In which the blogger delves further into his recorded exchanges with Raymond Gorman, the former That Petrol Emotion guitarist, backing vocalist and songwriter about to release debut album Anima Rising with The Everlasting Yeah, a happening new combo comprising four-fifths of that final TPE line-up.
You possibly got here after tackling yesterday’s part one epic. If not, perhaps try that first, with a link here. Either way, here’s part two for your reading pleasure.
Where were we when we were so rudely interrupted? Ah, I remember. We’d just got on to talk of front-man Steve Mack’s energy levels at the That Petrol Emotion reunion gigs in 2009. And that brings me nicely on to another singer with plenty of fire about him, a certain Paul McLoone, giving me my next question to Raymond Gorman in this mighty – even if I say so myself – three-part interview.
Getting back on track, Raymond, do you ever see The Undertones now, with Paul McLoone fronting them?
“I went to see them the first time they reformed, at the Mean Fiddler …”
So I recall. That was the last time I nodded at you – I might even have been brazen enough to said hello, actually!
“When they came on it felt a bit weird, not being up there on stage with John and Damian. But when they started Teenage Kicks the hairs on the back of my neck all stood up. It was just like the first time I ever heard them play it.
“It took me back to this little horrible place they used to play in Derry, the Casbah, this little Portacabin.
“I looked really young back then, so could never get in and had to wait outside, with my friend inside. But because it was a cabin you could hear perfectly outside. I probably had a better sound out there.
“The first time I ever saw them was at The Rock Club, one of the sleaziest places I’ve ever been. This was the late ’70s, and prostitutes and openly gay people used to hang out there too. It felt like real forbidden fruit. As a 16-year-old sat there having a drink I felt like I was breaking all the rules!
“The Undertones came on, and they were just amazing. They were so loud as well. I always felt their sound got tamed too quickly. The early Undertones were much more like the Petrols, with rough edges that later got smoothed out.”
That must all seem a long time ago now. Besides, you’ve been here in London for the best part of your life now.
“It’ll be 30 years this October.”
Could you ever see yourself moving back?
“At the minute I just couldn’t. I could maybe live back in Derry a couple of months at a time, but not full-time. When I go back it’s all too small. I visit my sister and walk over the bridge and around the town and after about an hour I find there’s nothing to do.
“With my parents getting older, I would love to be going back more often, and it’s a question of money. But not to live. Even when I got my degree I couldn’t find a job there, and I’ve never been able to. And yet all those summers I went to France I got work.
“The year my daughter was born, 2002, I was struggling to get work in London, and Malcolm (Eden), the lead singer of McCarthy, who lives in France, offered a chance to go and teach out there if I wanted it.
“When I first came over here, I had a real chip on my shoulder about being Irish, but this country has given me a home and a living over the last 30 years, and I’m very grateful for that.”
There was a nice quote in a recent interview from you from The Quietus, where you said ‘TPE was like the Undertones after discovering drugs, literature and politics, with a lot more girls in the audience dancing’.
“Yeah – the perfect description. Even Damian agreed with me on that one!”
That said, I wonder if England was ready for you. I took on board all you were saying about rubber bullets, civil rights, discrimination and so on, but wonder if it was that outspoken approach that ensured you didn’t get as big as – for example – Blur.
“I think it definitely was. When we thought about it after, we wondered if we should have shut our mouth until we were in a stronger position. It was a bad time to be saying anything. People just weren’t listening. And because we were speaking out against all that, we were automatically tarred with the same brush as the extremist republicans, although we went out of our way to distance ourselves from all that.
“Ciaran said to me recently we were right about everything, and we were. But people don’t want to keep hearing how bad things are, and we were a bit guilty of that.
“And we slept in a bit. I was usually the one who kept up with everything, but when I got sick I was out of whack for a few months, and it was around then that all that acid house stuff started – and it was at the end of the road where I lived in around 1988!
“It was between Borough and London Bridge, in Tooley Street – that’s where all the clubs were and also the Stone Roses were coming through. If we hadn’t been quite as pre-occupied with our own troubles we’d have caught that vibe.
