Friday 23 February 2018

The Blades' flame is still burning bright

Reunion: The Blades in the 1980s
Reunion: The Blades in the 1980s
The Blades lead singer Paul Cleary


I was standing backstage at the Philip Chevron testimonial concert in the Olympia Theatre in August when a familiar voice said hello.

It was an anxious-looking Paul Cleary, the frontman with The Blades. He said he was nervous.

As Paul stepped into the spotlight, I stayed in the wings beside MC Aidan Gillen, who didn't call the bouncers when I began whooping. We both knew we were witnessing an important performance of rare intensity.

Cleary  hadn't been fooling. It had been years since he'd performed in front of a big crowd. Even longer since he stood solo on a stage with just a guitar and a couple of songs between him and a discerning audience.

He needn't have worried. His instincts kicked in and he radiated a musical integrity that's long been redundant in this X Factor era. As Cleary channeled a lifetime of frustration and hurt into his short set, it was a defining moment.

As one, the audience agreed on two things. One: the spirit of Philip Chevron would live forever. Two: Paul Cleary had stepped out of some ghost estate of the heart to save Ireland in a time of crisis.

On an evening of flashbacks, Cleary's blistering showcase proved the most exhilarating. As the final notes died away, I was transported to a similar evening in the old Olympic Ballroom in the 1980s when I was pushed onstage to introduce what was the final farewell of his band The Blades.

It was a night when nothing but the total goodwill of a packed house and the generosity and passion of the band made sense. This was a long, painful goodbye for a band that was walking into forced retirement without even a gold record to mark their service.

Everyone in the room that night felt there something was wrong with the world. The band who'd written Ghost of A Chance and The Bride Wore White had stalled at the scrapyard instead of being feted at the Grammys and the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame.

That night, what might laughingly be called Dublin's punk rock generation got a belated rude awakening. Real life doesn't always pan out like a fairytale, Toto.

The Blades had shared gigs with U2. A working-class band with a social conscience, they declared, "I'm living in a world that makes me mad ... " If Jim Larkin wrote songs he'd have been in The Blades.

Fans of the Ringsend trio believed their passionate power pop would elevate the Blades to global status. It didn't happen.

Despite a succession of memorable singles and a powerful album, The Blades languished while U2 flourished and became the biggest band in the world.

Them, as they say, is the breaks.

Hearing Cleary blasting out Downmarket at Chevron's gig, we came face-to-face with an irrefutable truth. Unlike most bands of the 70s and 80s, Paul Cleary had nailed it. "It's a fatal resignation, when there's nothing left to hope for," he sang.

The Blades didn't become megastars, filling arenas from Tunbridge Wells to Tucumcari, but they did something more important. They lit a flame. A torch that will never go out. How many artists do that?

They were never going to be a football stadium band like Led Zeppelin, U2 or Bon Jovi. However they had something the wider world was denied, largely due to a confluence of industry circumstance.

They had soul and would have been accepted in America for sure. I know. When I played a tape of their debut single Hot For You on US radio stations in the late 70s, it was received as well as Elvis Costello, The Jam or The Pretenders.

Sure, they could have been contenders but those who knew and understood will always keep the faith.

Besides, next weekend, Cleary will lead a reformed Blades through two sold-out concerts at the Olympia. The miracle of Christmas? Nah, mate. It's the miracle of The Blades.

(The Herald)

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