Interview with Ricky Dineen: Nun Attax, Five Go Down To The Sea?, Beethoven, Finbar Donnelly, and the Cork Music Scene

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The groups Nun Attax, Five Go Down To The Sea? and Beethoven were formed around the musical partnership of singer Finbarr Donnelly and guitarist Ricky Dineen. All three groups have received considerable coverage in the past decade with the radio documentary/podcast ‘Get That Monster Off The Stage’ and Mark McAvoy’s ‘Cork Rock’ book.

Much of this coverage has focused on the larger than life character and antics of Donnelly and his subsequent death by drowning in 1989, possibly obscuring the story of the bands themselves.

With this in mind, I approached Ricky Dineen and he kindly agreed to be interviewed about the history and evolution of the three bands.

The interview took place at the Bodega Bar, Cork 19/3/2011.  – David Lacey


Your introduction to punk rock, did that come through Donnelly?

It was a mixture of Donnelly and the fact that I’d moved schools from Churchfield School, which is a local working class school on the northside of Cork, into a more, let’s say, liberal kind of a school in town. It was the School of Commerce, where I met people from all over the city rather than just northsiders. There were a few musicians in there as well. They wouldn’t have been punk musicians, they’d have been into the more mainstream, rhythm and bluesy kind of thing, but they would have got me interested in the actual guitar. One of the guys was Aidan McCarthy. Do you know that guy Joe Mac, the guy who was in the Dixies? He was his son. He actually died in a car crash afterwards unfortunately. He was quite mad and he kind of touched me on the punk rock madness side of it.

But it was Donnelly who introduced me to the actual music. He had a weird knack of getting these rare records, he used to do it through the NME and not pay for them. He used to get, like, Sex Pistols picture discs that were worth a fortune and he used to sell them for 3 or 4 times the money.

Then we started listening to John Peel. Trying to tune into John Peel, I think you could get it a lot better up in Dublin than you could down here. You’d get all these obscure bands. I remember one defining band that made me want to do something was Teenage Jesus & The Jerks and a song called ‘Orphans’. I was just blown away by it. That whole guitar sound…fuck it, that was the way to go.

I was on a school tour in England and there was a guitar in a shop for £19. Fortunately, I was very sick on the tour, so I was spending no money, so I said ‘fuck it’ and I bought it. The other two boys were in my class, Smelly and Phillip. We were going to do something for the school play and we ended up doing a mime of a Stranglers song and we ended up winning the thing. One of the aforementioned musicians, who was a very good guitarist, got a band together and they did ‘All Right Now’ and they played it very professionally. We went up with our hair spiked up and mimed to a Stranglers song and we won the competition, so there was a little seed there.

So when did the band properly start up?

In fact, there’s a bit of an inaccuracy in ‘Get That Monster Off The Stage’, it was my fault. Our first ever gig was in 1979, February the 14th. I mistakenly said to the guy that did the interview that it was 1978. So we would have formed the band sometime in 1978. He broadcast the re-done radio thing on the anniversary of the first gig, but it was actually the 29th anniversary rather than the 30th.


Had you played music before or did you form the band and then pick up instruments?

Yeah, that’s exactly how it happened. I mean, I still can’t play the guitar, but I picked it up then. And Phillip was always the money man, he always had money, he always saved. So he had to buy a bass straight away. Smelly got his drum kit. Donnelly wasn’t on the scene at this stage even though we knew him.

This mightn’t be 100%, but if I remember correctly, I think there was some kind of talent contest in the parochial hall that we wanted to enter and Donnelly looked like a fella that’d be in a band. He was a typical punk rocker. He stood out everywhere in a crowd in ’78 because there were no punk rockers in town, so we asked him to do it. Donnelly started writing down loads of lyrics. I’d say that was the only time he did that because he never did it later on. He came up with all these songs. He came up to my bedroom and I was playing simple chords, punk rock chords and that’s how it started.

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You were playing quite a few covers at first?

Well, at the first gig I think we did half and half. Our songs were shit. I think we did ‘Teenage Kicks’, ‘Pretty Vacant’. We did probably 4 of our songs and 4 covers, badly.

How did Mick Finnegan get involved?

