- 13 Dec 19
“It’s all slipping away,” sang Dave Couse towards the end this affecting and often ferocious reunion concert by A House. The band, at its essence a collaboration between songwriter Couse and guitarist Fergal Bunbury, were reprising their obstinate, magnificent 1991 album, I Am The Greatest. All these decades on, the duo’s downtrodden indie dirges glimmered defiantly. It’s hard to think of another group who have spun underdog pain into such compelling art.
I Am The Greatest was recorded in the aftermath of A House parting ways with Sire Records. They could have given up: it would have been the obvious thing to do. Instead they funnelled their frustration and resentment into music that pitched its tent in the gutter and gazed obstinately beyond the sky line. Twenty eight years later, how encouraging to see Vicar Street packed, the audience singing Couse’s unflinching lyrics back to him. You were very briefly tempted to believe in happy endings.
So as not to frighten the cattle too early, they opened with selected highlights from their wider repertoire. ‘Here Come The Good Times’ argued for optimism in the face of overwhelming negativity. ‘The Patron Saint of Mediocrity’ gave voice to Couse’s entry-level self-loathing (he doesn’t hate himself but can’t help but acknowledge his flaws gazing into the mirror each morning).
And then it was on to I Am The Greatest and the scorched-earth wit of opener ‘I Don’t Care’. On the night the UK electorate kneecapped itself anew, the hurricane nihilism felt bleakly apt. As did ‘You’re Too Young’ – a wail of despair laced with indie disco shimmer.
The big “hit” off the LP was ‘Endless Art’, wherein Couse mourned dead musicians, authors, flower arrangers etc but with the caveat that their accomplishments shall endure forever. It is a list that continues to grow and A House gave pride of place to the late David Bowie by segueing into ‘Suffragette City’.
As a lump-in-throat moment, this was hard to top. But Couse and Bunbury did so by inviting up their now grown-up daughters on for ‘I Am Afraid’. Originally the song was an unbearably raw enumeration of all the things that kept the frontman awake at night. Now it was recast a conversation between the generations and duly reduced you in a smouldering heap of emotions.
How to top that? With the title track of course, where Couse and Bunbury recounted the ways life can kick you in the teeth but also stressed the importance of dusting yourself down and getting back up. It is a message that resonates as strongly today as in the dim and distant depths of 1991 and served as one final reminder that A House and their music truly were built to last. We shall not see their likes again on this mortar coil.
Photo by Andy Sheridan – ©AndySheridanPhotography