Pay to play…please.

Living on the bottom rung of music is a difficult place to be. Starting out as a young musician you have aspirations to make a career out of that which you love. However, Ireland doesn’t really have the avenues to make a living out of music. There are many reasons for this but there are three major ones that I believe hamper the scene and creativity in general: (1) a lack of dedicated places that put on original music (2) too many bands and (3) unwillingness to pay bands. The first two points are difficult and impossible to solve respectively. Pubs are the venues for gigs in Ireland and the punter wants music that they recognize. On the second point, you can’t stop people playing so, an overcrowded market exists. Point three is the kicker and it is the one that really stifles the Irish musician.

Firstly, we all have to admit that we have devalued music. All of us. We don’t think we have to pay for music. Spotify, YouTube etc. etc. pay very little we all know this and now we are beginning to see the fruit of this as even successful bands have to tour constantly to make money. ‘Well screw them’ you might say ‘they have enough money already’. That may be the case but I’m thinking more about the bottom rung musicians and in Ireland, when you are there well money doesn’t exist.

‘What system does exist?’ I hear you ask. For the most part, exploitation. A tad dramatic? No not really. You see I come from a working class background and my parents couldn’t afford to bankroll my dreams. ‘Never stop believing’ is easy to say but let’s be honest that doesn’t pay for guitars, amps, PAs, strings and petrol. Look at point two again. Yes, too many bands. You see there will always be a band that will play if you don’t. Starting out I never cared about money, of course I didn’t I was 14 when I started. But when I turned 18 I was expected to work. Nothing dulls a dream like an empty pocket and nothing kicks you in the stones like working on songs only to be told: ‘We will give you the gig , we can’t pay you but (and every bottom rung musician knows the next line) it’ll be great exposure!’ We all believe this at the start but only a fool believes it down the road. Or so you would think.

I’m writing this because I believe that most musicians live in a bubble or suffer from a psychosis. I’ll never forget my girlfriend asking me ‘How much did you get for that gig?’ I was in my thirties and playing in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. I’ll never forgot the look on her face when I replied ‘Nothing’ (I lie we each got one pint). She looked at me like I was mad. I was. You see that look pulled me out of the reverie but to be honest that had begun to happen a long time before.

It happened one night in a pub in the inner city, I won’t name names here as I’m classy like that ah what the fuck they probably need the exposure. It was The Mercantile and we were waiting to go on and the drummer turned to me and he said: ‘I’m sick of playing up and down in the same places for nothing’. He looked so dejected that I knew that night his heart was gone out of the band and truth be told mine had begun to. It wasn’t really the band. It was more that I had to try to hold down a job and then get to a venue and play to about fifty people who didn’t really care. I’m from the punk school of music so I put on a show but it was hard. What was harder was the realization that when you don’t pay for something you don’t appreciate it. We weren’t getting paid, and we weren’t getting paid for all the hard work that we had done and because of that people treated it as next to nothing. Harsh? Yes. True? Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

I’ll leave it on this, I was in another band and we got an opportunity to appear in a short film. You know the story, it’ll be great exposure yadda, yadda. So, I ring to find what we would need (as I’ve never been in a movie) and the most ignorant waste of space has the temerity to start getting snotty with me as I’m asking are they providing a PA for us to play through. He starts to launch into an attack about how I should know and why am I ringing. I stop him dead in his tracks and tell him in no uncertain terms to never talk to me like I’m an errant child and remind him we are doing him the favour. Against my better judgement I borrow a PA to bring with us to the shoot. We drive fifty miles to a pub at the designated time of one o’clock. No one is there. When they do arrive three hours later we set up etc by eight that evening we have still not started the shoot. I talk to a guy back stage ( I don’t want to embarrass my band mates) he has a word and eventually at around 9:00 the shoot begins. It’s all over by ten but we have to pack up and get back. We were promised food. That’s all we asked. Food. They bought eight pizzas for about eighty people. I got one slice. I arrived home at one. I did twelve hours for a slice of pizza. That was two and a half years ago. The film has never been released and the band have since split. Exposure? When you’re on the bottom there ain’t no such thing!


A dimming

Long the road
hard the head
you and I
share this bed
take the blame
hide these feelings.

Hardest truth
is your eyes
the rain that falls
whispered lies
little heart
beats no feeling.