We brought Mick in basically because he was a musician. He could play ‘Hotel California’. So he was brought in to tighten things together. Smelly became good fairly fast because he was natural at the drums. Mick worked in the corporation fixing traffic lights. He actually still does. He got us some traffic lights as lighting. Mick wasn’t in the same mindset as us towards music, he was more mainstream. He wanted to play songs and we wanted to make a racket, so he didn’t last long even though he’s a great friend to this day. But he helped us along in the music department.

Had you started going to the Arcadia at this time?

Yeah, we were just starting to go at that stage, but we wouldn’t have been influenced by any of the bands that were around. The bands in Cork that time were absolutely atrocious. Well, they were probably good at what they did. Bands like Loudest Whisper and Hot Guitars, they were playing rhythm and blues covers. But the early days, when we were starting off, I don’t really remember so much about the Arc, it’s only when we started playing there that my memories start. I remember seeing The Only Ones and The Cure, but that would have been when we were up and running. There were a fair few (new wave) bands played there and we would have supported some of them. The Fall played there. Microdisney supported The Fall, I think they used our gear, Giordai used my amp.

I read a review in the Hot Press of your first gig with Giordai, supporting U2 and the review makes a big thing of the fact that you’d been in a hiatus, hadn’t played in a few month and had come back with a new line up and a new set of songs and it was like a completely different group. Did Giordai have a big impact when he joined?

Giordai was a fuckin’ genius, like. We had some songs together already and he just came up and would play something brilliant over it. He added to the madness that we wanted but we weren’t good enough musicians to do. He could do it all, but he couldn’t take the slagging. We were 4 working class guys, he was kind of a middle class guy who came in from the country. It was all slagging on our part, maybe a bit too harsh.

I was gutted when he left the band and when he joined Microdisney, they turned into a brilliant band, they had a great energy, maybe more towards what the Fatima Mansions were like later. When he left them, they turned back into this mellow kind of stuff. I think Giordai added to every band he was with. I was going mad when he left.

Giordai always used to use an echo machine, it had a kind of a spacey sound. My guitar playing had more a jagged sound. We supported U2 and when they came back next time, The Edge was using all these echo effects. Giordai mightn’t remember it, but I remember it well because we were watching them from up in the balcony…(laughs) ’look at that cunt, he’s taken my effect’.

Just looking at the coverage/mention you got in the Hot Press, it looks like you were playing gigs pretty regularly at that stage…

We played a lot in the Magnet and the Downtown Kampus, we played a lot in the same places. It was every couple of weeks, but we wanted to play a gig every night.

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Did you play much outside Dublin & Cork?

Very little. We played in Waterford one time and Tralee. We did a tour with UB40, Cork, Dublin, Galway and Belfast, the Ulster Hall I think. It was brilliant, it was completely our kind of music and their kind of music. I was expecting to get battered off the stage by UB40 fans. Maybe the UB40 fans today are different to the UB40 fans back then. The road crew were great, they set up our gear and everything. There was a petrol shortage and we had to queue for petrol on the way to Dublin and we were late for the gig and they delayed their own set for us and they had our gear set up and the guitars tuned and everything. They were really nice guys.

We never had a manager, we just got the gigs ourselves. I used to work in a company where I had the use of a phone and I’d be ringing up these venues all over the country. Sometimes it’d come off and sometimes it didn’t…’give us a gig’, ’send us a record’, ‘we’ve no record’, ‘send us a tape’… trying to get a gig was impossible in those days. Even getting a gig in Cork when the Downtown Kampus wasn’t available was impossible. Sir Henry’s wouldn’t give us a gig.

We played a few times with the Banditz in the Country Club Hotel in Montenotte, that was a gig you’d have to run yourself. You’d hire the hall for the night and they’d make money on the bar takings.

In later years, we played in the Bodega on Oliver Plunkett St. There was a kind of musician’s collective there. Mick Lynch was involved in that and it was quite good.

Some of the punk bands from Dublin, like the Black Catholics, played there and there were a few riots between the locals and the Dubs. The original Bodega was a whorehouse and there was still a lot of shipping going on in Cork and the mariner types would go in there, but the back of the place was the venue. It’s actually Sidetracks now, it’s a nightclub.

