Seven years ago last Saturday my son was born and as is traditional we celebrated in a style befitting a 7 year old boy, it went something like this: 30 6-7 year olds dive bombing en masse from a giant bouncy slide, while stuffed with cheese and ham sambos, cocktail sausages, rice crispie buns, ice cream, giant chocolate cake in the shape of the number 7. Everything was proceeding quite satisfactorily till the birthday boy suffered 2nd degree burns to his knee on the afore mentioned inflatable and howled so loud I lost sensation on the right side of my face. A little disconcerting as I was also having both to remain alert for suspected concussion, appendicitis and left ventricular atrophy among the afore mentioned guests and mediate between 1 furious 80 something year old who had wedged her car against a lamp post, (my fault for living near lamp posts) and who was in the throes of early onset hypothermia, and 1 non English speaking in law who was bearing up womanly… Nonetheless it was a huge success!
Today it is my birthday and I am happy to report that there was no repeat of the above other than the cake bit, not a number 7 or a number 51 in sight! I had hoped to have completed this 50 greatest misses compilation within the Golden Jubilee Year itself but it doesn’t really matter. I will try to upload the remaining 20 tunes before my 52nd Birthday I promise.
Happy Birthday to me! xxxx
PS. I think Birthday Song was the first recording made by Rhatigan with Bryn on drums. A very happy day as I recall.
Suzanne Rhatigan Vocals, Guitar…
John Morrison Bass…
Bryn Burrows Drums…
As my 6 year old said the other day ‘I hate life, things just happen’. Before you call social services this was in response to the realisation that his longed for new denim jacket was too small! It was hard to hear though as this last week my family had an unimaginable and devastating blow.
My lovely brother in law fell from a considerable height while on holiday and is now in a very bad way. I’m not going to go into the details because I am heartbroken and it isn’t really my story to tell. It’s easy to feel right now that life and ‘the way things just happen’ really sucks but when someone you love is desperately clinging on to it you realise just how precious life is.
So I’m sending this tune out to Cathy and Tossie and their family not so much because the sentiment fits the circumstances but because it is a tune I know my sister really likes and that’s all. X
What kind of day am I having today? I’m not entirely sure. I feel tired but in a good way having had a fun weekend followed by another Happy Monday session with The Station House gang. No matter how crap I feel on a Monday I never regret pushing myself out the door to play with this group of musicians. You never know who will show up. Usually more guitars than strictly necessary but last night there was a little surprise in the shape of a gorgeous French accordion player. Suddenly we were transported from a pub in rainy Raheny to a bijoux café in Mont Martre. Radiohead’s Creep became Le Creep and not at all creepy but dreamy and sexy and Kings of Leon more Ooh la la than blah blah, a big improvement.
So now I’m scrolling through the remaining Greatest Misses looking for something that captures my amorphous mood! I can’t decide so here are 2. 1st up… Lick. In fairness Lick doesn’t leave too much to the imagination lyrically but that’s ok. “I want to lick you all over all over then take what’s left and lick it” that’ll do! Then Zero Crossing a kind of hymn to audio editing, if there could be such a thing. Oh well comme ci comme ca!
Lick and Zero Crossing was our 1st foray into hard disc recording and sequencing. I think they worked out quite well but when we played the songs live with Paul on drums they hit another level nothing beats a live drummer for beats. I feel quite exhausted just thinking about it, think I’ll have a lie down!
What does it mean to be Irish? I don’t think I ever appreciated the good fortune I had being born Irish till I’d left Ireland and made my way to London in the mid eighties and later to New York. I was however very keen to assure anyone who was in any doubt that I was Irish, even though I really didn’t feel I had many or any Irish credentials. I felt a bit of a sham to be honest. I had no meaningful connection to anything ‘Irish’ growing up. Neither of my parents spoke any Irish, they came from a generation and section of Irish society that rejected most Gaelic culture, perhaps because of it’s association with armed Republicanism, which they were fiercely opposed to.
So if I don’t have the ‘Cúpla Focal’ and I can’t play the tin whistle am I still Irish? Hell yeah! One part of Irish culture I do identify with is storytelling. I have the gift/curse of the gab so to speak. My songs are pretty much just me gabbing about what ever is on my mind. These days that’s ranges from the heady world of neighbourhood watch and schoolyard politics to the on going struggle of the soul to stay connected to something that touches and is current. There’s also the melancholy factor, I have a touch of that too. It’s that thing of never being really happy. Always holding onto a bit of sadness, a little darkness in the centre.
