(17 June 1957 - 8 October 2013)
Johnny Jukebox has smashed his last Telecaster through the television screen.
56 is no age to be dying. With Philip’s sad and sadly not unexpected death we sorely miss the old man he should have become and who would undoubtedly have continued to exercise his active and enquiring mind with such passion, purpose and humanity.
He was a fount of musical and literary knowledge without prejudice or disdain for any form. Although his heart was deep in the (musical) theatre he ranged far and wide across the soundscapes and wordscapes of the past for new vignettes, turns of phrase, wonderful changes and blistering guitar solos. And it was work and study and learning in which he found his inspiration; he was a man highly engaged in life, always needing to know and generous with that knowledge. He was generous too with his delivery to an audience. He could never be accused of lacking commitment in performance.
I first met and worked with Philip in Trend Studio in Dublin in February 1977 when we cut ‘Television Screen’, a thrilling, monstrous, racket of a record that almost overtook itself along the way, finishing before it had even ended. Rolling Stone magazine blinked out of the post hippy AOR mist and declared that if all Punk Rock records sounded like this then maybe it had a future. The Radiators – then with the (From Space) appendage – were shaking up the Irish music scene, providing the same inspirational model to the youth of their Ireland that the Sex Pistols did here. They went through trial by press in the shape of NME, toured as openers for Thin Lizzy, whose audiences were often less than enthused, and learnt a lot along the way.
The Radiators’ second album, “Ghostown”, was an inspired piece of musical and literary work mostly driven by Philip’s writing, but beautifully leavened by Pete Holidai’s refined pop sensibility and shared sense of music history. This was the musical relationship that defined them throughout their recording career. “Ghostown” is an epic piece of writing, deep within the Irish tradition and simultaneously rock’n’roll, with all the demons that it spawned. ‘Faithful Departed’ has become a staple of Irish music, comfortably entering the canon, but the album is all of a piece and truly comes to life when listened to as a whole. Philip’s background in musical theatre helped draw together the songs into a coherent whole, without the shoddy notion of ‘concept album’ entering into it.
The slight lack of top 10 singles signalled the temporary demise of the Radiators. Philip joined the Pogues and, for a brief period, the wilderness. I didn’t see much of him during that time but then again, neither did he. But I was delighted to get to know him again when he returned.
In his hugely successful Pogues career he often acted as a driving force. ‘Thousands Are Sailing’ echoed the same powerful modern expression of the Irish epic song as ‘Faithful Departed’, showing common purpose between the two bands.
Despite the feeling we had maybe not done as well as we might by them, the Radiators reformed and continued to release their records, made without a hint of nostalgia, on the Chiswick label one way or another over ensuing decades. Two new recordings were created for the first re-issue of Ghostown. ‘Under Cleary’s Clock’ was the missing song from the original sessions. This was Philip’s ‘Dark End Of The Street’, a beautiful song of secret romance about growing up gay in early 70s Dublin. Live, ‘Television Screen’ turned into a tour de force rant against Bush/Blair warmongering with its very direct “Get the fuck out of Iraq” line. Indeed he really did not like what was going down.
From time to time over the last number of years I would get a call from Philip, with a ticket for a West End musical or play; it was invariably worth the night out for a great show, but even more to spend the evening in the company of one of the finest talkers it has been my pleasure to know. Intelligent, informative and entertaining conversation didn’t come much better than with Philip Chevron and it will be a gap in the rest of my life and I am sure in many others.
A great musical and literary voice may now have been silenced but, hopefully, it will be brought to many more people than heard it in its day, as is the way of these things.