We played up in the Magnet a lot. It was a great place. There was a kind of a following when we played there which was good. Some fellas there wouldn’t know where we were from, they didn’t know where Cork was. We were amazed with that. I remember we played there about two weeks after the Artane fire and there were people with burns and everything at the gig. It was weird, it brought everything home to us. Of course Donnelly starts shouting at them. ‘Were you in the fire?’. Fuck’s sake. (laughs)

I read in a few places that Nun Attax appeared on one of RTÉ’s Saturday morning tv programmes -is that true?

Yes! We appeared on ‘Anything Goes’ . We did ‘White Cortina’ and ‘Reekus Sunfare’. For ‘White Cortina’ they hired a blue (!) cortina and we danced on top of it.

For the record, we also played on an evening magazine programme with a band called ‘Haystacks’. That was hybrid of ourselves and Microdisney. We played some country and western shoite. (I think Cathal played the drums!)

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One band you got compared to a lot at the time was the Virgin Prunes…

There was kind of a rivalry at the time. We played a gig with them at the Arc and it was a case of who’s going to get their name at the top of the bill but it was an equal billing in the Echo. They were going along a completely different path to us but I did like some of their stuff. Even looking at some of it now on youtube, some of it’s quite good. They were probably going for the same type of an audience as we were but they were coming from a different angle, the art school, pretentious kind of thing. We were bringing sheep’s heads on stage and doing dopey things like that. One time we got an actor and an actress to pose on the stage while we were playing as part of that rivalry. The actors were doing all this sort of shit (mimes statuesque pose). That was short lived for us, but it was good fun at the time.

So you’d moved away from that straight two chord punk sound of your early days. What sort of bands would you have been listening to at this stage. I’m guessing it wasn’t the Clash and the Pistols.

Anything we could get our hands on, including the Clash and the Sex Pistols. Later on it would have been Gang of Four, the Mekons, Fire Engines, there’s a lot of the guitar influences there. The Contortions, mad slide guitar stuff. Mainly the English indie scene was what we were into.

Captain Beefheart?

Well, that would have been Giordai’s influence. I can’t actually say that it was an influence but I did listen to it quite a bit. That reminds me of some of the reviews we used to get saying that it was a complete mess and then it would fit into place and then turn back into a mess again, so maybe the influence was there but it wasn’t on purpose.

The Residents was another band I listened to a lot, I love them. I saw them in London once, they were brilliant. Donnelly went through a period of wearing a black suit with a dickie bow. So we were down the back of the Hammersmith Palais, the Residents were onstage and Donnelly just barged though the crowd. He was dressed like a bouncer and he was big enough to be one and he just pushed up to the front.

You used to play a bit with fairly straightforward r’n’b type groups like the Bogey Boys and the Noel Redding Band. How did that work out?

This used to happen a lot at the Arc, but I think people would have turned up to the Arc if the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Residents were playing. They didn’t care.

It was a social thing as much as anything else?

Yeah, we’d go in and say to hello to was playing, they’d do their set and we’d do ours. There was no big audience coming to see the Bogey Boys or whoever. Or us, for that matter, although there may have been a few for us in later years because we were local. It was a place that people went to no matter who was playing. The bigger the band, the bigger the crowd obviously, but you’d always get a thousand every Saturday.

It was a great gig for any of the bands coming from Dublin because they’d be unknown. I remember U2, DC Nein and two other Dublin bands playing there and the place was jointed. It was probably the best venue in the country at the time. You’d get paid too. Other places, it’d cost you money to play there but at the Arc you’d get £20 in your pocket at the end of the night.

There was no drink there. Everybody got pissed at the pub next door, Handlebars. The guy that owned it was one of the grumpiest men in the world but he tolerated us, he got to like us in the end. He understood that punks weren’t evil bastards that were gonna eat your babies. He was a great guy, he was a grumpy cunt but he warmed up. I remember when the Cure played, there was a running battle outside. It was on the front page of the Examiner- ‘Punks Run Riot Before Punk Concert’. It was just the guards running riot and they ran into Handlebars and started batoning everybody and fucked everybody out.

Did you headline the Arc much? Somebody told me that you could fill the Arc as the headline act.

A few times, yeah. As I said though, anybody could have played there and packed it out so I wouldn’t read too much into that. We wouldn’t have had fans, like. I do remember walking to work one morning and seeing a schoolgirl with Nun Attax written on her bag and I was chuffed (laughs) but that was the only time I saw that. That was the end of it! (laughs)

Did Nun Attax ever record any demos?

