36. The Most Expensive Record

S Rhatigan/ C Charles © 1993

Today the future looks bright, so I’m able to look back, without feeling bogged down in the past and I’m able to remember with more fondness than regret, the adventures and mishaps of my life till now and the joy of re-acquaintance with old friends.

I’ve been very slow with this latest blog  for many reasons, among them my on going efforts to move forward with new music and the feeling that perhaps all this reminiscing is counter productive. Nostalgia is big though, it’s everywhere. Retro this, vintage that, particularly music. I heard a Hawkwind track on the Marc Reilly show on BBC 6 music the other day and thought it was the next breakthrough alternative band, I should really know about…

The bands and songwriters I’m seeing around Dublin are happy to seamlessly weave their interpretations of classic and obscure covers into their own original songs both live and on record, to the point where unless you’re a musicologist you wouldn’t know where one ends and the other begins…

Last night was a case in point. I headed into Whelans to play a few tunes for John Byrne’s Song Cycle night, I particularly wanted to try out a new song but the lyric was frustratingly unfinished… The standard was high as usual but unfortunately the noisy bar made it difficult for the players. Nonetheless through the noise I heard some gorgeous tunes from Kevin O’Rourke, front man with Massachusetts based alt folk band Lo Fine. Among his own fine songs he slipped in a cover of Blondie’s Dreaming. All atmosphere and melancholy, nothing like the original which I love, but something else, something quite fresh surprisingly. While listening to Kevin I even managed to get a good working lyric finished, so I succeeded in playing my new song, which bucked my spirits up considerably.

Then I headed down to another great Dublin institution, The Stags Head, to a new Monday night session upstairs, ‘De Grand Old Oprey’, hosted by two wonderful musicians Tony Mc Loughlin of Dublin band The Young Folk and singer songwriter Niall Thomas, who has one of the most appealing voices I’ve heard recently. Together they turn their hand to a range of songs, mostly covers, across a vareiety of genres but in their own very appealing lounge, alt country style. They usually have one main guest, on this occasion a chance to hear Kevin O’Rourke again and his Blondie cover. Tony and Niall accompany the guests, and there are contributions from other musicians hanging out, so I had the pleasure of chipping in a tune too. As a result this morning I feel renewed and motivated to move forward with my new music, but also to put another story from the past out there, finally…

This shot from the THWL artwork predates pantigate but serves as an omen of what was to come!

This shot from the THWL artwork predates pantigate but serves as an omen of what was to come!

I want to upload The Most Expensive Record now, because I hope that will really put an end to it…

The song is quite ‘old school’ in its composition and arrangement, if not exactly retro. It’s funny, most tunes are timeless but arrangements and particularly lyrics can betray an old song masquerading as a new one. The lyric of this monster is a good example, referencing MTV as the ultra important outlet for music and video, that it was, back in the 80’s and ninety’s. TMER is a parody, chronicling, sort of, the madness and mad money spent making and promoting To Hell With Love. This song and a number of other tunes were demos for what should have been the follow up album, which of course never happened. We had just finished a European tour and things were looking up…ish. We had great support from RCA/ BMG around continental Europe particularly in Netherlands and Germany, but weeks later, shortly after these recording sessions I was dropped from the label and my band, recruited during my time in New York were let go. It was over.

It wasn’t all bad you know! I did have some great times in NY, particularly playing live with the band. My right and left hand man, guitarist Matt Backer and I, held auditions in New York for the touring band and we really fell on our feet. Jack Daley is a world class bass player. He lives and breathes his instrument. He plays in a kind of groove induced trance, the heavier the better. He was the bottom and we built up from there. Jack brought drummer Julius Klepacz in and together they were a great rhythm section. Julius, aka ‘The Count’ a larger than life hilarious and sometimes terrifying mix of wild cat and pussy cat. You wouldn’t want to rub him up the wrong way, but when you did, you just let him cough up his fur ball and he was soon purring away happily again. Piano virtuoso George Laks was the baby, a wonderful sensitive beautiful man, just starting out on his career, but with an old soul. After a while we added violinist Deni Bonet. Deni was and still is one of life’s optimists. When the shit came down as it often did, Deni would stay positive. We travelled in the states, Europe and Australia together and we had some laughs, many laughs.

