Entertainment Music

Monday 22 January 2018

The gospel according to Luke (. . . and Cathal and Andrew)

Surreal: from left, Luke
Haines, Andrew Mueller,
and Cathal Coughlan
Surreal: from left, Luke Haines, Andrew Mueller, and Cathal Coughlan

Nick Kelly

An Irishman, an Englishman and an Australian walk into a bar ... and if you want to know what happens next, you'll have to turn up at Cork's Triskel Arts Centre on December 2 and Dublin's Sugar Club on Saturday, December 3, when Cathal Coughlan, Luke Haines and Andrew Mueller will perform their left-field musical odyssey The North Sea Scrolls.

A big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last August, the show promises a gloriously irreverent alternative history of these islands and some of the poltroons who inhabit it.

Surreal streams of consciousness are second nature to the contrarian Corkonian Coughlan, whose Scud-like word-bombs as vocalist for Microdisney and the Fatima Mansions stung like holy water on a vampire.

Coughlan was introduced to Haines, who led two of the best British bands of the 1990s and 2000s -- The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder -- by London-based Antipodean journalist and author Andrew Mueller.

Mueller was one of the star writers for Melody Maker (RIP) in its 1990s heyday and went on to write for the Guardian, the UK Independent and Uncut magazine.

His book recounting his experiences travelling around the world's most dangerous war zones (and, er, Luxembourg), I Wouldn't Start From Here, is a cracking good read, full of dark gallows humour. He also fronts his own country band.

The structure of the show is that Mueller will read introductory footnotes before each song, with Coughlan (piano and vocals) and Haines (guitar and vocals) joined by cellist Audrey Riley (who played with The Smiths).

The press release gives some indication of the weirdness in store as the contents of the North Sea Scrolls are revealed: "How did a Dublin criminal overlord become an imperial viceroy? Is England really just two counties -- Northshire and Southshire?

"Could it be that the guttering violence of Northern Ireland is caused by terrorist tribute acts from Australia?

"How did Tim Hardin end up commanding a nationalist militia in Cornwall? Can it be true that Morris Men, far from the prancing buffoons of popular repute, are murderous vigilantes -- a Cotswoldian thugee cult?

"Was Chris Evans really burnt at the stake? If not, why not? Is Jim Corr actually right about everything?"

As yet, these songs have not been recorded, so the boundaries between performance art and live gig are blurred.

Haines is one of a fast-fading line of English pop eccentrics. Usually resplendent in a white-linen suit and ginger sideburns, he has fashioned disturbing songs about youth homicide and ecstatic eulogies to the UK motorway network, doing for the M1 what Kraftwerk did for Germany's autobahns.

He also caused quite a stir in 2009 with his memoir, Bad Vibes. Many famous noses were put out of joint by his catty put-downs of the UK music scene in the 1990s, especially his slaughtering of the sacred cow of Britpop, which he claimed, left no room for eccentricity in music.

Of course, the more Oasis were playing to half the UK population in a field in Knebworth, the less visible Haines became.

He told music website The Quietus this month: "I think after the worst bits of Britpop, and after Oasis came along when Noel Gallagher would go on about how much money he made and how big they were, it became not about making great records, but about owning football pitches. I don't think it's ever recovered from that wanting football pitches in the garden, which is kind of Rod Stewart in 1975. We're now stuck in post-irony mode."

Post-Britpop, Haines regrouped and formed Black Box Recorder with the silken-voiced Sarah Nixey and ex-Jesus & Mary Chain bassist John Moore. Of this we can be sure: their pristine Home Counties pop was a lot more sophisticated than 'Roll With It'.

Haines's follow-up to Bad Vibes, Post-Everything: Outsider Rock 'n' Roll, was published earlier this year.

Now 44, Haines's latest solo album is 21st Century Man. As a mature 40-something father now, he says he has no wish to pen any more murder ballads.

Coughlan, too, follows his own muse where it leads -- last year's Rancho Tetrahedron was his fifth solo album and is quite possibly the only record in rock 'n' roll history named after a geometrical pyramid composed of four triangular faces, three of which meet at each vertex. His duet with Dave Couse on the latter's Alonewalk album last year was also a happy union -- the coming together of Irish indie royalty.

As for the North Sea Scrolls, with Messrs Coughlan, Haines and Muller involved, they're sure to put the punch in punchline.

Cathal Coughlan, Luke Haines and Andrew Mueller play Cork's Triskel Arts Centre on December 2 and Dublin's Sugar Club on December 3


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