Beyond the Leap, Beyond the Law

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June 17, 2007 by cosmoakacitizensmith

When Dan Donnelly aka Sonovagun told me he’d booked some shows in Ireland and wanted me to support I wasn’t going to say no. I’d known Dan from back in the day with his old band Watercress and I toured with them while I was in Flannel.

Much craic was had, as they say.

So I got myself over to Dublin and hooked up. The camper belonging to Smick, Dan’s bro, had packed in so we got a hire car and headed to Galway.

On the underground music scene, far away from the general radar of pop culture served up to the public, things can sometimes get a bit stale. You can watch gig after gig of your mates’ bands over and over again, and they come and watch your band, and you all wonder what the point is after a while.

And then some bunch of scruffs turn up in town and show you why you do it.

Watercress were like that. I first saw them in the Prince Albert in Brighton. Word had got out that this mental Irish band were playing and the place was full. Flannel supported and everyone politely applauded.

Then these goons hit the stage. Four young lads with a double bass, drums, guitar and mandolin: two part harmonies like the Everly Brothers, pop tunes to kill for and a kind of mad down-home sound. Somewhere in the gig, Dan got out a piece of piping and played in like didgeridoo, putting through all kinds of effects and turning the sound into a bad drum ‘n’ bass/skank frenzy. The crowd went wild, the girls went crazy and never had I had such a good time being blown off the stage!

These days Dan and I play solo. We turn up in Galway and the night at the Crane Bar is being put on by some poets that Dan has been performing with in Prague. The plan is to all go on stage and take it in turns to do what a song or poem. The crowd is really quiet and listens for every nuance.

It works really well.

We have a raucous night at Roisin Dubh’s and I wake up looking out over Galway bay. Top larks. Next stop Belfast.

Back in the day, after bonding at a particularly excessive Glastonbury, Watercress asked Flannel to support them on a couple of runs round Ireland. I was totally blown away because these guys were filling up some of the biggest venues in the country and they were down to earth and right up for a laugh. And we were the support act!

So off we went in our shagged out ambulance and the chaos and mayhem that ensued was the stuff of legend. In our own heads, anyway.

Watercress at that point, 1998, were on a merry go round of playing the same places to the same people and were in a bit of a rut. But we were in need of a shimmy up and some bigger audiences, and the combination of the two bands on the same bill provided some much-needed uplift for both of us.

In fact, this whole tour is kind of a trip down memory lane, and also a kind of tribute to those fallen in action. I’ll explain what I mean in a bit.

*****

Up in Belfast we do a show at Lavery’s bar and catch up with old friends. Dan is from here and we decide to stick around and stay with his parents for the weekend instead of going to a sketchy gig in Dublin. Dan’s dad is a musician and we end up hanging around with him, going to see a trad band in the Falls Road and a show band in the docks before finally visiting a session in a bar in central Belfast.

Getting a cab back is tricky. It was a Catholic area and despite Dan’s family being Catholic, they live in a Protestant neighbourhood. The cabs don’t want to take us back to a Protestant area.

Religion is hard wired into things here in a way that is hard for me to understand. It’s a subject of conversation, whether it’s about politics, or joking around or just general chitchat. It’s there hovering around the surface, just waiting to come up in conversation.

The Protestants are gearing up for their annual marches in July, a flashpoint between the two communities as they march through some Catholic areas. You can see above, it is early June and they are already building the bonfires now. Union Jacks and the Ulster flag with the Red Hand are everywhere in these areas.

I feel sick and ashamed.

The prods are descendants of Scottish settlers who came here four hundred years ago and consider their loyalties as British. Catholics are descendents of the original Irish. They were locked out of the whole political scene and the war fought here over the last 30 years was basically a struggle for national liberation. It looks like it may have ended up with equal rights for the two communities and the removal of the gun from politics.

******

Back in the heady days of touring together, Flannel we were full of the joys of direct action, anarchism and protest. Like a lot of people in the UK at the time, we were fired up by the politicisation of the festival and free party scene, and the growth of environmental activism.

Watercress, on the other hand, saw music as a way of bringing people together in an arena away from politics, which in their experiences was horrific, divisive and led people to kill each other.

Dan is optimistic about the peace process. He reckons Northern Ireland has a much more relaxed atmosphere about it these days. I talk about how we don’t need governments to work together and he talks about how it’s great that finally Northern Ireland has a government.

Two totally different worlds.

On to Derry. Or is that Londonderry? One city with two religious communities living on two different sides of a river with two different names for itself depending on which side you are from.