We did one out in Ballinora. There was a guy that Giordai knew that had recording equipment and we did a one-off thing there. There was a live recording of a gig in the City Hall. There was a guy who owned a record shop in town who organised the gig and he said he wanted to record it so that if we ever became famous, he could make a fortune! I’ve never heard the recording though. Thank God (laughs).It’s probably atrocious. We didn’t really do any other studio stuff with Nun Attax, just the (Fanning) session and Kaught At The Kampus, which we recorded on stage and they took it away and mixed it and did whatever they did with it.

This is kind of a general question, but given the band’s (and especially Donnelly’s) reputation for excessive behaviour, how did that work when it came to working on the music?

We spent a lot of time putting together the stuff that we made a fuck-up of live. (laughs) There was a lot of thought went into it, it used to come together at times. I wouldn’t have been playing pissed but Donnelly was invariably locked, but he could still pull it off. He used to go mad and try and bum drinks from the audience.

In the band sense, I wouldn’t say I was the leader, but he’d listen to reason and he’d do it your way if he thought that was better or he’d argue his point if he thought he had a point. He wasn’t writing any of the music but he was writing all the melodies to the singing. He wasn’t coming in and saying ‘I have a great song for you’. We’d have a piece or a series of pieces that we glued together and he’s sing to it, so he was creating the song. That’s the way it was done, so he was quite easy to work with in a band.

He was a loose cannon alright. The only thing is that he looked a lot worse than he was. He kind of made up for his own weaknesses by being mad. He was a fairly deep thinking fucker but he was very insecure. I think it’s fairly well known that he was gay, which would have been a problem in Cork at the time, but nobody seemed to care, to be honest with you, but I think he was troubled alright.

He could be aggressive. People would back down to him because of his stature and the way he presented himself, but basically he was a softy. He was also doing a bit of the rock’n’roll thing, the act.

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After Nun Attax split up there was an initial phase with Pat Kelleher (ex-Mean Features) on bass…

Yeah, that was a very short lived phase, I don’t think we played any gigs under that guise, or maybe one.

The first Five Go Down To The Sea? demo from 1981 was done as a three piece…

That’s myself, Donnelly and Smelly. Bill Russell, he still has a music shop in Parnell Place, he had a studio down in Glanmire and we just booked a day in the studio and came up with all that shit. There was nothing written before we went in, it was all done on the spot. It wasn’t done live, I played bass, I was playing piano (laughs). There were songs about diets and all this sorta shit. It was just a bit of fun for the day but I think Fanning actually played it.

When did Five Go Down To The Sea? properly start?

That started when Mick Stack came on the scene. He’s not from Cork , he’s from Ballyheige in Kerry. If I say Giordai is the greatest guitarist out of Cork, Stack is the greatest guitarist from Kerry. The greatest musician, because Stack could nearly play any instrument. Banjo, mandolin, all sorts of things. He was a student at UCC, an engineer, I think we met him at a party.
A really good player but he was very temperamental, it was his way or no way. All the complicated guitar and bass bits are his. We used to switch guitar and bass halfway through the gig, but that was later. Stack did all the artwork on the records. I think he did a cover for Microdisney as well. He was very talented, he was good at everything, even building and making shelves, all these kinda things.

We were playing with Stack when Úna came along, that’s well documented in the book. Mick Lynch was in a play and she was playing cello in it. We asked her and didn’t think she’d turn up. We went down to the jamming room, a place called Wallroo, and they said ‘there’s a girl inside waiting for you, she has a cello with her’ (laughs). So it went on from there. What happened with her was that everything had to be in concert pitch, everything had to be tuned right. We actually had some bastardised Beethoven (the composer, not the later band) in the songs. That was a good period alright.

Úna and Stack tended to work together on their own. All the lovely melodies on ‘Knot A Fish’, bits with mandolin and cello going together, that’s them.

It was funny when we were playing with Úna and her cello and there’d be punk rock fellas going mad and pogoing and she’d be trying to protect her cello. She was playing in the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at the time.It was hard to get a good sound for the cello live but it came out on the record a bit better.

