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Saved By The Bell

With Bell X1 once again nominated for a Choice Music Prize, making inroads in America and set for The Music Show, Paul Noonan talks to Craig Fitzpatrick about his delight over the election of fellow RDS guest President Michael D. Higgins, charity gigs, activism and how he has dealt with the turmoil of the past few years in song.

Craig Fitzpatrick, 02 Mar 2012

These pointed words aimed at a group of political bods leading us to ruin first spilled from Paul Noonan’s mouth in the middle of the last decade. They appeared on the Kildare band’s third studio effort Flock, an album that went five times platinum and positioned Noonan and co as a real musical force in Ireland. An act with intelligence, tunes and strong chart showings. Odd timing. It was the best of times, but the worst times were on the way. Noonan may or may not have clocked this, but what is clear is that, even from that position of relevant comfort, he was long investing his lyrics with a sense of wary purpose, not leaving them in thrall to champagne receptions. Observing.

So we skip joyously past the dreaded collapse to springtime in Dublin, as the genteel singer sits in the Central Hotel’s Library Bar, sipping tea and talking about how, in the intervening period, he has scarcely stopped commenting on this country of his. In fact, as the bleakness crept in, it became ever more evident. Does he feel songwriters have an odd responsibility to broach these subjects? And is he happy with the position that puts him in?

“Sometimes,” he smiles. “I don’t feel like I’m a particular authority on issues but they are of interest to me. Especially the Irish Question. Irish identity is something we’ve played with. ‘Reacharound’ predates the collapse but was very much about that cute hoorism that would eventually lead to it. That short-sightedness and sleeveenism is still there but is now recognised as a destructive force.

“But you write what you know or what you’re preoccupied by. A song called ‘Sugar High’ [from last year’s Bloodless Coup] was very much about a specific vision of the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races. A HR Giger debauched vision partly inspired by a song of Lou Reed’s called ‘Sex With Your Parents’, which is about that Republican old boys’ club and the homoerotic factor within that.”

It’s unsurprising that Paul should be making ever more comparisons between Ireland and that vast expanse of land across the Atlantic these days. America’s woes are unavoidably our woes and, in personal terms, the band are now touring Stateside more than ever before, building a fanbase and getting acquainted with the culture and the quandaries. Tellingly, during their jaunt to the east coast late last year, one of Noonan’s first ports of call was Occupy Wall Street.

“Spending so much time in the States last year, we saw so many of the Occupy protests,” he notes. “But New York was bizarre, it was a circus. It’s so small and compacted down there, so you had Zuccotti Park on one side being completely lined with cops and paddy wagons and on the other side you had media trucks.”

How did he react to the movement?

“It’s hard to know. There isn’t really a singular identity or message to the thing but having seen it elsewhere in Portland, Chicago, Seattle and Austin, I think the important thing is the act. A fundamental ‘shit is not right’ statement. While inequality in America is very extreme, it exists throughout the world and is something that we should become preoccupied with.”

And the Irish campaign?

“I didn’t see it to be honest. I feel here, yes there is inequality, but there isn’t that drastic disparity. What has angered me most is that endemic cute hoor, sleveen culture that meant we were grossly mismanaged and are now paying the price for it. Yes, we’ve thrown out most of the people who’s watch that happened on but I still think it will take time for it all to change. I do think that things are better now. People have been humbled by it, not just the political class but everybody.”

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