January 1st 2023

My son Theo and I spent Christmas and the new year in Ireland, staying at Ed Maggs and Fran Edwards’ place in Kerry, on the far south west coast. 

It should have taken 11 hours to get there by train, but the day before we left there had been a rail strike which, as usual, had disrupted the service. By the time we reached Holyhead, we had missed out ferry to Dublin and had to wait five hours for the next one. This meant a stop-over in Dublin and a train the following morning. The trip took 22 hours in total. As I was expecting, it rained every day, but it was the gentle rain coming in off the sea often not much more than a mist. Distant hills were golden with sunlight while rain dripped down the windows, then the opposite would happen. This is why it is called the Emerald Isle. There’s not much green left on the hills, though, as overgrazing on a massive scale has reduced them down to their topsoil and what nature intended as a temperate rainforest is now a series of bald hill studded with thousands of sheep, making sure that not a shoot or flower survives. 

       Ed and Fran had a series of houseguests, including my old friends Susan Stenger (composer and musician: Band of Susans, Big Bottom, recently on tour with Nick Cave) and Paul Smith, the founder of Blast First records who released Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers and other alternate bands in the UK.

Also there was Mandana Ruane, who for twenty years was the manager of the Academy Club, above Andrew Edmunds’ restaurant in Lexington Street, Soho, before retiring to SW Ireland. She is still nippy with a Waiter’s Friend. 

For one dinner the table was set for nine, including the local farmer who shot the deer that we were eating. And what a table it was: Ed was still making it when we arrived. He has an industrial scale workshop in which he constructed a trestle-style dining table of carefully planed wood. 

In these pictures we have Ed sharpening the knives and Paul laying the table. I hadn’t seen Mandana in five years, ever since she left the club. She told us that she had always had two dreams in life: to run a Soho drinking club, and to live in a cottage in the south of Ireland, and here now she had achieved both aims. 

We were able to get about a bit, saw some traditional Irish music in a pub: musicians some of whom didn’t even know each other but who all knew the tunes. Fran drove us to see some of the inlets down on the coast. More bald hills but 20 years of rewilding would sort them out. The water was beautiful.

I was very taken by the local amateur signage. Here are two good examples:

A few weeks later, back in London, I had dinner at Jill Nicholls’s house with her, Marsha Row and Marion Fudger. All three had worked at the feminist magazine Spare Rib; Marsha being the co-founder. It was a wonderful evening, particularly as I hadn’t seen Marion in 45 years when she played bass with the Art Attacks after leaving the magazine. She was also in the Derelicts and played on a European tour with the Sadista Sisters. I caught up with them in Amersfoort, in the Netherlands. Back then [1977] I was writing regularly for New Musical Express, but I’d rarely seen such outrageous group behaviour except for covering The Who and one time when Roger McGuinn shot out the lightbulb in his hotel room because it wouldn’t turn off (he was using the wrong switch). I went to see them in Holland, that evening, the glass front door of the Sisters’ hotel was shattered to pieces when Marion ran straight through it. She must have been travelling at some speed as it was made of thick glass. It was more fun being on the road with a female group because people weren’t expecting them to have so much energy. Also, the audience had far more girls in it than the boys/blokes that most male bands attract. 

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