Saturday 21 September 2019

Deliverance can come in many different guises

When a new CD from those ace pickers, the Blue Light Smugglers, landed on my desk, I was transported to another time, another place - to the place from which the Smugglers take their name indeed, the Blue Light pub in Barnaculla.

With their Monday night residency up there in that lovely old tavern in the Dublin Mountains, the acoustic trio are just yards away from the site of a seminal event in Irish rock'n'roll history, the car park where, in 1989, Adam Clayton was busted for the possession of cannabis.

The fuzz were going to do the man for the intention to supply, but they settled for the lesser charge of possession of 19 grammes of cannabis, which the court was told could make "150 cigarettes".

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To which Judge Windle in the Dundrum courtroom quipped that people are allowed to bring 200 cigarettes through customs, but not cannabis. On this would hinge the question of whether Adam would receive a drugs conviction which could greatly damage his chances of entering the United States again, and thus the question of the future of Irish rock'n'roll itself.

It was the Windle Show that day in Dundrum. In a celebrated piece by Liam Fay in Hot Press, the judge was quoted thus: "I don't know anything about these singing groups… but I understand they have some influence on children, youths, and - how long do they listen to this stuff? - until they're about 30, I suppose".

And did his great legal mind engage in a moment of inconsistency when he suggested that not only did he not like U2's music, he didn't even know who they were?

It was the lawyers who saved Irish rock'n'roll that day, the prosecution and the defence reaching a deal whereby Adam would be given the Probation Act, in return for "a very large contribution" of £25,000 to the Women's Aid Refuge Centre. In court, when the number was stated, Paul McGuinness nodded his assent.

For me, the Blue Light has a different resonance, for it was there that Dermot Morgan brought me on a Saturday afternoon some time in the late 1980s, to do an interview - which, like many interviews at that time, would extend long into the evening.

It was not a good time for Dermot. He was in dispute with RTE, of course, and there was this sense that here was an obviously talented man who simply couldn't find a way to develop the career that he should be having.

I recall at the time that Paul Hogan had emerged from Australia with a series that was being shown on the BBC, and I thought Dermot was better than Hogan, but just hadn't found a way to open that door. What neither of us knew, that day in the Blue Light, was that two friends of mine, Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, would open that door for him by writing Father Ted - indeed, they didn't know it at the time either.

But it tells us that sometimes, deliverance is closer than you think.

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