He would bounce field recordings from one tape machine to another and add spoken word performances. He recorded band rehearsals and cut up the jams he liked: by his own admission he was a magpie, soaking up influences and regurgitating them. Never one to sit still, he has since released over a dozen albums of startlingly, uncompromising original music.

Over the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Stano on a number of occasions. He joined me up in Dublin City FM for a really long chat one night a few years back and more recently he contributed to No Journeys End — the story of Michael O’Shea, my documentary about the late experimental musician. Whilst recording for that documentary we spent a great afternoon revisiting the home of Alto Studios in Robert Emmet House in Milltown. Below is some of what transpired over the course of those meetings.

Stano — Anthology 1982–1994 (2020, Allchival/All City Records)

Punk

When I heard ‘New Rose’ it just clicked in.

I was listening to Suzi Quatro, Status Quo all this rock stuff and then I heard The Damned. I got into punk around 1976, I first heard ‘New Rose’ on John Peel, hearing that twigged my interest in the music. Four or five weeks later I was watching the British press and came across The Pistols, that’s where my interest in the whole thing stemmed from. I ran into a few punks around Dublin, I hadn’t seen any punks in Dublin at all and they hadn’t seen another punk until they met me. I was making my own tapes at home, I had two tape recorders and I’d tape stuff off the television, I’d tape myself going to the pub, I’d be bouncing one tape recorder to the other so that’s what I was at, this was maybe six months before I knew about punk, so I was about 15 or 16 years of age. When I heard ‘New Rose’ it just clicked in. Everybody thinks about punk rock and the hair and all that, but there were all these really strange bands around at the time, experimental bands.

Taken from a 1988 Stano bio. Image by Tom Mc Loughlin. Used with Permission.

The Threat

My role was playing the synth and generating noise basically, I couldn’t play the instrument.

Myself and a friend called Shane O’Neill, not the guy out of Blue in Heaven, decided to get a band together and we advertised in Hot Press: [laughing] “People into Punk Rock and Bob Dylan.” One guy was curious, a guy called Vinnie Murphy, he was in a band called The Sinners. We went to meet them in a pub and met Maurice Foley. We got talking away and I just clicked with Maurice, I got on really well with him. Two others broke away and went on to form Chant! Chant! Chant! When the lads broke away I was just hanging around with Maurice.

The Threat — ‘Lullaby In C’/’High Cost of Living’ (produced by Donal Lunny and The Threat) (1980, One Web Reocrds, 7" — 001WE). Images by Tom Mc Loughlin from 45Cat used with permission.

I used to be just hanging around outside the door listening to the music, I’d mention about this riff or that riff. Eventually the band broke up and I couldn’t play an instrument so I went out and bought a synthesizer. Maurice heard that I had one and asked me to join the band. That’s how I got involved in music.

A & B Side Labels for ‘Lullaby In C’/’High Cost of Living’. Images Image by Tom Mc Loughlin from 45Cat used with permission.

I used to go along to the rehearsal room, the band would jam, there were different drummers and the band was put back together again. Deirdre Creed from The Boy Scoutz played bass, she’d later join a band in England. My role was playing the synth and generating noise basically, I couldn’t play the instrument. I started arranging music, I’d pick up on the rhythm and the drums, they had a tape recorder and I started to tape things. I’d come back and say, I like that bit here, I like this bit there.

The Threat eventually put out a single . We used to play the Magnet, we played with The Outcasts. I saw Nun Attax once or twice in the Magnet and somewhere else in Dublin, I’m not sure. They were an amazing band. I went to see Micro Disney in the Magnet and the main thing that fascinated me about them was Giordaí (Ua Laoighre). 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.

Dark Space

Dark Space/Project — to question the context for art in public space, 24 hour non-stop festival. Project Arts Centre, 16 February 1979

The Project ran a 24 hour gig, John Peel came over for it. PIL were meant to play but cancelled and then Throbbing Gristle also cancelled.

In Dublin 9–22 Feb, 1979. Image from BrandNewRetro. Poster for Dark Space at the Project from U2theearlydayz.

The Threat were playing, U2 were there, The Virgin Prunes were also there. It’s a bit of a haze now, lots of different bands, Casablanca Moon played, Gareth Lee’s (Jacknife Lee) first band. All our contemporaries were there, we were all sort of hanging around together, we were doing all different bits and pieces.

