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This Weekend I’ll Mostly be Listening to: Blue in Heaven September 8, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Blue in Heaven. Perhaps one of the more interesting Irish groups of the early to mid 1980s. Founded in 1982 they lasted just seven years and released only two albums, an EP and a number of singles. Their first, All the Gods Men, was a tinny artifact from the dying embers of post punk with much to recommend it, not least the proto-goth guitars, Martin Hannett’s just so production and singer Shane O’Neill’s voice which didn’t so much sing the songs as wander hither and yon above the instrumentation. And then there were the lyrics themselves which when not moodily enigmatic (for which read indecipherable) appeared to be mostly concerned with sex. I should add in passing that this is yet another Irish group where U2 did something of an (one presumes) unintentional reverse Midas on them, the Edge produced their first demo.

But what instrumentation! Remarkably over-emphatic bass lines two steps removed from Joy Division or ‘Movement’ era New Order underpin the tracks – but heavier, much much heavier (I’d dearly love to know how they achieved that), sheets of guitar sound fade in and out, martial drum beats predominate. What other Irish band of this period was attempting to create such dissonant songs from none more Joy Division track ‘In Your Eyes’ right down to the descending bassline (though a good one and one not used by JD before them) to ‘single’ “Julie Cries”. One has to wonder how much this was Hannett’s doing and how much theirs – and while similar thoughts are raised by many groups he produced the overall effect here was fascinating (also as an aside “Irish Rock” by Mark Prendergast, published all the way back in 1987 suggests there were ‘hiccups’ with Hannett, interesting to know what they were). It was no masterpiece – let’s be clear, but it was different and that was no small thing in the context of Irish music of the period.

Album number two – Explicit Material – with its risible/ highly entertaining cover of the band staring at a blue television screen out of shot, and watching – well who knows what, was actually better in some ways. Their never entirely disguised appreciation of Iggy Pop was allowed near free rein, in a neat inversion of the trajectory JD took. There were a range of fast, rock oriented, tracks like “Tell Me” and “I Just Wanna” which while eschewing the Hannett led atmospherics cohered into a tightly focused set. And the slower paced tracks were equally good though the transition from glacial keyboards to – er – burbling ones as on “Be Your Man” (a track littered with nods to that same Mr. Pop) wasn’t necessarily an improvement. Yes the bass was still there, and the guitars while rockish, not quite metal. O’Neill’s vocals were more audible and direct – though to glean from the lyrics there was some fairly dubious sexual politics on display. But it was somehow a different band in approach, style, aesthetic, albeit it worked surprisingly well. Even thirty odd years later it holds up well when set against a lot of what was popular during the period.

They played numerous gigs (and, discreditably, appeared at Self-Aid), I saw them at least twice and O’Neill was quite the incendiary character on stage but their star seemed to fade in the late 1980s, I don’t recall much news of them after Explicit Material. They released a final valedictory EP and then vanished only to return as the Blue Angels. This latter act released an album (which I’ve never heard, I was out of the country when it came out, so if anyone who has a copy I’d be most appreciative). O’Neill later teamed up with Dave Long of the equally excellent Into Paradise – another group with something of a debt to Joy Division – and produced a single, and genuinely fantastic album under the name Supernaut which is the work of another day in this slot.

All the Gods Men

Sometimes

Big Beat

Old ned

All You Fear

Slowly

In Your Eyes

Julie Cries

Explicit Material

I Just Wanna

Sister

Hope To God

Tell Me

Be Your Man

Comments»

1. Dr. X - September 8, 2012

One of the less appealing examples of the era when U2’s rise to global stardom meant that there were loads of truly terrible groups (anyone remember Cry Before Dawn?) that you had to like just because they were Irish.

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WorldbyStorm - September 8, 2012

There’s something in what you say there Dr. X, Irish music at that point, and we need hardly spell out the names was rife with wannabes and soundalikes, though I’d obviously disagree about BIH (or as the designer of their original logo had it in lower case b i h – natch!). being in quite that category😉 But that’s what’s so odd about them. To get Hannett was quite a coup. And of course their sound owed little or nothing to that of U2 or the other purveyors of bombastic choruses. But in more general terms one could argue that although the door opened up for Irish groups its amazing how few managed to make it through. Indeed I’m trying to think of examples who even did well enough in the UK during that period.

