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Monday 27 February 2017

how couse got us eating out of his hand

There's nothing more gratifying than to see an artist who, having fallen on hard times, spectacularly pulls it out of the fire. As the singer in A House, Dave Couse was one of the best songwriters and biggest personalities of the Irish music scene in the late '80s and '90s.

I can't think of another Irish group whose first five singles could equal the run of 'Kick Me Again Jesus', 'Snowball Down', 'Heart Happy', 'Call Me Blue' and 'I'll Always Be Grateful', all of which came out in 1987 and '88.

Tough yet vulnerable, witty, self-aware and fiercely independent-minded, A House belong to what some see as a halcyon age of Irish rock, alongside such bands as Microdisney, Fatima Mansions, Blue In Heaven, Something Happens, Stars Of Heaven, Power Of Dreams ...

John Peel was a big fan and asked them to record sessions for his programme. Major label deals in the UK followed with Blanco y Negro and Parlophone signing them up, not to mention an American tour as guests of the immortal Go-Betweens.

Alas, the big break never came, but A House left a legacy of which Couse could be proud: their third album, I Am The Greatest (1991), was voted by one set of critics the third-best Irish album of all time, while cult single 'Endless Art' was playlisted on MTV and another single, 'Here Come The Good Times', was re-recorded by the Irish soccer team and various local celebs, and used as the team's anthem at the 2002 World Cup.

A House was eventually taken off the market in 1997, when they played an emotionally charged final concert in the Olympia -- quite a few quiet tears were shed by fans of a certain age.

Couse returned as a solo artist in 2003, with the album Genes, an emotionally raw set of songs that saw him try to come to terms with the passing of his father -- and the birth of his daughter. It was also notable for a peachy cover of John Cale's 'Close Watch'.

Four years later, he returned with a new backing band The Impossible for The World Should Know, which earned him two nominations at the Meteor Awards. But it seemed the musical landscape in which Couse found himself had changed. The world had moved on.

At something of a low ebb in his career, his one consolation was that his weekly Sunday-night radio show on Today FM, The Lighthouse, has kept his name out there.

But now, out of the blue, Couse has returned, Phoenix-like, with -- shout it from the rooftops -- the finest album of his career. No, really.

Released on 1969 Records, Alonewalk is a total revelation -- the songs are written in a more classical mode, with nuanced cello (courtesy of Rike Soller) and electric guitar (courtesy of A House alumnus Fergal Bunbury) embroidering Couse's evocative, soulful piano melodies.

The lyrics are contemplative and wise -- and sung in a perfectly pitched falsetto that suggests that Couse has discovered how to use his voice as an instrument. Indeed, it's as if Couse has grown into his voice. Alonewalk is the sound of an artist changing and maturing, and if there's a better record released in 2010 I'd like to hear it.

So how did this extraordinary late flowering come about?

"When I set out to make this record, the one thing I wanted was to have a unique and identifiable sound," Dave explains. "So that when you hear it in the distance, you can recognise it.

"I couldn't go down the same road as I'd been down with A House and then my solo career. I desperately needed to do something really different, or else not do anything at all.

"At 40 years of age, I bought a piano. I play an acoustic guitar badly and that's really the extent of my musical skills. So taking up the piano at 40 was a bit of a challenge. The piano playing sounds quite naive and child-like. But that's OK; it's got a certain quality.

"You just have to hit big chords and let the reverbs hang and hope for the best -- and be inspired by all the buzzes and rattles that the piano offers. Because I couldn't be inspired by my own prowess," he laughs.

The other quality that stands out on this record is the warmth and clarity -- not to mention the technical virtuosity -- of Couse's voice.

"I used my falsetto," he explains. "I had the privacy of being on my own. The key was that there was just me, the piano and the voice. Everything else was added on top of that.

"When you're in a studio and you feel the producer is getting impatient, it can unsettle you. Doing it in my own house in my own time, I got to reach the standard I had set myself. I'm known to be the lad that can't sing in tune -- but everyone who's heard this record has said to me: 'Where the hell did you learn to sing like that?!'"

I put it to Couse that he has matured greatly with this record.

"I refuse to believe that rock'n'roll is just a young man's game," he says. "When you're 20, you rebel against the world and everything in it is all wrong, apart from you, right? Great, I've done that and written those albums.

"I remember recording our second album I Want Too Much on Inishboffin. We were young and had loads of energy. Your whole focus in life was just to be an arsehole and make records. You were completely self-absorbed -- and it works! Obviously, things change and you move on."

"As you mature and get older, you've got more stories -- different stories -- to tell. But you've also picked up a huge amount of experience in terms of musicality and arrangements and mic techniques and production ... I'm just really, really proud of this new album."

One of Dave's fondest memories of his A House days was touring the US with The Go-Betweens in the '80s.

"I feel that Robert (Forster) was Morrissey before Morrissey was Morrissey. I just felt they were phenomenal. He went on in a dress in Los Angeles; I'll never forget it. And he used to get on stage with us and sing a few of our songs.

"REM used to come along as well; they were fans of The Go-Betweens. We were in heaven: we were playing with The Go-Betweens and I'm talking to REM!, with Robert Forster on one stool and Michael Stipe on the other -- have I died?!"

nkelly@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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