03/06/2018 - 03:24
Ed Power witnessed Microdisney put on a five-star performance at the National Concert Hall, Dublin.
The somewhat hackneyed ritual of performing a historically-significantly record from beginning to end received a much-needed shot of vitality courtesy of iconic Cork act Microdisney, playing together for the first time in nearly 30 years.
The album-as-concert is typically the recourse of musicians thinking about their retirement funds. However, Microdisney songwriters Cathal Coughlan and Sean O'Hagan had no intention of reviving the band, much less reprising their 1985 opus The Clock Comes Down The Stairs, until approached by the National Concert Hall.
There's a slight uncanniness to the timing of the gig (to be followed by an encore at London's Barbican next week). In 1985, when The Clock Comes Down the Stairs was released, Britain was in the grip of Thatcherism and the Irish in London were advised to keep their head down.
All these decades later, Brexit has inflamed tensions between the two countries and led to a resurgence of the jingoism skewed by Coughlan one of the LP’s stand-outs, Past (“Who Won The War?,” he fulminates on the chorus, channelling the Basil Fawlty within).
Microdisney were one of the great opposite-attracts collaborations. A shouty man in a suit, Coughlan trembled with barely repressed fury while O'Hagan, Luton born and dragged to Cork by his parents as a teenager, was a pop classicist – a Beach Boys fan trying to find his way in the age of punk.
These musical tectonic plates pushed against one another again and again over the course of the sell-out show. With the group’s original rhythm section on hand, Coughlan (vocals and keys) and O’Hagan (backing vocals and guitar) proceeded, with some gravitas, through the Clock Comes Down The Stairs – a gritty, witty chronicling of their years as indie-pop down and outs in London.
Yet the real fun came afterwards, with a celebratory greatest hits set taking in the Singer’s Hampstead Home (satirical and acerbic), Town To Town (catchy and acerbic) and bonkers instrumental Michael Murphy.
Looking genuinely enthusiastic by the end, the initially reserved Coughaln introduced a cover of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’s The Night by revealing he’d first heard the song at the Arcadia in Cork, the long-demolished venue where Microdisney cut their teeth. As with the rest of the night, the reading was dark and tumultuous – catharsis captured in a bottle (is it churlish to lament the omission of farewell single, Gale Force Wind?).
The evening concluded with a chap from the NCH popping up to present framed mementoes acknowledging Microdisney’s inauguration as great Irish Trailblazers (as sort of homegrown Rock’n'Roll Hall of Fame). But the glad-handling was redundant. Coughlan and O'Hagan had already proved themselves worthy of a place in Irish music's pantheon of greats.