Fanning Sessions

My mother died almost one year ago and my family will mark that first anniversary as she’d have wanted: a quiet mass for the handful, a decent feed afterwards and then a long trade of general tittle-tattle during which we’ll remind ourselves of the quirks that set her apart and the exacting standards she set for herself everywhere.

It’s not as if she’s gone too far, either. Her ashes sit in a small box on top of a piano back in the house and, every morning, my father comes in and switches on her favourite radio station for her: in life and in death she is wrapped up in music and adored by her husband.

Joan kept a keen eye on all those performers and singers she encountered over the years, whether they were rank amateurs and hams treading the boards around town or some of the better known cadre who dossed down with us unannounced in Blackpool over the years: it was like her own personal investment portfolio. She loved showbiz and the stage and respected all of those brave enough to take the floor and let their voices, fingers and feet do the talking.

And she was charitable with it too: our house served for the first year as the unofficial accommodation partner to the No Disco television series. We literally took the do-it-yourself, no frills, no budget ethos of that series home with us to the northside. For years, my mother and father provided regular bed and board to the those acts who were travelling through and maybe doing us a favour and never once was a question asked or a bob sought.

David Long, the one-time Into Paradise mainstay, was one of my mother’s favourites and, from on top of that piano, she’ll be glad to know that he’s still out there, making a racket, slowly changing the world verse by verse. He passed through the house a couple of times over the years but that was enough: behind his imposing frame is a soft, sensitive and funny soul and one not to be confused with his band’s gritty outward appearance. He clearly left an impression, ‘the boy from Into Paradise’.

Togged out in their familiar home kit of funeral coats and working boots, and with their heads often bowed, Into Paradise rocked a look that was in keeping with their sometimes heavy, post-industrial and clinical new-wave sound. But contrary to popular – or in their case, largely unpopular – perception, behind the veneer the band was witty, well-read and sharp. And I should know: I spent an inordinate amount of time as Into Paradise’s butler and saw miles of European motorway from the front of their tour van.

There was a consistent internal tension about Into Paradise too, even if much of their legend has been freely gilded over the years. The band was genetically drawn to the precipice and, although this was to ultimately un-do them, it gave them a competitive edge for many years, during which they were as compelling a draw as they were as engaging in company. Anything was liable to happen, and frequently did, with Into Paradise: the band specialized in emotional self-harm, regularly claiming defeat from the jaws of victory and usually in spectacular fashion.

I haven’t seen any of the four of them in twenty-five years, not since the band finally called time in 1993 when, after years of slow cutting, their body just gave in. Once Into Paradise lost their deal with Ensign after the release of a fine, fine debut album, ‘Churchtown’, in 1991, there was really no recovering the ground ;- there’s only so long one can continue to push a wheelchair across sand.

Long fronted them and was, to all intents, their primary heartbeat from 1986 until their very end, although he’d been active on the Dublin 16 beat for several years before that alongside the likes of Shane O’Neill and Declan Jones, who went on to form Blue In Heaven. And, in the quarter of a century since we last clapped eyes on one another, he’s posted regular dispatches from well below the radar: he’s made more music as a solo artist than he did as a member of a band and it can be difficult enough to keep up with him.

I first met him in Cork in 1990 when he travelled south to do a piece with me for a youth television series called ‘Scratch Saturday’. And after which we repaired to, appropriately enough, The Long Valley on Winthrop Street where I fed the weary traveler with one of those remarkable door-step cheese salad sandwiches and a quart of porter. And it was there, around one of the iron-wrought tables just inside the door, that a long relationship was born.

I’m as fascinated by Long now as I was that afternoon: he’s one of my favourite Irish songwriters, another of those who rarely gets the credit owed to him. Into Paradise have long been purged from the history of contemporary Irish music even if, as Setanta Records’ first significant breakthrough band, they pioneered a pathway that, at the time, was less travelled by Ireland’s countless wannabes. It may be no harm to re-instate history as a core subject for all of those currently writing regularly about Irish music.

I’m not sure if I ever fell out with Long because I’m not sure if he’s ever worked like that, not even towards the end of the road. We both saw a band slowly, painfully and maybe inevitably come asunder – one of us from the inside, the other from immediately outside – and, like any long-term relationship running its course, the deathbed weeks can often be the most difficult of all. But Into Paradise, to my mind, died with their docs on and, as can often be the case, completed some of their best work in the shadow of the angel of death. I’m not sure what more any of us could have done to prolong the trip and, in the end, nature just took its own course anyway.

Our relationship is helped, bizarre as it sounds, by the fact that I actually know very little about him. We have a shared love of music, we soldiered together in the trenches in the name of the cause and, I think, have a healthy respect for one another: ultimately, that’s as much as some of us ever need. He’s an enigmatic friend who, when the time is right and when he has new material or something of value to share, gets in touch by e-mail. He rarely wastes his words.

For the last number of years, the pair of us have been back in more regular contact, trading tips, connections and links over the lines between South Dublin and North Kerry, where he’s billeted. The seaside air in An Riocht suits him too because he’s in a ripe, prodigious vein of form. And, earlier this month, he released his fourth solo album, ‘In Headphones’, a nine-track assembly of curios, new songs and re-worked old ones: his own ‘A Hatful Of Hollow’.

