The second in his latest column series for us at the Thin Air, Omagh singer-songwriter Michael McCullagh AKA Son of the Hound continues a tale from his days playing in Colenso Parade.
Go here to read the previous installment.
We’d booked the rehearsal space on advice of other musicians. Standing on the street in Liverpool I looked around, expecting to see some commercial building among the residential houses but there was nothing. Then from a second story window came a shout. ‘Hey! It’s up here!’. It was Hanso, unruly hair and wild eyes laughing at us as he hung precariously out of the window. It was a hell of a way to greet someone. Hanso was the contact for the rehearsal space. He disappeared from the window and in a few moments the front door clattered open. Once we were inside he shook our hands, talking and laughing warmly as if he was greeting old friends. We’d never met him before.
Hanso’s house was the incarnation of an insane mind. Somewhere hidden beyond the rooms overflowing with eccentric clutter was a rehearsal space. First we had to wade our way through (among other things) animal skulls, ornamental vases, half a bicycle and a stuffed moose head that was fastened to the ceiling with a washing line.
We’d booked rehearsal time to try and facilitate the request of James, the Parlophone A&R from the Hard Working Class Heroes Festival. His attitude towards us had cooled since that first night. He was less hyperbolic sober but still maintained an interest in us- just not enough to merit another flight over from London to see us play, something which he’d initially advised us he was going to do. In our naivety we booked a gig in Liverpool to coax him out of London. Liverpool was a popular university destination for Omagh students, so we thought we could at least draw a home-away-from-home crowd.
The rehearsal space was cramped, badly lit and in keeping with the rest of Hanso’s place, incredibly cluttered. The amp I plugged into was angled on it’s side between two bust speakers. The threat of electrocution seemed genuine. The first hour of any rehearsal session can be testing as each player dusts the cobwebs off, sheds the baggage of whatever it is they are carrying in their head and enters into a zone where they can express themselves. It can be frustrating and disheartening, especially if you’re stuck for time. James arrived relatively early into the session and we were rattled. Tired from walking around a city we were unfamiliar with and being anxious to impress left our playing wanting. On top of this all the session was being recorded by Hanso. James didn’t stay for long and was palpably unimpressed, both by our playing and our off-kilt host.
That night at the gig he was nowhere to be seen. A lot of our hometown friends had come down to the gig, with some Liverpool natives in tow. I was frustrated with the whole charade, feeling like we were wasting everyone’s time, including our own. I was angry at myself for getting carried away by the drunken courting of some London A&R geezer who had dangled an idea of what we thought we wanted just out of reach; angry for being stupid enough to jump and grab for it. Phil left the bar to try and call him while we set up our gear. Eventually, James appeared and took a seat up against the wall, just as we were going on stage. He kept his jacket on and his hands in his pockets.
‘He seems pissed off’ Phil said.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘He was in the cinema and had to leave early.’
The four of us looked around at each other, not knowing exactly what emotion to feel.
‘What was he watching?’ Ferg asked.
‘I Am Legend’. Phil said
Melly had been fixing his cymbals, the rest of us tuning our guitars. We stopped for a moment and began laughing. The gap between the expectation and reality of the situation was exposed in that moment of absurdity and suddenly we didn’t care about him any more. We played the gig and just like the gig back in Dublin we played it for ourselves and our friends. In that moment, that was what was important.
After the gig James approached us.
‘You need to practice more, and all these punters are your friends.’
He was right. We did, and they were.
‘Grand, no bother. Cheers James, sorry you missed the end of the film.’
‘Keep sending me your stuff,’ He said and then left, wading through a crowd of our hometown friends.
James wasn’t the gatekeeper to our dreams. That role doesn’t exist in real life. A year later we sent James some material. His reply was short:
‘I’ve gone into criminal law now, call me if you kill anyone.’ Michael McCullagh
Photo by Tom Nicholl