- 22 Oct 19
Hot Press was launched in June 1977. In the same month, Elvis gave his last concert. No connection, except that this was the end and the beginning of an era…
John Lennon said that before Elvis there was nothing. After Elvis, nothing was the same.
Perry Como is said to have said that Elvis was a threat to the moral health of the nation. What brighter endorsement could you wish for?
Dial him up singing ‘Lonesome Tonight’, last recorded song ever, slurring, drug-addled, stupidly giggling, and marvel at the shambling majesty even as you ache for what’s lost.
Another thing about Elvis was that he was the most beautiful man in the world. To be as beautiful as that and also as bad was an alluring combination, love potion and lethal poison.
When Pope Paul VI, or it could have been John Paul I, died within a year of Elvis, many of us shrugged. There’d be another pope along in a minute. But there’d never ever be another Elvis.
Dissing the dead pope while singing hosannas to Elvis’s immortality was the pitch-perfect response.
That’s the first thing I think of when I think back on 1977, and the big-bang beginning of Hot Press – an efflorescence of music to match the tumult of the moment. The Radiators, The Boomtown Rats, The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers. The Sex Pistols were snarling ‘God Save The Queen’ at outraged citizens in England.
The second thing I think of is that back then, there was nowhere in Ireland you could write about abortion without having to signal a shudder of distaste. When Hot Press arrived with a certain insouciance into what I believe is now called “the national conversation”, the axis of argument shifted just a notch. Not a lot, not nearly enough, but enough to make a discernible difference.
The “pro-life” crowd comprised swivel-eyed loons, pious devotees, barking misogynists, victims of nuns and the like. “Go home, ya wife-swopping sodomites,” shrieked a well-known street preacher in one of the most memorable and entertaining occurrences of the campaign.
Wasn’t so entertaining when a squad of fuming zealots followed your partner out of a meeting and all the way along Abbey Street, keeping her within range of their spit.
The referendum of 1983 saw the ban on abortion inserted into the constitution. But the tide of history was turning. Amy Garvey, Terry O’Neill and myself organised Anti-Amendment Music (AAM), with Christy Moore, Mary Coughlan, Paul Brady, Jil Turner, and a chorus of teenage tyros.
This was the first occasion when Irish musicians assembled in political array. The “official” campaign believed that the point of AAM was to raise funds. But, O’Neill insisted, “We are not here to make money but to make this thing cool.”
The referendum was lost. But the pro-choice movement came away with something of a spring in its step to ease us along the rest of the way. You need a rhythm to march to when the going is rough and the enemy well dug in.
It is fair to say that, more than any other publication in the land, Hot Press kept pace with the change rumbling underneath, heralding the transformation that was to carry the Yes side to victory in last year’s referendum.
The same conversation is now again under way in the North.
Three months ago, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill was passed at Westminster. Along the way, it had acquired an amendment insisting on implementation of the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). These included decriminalisation of abortion.
But abortion is a “devolved matter” – Stormont business, not Westminster’s. For as long as Stormont remained out of action, the abortion law couldn’t be touched. Many found this extremely convenient. The DUP could relax, no need to fight to defend the status quo.
Sinn Fein, still nervous of challenging the local power of the Catholic Church – things work differently up here – was happy enough to leave the issue to London. They could have abortion reform without sullying their hands with sin. As the old republican slogan proclaims, Blame it on the Brits.
It was against this background that a Commons proposal emerged to bypass the zombie Assembly and directly amend a bill so as to strike down the prohibition on women making choices. In deference to devolution, it was stitched in that if the Assembly woke itself up and went back to work by October 21st, the amendment would automatically fall.
“Pro-lifers” have been up in arms ever since, waving placards with pictures of foetuses mysteriously unattached to women and demanding that the DUP and SF set their differences aside and recall the Assembly to ditch the abortion proposal. But neither will, on account of other irresolvable differences.
Come October 22nd then, abortion will be decriminalised in the North.
The trek isn’t over, but the end is in sight.
We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of music in driving society forward. In that sense, Hot Press is a history book.
This is a twisted account of the Hot Press years, but twisted only to make it straight.