Sunday 16 December 2018

Barry Egan: Nothing or nobody compares to Sinead

Barry Egan hails the wonderful return of Sinead O'Connor, who's one of the best singers to emerge out of Ireland, or anywhere, ever

Sinead O'Connor at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 2015. Photo: Jean-Christophe Bott/AP
Sinead O'Connor at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 2015. Photo: Jean-Christophe Bott/AP

Everybody was raving about Sinead O'Connor singing at Shane MacGowan's birthday hooley at the National Concert Hall recently. Rightly so. Nothing compares to our Sinead.

It is great to have her back, after an apparent hiatus. Ireland, or the world, is not the same without her or her special genius. We are better for her music, for her presence. For just being Sinead. A true independent soul, ahead of her time, an enemy of cant.

And 1987's The Lion and the Cobra, 1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got and 2012's How About I Be Me (and You Be You)? are three of my favourite albums. Ever.

"Sinead O'Connor's first album comes on like a banshee wail across the bogs. Blending the uncompromising force of folk music, the sonic adventurousness of the Eighties and lyrics that draw on classical history, ghost tales and the Bible, The Lion and the Cobra is easily one of the most distinctive debut albums of the last year," wrote Anthony DeCurtis in Rolling Stone in January, 1988.

In 1988, after I had befriended her during an interview in Ealing Broadway for the cover of an Irish teenage magazine called Fresh, Sinead invited me to New York to write about her for the cover of then-prestigious English music paper New Musical Express. It was five days in America, all expenses paid. I could barely contain my delight. My mother drove me to the airport.

We went clubbing practically every night in New York. We played chasing with MC Lyte and other Queens rappers in Philadelphia at three in the morning in a Pizza Hut car park after a concert. "Gotcha! You're caught!" Sinead shouts, as she grabs me.

We were both kids - she was 23, while I was 21.

Sinead was fun to be around, too. She loved quoting Finbarr Saunders from Viz comic (When talking of his wife's antique camera, he says: "I've spent many a hot afternoon with my face under her hood, flicking away at that button, trying to make those leathery old flaps open up.") She shouted obscenities out of the window as we passed The Pentagon in Washington. It was difficult not to love her then, as now all these years later.

(This was perhaps not as obscene as the song Sinead was in America to record with New York performance artist Karen Finley. The little ditty, provided by Karen for the 12-inch remix of Sinead's single Jump In The River, went chirpily like this - all together now: "Brother, do you have a p***k? Yes I do, just like cows do Jump start me Jump start me Jump, jump, jump, jump Ain't got a leg, but I got a stump Ain't got a d**k baby, but I got a pump/Ain't got a titty, but I got a lump.")

We got caught up in a mini-riot in New Jersey. We danced to Donna Summer in gay discos like Pyramid with men with moustaches and suspenders dancing on the bar. Sinead danced like an angel on a hot tin roof. At 5am, I listened to Sinead hold forth ex cathedra on men, relationships and sex.

Over breakfast she excitedly read her new purchase, Nikos Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation Of Christ before firing up a joint in her room in The Mayflower Hotel.

Sinead, then as now, was a force of her own nature. She shouted out the window of her limousine at a man driving a car with a customised number plate Great In The Sack. "Go away - you f***ing wanker!"

Like I said, she was good fun to be around. One night at a party in the Ritz-Carlton in Manhattan, Sinead, acting the maggot, decided to throw a tumbler of ice water down the front of my shorts.

When I did the same to her - she was only wearing a little white T-shirt - soaking her to the marrow, she hooted with laughter. She was, and remains, one of the funniest girls I'd (or you'd) ever met.

Nothing compares to Sinead.

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