Very very few people have seen more gigs in Dublin than Eugene Connolly. Ever since her saw some of the most vital of the early punk gigs he’s been a passionate fan of live music. He was one of the early supporters of the Blades, Eugene and later Aslan and was one of the teenage DJs who brought sounds and energy to other Dublin youngsters. Now he promotes events including gigs by the excellent Clash Jam Wallop!, and the Bollock Brothers. And he is perhaps best known for arranging the Bowie event that seems to get bigger every year (more about that in part 2 of the interview).

 

For now, here’s a bit of background about some of his favourite gigs.

 

When did you start going to gigs?

At about 15 or 16 years of age. I was just hitting my first live music experiences at the perfect time when punk broke and I got fascinated by the high jinks of The Pistols immediately. I remember all the tabloid hoo haa at the time and can see the newspaper headlines like it was yesterday. The filth and the fury caused ructions amongst the old guard but me and my mates instinctively knew that this was something that we’d been waiting for and found their exploits hilarious as much as anything else. It was just perfect, fast guitars, aggro and messin!

Music had been an obsession for me from an early age. I’d been DJing with my pal Liam Dawson since I was 12 at a youth club circa ‘74 and expanded onto school discos, parties and the rest. I favoured glitter-stomp, Bowie and Ska rather than Zepplin or Genesis. Solid Gold Easy Action & Radar Love beat Stairway to Heaven or even Rory for me! I appreciated it, Bullfrog Blues etc. But that was your older brother’s music (if you had one, I didn’t). Horslips were ubiquitous at that time and instilled a sense of Celtic pride but again, I’d have been a fake if I pretended ownership, I never wore a crios! Philo was really really great, but hard rock wasn’t my thing.

The area that I grew up in produced a disproportionate amount of DJs during that era such as Tony Fenton, Barry Lange, Ian Dempsey & Bob Conway, all pals. Aidan Cooney was in my class at school. I might have considered going down the pirate radio route myself but through a series of events, I decided at the time that live music and the bands who played it were my true passion. Although I do still occasionally get reminded by virtual strangers of those heady discos and 18th birthday parties!

 

Any particularly memorable gigs?

The Ramones at The State Cinema, ’78.

Well, I’ve gotta say first and foremost The Ramones at The State Cinema in ’78 I think. That night changed my life. The speed, power & other worldly visuals has resulted in me thinking about Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee & Tommy/Marky every day since. The way Joey didn’t bother pronouncing Blitzkreig Bop properly…Bbbeee Bop! I couldn’t believe it! His huge lips seemingly dripping with an unending saliva supply and that occasional one-legged body shift at the mic. My mate didn’t see much cos he was lying horizontal in the row behind us with a young wan, doin-de-do. So overall an eventful night. On the bus home, we all knew things would never be the same again.

Coincidentally, I was with Bitzy of The Lee Harveys a while back night and his first band The Strougers supported The Ramones in their next Dublin concert at the Grand Cinema (always cinemas!) in Cabra. I asked him years later how come they got that gig. He told me they all went along to The State early that day to try to meet The Ramones and actually did! They were there for the soundcheck, can you imagine? My pals and I would never have thought of that, can you do that? But I suppose Bitzy was a few years older than us. Tough boys from Cabra too, ha! Siouxsie and The Banshees was another memorable gig, marred by awful violence, as was The Ramones too.

            

Bitzy (The Strougers/Lee Harveys) and Jock McDonald (Bollock Brothers)

The Clash & Virgin Prunes, Top Hat ‘78

Another seminal gig for me was The Clash at The Top Hat, again around ’78 I think. Besides the unbelievable panzer onslaught of Strummer and the heroic moves of the band, totally beyond anything I could have imagined. All those cowboy movies, Bruce Lee, every hero I’d ever noted were encompassed in that band that night. They were serious, no messing. Simenon strutted out onto the stage with that low hanging Fender and the first thing he did was expel a huge golly onto the stage floor. People talk and write volumes about mission statements…Eh!

