More than just a nostalgic nod to the past

This was posted on Stevie G’s Blog yesterday ahead of the opening. We post it here today cause we thought it was so great. Thanks Stevie   Tonight the Sir Henry’s Exhibition opens at UCC Library. Everyone is welcome and it kicks off at 6pm, plus it will be running all summer. I’ve helped curate this exhibition but in truth Martin and Eileen of UCC did nearly all of the work. The support from Cronan and all at the Library and UCC has been unbelievable and it’s great to see that they look at the whole thing as an important part of Cork’s social history.  When initially asked to get involved I was very reluctant as it was just after Shane and Greg had marked the 25th anniversary of the beginning of Sweat with some big nights and a very good exhibition in the Pav. Like us all I was nostalgia’d out, and could not see much point in further doing what the Sweat and Go Deep duo had done so well. The UCC library one though took a different direction, and it soon became apparent that it was gonna delve into territory that even long time gig goers & clubbers like myself had little idea about. I wasn’t about in the 80s when many of the great gigs in Henry’s took place, and I was fascinated to learn more about the different bands that I had heard so much about growing up. The stories from those involved were amazing and I soon realised that if we didn’t document this now an opportunity would pass forever. The Lucey family, Jack Lyons, and a cast of hundreds, had material to submit and stories to tell, and the exhibition gathered amazing momentum on facebook and twitter where people often forgotten about suddenly surfaced.   I knew pretty much everyone on the dance side of things as I had been there through most of that era and DJ’d there for nearly ten years, but the opportunity to present a snapshot of both dance and rock elements was too good to ignore, and I hope people enjoy checking it out. I have been previously frustrated with one or two of the attempts to document things that were important to me 20 years ago, and even valiant efforts such as the 120 BPM documentary didn’t capture the magic of the place for me. It hardly mentioned the music which was always the key and the key people such as Greg and Shane were relegated to tiny roles.   In recent years, Ray Scannell, a good friend of mine and a Henry’s regular in its later years, put some great research into his one man show called “Deep”, which remains a must see and which will return to Cork later this year. This UCC Exhibition in a relatively small space is not gonna answer every question, cover every band or acknowledge all of the DJ’s and people who made those years special, but in truth that was gonna be impossible. I repeat that it is a snapshot that has been created by and large by those people who have been very forthcoming and helpful in supplying material and memories.   My biggest fear was that more nostalgia would hold things back, especially seeing as I personally think Cork has never been more exciting for young people and “medium to young” people like myself! The amount of great bands in Cork now is unreal. The Altered Hours, The Careers, Shaker Hymn, Elastic Sleep, Laurie Shaw and others have got me really excited, and the massive wave of DJ’s from the 90s has been replaced by a bunch of producers and electronic acts who are doing their own thing too. I’ve just started my own record label releasing soul music, and it’s quite significant that many of the DJ’s from that era are all living firmly in the present and looking to the future.   Greg and Shane are at the cutting edge of house with Go Deep and Fishgodeep and they have led by example by only rarely looking back once a year. Marq Walsh has his own label too, while my former Back bar protege Colm K is a highly respected producer with international releases as well. There’s tons more too. Many of the Henry’s regulars of the 90’s such as John Daly have taken things to the next level too as producers, while those who DJ’d there and run nights, like Joe Kelly, Hungry, Eddie K and Fork, to name a few, are still actively involved in the Cork music scene in 2014. I’m more excited about now and though I appreciate that as people get older many romanticise their youth, I can honestly say that things are better with more opportunities now. But the lack of choice elsewhere was one of the key reasons why Henry’s was so good too at the time.

