National Concert Hall, Dublin
There was a subtle difference between Microdisney's Saturday night's "official" return show at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, and the invite-only gig at the same venue (in the smaller Studio space) on Friday. It was a difference that only those at the more intimate gathering would have noticed if they'd been close enough to the stage.
On Friday, after a few songs, lead singer Cathal Coughlan removed his jacket, folded it neatly, and placed it carefully on the stage in front of him. Last night, after a few songs, he removed his jacket, roughed it up it and tossed it down. Less daunted by the task ahead, Coughlan set about it in the way that he alone can: serious, understated, sardonic, humble, lacerating.
While many under the age of 35 might regard Microdisney as more a footnote than a chapter in Irish rock music history books, those of older vintage would mostly recognise the band as a bracing mix of pop music craftsmen and mordant social commentators.
This show was the first time in some 30 years that the band had played together, it was the first time they performed in its entirety their superb 1985 album, The Clock Comes Down the Stairs, and – the endorsing cherry on the cake – the band was the first to be presented with the inaugural IMRO/NCH Trailblazer Award, which celebrates pivotal albums by Irish musicians, songwriters and composers. No wonder the audience was in a celebratory mood, and very much on the side of a band who would possibly view such merriment with droll wisecracks.
While there was the unsurprising shuffling of feet and awkward looks – akin to guilty schoolboys waiting outside the headmaster’s office – as they were presented with the award following the final song, the previous 90 minutes showed no such reticence to engage.
Simply put, the album in question is a classic of its kind if not era, as it showcases guitarist Sean O’Hagan’s deft and inventive touches, and Coughlan’s literate tirades detailing elements of what life was like for dissenting, poverty-line Irish musicians in London in the mid-1980s.
Some other songs performed, including 464, Everybody is Dead, Michael Murphy, point to the fork in the road that would eventually lead to Microdisney's split in 1988 and the formation of Coughlan's next band, the equally incomparable Fatima Mansions.
But here, however, it was all about Microdisney’s legitimacy as one of Ireland’s best – if somewhat mislaid – pop groups: songs such as Town to Town, Singer’s Hampstead Home, Birthday Girl, And, Begging Bowl, Are You Happy, Loftholdingswood, and Horse Overboard display equal signs of curdled rage and honeyed melodies.
And that final tune, the one performed just before the award presentation? A cover version of Frankie Valli & the 4 Seasons hit song, The Night, which Coughlan recalls as having a direct connection with Microdisney’s early days in Cork’s Arcadia venue. “You got to run from the past into the past,” he sang earlier in the evening. On the basis of what we just witnessed, he and Microdisney may have come full circle. Welcome back, you little rascals.
- Microdisney perform The Clock Comes Down the Stairs at London's Barbican Theatre, Monday, June 9th. barbican.org.uk