Irish Times

I’m regularly struck jealous by the capacity of some of my colleagues, friends and peers to devour so much material so quickly and to be so consistently boned up on the latest albums, books, on-line posts, international drama serials and edgy films. I honestly couldn’t tell you where my own time goes, by comparison.

It might be that I’m just a slow reader who wades through far too much of what some now refer to as older, traditional media, when my days might be better spent hoovering up bite-sized cuts, hot takes and ignoring my children instead ? Or perhaps I need to be far less obsessive about the things I like and spread my wings further but less diligently ? But it’s easy, eitherway, to be over-whelmed by the noise levels on the super-highway.

And so I’m always grateful for the good advices of those trusted correspondents who, when they feel my focus isn’t what it might be, point me in the direction of key peaks on the mountain of output I’m missing on a daily basis.

‘You’re not anybody in America unless you’re on TV’, claimed the would-be big shot, Suzanne Stone Maretto, brilliantly played by Nicole Kidman, in Gus Van Sant’s 1995 film, ‘To Die For’. ‘On TV is where we learn about who we really are. Because what’s the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody’s watching ?’. I’m not sure if ‘To Die For’ always gets the credit it deserves but it’s long been a favourite film of mine and, as someone who’s spent a lifetime working in television, I have real difficulty defining the fiction from the reality in some of its key scenes.

Ostensibly a morality tale about society’s obsession with celebrity and the stupidity that often under-pins it, the film has already gone full circle to the point where it’s long since lapped itself dizzy. Almost twenty five years after it was premiered, and despite the absolute fracture of all media in the decades since, ‘To Die For’ looks more and more prescient by the week. Kidman’s wildly ambitious weather-woman, with her front leg on the lower rungs at a small, local television station might, in 2019, be an Instagram sensation or ‘influencer’ but the core message is as was.

I think of ‘To Die For’ and that incessant struggle to be heard from miles across the valley whenever I’m recommended – and inevitably frustrated by – another lacklustre podcast that promises rabbits from hats and delivers aural myxomatosis instead. Our regular readers will know exactly what I mean: no doubt well-meaning and often full-bodied social broadcasts that often just add crudely-formed, half-baked opinions to the unsustainable levels of global clutter already out there. [I appreciate, of course, that a similar charge can be levelled at this site].

The journalist Michael O’Toole once memorably described Twitter – on Twitter – as a place where ‘every expert is a clown and every clown is an expert’. It doesn’t always follow, I guess, that just because you have a smart phone, you have anything smart to impart. But we continue to confront the mountain because of the enduring promise of a decent view of the sunrise. And, from time to time, my head will be turned and my ears pricked, as they were by a recent exchange conducted by The Point Of Everything blog and podcast with Dave Couse, the formidable singer and frontman with a revered but long-lost Dublin band, A House. An iteration of which performed live for the first time in over 22 years at the National Concert Hall last weekend.

By the end of its 38 minutes, TPOE’s host, Eoghan O’Sullivan – who I don’t know – has clearly touched a couple of his subject’s nerves, pulling reams of colour and insight from him by simply asking pertinent questions and allowing Couse the space to reflect before responding. Redolent of those long Fanning Show interviews where the guest’s seat in the small radio studio in RTE Radio 2 often became a psychiatrist’s couch – and current, high-profile new media versions like Dion Fanning’s ‘Ireland Unfiltered’ or Jarlath Regan’s ‘An Irishman Abroad’ – this too takes its time to get going and eventually just soars. Its easily one of the more compelling Couse interviews I’ve heard over the last thirty years and, for my troubles, I’ve heard many.

I’m conflicted on a number of levels here, though. First of all, The Point Of Everything is kind and generous enough at the top of the podcast to reference The Blackpool Sentinel as he sets up the context for the interview. Secondly, regular readers will be aware of how dominant the shadow of A House is on much of the ground we attempt to cover here and the respect with which we hold both the band and its frontman. And I’m especially minded, by even thinking as much, of another popular social media affliction: the hollow chorus of the echo chamber where you stroke my back and I’ll re-tweet you long and hard in return.

I need to be careful too not to patronize. I’m at an age now where its easy to sound like those labored sports pundits who go on at length about the majesty of sport in the 1980s, often at the expense of the magic flying around their ears in 2019. The good old days, as we all know, weren’t always necessarily as good as we’d like to think.

But all of that apart, to anyone with even the most passing interest in alternative music in Ireland during the 1980s and 1990s, it’s worth parsing TPOE’s exchange with Couse on several levels. On a canvas where speed and opinion regularly trump clarity and consideration, it’s interesting to hear what falls out when the emphasis stays slow and the lights stay low.

