At this point, there have been very few Irish punk books – the fragmented written history of it all is represented in print by the Hope Collective’s IN CONCERT book, the VOX 80-83 collection published by Hi Tone books and the ghosts of 1000 lost fanzines. Everything else pertaining to ethos, idealism and matter of record currently resides in the microfiches of age-tainted brains and bullshit pub waffle.
It’s difficult to explain what Paranoid Visions represents to underground music in Ireland without resorting to superlatives or ham clichés, but in personal terms, the release of SCHIZOPHRENIA in 1987 was a gateway to a new world of music for me. This was identifiably and resolutely a punk album, but it snarled from a completely different perspective than the glut of popular stickle-brick punk bands in the mid-1980s, much of which was simply metal with soap in its hair. Without much access to its post-punk influences at the time, Paranoid Visions seemed more like a warped version of a Goth band to me, with picked guitar lines, fluid bass and wonderfully intertwined dual vocals… tuneful one moment, harrowing the next… imperfect, but inspiring.
No surprise then that after 40 years, one of Paranoid Visions founder members, Peter Jones, steps up to the plate with what is essentially Ireland’s first punk memoir! That’s a lot to squeeze into two-hundred-and-ninety-something pages, but I get the impression that this book managed to focus on its point of completion by avoiding the minutiae of character defects, grudges, gossip, bad-mouthing and anything else that might cause ripples and ructions in such a small country… And while such details are undoubtedly juicy, they are also a fast-track to tabloid farce and not necessarily in the purest spirit of punk.
Almost immediately, this book makes a point that its author is not a product of post-Industrial destitution or a scurvied tenement childhood so indispensable to the dynamic of just about every music biography ever. This is a positive start.
The first section relates to early personal engagement with punk – how it all led from records and magazine spreads commonplace with every other pop band to the stark monochrome of the underground. As the realisation kicks in that many of its participants were unskilled amateurs running on the fumes of teenage venom and enthusiasm, a youthful fascination with zips becomes the obsessive path towards the seemingly unobtainable – a functional (or dysfunctional) band.
This is where the personal side of the book merges with Dublin punk history in the early 80s, introducing a familiar cast of characters as the random pieces of Paranoid Visions eventually take shape, morphing into something different every time progress is within grasp. And as the pages turn, it becomes clearer and clearer that the story of Paranoid Visions is not so much of a solid linear history, but a series of ups and downs, blunders, opportunities and disasters, all loosely connected by stubborn energy and a steady flow of cassettes, singles and albums.
The book is punctuated by all manner of visual ephemera – fanzine pages, flyers, photos, graphics and barely legible xeroxed what-nots. All welcome reference material… In an ideal world, I would imagine that 40 years presents infinite opportunity to expand this side of the band’s history, but this is a self-published book and such things can sprawl out of control very quickly!
The dissection of Paranoid Visions in the early 1990s is interesting. This is the era of the band I probably saw the most. Underground music was changing considerably, and while they were in the perfect position to capture the ears of fresh audiences with an overdue studio album, this never happened. As Paranoid Visions proceeded, they became more of a slick rock band than whatever they had previously been, and the remnants of punk tribalism existed only in their staunch followers. Most of these were already a generation removed from the roots of Paranoid Visions and once the band split, they evaporated.
As sporadic reunions and legal matters fill the 1990s, the book often breaks its linear thread with digressions into song dissection, gig anecdotes and urban mythology, eventually forwarding to 2005 when the band reconstitutes.
Interestingly, where the frequency of releases, collaborations and excursions to foreign shores suggest a functional entity from the outside, Paranoid Visions as it settled into the 21st century was anything but. Given the confusing revolving door of members that ensued, the productivity is impressive, even if much of it faces the dartboard here!
Modern-day Paranoid Visions, also referred to as “the final line-up”, is the concluding section of the book. Mostly anecdotal, this focuses on the trials and tribulations of festival dates as part of the musical collaboration with Steve Ignorant.
Whatever the ramshackle threads that tied the various eras of the band into one long and rocky road trip, it’s an impressive legacy, and the take-away from TO OLD TO DIE YOUNG is that Paranoid Visions have survived four decades as chancers rather than a band with a master plan. In any other world, this would be a negative comment, but this is Paranoid Visions, and the most colourful aspects of the book are fuelled by the haphazard nature of it all!!
At the time of writing, the limited edition paperback is sold out but the Kindle edition is available here…
Other Irish punk related heading stuff HERE