One thing we Irish diaspora love to do is pine, usually in song. You know the kind of thing, ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ and ‘Spansil Hill’ etc etc… Endless verses about how we wish we could be back in the small towns and villages we ran out of. None of it makes sense it’s all about guilt and longing and yearning, lovely jolly stuff.
When Nick Bicát asked me to write a song for a film about an Irish singer on the decline on the London circuit who makes a comeback, I came up with Homeward bound. I was still making the pilgrimage home every Christmas on the boat, this was before Ryan Air and affordable air travel and so it wasn’t hard to conjure up the genuine emotion and anxiety every returning émigré feels at one time or other. Homeward Bound shamelessly cashed in on all that stuff for all it’s worth but to no avail. The song was rejected and the film never made as far as I know, so that alone qualifies it for a place in the Fifty Greatest Misses! I don’t have any other tunes that sound ‘Irish’ and it is Paddy’s day, so Homeward Bound it is!
Suzanne Rhatigan Vocal, guitar, harmonica
Recorded live today 17-03-2014 for the day that’s in it…
“You have my heart broken” Dad would say while peeling me off him sticky with kisses that were barely tolerated. He had long since given up even trying to stop me, but as of course every parent will attest he never stopped loving. This answer phone message is quite typical of him trying to make light of his anxiety that some accident or misfortune might befall me. He was of course my hero, my go to guy, my best friend. He couldn’t stop the knocks though.
On the occasion of the drubbing described in blog no 24, Dad was up in arms he even threatened legal action against the school if an apology wasn’t forthcoming. He had received written assurances from at least 2 of my teachers that they made no such statement about me. My knight in shining armour! Of course he got nowhere with the powers that be, just stonewalled. He kept pursuing it though until I had finally left the school and then he let it go. Not before most likely conveying his disgust in lengthy, wordy missals to the Head Mistress, a Nun who incidently a short time later left the convent and married a man with 6 children!
“I’ve asked all your teachers and none of them want you in their class” Ms O’Kelly gleefully, squawked into my face in the corridor outside the staff room, loudly enough for the bemused 1st years to hear as they swarmed from their classrooms at the end of the school day, adding to the hurt and humiliation. It was the culmination of 13 years in the convent school I’d endured from the age of 4. My customary insolent attitude all but deserted me as I attempted to eyeball her through water filled eyes. The agonising strain on my larynx, which gallantly held back the sobs, prevented me from releasing the 2 words stuck there. “Fuck You!”
It’s hard to break the rules and yet since I was walking and talking it’s been hard for me not to. The older I get the harder it gets. Most of the time to be honest I don’t realise I’m doing it. Sometimes it’s a misplaced joke or un-witty comment that goes awry but at the time is compelled to be out, regardless of the rules of etiquette and such, which have always been a mystery to me. Sometimes my indiscretions are very knowing indeed, as was often the case during my incarceration in Manor House. What crime did I commit to incur the verbal stoning described above? The worst of all crimes. Blasphemy!
It was 10 minutes to release time when some zealot decided the 6th years should congregate in the chapel to say The Rosary. Not one or two decades, but all 10, which even on a good day took 20-30 minutes minimum. It was torturous. Then it struck me, since I happened to be sitting in the front row with the head girls who were leading the prayers perhaps I should employ my not inconsiderable vocal abilities in the task of expediting matters as promptly as possible. So off I went at volume like Red Rum off the blocks “Hail Mary full of grace theLordiswithyoublessedareyouamongwomennnn….”. At first most of my fellow students gamely kept up but by the time we got to the Glory Be the incoherent babble had degenerated into hysterics and I was hauled out, hung drawn and quartered.
Fair dues I hear you cry, I certainly did deserve some kind of punishment, but what that woman decided to do was, in my case anyway, the most punitive strike possible. Of course it should be obvious to any observer of the human condition and more particularly to individuals charged with the care of young people that to tap into a persons fear of being disliked, unloved, unwanted, a fear which for me was embossed in my conscious self, to claim to have confirmation of that fact so emphatically was damaging and cruel. But of course that was the intention, the rule that particular bully willingly broke.
