Monday 23 September 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'High on a mountain in Mexico'

Bob Geldof performs with The Boomtown Rats in the late 1970s
Bob Geldof performs with The Boomtown Rats in the late 1970s
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

It's weird the things you remember. I was watching a Top of the Pops round-up of the biggest hits of 1978.

I enjoy watching old Top of the Pops. They give you a hit of nostalgia with the benefit of hindsight. It's like you can relive your youth, but know what you would do now.

1978 was a mixed year, but I was amazed how many of the songs were stuck in my DNA.

Boney M were VERY big in 1978. A double A-side smash with Rivers of Babylon and Brown Girl in the Ring - who would give away two such classics on one piece of vinyl? - both of which I somehow know every word and every nuance of, such was the ferocity with which it was battered into my plastic eight-year-old brain. Then of course there was Rasputin, which featured on this TOTP round-up - banned in Russia according to the little captions with titbits of information they put up during the song. And to top off this humongous year for Boney M, they enjoyed a Christmas Number One - remember when that was a thing? - with Mary's Boy Child, which I could sing for you now with every emphasis on every word exactly as they did it.

Brotherhood of Man, who were the sh*t UK version of Abba before Bucks Fizz came along, were still going strong in 1978. They popped up on the show with their Number One smash hit Figaro - "Oh, Oh Figaro, he got magic, oh oh." Figaro was some kind of Latin lothario who played the guitar in the disco-bar and thus got the ladies.

Somehow my young, impressionable and undiscriminating mind took in the chorus of this one really well, but not the seedier details of the verses. Indeed I have a better recollection of the Brotherhood of Man's 1977 hit Angelo. I could give you a full rendition of that. All together now: "Long ago, High on a mountain in Mexico, lived a young shepherd boy Angelo…" I stress that the music that was played in my house when I was eight was top notch stuff. But clearly I picked these ones up from the radio.

But all of that is beside the point. The point of all this was the moment in that TOTP special that really sucker-punched me. I knew every word of this song, every nuance of the pronunciation, the sneer, I even knew the actions the lead singer did. Which is odd because we wouldn't have had a video recorder back then, but I recognised every movement he did and remembered doing them at home, down to playing the candelabra as a saxophone for the sax solo.

But then why wouldn't I remember it? Imagine what it was like for us when Rat Trap punched through the dross of 1978 to become the first UK number one by a punk or New Wave group. And imagine what it was like for us that Geldof, this sneering, cocky, lanky guy who played the camera as well as he played the candelabra was actually Irish. Indeed, all the Boomtown Rats were Irish. And there they were, changing everything on Top of the Pops, finally knocking John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John's Summer Nights from the top of the charts. The album that Rat Trap came from, A Tonic for the Troops, would become the first album I remember playing over and over; we knew every word and every beat of it backwards.

I hate to give in to hype, and when everyone tells me I have to like something, I actively try not to like it, but I have to admit defeat to Fontaines D.C.'s album Dogrel. It's the cocky confident howl of a band that are shooting not to be good but to be great. And it feels like one of those debuts that puts them in the lineage of great guitar bands that stretches back to The Velvets and on up to the Arctic Monkeys.

I wish I was young enough for this album to change my life. While Dogrel is the soundtrack to my summer in Dublin, I'm too old to have my life changed by boys with guitars now. But I hope there are kids out there somewhere having their world rocked by Fontaines D.C. the way Geldof and Co did ours back then. And presumably those kids are thinking, "Wow, these guys are Irish…"

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