Nirvana

Sean O Neill opens Sir Henrys @UCC Library

Sean O Neill opened the Sir Henrys @UCC Library exhibition. He was the lead singer with 80s Cork rock and pop outfit Burning Embers, who released a number of singles and had a very good live reputation. He started managing Sir Henrys in 1988 and not only booked bands but also introduced Greg Dowling and the soon to be legendary Sweat dance night to the venue. He was in charge when Sonic Youth and Nirvana touched down in Cork plus his era also coincided with the expansion of Sir Henrys into more rooms such as the Back Bar. The renowned DJ weekenders also started at this time and it was Sean who gave the go ahead to a supposed one-off indie night called Freakscene too. Below is his speech from the night. Thanks Sean for a great speech and, as a former punter, thanks for vision you brought to the club…

Firstly I have to thank UCC for putting on this celebration of Sir Henry’s and to its curators Martin O’Connor, Eileen Hogan & Stevie G, Cronan and Colette and all the staff.
Sir Henry’s didn’t just open one day it was born out of history. The Lucey brothers, Murt, Michael and Jerry were at the vanguard of the music scene from the 1960’s. They were innovators, risk takers and forward thinkers. There would never been Sir Henry’s without Murt, Michael and Jerry Lucey. Sir Henry’s was Jerry’s baby.
For those of you who never experienced Sir Henry’s let me paint you a picture.
I am most associated with being the manager in the heady days of the dance scene, aptly named ‘Sweat’. However, I started my relationship (yes, it was and even still is a love affair) with Sir Henry’s like everybody else when I was 18 (maybe even 17), just trying to get into this mysterious, weird and wonderful place. That my mother would have classed it as a den of iniquity made it even more important to get in through those doors. Yes, it had it’s detractors down through the years, but, it’s always hard when it’s different.
Sir Henry’s was exciting, Sir Henry’s was cutting edge, music being the thread.
This little club crossed musical and social boundaries from folk to rock to punk to the dance scene, it mirrored the music culture of the world.
This was only possible because of Jerry Lucey’s willingness to take a chance, to try something new. Jerry gave things time. Jerry saw something in me that I didn’t see, he took a chance and gave me a chance.
This exhibition gives vent to the wealth of talent that passed through its doors, played on its stage, enjoyed it’s spirit. From the 70’s right up to and through the 90’s if you went to Sir Henry’s you remembered it.
History will always judge, for better or for worse and Sir Henry’s is now getting its rightful recognition. I think that is fantastic.

Regards,
Sean O’Neill

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“It was a dump all right, but it was our dump!” – Paul McDermott

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.

Nirvana at Henrys – a view from Caroline Barry

Caroline Barry put out a call a number of years ago on PROC seeking interviewees for an article that she was writing on Nirvana playing Henrys. Here is that article in full. For further blog posts from Caroline you can check out http://www.misspennydreadful.blogspot.com

Twenty five years ago, on August 20th 1991, Cork city played host to an unknown grunge band. Three hundred and fifty people crowded into Sir Henry’s nightclub to hear one of the biggest alternative bands play.

This band was Sonic Youth and while most people had attended hoping to hear the band play tracks from their new album, no one attending the gig could predict that the support act would end up outselling Sonic Youth and becoming the defining acts of the 90s music scene.

That band, was Nirvana.

Growing up in Cork city, I missed the Sir Henry’s era. However being an alternative creative teenager in Cork, we heard the stories, the legends and the myths of the venue. The Nirvana gig tales didn’t seem real to us, as Nirvana in our teenage years of the early noughties, were a massive influence and commemorated on our T-shirts and in our CD collections.

It is difficult for those of us used to today’s gig prices of seventy or eighty euro for one performer to imagine being charged £7.50 to see two of the world’s best grunge acts perform in such a venue. Those in attendance at the gig were some of the first to hear Nirvana’s new single, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ A song which later became an anthem to a new generation of music loving alternative teenagers which keeps appealing to generation after generation, passed down through time as a song that captures the grunge and alternative mood. Which given fashion’s current obsession with capturing the style of the 1990s – is now iconic given the raw power executed on the single. It remains as relevant today as it was then.