Breaking the rules of music, that’s another matter. Is it knowing or unknowing? Is it an attempt to be liked or listened to or a genuine urge to find something new, different. It’s all of the above. I’m an untrained musician, the handful of lessons I had literally went in one ear and out the other. When I’m writing I let my inherent melodic instincts take the wheel, to at times predictable results, not necessarily a problem. But sometimes the tunes that come out veer off the beaten track. Incidental unexpected key changes pop up, a 2/4 bar where there oughtn’t be one or hey what the heck a pop song in 5/4 try tapping your foot to that one!
‘Do Do What You Want’ is not breaking any rules as such, it’s actually quite a sweet tune with rather flippant lyrics about breaking the rules. However the process of subverting the whole thing in distortion and noise was quite accidental. We were battling disintegrating equipment constantly. Only 7 of the 8 tracks on the Fostex R8 worked, the heads on others having long since worn down with wear and tear and the inadvisable application of nail varnish remover for use as head cleaner didn’t help. My guitar amp has a lovely sound when the valves have time to warm up but there is a point where it all becomes too much for the old girl and a kind of low end hum starts swelling from it’s bowels causing any frequencies below 2K to vibrate in a not altogether pleasant way.
As the process of recording Do Do was underway it seemed to make sense to embrace the noise and not fight it, with what I thought were quite satisfactory results. Conscious or unconscious or self conscious you decide. Whatever, rules are made to be broken even if hearts get broken on the way.
Truth tellers don’t get party invites! No doubt about it it’s hard to be honest and often unwise. Fact is we don’t want the truth even though we might say we do, we don’t really want to know if our bums look big in this, or if our best culinary efforts are inedible. In the music business you seldom have to contend with the truth, if it’s not good truth that is. You seldom get feedback if your music doesn’t hit the right note, ironically what you usually get is silence.
I’ve been facing into this reality again recently while trying to get my new music out there and it struck me how the silences and the negative feedback that occasionally does filter through is what burns in the memory. Why can’t I remember with the same clarity the wonderful positive responses I’ve had over the years. Why can’t I recall where I was when I got the news that I was to sign my 1st record deal yet I can remember vividly the moment, the place, the weather even, the day I was dropped?
When my own opinion is solicited, I’ve a hard time not being truthful. Even when I do succeed in keeping my mouth shut and saying nothing, my body language, or a look in my eyes gives my true feelings away and someone gets hurt or disappointed and I’m off the party list. I would never want to be intentionally unkind and whenever I am in a situation where I can’t avoid expressing an opinion about a gig or an outfit or whatever that I don’t particularly like, I will always try to find something positive to say. Unfortunately that isn’t always possible and to cover myself I will often try to say something funny by way of distraction which is 99 times out of 100 a complete disaster.
So what am I saying, would I rather be told an unpalatable truth, or be left wondering? Despite the discomfort of the former I’m quite sure that’s what I would prefer. Thankfully I have enough truth tellers both positive and negative in my life to redress the balance either way. So whether others like what I do, or say, or not, I just have to get on with it. Wtf, I never was into parties anyway!
No mystery here, does what it says on the tin. Never Going Back was written in an afternoon and played no more than 5 times including the recording… Sometimes the simple ones get overlooked and then you can spend days/weeks torturing a song and arrangement out of existence. Not to mention the abyss that can be the recording process. Endless refining everything at the expense of the spirit and soul of it. Not so with no 22 I think?
PS: Since this blog was a bit of a rush I may add to it later…
PPS: If you’re in Dublin tonight pop into Whelans, I’ll be upstairs at the Song Cycle night from 9PM, songwriters galore and it’s free!
I can understand how hard it is to drag yourself out on a freezing February night to take your chances with songwriters you’ve likely never heard of, I had a tough time pushing myself out the door, but it was worth it. In fact it almost always is. In Ireland we are over run with talent, there are more songwriters and poets, play writes and storytellers of every type here than there are people.
