Paul McDermott wrote this piece for us. Many of us can surely relate to the memories and the thoughts contained in this piece. I know it certainly evoked many memories of a place that objectively might have been a bit of a dump but for me when the lights went down and the music went up it transcended its dumpness (for want of a better word). The rest is Paul. Thanks Paul
The Mekons played Sir Henrys on Sunday, 06 February 1994. This was my first night DJing in the venue. The gig was fairly empty and hardly anyone was in for the first hour when I was spinning tunes. It didn’t matter – I was DJing in Henrys. I had walked out across the gangway and had watched a gig from the greatest vantage point in the room, the DJ booth – gigs were never the same afterwards.
I began DJing in The Village for Shane Fitzsimons in 1992, and saw some incredible gigs. Nottingham’s Pitchshifter tore the room apart with their industrial metal cacophony – the first time I’d ever seen a band play in front of a projected film. The images behind Pitchshifter depicted a man mutilating himself with a razor, it turned out to be The Big Shave, a 1967 short film directed by Martin Scorsese. Watching Benji Webbe, front man of Newport’s Dub War take to the stage and twist the handle of an air raid siren was one of the most exciting things I’d ever seen; their blend of punk, dub and reggae was absolutely fantastic. Jale, were from Nova Scotia and signed to Sub Pop, they played to a few dozen people. ‘Not Happy’ a track from one of the two 7”s I bought that night still gets heavy rotation round my place.
From summer 1990 I was a regular at Tight, the Friday indie night and went to as many gigs as I could afford. Some of them are unforgettable: An Echo & the Bunnymen gig in November 1990 was from that strange period when the Bunnymen limped on sans Ian McCulloch. It was a pretty sad affair – the Bunnymen without Mac, but standing directly in front of Will Sergeant and watching him play guitar was mesmerising.
Seeing Sonic Youth in August 1991 and taking 24 pictures of them on a disposable camera; I didn’t even take pictures of Nirvana – who knew eh! A scan of my ticket stub from the gig was recently used by Sini Anderson in ‘The Punk Singer’, her fantastic documentary about Kathleen Hanna. I’m still chuffed. Cork got a taste of Hanna’s Riot Grrrl movement when Huggy Bear played The Village in February 1994, with our own Amazonic Siege supporting.
In March 1992 I sneaked in to Henrys, during a sound check to get Gavin Friday and Man Seezer to autograph my copy of ‘Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves’. I’m still proud of the setlist I nabbed after their gig. The Franks played on 21 October 1992, a big hometown gig following their initial success over in the UK – the returning heroes if you will! The lads arrived on stage to the theme tune from The Famous Five and the room exploded. They were supported by LMNO Pelican whose ‘Call Yossarian’ from their Boutros Boutros EP has to be one of the greatest tracks ever written by any Cork band. I love the bright orange triangular ticket stub from this gig.
Another ticket stub I prize is from a Wedding Present gig on 12 December 1993. “Any obnoxious behaviour up the front and you’re out” it tauntingly reads. The Wedding Present were at the height of their powers: critical and commercial darlings. They had released their masterpiece ‘Seamonsters’ in 1991 and 1992 was the year of their 12 monthly 7”s, so there was an amazing atmosphere for this one. A No Means No gig in June 1994 was unbelievably good. Rob Wright’s bass guitar rumbled like an earthquake as they launched into ‘The Tower’ and not for the first time I thought the PA would collapse. Manhole supported on the night and showed everyone just why they were the greatest band in the city at the time.
Loads of other gigs spring to mind: being completely awestruck watching a possessed Steve Mack from That Petrol Emotion as he bounced around the stage while the band tore through ‘Sensitize’. The saxophonist from Bad Manners crowd-surfing after being thrown off the stage by Buster Bloodvessel, the guy kept playing his instrument and never missed a beat. Cathal Coughlan taking to the stage with The Fatima Mansions and opening with ‘Go Home Bible Mike’, turning the room into a pressure cooker in seconds – keep music evil indeed! Mark Eitzel leading the crowd in a sing-along of ‘Johnny Mathis’ Feet’ in 1998 was a spine-chillingly special moment. Watching the Dancing Bastards From Hell and thinking my sides were going to split open from laughing.
I remember feeling really lucky because I got to see the Sultans twice in one night; but dreaded having agreed to hump the PA and sound-desk down to the Village for the second show – we were never paid enough for loading PA in and out of Henrys, a dangerous backbreaking job! Moving the gear usually took six of us a few hours, we’d do it and be happy with a few quid, free entry into the gig, a band t-shirt if we were lucky and a few pints in Streets at the end of the night. It’s amazing that no one was injured over the years.
In October 1994, I remember standing and listening as the sound engineer with the Manic Street Preachers used Yello’s ‘The Race’ to test the PA. As the words “Time is running out and the illusion fades away,” crashed out of the speakers I genuinely thought our eardrums would bleed. Later in the night when Nicky Wire kept punching the head of his bass guitar through the low ceiling of The Forum’s stage, I genuinely thought he was an idiot. How could a Hotel house the greatest venue in the country – a mini-amphitheatre – in one room and at the other side of the wall construct the horror that was The Forum’s stage? Maybe Nicky Wire had the right idea.
I remember running backstage after Mark E Smith stormed off, two songs into The Fall’s gig at Freakscene in November 1997. Smith was at one side of The Forum and the rest of the band was at the far end. Steve Hanley gave me a reassuring look, things would be okay, and I had to leave them to it. They returned to the stage a few minutes later and continued the set. Afterwards Smith asked what I thought of the gig. Feeling disappointed, I answered honestly, that I thought the gig was good but had expected more. He looked at me puzzled and said, “but it’s The Fall!” Smith would fire the band weeks later infamously declaring: “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s The Fall.”
I remember when Rollerskate Skinny’s ‘Speed to My Side’ finally filled the floor at Gigantic on Fridays in the mainroom, We’d been playing it for weeks to half-empty floors but finally it clicked; John O’Leary and I turned and high-fived, you’d swear we had written the bloody song we were so proud. I remember special moments like that or in 1998 when we played The Young Offenders’ debut single ‘That’s Why We Lose Control’ from a promo cassette that Shane Fitzsimons had given us. The crowd stood and listened; we then rewound the tape and playing it a second time and felt elated as the crowd went berserk. In May 1998, John and I interviewed Grandaddy on their tourbus for our show on Campus Radio, when they supported Super Furry Animals in Henrys. The band was added to the bill at the last minute. We thought it was hilarious that a band, whose name wasn’t even on the flyers, had a bigger bus then the headliners.
In writing these words, I don’t think I’ve succumbed to dewy-eyed nostalgia. I have good memories of Henrys but it was a bit of a dump, ask anyone who walked through the place during the day: to stock the bar; set-up lights; turntables; backdrops etc. When the lights were on, the place looked like a hell hole and it absolutely stank. We shouldn’t forget that more often then not gigs were under attended and many promoters lost a lot of money. That Mekons gig in 1994 had no more then fifty people at it – they were fantastic though. It was a dump all right, but it was our dump!
Paul McDermott is a lecturer in Media Studies and Journalism at Rathmines College and the Director of Programming at Dublin City FM.