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Dr. X - September 8, 2012

Feck’s sake, WbS, it’s no fun if you won’t rise to the bait.

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WorldbyStorm - September 8, 2012

But you’re broadly right! 🙂

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2. EamonnCork - September 8, 2012

I liked Blue In Heaven, think they were definitely talented and far from being a bunch of post U-2 bandwagon jumpers. I actually thought their best stuff came on their Fanning Show demos. Across My Heart in particular is a wonderful song which was subsequently produced to within an inch of its life. Martin Hannett was a great producer but he did sometimes seem to be in thrall to his own myth and more interested in serving that than the interests of the band. Light A Big Fire and Those Nervous Animals are two other bands I can think of whose songs sounded better as demos because they subsequently received OTT productions of that eighties ilk which now seems as archaic as the Altamira cave paintings.
Having said all that Blue In Heaven had fine songs, an excellent front man and an originality which means they deserved to break through. I remember them being namechecked in a Rolling Stone interview by Bono when they were still unsigned along with In Tua Nua, another very fine band who are sometimes lumped in with the U-2 wannabes as well. Good choice Wbs.
I suppose it was a certain sign of the apocalypse for Irish rock when you started getting TV and press features pointing out that post U-2 rock music, once seen as the preserve of ne’er do wells was now a viable career choice for the young man about town. Not sure if it ever recovered from the idea that rock music could be a ‘career.’ Not sure if rock music in general ever recovered from said idea which reached its apotheosis during the wretched Britpop era.

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WorldbyStorm - September 8, 2012

In Tua Nua got a bad press in that regard but I liked a lot of what they did. Are the Blue in Heaven Fanning demo’s out and about?

Very true re the ‘career’. That changed the nature of the exercise big time.

It’s funny, I’m conflicted about Hannett. Great… but… and for all the greatness there’s always that but.

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EamonnCork - September 11, 2012

I’m basing my comment re the demos on memories of the Maxell Archive stored under my bed and now sadly no more. But I do remember being slightly disappointed with the sound of the album compared to the demos. Though perhaps this derived to some extent from the love of the obscure which probably made me hove towards Fanning in the first place.

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irishelectionliterature - September 11, 2012
3. EamonnCork - September 8, 2012

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Dr. X - September 10, 2012

How more ’80s? None more ’80s!

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4. ec - September 9, 2012

Shane went on to set up Dirt Records who released quite a batch of Albums in the 90s by acts including Revelino, The Idiots and Sack.

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WorldbyStorm - September 9, 2012

Fair dues to him. Is there a full listing of their roster anywhere do you know ec?

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ec - September 9, 2012
WorldbyStorm - September 9, 2012

Thanks a million ec. That’s handy.

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5. EamonnCork - September 9, 2012

Ah Revelino. Brilliant, brilliant band. I can remember the lead singer playing for Bohs as well.

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irishelectionliterature - September 10, 2012

Bohs had Brendan Tallon in Revelino! ….. don’t know if you saw this about ex Hoop ‘Spit on me’ Jamie Duffy.
http://www.boulevardofficial.com/page5/index.html

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irishelectionliterature - September 10, 2012

So next week we’ll be doing a ….
This Weekend I’ll Mostly be Listening to…. Boybands featuring Irish Soccer players.
with Westlife (Nicky Byrne), That Bouvevard crowd and surely there are more🙂

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EamonnCork - September 10, 2012

Don’t know about boy bands, but this is from current Sligo Rovers star Pascal Millien. Pretty good too.

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6. Phil - September 10, 2012

Quite Bunnymen, that second album – midway between them and the Church, maybe. Bit ‘eavy for me, but not bad at all.

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WorldbyStorm - September 10, 2012

Phil, that’s a great bit of triangulation. I’d never thought about them being not dissimilar to Echo & THe Bunnymen, but it’s true. The Church, who as you know I’m a bit of a fan of, seem to me to be bit further away – perhaps the first album, or two.

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