We’re playing in Mary B’s, a pub on the Catholic side just above the part of the Bogside where the Bloody Sunday shootings took place. In 1972, British troops opened fire on unarmed Catholic demonstrators and fourteen people were killed.

We stop and ask for directions in a pub just past the Free Derry wall. There are murals of British troops firing at kids, and I decide if anyone talks to me I’m going to be mute. I’m scared for the first time on the tour.

Even Dan is scared…..

We find the pub, a tiny place filled with old guys. It’s in Brandywell, a rough looking area. Irish tricolours everywhere. We’re still scared.

Dan says he knows Terry, and recognises one of his sons behind the bar. Phew. We go off and sort out a PA and set up. I get taking to an old man who served in the Merchant Navy, (“NOT the Crown!”), and things are a bit more relaxed but Dan tells me later he is still a bit scared.

The pub fills up a bit. There are some younger faces. By this time, we realise people are cracking on to us and having a laugh. Difficult to tell for me, as the accent is almost indecipherable!

Dan opens the show and things chill out a bit. People seem to get into it.

Then I have to take the mic. With my Estuary English accent. So what do I do? A cover of There Aint Half Been Some Clever Bastards, by Ian Dury.

Next up, I keep going with my own songs. The pub is small but full and people are really enjoying themselves. I get some good applause.

Afterwards, a guy called Mad Dog comes up and tells me he enjoyed my set. He even quotes some of the lyrics of my songs back at me. It turns out he did a stretch for blowing up Derry Guildhall during the Troubles.

By this time, Dan’s mate’s dad Terry and his missus are here. He’s the local IRA don who did a twelve stretch but kept his mouth shut. He’s involved in politics now but is firmly on the side of the peace process.

We’re introduced to a few other folk with similarly colourful pasts. Bank robbers, headcases, and all sorts, most of who had done time for political activity.

Dan gets back on the stage and is warmly received. I get up at the end and we jam together. We finish with Oi Mush, and suddenly Paul Allen’s words take on a whole new significance:

That’s why I’m in Strangeways
Doing a stretch of bird
A judge called on me to change my ways
And I called him a turd
“I’ll do my time standing on my head
You haven’t got me beat!”
He says, “Well, have another fucking year
And then get on your feet!”

I said:
“Oi mush, fuck off!
Who do you think you are?
Don’t you talk to me like that
I’ll do your fucking car!”

I said:
“Oi mush, fuck off!
Who do you think you are?
You big, fat, wigged-up bastard
I’ll do your fucking car!”

The whole place, former jailbirds and all, is crying with laughter. Phew!!!! We jam on into the night, till the sun comes up, as people join in or wonder off home.

We wake up in Terry’s beautiful house in the middle of nowhere over the border in Donegal. It is a beautiful place with incredible views. Terry tells me these days he’s into riding his horse and growing vegetables and being there for his kids.

We get dropped off at the pub and head back to Belfast.

There were some casualties after the Watercress and Flannel tours.

John Doran aka Johnny Massacre was a circus performer who we’d met in Galway in 1998. He’d do sword swallowing, escape artist stuff and he had a bed of nails shaped like a surfboard. He called it the surfboard of death, although the way he pronounced it, it sounded like the surfboard of debt.

He became part of show, getting up in the middle of songs and lying on his bed of nails while I jumped up and down on him doing a guitar solo. We took him to Glastonbury where he blagged some gigs. At one point he stuck a plastic fork up his nose and I nearly killed him by forcing an apple onto it. Lucky escape….

After we finished touring, he became a celebrity in Ireland and toured all over Europe. Some of my friends from Galway whom I met years later when I was living in Cardiff had even heard of him.

Johnny was staying at my house in Brighton when he heard that his father had committed suicide because he found out that he had Huntington’s Chorea, a hereditary wasting disease. I remember Johnny legging out the door to get back to Ireland, obviously in bits.

I was really worried about him, because he too could have the illness.

The next time I saw him was in Galway. He was wearing a t-shirt which said “Diseased Genes.” He joined us on stage that night and we did the show of our lives at Roisin’s.

The next time I heard about him he’d been killed in a car crash. Just like that.

Bloke, Flannel bassist, and I never believed in spooky shit but we always joked how we could feel Johnny around sometimes. Bloke had a picture of him as his screensaver on his PC.

Then of course, Bloke died in an accident in the South of France. Which of course I still find too difficult to talk about. Suffice to say, this tour is a kind of commemoration. It never could be the same, but somehow it just felt like something Dan and I had to do.

*****

Dan and I do a strange show in Dugannon up North. Dan visited the grave of another friend who died recently, a young guy who had his life in front of him and was doing really well with things.

