38. Coming To Get You (Elephant Song)

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38. Coming To Get You (Elephant Song)

S.Rhatigan/J.F Morrison © 1999

Tonight was perfection. Everything slotted effortlessly into place. A lock through a bolt a foot in a sock a spontaneous symbiotic moment in time. And yet… I’d planned it all my life…

Do things just happen or do we make things happen?

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Coming to get you 1983 Photographer Gerry Boyd

For years I’ve tried to make things happen with my music: I’ve hung out, I’ve schmoozed I’ve stuck my neck out, sucked my stomach in, played the game! In the mid eighties when I moved to London age 21 I was totally fearless, armed with my demo tape I literally banged on doors. I was like a hunter, ready to seize my moment at every opportunity. I would turn up at recording studios and eye up my prey…

The Receptionist. The most important person in the building. I’d ask her to listen to my demo. I knew even then how important the follow up is and it held no fear for me. I would call by regularly, hopefully during a quiet moment, get to chatting, leave another demo, eventually the phone would ring. I was in. Some of my most lucrative jobs as a session singer came directly through my relationship with the studio receptionist…

It’s simple really, in this business you need an advocate, that person who says to the others… ‘you should listen to this’. It’s very hard to be heard above the clamour of ‘wanna be’ when it’s just you saying you’re great… I’ve been very fortunate at times in my career to have just such people on my side. Many doors opened, many opportunities gifted. Yet as you might expect, plenty of opportunities missed due to bad luck or bad judgement!

Most of the connections I’ve made through the years have been engineered to one degree or another; a favour pulled for a chance to be seen or heard, a good support slot, a demo passed along etc etc. But by the mid nineties having done all the big record deal, big flop stuff with Imago, I was starting to feel like I was running out of second chances. It was getting harder to connect to new people who could respond to the music without knowing the history! Putting in those follow up calls was getting harder and harder too, but with the Late Developer album we really believed we had something special. There was nothing for it, we would have to go hunting or at least make the follow up call!

Case Study….

Coming To Get You 1999 Photographer Gina Birch

Late Developer had been released in early ’96 on Org Records and despite an initial buzz around the record by summer it started to fall away. We lacked resources for the kind of promotion and support we really needed. We needed an advocate, a manager. I remember John and I sitting in my flat trying to figure a way forward… lets think of one manager we would really love to have. We thought of bands at the top of their game and one immediately sprung to mind. Radiohead. So we decided to approach Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge of Courtyard Productions who looked after Radiohead and Supergrass at the time, aim high eh! We popped a copy of the album in the post.

That was as far as it went and like so many demos and flyers we had sent around previously we might never have followed up. However this was part of our strategy. We decided, that fateful Monday, that unlike all those other occasions, this time we would follow up. So a week later we sat together and I made the call.

Much to my surprise Chris answered the phone. I nervously explained who I was. “Sorry to hassle you”, I said “but I just want to know if you got the CD we sent? The bands name is Rhatigan, the album is Late Developer.” I said nothing else. There was a brief silence and he said “yes, I think I saw that lying around here somewhere”. “Good” I said, “that’s all I wanted to know. I hope you get a chance to listen to it, I won’t be calling back. Thanks, bye.” I hung up. I don’t think I threw up at that point but it was damn close. We switched off the phone and got on with recording or something when an hour or so later the answerphone clicked in and we heard Chris leaving a message. Following my bizarre phone call, they decided to dig out the album and put it on and yep, they liked it. They liked it a lot actually.

Things moved along quite smartly, we met up, they came to a few gigs, gave us time in their studio to demo some new material. Everything was going swimmingly. They talked about signing us to their production company and releasing us through Parlaphone just one last piece of the puzzle, we were to set up a gig, to which they would bring the relevant players and bish bosh bang… Deal!

Now ‘Rhatigan’ was ready for this, buoyed in our confidence with our new found advocates and having gigged regularly and practiced our asses off, we were tight as the proverbial knot… so when an opportunity to step into a cancellation slot at the Monarch in Camden came up, we didn’t hesitate to grab it. We rustled up an audience at short notice and a couple of days later our game changing gig was upon us.

That morning I awoke excited and confident until I noticed a soreness on the side of my nose, a pimple but not a pimple, nothing a bit of make up wouldn’t cover. I headed off for a swim. I was determined today was going to be perfect. By midmorning the pimple was more like an open sore and a bit, weepy, I was starting to feel a wee bit anxious….

When you look back over events and the way things pan out you see more clearly the opportunities you had along the way to alter the course you were on, but of course you don’t see those opportunities at the time. So when Bryce called me that afternoon with the guest list and asked me how I was, I jokingly described my disintegrating nose, to which he immediately suggested canceling and I said…“Cancel, that’s a bit extreme. Nah we’ll go for it, a bit more makeup it’ll be grand”.

