- 26 Aug 19
Lend Us A Loan Of Your Old Gramophone
Ghostown is one of the handful of truly legendary Irish rock n’ roll albums, although it seemed more of a rumour when I heard a precious third generation cassette copy in some student flat in the early nineties. Pete Holidai’s lovingly assembled anniversary edition should allow those in the dark to hear what all the fuss is about. For those who were there at the time, it remains a vitally important record, and, for some, a record that is the crowning glory of this country’s wax-based output. I spoke to the novelist Joseph O’Connor – who contributes some of the excellent sleeve notes included with this release – not too long ago and this album came up.
“One of the amazing things about Philip Chevron’s writing is that, while he was a great punk rocker, he was a great Irish writer too,” O’Connor reckoned. “He tapped into the Irish stories but also the European tradition, cabaret, and all of that. They were a hugely important band to me and I love them. Ghostown is probably my favourite Irish record of all time.”
As writers, Holidai and Philip Chevron took a big jump in the year between their From Space debut, 1977’s TV Tube Heart and this miles-better record, recorded in 78 but damagingly delayed for a further year. There’s a whole ‘what if?’ story buried in that twelve month gap. Ghostown enlists the spirits of our artistic past – Plunkett, O’Casey, Yeats - to kick against the pricks of 1970’s Ireland – “they know the Ten Commandments by heart, but they never get caught ‘cause they’re too smart.” Remember, The Radiators were spitting this out on a record that was released as the country geared up for Pope John Paul II’s arrival. A staggering third of the population were blessing themselves in The Park, adding prayer to shivering prayer, looting in the town, fumbling in the greasy till, but The Radiators were having none of it. This is as punk rock as it gets. It died on its arse, of course. Greatness would have to be its own reward.
The album really needs to be heard as one complete thing, but the Kurt-Weill-visits-Joyce’s-Nightown demented waltz of ‘Kitty Ricketts’, Chevron’s history-is-a-nightmare boogie ‘Song Of The Faithful Departed’ and Holidai’s ‘Million Dollar Hero’ –producer Tony Visconti (yes, that Visconti) asked for a hit, and nearly got one - which is lifted by backing vocals, the sax break, and Mark Megaray’s bass, are all standouts if such signposts are required.
This double disc bonanza fills out the picture with session tracks and live cuts and, most importantly, the two songs recorded for the ten year reissue back in 1989: Riverrun shanty ‘Plura Belle’ (“feel like a thousand years”) and the brilliant ‘Under Cleary’s Clock’, Chevron’s ode to “the love that does not have a name” released at a time when we still didn’t really talk about that kind of thing. The past is a very foreign country. Ghostown remains a record that, if anything, is even better than its whispered reputation suggests. Essential.