Last of the quarehawks
Aidan Walsh's quest for the Holy Grail of fame was inextricably entwined with the pining for a mother and father he never knew, says Peter Murphy.
LET'S get one thing straight: Aidan Walsh is no gom. Odd as two left feet perhaps, dressed in a blue safari suit and matching baseball cap, sporting whiskers that were last fashionable in Dickensian times, but the guy's all there. So much so that when we meet, he takes me to task for a live review I'd all but forgotten writing some years ago.
And certainly, the first half hour of the show in question was one of the most extraordinary pieces of rock 'n' roll theatre this side of U2's PopMart. Aidan arrived at the venue on a horse, wearing his customary cowboy hat and wielding a whip, leading a procession of bucket-headed acolytes towards the stage to the strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra.
The event was captured for posterity in Shimmy Marcus's brilliant documentary Aidan Walsh Master Of The Universe, currently showing in the IFC, the first time such a low-budget Irish film, made on video, has been granted a cinema release.
Both RTÉ and TV3 have so far refused to screen the movie, a state of affairs that is nothing short of criminal, yet somehow inevitable.
Marcus's film, which has drawn favourable comparison with Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary of legendary American cartoonist Robert Crumb, is achingly funny in parts, but it also reveals many of the downright tragic aspects of its subject's life. ``When people were laughing most, that's when I wanted to hit them with something quite serious,'' Marcus explains. ``To go, `Just think for a second are you laughing with or are you laughing at?'''
Aidan's quest for the Holy Grail of fame, or as he calls it, ``the big time'', is inextricably entwined with the pining for a mother and father he never knew. Like so many before him, from Moby to Madonna, he has sought out celebrity or notoriety as a means of filling the gaping void in his history.
Walsh spent his childhood years in the harsh environment of a boys' home in Cork, and his return to the institution to search out records of his past made for some of the most poignant moments in the film. ``I didn't really like going back, but I'm glad I did,'' Walsh, now a ruddy-faced, 46-year-old, tells me. ``They're looking after the kids now, they're not treated like dirt anymore, they're getting attention they never got in my time. Also, after the movie, they found my files.''
The performer also managed to locate a brother called Willie, and they became good friends shortly before he died of cancer. ```Keep the faith', that was my last sentence to him,'' Aidan remembers.
BUT the search for his parents still continues. Aidan hopes to save enough money to have a photograph of his mother enhanced to give an accurate impression of what she looks like now.
He believes she is in London, and is prepared to enlist a clairvoyant to help locate her. ``I have to find my mother and father to let them know how I'm doin', to let them know how famous I am without their help,'' he insists. ``It would be nice to know if they're still alive on the planet.''
After finally succeeding in running away from the boys' home at the age of 17, Walsh spent a short spell in the army (he loved it, they weren't so enamoured of him), then found a surrogate family with Community Games' official Joe Connolly. And then, of course, he somehow became the unlikeliest of Eighties' rock 'n' roll contenders, one who by his own admission wasn't much of a singer or a dancer. It was all about force of character.
At first, championed by such scenesters as Gavin Friday and Simon Carmody, Aidan was treated by the ``serious'' musicians of the time the rock-as-civil-service brigade as a bad joke.
The joke was on them: Walsh quickly scored a record deal with English indie label Kaleidoscope, and U2 attended one of his earliest shows, where he performed his inimitable version of The Hokey Cokey.
``I didn't know they were there at the time,'' he maintains. ``They were bursting out laughing. But a couple of weeks later a record company came along and they signed me up like a light.'' The album A Life Story Of My Life followed, featuring such head-the-ball classics as The Community Games and Wake Up Mammy, The Eagles Have Landed (copies of that fabled debut now fetch up to £80). Bolstered by the patronage of Gerry Ryan and Dave Fanning, Aidan became something of a cult figure, but he dismisses any talk of being exploited by Machiavellian media manipulators.
``When they say Simon Carmody and the others were using me they weren't using me at all,'' he reasons. ``I was using them, probably. They were keeping me alive, The Golden Horde, Gavin Friday, Gerry Ryan, Dave Fanning and all them. The more write-ups I was getting, the more famous I was getting.''
IN the late Eighties, Walsh became involved in the founding of the Temple Lane band rehearsal facilities with entrepreneur Paddy Dunning. Local heads still relate tales of how Aidan pioneered a cheap but effective prototype of the swipe card: musicians were required to produce their half of a passport photo by way of ID before gaining access to the building!
Aidan has always championed the cause of young bands with a missionary zeal akin to Robin Williams's character in The Fisher King, and his current project is running gigs at the Tivoli (bands can book in via his website).
His ultimate ambition though, is to find a sponsor to help set up a new venue to hold all-ages gigs every night of the week. Aidan proposes to run such a venue himself, with a view to also teaching bands how to manage their own business affairs.
``The reason I do that,'' he says, ``is before I became famous when I was in the boarding school, I didn't like what I was seeing, a lot of young people never got the breaks, and it's about time somebody did something about it.''
One thing Simon Marcus's film makes clear: Ireland needs people like Aidan Walsh; he's the last of the quarehawks in a city overrun with the pretentious, the prosperous and the preposterous.
``The thing I find about this movie is Aidan is a constant,'' the director concludes, ``and it's the reaction of other people around him that changes. I know a lot of people who've seen it will always think of Aidan in a completely different way now. They were the first to admit, `Yeah, certainly, I was always laughing behind his back, but not anymore.' I think Simon Carmody's opening line really sums it up everyone has a story, and why hasn't he got a right to tell it?''
* Aidan Walsh Master Of The Universe is showing at the IFC until November 1. Young bands wishing to contact Aidan Walsh can do so at 01 4737416 or 087 2493375. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, website www.aidanwalsh.com.