Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mods and rockers in 2014

It might seem strange that a person who wrote his own music column for 15 years might need to be reminded of the power of music, but two gigs over consecutive nights did wonders to lift my spirits this week.

My life, post-redundancy, has not exactly gone to plan. I’m still seeing the Public Health Nurse every second day after undergoing surgery on my shoulder six weeks ago. Dreams of travelling the world or finding the perfect new job have had to be put on hold. It’s not easy to be virtually laid-up, unable to swim in the pool or go to the gym, in Galway at this time of year.

The cancellation of my former work-mates’ Christmas party allowed me to join a couple of old friends at a wonderful gig at the Roisin Dubh, before I hopped on a bus to Dublin for a show which brought me way back in time to my teenage years.

Ah yes, mods and rockers. In my teenage years, the two tribes did not get on. But, as you get older, you realise that good music is good music no matter what the genre. It pains me to recall that I didn’t appreciate The Who, The Specials, or The Jam when I was a kid, just because I was a ‘rocker’ and they were ‘mods’.

Back then, before I discovered the joy of punk at about 16, I used to go around in a denim jacket, with badges and long hair. Bands like Thin Lizzy, Metallica, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden provided the soundtrack to my life.
Sleaford Mods at the Roisin Dubh

When you are in your 40s, you don’t care about labels any more. And I have to admit I got a great thrill out of seeing a ‘mod’ band I knew very little about at the Roisin Dubh.

On a wintry Thursday night in December, it was great to see Sleaford Mods attract such an eclectic crowd. The audience reminded me of what a vibrant place Galway is for a city of just 75,000 souls, even in the depths of winter.

My friends, Hugo and Brian, were already enthusiastic fans of the two piece from Nottingham. And so were many others, by the look of things, judging by how warmly the audience greeted the duo from the moment they took to the stage. Many seemed to recognise each and every catchy, minimalist track, and some even sang along with the words.

After six years of austerity, it was refreshing to see a band rant about dole queues, corruption, and all the trials and tribulations of modern life. Singer Jason Williamson had the spleen of a Johnny Rotten or Mark E Smith, while his partner in crime, Andrew Fearn, conjured up some pretty hypnotic, if minimalist, beats.

Williamson’s lyrics address issues which few artists seem to touch these days. At a time when there is so much anger about the place, it was startling to see a lead singer with the courage to take on political issues on tracks such as ‘Jobseeker’ and ‘Black Monday’.

Sleaford Mods have seen their career take off over the past year and yet they remain a small, cottage industry. After the show, the band members sold their CDs and merchandise themselves. They mix punk, mod, and hip-hop influences, and travel light. I met them in Dublin with just two small cases on Saturday.

They got me thinking that Ireland needs a lot more artists who are willing to take on controversial, topical issues, at a time when people are up in arms over water charges, bailouts, property taxes, and bankers.

On the following day, given the all-clear by the nurse, I boarded a bus to Dublin for a nostalgic trip to see a band I worshipped at the age of 14. People can laugh all they want, but veteran metal act Saxon put on a phenomenal live show.

Sleaford Mods were in Dublin the same night but, given that they slag off rockers in one of their songs, they would not have been welcomed at this particular show.

Saxon will always have a place in my heart, because I used to headbang to their music with my two little sisters in the 1980s. Their music signified rebellion and freedom in the midst of a strict, Irish Catholic childhood.

When my sister Cliona died at 16, one of the songs took on a significance which has stayed with me for a quarter of a century. I still treasure how we used to rock out to ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, playing the track at full blast when my parents were out of the house.

I saw Saxon live in Dublin a year and a half ago, just before a trip to Spain, and was blown away by the power and melodies in their show.

On Friday night, they didn’t disappoint. They rocked the Academy with songs like ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, ‘Wheels of Steel’, ‘Frozen Rainbow’ and ‘Motorcycle Man’. 

Saxon live at the Academy, Dublin
It was truly uplifting to look around and see rockers aged from 20 to 60 going wild for a band who have been on the road now for 35 years.

Looking up at the stage, it was amazing to see the joy the band members themselves were getting from the gig. Rarely have I ever seen anyone who loves their jobs as much as the members of Saxon, still rocking after all these years. If only everyone could get such fulfilment from their careers.

Seeing the smiles on their faces, while a jubilant 60-year old metal head bounced up and down beside me, reminded me of the importance of just having fun.

Afterwards I met a couple from Milan who travelled to Dublin especially for the gig. There was a joyous atmosphere in the hall and the powerful, loud music seemed to banish my anxieties about the future.

Sometimes just shaking your head to loud music is the perfect tonic when too many of us are overcome by financial concerns or worries about what lies ahead.

(Just don’t tell the cynical Sleaford Mods that I went to see a bunch of old metal dinosaurs!)

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