Paul Cleary on the music that made him

Paul Cleary of The Blades.

In advance of The Blades’ first Cork gig in many years, Paul Cleary takes Richard Fitzpatrick through some of his musical milestones.

FIRST ALBUM

I know there are two that I bought around the same time – a Cat Stevens album, which is not one I’m proud of.

Slade Alive! is the other one. I was buying singles before albums.Albums were quite dear. An album was about £2.50 whereas a single was about 40p or 50p. I loved the voice on Slade’s Noddy Holder. It reminded me of John Lennon’s voice.

I wasn’t surprised at all when Oasis did a cover of a Slade song because Liam Gallagher is an obvious John Lennon fan — I think he called his son Lennon – and he has that raspy John Lennon voice. I had the pleasure of shaking hands with Noddy.

I was doing an interview in RTÉ many years ago with BP Fallon for his radio show. I was next to go in and as I was led into his studio who passed only Noddy himself, and BP introduced us.

I’m not usually starstruck but it was great to meet someone who was so influential. He’s a great down-to-earth guy whoalmost pretended to know who I was. A real gentleman.

FIRST GIG

It was when I was in national school in Sandymount. We went to see a performance of an orchestra – possibly RTÉ – performing Seán Ó Riada’s Mise Éire.

I was used to hearing classical music – my dad loved classical music and jazz, and played a lot of records in the house – but it was the first time I’d heard music in a live setting with real musicians, particularly strings and stuff.

It just blew my head. With most fellas, it was just to get the day off school. This would have been late ’60s, early ’70s. I think it was at the NationalStadium.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I remember some of the boys tried to talk during the performance and I was transfixed.

I was trying to talk about it afterwards to my fellow classmates, great guys, but they didn’t want to know. It made me realise maybe music is more important to me than it is to most people – the way other people might have a keener interest in the visual arts or poetry or plumbing.

IRISH PUNK/NEW WAVE SCENE

It was very DIY. We played a couple of venues where there was no mic stands so we had to tape the mics to the ceiling with gaffer tape, and they’d be swinging in front of you. It was very makeshift.

There was an element of camaraderie. Most bands could borrow instruments from other bands. You could even borrow a musician if somebody wasn’t well.

CLOSEST SHAVE

Around the punk time, I got good at avoiding missiles thrown at the stage. I was at a student gig and saw this missile coming towards me at a fierce rate and just managed to duck out of the way in time. It looked quite cool – even though I was terrified – and it smashed on the wall behind me.

The main thing for a singer in the soundcheck was that you’d check to feel if the microphone would start to burn your lips. You’d try not to touch the microphone with your mouth during the gig or you’d feel this sizzle on your lips.

When you’re wired, if you’ll excuse the pun, the way I was anyway on stage the last thing you need is to get an electric shock from the microphone. I remember being really rocked back one time playing a gig in Trinity College in Dublin. Jake our drummer said he saw me knocked back a few feet.

One of my favourite gigs was going to see Elvis Costello at the Stella Cinema in Dublin in 1978. He was an angry young man at the time or he gave the impression that he was. It was a great gig.

Jake said he subsequently bumped into Costello somewhere and was talking to him about that gig and Costello said: “One of the reasons I was looking so angry was that I kept getting a shock from the microphone.”

PLAYING WITH U2

U2 always treated us well even though we were ‘rival’ bands.

There was a thing at the time, particularly for bigger bands — they’d tell the soundman to make sure the sound wasn’t that good for the support band — to take the volume down a bit so when the main band came on they’d sound absolutely brilliant.

U2 never did that. They were honourable people and civil. They were very self-contained. They didn’t need to mix with other bands. I never saw U2 drinking before they went on stage. We didn’t either. It was an attempt at professionalism that I think U2 had also.

I remember they asked us to support them in McGonagle’s on South Anne St. It was in the summer of ’79 or ’80.

They had an idea to have it as a Christmas gig.

They had Christmas songs playing before you went in and a few decorations plastered around. It was an afternoon gig so people came out into the blazing sunshine. At the time I thought it was weird, but it did actually work.

They were just trying to shake things up a bit.

MOST ANTI-CLIMATIC GIG

The gig that let me down was when I went to see the Buzzcocks. I went into town with my brother. We knew the Buzzcocks were playing in Dublin that night.

We had a few sherries. There was a lot of new small venues opening in Dublin at the time. It was quite a vibrant punk scene.

We wandered around. We found a venue. It was a dark venue, down in a place on Mary St, which is a continuation of Henry St. The music inside sounded OK, kind of new wave/punk. We paid our 50 pence, or whatever it was, and in we went.

The support band were on and they were OK, and then the main band came on and they played and they weren’t that good. The fact is they weren’t The Buzzcocks. We went to the wrong gig! It was very disappointing, but we had a few more sherries anyway.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Abba. Not so guilty now of course because in the end their music and talent has been lauded and vindicated. But it was difficult to say when you were in a burgeoning punk band at the time.

I think Dancing Queen was released in 1976 and I remember listening to it and it was just fantastic. A beautiful piece of music in terms of the chord structure and melody and voices.

The lyrics were a bit naff, obviously.

The Blades perform as part of Cork Midsummer Festival, on Friday, June 14 at Live at St Luke’s in Cork. See: www.corkmidsummer.com

More on this topic

Tracing the roots of folk and fairy lore behind everyday plants

Scotland pay penalty as Argentina comeback ends World Cup campaign

England finish top of the group after win over Japan

Wednesday's Evening Round-up: Health support staff strike deferred; Twitter and Facebook summoned to court; Tory leadership race

More in this Section

Bake: Michelle Darmody's recipes for the perfect summer picnic

Why Doug and Monique Howlett are moving back home to New Zealand

Learner Dad: 'It’s not unusual for someone to go home in a different pants to the one they arrived in'

What’s the Occasion? What to wear on your next big day out


Latest Showbiz

The Hills star Justin ‘Bobby’ Brescia says fame can ‘tear you apart’

Avengers: Endgame and Lil Nas among Teen Choice Awards nominees

David Gilmour to donate guitar auction proceeds to climate change charity

More From The Irish Examiner