Monday 18 December 2017

Historical record of the Irish beat scene

The new Radiators album recreates a culture long neglected by mainstream historians, writes Declan Lynch

Bluesville, The Caravelles, The Shadracks, The Action, The Dakotas, Granny's Intentions, The Creatures, The Orange Machine, The Greenbeats, Eire Apparent, Them -- these are the names of some of the Irish beat groups of the Sixties evoked in an album called Sound City Beat, just released by the legendary Radiators From Space.

It is first of all a great record, in which the seminal Radiators do their own cover versions of various nuggets which were still lying around from that era. But it is more than that. It is one of the most important historical works of our time.

Academics and other chroniclers of modern Ireland tend to have one enormous hole in their consciousness -- they know nothing of rock 'n' roll. And those who do not know rock 'n' roll (and we're only talking here about the famous ones such as Thin Lizzy and Horslips and Rory Gallagher and U2 and so forth) do not know Ireland.

These artists can trace their archaeological roots partly to the showband and the ballad scenes of the Sixties which have been so well chronicled, but mainly to a culture -- nay, a civilisation -- which has been almost entirely neglected by mainstream historians: the beat groups and the beat clubs in which they played.

In their meticulous sleeve notes for Sound City Beat -- vital historical documents in themselves -- founding father of Irish rock 'n' roll Ted Carroll and Philip Chevron of the Radiators recreate that lost world.

Sound City was itself one of the beat clubs, situated on Burgh Quay. There was The Five Club off Stephen's Green, the Club A Go Go in Abbey Street, The Flamingo above an ice cream parlour on O'Connell Street and The Scene Club off Parnell Square.

From that world came the music which is celebrated on Sound City Beat, not least a single which in 1965 actually made the top 10 in the Billboard charts in the United States -- You Turn Me On (The Turn On Song) by Trinity college student Ian Whitcomb and Bluesville, was knocked out for fun at the end of a recording session in Eamonn Andrews Studios in Henry Street. It reached number eight in America in the year that Van Morrison and the angry young Them's Baby Please Don't Go, with Gloria on the flipside, had become the first Irish beat single to reach the UK Top 10.

Naturally, because the beat scene was good, Official Ireland tried to destroy it.

In the Dail, the Longford/Westmeath TD Gerry L'Estrange (Fine Gael) wanted to know if the police had the authority to enter these clubs at any time, and if the minister was aware of the dangers from both a moral and a health point of view of having hundreds of teenagers packed into these premises.

The minister in question was Brian Lenihan, holding the line for rock 'n' roll against the forces of obscurantism.

L'Estrange also gave out about gardai dressing up as Teddy Boys and ban gardai wearing miniskirts as they sought to infiltrate these low dives. Lenihan reassured him that the police dressing up like this to fool the young people was routine in other parts of the world.

No doubt L'Estrange was also voicing the fears of showband and ballad moguls that their establishments might suffer if the young people got too fond of the big beat. Certainly Ted Carroll, who ran one of the earliest beat venues, The Rhythm'n'Blues Club in Monkstown, recalls being "fitted up" by the authorities over licensing issues.

Carroll's own story is an Irish cultural history lesson in itself, starting off as a bass player with the Caravelles, before becoming a band booker and gig promoter, then co-managing Thin Lizzy before selling out his share in the band in the mid-Seventies to open Rock On, the celebrated record shop in Camden mentioned in Lizzy's The Rocker.

And way back at the dawn of Irish rock 'n' roll time, in the summer of 1962, Carroll had started running R&B sessions in the White Cottage tea-rooms on Killiney beach. Fifty years later, you can look up from Killiney beach to view the great houses of Ireland's rock titans on Killiney Hill. These things are all connected.

Sunday Independent

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