We’ve worked with some kids from Gurranabraher who have created a piece inspired by a place they never experienced, and that will be on display in UCC too. Another youngster, Tuathla Lucey is the granddaughter of Jerry, who opened the building and whose vision shaped the place, and she has been actively involved in documenting its history by interviewing many of those involved. The exhibition will hopefully inspire creativity from our young people, I know that that era shaped everything I’ve ever done subsequently, and it was the same for many more. I’d love to hear their thoughts on this exhibition too.   Donkeyman jpegI don’t think it was the actual bricks and rock of the building itself that made it so special I wasn’t even slightly bothered when it got knocked in 2003. Many of us had left and never returned in 2001, and it was clear that things were over. I certainly did not want to look back back then. It was the music and the people that made everything special, and hopefully the exhibition will celebrate this. There were many other special places too, and many of these are now also gone. Such is life. To my own eternal embarrassment, I forgot to mention many places when submitting a list of these for the exhibition, and I’d like to acknowledge Lebowskis right now, which was a great pub during the last few years of Henrys and was often a feeder bar for the venue that often captured the atmosphere of the club inside too! Nights like Immramma, the Funk Shop with DJ Fork, Joe Kelly’s Friday nights, Revelation Sound, Bastardo Electro, Free la Funk and tons more have had little mention, and some of the DJ’s I worked with and influenced me, such as Gina Johnson, should have got more coverage too. I’ve been thinking about some great gigs with bands like Collapse, who were ahead of the game mixing electronica and rock. But it’s a tiny exhibition and it was about more than all of these great DJ’s and acts, I guess.   Fashion Shoot jpegI’m sure many other people and DJ’s and bands and places will have been not mentioned, but the exhibition is also very much a rolling effort where social media and blogs like this will shape how we look at Sir Henrys. Originally, we also wanted it to be much more than Henry’s, which was not everything, but time and space meant that it was important to keep the focus relatively limited. Maybe someone might try and dig deeper into the history of the Arcadia now, or go further back that the 70s and 80s with another exhibition?  Books have been written and admirable attempts have been made, but this is our social history and there’s scope for more. The single most exciting thing about this for me is that UCC are keeping much of this material in a permanent archive, that will survive long after you and me are gone. While we are here it’s imperative that the people who knew about this venue are the ones telling others about it, before it’s too late. I studied up in UCC 20 years ago and started DJing up there in the old bar on Friday afternoons with Colm O’Riordain, Brian Power and company. We were the alternative and I’m suprised we got away with it back then. I used go upstairs and listen to my newly bought records on the music departments Technics (still there!) on the top floor of the very building that will today house this exhibition. UCC jpegI’ve spent more time in that library in the last few weeks than I ever did studying English and History but i’ll always remember the head of the history department Joe Lee shaking my hand when i got my degree and telling me to pursue what I was really interested in. He knew that was music. It’s funny how things come around and I’m delighted that a small fragment of Cork’s social history is now on show in one of the most beautiful places in our wonderful city.                      

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‘Don’t Ignore Me!’ – the Lost recordings of Aidan McCarthy

‘Don’t Ignore Me!’ ‘Lost’ recordings of Aidan McCarthy of Cork’s first punk band Berserk have surfaced and are now ‘premiered’ exclusively here on the Sir Henry’s Exhibition page. Paul O’Mahony sets the scene.

 

Aidan McCarthy pic 1

 

Such has been the reaction to a piece in my Sir Henrys Blog  a few weeks ago in which I referenced Aidan McCarthy, a founder member of Cork’s first punk band Berserk who was killed in a car crash with his wife Linda in 1981, that I went rummaging in some storage boxes in search of an old cassette demo of his that I knew I had put away. Somewhere…

As a fellow member of Berserk, I know we’d never recorded a demo in the studio but I remembered that Aidan did a recording of some of the tunes in our set list, after the band broke up, with guitarist Martin Kelleher under the name Romeo Butcher.

Well, I’ve found them, MP3’d them, SoundClouded them, and here they are to be heard for the first time in 33 years!

And I talked with Amy, his daughter who is now 32, the first time I have done so since my previous sighting of her in a pram so many moons ago and prior to the accident. I received her blessing to unveil the tracks – and she, too, will also be hearing them here for the first time. Which is pretty amazing. Her dad’s songs, her dad’s voice.

When I posted a piece about Aidan on Sir Henrys Exhibition Facebook page

 

Paul O Mahony - Aidan Grab 2 jpeg

 

I received some really nice feedback about Aidan (and Linda)

 

Aidan Comments jpeg

 

On the point I made about Aidan and Berserk having been mysteriously written out of the history of Cork alternative rock, Ricky Dineen of Nun Attax paid tribute: “I went to school with him. He was one of the main reasons I became involved in band things. A brilliant character and a very nice guy.”

Ricky also added: “I remember he came to a Nun Attax jam one time and played the drums. Absolutely brilliant he was! The chemistry between himself and Donnelly was something special.”