In a further alignment of the stars, I memorably pogoed next to my beautiful English teacher, the ample bosomed Miss Barron and the frisson of repressed teenage energy seemingly reciprocated in our close proximity, jumping up and down to White Riot, in excelsis. Our pupil/teacher relationship was forever changed and when she comically tried to strangle me with my Beneavin College scarf one day for not doing my homework I concluded that our secret smiles were for us only.

Two other memories from that night, besides the tension in the queue outside (the air being rife with the potential for violence but that didn’t bother me, coming from the Northside). Besides, I had my new oxblood Docs on. Berlin were supporting (Over 21, you can’t rock ‘n roll like me? Really? Zzzzz).

But the real story was my neighbours and childhood nemeses, The Virgin Prunes.

Eugene with Dave Id (Virgin Prunes)

 

 

There were a huge gang of Norn Iron punks & skinheads down as the Belfast gig was cancelled at the last minute. Dave id Busarus Scott Watson 1980’s customary opening set was the perfect stage-setter which left every audience slack-jawed with disbelief, questioning their own morality vis a vis care-in-the-community. Whether or not you got the humour aspect was directly proportionate to your age/absurdist tendencies/white bread artistic sensibilities. Gavin Friday was wearing plastic kecks and while him and Guggi were quasi-fellating to the rhythm, the uninitiated in the audience completely lost it. After Gavin’s trousers split during a trademark disco stomp and his meat & two veg became part of the show, the bouncers literally dragged the band off stage to avert certain catastrophe. As all eventually quietened down and order restored, one of the most ‘punk rock’ moments that I’ve ever witnessed occurred: Gavin sashayed back onto the stage, genitalia throwing caution to the wind in an east-westerly direction, a curious minced bovversthomp to the mic and in an act of the most thrilling masculine/feminine defiance…to the chorus of ‘Kill da Queer’: ‘White Riot. I want a riot of…MY OWN’. Cue mosh pit mayhem, renewed swaying of the massive speaker stacks either side of the stage and another swift bouncer escort off side stage to safety.

The Virgin Prunes….the Dublin band that shocked the punks!

I had actually met The Clash that afternoon by chance while they were out seeking the real mean- streets of Dublin. I was on Moore St when I happened upon these leather-clad giants and as I stared slack jawed, Bernie Rhodes nodded to me in his impossibly-naff tinted/outsized spectacles, ‘Yes! It’s them’! So it seemed like old friends when, again, by chance while walking back past the venue in the pissings of rain after missing the bus back into town, the Clash roadies ushered me and my mates into the Top Hat. We spent an hour or so in the dressing room with a full rider and about just 15 other people, the band, Johnny Greene etc. I told Jonesy he needed a haircut. He called me a cheeky bugger, saying he’d only just gotten it cut. My signed paper plate had pride of place on my bedroom wall for many years afterwards and a lifetime affair was cemented.

 

Various honourable mentions

U2 at The West Finglas Tenants Association Hall ’78 (my first U2 gig, of numerous gigs during those years). As I mentioned, Bono was a childhood neighbour (tales could be told but not for this publication!).

Loads of ‘Prunes gigs, notably ‘A strange type of Beauty’ gig at the Project. They ate fried chicken in a sitting room stage set, with standard lamp and settees, and threw the bones into the audience. In the corridor there was a huge cow’s heart with loads of house keys stuck into it with written labels sticking out. It was that kind of evening. Nigel Rolfe creating a floor canvas using his naked body as a paintbrush, as you do.

Another memorable Project gig was Scotland’s The Scars with The Atrix supporting. During the changeover, the DJ played the usual punk/new wave stuff but then some unfashionable disco! The atmosphere was as usual, heavy with ever present violent undertones. Gavin Friday took to the dance floor in a Carmen Miranda fruit-laden hat, a colourful summer dress with underlying white petticoat, fish-net tights and 16 hole Doc Martins. He was given a wide berth by all and sundry, The Black Catholics included. [I interviewed The Scars recently and they remembered the Dublin gig well…I’ll post the interview soon].

Incidentally, Greg Cowan from The Outcasts was telling me recently, that while we were kinda intimidated by the Norn Iron hoards accompanying their bands down south, they felt that while the scene in Belfast was heavy, it seemed worse in Dublin. The ‘Catholics in particular, while doing their thing to liven things up at gigs (U2 being their arch enemies), actually ruined a lot of potentially great nights and certainly stopped The Outcasts and other NI bands from playing here a lot more often.