SO, in between I was wheeling around in a maelstrom of marketing mayhem that was the set up for THWL. Meetings were endless and it seemed that any suggestion of ways to get my name out there was up for discussion. All parties had their say and one idea after another thrown into the mix with quite spectacularly disastrous result. There was the whole ‘I Hate Suzanne Rhatigan’ campaign for example.

Only a few pics of the stickers in action survive

It started innocently enough. I sat down with my good friend, writer Neville Farmer. to work on a biography and as we chatted a pattern seemed to form. One unfortunate life event leading to another, one failed demo/band after another. I was a bad girl. A bad girl in school, bad girl at the office bad bad bad. This all sounded like a fun, harmless way of setting me up, you know, the tough rock chic turns out to be not so bad after all. Ok, not such a good idea either and not particularly original, but it was sort of true. However a few sessions around the table at Imago with press and promotion, chairman and VPs, artiste, management and entourage and before you know it the full blown ‘I hate Suzanne Rhatigan’ campaign was in production.

car-sticker-300Thousands of speech bubble stickers with snappy slogans like “Suzanne Rhatigan stole my boyfriend” Suzanne Rhatigan ate my lunch” and on. Yeah how much $5000, sure ca-ching! How about mail them to every radio station, retailer, journalist etc in the US along with the record and some merchandising. Sure! T shirts are boring so how about a few thousand Teddy bears with “Suzanne Rhatigan is a Bitch” T shirts on instead? Yeah, ca-ching. And take out ads in all the music/trade papers, with famous characters on, I don’t know, how about Ghandi with a “Suzanne Rhatigan stole my laundry” speech bubble, yeah that’s funny, isn’t it? yeah. why not. Wait how about, a ticker tape on Times Square every 10 minutes for a week running up to the album release “TO HELL WITH SUZANNE RHATIGAN” etc etc etc $$$ ???? CA-CHING.

Well if a setup like that isn’t going to kill off a record I don’t know what is. As the campaign started heating up I was sick inside. It started sinking in how completely shit it all was. How mortifying. And now to make matters worse I would have to endure hours of interviews and questions, about why everyone hates me so much. What do I do? Explain that no, I’m not really so awful it’s all just a publicity thing wink wink? Or do I live down to my reputation, tell press and radio one or two ‘stories’ about my unfortunate life and act a bit stripy now and again, a bit ‘Prima Donnaish’ so they might believe the hype? And then do what? Play the record? Write about it? Unlikely… Well amazingly thanks to the efforts of one of the best Press Officers in New York, Sandy Sowatka, quite a few people did write about the record and even said quite nice things. But no amount of press is enough to generate the kind of sales Imago needed to break even on this thing, so more drastic measures were necessary!

Money must be spent. And fair play to Terry Ellis he spent money alright. 1st we needed to introduce THWL to the retailers. Very important back in the day when people ‘bought’ records in ‘record shops’, or Walmart and Woolworths or wherever. So… the record company bought a prime slot at the NAMM convention that year, one of the US Music Industry’s most important events. I had 6 minutes to wow the 10,000 strong audience with some songs from THWL kind of mashed together. The band rehearsed the edited songs for several days and boredom had well and truly set in. Matt had taken to playing the last few bars of his guitar solo ala Hendrix, guitar thrust behind his head and out of devilment, while he was in full flow I deftly undid his belt and his jeans slid to the floor. Oh how we laughed particularly Matt who thankfully had reasonably well fitting and clean underwear on that day.

And that should be the end of that little anecdote, but no. Out of this this harmless japery the idea that we should repeat the pantymime during our costly 6 minutes was now on the table for discussion and it kind of snowballed. Here’s where I want to set the record straight. I did not want to do the, unbuckle the belt trick at all and I said so. More than once!