Furthermore, Tom Curtin, a Cork artist who worked on the original (and splendidly atmospheric) interiors for Sir Henry’s back in 1977, offered his perspective.

“In the first year or so the live acts (in Sir Henry’s) consisted of the more familiar local groups and acoustic artists, but as Sir Henry’s became more established, the younger groups began to gain a foothold. The first group to break into the scene and herald the change was Aidan McCarthy and Berserk in 1978. Aidan epitomised the new sense of rebellion and social awareness of late ‘70’s music. He set the mark for the up-and-coming musicians in Cork. Aidan was angry, passionate, compassionate, intelligent, articulate, ambitious but sensitive, a great musician with an inbred sense of standards and a wicked sense of humour! In his non-comprising way, Aidan opened the doors and challenged the other aspiring groups in Cork to follow and in doing so prepared the way for the next transition of Sir Henry’s. Tragically, Aidan and his wife Linda died in a car accident in 1981 as they drove back to Cork late one night after a gig in Dublin. In many ways Linda reflected the ethos that had come to define Sir Henry’s. She had worked in the bar, knew many of the people who went there and would hang out there with her friends. Linda was a gentle, laid back kind of person with an unassuming sense of charm, but she was sure! It was a surprise to everyone when they got together considering how they seemed so opposite in temperament, but somehow it just seemed right. Their deaths had a deep effect on Sir Henry’s. The feelings of sadness and loss underlined the sense of community that had evolved around the place. It was in a way a coming of age, I think that for many it signalled the need to focus on other more important considerations. People gradually began to drift away; there were less and less familiar faces as their places were taken by a new generation bringing a new energy and a new sense of optimism.”

And so, without further ado, here are the tracks, seven in all, recorded in 1980 or 1981 with Aidan on lead vocals and drums, and Martin Kelleher on guitar. I couldn’t find any info on who might be on bass. As mentioned, most of these tunes were played live by Berserk initially.

  1. Lorraine: 
  2. Don’t Ignore Me: 
  3. I’m Only Human: 
  4. Suzie’s Turning: 
  5. Sometimes: 
  6. I Got Fever: 
  7. Die: 

 

The worst band to ever play Sir Henrys.

Came across this latest post, courtesy of John McCarthy on his blog Smile and be a villain. Thought it fitted in perfect with our other posts. He had titled it  But this eternal blazon must not be To ears of flesh and blood. We prefer his subheading  – The worst band ever to play Sir Henrys. Thanks John…

 

It might have been the darkness that added to the mystique of Sir Henry’s. It might have been that the floor was un-seeable but could very much be felt. It might have been the posters strewn across the corridor in with bands’ names that seemed to be made up on the flick of a coin. (Flick of a coin could be a good name for a band). It might have been the flagon of cider that we got somebody to buy for us in Galvin’s on the Bandon Road on the way into town. It might have been the neo-punks with hair to the ceiling and the Jesus and Mary Chain scrawled across the back of a parka.

I’d meet my cousins there. Damien and Raymond Mullally. The Mullally’s were music royalty in Cork. Their friend Morty McCarthy was the coolest person I knew. We went to watch bands. My friends, first Gary Gibbons, later Derek Coffey and Ian Flanagan and later still I dragged my girlfriend, now my wife, Fiona to watch bands.the smaller the better. The more obscure the better.

I loved the Cork bands. 3355409s with their little guitarist with a bumblebee jumper, Idol Joy, Porcelain Tears, Cypress, Mine! who should have been huge, Belsonic Sound and so many that came and went with not even a Fanning Session to their name. My childhood friend Kieran Cotter worked as a roadie for Cypress, Mine! and later the brilliant Blue in Heaven. He also got to play with Cork Super group The Mad Dancing Bastards From Hell. Another friend Patrick Healy played with his band there. (The name of the band is gone). The How and Why Insects went to my school. Everything was close, immediate but still so far away. The barrier from audience to stage was enormous. I needed to hurdle it. i needed to be in a band.