“The crowd, John Stephenson of the Project told me, totaled about 800 over the 26 hours, but at the reduced price of £4 a head (owing to the non appearance of John Lydon & Throbbing Gristle) he said that the festival would lose a lot of money. Invariably, there were many small problems, such as the sound not always being correct or the music drowning out the soundtracks of the films which were shown throughout the festival. But these minor cribs amount to little when compared to the peace, the good music & the general good atmosphere which permeated the East Essex Street building. Even the Project workers remained in good spirits at the snacks counter though they were there for 12 hour shifts.”

taken from a review by Joe Breen in The Irish Times

“In fact, the non appearance of Public Image was a boon. Bereft of their presence and the weekend punks they would have attracted, the flow wasn’t distorted nor energies distracted by that overriding event, instead, but for the presence of The Mekons. “Dark Space” was a completely local event, allowing the bands to sow the seeds of self-conscious community… Those who were there know its importance, in five years time, those who weren’t will be clamouring to pretend they were there and Project will discover they’d had as large audience as filled the G.P.O. “Dark Space” was the first Irish rock gig for the eighties. Jump aboard.”

taken from a review by Bill Graham in Hot Press.

Vox magazine

I was under the influence of punk and it was “be original, be yourself”, there were no rules.

Around this time we ran into Dave Clifford, we became friends with Dave. He came over to interview The Threat. He was only a few issues into Vox magazine at the time. There were a few fanzines around at the time but Vox was really well put together, it looked really well. The Threat broke up, I was at a loose end and I decided to record a single and I’d become friends with Dave through The Threat.

Dave Clifford’s Vox magazine — Issues: #1, #2, #3, #5 & #6. 15 issues were published between 1980 and 1983. Images Paul McD. All 15 issues are soon to be reissued by HiTone books — see tweet below.
@dubwherewereyou

I went down to Vinnie’s house and sat there one day in the sitting room, he was jamming away on piano, I said what’s that you’re playing? I came back the next day with a tape recorder and taped what he was doing. I went home and pieced something together from one tape recorder to another. I’d been writing poetry and bits of words but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was under the influence of punk and it was “be original, be yourself”, there were no rules. So I started to gather all of these musical ideas and ran into Dave Clifford. Dave interviewed me and put a few of my poems in Vox magazine. Dave started telling me about musique concrète and all this type of thing. He started introducing me to all these things, modern classical.

Vox Enterprises

I had a little poem and I just spoke over the noise.

Dave set up a label and the first single was my debut single on the Vox label — ‘Room’. It was recorded in Alto Studios, in the basement of Robert Emmet’s house. Terry Cromer had the studio there and he had also recorded with Mircodisney. It was a grand piano and a drum machine and I was throwing wooden chairs around the room making noise. I had a little poem and I just spoke over the noise.

Stano — ‘Room’/’Town’ (1982, Vox Enterprises, 7" — V.E.1). Images by Tom Mc Loughlin from 45Cat used with permission.

I didn’t distinguish between music and art because I didn’t know any better really, when I was being introduced to all these things it was just music to me, I started to hear about Philip Glass and Steve Reich, I didn’t necessarily understand it but I was always interested, I was always drawn to it.

A & B Side Labels for ‘Room’/’Town’. Image by Tom Mc Loughlin from 45Cat used with permission.

When I was younger I didn’t have a record player and I wouldn’t have bought records. I would have been listening to the Top 40 basically. I can remember my sister bought a Bob Dylan record and she hated it so she gave it to me and I hated it when I first heard it but it started to sink in, I listened to that for about three months. The next album I bought was Horses by Patti Smith.

Advertisement for Stano’s debut 7". Image from Vox magazine.

I’ve been trying to trace back my interest in music and figure out the little threads and what came first but Dave Clifford was the real influence because he was the one that opened my eyes to all different types of music. Dave was interviewing The Fall and Lydia Lunch and all these left-field bands so I started to become aware of that music.

Three hundred foot monster floating over Cork

Then Giordaí plugged in his guitar and he started making these weird noises.

The best piece of music that I ever heard was by Giordaí and I only heard it once. He blew my mind with it, he said I’m going to play you something and I’ll just explain to you what it is first.

Giordaí Ua Laoghaire of Micro Disney on stage at the Magnet, Pearse Street, Dublin, 28 February 1981. Photograph by Nicky White. Used with permission.

He said, “I woke up in the morning and there was a three hundred foot monster floating over Cork.”

I said, “OK”

He said, “Now have a listen to this.”