I must admit the 1st act was a bit of a challenge. Yong Buddha was in fact a duo. A gorgeous guy singing his quite engaging folk/soul songs reminiscent of Terry Callier, which is no bad thing, but slightly let down by a badly out of tune guitar and some occasionally pretty wayward slide guitar played by his partner, which I was pretty sure was surplus to requirements until toward the end when he perhaps accidently, contributed some interesting counter melodies. Early days for these guys but there was something in there all right…
2nd up me… I can’t critique myself because I’m never as good as I want to be, maybe that’s what keeps me going. But the ‘crowd’ seemed to like it and I came home with 4 names for my mailing list which is 50% uptake! I’m pretty sure in marketing terms that’s a good result right?
If it’s fast fretwork and strident strumming you’re into then Paul Fitzpatrick won’t disappoint. I confess I am more drawn to the storytelling end of the songwriting spectrum and Paul was very shy which I think hindered him making that crucial connection with the audience, but an impressive talent none the less.
Next a real find. Engaging, poetic with subtle melodic turns and assured velvetine vocals, I liked everything I heard from Miriam Donohue. She has an EP on Bandcamp called Bookmarks. miriamdonohue.bandcamp.com have a listen and purchase her music, simple as.
By this time I was making my exit to avoid another hour of babysitting charges, so I didn’t hear the last couple of performances, yet another reason why it’s hard to coax yourself out on a Monday perhaps, but between Song Cycle at Whelan’s run by the lovely John Byrne and the great Station House Sessions in Raheny every Monday, it is absolutely my favourite night of the week! Hope to see you there next time.
January the most boring month of the year. Now they’re making it even worse Dry January no ‘drink’ to numb the pain, soften the edges. Just long dark days trapped indoors listening to restless children whining. ‘I’m bored’, ‘What can I do?’ Hours of searching for that vital piece of lego while negotiating squabbles over which DVD to watch and trying to tune out the endless pleading for more time on computers and on and on for 31 days…
At last it’s February and all that’s going to change isn’t it?
Believe it or not Bored was in fact an attempt at ‘disco’. It started life with a bass riff, as 99.9% of the songs I wrote with John started. I played along on guitar in a kind of funky choppy, Nile Rogers style, I thought! Bryn latched on immediately with skippy trippy hihats against a dead straight bass drum and snare and things were progressing well. A nice upbeat lyric and melody and a super duper pop song might have been… But no…
Dry January my arse, we’ll have none of that here!
I don’t exactly remember what the particular reason for my apathy was that day. Perhaps we’d been knocked back or over looked again by someone in the industry. I don’t know, but I definitely had some class of a hair up my arse, as a reviewer in the NME once described me as having, and what came out? A twisted-disco groove with depressive slacker lyrics and a lazy lustless tune sort of lounging on top. Hey presto Bored was not so much born as emitted. We loved it!
Suzanne Rhatigan Vocals, guitar…
John Morrison Bass…
Bryn Burrows Drums…
And when you’re in an apathetic uninspired rut what are you likely to write about? Love? In that kind of mood it’s not going to end well is it, more likely it’ll be an exploration of obsessional unrequited love or tired haven’t we exhausted all the possibilities, now why don’t you fuck off love?
I had a cat Bobby was her name I loved the bones of her but I’m quite sure she did not hold me in such high regard. She pretty much ignored me, very reluctantly allowing me to stroke her head only after starving her for a few hours. I would wake in the early hours of the morning with her lying across my face refusing to budge while I grappled in the dark for my inhaler, wheezing and coughing. I think she wanted to kill me. I loved that cat. On the Bone is in fact written by her, about me, the only song ever written about me other than by me that I know of.
Bored and On The Bone were crowd pleasers the handful of times we played them live, but we couldn’t have that so they were dropped from the set and consigned to the could’ve, should’ve pile. Here they are, revived in what must surely be their spiritual home in this 50 Greatest Misses collection. Hits at last!
Suzanne Rhatigan Vocals, Guitar, Wurlitzer…
John Morrison Bass…
Paul Murphy Drums..
“Who is your audience Suzanne?” Terry asked impatiently. He had been listening to demos for my 2nd album. That familiar sick feeling rose from the pit of my stomach. Shit what do I say, I felt like the kid who was out the day they did algebra and somehow never quite understood what x was from that point on. “I’ll tell you who it’s not” he said “it’s not college kids, it’s blue collar workers, it’s ‘Granola’ and until you accept that, you’re wasting your time”. He dropped me from the label the following week.