By five o clock the seeping sore had spread in a crescent shape around my right nostril and formed a thick scab. Despite my efforts with makeup the best look I could achieve was a bulbous crusty protrusion a blind man on a galloping horse couldn’t miss. My nerves were gone. My judgement was clearly impaired. I decided, in my hysterical state, that the best option was to surgically remove the scab with my trusty Stanley knife, then quickly douse the open wound with powder and slap some makeup on, which I did, ignoring the searing pain, so determined I was, to make this gig work. But even before I left the house 10 minutes later the prosthetic had slid off and new yellow and green septic puss was crystallizing around my nose, growing exponentially! So, ever the pro, I brought the blade with me and performed the procedure again in the toilets at the pub minutes before I went on stage…

No matter how well prepared you are, shit just happens.

Despite my best efforts to ensure the best possible outcome for this make or break performance, self mutilation being just one, I had also, last minute, decided to change the strings on my guitar, to try and at least reduce the chance of string breakage, a regular occurrence due to the ferocity with which I assaulted the guitar. In fact we were constantly beset by technical mishaps at gigs and I wanted to do the best I could to avoid the gremlins tonight. However, I hadn’t allowed enough time for the new strings to settle…

I’m on stage, I’m not feeling great, there’s no turning back. I peek out from behind my hair, long enough back then thankfully, to partially cover the horrific car crash that is my nose, and I can see the room filling. Some familiar faces near the front and the silhouette of industry turn out shuffling around the other half of the room eying each other up. The tension is palpable there’s a lot at stake…

It’s the moment of truth, nerves shattered, festering sore to the fore, I launch myself at the opening chords of the 1st song… but far from the solid confident guitar intro we had rehearsed endlessly, a discordant clang, rings around the room. I look and sound like a demented zombie as I grapple to get my guitar in tune, half blinded by my hair, which by now is stuck to the septic oozing on my nose. John and Bryn play on heroically as I randomly squawk and screech my way through the first 2 tunes. It’s all over the place, a complete mess.

Our loyal rent a crowd cheer furiously, urging us on, their enthusiasm simply not commensurate with the appalling shambles they’re listening to. Then half way through the 3rd song something clicks… Fuck it… The rest of the set we’re on fire, but it’s too late. In that same moment I see the back of the room dissolve. The guest list has heard enough. They don’t wait for the moment when the challenger gets up from the floor and wins the championship fight with a knockout blow. It’s over. Our one shot… in the foot.

I’d like to comfort you and myself by telling you that particular debacle was a one off in my show case/gig history, but alas it’s not, there were more, many more, not quite so gruesome perhaps, but none the less disastrous! I won’t lie and tell you I bounced back from those setbacks even more determined and thick skinned. No. But, bounce back we did. We were bowed but not broken on that occasion for sure, but much more music was to come from Rhatigan as the band changed and expanded over the following few years. Fact is in life sometimes, you stick your neck out you get your face slapped, it’s how you come back that matters.

Coming to get you 2015 Photo Cait Fahey

Coming to get you 2015 Photo Cait Fahey

Still, the compulsion to sing and write and make music and to try to find an audience for that music pushes me out the door and into the bars and barber shops of Dublin on piss awful winter/summer days and nights to play. It’s a win win situation really. First, it makes me feel good, (I can’t stress the importance of this enough). Second I get to play my music and hear other music, and maybe one time, one person might hear something they like and that person might make a difference!

We wrote Coming To Get You aka (Elephant song) a few years after ‘nosegate’ by then Paul had replaced Bryn on drums and an ever evolving horn and string section were occasionally thrown head long into the fray. I love Paul’s shuffling drums, John’s brilliantly simple bass from which the song was written, and Jacqui’s Elephant trombone. This was one of those recordings I’ve always felt slightly frustrated by though. Like most of our output it was recorded on 8 track in Cushy Studios, my basement flat in London, and it felt to me like the track was constrained too much by the confines and of my living room, surrounded as we were by irate neighbours… So I recently updated the original recording with some more horns, guitars, BV’s and drums, and I’m quite pleased with the results, yeah quite pleased. I definitely sound like I’m up for the hunt, maybe be it’s time to go a hunting again!

Suzanne Rhatigan vocals guitar keyboards
John Morrison Bass
Paul Murphy drums
Jacqui Grace Trombone

PS: That wasn’t quite the end of the story with Courtyard, I’ll fill you in on the ‘finale’ soon!

PPS:  I get to try it all again on Friday night November 27th when I play an opening set for the wonderful Dr Millar upstairs at Whelans in Dublin onstage 8:45pm X

37. Teacher

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37. Teacher

S.Rhatigan/ J F Morrison ©2000

I have a lot to learn, some lessons though I seem to have to keep learning, like when to speak up and when to shut up… still haven’t mastered that one despite the many great teachers I’ve been fortunate enough to have had. I think some people just cannot be taught and I’m one, however that too is something I’m starting to learn how to do, in my dotage!

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Photo Derek Ridgers

Autodidactic, apparently that’s me.  It’s not that I don’t want to learn, I just don’t always want to be taught. I’m impatient, I want to know everything without all the hassle of learning, listening and observing.  I want to discover for my self and I certainly don’t want to give anyone else the credit for my achievements, or in fairness my failures.