Dark Space 24 hour gig at The Project 1980.

Got to see so many great bands besides the usual Prunes & U2. The Mekons were amazing as well as loads of bands from the North, Rudi, Protex, Ruefrex. I met and talked to John Peel and Gary Crowley. Myself and Larry Mullen Jr. agreed that something had to be done about the showboating antics of his singer.

Eugene and Christy Dignam (Aslan) 1978

Me and my mate Christy Dignam wandered into an ante room where there was a burlesque lady performer doing her show. It was dark and completely full with no sitting room at all so we had to keep going straight to the front. So when she became topless, she thought it an idea to bend down and waggle her bosom in the face of the blushing young fella. Don’t mind The Atrix, my face was puce and so it was relief for me when her boa caught alight during her fire-eating act and the room was hastily evacuated. I spent 36 hours at that 24 hour space gig, how did that happen?

 

The Blades, 1978

I could talk about many more gigs, I was a regular at every Blades gig from The Magnet onwards. The famous Blackrock Park gig with The Boy Scoutz was a great afternoon out, with its usual share of underlying tension. The Stranglers with U2 at The Top Hat, Buzzcocks in Mary St, The Fall, Teardrop Explodes(3 nights) and The Bunnymen at McGonagles. Wah Heat were incredible too, Wylie picking a fight with a punter and I’ll never forget the snaggled Mancunian drone of Mark E Smith moaning’ Raaaight, who nicked me fuckin’ tape recorder’? The Smiths, ABC, New Order (with Eugene supporting!) and Echo & The Bunnymen at The SFX also come to mind as standout nights. The Bunnymen played behind a huge white drape in silhouette for a few numbers. Later, Ian McCullough said his mother was Irish (to loud happy cheers), then followed on by mentioning that…’I suppose that makes me half…(wild clapping)…thick’. Near silence! Except for me and a few others laughing our heads off at the bottle of him. Great gag!

I’d also like to give a mention to the first punk day festival at St. Anthony’s Hall, The Dandelion Market and carpark gig venue (too numerous to mention but The Outcasts and The Threat were very memorable) and Advance Records. Really pivitol event and crucial Saturday afternoon fare.

 

Was there music in your house when you were growing up?

I had a peripatetic life in my early years as my dad died when I was an infant and we lived with my grandparents for a few years. Half my mother’s family of 11 emigrated to Canada and my younger aunts left their LP collection in the gramophone cabinet behind them. I remember playing The Beatles at an early age, Good Golly Miss Molly and Roll over Beethoven making an impression besides the usual Beatles hits.

To this day, I always get an inadvertent tummy sickness when I hear Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road (Where’s your momma gone, little baby bird!) Ha! Because that song was in my head the day as I walked the lonely streets of East Finglas, the day that my mother found out that I had stolen some money from her purse. First and last time…honestly Guv’.

Eight years later, my new father was an amateur opera tenor so we listened to Josef Locke and Mario Lanza in our house a lot. I know Bono’s dad Robert was an opera singer/buff and he always compared other genres as being at best, subordinate to that art form. Gavin Friday did a Caruso homage years later, so that’s always been a constant. Christy Dignam actually teaches a form of opera, Bel Canto, these days. I also particularly loved an album of Carry-On radio comedy sketches, Kenneth Williams was a genius, really clever, outrageous and surreal. Trad and later the likes of Abba would have been acceptable to my parents. I was the eldest boy, so a trailblazer regarding music, really. With the advent of Punk, our paths divided although my folks were always very liberal and understanding in my pursuits.

 

 

Part 2 to follow.

 

 

Michael Mary Murphy

3 thoughts on ““The Ramones changed my life” Dublin’s Music Champion: Eugene Connolly Interview Part 1

  1. Eugene you have been around the block on the music scene in Ireland and it’s gr8 to hear your memories and experience. You are a trooper at gigs and are still promoting which is the best for you . Your people skills are second to none! I always trust your judgement when it comes to music and will see you at the next one ! x

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