Gary Gibbons and I formed a band. Gary could play. His father Paul played in a Jazz band. Gary had some gorgeous guitars. At 17, I could hold a note no better than I could hold my beer. Gary sang. I wrote horrendous agitprop lyrics.I learned how to play the Bass guitar. I bought a Bass and an Amp from Small Paul in Crowley’s on MacCurtain street. I got lessons from Sinead Lohan’s dad in Greenwood out the road in Togher. He told me I had no rhythm. I didn’t care. I had the Bass. I had the trenchcoat. I had a glittery shirt. We found a drummer, Ivan Murray. we found a rehearsal room in Togher Boy’s School. We called ourselves The 5 O’ Clock Heroes after the Jam song. We were ready to go. We played a couple of talent shows. Sean O’ Neill in Henry’s was allowing bands play on Tuesday nights when Henry’s would otherwise be empty. We were in.

My brother arranged for Don Creedon to do sound for us. We were booked. We made some posters. We had twelve songs ready. Forty of our friends, all underage came to watch us and we played Henry’s. Don Creedon said we were the worst band he ever heard. We didn’t care. We played Henry’s. Then we broke up. I haven’t touched a Bass Guitar since. Gary and Ivan are still paying together with Gary’s brother Ivan. They are good. I wasn’t.

But I played Sir Henry’s.

 

Cocktails, cornflakes and chicken feathers

“A new world opened up when you walked through its doors,” says Paul O’Mahony of the early days of Sir Henry’s

Paul O Mahony pic 1

Sir Henrys exterior shot – © Paul O Mahony

If, as the saying goes, the past is foreign country, then I come from a land with no internet, no social media, no mobile phones, no bottled water and no electronic guitar tuners.

The late ‘70s and early ‘80s were a depressing time in Ireland. The Catholic church and Fianna Fail had a stranglehold on the country, Northern Ireland was a daily news item of death and destruction, and across the water Margaret Thatcher came to power. Unemployment in Cork was rife and the general sense of economic doom and gloom was reinforced on Leeside by the closing of the hugely important Ford and Dunlop factories.

Emigration was on an epidemic level. Most of my friends left the city. And so did I. Eventually…

But not before Sir Henry’s arrived in ’77 to bring a chink of light to the city. Jimmy O’Hara and Dominic O’Keeffe (RIP, 1994) brought their version of a Hard Rock Café to Jerry Lucey’s premises on South Main St. Dominic had been a DJ I’d seen when I used to sneak (underage) into UCC’s Campus Kitchen and his records stirred my teenage rock’n’roll dreams with grooves by the likes of Bad Company. Plus, he looked cool. On the other hand, I didn’t know Jimmy prior to Henry’s, but I can’t recall him never wearing a suit of some description. Not long after starting up, they parted, with Dominic moving over to the Victoria Hotel to run the hugely successful and now also legendary Co-Co’s Nightclub, Pitz cocktail bar and other offshoots.

In those days, Henry’s was Jimmy. It was part cocktail bar, part restaurant, part live venue. It contrasted sharply with the dullness of the streets outside. A new world opened up when you walked through its doors. In the pre-MTV era, it also had a large screen that showed the ‘latest’ videos, from The Rutles’ pastiche on The Beatles to Jackson Browne’s ‘Stay’ to Sid Vicious doing ‘My Way’. Local bands like Hot Guitars, Small Change and Asylum held down residencies but I don’t recall any international acts coming in as they did in later years when the venue expanded. The music scene pretty much reflected the wider socio-economic context, being mostly tired and uninspired.

Into this came Berserk, the city’s first ‘punk’ band, influenced by the energy and attitude of the punk scenes in the US and the UK, although it was The Sex Pistols whose highly charged ditties we’d cover most frequently, from ‘Pretty Vacant’ to ‘Bodies’ to ‘Did You No Wrong’. And we had the attitude, embodied by Aidan McCarthy (RIP, 1981) on drums and occasional vocals, a natural entertainer like his ol’ man, Joe Mac (of The Dixies fame). Manic energy. One of my earliest memories of a Henry’s gig is ‘Maccer’ scattering cornflakes and feathers from a (deceased) chicken – which he was plucking there and then – into the audience while singing his tune ‘I Got Fever (Inside My Head)’ with the band noisily riffing away behind him.

Being in my first band, it was nerve-racking and adrenalin-surging to play a ‘real’ rock venue like Sir Henry’s. Furthermore, to be playing bass with Maccer was unnerving, for what might happen next! And it always helps when the venue booker likes the band, likes the spirit, as Jimmy did.