2014 where to begin… New year, same old same old. Here I am wrestling again with my choice of song dilemma. I’ve battled this demon my whole career, my entire life. Define who you are, what genre which direction, which gang. Everyone around me always seems so certain of what they’re into, this is what I like, these are my choices, the places I go to, these are the people I mix with etc etc. I can’t make those choices. When it comes to music at any rate, I like elements of almost everything.
Growing up there was very little music in our house; a few sound tracks, musicals; South Pacific, Mary Poppins, a few crooners; Andy Williams, Eartha Kitt, Barbara Streisand, a bit of light classical; Strauss, and religious stuff, choirs and hymns etc. Eventually a few folkies were added to the mix when my sister started buying records; Bread, Neil Young John Martin, Janis Ian and of course we loved a bit of ROCK; Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Status Quo… I was always singing along with these records imagining myself on stage in the Hollywood bowl or Top of the Pops. Every lunch hour in school I made the dash home it took exactly 10 mins from desk to door. I grabbed a sandwich, 5 mins, sang along with Barbara, Janis, Aretha, whomever, 30 mins, applied TCP to my spots and performed other ablutions, 5mins, cycled back to school 10 mins = x.
I realised more and more that I could sing and I loved it of course, maybe mostly because it was something I was good at. My motivation to listen to music was to make music. I don’t think I listen to music as a ‘fan’ even now. If something I hear strikes a chord with me I tend to immediately want to work on my own music. For example when I hear something I like on the radio, I might drift off and pick up my guitar or sit at the piano and get caught up in whatever I’m working on. I forget altogether what it was that I’d heard and liked.
I do become obsessive about some artists though. In my teens I went through my Barbra phase into my Aretha total immersion years, which segued into my Mary Margaret O Hara compulsion. By then I was writing and I was a working session singer with pop impresario Pete Waterman among others, so it was hardly surprising that most of my output was ‘Pop’ with a capital P.
I wasn’t altogether confident in myself as a solo writer so I began to co-write. I mostly contributed melody and lyrics, and as the co-writers varied in style and background, unsurprisingly so did my song writing. Some ballads of course, a few dance pop tunes, a little bit of funk, some blues, country, and of course ROCK. You get the picture or maybe that was the problem you didn’t get the picture. In fairness the picture was a bit confusing. Imagine how screwed up it became when during secondment in New York I was exposed to alternative and lofi. All of a sudden my obsession was Guided by Voices and Pavement, Breeders.
I’ve never understood the snobbery associated with certain genres. Depending on who you spoke to or in my case worked with you had and still have, to be very careful not to upset anyone. Your Indie Rockers for example held Stock Aitken and Waterman in complete disdain. SAW believed 100% in the quality and integrity of their commercial pop music and thought musos and folkies and punks etc were at best deluded.
Maybe all this goes some way to explain why my 1st album To Hell with Love was a collision of all those influences, but without, as with really great albums, coming together to form one voice. I was trying too hard to please all the people all the time. While promoting the album I gained a good insight into how radio worked though. In the early 90’s radio in the US and increasingly around the world was undergoing an invasion. The invaders? ‘Consultants’; shady corporate marketing types who had segregated music and radio into rigid formats. Top 40, R&B, Urban, Country, AOR, MOR etc etc. But what if your music is kind of souly, poppy, punky? A little bit country even? Where do you go then? Answer: In the bin.
Terry Ellis at Imago had definitely had enough when I had it in mind to do the same again for the follow up to To Hell With Love, except this time to record in a kitchen on an 8 track with only 7 working tracks! Sean Worrall at Org records on the other hand had no such problems and right or wrong, good or bad the punk funk folk and noise out burst that was ‘Late Developer’ became THWL’s successor…..
If commercial success is the only kind of success, then maybe Terry was right and I have been wasting my time, however I think success is making the music I love. One thing for sure, writing songs that communicate my thoughts feelings and desires, while also entertaining the people who listen to them, whether they be in the tens or tens of thousands, whether they’re blue collar white collar dog collar or no collar is certainly not a waste of time.
So there. Put that on your cereal of choice and eat it!
PS: A rather belated thanks to Terry Ellis and everyone involved with To Hell With Love for giving it a real shot, sorry it didn’t work out! Xs
PPS: Granola was not on THWL!
Suzanne Rhatigan Vocals, guitar… John Morrison Bass… Bryn Burrows Drums…