The RADIATORS – TROUBLE PILGRIM (review originally published in RIOT 77 magazine Feb 2007)

Radiators - Trouble Pilgrim

The Radiators are sort of treated in the same way as the Tara Broach or one of many other high profile Irish antiquities…. They’re a well publicised entity, but walking a short distance to behold what all the fuss may or may not be is way too much effort. Appreciating the band, and their context in the greater scheme of things, or at least a little more than TELEVISION SCREEN on a Tom Dunne compilation allows, can be compared to crossing the Shannon. Surprisingly many people wouldn’t be arsed. When The Radiators supported the Pogues in Dublin at Christmas, the bar commanded greater attention and Shane McGowan noted that “ the people had disgraced themselves again! ”.

But musical peers have often struggled translate reputation into audience. U2 will have the respect to make them special guests in Croke Park, but they’ll struggle to fill Whelan’s on a Saturday night. It seems that their moment in time as a genuinely popular band at home began in Moran’s and ended only months later in UCD with an unfortunate stabbing incident, a hex which finished their reign and put them on the ferry to london.

As pioneers of a new musical awareness which had far reaching implications, both socially and culturally, The Radiators from Space were ( along with the Horslips ) one of the most significant entities in Dublin’s contemporary musical history. It’s a strange idea to grasp in a town that has long since been flooded with bands. While the words “Irish” and “punk” relayed a sense of contradiction in the 70’s, probably as a result of media manipulation and the notion that it was a totally imported phenomenon, there were many factors necessitating that something fresh and radically new happen in homegrown rock music. Interestingly, while elements of the musical direction were appropriated from pioneering American garage bands and English glam bands, the time period in which the gradual formation of the band which would become the Radiators took place ( ‘75 – ‘76 ) clearly suggests that they developed their own strain of punk music, prior to, and to a certain degree independent of the English influence that would have seemed so obvious and indispensable.

But these were the days when a Whistle Test appearance by the New York Dolls was a defining moment in the lives of everybody who formed a band for the next 3-4 years. Forward thinking in an age of comparative innocence went a lot further then than it does in an age of MP3s and Youtube. Exciting discovery and genuine inspiration have been left a little thin on the ground! So it’s very possible that legendary status minus significant record sales is obstructive baggage as much as it is an aid in re-establishing credentials of a band who more or less wound up their career with a gig at the Crofton Airport Hotel in November 1980.

So many reformations have taken place… some of them ( The Buzzcocks spring to mind ) have been genuinely fruitful while others like The Doors have been downright shameful. And even in the situation where there’s a strong sense of unfinished business, sometimes these things are better left alone.

The Radiators presented themselves to the public once more on Bloomsday 2004 and eventually set to work on a new record as well as updating some older work ( a contemporary TELEVISION SCREEN, new recordings of SUNDAY WORLD, ELECTRIC SHARES and an inspired KITTY RICKETTS with Cait O’Riordan handling the vocals all appeared on CDEPs ).

TROUBLE PILGRIM is the sound of a band reconnecting with all the musical roots which initially inspired them, but as people with life experience rather than as teenagers. The Flaming Groovies in particular stand as a comparison to the resultant sound – a blend of very many raw underground influences with the more sophisticated likes of The Byrds, Love, Bowie, Elvis Costello etc… It could of course be assumed that the band had already arrived at this sound much earlier…. many of their odd-bits – BUYING GOLD IN HEAVEN (80), TAKE MY HEART AND RUN (80), PLURA BELLE (87) would sit comfortably within this collection of tracks.

The opening track TROUBLE PILGRIM is a rigid garage workout and in many ways ( EPs aside ) the perfect introduction to where the band have landed soundwise. Not content with the basic band ( although that’s pretty much what you get live ), they’ve embellished the rawness throughout with 12 string guitars, vintage synths, organs and even glockenspiels and french horns. There’s little doubt this expanding of possibilities in the studio was learned and noted while working on GHOSTOWN with Tony Visconti, but here it’s driven by their own experience rather than the guiding hand of a hotshot name producer.

The CONCIERGE sounds very much like the band at their inception, something that would have been devised for a Moran’s set in the garage in Portmarnock. It’s quite obviously penned by Chevron specifically for a classic Steve Rapid vocal delivery and it’s a nugget of choppy 60’s style trash that would sit well on any one of a million volumes of PEBBLES. Thematically, It’s a hellfire embrace of global mismanagement, snarling, cynical and best summed up by the line “ We put the Mess in Mesopotamia ” …this is the Radiators shot at political commentary and is thankfully devoid of smarm or rehashed leftist drivel. And although this is the only lead vocal for Steve Rapid on the album, the snarl returns to interrupt songs throughout the album time and time again, almost as if the character of the Concierge is lurking in the background as both a master of ceremonies and a sort of demi-beelzebub with a growl and a bubbling synth… it’s a nice touch which only really becomes apparent after several listens and as ever, Rapid’s part in the grand fabric of the Radiators should never be underestimated.

When I first listened to the Pete Holidai penned SECOND AVENUE if figured it had slowed the album’s momentum down too early, but it made sense of itself pretty quickly. Amongst other things it serves as a homage to many of the bands roots, specifically a lot of what was drawn under the loose knit categorisation of US punk and garage rock of the early 70’s. It’s got a Lou Reed street rock swagger to it and the boogaloo reference will always bring The Dictators Go Girl Crazy to mind, whether intentional or not!

