Monday 22 January 2018

Passion of a golden age of underground sound

John Meagher

John Meagher

album of the week

various artists

Strange Passion

(Cache Cache)


In 1980, The Boomtown Rats' Banana Republic offered a lacerating view of the small-minded, parochial Ireland of the time with Bob Geldof's bitter lyrics cutting to the quick as he sung of a "sceptic isle" that appeared overrun with "police and priests".

I was five at the time, so I can't speak of personal experience, but by all accounts, it was a grim year with that arch-hypocrite, Charlie Haughey, urging the nation to tighten their belts as the spectre of an almighty recession was set to take hold. 1980 ushered in a brutal decade, where jobs and hope were in scarce supply, and a whole new generation was forced to emigrate. Sounds all too familiar, right?

Yet, the unhappy 1980s were a fertile breeding ground for legions of Irish bands and, in Dublin, the long defunct Dandelion Market, Magnet pub and Top Hat venue hosted a steady stream of fledgling talent.

The emergence of U2, The Blades and Microdisney has been exhaustively documented, but what's often forgotten is that Ireland had a thriving underground scene in the early part of the decade.

This 14-track compilation album aims to celebrate many of these little-known DIY post-punk experimentalists. And, although the music varies wildly in quality, it is likely to arouse considerable curiosity and further investigation.

The brainchild of producer, record collector and Power FM DJ Darren McCreesh, Strange Passion's rare-as-hen's-teeth tracks were compiled from private pressed vinyl and homemade cassettes.

That explains the muddy, ultra lo-fi production (in some cases, the word "production" is too grand to be applied), which only serves to accentuate the notion that you've happened upon a truly alternative scene.

There's some fine material here with The Threat's exercise in in-your-face punk High Cost of Living especially incendiary.

Elsewhere, Dogmatic Element's Just Friends revels in its minimal assault while Stano's roughly hewn Town is typical of the era's DIY aesthetic.

All to often, though, it's easy to see why these acts remained in the underground.

Chant! Chant! Chant!'s Play Safe fails to take flight while the track from U2 contemporaries The Virgin Prunes, Twenty Tens (I've Been Smoking All Night Long), does nothing to dissuade me from a long-held view that they were little more than self-regarding scenesters whose wannabe avant-garde sound has only got uglier with the passage of time.

KEY TRACKS Just Friends; High Cost of Living

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