Not a classic reissue this time, but a BRAND NEW STUDIO ALBUM from a genuine touchstone of Irish music!
The year was young and I had just done hibernatin' / I woke up in a fifty dollar bed in the Bexar County Jail / Oh! oh! had me a hankerin' for Heaven / or, failing that, some handsome stranger / Oh! oh! this time I'm bustin' loose /and grasping the nettle of danger. ("Trouble Pilgrim", Trouble Pilgrim)
And so it is, kicked off by the jagged mirror-image Telecasters of Philip Chevron (songs, vocals, right-handed guitars. Day job: him out of The Pogues) and Pete Holidai (songs, vocals, left-handed guitars. Day job: music teacher, record producer), our questing anti-heroes The Radiators from Space embark on another mission to.......where? Well, if they knew that, what would be the point in going there to find out? They only know that this time their original guiding force Steve Rapid (voices, vintage synths, percussion. Day job: rock 'n' roll design and real country music) is back on board, taking them once again au pont. They only know that driving the engine this time are Hibernia's own JBs - the stupenduous team of Jesse Booth (bass) and Johnny Bonnie (drums). They only know that this latest journey began at a low-key show in December 2003 in tribute to fallen comrade Joe Strummer and that since then they have made many stops along the way, from an intimate Ace Records 30th Birthday shindig in Dingwalls, London in 2004 to Dublin's Croke Park Stadium in 2005, opening for long-term superfans U2.
Hey Joe, a-rovin' we will go / all the way from Cuba to Fallujah, they're all eating Freedom fries / Hey Joe, I miss you more than you could know / it's not a world you'd recognise / and it still takes me by surprise / And now the U. N. is on the phone / America is going it alone again / and it's a bad day for Democracy, which needs a sweeter tone / It is a bad day for Democracy / the World is in the danger zone / And that's when I remember the summer I spent with Joe Strummer.......... ("Joe Strummer", Trouble Pilgrim)
They've been around a wee bit, these Radiators. In 1977, Kassel University booked them to headline a Festival celebrating 200 years as an illustrious Art Academy. "Aus den Ruinen von Belfast........kommen die RADIATORS FROM SPACE (Dublin, Ireland)" If the star billing erred a little on the side of hyperbole, there were many who at least seemed willing to agree with the Prof. Provost when he later emotionally informed the German media, his students and anyone else who'd listen that "The Radiators have changed my way of thinking about life". So, what way of thinking would that be then?
To begin, the Radiators (from, yes, Dublin) found much common cause with the energy and passion of their fellow young bands over in London, but they also soon found the preoccupations somewhat adrift from their own. Boredom? If the Kids Are United? The Right to Work? Anarchy? Rock Against Racism? They were little more than modish slogans to kids who'd grown up in Ireland in the 60s and 70s. Modern Irish culture, almost in its entirety, could be said to have presented itself, portrayed itself from all angles, had itself debated and, where necessary, swept itself under the carpet, all on the medium of Irish Television in that period. By the time there was a national TV service (RTE in 1961) it was the only channel two-thirds of the country could actually receive and so, with its diet of classy- trashy American imports and carefully vetted British shows and Polish cartoons, it cast an uncertain light on the still nascent Irish Republic. But also, thanks to a clutch of home-grown media revolutionaries it became, in time, a forum more powerful than the Church Pulpit itself. The Radiators considered themselves uniquely to be of the only baby boom subset to have known a world before and after the sudden intervention of television in their lives. So it was that for their early work, from their first 45 "Television Screen" - shorter than a commercial break - to their more charged-up debut album TV Tube Heart (September 1977), they made this their principal subject matter. But that was then.