Never said
never tried
what is shame?
Our little lives?
Try again
keep believing

The existentialism of the here and now.

The time spent chasing shadows of the past can be overwhelming. Labyrinth like we get lost in musing. That’s the thing about psychogeography it has a claustrophobia that, at times, encloses and suffocates. Hometowns have a hegemony all of their own and can constrain. You find yourself living up to a set of rules that no longer apply to the way in which you live your life today. Paul Weller once wrote: ‘ the world is your oyster but your future’s a clam, it’s got you in its grip before you’re born’ and in a way that can be community. A script is written for you. When I took my first tentative steps into third-level education I signed up for a year long course. I remember we were given a talk and they said that friends/family/ partners may not understand why you want to pursue this path and that they could resent you for a time. Notions. They say that in Ireland sometimes when you try to improve yourself: ‘S/he has notions’ they mean notions above themselves. You can be many things but don’t get notions. Don’t think you are above…sure wasn’t it far from art and literature you were born?

Tendrils grabbing. Pulling you back down. You see I wasn’t born that far from art and literature. I used my local library, I talked to my parents and family, I had my music and I had that space in my head that was me. I couldn’t march to the soldiers song and I make no apology for that, it wasn’t my life and I wasn’t made to conform. I love where I am from, my previous post deals with that, but I remember two things my first teacher taught me: ‘Never be afraid to speak your mind, never be afraid to be yourself and never let anyone think they are better than you’ and secondly: ‘ You can’t live in the past, you can’t mourn what has gone.’ How wise my teacher was and how hard it has been trying to live up to all that. Yet, our teachers pass on knowledge in an attempt to equip us with the tools to survive. Of course my first teacher was my mother so she knew what was out there waiting. She slipped into the ghosts of our town and I escaped. We are more than place, more than community, more than a script. The existential dreams of the self and in doing so creates a new  self. I am me and I apologise to no one.

Where swallows sing: psychogeography, lament and loss.

You probably don’t think of the crack of rifle fire and the rumble of tanks when you think of home. Growing up on an army base you might think I would, and I do somewhat, but more than that I think of birdsong and the trees when I feel home. I say feel home because I think of home as an emotion, a geography of the psychological. Psychogeography is the way in which an environment plays on the emotions and behaviour of the person. Strictly speaking it had its roots in the situationist urban landscape but whenever home returns to me I think of the psychogeographic.



Karl Marx once said that people can see nothing around them that is not in their image, everything speaks to them of themselves. In the Curragh Camp I see myself in the animate and inanimate objects of my youth. They form part of my being and my being forms part of the Curragh Camp. The patch of land where the barbed wire coiled like a snake ready to bite with its rusty teeth. We would tie a rope around the branch of the giant tree, pulling it taut, letting it go then we would swing upwards and outwards over the wire. I was always terrified. Not too far away there was an old toilet, bald on top from the collapsed roof, we held contests to see whose piss could reach furthest up the wall. Urine spraying everywhere.

As the brightness of a summer night gave way to purple tinged dusk the cawing of hundreds of crows settling in for the night would assault the ears. A great cacophony that heralded bedtime was near. Swallows would nest in the eaves of the houses, swooping dangerously close to the roads in between the blocks. As summer sneaked away school sauntered in. Who remembers now the little path where a gang of us walked as we wound our way out of MacDonagh? Memory pain.

Teenage years spent in the disused houses as the old lady began to creak under the weight of a new world coming. We kissed in the shadows, cigarettes glowing in the dark winter nights, love was proclaimed on Lover’s Rock and the plantation bore silent witness to the fumbling hands of lustful youth. Bon Scott RIP AC/DC graffiti on the laundrette wall. Traces of an empire fading in the pencil lines of men that would go off to see the blood of Europe spread on Flanders field. Some never to feel the warmth of home again.Sitting on the hill of the ranges with Kildare spread out under your feet and the sky stretching forever. Everywhere I see my image: our image.

It is the stillness that gets me now. Noise only existing in my half-formed memories and fragments of dreams. Home populated by absence rather than wholeness. Each time returning I promise it will be the last, however we are forever linked. It is a symbiosis. It is dreamtime. We are a people fading. The last of us receding. I wonder did the migrating swallows think: ‘where did we they go’ when the terrace that was ours and theirs disappeared?  I wonder where they sleep now? I wonder do they dream of us like we dream of them?