For example one of my best teachers is my man, Manfred, or ‘Poor Manfred’ as he’s affectionately known near and far.  When we first met I was computer illiterate. It was 1996 and I was still splicing and gluing and photocopying and posting flyers and updates to my mailing list about gigs etc using a label maker and my old typewriter, which was missing a few letters.  It was all very lo-fi-diy, that was what I was into.  So when my new boyfriend, a software engineer no less, offered to set me up with a pc and printer and the ‘internet’ of all things, I was understandably, or not, extremely resistant.  I think he was visiting me from Germany every few weeks for a year or more, watching on flummoxed by my refusal to embrace the technology that he knew would eventually change my world, along with everyone else’s. I finally caved in and agreed to be helped.

Little did he know what he was letting himself in for.  Within 20 minutes of setting the PC up  I wanted to design my own website, market my gigs, record my band, animate videos and I wanted to do it now. By myself! Patiently he talked me through the frustrating basics those first steps everyone needs to learn, usually by being taught.  Unless of course you want to use a manual or help function, which I certainly never would!  A lot of swearing, gnashing of teeth, hair pulling and tears would be endured before I finally got going and that wasn’t just ‘Poor Manfred’.  But get going I did and a very wide range of skills I learned along the way, however they were always with a particular task in mind, a means to an end.  Like the Cushy Productions website.

Today, to set up a basic site like that would be a doddle. You plug into a template like WordPress and hey presto you have a website.  There were no plugins like that back then.  So Manfred set me up with an Adobe Pagemill html programme and I tortured a simple but quite well functioning website and blog out of it.  I frequently ran into brick walls and would think nothing of calling Manfred at all hours of the day and night, wailing furiously about how stupid the bloody machine was that it didn’t know what I was thinking and seemed to go out of it’s way to sabotage my vision at every turn.  With monumental calm he would talk me down from the precipice of madness and pick through my previous hours labour methodically, explaining as only a German software engineer can, where I went wrong, and maybe suggest an alternative route, only to be told to keep his bloody suggestions to himself and off I would streak headlong into the next brick wall and again and again and again and still to this day God help him!

But the Cushy web site actually worked and we developed a very nifty email marketing template which still works and the site has good original content and I’m very proud of it.  I could have perhaps invested some time in a formal course in web design and web marketing and capitalised on all that experience, possibly carved out a solid career from it, but for me that was never what it was about.  I wanted to make music and this was simply a tool to help me get my music heard. The whole learning thing was just something that had to be endured.

I guess the teacher/pupil relationship is hard for me because of my em, ‘control’ issues.  I had a rough ride in school, what with my short attention span, repeated insubordination, combined with the rather embarrassing belief that anything I had to say no matter how inane was more interesting than anything anyone else had to say, particularly during maths!  If I had/have one weakness however, it was/is flattery.  Unbeknown to most of my hapless teachers they probably would have enjoyed my complete submission had any of them ever said anything nice about me to me.  I would have done anything to please, anything but stay quiet and learn that is.

But really at the bottom of it all, we all want to feel special, like we’re a bit more special than everyone else, right? And who better to make us feel special than our teachers. It’s an awesome responsibility and one that should never be abused of course.  Teachers have all the power. Or do they?

Teacher the song was inspired by a tabloid story at the time about a young teacher who had run off with his 15 year old pupil to France. There was a terrible bru ha ha with tabloid hacks swarming all over the small village where they were holed up. I was struck at the time by how willing and complicit the young woman appeared in the editorial as compared with the almost naivety of the older teacher.  I remember thinking I could have been that girl, so I wrote a little story about how that balance of power between teacher and pupil might swing with certain personality types involved, and this is the result. I certainly could have been the girl in the song too, yep that could’ve been me alright!

So this recording was one of the latter day Rhatigan ‘unfinished’ masters.  I transferred it from 8 track 1/4 ins tape the other day with the intention of recording the missing vocal in the middle and doing a few overdubs.  But it turns out my recently repaired Fostex R8 is running a bit slow and the track is a little flat of concert pitch. with the result the new parts I tried sounded unpleasantly sharp.  In fact barring some minor lyric changes and backing vocals it is as it was back at the dawn of the new millennium.  I really like this song and I’m so pleased to finally ‘finish’ it, though of course it isn’t quite right, not really finished….

Christ will I never learn?

PS: I’m rushing this blog to get it uploaded before I fly to London to celebrate my friend Gina Birch’s birthday.  Gina was one of my favourite ‘teachers’. We met while she was gigging with The Hangovers in the mid nineties.  We became friends and she came and recorded a few songs at Cushy and played at the Cushy nights at the 12 Bar Club in London.  She is an inspiration to so many musicians, artists, friends…  Not just for her punk pedigree, being a member of seminal punk band The Raincoats but also as a video director.  Her work is very unique and every one she has worked with has leaned a lot!

PPS: The photo was taken by photographer Derek Ridgers, whose portraits of London club life over the last 30 years are wonderful and can be seen in his 2012 book London Youth.  The photo was shot in a mansion on South Audley St in Mayfair where another wonderful friend Debs Hinkinson was living at the time.  Another great teacher, Debs throws the most wonderful dinner parties and I was always delighted to be asked along as her commis chef.   Thanks guys xxx

Suzanne Rhatigan vocals guitar keyboards
John Morrison Bass
Paul Murphy drums