We paid for the recordings ourselves. Two were recorded down in Ballyvourney and two were recorded in the wilds of county Mayo up in this studio where Big Tom and the Mainliners used to record. It came out on Kabuki. I can’t remember how we met Gareth Ryan (owner of Kabuki). It might have been at a gig in the Magnet, but he moved to London and he was working for Rough Trade and they let him run a small label on the side. He was living there with a band called Kissed Air who were also on Kabuki.

So at this point (late 1983) the band moved to London…

The Arc was gone, there was nowhere to play in Cork. It was either that or move to Dublin and we weren’t going to do that because Dublin was dead as well, there was no movement from there. We moved to Brighton first. My brother was in Brighton, so we moved there to get a foothold in London. The Brighton bomb went off the same time we were there and we were followed by the special branch for a while. Eventually, we got out of my brother’s hair and we moved to London, to a squat in Rotherhithe.

Úna ní Channain didn’t go to London, so you were down a member. Did you start again from scratch, music-wise?

I think we managed to save a few songs and adapt them without the cello, but basically we started again. We started ringing around, pestering people. When we went there first and it’s probably the biggest regret ever, we were offered a recording contract by Cherry Red, they had an offshoot called Anagram Records. They offered us 3 albums and 3 singles over 3 years and stupid money now like a thousand or two thousand but Stack said ‘3 years is a long time, maybe we should look for other things’. We should have done it and let them pay for recordings and seen what would happen. In the end, we settled for Abstract. That was just an a&r person came up to us after a gig and said ‘do you wanna make a record’ so that’s how that happened.


You played a few gigs with some of the bands from the anarcho-punk world, like Poison Girls and Omega Tribe. How did that go down?

There was one gig we played with the Poison Girls. We all had short hair at the time, skinheads basically. We were all locked at we were shouting and roaring at them, juvenile stuff. We got attacked when we were leaving the gig by the other group, I think it was Conflict. We were beaten over the head, we were all knocked out and taken to hospital. We got a phone call then from them, they really apologised (laughs), they thought we were fascists. (imitates cockney accent) ‘You were taking the piss but, look, we’ll do you a benefit gig’. ’Nah, you’re alright boy’ (laughs).

It managed to get into the NME, ‘Anarcho-punk Group Attacks Another Band!’. That was down in Woolwich, we played down there a lot (at the Thames Polytechnic). That was a nice place. Leigh, the guy who ran it was a nice fella. We played a lot of gigs too at the Ambulance Station on the Old Kent Road. That was an old ambulance station that was squatted. That was a pretty mad, speedy period of our lives (laughs).

The main associations at the time would have been bands like the Mekons…

Yeah, it started off with the 3 Johns. John Langford had been in the Mekons and we just became friends and did a lot of gigs up and down England with the 3 Johns and then the Mekons by design and he came into the studio to do the engineering for The Glee Club. He was a nice guy, he liked a pint, a real northern Leeds man, we got on well with him. He stayed in our house a few times.

We did the Glee Club overnight. It was an expensive studio but we got it cheap because we had it all through the night. We had to take copious amounts of speed to keep us going and recorded it all in one night. That was a good night, actually (laughs).

Did you get much of an increase in gig offers after the Glee Club came out?

Not really, no. We’d be getting gigs in outlandish places like Preston and Stratford, we played a gig up there for the miners, which was great. All these kinda places. We got a phone into the squat and published the number in the NME so we got all these lunatics ringing us at all hours of the night. Some of the calls were people offering us gigs but mainly it’d be lunatics and Donnelly would talk to them for hours, drunk.

You mentioned before that the gigs in London weren’t so great. Why was that?

They could be kinda shambolic, a bit all over the place. Donnelly would forget his lyrics and everything. I wouldn’t want to give them impression that that happened every time, most of them were pretty straightforward. Most of them! (laughs)

After The Glee Club, Smelly left the band and you got a drum machine…

Yeah, that wasn’t the best. The drum machine idea came from the Three Johns, this little Roland TR 606 job that I had to programme. That wasn’t a good period at all. It had a real tinny sound, it was fucking horrible. We had to make do with that for a while. You couldn’t get the madness going with it, you couldn’t change tempo, you couldn’t put in off beats, it’d correct them. Horrible thing, but it worked for a while.