“We didn’t have to pretend we were Curtis Mayfield’s backing band, because we were white kids, but the Stone Roses when they came along were such a breath of fresh air. I think Ciaran to this day is very jealous and thought they stole our thunder, and maybe they did. But I think they deserved it.
“People were fed up, but you don’t need to be told everything’s shit! We weren’t doing that with our music, but …”
You made some good points through your soundbites, but perhaps there wasn’t the appetite. We just wanted shut of a Tory Government.
“Maybe. The media certainly never engaged with us. I remember Ciaran and I did an interview with an NME guy, a South African guy – one we’d never heard about before or after – who knew nothing about us and hadn’t heard more than three of our songs from Babble.
“I remember getting a bit angry and after a few drinks all that resentment came out. And it doesn’t look good when it’s written down in print.”
Was there also a danger that these London journalists were being told all about the Troubles by an American ex-pat – Steve Mack, knowledgeable as he was?
“Well, Steve had to get hold of the facts himself and did a lot of reading and became very knowledgeable about it all, so probably knew more than they did. I also think Steve tried to lighten things. If it was coming across from a fella from Derry, it might have been even heavier!
“We were very much a united front, and while Steve could talk a lot of shite, it was kind of refreshing! And you need a break from all the politics sometimes.”
When I caught up with Raymond, his new band The Everlasting Yeah – also featuring fellow ex-TPE personnel Brendan Kelly (bass), Ciaran McLaughlin (drums) and Damian O’Neill (guitar) – had recorded six songs for their debut album, at that point unnamed. In fact, they were just ahead of another four days in the studio, then set to mix everything.
There will be more about that PledgeMusic campaign in part three of this interview, although I’ve added a link right at the end if you bear with me. But at that stage they weren’t even sure if they going down that ‘pledge’ line, wondering how easy it might be to reach their release target.
“Our problem seems to be that while we’ve got quite a large fan-base, they don’t seem to know much about what we’re up to. They didn’t even seem to know That Petrol Emotion had reformed last time around.
“Admittedly, there wasn’t too much in the way of press, but we had a bit in Mojo and would have thought they might have seen that. Our promoters at the time didn’t appear to do any work whatsoever when we did that tour, so it was all down to social media.
“But if Manic Pop Thrill sold about 30,000 copies, that’s about our constituency – our level of interest. If we could get that amount of people to pledge I could probably leave my job. It’s just reaching that figure. At present I’m only reaching about 1,000 people.”
Incidentally, that day-job is as a translator, with Raymond working for a friend for the last six years or so.
Anyway, as you’ll recall from part one, we were discussing my 1988 interview with Damian’s brother John O’Neill, one of my songwriting and guitar heroes, and now got on to how I’d called it More Songs about Factories and Girls, as there were so many JJ songs seeming to touch upon the factory theme at that time.
“Funnily enough, we had a song called Blatant Factory around that time too.”
Indeed, and John mentioned that. So did that ever see the light of day?
“I don’t think so, but I have it on a tape somewhere. I actually liked the song.”
So did he, I recall.
“Course he did! I don’t think Ciaran and Steve did though, and I can see why. It was kind of … he was trying to write a lot of songs like that. That was part of the problem. We’d be talking in interviews about our influences and all these left-field artists, and then he’d go and right these bloody Al Stewart ballads, you know!
“I was starting to get a bit fed up, and I know Ciaran was too. I think that’s why he wrote Creeping to the Cross. We were talking about artists like Foetus, yet didn’t have any songs like that.
“It was the same for me, writing For What It’s Worth, my go at doing something a bit like Sonic Youth. Me and Ciaran were taking on board all the things John was saying but didn’t appear to be influencing his own songs!
“But although we didn’t do Blatant Factory, he stuck some of the words into something that went on Millennium.”
Raymond’s referring to that album’s sublime opener Sooner or Later – part of a superb introductory salvo of JJ songs that also included Cellophane. But while I stand by the strength of those compositions, Raymond clearly still has a couple of issues here.
“When John got home he sent us a home demo of six songs, but on a point of principle – even if they had been brilliant – we wouldn’t have done them! At the time I thought that was the final insult.