Dedicated to the memory of my childhood friend Anthony Frahill 1976-2017. Rest softly in the dreams of our hometown.

A wave that breaks.

Generation X was the label of my generation. We were/are the slackers, the cynics, the ones that had lost all trust in authority and just kinda shrugged at it all. Well at least that was the cliche. Who knows what we were or are for labels are handed out in an arbitrary fashion usually at the whim of journalists or sociologists. What is true is that the movement known as grunge brought the underground overground as it were. There were many bands involved but there were four that stood out for me: Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Well we all know what happened to Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley of Alice in Chains died after. That left Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell. Unfortunately Chris Cornell died in May. There is a deep sadness that the bands that changed so much lost their frontmen. Of all the four Soundgarden were my favourite and I had the pleasure of seeing them live in Dublin some years back. Sleep well Chris and thank you for the music.

A Wave That Breaks

The remnants of my youth
carried on the updraft of your voice.
It echoed through the rooms of my thoughts.
Images formed of fragments
the possibility of the now,
the slow trudge of an ending
and the beginning of newer age.
What gifts the seer brings
harnessing the whisper to create the scream
showing the believers the worth of their dreams
knowing the unknown
keeping us alive
measuring the distance
of rooms a thousand years wide.


A cathedral for a forgotten god
its altar bare
prayers and incantations unknown,
maybe unanswered. Maybe.
Upon the uneven, undulating wall, a human hand, imperfect man.
‘He had a broken finger’ an anthropologist intones.
Traces of art scattered in the recesses of the land
passively watching the rotting bones.

What is real? the shadow cast or the light?
The physical manifestation or the dream?
God in man or the man in god?
The cave (the Freudian interpretation is clear) wet, but also warm and inviting.
The shadow play sings a song:
man seeking an answer
(there is the obvious Jungian one)
but they knew no Freud, no Jung, no Christ.
Just the cave bear and the dark and the sacrifice.

The movement of the second wave.


All things considered, it can be difficult to explain a love for music that hits you like a sledgehammer falling at great speed from an even greater height. What pushes those of us toward sonic extremism. Everyone out there has their beginning point; their year zero. For me, three great acts really began to push the envelope and opened up the possibility of deafening their audience on the first song: Black Sabbath (dark, brooding and weight), The MC5 (blues, manic and full of possibility) and of course The Stooges (nuts). All three really get in there and fuck about with sound. Sabbath were just weighty and it was no wonder that people thought they were satanists. The MC5 grabbed rock n’ roll by nuts and could riff for the ages and The Stooges well, they just ripped the heart out of the sixties and danced on the corpse. Search and Destroy paved the way for every refusenik and noise merchant that came ever. They reminded us that the guitar was an animal; untameable and brimming with sexual energy. Of course, all three groups dealt with dark themes; political realities, apathy and the encroaching isolation of the 1970s. Out there in sad-sack suburbia the loners and freaks were listening and ready to take it all on board.

You know the first wave story: the boy looks at Johnny and creates a thousand bands. Somewhere among all that comes a group of hippy anarchists that challenge both the mythology of the moment and also Christ, Buddha, Marx, Thatcher, Reagan etc etc. We know them as Crass. God they really can’t play but it is a glorious racket. No chords and the truth. You see some of us like it discordant. The second wave comes and washes over: Black Flag, Dead Kennedy’s, Bad Brains, Minor Threat from the US drive the music on: faster and faster, harder and heavier. Discharge, GBH, The Exploited, Poison Girls, Subhumans from the UK give Cold War Europe its soundtrack. This is street punk, music made is garages, played at house parties, quasi-anarchist, anti-religion, pro-vegan distorted rage. Metal looks on helpless for a moment until the big four of Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer mix the darkness of Sabbath with the adrenaline rush of punk to create thrash metal. You know I’m leaving out loads like Pentagram, Motörhead, Big Black Ministry, Mastodon oh the list goes on.

So why heavy? Why hard? I suppose at the end of the day I like when extremes are in play. I like the drive. I like the way some of it is simple and then I like the way some of it is complex. Above all I like the energy. Rock n’roll is a simple game: you give guitars to teenagers and let them create a movement that is vain and arrogant and then you watch it eat itself. You know for that to happen you can’t really do it unplugged.