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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to the early Mulligan output October 27, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Another very welcome guest post in this slot. This week anarchaeologist writes…

As part-payment for a job I did over the summer, I acquired a NAD 5129 turntable (Made in Czechoslovakia in 1979), along with a pile of old vinyl that was being thrown out (‘interesting’ ‘70s contemporary classical with some German stuff produced by Connie Plank – you won’t be reading about it here). In an envelope with the documentation came a page ripped out of an undated, c. 1980 edition of In Dublin, with a review by Michael Dervan of the NAD 3020 amp.
Below Dervan’s piece however was an advertisement, offering a cheap deal on the fairly respectable output of Mulligan Records at a time where most lps were costing the punter in the region of £5 to £7. Over the counter on Bachelor’s Walk could be bought ‘at the lowest of the low prices’ recordings by a variety of musicians, most of whom worked with each other in various loose collectives, and all of whom contributed to a thriving contemporary folk and r’n’b scenes in the country throughout the ‘70s. I’m confining my comments now though to the bargain bin section, returning to the better known (though less eclectic) selection from the £4 box at a later date.

Considering that Mulligan was a major player on the Irish independent scene, there’s little enough information available out there save that having Dónal Lunny as a co-founder, Mulligan was generally considered to be the Bothy Band’s house label. Today Mulligan is part of Compass Records, based in Nashville TN, which has also acquired the extensive Green Linnet back catalogue. Where some of the stuff has had a release on CD, the more interesting (i.e. the less commercial) stuff hasn’t. The music in the bargain bin though was at the very edge of the ‘Celtic music’ proffered by Compass today, ranging from the Boomtown Rats’ ‘The Fine Art of Surfacing’, through to the contemporary folk of Midnight Well and Pumpkinhead and back via the folky r’n’b of the Woods Band through to the jazz-prog of Supply, Demand & Curve.

Pumpkinhead and Midnight Well come from the same gene pool of Americans who’d come over here on the strength of the dollar to pick up on the trad vibe. Based in Sligo, Pumkinhead was formed by Thom Moore and his wife Kathy, along with harp-player extraordinaire Rick Epping and his partner Sandi Miller. Moore, and a second American partner Janie Cribbs, subsequently went on to form the better known Midnight Well, but more of that anon. Pumpkinhead traded mostly in old time, down-homey Appalachian country, with a few of Moore’s songs thrown in as a nod to more contemporary mores. The highlight on the album (the first ever release on Mulligan, produced by Lunny and Michael Ó Domhnaill of the Bothys) is a great cover of Neil Young’s Are You Ready for the Country. If the truth be told though, Pumpkinhead are wonderful to listen to but even then, appalling to look at: all homemade clothes, cheesy grins (well from the Epping/Miller side of things anyway) and the type of knit-your-own-yoghurt thing which was very much of its time. Epping is still gigging occasionally with The Unwanted; bizarrely, he seems only ever to have recorded three albums over the course of his career. The clip of Epping and Mick Kinsella in Tutty’s pub in the Wicklow Hollywood well demonstrates his prowess on the blues harp and the concertina. At the same time.

On the demise of Pumpkinhead, Moore formed Midnight Well and many of his songs from this period have entered the canon, where the originals, as always, are far superior. The album is worth picking up if only for Gerry O’Beirne’s slide guitar and the crafted arrangements of the songs, all produced by Shaun Davey. Looking at all the participants on the recording you’re presented with a who’s who of Dublin’s more established session players of the period along with assorted folkies who’d formed the backbone of the scene in the ‘70s and continue to release music to this day. Indeed, the extent to which these people crop up on most of the albums discussed here says something about the strength of the scene and the extent to which musicians were willing and able to venture out of their own comfort zones to produce a formidable corpus of work.

