The 1980s were a particularly vibrant time in Ireland’s music scene. New bands sprang up, and many local bands secured international deals with major labels.
One of the major reasons for this success was the behind-the-scenes activity, in particular, by the young entrepreneurs I call the ‘Ents Entrepreneurs’. These were young music-loving students, and providing entertainment for their fellow students was often their first activity in the music scene/industry.
One of these key figures was Pat O’Mahony. He invested time in championing a wide variety of local acts and while I didn’t know him well, anytime I bumped into him he was passionately telling anyone who would listen about a new Irish band they ‘had to check out’. For young bands taking their first steps, that enthusiasm really mattered.
So while he is best known as a TV presenter and media content producer, Pat is also remembered as a key personality in the exciting and vibrant local music scene when lots of new Irish acts were getting record deals.
How did you first get interested in music?
Pat: Music was a near-constant presence when I was a nipper. In primary school we were taught the trad faves of the day; Beidh Aonach Amárach stands out still for some reason. And while we were a long way off having 24-hour-tunes-wherever-we-go, I vividly remember lots of music on the car radio, though probably more infrequently than I imagine from here. Larry Gogan on one of the sponsored programmes in the afternoon on RTÉ Radio (there was no 1s or 2s back then) played the pop and showband hits of the day, undoubtedly giving an initial introduction, while later we were grateful for Radio Luxembourg’s inconsistent 208 medium wave signal providing added-extra embellishment.
Against this unpredictable and inconsistent musical backdrop, the parents invested in an at-the-time very fashionable – and I’m guessing, pretty expensive – stereo radiogram, a large wooden furniture piece with an analogue valve tuner – Athlone, Budapest, AFN, Hilversum, Helvetia, etc – hidden under its lid at one end and a stackable, multi-album record-autochanger player at the other.
With this home entertainment novelty came LPs by the likes of Bing Crosby, The Ludlows and Joe Loss (playing Glen Miller), as well as at least one musical, South Pacific; not exactly hip and happening but I was young and gobbled them all up repeatedly.
Then came the turning point; the older brother started arriving home with albums borrowed from some of his far-more-clued-in Kildare town classmates. The first was Black Sabbath’s Volume 4 and I was smitten (it’s still a great album), followed closely by such other still-classic early-1970s’ gems as Rory Gallagher’s Live In Europe, Mott The Hoople’s Mott and Yes’ Close To The Edge.
It’s been a slippery music-loving slope ever since.
Where did you buy your early records? Any particular favourite records?
I bought my first single, Irish showband The Real McCoy’s Quick Joey Small, in Morrissey’s Electrical in Kildare town for 7s 6d (about €4 million today) in 1968. A bunch of other 45s were purchased in a stall at the weekly market up in the town square over the following years – Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay, Santana’s Samba Pa Ti, The Doors’ Riders On The Storm, for example – and I still have ‘em all in their not-that-badly-scratched glory.
Most of my pre-freebie albums – it goes with the music-biz territory, folks, sorry – were found scouring the bargain bins of Dublin’s many record shops during the late ‘70s and ‘80s. But occasionally I paid full whack for something I really wanted. When I came home after hitching around Europe for four months in 1980, for example, I went out and bought the first three Talking Heads albums – two English guys who gave me a lift from Marseilles to Milan played them non-stop on the three-day trip – and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust – the youth hostel in Naples played it over the tannoy in the morning to wake us.
As for favourite records, I have too many. But if push came to shove and I had to rescue only one from a house fire, I’m pretty sure it’d be the highly unfashionable – but fuck fashion, y’know? – The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Genesis’ last album – a double, natch – with Peter Gabriel, as someone described it a while back, the mother of all prog albums. It is a work of undoubted genius and the troubled tale of its making only adds to its greatness.
Though, to be honest, as I still listen almost exclusively to new music, if I was to be stranded on a desert island, rather than one album I’d prefer a Spotify subscription, thanks very much.
Did punk matter to you?
Not really. Not that I didn’t love many of the records it produced, just that it annoyed me how quickly – immediately? – it became a meaningless marketing scam – big business is always quick to hijack anything that’s new and different…and successful – and also because it insisted I couldn’t like it and prog at the same time. To this day I still find it funny that Mike Oldfield and Pink Floyd, the two acts punk particularly targeted and wanted to wipe off the face of musical map, still sell more records than any punk act ever did. Ah bless.
Did you have any mentors/role models in your early career?
No, I kinda fell into it. Pirate radio for the most part passed me by as we weren’t exactly overrun with them in Kildare but when 2fm arrived in 1979 I was an instant avid listener. The thing is though, I spent a fierce lot of time saying “I’d be better than that” to myself while listening. There were very few who – I know, the arrogance – I thought were great. Even Fanning who I listened to nightly annoyed the tits off me regularly. He still does. You should try producing him some day. Arf.
