What's my favourite record? Writers and music figures make their selections

The Punks Listen book has gathered dozens of contributions from the likes of Suggs, Roddy Doyle and Ronán Hession. Proceeds from the book go to the Irish Red Cross appeal for Ukraine 
What's my favourite record? Writers and music figures make their selections

Punks Listen editors Niall McGuirk and Michael Murphy, at the Cork launch of the book at the Boole Library in UCC. Picture: David Keane

It’s not that Niall McGuirk and Michael Murphy are reluctant book publishers, but given that the three books they have compiled together on their Hope Publications imprint have been in response to a global crisis — Syrian refugees, Covid and now Ukraine — you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d rather not be doing this.

“Each one was a response to a problem,” McGuirk agrees, “so I would love for there not to be a next one.” Nevertheless, 2017’s In Concert: Favourite gigs of Irish music community, 2020’s Great Gig Memories from Punks and Friends, and the latest, Punks Listen, are joyful celebrations of music fandom and have proved to be enormously positive experiences for Murphy and McGuirk.

As its recent Cork launch at UCC Library underlined, Punks Listen features the thoughts and memories of 291 musicians, writers, artists and members of the music community on the records that influenced or inspired them. All proceeds go to the Red Cross Ukraine Refugee Appeal.

“Basically anyone who plays music is a music fan,” reasons McGuirk. “It’s just trying to portray themselves as music fans like the rest of us.” McGuirk cut his teeth in the late 1980s as a founding member of Dublin’s do-it-yourself, not-for-profit, gig promoters Hope Collective. They brought alternative and punk rock bands such as The Membranes, Fugazi the largely unknown Green Day to Ireland.

 Ricky Dineen of Big Boy Foolish, chatting with Siobhan Bardsley of Cork Zine Archive and Fiona O'Mahony of Conjun Box, at the launch of Punks Listen at UCC. Picture: David Keane.
Ricky Dineen of Big Boy Foolish, chatting with Siobhan Bardsley of Cork Zine Archive and Fiona O'Mahony of Conjun Box, at the launch of Punks Listen at UCC. Picture: David Keane.

Through their own connections they invited contributors to their previous two books. For Punks Listen they expanded their roster of contributors, often through making direct contact on social media, but there were a number of people to which they had to return.

“There are some people that we’re friends with at this stage and it’s kind of important to us… like say Brendan [Canty] from Fugazi. It’s just kind of important for us that someone from Fugazi would appear in a book that we are doing because of the connection Fugazi had with Hope down through the years. So there is a bit of that. And John Robb would be the same from The Membranes and Gold Blade. And then you branch out and you ask them do they know anybody, and then it just branches out.” The word ‘punk’ might be in the title, but many of records discussed are quite un punk-like, often to McGuirk’s surprise. For instance, he made contact with Paul Cripple of American hardcore band Reagan Youth.

“He started talking about Emerson, Lake & Palmer,” McGuirk’s voice lowers to a whisper: “I had no idea what Emerson, Lake & Palmer sound like, and you’re saying that this is your favourite album!

“Now, I did go and listen to it and I will probably never listen to it again after that. To think this blazing, political hardcore band from New York could pick Emerson, Lake & Palmer!” 

“Well, we have the guitarist from the Divine Comedy talking about an ABBA album. So that’s either completely punk or completely against punk, depending on what your angle might be,” he adds.

McGuirk is delighted to have music fandom represented in its broadest and to have such varied contributors as Stephen Travers of the Miami Showband share space with Henry Rollins. But there have been some particularly gratifying aspects to the experience. As someone who comes from a punk background, McGuirk revels in its community aspect and do it yourself spirit.

“Punk to us isn’t about the GBH, leather bristled studs and acne,” he insists. “Punk is about doing things, being active and being part of a community. And that’s what we’re trying to put across with the books.” 

Three excerpts from Punks Listen 

The Hollies, ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ (1969). Chosen by Stephen Travers (The Miami Showband): Since the 1960s, I’ve been influenced and inspired by the music and songs that formed the soundtrack to my adolescence, and I continued to draw comfort from them throughout my life.

Sadly, I understand, only too well, the pain of losing friends and comrades and so, as I watch the futility of the war and the madness and senselessness of the violence, and the displacement and bravery of so many every day on my TV screen, a song, recorded by The Hollies in 1969 entitled ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’, keeps going ‘round in my head.

When this is all over, I hope we will remember, above all else, the extraordinary heroism and resilience of the “ordinary” people of Ukraine. Seems like we’ll never learn. It’s still the powerless who suffer when the powerful play with their toys. Perhaps that’s the true reason this song has run like a burning wire through my life.

 Stephen Travers of the Miami Showband, at the launch of Punks Listen. Picture: David Keane.
Stephen Travers of the Miami Showband, at the launch of Punks Listen. Picture: David Keane.

Billy Bragg, Brewing Up with Billy Bragg (1984). Rónán Hession (author: Leonard and Hungry Paul; musician): There was a period in my life when I discussed my choice for favourite album on an almost daily basis. I agonised over it as though it were a high-stakes decision with life-changing consequences for me and, I supposed, the artist chosen. In my over-earnest early twenties, I hadn’t yet learned that what mattered to me didn’t necessarily matter to everyone. It was a lesson I would learn, if not the hard way, then certainly the slow way. In the 25 years since, the place of music in my life has changed. It’s no longer a way for me to communicate the tribe I belong to, nor is it — and here’s the major change — the yardstick I use to judge others. I have mellowed to the point where someone can choose a Greatest Hits as their favourite album and I will still be in a conversation with them five minutes later.

Kate Bush, Hounds of Love (1985), Sinéad Gleeson (author Constellations; broadcaster): For some, it’s about, “It’s in the trees — it’s coming!”, a rain-making machine, or a deal with God intoned over erotic, intricate choreography. I can’t think of an album with a stronger first side: songs that were both critically revered and commercially successful, but then Hounds of Love is a high watermark. Those opening songs are some of her biggest hits, the ones other bands cover, the ones people who don’t know much about Kate Bush know the words to. And while each song lines up in its own monolithic way, Hounds of Love — for me — is all about the flip side, the seven tracks known as The Ninth Wave.

 

The Cork launch of Punks Listen 

 Emily Dollery from Limerick and Cian Mullane from Farranree, at the launch of Punks Listen at the Boole Library in UCC. Pictures: David Keane
Emily Dollery from Limerick and Cian Mullane from Farranree, at the launch of Punks Listen at the Boole Library in UCC. Pictures: David Keane

 Albert Twomey and Kim Keating, both Sunday's Well, at the launch. 
Albert Twomey and Kim Keating, both Sunday's Well, at the launch. 

 Nelly Azzopardi from Cork city and Judith Coffey from Cobh.
Nelly Azzopardi from Cork city and Judith Coffey from Cobh.

 Sinead Ryan, Whitechurch, and Daragh O'Leary, Cork city
Sinead Ryan, Whitechurch, and Daragh O'Leary, Cork city

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