How to make music and influence nobody
Patrick Freyne recounts how he lost his twenties to a band
Patrick Freyne (centre) with Daragh Keogh and Paul Clancy, his fellow members of National Prayer Breakfast. NPB. Circa 2000-2001.
Paul and I and our friend Daragh Keogh were in a band for 10 years. It was a folie à trois . We called ourselves the National Prayer Breakfast after a political event in the US of which we had little understanding. (Most of our political knowledge came from US fanzines and anarcho-punk bands, not from anything as mundane as “the news”.) After a while the name was abbreviated to the NPB, because people kept mispronouncing it when we rang looking for gigs. “The Nashville Perv Basket?” said one Limerick booker.
We didn’t really know how to be a band. We could barely play. At early practices Paul used a suitcase as his bass drum. I played in one time signature, Daragh another. We drank endless cups of instant coffee in a rehearsal studio on Parnell Street in Dublin, overused distortion pedals and screamed. We were very loud, and our ears rang all the time.
Listen up: NPB in the wild
We loved the idea of being in a band. We created our own little world. We designed odd posters and put them up around town before we ever had gigs. (We incurred littering fines.) Paul and I scoured charity shops for stage clothes. (A brown velvet suit? Marching-band jackets?) We found a £100 Casio keyboard and used it on everything. (The best setting was Vibraphone, which we used on our politically confused song Gun Control .) We had stage names: Kinky, Bim Bim and Donut; then Wayne Freyne, Lance Clancy and Jobey-Joe Keogh. We wrote fantastical stories about ourselves and included them in fake newspapers we made and distributed at gigs. We put on posh, American, and British accents in interviews. I have no idea why. I found a recording of an old radio interview recently, and I sound insane.
We were inspired by everything. We read a lot and randomly rhymed things we barely understood for lyrics. (“I’ll swap your aesthetics for morphogenetics!” I sang on a song called The Karl Marx Experience .) We named songs after people we liked: Manu Chao, Kim Novak and Schubert. None of these songs was about the person it was named after. We produced “hymn books” filled with lyrics and cartoons. We sent unfinished tapes and bizarre pamphlets to celebrities and scenesters. I once got a phone call from a confused BP Fallon. “Why did you send me this?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I said.
Ballroom of romance
We put on daytime gigs in places like the Ierne Ballroom and the Funnel. The
latter was in the docklands. Outside, in the IFSC, a new breed of aspirational, besuited young Dubliner was mastering the universe, but we didn’t notice, busy as we were distributing free sweets and encouraging people to play the board games a friend had liberated from a toyshop.
We jumped around a lot on stage, which sort of made up for the fact that we weren’t playing particularly well. We played with bands such as Das Madman (who became The Jimmy Cake), Bobby Pulls a Wilson and Palomine (containing a future member of The Chalets). They got good reviews from the zines that covered such things. We did not. “I don’t get it,” said an unimpressed reviewer. What’s there to get, I wondered, as I handed out cups of melted ice cream to teenage gig-goers.
We were, at this point, unwitting outsider artists. I had a handlebar moustache. Paul had a rat’s tail. Daragh wore his hair in little bunches.
We became obsessed with being excluded from “the scene”, but in reality we had an extended family of creative friends helping us, and a cadre of musicians who played with the band for spells of time: Paul Connolly, Jeremy Smyth, Mark Palmer, Richie Murphy, Frances Mitchell, Anna Carey, Angeline Morrison, Hugh Rodgers. Around this time the then pirate radio station Phantom FM latched on to one of our songs, Feeding Frenzy , thanks, I think, to my yelling “Pirate station!” on it at regular intervals.