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Sindikat :- The greatest Cork band never to have played Sir Henry’s ?

Sindikat :- The greatest Cork band never to have played Sir Henry’s ?

‘They Didn’t Teach Music In My School’ is an old Toasted Heretic song that first appeared on ‘The Smug’ E.P., released on the band’s own Bananafish label in 1990.

Anyone who, like myself, attended The North Monastery school on the Northside of Cork city during  the 1970s and 1980s, will appreciate the song’s title, if not its memorable chorus, which runs as follows :-

‘But we got out alive,
We’re rich, We’re famous.
And you’re inside for sliding up Seamus’

The dominant extra-curricular focus up on Our Lady’s Mount was sport, and the school’s legacy on  tracks and fields all over Ireland and beyond has been well chronicled. The Mon has produced  numerous All-Ireland winners and has excelled in a variety of disciplines outside of the classroom.  But has the school ever actually crashed the pop charts ?

Rory Gallagher briefly attended primary school there after his family moved to Cork from Donegal  [via Derry] in the late 1950s but, as Marcus Connaughton puts it in his book ‘Rory Gallagher – His Life  And Times’, it was only after Rory moved to St Kieran’s College on Camden Quay that ‘he prospered after the more repressed regime of The North Mon’.

A school choir – The North Monastery Boys Choir – flourished briefly during the late 1970s and early  80s. Led by musical director, Andrew Padmore, the forty boys famously did a brief tour of Rome,  performed in the school on grand occasions and actually released an album. But beyond that, the  school’s support for music was very limited and the subject didn’t feature as part of the formal  curriculum. That said, every now and again a cluster of like-minds would gel-up around the darker corners of the school, often including those you’d least expect to find messing around with pedals,  plugboards and multi-core leads. Billeted in the heart of a staunchly working-class part of town, Monboys were more likely to throw slaps than rock star shapes.

Alan Whitehouse and Noel O’Flaherty from Dublin Hill led an angsty, punk-pop combo called Blunt  [who were anything but], that generated ripples and snagged a couple of nice supports around town. Michael Dwyer from Gerald Griffin Street fronted The Electric Hedgehogs and, further up the school, Jim O’Mahony was known to be hanging around rehearsal rooms with trendy types from across the river. But these were rare exceptions :- The Mon may have churned out many sportsmen of calibre [and a few well regarded poets] between 1976 and 1985 but, back then, we lagged well behind schools like Coláiste Chriost Ri, Deerpark and Coláiste An Spioraid Naoimh, when it came to producing rock bands.

Very few of you will remember Sindikat. They hardly feature within the broader pages of Cork music history but, thirty years on, I remember them and their songs in ultra-fine detail. To a small handful of us in our mid-teens, they were the closest we got to real erotica. And although we’d already been mainlining on the likes of REM, The Smiths and Prefab Sprout, Sindikat were different and, in many ways, more important. They were our secret crush, the first and only band in the village.

Sindikat were a surly five-piece and, among their number counted three lads from the class immediately above us and another from a different part of the school. Not only that, but they’d just committed their stuff to tape and had recorded a demo. And they were playing live. The original line-up comprised of Pat Lyons [vocals], Brendan Smith [bass], Kieran O’Sullivan [guitar], Paul O’Reilly [Hammond] and Paul Sheppard [drums] and here they were, in their black tops and out-size shades, badly photocopied on the front of their five-song cassette. I’d always had Lyons pinged  as a new-wave sort, cut in the likeness of Vince Clarke. But he stared me out now from the front of the demo’s sleeve with a single strand of blond hair wrapped around his ear – which was multi- pierced, of course – on what was an otherwise standard issue punk cut. It wasn’t just the wonders of an Arts course he’d discovered since he left The Mon for U.C.C.

Vocally he strained to hit the top of his register and wasn’t a natural singer. Behind him, Sindikat borrowed liberally from Joy Division, The Doors, The Velvets and some of the mellower post-punks. Their best songs [‘Jezebel’, ‘Indecision’, ‘Beyond The Purple Mountain’] were wrapped up in Kieran’s delicate guitar licks and his easy way with middle-eights, breaks and the more complicated end of the tutorial books. A shrill Hammond would routinely parp its way in and out of the mix and, bubbling underneath, a tinny drum sound and basic bass rumble. And it was a beautiful racket.

It was just before we sat The Leaving Certificate in the summer of 1985 that Sindikat really started to register. They’d formed nine months previously as first year university students and had already caused a bit of live rumble in the College Bar. Their demo earned them a nice billing [with a photograph] in Brian O’Brien’s weekly rock column in The Echo, and our interest was piqued. The fact that the core of a fully-formed band had been shaped in the classroom next door, through the partition, caused no little wonder. The world was indeed filled with possibilities and, for a couple of years, I chronicled and checked this band’s every move.

I recognised the rhythm section from around Gerald Griffin Street and had never remotely thought of either of them as likely rock stars. The keyboard player looked like he was on leave of absence from the Housing Department in Cork Corporation and Pat looked like a dog’s dinner, but it didn’t matter. Sindikat were local, accessible, visible and were making waves. And I wanted a piece.

They only ever played half a dozen live shows during their two year history, and The Underground, off Patrick Street, was their live venue of choice. A couple of their gigs there were captured on pretty decent recordings by another former pupil of the school, Paul Daly, who was one of my neighbours and friends on Seminary Road. Those tapes record sweaty, mildly chaotic live affairs, with the band frequently re-starting some of their songs and Lyons being roundly baited from the floor. In the best traditions of punk rock, the band – Kieran apart – seemed to struggle with their instruments, but this too was irrelevant. They’d routinely lash through fifteen or sixteen songs and end in fury with an angry take on Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’. It was perfect and we lapped it up.