JOE STRUMMER is of course a tribute to one of punk rock’s own prototypes. In an early interview from the first issue of Dublin’s HEAT fanzine, the Clash influence was very clearly defined by the band so it’s no surprise that this is an important expression. It cheekily lifts a clash riff and recounts a string of Phil Chevron’s memories from the time of Strummer’s service in the Pogues ( when Mr McGowan had become utterly useless!! ). It also hints at the widespread influence of Strummer’s very many political opinions and the fact that he served as a disseminator of information to those who were otherwise unlikely to have any idea what SANDINISTA meant.

HEAVEN and WORDS are trademark Pete Holidai pop. Sweet toothed and subjectively more inclined towards the quest for the perfect 60’s love song, they sit nicely in a worthy catalogue of well crafted PH tracks from the bands past – CONFIDENTIAL, MILLION DOLLAR HERO, TAKE MY HEART AND RUN amongst others…. HEAVEN, I believe was discussed as the single that they may have gone with had it been remotely likely that the singles market was relevant to them. WORDS is heavier on sentiment, dressed up in a Phil Spector sort of way… recalling a time when pop belonged to bands, not four pretty haircut people with a dat tape and a light show. I can’t help thinking that this has an air of a Sonny Bono composition about it. Both have definite similarities in vocal style. Big swirling keyboard embellishments and a mighty fine twangy guitar solo carry this to great effect.

Mr C’s ( as he is affectionately refered to on the Pogues Forum ) THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS is probably the most sinister of all the album’s lyrics… thematically it reminds me of CLARA from Scott Walker’s THE DRIFT – ( although musically they have nothing in common ) – The inner thoughts and soul searching of a certain leader gone wrong just as life catches up on him. It’s a stark and bare boned composition and the specific reference appears vague but a bit of imagination and a brief recent history of slayed tyrants should eventually reveal all.

TELL ME WHY, another slice of Pete Holidai brazenly thieves one of the Buzzcocks’ most heavily aired licks and the brass backing places it somewhere between Van Morrison and the Housemartins. A far superior rendition of HINTERLAND to that which surfaced on the SUMMER SEASON EP reassesses my faith in a song that I originally disliked, but it’s Philip Chevron’s veiled political lyric that carrys it – “ Don’t say our riches lie beneath the sand of godforsaken holy lands where faith is just mistaken self belief ” – and the Concierge rears his head towards the end again -“ Jerusalem, Your Requiem is sounded, The armies of great nations have got you surrounded. When we’ve drug the devil through this vale of tears, we’ll tie the Devil up for a thousand years. Gagged and bound for a thousand years. We got you surrounded, Gagged and bound” – Nice touch!!!

A different type of modern world claustrophobia is addressed in SHE SAYS I’M A LOSER,which hints at a parasitic ball and chain relationship eating into the raw ingredients of human spirit a with another great slice of no nonsense philosophy from the Concierge – “ Money Grabber.Too Much On Show, Not A crowd for you now ”.

A PACKAGE FROM HOME and HUGUENOT are classic Chevron and already seem to be amongst the most popular with fans of the band….. they’re also the two tracks on the album that sound like they could very easily sit into the Pogues repertoire. A PACKAGE FROM HOME is a tale of misplaced faith, confusion and George W playing tin soldiers with GIs who are still trying to figure out how they ended up in such a mess. HUGUENOT is a Dublin song, almost like a revisit to the world that spawned one of Mr C’s ( and the Pogues ) finest moments, THOUSANDS ARE SAILING, and a glimpse at how the tides have turned ( Both Chevron and drummer Johnny Bonnie are of some manner of Huguenot extraction ).

Again there’s a air that lies somewhere between Pete Shelley and Sonny Bono on DON’T  WALK AWAY… it’s an age old love gone wrong theme and another Holidai gem. The closing track is almost like a summary of the Radiators philosophy, WE ARE SO BEAUTIFUL – beauty in a sense of purpose rather than preening and a salute to primal motive rather than the quest, or willingness to be strewn across glossies. It’s laid out like a conversation between a clueless Mr Evil Corporation and the reticent past heroes of stratocaster abuse.

Not that this would possibly have any bearing of relevance to the Radiators as they exist now. Long gone is the time when they skipped the dues queue onto the cover of Hot Press with fresh faced scowls…. in any case the industry is unrecognisable to a band who last fully functioned in 1980. The fact that this album has been self released owes as much to necessity as it does to the fact that nobody is interested in signing what the world considers a jurassic punk band…

As to the question of where the album lies in relation to TV TUBE HEART, GHOSTOWN and a scattering of singles from all those years ago. It’s an infinite span back to the conditions that created those albums. It has been suggested that TROUBLE PILGRIM sounds like the album that should have been released after TV TUBE HEART, easing the stylistic transition to the very obvious sophistication of GHOSTOWN, but the fact of the matter is that those records simply happened as they happened. It’s no secret that the GHOSTOWN set developed a lot quicker than the release dates on the records suggest. And where TROUBLE PILGRIM fits with regard to their punk roots… The band would have been foolish to deny what they have learned in 25 odd years to appeal to those of partisan tastes, but this was the case in the late 70’s anyway and the Radiators always had more in common with Elvis Costello than the UK Subs. It’s a work that more than earns it’s status as a Radiators disc and that’s pretty much all the compliment it’ll ever need!. – BOZ  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *