How I Almost Started a Rock and Roll Revolution
On Monday I ask people their music highlights of the weekend. It could be a brilliant concert or a music documentary or an old album rediscovered or even a spot of unashamed karaoke. I spoke to Val this week and she said the music highlight of the weekend was definitely the debut gig at Fibber Magees by up-and-coming hopefuls ‘Squish’. She explained that her two sons, Sam and Daragh, are in the band. Naturally enough Val was very proud of her two boys, but what did she make of the gig itself? ‘I wasn’t invited,’ she said, laughing, ‘they were probably worried I’d embarrass them, dancing and so on.’
With tongue firmly in cheek I declared this to be an outrage, but come on, who hasn’t been a teenager and not wanted their folks to cramp their style at some point? I was once involved in a band at school. When I say ‘involved’, I mean I was the manager. Due to my complete inability to play a musical instrument – an unchanged situation, regrettably – it was felt my ideal role would be to manage the group. My motivation was quite straightforward: make loads of money, attract members of the opposite sex, and become rock and roll gods. Things didn’t quite work out as hoped.
We were all friends in school, in the same year, and we were all big into music. The band was called The Haggard and they mostly did covers of songs by acts like Dinosaur Jr, Joy Division and Pixies. Did we think we were the greatest thing since sliced bread? Yes, most definitely. In an act of baffling self-importance, I even made sure I was included in some of the pictures of the (one and only) band photo shoot because, y'know, everyone wants to know what the manager looks like.
There I am kneeling down in front. Even the cattle were mystified by my presence.
Vanity aside, I set about world domination by booking some local gigs and plastering our home town with posters and flyers. In actual fact, I wasn’t too bad at this aspect of managing the group. The economics of hiring a venue and making sure you get enough punters in to at least break even are simple enough. (Although I do recall one gig where it looked like we were going to be seriously out of pocket and I briefly entertained the notion of asking the band members to pay the cover charge. This was Spinal Tap levels of management.) The main problem was us being underage, heading towards our Leaving Cert, and consequently there were resistances from parents and pub owners alike.
A rare print of an original poster advertising a Haggard gig. This could fetch up to 50c online these days, maybe even less.
Still, we actually created a ‘scene’ and even encouraged younger bands to have a go at this fame and fortune malarkey. As clueless as I was, it was a brilliant time, but completely shambolic too. At one gig, in a local rugby club, some damage was done to the bathrooms and the evil club manager docked the cost of repairs out of our takings on the night. Indeed, social disorder was always a bit of an issue at our gigs. There wasn’t much to do in our hometown growing up, so when suddenly there was a local indie rock band playing local gigs, everybody wanted to come along. We ‘hired’ a friend of ours to act as security. He was a couple of years older and built like a tank, so that was good enough for us. There was one gig where a scrap broke out and he was escorting some bloody-nosed miscreant off the premises but it kicked off again at the entrance. I distinctly remember trying to retrieve the cash box while fists and boots were flying all over the place. Good times.
Me in my managerial prime. Look at the fucking state of me. Yes, that is a t-shirt of the Doors film by Oliver Stone. I got it for free in the cinema where I worked. I'm pretty sure this would have been September 1991, when the band were at their local peak.
We also had a couple of gigs in Dublin. There was Charlie’s Bar on Aungier Street and The Rock Garden in Temple Bar. The band would share the bill with some other new acts; it was quite a good opportunity in fairness. In our heads we were blowing Dublin away with our energy and awesomeness, but in reality we weren’t really.
The Pixies. They could have been as significant and as important as The Haggard, but they sold out to the mainstream.
While I guess I wasn’t totally inept at setting up gigs and creating major hype among the secondary school population of the town, it turned out – much to my surprise – that I wasn’t the next Peter Grant. After the Leaving Cert I went away for the summer and then off to college, as did most of the lads. The Haggard continued for a bit but ultimately world domination was not going to be theirs, in spite of no shortage of musical talent. Nonetheless, three of the lads are still playing away, two of which are in a band called Vagabonds and Thieves.
What I must acknowledge now though, and it was the conversation with Val on Monday which sparked all this, is how much of a help my Dad was. He would never set foot inside one of the gigs, entirely of his own choosing, but he did a lot of behind the scenes support that, admittedly, I probably took for granted. He was the one who drove us up to Dublin, with all gear, for the big gigs. He’d hang around and wait for us, possibly bored out of his mind or maybe glad to get away from the homestead, while we did the show and sneakily had a flagon or two. Then he’d drive us home. He even let us rehearse in the garage. Can you imagine allowing a band of surly, malodorous teenagers occupy your garage and deafen the neighbourhood with an infernal racket? In addition, he never really gave me a lot of grief about balancing my glorious meteoric rise as a rock and roll impresario with studying quadratic equations and ox-bow lakes.
Maybe he trusted me or maybe he knew I wouldn’t listen to him anyway and it was best to just let me do my thing. I’m reminded of this wonderful Mark Twain quote: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
So I guess, if you’re reading this Dad, thank you. Not that he is reading this; he doesn’t even listen to the show. He thinks I work in the bank.