But the hilarity of it all and the ‘potential’, of such a stunt, in a convention situation like this, where every record company in the land was pushing their new product for that year at the retailers, to get everyone talking, about  ‘Suzanne Rhatigan’, the same Suzanne Rhatigan of “Is A Bitch Fame”, and her album, was just too irresistible for the label, the pressure was on… So when my good friend Matt in his easy going ‘let’s do it for the Gipper’ kind of way said he didn’t mind, I acquiesced.

Well we turned up at the convention centre all suited and booted as you might expect and headed on to the stage of the enormous convention centre, with giant screens all around the arena for any delegates unfortunate enough not to have front row seats and we launched into our truncated show. All was going well and the moment of truth was almost upon us… Again I wish to remind you I did NOT want to follow through with the stunt so I left the decision to Matt. We agreed if he put the guitar behind his head then I could assume he was up for it, if not fine. So I glanced at Matt as the moment drew near and he winked, threw the guitar behind his head and walked, guitar hero like into the spotlight. That’s when everything kind of became a bit weird. It was like the stage was made of foam and the moment had a strange slow softness about it. I reached out for Matt’s belt, flipped the buckle open (I’m good at that) and….

Nothing happened…

New jeans!

The bastards were standing up alone and not budging. So thinking on my knees, because for some reason I had dropped to them, I decided to give the jeans a tug.


The last few notes of the solo were ringing round the room when in a last ditch attempt I gave them a yank and low the reinforced steel jeans and brand new red silk boxer shorts gave way, and Matt, his manhood and me on my knees gaping mouth open in horror were broadcast around the convention on giant screens. So no one and I mean no one could miss it.

Matt was needless to say extremely embarrassed and I was horrified. The record company on the other hand were over the moon. A small price to pay, dignity, for the promotion we got. Everyone knew who Suzanne Rhatigan was that day. Thankfully Matt being the professional he is and the friend and ally I was so in need of, recovered himself and though I’m sure he would rather not think about it, he’s pretty much over it now, though I’m not sure I am!

While having a long overdue chat with the man himself recently about ‘Pantigate’ and my plans to write about it, Matt gave me his blessing. “On the plus side” he said “I haven’t had the naked on stage dream since!”

I love you Matt Backer hope we hang out together again soon.

PS: I promise not to pull your pants down!

PPS: I did transfer this recording from 24 track and remixed it. I tried to re do the vocal as I remember struggling to sing through laryngitis that day and I hear it in every note. However I couldn’t improve it. Some things are better left in the past…

Vocals Suzanne Rhatigan
Guitar Matt Backer
Piano George Laks
Bass Jack Daley
Drums Julius Klepacz
Violin Deni Bonet
Backing Vocals Suzanne Matt and Deni


32. Me me me me me…..

32. Me me me me me…
S.Rhatigan/ J F Morrison ©2000

suzanne-golden-50_02So, I’m finally ensconced in my new studio and it’s bliss. My own space dedicated to music and it’s not in my living room or bedroom but an actual studio, my studio the space I’ve dreamed of having my whole music life and that’s a good long while! No excuse now not to get on with it. NO EXCUSES. Oh Shit!

Now I have the space but will I ever again have the time? Being a “Singer Songwriter” is a completely selfish past time if, as is usually the case, the songs you write are for your own ears pretty much and are more a vehicle to express your angst, stories and emotions than a career per say. Sure you hope your songs will be heard by others, will resonate will connect will allow you to describe your time spent as an “occupation” even, but let’s face it what are the odds?

A songwriter on the other hand who sits down and coolly write a tune to pitch to an artist or publisher or account manager can more reasonably describe that work as a “job” even if the returns on the writers time are even less than the singer songwriters. I don’t know which camp I fit into. I’ve had small successes in both and I’m quite comfortable with both. My aim as a song writer is to imbue a subject with genuine emotion while as a singer songwriter it is to engage the listener without being too self-indulgent. It’s a fine line.

