It's about time we all saluted the living genius of Philip Chevron

'A true legend of Irish music': There is a testimonial concert to Philip Chevron of The Radiators and The Pogues, who has inoperable cancer. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Eamon Carr

At last count there were 248 members of Aosdana. Artists, writers, musicians, architects and choreographers, all members of an elite group whose work is said to have made a valuable contribution to life in Ireland.

The Irish public know there's a lot wrong with our country. A culture of greed, golden circles and dodgy dealings has caused a spike in private despair. But when was it any different?

In the mid-1970s, a teenager from Santry wrote a song that directed his anger at the social ills he saw.

"I'm gonna smash my Telecaster through the television screen, 'cos I don't like what's goin' down...", he sang. Television Screen proved a rallying call for disaffected youth and offered Bob Geldof and Paul Hewson a glimpse of salvation.

The fact that Philip Chevron, the 'kid' who wrote the song, has never been nominated as a member of official Ireland's cultural elite is a savage and humiliating indictment of that body.

Chevron was still a teenager when he supervised a crew of jazz musicians, such as Louis Stewart, on a powerful debut album by veteran Berlin Cabaret performer Agnes Bernelle.

It was beyond what was expected of a "snotty punk rock" musician at a time when Irish pop music charts were dominated by Red Hurley, Margo and The Swarbriggs.

On Saturday night, Chevron's friends are staging a Tribute Concert in his honour at the Olympia. In football terms, it's a testimonial to someone who's done sterling service for his club and country. None deserves it more.

It would be invidious of me not to mention our connection. Back in the day, he quizzed me for a feature he was writing for the O'Connell Schools student magazine. Then, I knew him as Philip Ryan, son of the well-known authority on Irish theatre.

Later, when I heard a demo tape my friend Steve Averill (aka Steve Rapid and later U2 designer) played me, I found Ryan had become Chevron.

Roping in Jackie Hayden, now a top-selling author, we rushed Chevron's band, The Radiators from Space, into the studio. I calmed down the engineer as they set up their own homemade light show to create a suitable atmosphere. The rest is history.

Rock music anoraks still argue whether Television Screen or something by The Damned or the Clash became the first proper punk single to chart. A few years later, Chevron was providing essential stability for The Pogues, to whom he contributed the timeless Thousands Are Sailing, which remains tragically topical.

A few months ago I was due to meet Philip for afternoon tea when an email changed the landscape, irrevocably.

"Sorry for the bad news," he said, giving me a heads up on a story about to break. "This time the cancer is lethal."

You could have knocked me down with a Telecaster.

Despite the excesses of this business we call show, Chevron, with his encyclopedic knowledge of theatre, garage band rock'n'roll and Nottingham Forest FC, has proved a resilient talent and a dependable friend.

He hasn't gone away of course, but things aren't great. When the notion of this Tribute gig was mooted, Philip suggested that my old band Horslips and The Radiators should combine forces for a finale that would include Nighttown Boy and Kitty Ricketts.

How could I not think this was an inspired idea?

Nighttown Boy started life as a scrappy lyric I'd scribbled on the back of an envelope in the Seventies after a few nights in a dubious part of Frankfurt or Hamburg. Philip gallantly says the song gave him the impetus to finish Ghostown, arguably the finest Irish rock album... ever. On Saturday, Dublin will salute the living genius of Philip Chevron.

(The Herald)