Steve Rapid is about to perform his first lead vocal on a Radiators record in almost three decades. For this album, he will act as a sort of tour-guide, a Chorus on the progress of these lovelorn, despairing and ever-circling Pilgrims without hope, without Exodus, without prospect of milk let alone honey; a Chaucer to bring the wildest fantasies to new lows of depravity even as he reappears in the white noise and luridly remorseful disguise of a contrite radio talk show host imploring his flock to be prepared for the End Times. "Steve, what's the first thing you're going to say to the eager listeners?" asks the left-handed guitarist over the intercom between control room and studio, as he sets up for a take.
"Quite a polite Concierge then." remarks the right-handed guitarist.
"Well, it has been 30 years."
Welcome! I am the Concierge of the knocking shop in Babylon / If you should feel the urge / This is the hottest spot since old Saigon / Nancy boys and dancing girls, strictly for your pleasure / Here the profits (peace be upon them) / are measured in blood and treasure. ("The Concierge", Trouble Pilgrim)
Love and Peace. War and Sex. Sex and war. Love not War. Sex not Love. Sex as one of the oldest commodities of warfare. So what's to do if your war zone is also potentially the deadliest place on Earth in which to have unmediated sex? What happens if you are offered not so much a post-coital cigarette as a mandatory stoning to death? Well, here we make our own entertainment, essentially. All sides in a conflict will have some sort of fixer who gets round the technicalities for a price and, real neighbourly like, helps keep the incidence of Rape hovering only just above the the line of the Amnesty radar. But this remains a Babylon sans frontieres. The dizzy line between instruments of genital torture and weapons of mass destruction, when one entity exists and the other does not, gets a bit blurred in this climate. Are we hearing yelps of masochistic pleasure or listening to agonised death throes? Has this Concierge taken us to the best kip in town or to Abu Ghraib Correctional Facility? Fatima-Jenny (voiced by Anita Bonnie) picks up the Anglo-Saxon-Latin slang fast and is recycling it for her own linguistic pleasure. With so much to lose, what's to lose?
Semper Fi, buddy / Always true / Semper Fi, buddy / Semper F*** you!
Not for the first time, the Radiators set a key song in a sort of brothel. In their Ghostown album, we met James Joyce's Becky Cooper - he fictionalised her as "Kitty Ricketts" in Ulysses - as both a conduit for Irish Church / State hypocrisy and in celebration of the once-Pagan Irish themselves. Where there is a brothel, the Rads have noticed, there is a culture of dissoluteness, corruption and criminal activity closely adjacent. Adjacent, see. Not in the brothel, close to the brothel. They are good observation posts for the undercurrents of the world. No accident that Monto, Dublin's red-light area until the 1930s, had a warren of underground tunnels so that the great and the good could enter and exit without compromise to their lofty positions in the world.
Who else might we find in a brothel? Almost certainly the Radiators' Man Of Heartache will drown his sorrows there from time to time. Man of Heartache lives in a constant state of disappointment that the female of his species finds him such a disappointment, for all his devotion to her. He is a modern day torch-singer par excellence, pouring out his soul as the barman sets up another drink.
She says I cannot read your mind / And I say I'm not the thinking kind / She says all we need is love / And I say Blah Blah Blah / She says I'm a loser / She says I'm a loser / She says I'm a loser / She says I'm a loser ("She Says I'm A Loser", Trouble Pilgrim).
He will almost always deliver his laments in upbeat, three part harmonies, steepling chorus melodies signalling his redemption and our redemption, for redemption is certainly something he believes in. As he kindly explained to the most recent Rebound Rosie, by way of dumping her:
You've done nothing wrong / But when I'm with her, I'm in Heaven ("Heaven", Trouble Pilgrim).
If the 1977 Kassel poster teased us about the sometimes comical fluidity of the band's "origins", it may also have subliminally signalled their reluctance to tie themselves down, over the long haul, to an excess of preconceptions, musical or otherwise, a stubborness extending even to the periodic withdrawal and subsequent restoration of the "from Space" part of their name. It's as though to stake a claim on any one part of the universe might simultaneously disqualify their citizenship of the remainder of it and so, a certain critical distance, a certain otherness has always been cultivated. Then again, there was little that succeeded better at establishing otherness in the London of the mid-to-late 1970s than finding yourself as the Rads did, unwitting and unwilling Irish immigrants in Britain. But by 1977's end, with dozens of UK bookings alone stacking up in their diaries against an ever-dwindling handful of Irish dates, the economic reality was as plain to the Radiators as it had been to so many young Irish workers in the past.
