- 31 Mar 17
Paul Cleary of legendary Dublin rockers The Blades discusses the band's first album in over three decades, the cracking Modernised.
“Really what you are looking for – and it becomes increasingly difficult – is something new, something original. How many melodies have there been since Elvis first went into Sun Studios? How many chord structures? When you’re writing and you say to yourself, ‘There’s something I never heard before’ – then I know I am on to something,” states Paul Cleary.
Arguably one of Ireland’s finest tunesmiths, Cleary is seated with Hot Press discussing The Blades’ first album in 32 years, Modernised, and the craft of songwriting. The collection is packed with a mixture of rollicking pop/mod numbers, swoonsome melodies and sweet soulful anthems, a knowing nod to Cleary’s beloved Motown.
The album follows on from 2015’s EP Smalltime, the first release from the revamped Blades. Since then there have been packed Olympia shows and raucous festival appearances, with tickets for the upcoming Whelan’s show selling fast.
“When we did the first comeback shows I was really nervous,” admits Cleary. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we really have to do this properly.’ We really did rehearse and rehearse. I recall the late great George Byrne saying it was like night 29 of a 53 date tour! But I still get nervous before every appearance, I think that adrenaline is healthy.”
The band road-tested some new material at their recent Dublin show and Cleary was delighted with the reaction.
“We did ‘On The Town’ and ‘Two Dimensions’ and the audience were really responsive,” he smiles.
The latter has a remarkably Dexys-like feel, an act that actually had quite an impact on The Blades’ trajectory.
“’Two Dimensions’ was written in 1981,” says Paul. “One of the reasons I picked up the brass was, obviously I love Stax and Motown, but also because of Dexys. When Larry (Cleary) left it would have been impossible to replace him with another guitarist, it would have been unfair. So rather than getting another guitarist I got in some brass, which allowed me also to change the direction of the band, without it being a massive pretentious move. The brass was able to bolster up chords like Larry used to do with his harmonies and add another dimension.”
Another song which can be traced back to the ’80s is the charming ballad ‘Emily’.
“I always loved The Everly Brothers and I wanted to write a song in that style,” explains Paul. “Initially it was called ‘Mary’, and I still managed to drag the Mary over three syllables! Since then there has been ‘Mary’s Prayer’, ‘Mary’ by The Four Of Us and more. So Mary was out!”
“As it was a tribute to The Everly Brothers, I thought I could call it ‘Everly’, but that didn’t work because it’s not a girl’s name. ‘Emily’ was like Everly so I chose that, it really worked well. Actually I remember years ago The Blades played a gig in Fulham and Glen Matlock came backstage to say ‘hello’ and give us a slap on the back. He said, ‘Great, guys, you are like a punk Everly Brothers’!”
More recent compositions include autobiographical number ‘The Magnets’. “I remember telling Brian I have a song called ‘The Magnets’,” says Cleary. “It’s The Blades but I can’t call it The Blades. I tried to make the song simple but it’s a little bit convoluted lyrically, in that it’s a band looking forward but also a band looking back. I’m in danger of getting too pretentious here, but there’s a guy called Dennis Potter who wrote lots of TV plays where the past, present and future are quite fluid. I try to do that in the song.
“Even though on a superficial level it’s just about a band starting out, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I sing ‘When we are old men of 55 or more/We’ll look back and hopefully be proud of what we tried to do’, what that is saying when you think about it, is that we know we are not going to be successful.”
After the Whelan’s date on March 31 the next Blades-related activity will be a band documentary – indeed this interview is being filmed for that purpose by Blades fan/film-maker Brian O’Flaherty!
“We will probably go the Crowdfunding route,” says Paul. “Brian asked me years ago but I was busy raising my kids. When the band got going again it was the perfect time. Brian will be filming at the Whelan’s show, not in an invasive way, just capturing the night.”
Remember to wave now! The Blades give Modernised a live airing in Whelan’s, Dublin on March 31