You can hear a short clip from a 1979 Berserk rehearsal – never heard in public before – taped on an old banger of a cassette player  

 

I got involved with Maccer and guitarist Martin Kelleher while I was working part-time in one of the best indie record stores Cork ever had, Dave O’Loughlin’s TNT Records on Paul St. We used to rehearse in the Worker’s Party offices across the river from the old dole offices and, later, during daytime below Henry’s itself in The Stardust club inside the Grand Parade Hotel. To earn a few bob, the band doubled as The Shades, a middle of the road covers band doing material like ‘Love Is In The Air’, a chart hit at the time. It was almost vomit-inducing to play such insipid rubbish and nearly became so one Sunday night in the Ardmanning Inn in Togher! Booked to play a nice gentle Pop set for the Sunday night regulars, The Shades – Incredible Hulk-style – suddenly transformed without warning mid-set into full-on Berserk! We hadn’t planned it that way, it just sort of happened! The devil in us. We never got paid.

Yet, somehow, Berserk have been written out of the ‘official’ histories of Cork rock. It probably didn’t help that we, regrettably, went unrecorded. And although I went on to write for Hot Press magazine, I ‘blame’ that publication for that state of affairs, for when Reekus Records later started their nights in the Downtown Kampus, Hot Press were brought down from Dublin to see the likes of Nun Attax and thus the history of Cork ‘alternative’ rock invariably and erroneously seems to begin at this point. One hundred yards from the railway station and the train back to Dublin. It’s not a bad point to begin, and most of the bands were great (I particularly liked Constant Reminders, featuring Mick Lynch), but it’s factually incorrect.

There was a link, however. Myself and Berserk singer Mike O’Brien did go into the studio as a one-off studio side-project, Loko Parentis, with Rikki and Smelley from Nun Attax and Giordai O’Laoghaire to do two tunes we had never rehearsed; the idea was to capture the tunes as live as possible and the resulting Loko Parentis demo picked up notable airplay in Cork and nationally on the Dave Fanning show on RTE. But the idea was to just record, capture the energy and disappear. Like a mayfly. It was a concept I would come back to in 2007 and the Oxegen festival.

You can hear a track from that 1981 Loko Parentis demo here: 

Following Berserk, guitarist Vince and I teamed up with Ger Hennessy (guitar/vocals) and Padraig Murphy (drums) in Orpheus, who played Sir Henry’s several times.

As you can hear from this Orpheus instrumental track, featuring Vince on lead guitar, it was a world apart from Berserk or Loko Parentis: 

Other Berserk guitarist Martin Kelleher went on to form The Kidz, who moved to London, while Maccer started a few projects in Cork. Alas, he was killed in a car crash with his wife Linda in 1981, leaving behind a young child. It was front page news on The Cork Examiner and was a tragic event and upsetting time.

 

 

Here in full is my tribute to him in Hot Press at the time:

Paul O Mahony - Aidan Grab 2 jpeg

 

 

Orpheus then added Berserk and Loko Parentis vocalist Mike and became power-pop outfit Factor Fiction. At one gig in Sir Henry’s in 1982, we came away from the gig with exactly one pound note – which we tore into five pieces afterwards so we all came away with something! The gig had been packed after we’d done some promo for our vinyl ep and we’d also had a Dave Fanning session broadcast on RTE but we decided to get the Henry’s gig recorded, hired a big PA, a sound engineer, and printed posters. Raising the bar meant our costs escalated.

You can hear a clip from that same 1982 Factor Fiction Sir Henry’s gig here: 

As with such bands with members aged in their twenties, however, and with little job potential in Cork, the members started to scatter to the four winds.

Having written an obituary about Maccer in Hot Press, I decided to keep submitting articles to the magazine, with Sir Henry’s as the core review venue. I had seen from a musician’s perspective that Cork bands were not getting the profile they deserved in Hot Press and the national media. In those days, there were no social media or mobiles, so the gap with a predominantly Dublin-based Pale-centric media was a chasm. My first review as ‘Cork Correspondent’ was of Hot Guitars in Sir Henry’s and then I covered bands like Alice in Wonderband, 1990, Real Mayonnaise, Porcelyn Tears and more. Some – like Driveshaft, The Kidz, 5 Go Down To The Sea, Microdisney, Mick Lynch and Stump – by-passed Dublin altogether and headed straight for London and probably gained more traction than they ever would have in the capital.

