How to paint from memory the oddly fertile desert that was Dublin in the mid-1970s? The palette would require sepias for the old town still tantalisingly glimpsed alongside the risible chrome-blue monuments to commerce and international diplomacy; a thick brown for the malodorous Liffey; perhaps, on a good day, a generous leafy wash for the eternal sanctuary of St Stephen's Green; ecclesiastic purple for the bitter swill consumed in the modish cellar wine bars. A variety of umber and ochre tones for the G-plan decor of the aspirant - if still comparatively poor - middle class; and a flickering snowy-grey for the new medium of the (nominally black and white) telly in the corner.
The new medium? Television came late to Ireland. Although many homes could pirate the adjacent British networks, the majority had to wait until at least New Year's Eve 1961, when the indigenous service, Telefis Eireann, started up amidst great fanfare. All of us had schoolmates who had never actually seen television although, increasingly by now, the reasons given had more to do with parental censorship than insufficient income. These cultural guardians were right, too - television really was going to alter Ireland forever, and who could tell which sinful paths it would lead us down?
I think this is what set The Radiators apart as a specifically Irish punk band. Unlike New York's Ramones or London's Clash, we were not actually born into the television age: instead it interrupted our lives when we were impressionable little boys, at once opening the window on entire new worlds and reducing those worlds to disposable commodities. TV demanded we view life through its prism.
But live television provided a couple of miracles too. Gay Byrne's The Late Late Show unexpectedly provided a forum which was neither pulpit nor public house. A chat show with a difference, the Late Late at its best had the nation talking to itself. It gradually laid bare the shaky foundations of DeValera's state, shattered its taboos and took pains to showcase the liberal view along with the reactionary. Modern Ireland? "It started on The Late Late Show", the theme song breezily noted as the closing titles rolled over another scene of cultural carnage.
The second miracle took place one holy night in 1970 when, in a broadcast from Amsterdam, a wee girl appeared in this flickering Grotto and lighted the way forward for Irish culture. This Virgin was all we were, all we had been, all we aspired to, all we wished to shun, all we ........ despised. And critically - for Dana winning the Eurovision Song Contest was proof enough that there was a place for the Irish in this new world - here was a template we could exploit for limitless future profit. Our capacity to gull the foreigner with our charm and blarney had not been vaporised by the cathode ray. We would take light entertainment to the huddled masses. By Christ, we'd even dance for them.
The Radiators appeared no more than six times on television including, finally, The Late Late Show, but we did, in the summer of 1977, make TV Tube Heart in Dublin's Lombard Studios. Here it is again.
By PHILIP CHEVRON