John Byrne celebrates the 40th anniversary edition of The Radiators' classic album, Ghostown
Well, those 40 years certainly went by with an unnecessary haste.
I remember staying up late to listen to Dave Fanning preview Ghostown, the second album from the Radiators from Space, after midnight on his RTÉ Radio 2 show. Blimey, I still have the cassette recording I made of the show.
Although I haven't played that tape recording in decades, I can still hear the late Phil Chevron talk about the 'fractured images' that littered the lyrics of some of the songs. I hadn't a clue what he was talking about, but it sounded impressive.
As for the album - I understood it very well. From that first hearing, I couldn't believe how much the Radiators had improved from their debut album, TV Tube Heart. Now with Bowie producer Tony Visconti behind the desk, technically, they'd gone from garage band to assured musicians, but the songs and the feel of the album added up to something more. Something quite astounding.
Now, don't get me wrong. I despise the idea of concept albums as much as anyone who's ever endured The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Rick Wakeman. But there was nothing pompous or pretentious about the idea of Ghostown being about a night out in Strumpet City (aka Dublin). This was my home.
From the power-popped opener Million Dollar Hero through the Brechtian bounce of Kitty Rickets, and on to the articulate anger of Faithful Departed, the jubilant joylessness of Walking Home Alone Again, and the jaded resignation of album closer Dead the Beast, Dead the Poison, the Radiators never put a foot wrong.
Remodelled pub rockers and mere chancers (I'm looking at you, Geldof!) had adopted short haircuts and skinny ties while taking over the charts
Stylistically, Ghostown is a composite of the band members' disparate influences (the most obvious being Pete Holidai's glam roots and Phil Chevron's penchant for Weimar Cabaret - but there's even a hint of the Beach Boys in there), and given that it was recorded a full year before its original 1979 release, it needs to be contextualised.
Punk took off around the summer of 1977, but that rise into the mainstream came at a huge cost, as a scene once noted for its diversity suddenly became clichéd around spiky hair, safety pins, and buzzsaw guitars. By 1979, anyone with any sense had long moved elsewhere for musical kicks.
Remodelled pub rockers and mere chancers (I’m looking at you, Geldof!) had adopted short haircuts and skinny ties while taking over the charts, along with punk survivors such as Blondie and The Jam.
This 40th anniversary issue comes packed with extras, so there's simply no excuse for avoiding a purchase.
Who Are the Strangers? Is the song that opened side two of Ghostown, and that splendid tune could well have been about The Radiators, as the year-long delay in the album's release saw them as yesterday's band releasing tomorrow's music today. The album hadn't a hope.
Displaced and unnoticed, bar some hugely positive reviews and the rantings of fans such as myself, Ghostown tanked. Just a year later, The Radiators played an amazing gig at Dublin's Crofton Hotel and, understandably disillusioned, they called it a day.
Since then, they reformed a couple of times, recording and gigging occasionally until Phil Chevron's death in 2013. But Ghostown remains as a testament to their ability and capabilities, and a perfect example of the fickle and random nature, not just of showbiz, but of life itself.
I despise the idea of concept albums as much as anyone who's ever endured The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Rick Wakeman
This 40th anniversary issue comes packed with extras, so there's simply no excuse for avoiding a purchase. From the original version of Million Dollar Hero, to an unedited Walking Home Alone Again (my favourite song, by the way, as I've done an awful lot of walking home alone in my life), and the superb ring-a-rosey rendition of Faithful Departed, sung by Jimmy Crashe. This is Dublin in the Rare Oul' Times without the treacly, teary-eyed nostalgia.
The second disc is nothing less than Radiators of the Lost Ark. More than 20 demos, backing tracks and bits 'n' bobs reveal parts of the creative path the Rads ventured down as this remarkable record came together under producer Tony Visconti's watchful eye.
Some people argue - and it's a pretty pointless one, too - that Ghostown is up there with the best Irish albums ever made. That's nonsense.
It's way better than that.
John Byrne @tellyjohn