From a personal perspective, it was in Henry’s where, as an aspiring writer, I had the good fortune to meet and chat with the legendary rock journalist Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone and where I would invent cocktails with Fiona H. Stevenson (RIP, 2003), who would also begin to co-write Cork feature articles with me before she moved to Dublin as a full-time staffer with Hot Press, as did I in 1984.

Paul O Mahony Advert

And pirate radio had come to Cork in the early to mid-‘80s, as it had to the rest of the country. Steve Archer in Cork City Local Radio (CCLR), Ian Richards in ERI and, to a lesser extent, Southcoast Radio started giving the kind of airtime to Cork bands that RTE was not.

You can see step into a Cork time-warp thanks to Bob Le-Roi and see photos and logos of the Cork pirate stations and hear a sound link from ERI in 1983 at http://www.bobleroi.co.uk/ScrapBook/Ireland_SCR2/SCR.html

As well as the pirate stations, The Arcadia, UCC College Bar, Heaphy’s, the Phoenix, the Bodega (Oliver Plunkett St) and venues in Clonakilty and Youghal all supported original Cork bands at the time, as did local journalists like Brian O’Brien in the Cork Evening Echo and Con Downing in The Southern Star.

Yet, it was Sir Henry’s that was the city’s flagship, and when it broke down a few walls and extended its capacity so that it could accommodate national and international bands alike, and eventually club nights like Sweat, that it entered a new phase quite unlike the ‘innocence’ of the 1977 to 1984 era of being very local and self-contained.

The venue was evolving into something new, reinventing itself on a bigger scale, as it had to do in order to survive as long as it did. Its future was not to be part of the memories of ‘my generation’.

Our day in Sir Henry’s was done.

 

 

Postscript: After leaving Cork in 1984, Paul O’Mahony worked for Hot Press in Dublin until 1999. In 2006, he re-activated the Loko Parentis project in Dublin with a new line-up, which included members of The Gurriers and Las Vegas Basement. They played the Oxegen festival (New Band Stage) in 2007 and released two albums, The Other Side of Fear (2009) and Dream Revolution (2010), to critical acclaim. In keeping with the original 1981 Loko Parentis project, there was never any aspiration to do anything else other than record two very good albums.

You can hear a track from each album, here:

The Other Side of Fear: 

Remember to Breathe: 

 

… and I kept on dancing…

Catriona Hegarty provides us with our most succinct post – and a reminder of one of the perils of dancing in Henrys…

One of my funniest memories of Henry’s was dancing away one night at the edge of the main dance floor near the step up to the next level, minding my own business, quite close to a guy dancing on the step who was lost in the music, doing that typical house dance punching his arms out straight ahead of himself, when next thing I know I got punched straight in the face!!!!! Totally accidental of course and the guy couldn’t have been more apologetic “gurl I’m so sorry, you alright?” Which I was of course and I kept on dancing!

Burning Embers (1986 Session)

The Fanning Sessions Archive

Image via IrishRock.org Image via IrishRock.org

I’ve been trawling the archive for something vaguely related to Sir Henry’s in Cork, the subject of an upcoming exhibtion at UCC Library hence today’s post. Burning Embers were Sean O’Neill (vocals), John Poland (guitars), Niall Macken (keyboards), Mel Poland (bass), Gordon Ashe (drums). They recorded this session for Dave Fanning on November 17th 1986.

Champagne & Toffee (1986)

Waiting (1986)

The Blood Game (1986)

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“If you couldn’t persuade Henry’s, you didn’t matter where it mattered” – Colm O Callaghan

This guest post is courtesy of Colm O Callaghan – somebody who has been supportive of this project literally since the start.  Our first email was from him, wishing us well and offering any assistance and he has been true to his word. Thanks for all your help Colm.

And now he has written this for us. I hope you enjoy

 

I can’t remember the first time I set foot inside Sir Henrys and I can’t remember the last time either but I remember clearly where the rose was sown.

I was a weedy teenager during the summer of 1982 [and for several other summers thereafter] when my father arranged a part-time job for me, my first. For eight weeks I stacked shelves and packed shopping bags, without any great distinction, in Roches Stores on Patrick Street. On my first day I was assigned to the biscuit aisle ;- on my second, to stack sanitary towels in the female toiletries section. I was asked by one of my co-workers – an older man whose hands were pock-marked with Indian ink – if I’d ever been ‘inside’. I was a teenage boy from Blackpool and, even thirty years ago, it was an obvious question.