“He wrote me a very apologetic letter years later though, and came to see me. That really cleared the air, but we were never going to be as close again.
“It’s a shame, because when I first came over to England, me and him were really tight. That said, it’s always very nice when we do see each other today, although it’s not very often. There’s no hard feelings, and he remained a big fan of TPE ’til the end.”
And from my point of view, he’ll always be a hero.
“True, although I think the last great song he wrote was Cellophane. I think having me and Ciaran around helped him up his game a bit at the time.”
That was where our first conversation ended, with this blogger having to run off to an appointment at his daughters’ high school. But we re-convened a few nights later, just after Raymond’s own 12-year-old lass had been put to bed. So after a brief chat about the joys of parenthood, poorly-paid jobs and the dreaded property ladder, we got back on to the Petrols.
By that point, Raymond had read my ’88 interview with John, declaring his quotes ‘very pessimistic’. I’ve since re-read it and don’t think they were. Again, I’d prefer the ‘under-stated’ label. It might have been difficult for Raymond to gee himself up in John’s company at that stage, but I’d say that was part of his charm. He’s not convinced though.
“I remember John having a bet with me once about V2, our second single, saying it would only sell about 2,000 copies. I remember thinking, ‘Great! Who am I in a band with here?’
“Damian’s a lot more out-going, and very friendly, but has that pessimistic streak as well. I’ll get very enthusiastic about how I feel, and Ciaran will as well. But then Damian will say, ‘Yeah, but what about this?’
“Sometimes you really have to raise your expectations, otherwise it can be a fait accompli.”
I suggest that maybe you need that dynamic sometimes – someone there to keep it real.
“Yeah, but the whole point of this band is about taking everybody out of their comfort zone!”
Back in that ’88 interview I’d mentioned how the Petrols – in Raymond’s absence at that stage – were doing an encore with support band Hugo Largo, covering Can epic Mother Sky.
“Yeah, I was quite jealous of that really. I would have loved to have done that and indeed did so a year later on in New York, but there’s no recording of it. And Hahn from Hugo Largo ended up playing electric violin on Chemicrazy.”
Indeed – ‘extreme noise terror violin’ according to the sleeve-notes. And you were going a bit Can-like at that stage, with longer songs like the sublime Under the Sky.
“Under the Sky was one of the few songs I really liked on that album. It was just done live, basically, other than a background crowd sample recorded at a cafe.
“I also think that was perhaps the best guitar playing I’ve done on a record. Ciaran wrote the first half, and I wrote the second, and you can tell when it speeds up.”
I also love Steve’s voice on that track, something that continued across the next two albums as well.
“Yeah. I think it really suited him.”
I explain at that point how while I never lost faith in TPE, I’d move slightly away from the band, my own personal circumstances changing. That Final Flame era passed me by in a sense, but I can listen to it all with fresh ears now, and can definitely say Chemicrazy and Fireproof were great albums.
“I think we got better and better. Maybe the production could have been better by the end. We had one go to do it and kind of blew it. When we were still on Virgin, maybe we just took too much time doing over-dubs and all that.
“It was all a bit too polite, but we salvaged about six of those songs and re-did the others. The second time it worked much better and we captured the energy on songs like Catch a Fire.”
You mention Virgin, and there were earlier issues voiced, like the level of support over Cellophane. Had you reached a stage where you were pissed off with what you were getting from them?
“My experience with Virgin was always very good. The only error they made was to give us too much rope to hang ourselves with!
“With Millennium we had this studio with a swimming pool, and it was the kind of place where if you were younger you could let off steam. I think we’d have been better with more Spartan surroundings – rough and ready, so you just got it done as quick as possible.”
Which brings me nicely on to that in-house spirit – something I can hear from the early demos of the new project.
“I think with the Everlasting Yeah the energy we have is even more than on Manic Pop Thrill. We’ve really managed to capture it. It’s astounding.
“In the first three days we went into the studio everybody was like ready to explode, with a real willingness to get it right. We were enjoying ourselves too, and all these things coalesced.”