He put on this cassette, and I heard this Bump, Bump, Bump noise of someone running down a stairs, the noise of dogs barking and howling and then the noise of a motorbike driving off in the distance and then coming back again. Then Giordaí plugged in his guitar and he started making these weird noises. I had this sort of Salvador Dalí image in my head of this big monster, and that’s all it was but to me that was the most powerful piece of music I’ve ever heard and it was nothing really — to me when I’m making music I’m looking for fragments of sound and little ideas and squeaks, that’s what I’m interested in.

Debut solo gig

So my reputation ended up being associated with the avant-garde, or the weird or the strange.

My first solo gig ever was in the Project. Dave had put out the single ‘Room’ and he was putting on a night with Microdisney (Da Vox Irrational Cabaret). He said, I’m putting out your single so you have to do a gig.

Taken from the Project Arts Centre’s listings flyer. Image from John Byrne.

I was afraid of my life — I didn’t want to go on stage. I was thinking, how will I do a gig? A guy called Donal Ruane said, “I’ll make a film for you.” So I used to sit on stage or I’d be on my knees reciting poetry and you had these two Salvador Dalí movies being screened behind me. A lot of my early gigs were just like that with backing tracks, I played the October Gallery in London and toured around galleries with a backing track and a film. I can remember doing a gig in a place called the Tabernacle with Nigel Rolfe.

I had done a gig a few weeks previously with The Virgin Prunes and Bauhaus in Brixton and we went from there to doing this gig in The Tabernacle, a new great venue. We were sitting there at quarter past six and no-one had turned up, by seven there was still no-one there. There had been a few hundred people at the gig in the Academy, so we were thinking, “What’s going on?” We couldn’t figure it out, there was a few people who came in and said we paid in so you must go on stage. I went on stage and after about 10 minutes I just got bored and walked off stage and sat down and started looking at my own gig, [laughing] I hadn’t realised what Donal had been doing, he’d been using these really heavy film clips, fucked up pornography and post mortems and all this collage stuff. I was always wondering why people were shocked at my gigs, [laughing] I had never actually seen the visuals. So my reputation ended up being associated with the avant-garde, or the weird or the strange. But every time I met another musician their influence could seep into what I was doing. I never distinguished whether it was a guy from a cabaret band or a metal band or punk or a classical musician — it didn’t matter to me, it never mattered to me. I was like a magpie.

Content to Write in I Dine Weathercraft

I didn’t play an instrument on it, I don’t play an instrument.

I did my first album in Alto, I was just pulling in people that I knew, anybody that I liked. I had met Roger Doyle in the Project and I approached him. I had a drum machine with delays on it and he started playing piano. I didn’t play an instrument on it, I don’t play an instrument. The studio is my instrument really, I was doing stuff that would now be regarded as sampling. So I was sampling bits and pieces. I’d be sitting looking at guys jamming away and I’d be recording. I always thought that the jams were better, more interesting. I still work like that today, [laughing] get people in and we’re recording before they realise it almost. That’s where I get my ingredients from.

Stano — Content to Write in I Dine Weathercraft (Allchival — All CIty Records, 2018, ACSLPx1). Image from All City Records.

I heard Dave Fanning play Michael O’Shea’s track ‘Kerry’, I thought it was one of the most beautiful pieces of music I had ever heard. There was something otherworldly about it. I was midway through recording my first album and I was walking around by Trinity College and I heard this amazing music drifting on the wind. I followed the music until I found it and it was Michael O’Shea, sitting in a doorway. I was just transfixed by what he was doing, he was bald, he looked like a Hare Krishna, he was wearing Indian robes and I waited until he was finished and I approached him and said, “How’re you Michael, my name’s Stano I’m recording an album.” He recognised my name because he’d done an interview two days earlier with Dave Clifford and myself and Microdisney had been mentioned. I met him outside Trinity the next day and we got on the bus out to the studio. People were staring at him.

Stano at Robert Emmet House (former home of Alto Studios), July 2018. Photograph by Paul McDermott.

I was programming drum tracks with Terry Cromer and Vinnie Murphy, it was an 808 drum machine, but as we were programming it I had been turning the buttons and we got a kind of warped Indian sound and I was running the drum machine through amps. Michael just came in and jammed. When he was doing his own stuff he used a lot of phasers and shifters and things like that. Because the basement of Robert Emmet’s house was so big you got a very natural reverb sound that was just beautiful. So we ended up recording Michael with nothing on it and I would have put effects onto it later. He had a few sandwiches, a cup of tea and we gave him a few bob, he was in and out in about two hours. I never saw him again.

