At Home With...Steve Wall
After a gap of half a lifetime, Steve Wall is back living in the house he grew up in and learning to love DIY. He also recalls his days as a greyhound. Photography by Cathal Dawson
Jackie Hayden, 25 May 2005
Call to the Walls' household in Harold’s Cross in Dublin any time these days and if Steve is at home you’ll most likely find him dressed in grubby overalls and looking like a Jackson Pollock painting. “We’ve a baby due in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been ripping up old carpets and painting and all those kind of stuff I’ve been meaning to do, but since I’m a natural DIY man I usually leave things until they have to be done,” he explains.
Steve has actually lived in this house for two years now, but his connection with it goes back to childhood. It was built in 1956 and he was brought up in it when it belonged to his grandparents. “I have really fond memories of this house, so when the chance came to buy it myself two years back I grabbed at it," he says. "This house is where I got my first stirrings in music. My grandfather had lots of records and the house was usually full of music. We had an aunt who worked for the record company K-Tel, so we had lots of compilations they released too."
In that sense little has changed, for the house is still likely to be full of music at almost any time during what passes for waking hours in Chez Wall. “If I’m doing a bit of repair work around the house I’ll have the stereo on full blast. Then again, after a gig if I’m still wired and don’t want to go to bed I’ll chill out, maybe with something like Joe Chester’s new album, which I think is really terrific, or something by Planxty or the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals.”
Some of the objects in the house have been there since his grandparents' days, so this is a family who really know how to get value for money. “I tend to have an attitude that says that, until something actually breaks then it’ll do to be going on with," Steve admits. "I’m not one to buy things just for the sake of it. Some of the chairs have broken while people have been sitting in them, so we just throw them on the fire and buy new ones!”
While some musicians use their home base as a haven that allows them to escape from the world of rock'n’roll, Steve actually allows some of them into the house. “Yeah, Ollie Cole from Turn or Mundy or Nick Seymour from Crowded House often drop in for a session," he says. "Usually we’ll play each other new songs we’ve written. Ollie nearly always brings a guitar with him and I’ve a few in the house. Bronagh Gallagher is another regular too, so we can end up with anything, from The Who to Elliott Smith. Ollie’s a big fan of Elliott.”
The house boasts a sizeable collection of vinyl, cassettes, CDs, DVDs and videos. “I still have the first album I got," Steve says. "I was five when I got a record player from Santy and with it I got a Four Tops album with ‘Light My Fire’, a couple of Bacharach songs, Lennon-McCartney’s ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ and so on. I still have that album.” Another album he got from the same Santa was a collection of children’s songs called Clinton The Clown. I decided not to ask him if he still has that record too. Some things should remain private. Forever.
Not that this long-term collecting comes from any commitment to order or tidiness in the Wall household. Steve’s “office” looks like a mountainous pile of faxes, contracts, papers and magazines, under which they’re just might be a desk or some other item of furniture. Nor will you find any pets about the place. “I’d love to have a dog some day, but when you have to be away for days or weeks on end, and sometimes at short notice, it’s not really practical, but someday, maybe,” he confides.
I mention gardening. He laughs. “Not only have I no interest in gardening, but I don’t actually notice flowers. My girlfriend might put flowers in a vase on the table and she’ll ask what I thought of them and I won’t even have noticed them. I’m not big into worrying about what’s a weed and what’s a flower."
Apart from an enviable collection of classy music, Steve also has an impressive pile of documentaries he’s recorded from the television over the years. “I don’t really like soaps and I’ve never watched a reality tv programme in my life," he says, "but I love documentaries and I generally try to tape them and keep them.” Among the ones that come easiest to hand are programmes about Michael MacLiammoir, Luke Kelly, John Lennon, Keith Moon, and with most video stores now dumping their video stocks at really cheap prices, Steve has been trawling them for interesting stuff. “I picked up a copy of Toto The Hero the other day for next to nothing. It’s great!”
Living near Harold’s Cross inevitably leads to questions about the internationally famous greyhound racing track. Given that the last people to visit a place are often the locals, I wonder had he ever been there. “Been there?” he retorts, "Sure we used to play there when we were kids. In fact I remember a gang of us went over there when we were about five or six. The man was actually oiling the hare. We were amazed! Then he let us all get into a trap each and when the hare came round he opened the trap and we all ran out exactly as if we were greyhounds! I went back only about two weeks ago and had a really good night. It’s another place that has very good memories for me”.