And so we’ve re-posted the podcast with permission here, in which the host stays consistently on the right side of the mic and allows Couse the floor. It’s an ancient and reliable way of working, simple enough to get right and easier again to get completely arseways.

I haven’t seen or spoken to Couse in decades but he’s long been an engaging and often uncompromising interviewee that, by the sounds of it, hasn’t been dimmed by either the passing of time or his re-location up the country. The longer this conversation goes on, the more swear words he uses, not for dramatic effect or because he has little else to defer to but because, as with all of the best exchanges, he grows more and more into it as it rolls. And as the interview draws to a close, he sounds as cosy, comfortable and, I think, genuinely grateful as he gets.

On the end of a telephone line from his home in County Cavan, Couse is as cranky, smart and bellicose as I recall him from way back. I’m not going to blow the podcast’s cover and go into the guts of it in any great detail here but, when he refers to his age – he’s 55 now – the implication is obvious enough. Like all of the great entertainers, he’s old enough and talented enough to be as contrary and confrontational as he wants or needs to be.

At the outset the interviewer admits that he’s a generation removed from Couse, A House and the Dublin indie scene of the 1980s from which they emerged and that, ergo, his acquired knowledge of that period might not be what it should be. It’s an honourable and bold concession and a welcome respite from another chronic podcast ailment, especially those that are author-led: knowallism. Ultimately, it just helps to frame and scaffold the following thirty odd minutes, parts of which sound like a social history tutorial.

When it comes to de-constructing the unprecedented and scarcely believable years from 1985 to 1997, during which Dublin was routinely bannered as ‘the city of a thousand rock bands’, few Irish musicians can sieve it out better than Couse. Six albums on three different labels, two droppings and a stubborn streak that feral teenagers only dream about, A House were the prolific guitar band whose work-rate was matched only by their capacity to shoot themselves in the groin with staple-guns. And even when the good times briefly rolled, there was always another calamity – often self-inflicted – waiting to further derail them and, ultimately, to embitter them further. Indeed one of the recurring themes across the band’s wide catalogue is how easily defeat can be clutched from the jaws of victory.

The Point Of Everything, by his own admission, was born long after A House first took the stage in The Underground Bar on Dublin’s Dame Street during the mid-80s. But Couse is only too happy to talk him through much of the insanity of that period – or, as he’d probably say himself, put him right – even if there’s a real sense of resignation about how he now views his lot. Perhaps he’s right when he says that we may never see or hear its likes again ?

He’s also strong and typically unsentimental about the original A House line-up, laying to rest any lingering sense that the band was anything other than himself and guitarist Fergal Bunbury at its heart and that all and any others who joined the line-up over the years were never more than the sum of their parts. Which may come as a surprise to a couple of notable players among the band’s number who soldiered long and far with them on-stage and off from the get-go. Or maybe not ?

But Couse opens new frontiers when he refers to the economic reality he faced during the twelve years he fronted A House and, more starkly, once the band tired of beating its head off of concrete after the release of its sixth album, ‘No More Apologies’, in 1996. Penniless in their early 30s, there’s something especially grim in such a reveal, even if the image of the struggling artist in penury, railing against the dying of the light, is an old and familiar one. Preferring to deal with the topic through the front door and without the use of code – irreconcilable musical differences was never going to sit well with Couse anyway – I’m not sure I’ve heard an Irish writer of that calibre refer to brutal economics and the break-up of a band with such honesty.

Last week’s live show by Couse, Bunbury and a cast of guest musicians – including, at one point, their daughters – was the culmination of a broader campaign, led by Gary Sheehan, IMRO and The National Concert Hall, to recognise ‘I Am The Greatest’, arguably A House’s best known album, for its enduring excellence. Even if, to these ears, all of the band’s long-players could have sated the basic qualification criteria.

But beyond bringing half of the original A House line-up back onto the same stage at the same time, the last number of weeks have also served to further remind us of just how captivating a performer Couse can be. In a radio interview with Tom Dunne on Newstalk to promote the NCH show, he admitted that he’s still writing songs and, reading between the lines, there’s almost certainly another live show or two in this. Beyond that, who knows ? He tells TPOE that he’d love to play in Cork, for instance, and refers to Microdisney who, this time last year, played the same venue under many of the same conditions.

I wondered, after I saw A House play their last show at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in February, 1997, if we’d ever see another local band like them again and, in the decades since, I’m not convinced that we have. And clearly, neither does Couse. So, unfinished business, unfinished dreaming or both ?

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