On the way back we talk about musicians we know who have gone down the dark side; getting into drugs, drink, whoring, all sorts….. It’s enough to make me value having a job and a work/life balance. On the way to Dublin, we borrow the CD of Richard Dawkins’ paean to atheism, The God Delusion.

“Dan,” I said, “years ago we were touring with knackered up vans, getting off our faces and blasting out the Dead Kennedys on the tape player. Now we’re in a hire car drinking water and listening to intellectual talking books!”

Rock and roll……..

Leap, pronounced “lepp” as in Def Leppard, is a small village in remote West Cork. And it is the home to Connolly’s!

Connolly’s is a music venue run by the inimitable Paddy. His wife Eileen was born in the house and the venue at that time was just a barn attached to the property. Paddy knew its potential immediately, and the two of them relocated from Dublin to build it up as a venue.

Paddy had a lot of music industry experience, including tour managing Irish legends Clannad. Connolly’s, named after his wife’s family, is a total shrine to music in its purist form. The place has photos, gig flyers and murals of rock and roll legends sprayed on the wall. It literally drips with history. Lots of greats have played here, and everyone who has taken the stage or been in the audience here testifies that this is a place of which dreams are made. If only all venues could be like this!

We turn up there, like when we turned up all those years ago, and the vibe is infectious. You just want to get up and do a good show. There was a nice crowd in, young and old, and things just went swimmingly!

The next day, Paddy takes me to see the waterfall in the back of his garden. It feels like some kind of initiation. He says that this is where the legend of the phrase “Beyond the Leap, beyond the law” comes. This is the phrase from which the village gets its name.

Many years ago, a priest was escaping British forces and leaped over the waterfall. The troops tried to follow him but failed. Hence the phrase.

Beyond the Leap, beyond the law….

But these days, there is no escape from the law, or at least one interpretation of it. A combination of EU money and corporate globalisation is making its presence felt in Ireland. The place is being built up at an alarming rate. Motorways and other new developments abound. Babylon ahoy!

Even in Leap, there are new homes and Polish migrants are filling lots of the jobs in the area.

Paddy tells me he’s thinking of trading up. Selling the land, the heart of Leap, to developers and opening a studio nearby.

And who can blame him? He was forced to sell his license by the government, so the venue hasn’t got a bar and it isn’t making any money. He’s got a family to think of.

The past can be a disconcerting place to go and play.

The previous tours – echoes from back in the day when I felt like I was plugged into some cosmic mains socket where the universe seemed made of music and sang to me – follows Dan and me around and won’t leave us in peace.

I can see Bloke’s face staring out from his green wig gurning away, proffering a pipe filled with the finest weed possible. Johnny Massacre too, sometimes funny, sometimes serious.

Sometimes I don’t think you can ever have closure. But sometimes you need to go back in order to move forward.

******

Sorrow and sadness, bitterness, grief
Memories I have of you
Won’t leave me in peace
My mind was running back
To the west coast of Clare
Thinking of you
And the time we had there
I walked to Spanish Point
I knew I’d find you there
I stood on the white strand
Your face was everywhere
Vivid memories fade
But the wound still remains
I wish I could go back
And be with you again
In Milltown there’s a pub
T’was there that I sat down
I see you everywhere
Your face is all around
The search for times past
Contains such sweet pain
I’ll banish lonesome thoughts
But they return again
I walk along the shore
The rain in my face
My mind is numb with grief
Of you there is no trace
I’ll think of this again
When in far off lands I roam
Walking with you
By this cold Atlantic foam
Sorrow and sadness, bitterness, grief
Memories I have of you
Won’t leave me in peace

Oconnell Maura
*****

Some of them were dreamers
And some of them were fools
Who were making plans and thinking of the future
With the energy of the innocent
They were gathering the tools
They would need to make their journey back to nature
While the sand slipped through the opening
And their hands reached for the golden ring
With their hearts they turned to each others heart for refuge
In the troubled years that came before the deluge

Some of them new pleasure
And some of them knew pain
And for some of them it was only the moment that mattered
And on the brave and crazy wings of youth
They went flying around in the rain
And their feathers, once so fine, grew torn and tattered
And in the end they traded their tired wings
For the resignation that living brings
And exchanged loves bright and fragile glow
For the glitter and the rouge
And in the moment they were swept before the deluge

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by
By and by–
When the light thats lost within us reaches the sky

Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour
And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived
And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge
Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by
By and by–
When the light thats lost within us reaches the sky

Jackson Browne

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