There was one presenter I really admired. Muriel Grey on Channel 4’s The Tube, and later their Media Show, was brilliant – sharp, articulate, edgy, and honest. I loved her on both those programmes which I used watch religiously in the 1980s. She still pops up on air from time to time but like yours truly she’s now more involved in behind-the-scenes production.
You championed a lot of young Irish bands when you were a really active and enthusiastic Ents Officer.
How did you get the position?
I did it twice, both in the then-NIHE Dublin in Glasnevin (now DCU), first part-time as a student when I was voted in, then for a year after I graduated as their first full-time Students Union Entertainments and Publications Manager for which I had to sit an interview like any job.
The funny thing is when I ran for that election in the spring of 1984 I did so very reluctantly. I’d gone back to college the previous autumn after a long break away from education and was still at that stage concerned that I might not be able to hack it so had avoided most extra-curricular activities; when I was approached to run for the gig, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic.
I eventually agreed only to find out election day was also deadline day for a major course project which of course was a major pain in the hole.
And then when the results came in I won by 27 votes. Or should I say, ‘a mere 27 votes’ because I figure at least 100 people looked at the voting slip and because they wouldn’t have known either of us just stuck a pin in it; a 27-vote margin was nothing but it was probably one of those life-changing lynchpin moments that set in train a whole series of events to get me where I am today.
A couple of years later as I neared the end of my degree with the distinct possibility looming large of graduating into the big bad world without any real clue as to what exactly I wanted to do the SU very judiciously decided, such was the rapid rate of growth of the college’s student population that the Ents job was now too big to be done by a student. Things was, of course, it wasn’t big enough on its own as a proper job so they rolled responsibility for their publications into the gig as well. Whether I got the post by more or less than 27 interview points I never asked.
What bands do you remember booking?
The first band I booked – well at least the first one that performed – was for a series of free outdoor daily lunchtime gigs during Freshers Week 1984. And the honour of opening on Monday went to Above The Thunderclouds, who featured in their midst singer Joey Barry and guitarist Garret Lee, both of whom went on to form Thee Amazing Colossal Men, and then Compulsion, Garret now operating under the far-sexier performing-and-producing moniker of Jackknife Lee. Guitarist Gerry Leonard, later of Hinterland and, after moving to NYC, one-time sidekick to the likes of David Bowie, Lou Reed and currently Suzanne Vega, was also a member. Back then they barely had a demo tape between them.
I think Something Happens, Guernica, Lord John White and maybe A House did similar outdoor lunchtime freebies for me at some point but I’d have to look up the records to be certain. And I’m not even sure any such records exist.
But I definitely booked Moving Hearts, Auto Da Fe, Paul Cleary & The Partisans and Christy Moore for pay-in gigs. Oh, and Barry Sinclair, the ‘hypnotist’. There were undoubtedly more – though not that many more as we had no proper on-campus concert venue – but fuck if I can remember them either. If there’s a comments section on this, please feel free to jog my age-addled brain, folks.
Any particularly great gigs/events?
I remember the Moving Hearts one for a number of reasons. It was on their 1984 farewell tour – the first of many as it turned out, ironically – that culminated at the National Stadium a few weeks later, itself also a belter of a gig. It was the only co-production I did with the St Pat’s teacher training college down the road in Drumcondra, where we actually put it on. And when signing the contract with promoters MCD in their then office upstairs in the long-defunct SFX (where over the years I saw the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen, Blue In Heaven, REM, The Smiths, Something Happens, Public Enemy, Bjork, The Cocteau Twins, The Fat Lady Sings, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Alice In Chains, Simple Minds, A House, The Jesus And Mary Chain and Julian Cope), I blagged my first ever guest lists, putting ink to paper only when they agreed to stick me down for +1s for their upcoming gigs by The Fall and Stockton’s Wing. Man, the power…and the odd mix of taste.
What other bands (Irish and visiting) made an impression on you?
Off the top of my head, Radiohead (at the old Rock Garden in Temple Bar on Pablo Honey, and a million times since); REM (at the SFX that first time in 1984 for £3.25 half-priced unwaged, and a million times since); Swim (in the also long-gone Baggot Inn and elsewhere, who I championed at Hot Press ahead of and during their brief period in the spotlight around 1988-’89); Public Enemy (at a lunchtime gig in Trinity in 1988 and in the SFX in 1995); Bowie (particularly in the Olympia in 1997 and The Riverside in Hammersmith in London in 2003); and Prince (in the POD in the early hours following his 1995 Point concert and during which Bono joined him for The Cross).
Five favourite singles from Irish bands of the 1980s/1990s:
Tough one this. Ok, here goes, in no particular order and likely to be a totally different quintet if you asked me tomorrow:
Soon – My Bloody Valentine
Fashion Crisis Hits New York – The Frank And Walters
Troy – Sinead O’Connor
Gritty Shaker – David Holmes
Summer in Siam – The Pogues
Michael Mary Murphy