Archive for September, 2011

Worlds Apart

Continuing my ‘albums that never make it on to greatest albums list’ I decided to cast an eye on the Subhumans. Now before I start I do need to clarify that there were two bands with this moniker: one from Canada and the other from England. The band I am writing about is from England. I could, if I so wished, have concentrated on nearly any release by this band such is the quality of their work and in the future I may review another but for the purposes of this blog I am concentrating on the album ‘Worlds Apart’.

Released in 1985 on their own record label Bluurg the Subs were out of time with the commercial industry that existed around them. In the world of Wham, Madonna and Phil Collins, this band was as welcome as Keith Moon lecturing at a driving safety course.  The album starts with a heart beat bassline on the instrumental entitled ‘33322’ which fades into ‘British Disease.’ Lead vocalist and main lyric writer Dick Lucas rips into a system that has produced an underclass of people hell bent on rioting. Goading the British establishment he proclaims ‘you thought this country was so great, nobody could ever hate the way the system treated them and then you wonder why they burned your buildings down.’ It seems that Britain still has some of the same problems today, unfortunately it no longer has voices in musical culture that shows a way in which  to harness this anger and, in turn, turn it into something productive. The band (Bruce on guitar, Phil on Bass and Trotsky on drums) back up their main man with a frantic guitar and bass riff driven by razor sharp drumming. The opening track spells out the mission: this is a state of the union polemic from the neglected underground.

‘Heads of State’ follows and imagines a political world where those that rule simply replace their head with a new when the situation dictates. Lucas could see that the politics of pure spin was just around the corner and things were gonna get worse. The guitar swings and is reminiscent of a folk type song and again matches the singer’s observations. Moving on the world of cheap booze, cheap cigarettes and cheaper sex is put under the microscope and found wanting in the song entitled ‘Apathy.’ The riff is a killer and the chorus is a staccato burst that lifts the song to another place.  Next up is the Reggae tinged ‘Fade Away’ where Lucas implores the listener to live their life before it is over. The theme of mortality looms large in this tune but then we are back to matters temporal. ‘Businessman’ continues the relentless attack with the bands ire focusing on the money hungry yuppie culture of the 1980s. The pacy overdriven riff propels the song along. It nearly skims across the rhythm section and the band again adds a stop/start component which foregrounds a tight unit, one that was on top of their game.

In my mind, one of the strongest songs on the album is ‘Someone is Lying.’ It is such a dark song which, concentrates on workers who have to get rid of nuclear waste. The negligence of the state in ensuring the safety of the workers leads to cancer. A stabbing guitar captures the mood and the looping bass underpins the whole. Lucas is an astute observer of the worst aspects of human nature and shows the way in which big business slimes out of it’s obligation to those they employ. They inform the press that the deaths are caused by ‘coal dust, it’s cancer, it’s normal they say’.  There is hope, for a lone voice cries out ‘these people are dying, someone is lying’. The song sums up Thatcher and Reganite economics: fuck the little guy, screw the worker-the future belongs to me! (To borrow a phrase from a famous musical).

Go buy it , find it on youtube, contact the band themselves or do what I used to do back in the day and record it on to tape (Home recording is killing music-remember those stickers on your vinyl album ha ha the fuckers never saw what was coming). Other highlights on this album include ‘Pigman’, Get to work on time’ and straight-line thinking’ to name but three. Right, when you listen to it you’ll think ‘Dick can’t sing’ and ‘the production is a bit tinny (it is they had fuck all money). But consider all the cocksuckers in the music business that can’t sing! I hope that somewhere in this world there are teens that want to set the world to rights and that couldn’t give a fuck about the mass produced puke fest that we call music these days. That somewhere they find this band and album and that it does for them what it did for me: change my life, make them pick up an instrument and make some noise before it is too late. Yes, somewhere in music lies hope, lies stories, lies voices that are different and lies a road map to a different future. To me punk changed my life, got me to think and eventually propelled me to university and beyond. It showed me I could be more than I ever thought possible-it remains to me one of the most positive and life affirming art forms this beautiful planet has produced. To Dick, Bruce, Phil and Trotsky wherever you are I would just like to say ‘Thank You’.

