I am the greatest

Dublin band A House played it’s last ever live show in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre on Friday, February 28th, 1997. I wrote about that night – it was far more than just another show, I felt – in my Sunday Tribune column the following weekend, on Sunday, March 2nd and, as was customary for me at the time, loaded the chambers and let rip. The original headline read ‘That’s A House That Was’, but we’ve changed that below. We’ve also made a couple of minor corrections to the copy.

But over eighteen years on, I stand over every single word.

We don’t normally associate either dignity or grace with pop music, and rightly so. Because pop has always been a cold cynic’s play-yard, both on-stage and off, where the bland usually steer the blind through mutual cheating games that end either with frustrated tears or with token, pithy pay-offs.

That said, Dublin band A House never really ran with the pack anyway, always preferring their own counsels and their own instincts, rightly or wrongly, and always staying truest to themselves. That they chose to bow out while they were at least in control of their standards and not, as with most bands, over drinking sessions or through newspaper press-releases, sums them up in one and arguably says more than any number of bland obituaries.

Billing any show as ‘a final farewell’ is always playing too close to the sun, an immovable closing point and a full-stop set into stone. But then A House were always well ahead of the also-rans and, with a brashy ignorance and an enduring gang mentality, always seemed to get it right. And they’ll be missed, that’s for sure.

What’s also certain, however, is that this country will hardly see their approach again in a hurry, such is the extent of pop music’s changed landscape around our way. Because A House were always able to steer their own boat with far more control and clarity than most, managed as astutely and as intuitively as any act this country has seen, and powered always where it mattered ;- by the band’s own prolific level of application and delivery. A head-start, as it were, that owed only to the band and to its immediate coterie, where little else ever mattered.

There was a truly over-blown ten year period in the initial wake of U2’s first great arrival when all Irish album releases were characterised by over-long and over-familiar thank-you credits on their inside sleeves. In hindsight, this is arguably either a sign of the times or a sign of an over-heavy dependence. But ultimately no more than a series of sentimental stains on far too much domestic pop music history.

Dublin’s Something Happens must, for instance, genuinely wonder where most of those name-checked on the inside of the well-good ‘Stuck Together With God’s Glue’ got to when it mattered the most, when both the money and the free-booze ran dry ?

Ironically, and probably typically, A House chose to thank only themselves on their first album. Because as a band that at one point used to have circular posters – this despite that fact that it was something of a nuisance for the band themselves to actually cut them cleanly about the edges – and for a band that headlined in Dublin and in London as often as any and that still only ever did two encores ever, A House always knew how far they could push and how far they could actually subvert what it was they were about. Their only real debts were to themselves because when push got to shove it was always going to be four like-minds only against the whole world. So that while their statements were blatant, they rarely shouted from rooftops and seldom reached for the skies. And no one ever messed with A House.

Which made their farewell show last weekend one of the most cathartic and genuinely disconcerting live events that this column has seen or heard in 15 years. No Caro Meas, no undue fusses and no forced sentiment, A House came over like they’ve always come over [always four and often six-square], cocksure and strutted –up like they knew, just knew, how damned good they were and how damned good it was what they were leaving behind them.

Granted A House never sold as many records as they should have, which is where pop history will ultimately judge them. But the fact is that, with one genuine, real-deal top forty single and with five truly defining albums for three different record labels, they leave behind the body of work they always claimed that they would, one way or the other.

But the most compelling reality is that, in over ten years, they never unduly either copped out or bowed to the vagaries of pop’s sensibility, checking out in a blaze of gold and silver like they always knew that they would. Twenty great pop songs and one quick three-way encore and they were gone.

The most unsettling thing of all, of course, is that like perhaps most of the crowd that filled last weekend’s final throw, we’d never actually seen a band break up and fold it all away so publicly and so defiantly before. And while their last great finale marks the end of their own gorgeous stretch at pop’s crease, their passing also arguably draws the safety curtain on the first and last great pop movement this country has either seen or heard – that genuinely awesome guitar burst that started at Dame Street’s Underground over ten years ago and that trundled through more wonderful moments and great records than it ever probably wants to imagine.