That lasted til you got Daniel Strittmatter. Where did you come across him?

He was in a squat. Daniel was a kinda jazzy session lunatic. He fitted in quite well…

Personality wise?

Yeah, he was mad, like. He’s Swiss-German, an excellent drummer. He just loved it, he could do what he wanted. He’d just go mad, he was great. And it was great to get rid of the drum machine, I can tell you that. He’s still playing.

I think he did some stuff with Sean O’Hagan and the High Llamas…

Yeah, that wouldn’t have suited him at all. That would have been his ‘going to work’ kind of band. He was a session drummer. Even when he was playing with us, he was going off doing other gigs.

The next record was ‘Singing in Braille’, which came out on Creation Records. How did you get hooked up with them?

There was a gig in London called ‘The Living Room’, off Tottenham Court Road. We played there a few times, it was another one of the regular places. All these fellas like James used to play there. Alan McGee was running it with the guy out of the TV Personalities, Joe Foster. They had all these bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain. They actually supported us down in Woolwich. I thought they were shit, to be honest with you, but I knew there was a buzz about them because all these extra people turned up for the gig. Alan McGee was after starting off with them, so he wanted us to come after that.

Alan McGee and Joe Foster met us and they said they’d bring us on tour with the Jesus and Mary Chain and all this sort of malarkey. I think they just forgot about us after that. They booked us into the studio and we recorded and I don’t think we ever saw them again. They talked up a big game, ‘we’ll get you all this publicity’, all this sort of thing. He thought he was Malcolm McLaren or something like that. It just seemed like they lost interest. They put out the record and that was the end of him. He talked it up and we got excited and thought we were going to be going on tour and being rock’n’roll stars and all this kinda thing. Nothing happened. It just fizzled out.

So was it around that time that Stack left the group?

Yeah. We got in a big fight with Stack. We were supposed to play a gig up in Camden, I think it was in the Spiegeltent. Not only did Donnelly get drunk but all of us got drunk. Stack was working in Camden Lock at the time and He was hanging around with all these arty types and Donnelly wasn’t having any of that. (Donnelly impression) ‘Fuck off, like’. So it came to a head. He wanted to impress his friends, all these arty types, and we turned up pissed. It ended up in a big brawl, rolling around in the mud. Stack decided he was going to fuck off to America, which he did, so that was the end of him.

Was Stack a straighter kind of character than the rest of the band?

He was. He was always doing stuff, always reading, always drawing. I think he was a vegetarian, all them things that we would scoff at. He was a bit different to us but we did get on with him most of the time.

Did you ever play in Ireland again after you moved to London?

We did a disastrous gig in Trinity College. The drum machine broke down about two days before we came over, so we had to hire one. We had to get the bus over and I had to programme the drum machine on the bus. When we got to Dublin, Trinity College had a power cut. I think we managed to get about three songs played and that was it! It was a fucking disaster.

We came back and played in Cork the day of Live Aid in a venue off Patrick Street called the Tivoli that’s gone now. That was quite a good gig but everyone was coming up and asking if we were going to give the money to Live Aid (laughs). ‘We are in our fuck, cost us enough to come over here!’

Presumably there were a lot of songs that never got recorded?

Oh, hundreds. Some songs we might have only played once and scrapped. Through the 3 bands, it was always a rolling set of about 50 minutes, an hour. Like, towards the end of Five Go Down To The Sea?, we wouldn’t have been playing anything off ‘The Glee Club’. Stack especially hated playing songs that we’d recorded, though that’s what people came to hear.

Was there a bit of a gap between the end of 5GDTTS? And Beethoven?

There was, yeah. We moved from Rotherhithe up to Shepherds Bush but a couple of people that we met in Rotherhithe moved up too, including Maurice Carter, a Dublin guy, who is now deceased as well. We had no intention of starting a band but Maurice was playing and we just started jamming with him, just for the crack.

Donnelly came into some money, I think he got married or something like that (laughs) and we bought a little portastudio and I started recording things at home and putting things together and then Maurice got interested and we got Daniel involved again and it went on from there. It was called Fuck Me & Fuck Beethoven at one stage. The Spunk Off Band, that was another. (laughs)

Beethoven had quite a different sound to 5GDTTS?, almost more of a tight ‘rocky’ sound. Were you looking to change the style?