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Dispatches

The queue stretches from the door of the hall, snakes outward coiling itself around the adjoining building and tails out into the car-park. My eyes are dead and with music blaring from my iPod I tried, in vain to transcend the scene but I can’t and everyone else in the queue can’t. Queues are terrible and in Ireland we can’t do it properly as we always break into two, like a hair with a split end. This queue reminds me of the one I stood in as a child, the one with my brother in the 1980s. That one came out from the old building by the library in Newbridge and stretched out onto the road.  Yes, the queue is the dole queue; a deadening place where nearly a half a million people shuffle…

  A few days before I read the paper and noted that they are softening up the public for the inevitable cut in the social that will come in the next budget. Apparently, single mothers are to blame, foreigners are to blame, and anyone is to blame for the state we are in. Internet forums are ablaze with posters decrying the fact that a man on the social had the temerity to spend his dole on a packet of fags. ‘Why not give them vouchers?’ They cry and they sneer at the ‘dole proles.’ Somewhere in the background you can nearly hear someone scream ‘let them eat cake’. The wits of wifi, the intelligentsia of the internet, those Kafka’s of the keyboard thrill us with bon mots about the antics of the legion of tracksuit wearers and their drinking habits, for if ya don’t know it is these people that are the reason for societies ill. Laugh? I nearly puked.

The first thing you start to lose on the line is the ability to sleep properly, then you lose your confidence, you retreat into apathy and then you can’t see a way out. Every morning I sit and wait for a phone to ring to give me forty minutes in the job I love. (Before anyone asks: schools ring when someone is absent, I do knock up, I do make myself known, I do send out CVs and I look in the mirror in the morning and repeat positive mantras from books entitled ‘Feel the Chicken Soup for the Soul and Eat it Anyway). Every morning thus far has resulted in disappointment. I send off CVs and don’t get replies, I sit in interviews and don’t get replies and then I start to wonder ‘Is it me?’ Then that man takes up residence in the living room of my mind, I call him The Cynic he ain’t an affable chap and he whispers that everything is useless. He told me the other day that ‘the seven years you spent in college weren’t worth a fuck’. He is a dark one.

…the coiling queue begins to move and soon I’ll be gone…till next month.

What I’m trying to say is ‘I miss you’

There is an old cliché that goes ‘if  the walls could talk’ which, leads me to think of our relationship to the physical environment that surrounds us. We invest a lot in that in which we live,be it in our own house or our own town. We develop an emotional connection with the inanimate and bestow upon it an identity, so much so that buildings, possessions become like old friends. I mention all this because I was through my old hometown the other day, or I should say the little that is left of it. I am a Curragh man and by that I mean from the Curragh Camp not the surrounds, and soon enough there will come a time when there are no Curragh people left. Why? Well ever since the mid 1980s they have been slowly pulling down the place and with it removing the people that used to live on it. The actual physical places that I grew up in will be no more. All that will be left is that trick of the mind that we call memories. At this stage most of the buildings that held a special place in my heart are gone, the first house I ever lived in is gone, the first place I ever kissed a girl is gone and the first place I ever got drunk is gone. It wouldn’t hurt so much but it seems that few people really care but they should. These are places that meant something and in a funny way I think that buildings can hold some kind of energy, the energy of everyone that every lived there. My first home, and the place that my heart recognises most as home even though I only lived there for six years, is seared so much into the fabric of who I am that I can still see it in my minds eye as if I was only in it yesterday. It was an old red brick Victorian house which was part of a terrace, which was made up of three blocks. When it would rain heavily the red brick would become crimson and ever since I can remember I associate red-brick with the word home.

Mc Donagh Tce: After the rain

Home, the very word is intrinsic to being Irish-it signifies land, it signifies belonging, our history recalls the plantations, the land wars and the hope that one day we would be unified under that one word: home. My house was a rented home shared by six of us, this was before my brother was born and we had to move due to lack of space. I shared a room with my two older brothers; a box room out the back and out of which I would stare out the window and look at the phases of the moon. From that window you could see the rows and rows of washing lines, one for each family and on dry days the white sheets would flutter against the wind. We had a little backyard in which my mother and I would sit and she would tell me things about life, teaching me the things I would need as I grew older. I can remember my first Christmas there, the first time I encountered snow (1982)  and the first time I was introduced to my younger brother all of which, are connected to that house. Most of all I remember the families, the people I grew up with and the sense of belonging to a community. For all the happiness it brought there will forever be attached to it a great sadness. The day I heard my mother was going to die I went to the steps of that house and ate my heart out with grief-the type of grief that comes when you have no hope left. Not that long after my Ma went to that great gig in the sky they knocked down the old place and alas it is no more. And so it is for the Curragh Camp, most of it is gone and what remains is in tatters and as I said soon enough all the people will be gone…but what a people we were.