Before the end of the summer I’d struck up with another pair of part-timers who made like they knew their music. One was obsessed with a nascent Dublin group called U2 and appeared to have form. He wore a bouffant centre parting in his hair, managed regularly by twin combs, clearly in honour of the band’s drummer. The other seemed to know quite a bit about Ireland’s darker underbelly. Dave Fanning, Hot Press, hash. Such things.

There was loose banter in the store-room one day about Sir Henry’s, with which both of my colleagues were familiar. There was a framed U2 poster to one side of the venue, apparently. Signed by the band. U2 liked Cork and someone’s relation helped them to set up their drums. I’d regularly seen Sir Henry’s from the outside. Hadden’s Bakery on North Main Street was on my family’s regular beat and, in the days long before paid parking, we’d frequently pull the car up outside. The place looked like a right toilet, but I never imagined that it would look even worse on the inside. 

Myself and my friends were regulars at Sir Henry’s from around 1987 until 1994, when I left Cork for good. It was somewhere we went to hear live music and see bands, good, bad and often un-naturally ugly. Back then, when we knew nothing and cared less, music meant the world. And Sir Henry’s was one of the foundation blocks.

The place hosted some truly memorable nights and some remarkable live shows and, even at a distance of twenty five years I can clearly recall the most minor moments of some of the better ones.

In terms of Irish bands, it was in Sir Henry’s that Power of Dreams, The Sultans, The Franks, Engine Alley, The Subterraneans and Therapy? flowered in their pomp. It was in Henry’s too that arguably the finest and most perpetually ignored of them all, Into Paradise, played like their necks were on the line to a meagre scattering of, maybe, fifty people at a push. If anything captured their career in a snapshot, it was the continued indifference of Cork audiences. If you couldn’t persuade Henry’s, you didn’t matter where it mattered. Sir Henry’s could be cold and unforgiving and, while many were called, only the few were eventually annointed.

The Blue Angels being a particular case in point. Blue In Heaven were contemporaries and peers of Into Paradise from Churchtown, a suburb in South Dublin. A dirty and easily detonated live act, they found particular favour in Cork, and amongst the Sir Henry’s frontline especially.

Most of Blue In Heaven eventually evolved into a more considered and mildly diverting sub-species, The Blue Angels. But the Sir Henry’s crowd were having none of it and more or less refused to acknowledge they existed. The Blue Angels were famously sent packing for Dublin to the sound of one man clapping. They were a fickle crowd, the Henry’s lot.

But they adored their own too and I can still feel the fuzzy urgency with which my favourite Cork bands went about their thing on the live stage at Sir Henry’s [although plenty of other business was conducted off-stage too]. LMNO Pelican – who I later had the pleasure of producing – were restless, busy and catchy. I remember encountering a nervous and sensibly sober Brendan Butler for the first time, the Pelican’s drummer and heartbeat. ‘Alright player’, he opened, before heading straight to the gut of the matter :- he was chasing a critical view on a new Guadalcanal Diary compilation. We lost Brendan at a desperately young age in February, 2013 and its only right and proper that, in any potted history of Cork music, he is appropriately remembered and acknowledged. Rest easily, champ.

I concede now, as I did very openly then, to a soft-spot for local bands like The Bedroom Convention, Lift, Benny’s Head, Treehouse, Real Mayonnaise and The How And Why Insects, who later became Starchild and Crystal. These were the names that stood out then like they still do so now, a rangey peleton of domestiques in support of the prestige riders, lead by Cypress, Mine !, Burning Embers and The Belsonic Sound.

Of the blow-ins, my strongest recollections include live shows by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pavement, The Wedding Present, Babes In Toyland, The Sisters Of Mercy and That Petrol Emotion. It still rankles that I never saw either Microdisney or The Fatima Mansions live in Sir Henry’s :- in the great traditions of Cork politics, The Fatima Mansions tended to favour De Lacy House while Microdisney [although I first saw them support Depeche Mode in The City Hall in 1982] and me just didn’t have our clocks in sync and they’d fled Ireland years before I’d ventured out of Blackpool.