Nah, whatever came out is what came out. There was never an intention to change the style. Stack wasn’t involved any more and the limited guitar experience of myself just left us to go that way, just to be more fucking noisy, to make up for it maybe. Nothing at all would have been planned, things just fell into place.

Donnelly’s singing was quite different too, it sounded much more like a guttural roar…

Yeah, it got into this Nick Cave type of influence, the real deep kinda stuff. More manic. It probably would have got more and more fucked up if Donnelly was still around.

How did you hook up with Keith Cullen & Setanta?

We would have come across him at a gig. He was a bicycle courier, that’s how he built his empire. He never liked us either, I think he thought he’d miss out on something if he didn’t put it out. He came up to us after a gig and asked us to do a record and we came up with that (Him Goolie Goolie Man, Dem ep). He was going to do another one after that…

The cover of Bohemian Rhapsody?

Yeah, the thing Donnelly was practising on the day of his death. Well, that was only pie in the sky, Donnelly bouncing ideas off himself on the way through the park that day. That might never have happened, but there was definitely going to be something else. All the talk was of the next thing, we were going to record it with Jon Langford in Leeds.

Stump were getting a lot of attention at around this time. I read that there was a bit of a rivalry between the bands and some slagging them off from the stage…

Yeah. Well, Stump were a very good band in their own right, but I suppose Mick pinched some of Donnelly’s mannerisms and antics. I remember playing somewhere in London and they were playing in a huge venue up the road and we were playing in the fuckin’ pub. That was a small bit galling alright but we got over it (laughs)

Has anyone ever approached you about reissuing all the records?

A lot of people have mentioned it, but nobody has ever done anything. Over the years, people have asked that but what would I do? I’d like to have a go at remastering them, but that’s all too technical for me. Did you see that book that came out last year by John Robb? [‘Death To Trad Rock’]. He was doing a cd compilation and they wanted to use a Beethoven track. They were looking for the masters and I hadn’t got them. They got onto Setanta for permission to use ‘Daytripper’, but I think they just used a whatever mp3 copy that they had. I’d say all the masters are well gone at this stage.

Looking back on the three groups, what period do you have the fondest memories of?

I liked the Abstract time the best. It was more honest, they were nice people to deal with. I don’t think Setanta ever liked us. Alan McGee kinda stepped over us and told us to moved on, but Abstract seemed to be interested. They did try and get us gigs and publicity. They’d give us lists of the airplay we got around region stations, things like that. Abstract was a professionally run thing whereas everything after that was ‘yeah yeah yeah, go into the studio and do your bit and I’ll tell you when it’s out’.
The Creation thing kind of swept us off our feet. We thought we’d better go with them. They were the next big thing but maybe we should have stayed with Abstract. We moved on and maybe we had stars in the eyes a little bit.

Did you like living in London?

Not really. I’m a bit of a homebird. I was there for 6 years, came back in 1989. At the time Ryanair wasn’t around. Well, it was in its infancy towards the end. But you couldn’t get back to Ireland as quick or as cheaply as you can now. I’d have preferred to be here, to be honest.

Do you think you would have moved back eventually anyway?

I don’t know what would have happened, but knowing myself, I would have moved back. I wouldn’t be like Cathal Coughlan, he lives over there and he loves the place. I just couldn’t imagine living there for the rest of my life. I haven’t even gone over for a visit in about 10 years. I’m too much of a Corkie.

It’s impossible to say what would have happened. I couldn’t imagine big commercial success, but I could imagine Donnelly having a solo career. He probably could have been a successful lunatic, maybe a Cathal type of solo career, being guided along by musicians and that kind of thing. God knows what would have happened.

[Special thanks to Giordai Ua Laoghaire for his help and to Cliona Harmey for cleaning up the photos.]

For more on Five Go Down To The Sea? Dublin Opinion Great Irish Bands, songs and documentary, and English translation of French music blog post on the band.

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2 Responses

  1. jon langford

    April 11, 2012 2:48 am

    fantastic interview – brought a lot of things back – I loved this band

  2. Philip Brennan

    April 13, 2012 12:13 am

    I second that emotion! FIVE gO dOWN are one of my all-time favourite bands.