At the time we spoke, I’d only heard A Little Bit of Uh Huh A Whole Lot of Oh Yeah, That Damn Train, and Hurricane Nation, but each showed a band with energy-a-plenty. That said, there were some very long tracks there. Was this how things were initially with the Petrols?
“Not really. It was only at the very end that the Petrols started to stretch out. Even then, Damian would be moaning – ha ha!
“There were a couple of long versions of the song Chemicrazy. We recorded that three times, and I still can’t quite understand why we didn’t put it on the original record. I suppose we liked that idea at the time – a title song being left off an album. It had become something of a tradition – like Elvis Costello did with Almost Blue.”
As it was, a superb six and three-quarter minute version of Chemicrazy appears on the Final Flame live album, one that truly captures the band’s late might.
And while I’m on the subject of that live offering, I’m pleased to say John O’Neill put in a guest appearance for those last live shows, as caught on record. But back to the point …
There are those trademark Sympathy for the Devil type backing vocals with The Everlasting Yeah too, taking me back to The Undertones and early days of TPE. ‘Communal singing’, is that how you put it?
“Well, if there’s anyone who sings more than anyone else, it’s probably me. But that’s just the way it’s happened. Everyone’s singing, and I really want that to happen, really get into it and get more into it.
“Brendan’s a good singer, as is Damian. It can only get better. In the Petrols, I don’t think I was ever given a proper go at it. With Steve, it’s almost like he willed himself to be good.”
I also feel there’s a bit of Television in there as well, although perhaps that’s the case with most guitar bands worth their salt.
“Well, every band with me in it’s going to have some of that! I think it’s my playing rather than Damian’s. There’s a good fit between our styles. Mine’s more an angular Television thing, quite melodic, whereas his is more a smooth style. Sometimes he can play things with a real economy of notes as well.
“The two of us really play well together. I played well with John as well. The thing about the two of us was that our sounds were quite similar, a kind of spiky Telecaster sound, so nobody really knew sometimes who played what.
“It’s a bit like Brian Jones and Keith Richards, something much more defined when Mick Taylor came into the Stones. I think Damian has a lot of Mick Taylor in his playing. He’s a big Stones fan. There’s some Johnny Thunders and maybe a bit of Paul Kossoff there as well.”
At this mention of Free, I suggest Raymond’s a bit of a hippy on the quiet. And with that, he’s off again.
“You know, I’ve been investigating Free recently. I only really knew the singles before, but I’ve been listening to some of their ballads, and they’re more like a soul band.
“There’s very little going on in their songs, but it pays. The drumming’s great, playing behind the beat, while the bass is very funky and melodic, and Paul Kossoff always plays the right thing. It’s really good.”
I suggest that sometimes you need to re-evaluate, get past the pre-conceptions or hype. I mention how that was the case with me and Van Morrison – admitting it took me a while to realise he was a soul singer.
“Aye. He’s a genius! I grew up listening to him, but when I went to college in ’79 I tended to dismiss Van Morrison as a hippy because I was in a punk mode.
“Yet when I went to university two of my flatmates had all his stuff and there was this song of his, Gypsy on St Dominic’s Preview. That was the one for me – like a lightning rod from God! I ended up going back and buying everything!
“I used to change my music in the car quite regularly, but remember once having a cassette with Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece on it. I think I listened to that for six months. Nothing else matched up to it.”
Which brings me neatly back to The Everlasting Yeah, and how from what I’d heard at the time, we may well have a perfect album to get down to in the car, and maybe one you’d be happy to carry around with you for the next six months.
But for more of that, and the third and final part of this interview, check out this blog again tomorrow, when Raymond and myself get on to the recording process, his account of the missing years between the initial split of That Petrol Emotion and the emergence of the new band – via Wavewalkers and the TPE reunion gigs – plus the first public appearance of The Everlasting Yeah and the joy of communal singing.
Then there’s a little about those delightful Derry harmonies, Raymond’s first Kay’s catalogue guitar, and much more besides. And while you’re waiting for all that, you might want to check out The Everlasting Yeah’s PledgeMusic campaign – with a link here.
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