But while Sir Henry’s could destroy even the most vaunted of visitors, the inverse could be true too. Transvision Vamp played there once and, to my mind, blew the place limb from limb. ‘I wanna be your dog’ roared a leery drunk from the front row at the lead singer. ‘Woof woof’, responded Wendy James, as she sank a prozzie’s heel into his snout.

To my mind, Sir Henry’s rightful reputation as the country’s best live music venue bar-none was franked and sealed over three consecutive nights during the Summer of 1991. Facilitated through the offices of Ian Wilson and his team at Radio 2FM, Cork Rock was an annual shindig that assembled fifteen of the country’s best, aspiring and unsigned bands and flashed them in short-set form to sussed audiences speckled with talent spotters flown in – on generous expenses – from Britain and elsewhere.  

The line-up in 1991 tells its own story and, among those bucks who faced the starter’s gun were The Frank And Walters, The Sultans Of Ping F.C., The Cranberries, Therapy?, The Brilliant Trees and Toasted Heretic.

It was, without question, the single most exhilirating weekend I can recall in my short, personal relationship with Sir Henry’s. And I still meet friends and acquaintances, now well into their forties and beyond, who legitimately lay claim to having been there before the finest generation of young Irish bands ever took flight with The Man.

Work subsequently took me to many more live venues all over Britain and Europe throughout the 1990s. And with a fresh perspective it was clear to me that, whatever we thought back then, Sir Henry’s was in many ways less artifice and more franchise. Every city that assumes a love of new music and a fostering of new acts has venues that sound, look and smell like Henry’s used to do at its peak. London, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Paris, New York.

In hindsight, Sir Henry’s was where the more intense kids went after they’d outgrown the secondary school disco and re-calibrated their ambitions. To me, one of the venue’s primary attractions was that it was on our doorstep [and not in Dublin] and, to those of us who, by 1986 and 1987 had grown into angry young men and women, this was of no little import.

My fellow traveller at this time was a friend I’d met in school, Philip Kennedy. During the summers from 1982 onwards, we’d started another, far more attractive form of rote learning and, in so doing, developed a love of Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Prefab Sprout, REM and, memorably, the frenetic political jangle of McCarthy [Morty McCarthy [no relation], was the key dealer here].

We spent our evenings swapping albums, battered cassettes, taped radio programmes, bootlegs and even demos. It was through Philip [and his regular dealer, Morty] that I first heard the famous first Frank And Walters demo, a tape that genuinely blew me away and which kick-started a long-standing connection that endures to this day.

It was Philip who, while I was away in America in 1988, harrassed Ciaran O’Tuama, then manning Comet Records with Jim O’Mahony, on a regular basis about a likely release date for the second Cypress, Mine ! album. That record, which is magnificent, has still to see the light of day, although I remain hopelessly optimistic, as I always did for that band.

Phil and myself hung out into the long summer nights on the railings outside his house on Saint Mary’s Road, by Neptune Stadium, talking the big music. Or just talking big about music. In our heads we cut an artsy dash along Redemption Road as we ferried our albums, always under-arm, for everyone to see. In reality, our parents may have hoped this was all just a fad, a passing thing. Sir Henrys became a natural extension of those nights, but it wasn’t the only one. My own favourite Cork venue was Mojos. Or De Lacy House. Or The Shelter. Or, briefly, The Underground, down a side alley around the back of Roches Stores. It was there that I once saw Sindikat, one of my favourite ever Cork bands, comprised mostly of past pupils of our old school. I may even have seen The Stars of Heaven there, a band who, had their store of stellar notices converted to sales, could have retired to stud after the release of their first album, ‘Speak Slowly’. Philip passed away on April 28th, 2006. He hadn’t yet turned 40 years of age and I never hear a cracking new album or see a storming new live band without thinking of how he’d so forensically de-construct them. And he was sharp and funny with it too.

One night we encountered Margaret Dorgan on Parnell Bridge ;- she was off to see a local band, The Pretty Persuasions, in The Phoenix. Margaret shared her concerns for the band’s well-being, worried that there might be were too many ‘posers’ in the audience.

‘The only posers there’, Philip told her, ‘will be on the stage’.

 He was there at my elbow for years, through the good times and the even better times. He saw Sir Henry’s claim its many trophies and also bury a hell of a lot of bands who simply couldn’t cut muster. From wherever he is now, he knows where the bodies lie and, more importantly, why Sir Henry’s took shovels to their crowns.