The Radiators stayed in London and recorded an exceptional second album Ghostown in Soho. Their "exile" from Ireland - still quite a distance away in the era before Penny Air Fares, unleashed a burst of creativity which gave rise to what Irish rock paper Hot Press instantly hailed as "probably the best Irish album ever". It was liked less well in Britain, which led to the eventual temporary demise of the band, but even in the UK, it has now reached a sort of critical mass which, on the whole, accepts the Hot Press judgement. In Ireland, its stock has continued to rise. Greeting a 2005 reissue by Ace Records, Brian Boyd in the Irish Times wrote "Musically, the album was audacious for its time; lyrically, it's never been bettered. Ghostown represents the first time in Irish cultural life that a rock music 33rpm could sit pretty alongside the country's literary and dramatic output. In a bitter perversion of the truth, the album marked the beginning of the end of The Radiators. Quite simply: a monumental artistic achievement."
Follow that? Well, the Radiators found they couldn't. It was not until a decent time had elapsed - 30 years, say - and they realised that nobody else could either - that they dusted themselves off and got on with their third album. Well, that and the fact that real punk rockers never stop being angry, they just get angry about different things when they get older. The New 21st Century Blues.
A young man gets left for dead in a field in Wyoming because he's gay. A preacher sets up a website with an automatic counter on it ticking off the days the boy has so far spent in hell.
Shine on prairie moon / Light up this lonely sky / We found ourselves a pretty angel we had to crucify / And on his face is the rusty track of the very last tear he cried / You should've saved your tears for Jesus, Boy! / You shoulda saved your tears.... ("Hinterland", Trouble Pilgrim).
The bewildered mother of a young soldier searches his Bible in vain for reasons why her son is fighting in these stupid wars. As she makes a care package to send him in the Middle East, she starts to get seditious ideas.....
She bakes him the peanut chip cookies he loved when he was a boy / Was that just yesterday? When G.I. Joe all on his own saved the U.S. of A ?/ When she gets a moment, Mom's baking the dish of the day / Pretzels for the President. ("A Package From Home", Trouble Pilgrim).
A time when slightly wiser counsels may have prevailed in the face of disaster?
" Oh Lord / Your ocean's so big / And my boat is so small " (Version of a traditional Breton Fisherman's Prayer, quoted in "The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs", Trouble Pilgrim. Jack Kennedy is known to have kept a carving of it on his desk in the Oval office throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis).
And that Racism problem they did not have in Ireland in 1977? Well, It got there. The Radiators considered that as good a moment as any to mention that some of their ancestors were immigrants to Dublin, Huguenots to be exact.
It is as old as History / this flight from poverty and hate / And heaven help the refugee / Who's cast out from his mother state / But when the Cardinal's bonfire's raged / and turned our village to an earthly hell / We were called here by the Christchurch bell. ("Huguenot", Trouble Pilgrim).
So okay, here, to finish, is the real deal about those endless changes of name. The Radiators From Space - for it is they - think of it as the Laughing Gnome version. They're called The Radiators from Space", Tony Visconti, producer of the band's second album Ghostown in 1978, is explaining to his old mucker David Bowie, "but I think it's just The Radiators now. And anyway, their fans have always just called them The Rads." Bowie guffaws, and finds himself unable to resist a punchline: "Of course, those of us firmly within their inner circle know them simply as The Arse!!"
We are so beautiful, we're the kings of rock and roll / We are so beautiful, we're the kings of rock and roll ("We Are So Beautiful", Trouble Pilgrim).
- MAXINE O'DWYER, 2007