Motley’s monthly columnist Steve Flynn discusses the sounds and voices that make the music of the Rebel County
“If cities are sexed, as Jan Morris believes, then Cork is a male place. Personified further, I would cast him as low-sized, disputatious and stoutly built, a hard-to-knock-over type.” – Kevin Barry
Being born and bred in Cork comes with a predetermined set of characteristics; a sense of superiority confined to the southern coast. An ethos that within our county bounds the greatest warriors in this country’s history have been manufactured (see: Michael Collins, Roy Keane et al.) and a rhythmic speech pattern that fluctuates in pitch with words that ream out at the speed of an automatic weapon. As a teenager, if someone were to ask me about the Cork music scene the only response I could conjure up would be ‘The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee;’ however, later in life I would discover that there was much more to this sprawling utopia than an aquatically themed love song.
There is nothing in this article that I can offer you on the topic of Rory Gallagher that you haven’t heard already from any Corkonian in a pub/chipper/taxi. Cork’s net is wide in terms of connections to some of the the most influential figures in Rock & Roll history. Take ‘Irish’ Jack Lyons for example, a homegrown hero who left Cork for London, falling in with The Who (Pete Townsend’s maternal grandfather was also a Cork man). His militant Mod look would inspire some of their most well known tunes such as ‘Can’t Explain’ and ‘Substitute.’
Take Bob Dylan’s old rival Donovan, the prince of psychedelic folk; the man who went with The Beatles on their soul-searching mission to India teaching them new guitar picking techniques which can be heard throughout The White Album. A man with an illustrious career of his own, resides in Mallow, in north Cork.
Going west, Clonakilty was the adopted home of Noel Redding, bassist for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, contributing and playing on all three albums. Following the death of Hendrix, Redding relocated to Cork in 1972. This revelation both thrilled and confused me: A man who was deemed worthy to play (and worthy he certainly was) another stringed instrument alongside arguably the greatest Rock & Roll guitarist of all time would have had a saunter down Oliver Plunkett street on a Saturday afternoon, purchased a battered something or other in Lennox’s and referred to Cork as home.
2016 saw the the quarter century anniversary of Nirvana’s gig in Sir Henry’s, weeks before Nevermind was released unto the world. Cork bared witness to one of the maiden voyages of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in a live setting, the audio of which is available on Youtube, complete with the occasional hiccup in their playing. Cobain, who had traced his ancestry to the People’s Republic, had this to say about his ancestors and visit here:
“They came from County Cork, which is a really weird coincidence, because when we toured Ireland, we played in Cork and the entire day I walked around in a daze. I’d never felt more spiritual in my life. It was the weirdest feeling and I have a friend who was with me who could testify to this. I was almost in tears the whole day. Since that tour, which was about two years ago, I’ve had a sense that I was from Ireland.”
Of course, Cork is not just limited to connections with musicians; a thriving Punk/Post-Punk scene existed here during the late 70’s, the epicenter of which was located opposite Kent Station, a venue called The Arcadia. Taken over in 1977 by a UCC Entertainments Officer, Elvera Butler, the venue gave a platform to both local and international acts, among which a high standard of bands would compete in healthy competition. Bands such as Nun Attax (later Five Go Down To The Sea), Mean Features (featuring Mick Lynch of Stump) and Microdisney, were regular fixtures who can be heard on the live EP Kaught At The Kampus recorded at The Arcadia. International acts would also feature on the bill such as The Damned, The Fall and John Cooper Clarke are all Arcadia alumni.
Later on in the early nineties, a new wave of bands came through from the Cork scene such as The Frank & Walters and The Sultans of Ping who enjoyed commercial success not only in Ireland but also in the UK and Japan. Both bands are still active today. Of course you cannot mention the Cork music scene without referencing Sir Henry’s, which was another seminal venue for both domestic and foreign acts, featuring many of those mentioned previously. Initially a live music venue, it later progressed to dance acts, famously hosting the club night Sweat by Fish Go Deep.
The current Cork music scene consists of an eclectic mix of bands of a high standard, however there is a missing link in terms of venues. Cork is caught between filling at maximum 100 person capacities in local venues or the 1,000 plus capacity of the Opera House. Cork has many times been left behind by booking agents for bands who are on the Dublin, Belfast and Galway route with Cork music lovers having to travel to see international acts. To conclude, I ask kindly to any music lover with a few extra shillings in their pocket who may be reading this to give the Cork music scene what it needs: a new epicenter that can draw bands from abroad and give a couple of Cork feens and old dolls a chance to get up on stage for a support slot. Live bands inspire new bands. It would be greatly appreciated.