I thought this task would be an easy one . . . but no, not at all! I was thinking that perhaps I’d propose Rum Sodomy and The Lash by the Pogues, or Scullion’s eponymous album as my favourite Irish record ever. Maybe even Fionn Regan’s End Of History?
But there are many things to consider.
There are such perfect moments on Rum, Sodomy . . . for instance – the introductory lines to ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’:
“McCormack and Richard Tauber are singing by the bed/There’s a glass of punch below your feet and and angel at you head/there’s devils on each side of you with bottles in their hands/You need one more drop of poison and you’ll dream of foreign lands” . . . and then the song explodes.
I wonder if they make the class sit down and study that intro in Rock School?
And then there’s ‘The Old Main Drag’, which from the very first drone to the final affirmation is such a perfect song. Harrowing, but perfect nonetheless.
That song came on our stereo at home the other night and my wife looked over at me and shook her head as if to say: “Holy shit, that’s so brilliant isn’t it?”, and I nodded to say, “I know, devastating.” (We do talking also, by the way!)
What an incredible writer Shane McGowan is – such beautiful poetry scraped, grated and spat out from his throat with such bile and devotional fervor.
I could go on about him and about this album, about the songs on it, mostly written by McGowan but also some traditional tunes and covers of Ewan McColl and Eric Bogle’s ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ - about a maimed soldier coming home from Gallipoli. I’ll never forget how I felt the first time I heard that song.
But even with Rum Sodomy And The Lash, I never find myself listening to it altogether as an album – not to say it’s not altogether brilliant – it’s just that I can only deal with pieces at a time, from time to time.
And then there’s Scullion. My older brother used to play that first record soon after it came out in 1979. I was about 10 years old and this was my favourite album for years and years. What an odd kid I must have seemed/been – sitting in the dark listening to ‘I’m Stretched On Your Grave’.
I remember my sister coming home from school with a friend, momentarily opening the door of the darkened sitting room and overhearing her saying “oh, that’s my brother, he’s a bit weird.”
The thing is, I’ve lost my copy of Scullion – haven’t been able to find it since I moved house eight years ago. Haven’t seen or heard it since. So I don’t feel right putting it over this piece.
A number of years ago a friend on mine gave me a copy of Skipper by Daniel Figgis. I can safely say that any time I put this on I listen to it from start to finish and that I love everything about it. The strange thing is I’m often hard on recorded instrumental ‘indie’ music.
A part of me needs that combination of atmosphere and carefully chosen words – ‘songs’ I suppose. But even though Skipper is an instrumental album, I see these pieces as songs or even one entire song with movements.
Some of the titles are beautiful too; like ‘Alison Creaking’ or ‘Lucky’s Bad Day’, ‘My Poor Little House Without Me In It’. It’s almost as if the titles are all the lyrics you need. I don’t know much about Daniel Figgis – I remember meeting him once because I’ve been living in this small town for ages now. We didn’t really talk.
I could be lazy and check on Wikipedia, but as far as I know he’s from Co Wicklow and was a child actor. He was in The Virgin Prunes and had a band called Princess Tinymeat, who I remember bewildering Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show. He seems like a Peter Pan-kind of character who doesn’t seem to have an age at all, he could be a granddad for all I know but could also pass for a precocious first year NCAD student.
As far as I know Skipper was recorded in the early to mid-nineties and saw a release on Rough Trade Records. I do consider this to be a lost classic, WAY ahead of its time.
The instrumentation is resplendent – a harmonium wheezes and creaks throughout the record. (It sometimes reminds me of Caravaggio by Simon Fisher Turner, which I listen to a lot too). The strings, horns, guitars and mellotron . . . all beautifully arranged. It really is a journey, this album. It is hypnotic and evocative, charming and challenging, so strong. I just can’t believe I never hear anyone talking about it.
You should see the liner notes and all the people who contributed to this masterpiece. The list is long.
By the way, since this album saw two separate releases there are two versions of the cover art. The version I have has a painting on the cover with a spoon playing drums on an empty bottle in an attic.
Just right I think.
Adrian Crowley is a songwriter from Galway based in Dublin. His fourth album, Long Distance Swimmer, was nominated for the Choice Music Award before he finally won it outright for its follow-up, Season of the Sparks. He is currently signed to renowned Glasgow independent label, Chemikal Underground.