Strange Passion is collection of hidden gems from Ireland’s DIY, post punk past. It’s perfect for those who thought Ireland’s only punk band was The Boomtown Rats. Here the raw rubs shoulders with the gleefully inept, the deliberately tangential, the loftily idealistic. It’s a frankly terrific collection, containing some marvellous music worthy of a wider audience. It’s about time that there’s been some kind of collation of Ireland’s left of field past. U2, once of the very avant garde parish that Strange Passion seeks to extol, inadvertently did untold damage to the scene from whence they came. Back when Major Labels still roamed the planet like carnivorous, cash register-jawed behemoths, all they wanted from Ireland was the next arena-bothering anthem generating U2-alike. Understandably, plenty of artists tried to go in that direction, leaving behind wonky experimentalism and shouty anthems for smoother, more professional approaches, Cuban heels and leather waistcoats, with varied, and usually nil, success. Wither Blue in Heaven, Light A Big Fire, et al? The groups that comprise this disparate collection clearly had little interest in straddling the Atlantic in a Stetson. Obviously, or they wouldn’t be here, being celebrated for being “rare”, and mostly unheard.
The sound is not high fidelity, many of these tracks have been saved from tapes and vinyl. Hissing abounds, which just makes it sound even better. Dogmatic Element kick it off, with a piece of wonky Altered Images like pop. The Threat’s High Cost Of Living has a darker edge, Warsaw-era Joy Division with a similar dry drum sound. The High Cost of Living, the only words in the song, was b-side to their only release, Lullaby in C.
Chant! Chant! Chant! featured a couple of ex-Threat members, most notably bassist Larry Murphy. His chunky, sort of funk-punk playing dominates Play Safe, b-side of their Quicksand single from 1981. Again, a band who released precious little in their time. Twenty Tens by The Virgin Prunes should need no introduction. It’s reared its head on compilations before, but that doesn’t take away from its sheer raw, tribal power. Unlike most artists on this comp, the Prunes did release quite a lot, going so far as to burn out, leaving behind the Dadaist tendencies that fuelled their early excursions to become a faux lounge act once the majority of the original cast had been ejected.
Operating Theatre, Roger Doyle’s weird synth duo, gets two outing here. The first is Austrian, and appropriately enough has a central European aesthetic. It’s suitably weird, yet not a patch on Stano’s Town. Stano, used to be a carpenter. There’s been an element of assembly in his music, that is almost deserving a drawn out metaphor. Stano was staunchly a non musician, and his work was experimental and odd, but always fearless. No Water by The Peridots evokes a Fad Gadget-esque scary funfair. Always In Danger, by Choice has a wonderful spaciness. Synth bass, wistful vocals, a nice reverb. It could have been released last year. Some tunes just jump out. Avenue B by the Major Thinkers, by then a New York based band, grabs your throat. The pounding toms, synth bass and minimal chorus extolling the virtues of the titular Avenue B; Avenue B, it’s the place to be. It’s hard to argue on this evidence. SM Corporation, featuring ex-Radiator Steve Rapid, get two tracks, a short instrumental sting Accentuate, and a synthpop ditty called Fire From Above. Tripper Humane’s effort is utterly bonkers. Discoland is taken from a tape, Rhythmic Warfare, released in 1981. The sound is tinny and small, and despite using mostly electronic equipment (it would seem) manages to veer in and out of time like a drunkard. Marvellous. The entire collection finishes with Operating Theatre once more. Eighties Rampwalk is just a simple, beautiful piece of synth music, perfect for rolling the credits over as everything fades to black.
When you get this compilation, and you must get it, buy the physical release, as it comes complete with reams of liner notes, and essay on the music and pen pictures of each individual act. There could be an argument made for the bands that didn’t make it onto the comp, DC Nein, The Atrix etc, etc, but the record is a well edited, coherent collection, that’s just about the right length. Anything else may have confused the matter, and anyway, we can hope that in future there will be more compilations such as this, perhaps taking in Irelands mid eighties pop groups, some of the harder edged punk and post punk offering, right up to early nineties forgotten gems like The Slowest Clock or Candy Apple Red. While you may be able to find out about many of the bands here, and others that didn’t make it, via the old internet, the music itself is much harder to come by. Therefore, this compilation has become crucial, already. Hats off to all involved.
Strange Passion will be released on July 13th on Cache Cache (Finders Keepers).