On a memorably hot Sunday afternoon during the summer of 1985, Sindikat performed as part of the celebration marking the granting of city status to Cork, 800 years previously. On the back of a truck parked in a tarmaced car-park beside what was then the Graffiti Theatre Company, they appeared third on a bill that also included Porcelyn Tears and the day’s headliners, Flex And The Fastweather. It could have been our own private Glastonbury.

But Sindikat weren’t suited to the out of doors and the day didn’t go well for them. Brendan broke a string on his bass early on and, after what seemed like an eternity spent trying to replace it, the band lost momentum as the crowd of fifty lost interest. In the white heat of the summer, Sindikat’s post- punk schtick was lost and out of place. I shouted at them to play ‘Factory Fodder’, a live favourite, but Lyons sneered back at me from the truck. ‘We haven’t rehearsed that one’, he said. Sindikat were an intensive live experience but, removed from their natural habitat – the low ceilings at The Underground and the warmth of The College Bar – their impact was lost.

There was another show in The Buckingham [which later became Mojos] during which O’Reilly’s Hammond took up half of the stage and where punters had to actually walk across him and his gear to access the toilets, such as they were. But when Denis Desmond – a local impresario – took over The Cork Opera House for a week-long showcase and put every young band in Cork into a serious, serious venue – it looked as if Sindikat were ready to spring. Finally the band was set to perform in a venue that matched the scale of ambition I’d set for them in my head.

Sindikat’s set aside, that suite of gigs is still memorable for a terrific set from Ballincollig band The Outside and for an appearance by a Bishopstown band called Echoes In A Shallow Bay, fronted by Brendan O’Connor and featuring Niall Linehan from The Frank And Walters on guitar. The highlight of their set was a shocking cover of ‘Stairway To Heaven’, where the singer read the words from a sheet of paper as he swayed around the vast stage.

But Sindikat had undergone radical surgery. The curtain went up and revealed that Kieran – the band’s tender guitarist and key writer– was absent, presumed gone. In his place a new member, Eddie, and a scatter of terrific new songs. But they found their old habits hard to shake too and, as ever, had to re-start the opener, a sturdy new number ,‘The Light’, that featured far more lead guitar runs than previously. Eddie was clearly an honours student at the Knopfler school and, as with the aforementioned Toasted Heretic, their songs now rolled with added licks. The band’s name may have suggested a group sharing common interests but, from our velvet seats in the stalls, Eddie was rocking to his own beat.

A listing on the excellent http://www.irishrock.org website claims that Sindikat were active from 1984 until 1986 when, I imagine, the original gang dissipated and the band just ran out of puff. But not before I crossed the floor and very nearly joined them.

A friend of mine from Blackpool, Ray O’Callaghan, is a fine guitarist whose form line extends back to Poles Apart, a Police/Rory/muso-conscious three-piece led by singing bass-player, John Drinan. They were a decent live draw, Sir Henry’s regulars during the early 1980s [alongside the likes of Sabre] and recorded a ballsy three-song session for Dave Fanning’s Rock Show on the then Radio 2. Ray responded to a newspaper advert placed by a Northside-based rock band seeking a guitarist and keyboard player. That band was Sindikat, who had obviously come apart at the seams and were looking to re-fuel the jet.

Ray and myself fetched up on a cold, cold night at a breeze-block rehearsal room at the bottom of Fair Hill that, appropriately enough, touched onto the playing fields at the back of The North Mon. I’d passed the gates to this building regularly often over the years and had often wondered what went on behind the metal doors. And now I knew. It was here, against slabbed walls deadened by old rugs and dimly lit with naked bulbs that we jammed with what remained of the old Sindikat line- up for the guts of an hour. Ray was – and still is – a beautiful, old-school musician. Another graduate from the school of serious players, he boosted the body of every number with no little power and using an impressive artillery of pedals and effects. Loud to boot, Sindikat would have been lucky to snare him.

In the opposite corner, I hunched over a primitive Casio, awe-struck in such company, and barely managed to get a full chord away. Like a desperate psychotic on a blind date, I also knew Sindikat’s canon of material better than the band itself, or what was left of the band by then. Pat Lyons looked mortified and, although the long-standing rhythm section were courteous and kind, there was an elephant in the room. Even then, we all knew. Sindikat were blowing hard, drowning not waving.

Nothing ever materialised from our one-night stand and I never heard of the band again. Even more curiously, I never subsequently saw any of them around either, although I’ve since heard many tall tales about them – Pat especially – over the years.

Sindikat, to the best of my knowledge, never played Sir Henry’s. But then this band comprised a core of Northsiders with bottle and, you know, maybe they just wanted to trade on their own terms and stubbornly do things their own way ? Their short biography on http://www.irishrock.org claims that Sindikat ‘were considered a ‘northside band’, local parlance for outside the mainstream’ which, although clearly tongue in cheek, may help to explain why they steered clear of Cork’s most vaunted live music venue, preferring the smaller, more delapidated and far drearier atmosphere at The
Underground instead.

But to these ears at least, they are the first, the last and the always. For two years they were the band I obsessed most about, quite possibly the greatest Cork band never to have darkened the door of Sir Henry’s. And that, in the pages of my own limited and deficient history of Cork rock music, only sets them further apart from the pack.

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