Stano feat. Michael O’Shea — Seance Of A Kondalike [All City Records]

The first album was picked up for distribution by Rough Trade in England. It was the early days of My Bloody Valentine and we used to hang around together, we used to gig around a lot together. They ended up going to Germany and I used to write to them. I had my second album finished, Seducing Decadence In Morning Treecrash, I had nobody to put it out. Colm Ó Cíosóig told me that they were involved in a label in Berlin so to send it over.

Stano — Content to Write in I Dine Weathercraft (Back Cover) (Allchival — All CIty Records, 2018, ACSLPx1). Image from All City Records.

Dossier Records then picked up my first album and then a label in Britain, Magnet Records picked up the second album. The first three albums came out on the Berlin label.

Mother Records

I just put my head down for about 10 years and didn’t want to be involved in music anymore.

Newspaper cutting of Stano. Image from Tom Mc Loughlin.

I was working away on Only, the fourth album, and U2 had set up Mother Records and Bono had heard one or two tracks and he approached me and I thought, great OK, here’s a big label a big band, there might be more exposure. Island Records wanted to license it but they wanted to see a band but of course I didn’t have a band. So I ended up with Garry Sullivan, Mark Young and Gerry Leonard from Hinterland. We did a gig in the Underground. It didn’t suit me though, I was just never comfortable on stage.

Stano — Only (Mother Records, 1989, LP and CD, MUM891). Image stanoarts.com.

The whole Mother Records thing, it just didn’t work out. The album got some great reviews but I just put my head down for about 10 years and didn’t want to be involved in music anymore, I just started to paint. In the last few years I’ve started to pick up old bits of equipment and that’s rekindled my interest in it.

Flyer for Stano’s 1988 residency at Sides Dance Club, 26 Dame Street. Image from Tom Mc Loughlin.
When Life Slips Away — Stano (Only — Mother Records, 1989)

In Between Silence

In a way it’s very punk, it’s gone full circle.

I’ve released four or five albums in the last 10 years. The latest project is In Between Silence. It happened by accident. I’ve a Dutch friend, a guitar player who comes over and plays with me now and again and we were building these instrumental tracks. Brian Palm from the Mary Stokes Band was coming in playing harmonica on some of the tracks. We were having a break, having a cup of tea and Brian said that himself and Mary were traveling across America and had stopped off at an Indian reservation. I stopped him and I asked the engineer to play one of the instrumental tracks, we opened up a new track and Brian told his story. There was just something about it. I took the piece home and played it to my wife and it just had a really great image about it, the music and the story really weaved together.

John Duffy — Wet with Starlight Rain (2015)

A friend called John Duffy ended up with leukemia and I called to him a few weeks before he died. He told me that he regretted that we had never recording anything together in the studio. So he came into the studio and I told him that I was doing a spoken word album, I had another of these instrumental tracks and it was such a powerful day but yet one of the worst days in the studio — listening to your best friend telling his end of life stories. It was so powerful, but it wasn’t self-pitying. We ended up doing an album called Wet with Starlight Rain and we had an exhibition of John’s paintings. That was really the start of In Between Silence.

Stano — Selected Discography (In Between Silence, STANO 2017. Memory Distorts a Life, Loscann Records 2009. Blind Sound, Loscann Records 2010.) Images from stanoarts.com.

So from there I recorded with Dermot Bolger, Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright, Robert Ballagh and others. In a way it’s very punk, it’s gone full circle back to my first single which was just grand piano and spoken word.

Stano’s Content To Write In I Dine Weathercraft and Anthology 1982–1994 are available from Allchival Records.

Further Reading:

© Paul McDermott 2018, All Rights Reserved

Further Listening

No Journeys End — the story of Michael O’Shea. Produced by Paul McDermott
Lights! Camel! Action! — the story of Stump. Produced by Paul McDermott for UCC 98.3FM.
Get That Monster Off the Stage — the story of Finbarr Donnelly and his bands Nun Attax, Five Go Down to the Sea? and Beethoven. Produced by Paul McDermott.
Iron Fist in Velvet Glove — the story of Microdisney, produced by Paul McDermott.

© Paul McDermott 2018, All Rights Reserved

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Paul McDermott

Paul McDermott

educator — broadcaster — documentary producer — writer