Digging for gold at Sir Henry’s again
A review of Deep at Dublin Fringe
Nostalgia is a comfort blanket. You think back to the way things were and how you were and it fills you with a cosy sense of well-being. You were younger, stronger, happier, sharper. You were probably in your prime. You compare it to how you are today and it doesn’t scan very well. You want to go back, you want to see all your friends at once, you want to go bang….
In Cork, Sir Henry’s is the nostalgia kick which never grows old. Even now, a decade after that seminal club closed down and the entire complex was demolished, it’s still the starting point and often the full stop in many conversations involving music around the city. It was the city’s Hacienda and CBGBs, its musical heart and soul for many and for many years. Much has happened in the city since and much is still to come, but Henry’s and especially Greg Dowling and Shane Johnson’s Sweat club are forever embroidered in the fabric of the narrative. It’s history and nostalgia forever linked.
Walking into the Back Loft to see Raymond Scannell’s Deep, a show informed and powered by those years, feels like walking into a similar black box venue, albeit without the podiums, sweat, madsers called Bosco, backroom bar and pipes spitting out sewage. Henry’s and Sweat bode large in Scannell’s one-man show, which rolls back the years and the characters before and after that era. He voices and narrates the stories of a wide, colourful bunch of feens and dolls all joined at the hip by Larry Lehane, a kid who was born to play house.
Lehane, conceived to the sound of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and born on the same night of the Disco Demolition bash at Comiskey Park in Chicago (some very smart writing tricks there, including Larry Lehane sounding very like Larry Levan), keeps the lines clear between kith and kin and all those casual acquaintances who end up back at the Lehanes through the years. He’s instructed in the ways of house and clubbing by his brother Danny, who got the bug in London and arrives back in Cork just as Sweat is opening for business in 1988. Danny goes all in and Larry follows him down the rabbithole.
What’s interesting about Scannell’s play, apart from his dexterious use of vocal effects to juggle all those cast members and the magical swing of the language to colour it all, is Craig Cox’s video design, including the interviews from a bunch of Henry’s regulars to link the various strands. When people like Sean O’Neill, Greg Dowling, Shane Johnson, Stevie Grainger and Mucca Twomey have their say, you can sense the story of Larry, Danny, Jojo and Debbie moving on and out. As Jim “X Comet” O’Mahony talks about a night when Laurent Garnier blew the roof off the place with “I Feel Love”, you can sense one or other or both of the Lehane brothers in the middle of sweaty mob on the floor. As the music plays and thumps and moves on, they’re definitely feeling it.
But there is always a comedown after a high like that and that’s the morning after the all-dayer after the night before. In the economically battered and bruised Cork of that time, a club like Sweat was an escape, a refuge from the real world. For some, of course, it became a real world, with DJs going onto be producers and radio voices and record shop owners. But Henry’s and Sweat was a loud, chaotic, ecstatic escape hatch from everyone else from the real world for a few hours every week.
When Scannell’s superb rapidfire script turns to the world of the Lehanes when the strobes don’t flicker and the music doesn’t pump, you get a much different, equally engaging picture. Larry and Danny always yearn for the nights of “Voodoo Ray” and “I Am the Black Gold Of The Sun” and “Bug Powder Dust” (which provides some great line about sample-hunting pre-Shazam) and “Ball & Chain”, but the real world keeps getting in the way with parents and girlfriends and randomers. No wonder they keep wanting to go home, to get past the hard-chaw bouncers guarding the South Main Street doors, to roll beyond the stairs, to get to nirvana. They always want to go back.
Of course, we know how it ends. Henry’s closes, people move on, Larry is evicted from his record shop (vinyl, boy) and the house lights come on. The figures on the video screen have urged us to move on from Henry’s and do something new, something else, other than remember those good old days. The time for going back is over – it really is time for people like Larry to pick up the pieces, put their records under their oxters and move on. Like ravers evicted from the house party after the club, we the audience find ourselves afterwards walking the rainslicked streets of Dublin 8 beneath dull autumn streetlights taking it all in. It will be interesting to see if Scannell will return to Larry again. For sure, he’s created a character who is full of frantic energy and madcap dreaming. Give Larry ten years and who knows what he’ll be at.