Either way song writing, writing or art of any kind takes time and head space. Total immersion is the ideal but that’s pretty much impossible with school going kids pulling at you every which way. I guess a happy medium can be achieved though, particularly now I have my own studio… Did I mention that I have my own studio? And it has lockable doors! How lovely it would be to pin this blog to a brand new recording of one of my new songs but I think I’ll stick to my blog theme and use one of my 50 misses instead. The obvious choice is Me..

Back in the year 2000BC (before children) I was able to completely involve myself in music, song writing and recording. I didn’t have to answer to anyone boyfriends friends family anyone. I was perfectly happy with that and if anyone had a problem with it well they knew where they could go. Then along came this guy who changed all that. He wasn’t pushy, quite the opposite, he did everything to facilitate me, but the more our relationship went on the more I realised I was losing a grip on my splendid isolation not to mention my ovaries. In a panic I did everything I could to repel him including writing Me. If there was ever a clear message to back off this was it, but instead he simply consistently argued that in his opinion ridding himself of me was not a good plan and so I thought fuck you then you’re stuck with me!

This recording of Me was the 3rd track I recorded with Antony Harding and Jack Hayter during the Radio Friendly/Old Friend sessions which are tracks 1&2 of the Fifty.. In fact Ant recorded the song himself for a compilation album check it out . http://audioantihero.bandcamp.com/track/me-rhatigan-cover So I guess it sort of makes it a pretty good balance between the self-indulgent all about me singer songwriter while having a sentiment which may not be lost on everyone. I hope so. Let me know what you think. PS ‘It always has and always will be about me me me me me me me me me…’

Suzanne Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica Wurlitzer…
John Morrison Bass…
Antony Harding Drums…
Jack Hayter lap Steel


31 The Life

31. The Life
S.Rhatigan/ J F Morrison © 2014

Here and now – the only certainty. The past is tainted by selective memory, viewed through distorted lens. The future unpredictable, non-existent. Ironically when life slows to a virtual stop and all the simple actions and tasks taken for granted are void, it is then you really start living. I’ve experienced this recently, vicariously through my brother in law who is recovering in hospital after a serious injury. He is happy! Happy to be alive. Happy to gaze into my sister’s eyes. Happy to know how well loved he is. He is living just for the moment. Every small mercy a miracle, every tiny treat a luxury beyond measure. To witness his intense pleasure eating a chocolate digestive biscuit is a joy to behold and just a little obscene!

It should be easy to write about something as simple as appreciating the life we have but it isn’t. It’s so much easier to yearn for something better, for more. It is the blight of the singer songwriter; self pity, regret, pain, angst. So much easier to plunge into darker troubled water than to float on a sea of serenity.seppi-thumbs-up-2014

Aside from the difficulty I’ve had in the intervening months since the accident finding and justifying the time, I have always taken for granted, to immerse myself in writing and recording, I’ve been plagued with the urge to write something uplifting and positive which put me right off! It’s just not in my nature I can assure you. I can imagine all the good stuff alright, but somehow I am compelled to darken my brighter thoughts with shade, to cool the heat with a little icy foreboding. So I failed. But then I remembered a song I wrote a couple of years ago, which I pitched for a commercial. It had to be positive, life affirming and much to my surprise I grew to quite like it, probably because it was rejected and ended up like a little abandoned puppy along with so many of my other songs.

When I moved back to Ireland, John and I tried to keep writing sending ideas back and forth online, but we were so used to writing in a room together that this new way never quite worked out.  John began to get more into soundscapes and electronica and all I could focus on with a young family running wild around the place, was playing acoustic guitar and harmonica in between domestic chores. When I decided to try to pitch something for that commercial I turned to some of John’s electronic loops for inspiration. I really like the esoteric pads and bleeps of Johns sample on ‘The Life’ blended with the acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer and harmonica, and the lovely rolling bodhran played by the extremely talented Pauline Burke.

Pauline is one of the musicians I recently befriended at a pub session here in Dublin. Trad sessions are ubiquitous in Ireland, the culture of musicians just coming together and playing music together is alive and well and is quite unique in the world. It is not exclusively traditional music though. In any number of pubs on any night of the week there are sessions, some folk, some pop or blues, some original tunes some classic covers. It really isn’t important what the style or ‘genre’. Its just people getting together playing the music they love around a table and singing their hearts out. Living for the moment. What could be simpler?

Suzanne Rhatigan Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica, Wurlitzer…
John Morrison Loops and pads…
Pauline Burke Bodrhan…

Intro voice over Seppi Baumeister (my boy)

PS: I read somewhere recently that Barbra Streisand was doing a duets album? I can really hear her singing this and also I think it would work really well as a duet. Anyone know how to get the tune to her or whomever? Aim high eh!


15. Waiting For The One 16. Good With Words

15. Waiting For The One
S.Rhatigan © 1994

I love collaborating with other songwriters and musicians, when a song writing partnership works it is something very special. But the sense of achievement you get when you write a song alone, lives with you forever.

waiting-for-the-one-300pxlI was a spectacular under achiever academically, there was very little expectation or pressure put on me growing up to aspire to anything even marriage! So there were no objections when I decided to embark on a singing career. Singing was the one thing no one could deny I did well and since I didn’t believe I was clever enough to be a writer singing seemed like a good alternative.

The first person to encourage me to write was Deke O’Brien. I met Deke at a party when I was about 19. When I heard he was a producer and had a record label I think I burst into song there and then. Deke heard something worth working with and he put me in the studio demoing songs with a writer he was developing called Dave Freely. It was the many hours behind a mike in the studio with them that set me up in my career. I remember him advising me to write. “That’s where the money is Suzi” he said. Still it wasn’t for nearly another decade when my session singing career in London was in full flight that I finally started to believe, maybe I could be a writer.

I started relatively late. At 25 or so I bought a piano and took some lessons. I did grade 1 and 2 exams at The Royal College of Music. I remember the day as if it were yesterday, better perhaps! I sat there shaking with fear outside the exam room with half a dozen 7 year olds. I soon began to gain confidence and found myself unable to practice scales without improvising around them and composing my own pieces so I abandoned formal training and kept doodling and noodling till a few songs finally emerged. Still it takes discipline and self confidence in the extreme to fully realise an idea from the initial melody or phrase to something even as lowly as a ‘pop’ song.

By 94, despite having built a repertoire of songs mostly co-written with others, and releasing To Hell With Love, I still wasn’t very confident in my song writing abilities to go it alone too often, until I wrote Waiting For The One. It doesn’t break any boundary musically or new ground lyrically but it is certainly as honest and heartfelt a song as I’d managed thus far and I think it has a lot of credibility for that reason alone. This live Wurlitzer and vocal take is the only performance of the song I can think of, other than occasional drunken attempts in friends homes on out of tune upright pianos…..

Suzanne Rhatigan Vocal and Wurlitzer…


Just having a little online tete a tete following the above upload, with my old friends Jack Daley and Albert Grootonk and this song came up in conversation.  Gives you some idea how difficult  it was going it alone when I was working with a lyricist like Craig, now he really does have a way with words…

16. Good With Words
S Rhatigan/ C Charles © 1993

Good with words was one of a number of songs we demoed in 1993 for my 2nd album for Imago, which of course never happened.  I had been touring for a year with fabulous  musicians from New York where I was living at the time and we were well oiled and ready to go when the plug was pulled.  We would have made a fine record , I think….

Suzanne Rhatigan Vocals
Jack Daley Bass
George Laks Piano
Matt Backer Guitar
Julius Klepacz Drums

PS Always lovely to hear your feedback don’t be shy about commenting here on the blog…