Many of them played out, naturally, by A House who, like no other band this country has seen excepting, arguably, U2, never so divided their own peers so savagely and yet motivated their own support so clinically. A House, you see, knew, that’s all. No undue social appearances, no hanging about and no concessions.

Towards the end of their very last snow, Couse, knowing that for him, at least, an entirely new real world is just around the corner, turned to thank his band’s only manager ever [John Carroll], his band’s bleach-cropped record company punk-boy boss [Setanta’s Keith Cullen] and, perhaps most tellingly, A House’s long-time roadie, technician and all around top-man, Liam Crinion.

Because when A House wake up next month and when there are no rehearsals and no interviews and no television and radio appearances and no production deadlines they’ll know that, ultimately, nothing much has really changed.

Granted their band may not exist, at least in name, anymore, but when their rehearsal space has been stripped back, and when their guitars have been moved outwards and onwards, A House will know that, as always, they’ve still got themselves and no more apologies.

9 thoughts on “A HOUSE: THE GREATEST

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  1. Great article. I wasn’t at the gig but I recall a reviewer in HP despairing that a benchmark event in the story of Irish rock’n’roll was made all the more tragic by the gig having to take place early evening as an Oasis tribute act were booked in for later. Played with A House a few times (and supported Dave solo.) They were magic. Shared a bill with same Oasis tribute later that year in UUJ. Predictably -they were not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Niall. Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to comment. That episode is actually as you say – those were the days of ‘Midnight At The Olympia’, when the place was quickly turned around for the post-pub set who wanted to see The Fleadh Cowboys, These Charming Men and No Way Sis. The Oasis Tribute was the ultimate irony, really ;- one completely lost by me during my rant. The longer I live, the more I think that all art ultimately imitates ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ – where the puppet show always comes first and the band always comes a pale second. I’m going to do a long piece at some stage about Into Paradise and, when I do, I simply have to mention the night we travelled all the way down to Castletownbere for a show in a local hotel. Only to discover that Ray D’Arcy and Zig And Zag were doing a free disco in the rival hotel across the road.That, as you can imagine, didn’t end well.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great gig; remember rushing to it in a taxi and barely making the start. Wide-Eyed and Ignorant is probably my favourite album of theirs now. There was one vinyl copy in Freebird for weeks in 1994 before I eventually got round to buying it. Was always bugged that No More Apologies didn’t get an LP release. A House were probably the band I saw live most of all. One particularly memorable night when they opened with Call Me Blue. Stage intro went like this “This one is for all the bastards still down in the pub”. (The Bridge Hotel, Waterford. 1990).


  3. A House were a pretty incendiary live outfit. And that intro is very typical of what drove them on. All the best, Colm.


  4. I remember supporting them in the mean fiddler and wanting desperately to change bands . I was and am a fan from that day …. Loud an jaw dropping


  5. Great article Colm. I have it cut out in a folder in a box somewhere.
    So many fuzzy A House memories- from Kick Me Again Jesus at my first gig in McGonagles as a young spotty teenager, a pal teaching me (without any joy) to play Ferg’s intro to I Think I’m Going Mad, to the long long version of When I Last Saw You at one of the Feiles on a sunny afternoon with Dave spinning around on the stage. And jaypers that final gig. All these (mostly) men aged twenty/thirty something looking around at each other in genuine despair as the lights came up. Much later, Ferg coming on stage in Whelans to play a few tunes with Dave in his solo days.
    Really looking forward to the Into Paradise piece.


    1. Thanks very much Paul. They were a pretty special lot alright and, I think, very under-regarded, even in Ireland. As of course were Into Paradise, with whom I soldiered for a long time. We’ll get something up on that experience over the next few months. Where to start ? All the best, Colm.


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