As I was to discover years later, Moore was regarded with a certain degree of suspicion here due to his background in the US Navy and apparently, a disinclination to do lefty benefits. A fluent Russian speaker, he disappeared off the scene in the ‘80s to work in the USSR as an interpreter for the US government’s on-site inspection programme at Votkinsk as part of the INF treaty. He’d won the Cavan International Song Contest in 1979 with the excretable Cavan Girl, a fact I’m including if only to perpetuate my theory that the photographer from the local paper the Anglo Celt managed to inadvertently capture Markus Wolf, then head of the Abteilung (the foreign intelligence service of the DDR), who had famously avoided photographic identification throughout the Cold War. Cavan was of course on an unguarded NATO border and the majority of contest participants hailed from beyond the Iron Curtain. Why indeed wouldn’t ‘Mischa’ be present at the very epicentre of such international intrigue? It wasn’t for the music.
Moving swiftly onto the Woods Band, Terry Woods was another stalwart of the Americana end of the folk scene, having being part of Sweeney’s Men in the ‘60s, and, along with his wife Gay, forming the first (and best) line up of Steeleye Span. The Woods retreated to a cottage outside Oldcastle in Meath throughout the ‘70s and as a spotty teenager I was lucky enough to catch them a few times at pub sessions in the Cavan/Meath badlands. They released a couple of rather excellent lps on Polydor which fitted into the folky blues catch all, with occasional nods to the celtic rock foisted on us by the likes of the Horslips (the definite article being de rigour in Cavan whenever the band were referenced). The first album, originally recorded in ’71, features various members of Granny’s Intentions lending it a solid rock backbone which may have confused more folky audiences. A second Mulligan release by the duo, Tender Hooks (1978) featured Kate McGarrigle on backing vocals and drew lazy Richard and Linda Thompson comparisons in the press. Gay went onto front Auto Da Fé in the ‘80s where Terry ended up in the Pogues (with an interesting collaboration with Phil Lynott along the way). Ed Deane, who played on the early stuff, plays most Thursday nights in Frank Ryan’s on Queen Street and the gig’s certainly worth a punt if you can get in past the crowds.

Which brings us to Deke O’Brien’s Nightbus, a band with the distinction of recording the first Mulligan 7” Face Down in the Meadow, a veritable country rock gem, even if the country was our own septic isle. Again the original line-up included many stalwarts of the Dublin pub rock scene, one which bore little resemblance to the scene personified by Brinsley Schwartz and Dr. Feelgood across the water. Nightbus is, as they say, a much more laid back affair, but worthy of a listen despite that. Lots of Eagles’ style harmonies and, ahem, tasty lead guitar. They used to get plenty of airplay on Pat Kenny’s late night AOR show of the same name on the old Radio 1 (which actually ended at 11.45), where, in fairness, the occasional New Wave track would also be aired.

Perhaps the pick of the crop is the Supply Demand & Curve lp and this is saying something coming from the keyboard of someone who generally leaves the room when confronted with jazzier end of the prog spectrum. Recently uploaded on the excellent Rock Roots site [], the lp is quite different to the other stuff released on the label and covers similar ground as the Soft Machine and the jazzier side of Gong. On the other hand, the fact that the band gigged extensively throughout the country suggests that remarkably, there must have been something of a market for this type of thing. The band formed around drummer Roger Doyle (later of Operating Theatre), bassist Brian Masterson and multi-instrumentalist Jolyon Jackson. Jackson would go on to record ‘Hidden Ground’ with Bothy Band fiddle player Paddy Glackin, perhaps one of the more interesting Irish ‘folk’ albums ever released. Jackson tragically succumbed to Hodgkin’s disease in 1985 at the age of 37. There’s a full band biog on the Rock Roots site where you’ll have to go for the music as there’s only one track posted on youtube.

Leaving the Rats aside for a minute, we’re left with ‘Camouflage’ by Sonny Condell and ‘Treaty Stone’ by Barry Moore, Christy’s brother, who later was to become better known as Luka Bloom. Both lps fall into the singer/songwriter category, with Condell’s perhaps being the more interesting lyrically. Again, this is a collaborative effort, with many of the musicians featured appearing on some of the other albums on the Mulligan roster. Condell himself had played with SD&C and brought Jackson along to play cello and keyboards but is perhaps better known today for his earlier work with Leo O’Kelly in Tír na nÓg. The best known tune, Down in the City, produced something of a hit single for the label and was to become one of the best known songs performed by Scullion. ‘Treaty Stone’ was mostly self-penned and featured Moore’s distinctive finger picking style, with Gerry O’Beirne again on National Guitar. Like many of the tunes featured here, it’s strange that the songs are not better known. His arrangement of the folk standard Black is the Colour could well be described as jaunty when it gets going where Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a Moore original, was later covered by the Indigo Girls.