Sean O’ Neill, then manager of the nightclub remembers the gig, ‘Nirvana had a huge stage presence and were really powerful, you could see they could go huge. I did meet all members of both bands and Kurt was pretty quiet, shy even. Nice guy, they were all pretty cool.” He adds, “They did play Smells like Teen Spirit, last song if I remember correctly. The reaction of the crowd was great. I did go to ‘Bill and Bobs’, the chipper down the road to get burgers and chips for Nirvana and Sonic youth after the gig.’ Cork was lucky and Sir Henry’s was the perfect venue to play host to such an event as the venue had become legendary in its own right for being one of the best nightclubs in Cork. Less than six months in December 1991, the band released their album, Nevermind. Which went on to knock Michael Jackson’s Dangerous off the US billboard charts No.1 spot by selling 400,000 copies per week and resulting in several weeks at the top of the charts. This wasn’t Nirvana’s first album, but their second as ‘Bleach’ had been released in 1989 debuting at No.33 in the UK charts. In fact, most attending the gig had gone to hear Sonic Youth and not Nirvana, who were still relatively unknown with many choosing to skip the support act.

Nirvana were part of a major new music scene born in America, which originated in Seattle. Grunge had become the rebellious teenagers music of choice as bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath had done for their parent’s generation. It gave disillusioned youth a means through which to rebel and provided a soundtrack to their angst. Bands such as the Melvins, Sonic Youth and Bikini Kill had already begun to make an impact on English and Irish charts and with Sonic Youth booked to play a venue in Cork, Kim Gordon, Sonic Youth’s lead singer and friend of Kurt Cobain, suggested the band support them on their tour. Sir Henry’s in 1991 had become legendary as one of Cork’s best known and best loved live music venues. Situated on Grand Parade in the heart of the city, it had been gathering a reputation for some of the biggest names in music since 1978. Providing a generation of Cork’s music lovers with the perfect venue to discover new music. There are websites, forums dedicated to keeping the Sir Henry’s legend alive by sharing photos, stories and DJ remixes. Many of the DJs who played there going on to fame as a result of club nights such as Sweat and Fish Go Deep.

While the building, which was demolished in 2002, is gone – the memories and feelings for the place still run deep in Cork’s nightclub history. While the club is known for its move into the dance scene of the 1990s which earned two ‘club of the month’ awards from MTV. It was also a rock venue originally. While managing the club, Sean O’ Neil remembers the increasing interest in dance music within the club. The dance music that came along in the early ‘90’s was a huge new movement and we happened to be doing a dance night since 1988 and it kind of evolved. There was no great plan but we were ahead of the game. By luck and things just happened. In 1988 it was widely regarded as a dance club.”

The subsequent popularity of Nirvana in Ireland meant that many were shocked when on April 8th 1994, just three years after the legendary gig and deep into the height of their worldwide fame, singer Kurt Cobain took his own life aged just 27. A reluctant poster boy for the grunge and alternative movement, Cobain struggled with his own fame before becoming addicted to heroin. He shot himself in his hotel room. Martin Leahy, a Sir Henry’s regular, who attended the gig remembers his shock at the announcement. . ‘His death was a real shock –I turned on Dave Fanning on the radio in my old red VW Golf Mk2. Fanning played 6 Nirvana tracks in a row so we knew something was up. Fanning came on and spoke about Cobain in the past tense – he didn’t give the details. We were pretty sad and held hands for a few seconds in the car.” He also remembers meeting Cobain at the gig. “I High-fived him after the set. He said “Thanks man, we had a blast”. Jesus Kurt boy, so did we.”

Although it’s been thirty two years since Sir Henry’s first opened its door, the decision to close the bar in 2002 meant that Sir Henry’s has achieved almost cult status amongst my generation in Cork. Fans talk of discovering dance music, the sweat of the dance floor, the legends that took to the stage launching careers. It provides a series of powerful memories of a city that begun to be known for great live music and it has become part of Cork’s social history. Those in my generation, myself included, wished we were of an age where it had still been alive as turning eighteen in 2003 meant that I missed the era of Sir Henry’s.

Sean O Neill comments that “The site is now still derelict. Kind of an apt testament in a twisted way to how things have gone in this country. Yes, it was falling down but Cork has really missed it, you can’t just go out and buy history off the shelf. I remember it as an oasis, different and welcoming the different, putting on shows, taking risks, and the people who went there were just incredible. The reaction to the club closing was a bit muted as it had lost its sheen and it was quite a slow, drawn out death. Over the years more and more are saddened by its demise. ”