There’s a restlessness to much of his solo output, and no clear form line to speak of. Dave’s own material – and there’s a lot of it available on-line at this stage, especially if we consider his work with The Whens, a lively, experimental, three-piece – veers wildly and widely, often from track-to-track and routinely from smoggy, metal-machine music to elegiac, pared-back folk song. It took him a full twenty years to issue his first, full-bodied solo album, 2013’s ‘Water Has Memory’ and, ever since, it’s like he’s frantically making up for lost time.

Those expecting familiar guitar tropes will be disappointed: the closest Long has ever come to re-purposing Into Paradise, up to now, is on the circular drawl of the epic ‘Gravel’, from that first elpee. A simple riff song with a repeated, angry refrain – a long-time speciality – ‘Gravel’ gives a teasy glimpse of where the band was going and the shape it was in just at the point of implosion decades earlier. Otherwise it’s an exotic pick and mix. Dave’s 2017 album, ‘Cities’, for instance, has no guitars at all on it: it’s an ambient concept album that captures the sights, sounds – and perhaps even the smells – of twelve well-known cities in a series of quirky sound vignettes.

Into Paradise diehards will be far more comforted by ‘In Headphones’, an uncomplicated and far more confident affair that, like James Iha’s ‘Let It Come Down’ solo elpee [1998], barely breaks a sweat. Acoustic-led for the most part, the album was recorded with the guitarist, Adrian O’Connell and producer, David Ayers, who has worked previously with another Setanta act, David Donoghue of The Floors. And who have both put real shape and quality tanking underneath it: it is easily the most convincing of Long’s solo material.

It’s also his most retrospective and personal by a distance, and a thick stream of nostalgia and memory courses through it from the off. The opening cut, ‘Underground Song’, appeared in a more spartan form on Long’s ‘The Cult Of Two’ album as ‘Mysterious Sorrow’ and namechecks Ferghal McKee from Whipping Boy and Jeff Brennan, the booker at the fabled Underground Bar in Dublin. ‘Me and Ferghal in The Underground, waiting on Jeff to turn on the sound’, Long sings, before clipping a couple of lines from the Whipping Boy single, ‘Twinkle’, as the song races off and Long calls out to his peers from the small Dame Street venue that shut its doors at the end of the 1980s.

It was on the tiny stage in a corner of The Underground Bar that Into Paradise first road-tested one of their signature songs, ‘I Want You’ and, in keeping with the overall mood, Long rescues it from the drawer here, douses it with fresh guitar lines and delivers a fine take on one of his own best songs. Originally included on the band’s 1989 E.P., ‘Blue Light’, ‘I Want You’ is as magnificent a tortured love song in its own way as the Elvis Costello number of the same name, even if, unsurprisingly, it enjoys far fewer plaudits

A couple of the other cuts will also be familiar to regular Long-watchers: ‘London Is Fog’ and ‘Time Passes’ re-surface here having first featured on ‘Water is Memory’. ‘If She Stays’ is older again and initially appeared on the eponymously-titled 1997 debut album by Supernaut – which briefly re-united Long with Shane O’Neill – and which is up there with the best of Dave’s formidable canon, rolling with the easy efficiency of Turin Brakes or Grant McLennan. Indeed, the only time the record takes the lower road is on ‘Herons Fly’ which, with its stabby synths and noisy clutter, is out of kilter with the slide guitar lines and brushed drums that dominate the gut of ‘In Headphones’.

But its quietly reassuring to my middle-aged self to know that he’s still kicking out the jams and doing so strictly on his own terms. Anathema as it might be to some of the die-hards, he’s also included a Christmas song on ‘In Headphones’ even if, at this stage, it’s unlikely to propel him into the middle ground.

And that, I’m sure, is all fine too. Long has always been a peripheral figure on the home front anyway and, even during those years when Into Paradise were in their pomp – and like Stump and Microdisney before them – the scale of their achievement elsewhere was often lost back in Ireland. Where the band’s billing was at odds with its status in Britain, initially at least, and where, among their most zealous advocates was the late music writer, David Cavanagh, who captured the band’s magic in a series of terrific pieces from the late 1980s onwards and was generally enthralled by the racket they made.

There was always a bravery – and maybe a naivete too ? – to the manner in which Into Paradise went about their work. And, I’m glad to say, Dave has remained loyal to that ethos well into his solo career. He shows no signs of easing off any time soon, either.

Having completed his most sure-footed collection of songs yet, and about to take the boards again in Dublin, one could say that the comeback is underway. Except that Long never went away in the first place: he just took his time.

CODA :- ‘In Headphones’, like all of Dave’s solo material, is available on-
line. He supports A Lazarus Soul in The Workman’s Club in Dublin on May
3rd next.

5 thoughts on “THE LONG FELLA

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  1. The White Horse Inn never seen a finer residency than Into Paradise.

    Still have the tape of their last gig in the Rock Garden, although I no longer have a cassette player. Such is life, but the memories stay vividly of seeing them play so many times.

    I often find myself humming London is Fog these days. Great to see Dave still recording. When I stick the kids to bed tonight I’ll give In Headphones a blast. On my headphones. Because the kids will be asleep. And I have no cassette or cd or record player anymore. Only a phone. Such is life. Great that’s Dave Long is still singing about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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