So, the Boomtown Rats. In their early days an r’n’b band (the Nighlife Thugs) which, just as the Feelgoods did, successfully surfed the new wave of punk rock and who later became, well, less rootsy. Strangely enough, it was their ‘new’ third album ‘The Fine Art of Surfacing’, which was available in the In Dublin bargain bin (the first two available in the four quid section). This has I Don’t Like Mondays, the band’s second UK No. 1 single and overall, the album was something of a departure from their previous efforts. Signed to Ensign in the UK, Mulligan undoubtedly profited from the string of successful singles and albums over here but it’s apposite to remember their humble beginnings along with bands like Nightbus on the indigenous pub circuit. Indeed, their early sessions were produced by Deke O’Brien, who was possibly as far as you could get from the emerging punk scene in ‘76. Remarkably, the album hasn’t dated much to these ears; you tend to forget what a tight band the Rats actually were.

Taken together it’s an eclectic bunch of recordings representing a scene which was obviously sustainable from the musicians’ point of view. To a certain extent, the recordings here put paid to the idea that there was little of interest happening on the Irish music scene prior to the advent of punk and it is certainly hard to imagine a similar level of cooperation across genres happening today. Or maybe I just don’t get out enough?
anarchaeologist

Pumpkinhead, Cluck Old Hen

Pumpkinhead, Willin’ (Little Feat cover)

Pumpkinhead, One Night Stand (?) and Low, Low Northern Moon

Rick Epping and Mick Kinsella

Midnight Well, Still Believing

Midnight Well, Soldier On

Midnight Well, Baton Rouge

The Woods Band, As I Roved Out

The Woods Band, Over the Bar

The Woods Band, Dreams

The Woods Band, Promises

Gay and Terry Woods, Empty Rooms

Gay and Terry Woods, Friends of Mine

Gay and Terry Woods, We Can Work This One Out

Deke O’Brien medley

Supply Demand & Curve, Precious Time

Sonny Condell, Down in the City

Barry Moore, Lonesome Robin

Barry Moore, Deep is the Night

Barry Moore, Black is the Colour

The Boomtown Rats, Someone’s Looking at You / I Don’t Like Mondays (live)

The Boomtown Rats, Diamond Smiles

Comments»

1. WorldbyStorm - October 27, 2012

Kudos to rockroots. Supply Demand & Curve has given me much more enjoyment over the last couple of weeks since you put in the post than I’d ever have expected. Could be Mr. Doyle’s contribution (and I’m not sure he was in the group when the album was cut), but it could be that teyy were all pretty damn good.
Great post anarchaeologist, a real education.

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2. sonofstan - October 27, 2012

Excellent stuff, F – any of that ’70s contemporary classical still lying around?

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3. rockroots - October 27, 2012

Nice piece. I’ve really only dipped my toe into the Mulligan catalogue (so to speak) but there’s quite a bit here to explore. As far as I can recall, even the Midnight Well album only got a digital release in the last year or so (possibly only via download); the whole lot could really benefit from a lot more care and attention from the rights holders.

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4. Dr. X - October 28, 2012

That G and T Woods’ “Friends of Mine” is so Joni Mitchell-esque it hurts. . .

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5. Des Derwin - October 28, 2012

The Woods Band, Supply Demand and Curve… big parts of my 70s listening. Pumpkinhead, great gigs when there weren’t that many around here.

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6. Frank Street - October 28, 2012

@rockroots. I seem to recall some Mulligan artists trying to get the rights to re-release their back catalogue to no avail. What the rights holders are waiting for, heaven knows. The canonisation of Thom Moore perhaps?

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7. jaycarax - October 29, 2012

Great post.

‘The Moon Is Puce’, the first single from The Atrix was Mulligan as well.

Single (1979):

Live (1982):

and then The Radiators had a couple of singles with them:

Let’s Talk About The Weather (1979):

Ballad of the Faithful Departed (1979):

Plus the only single from The Vipers:

I’ve Got You (1978)

and the overlooked Tony Koklin:

Living With The Times (1979)

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8. Phil - November 1, 2012

Cavan was of course on an unguarded NATO border and the majority of contest participants hailed from beyond the Iron Curtain.

???

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eamonncork - November 1, 2012

Surely you knew that? There’s video footage of Nicolae Ceaucescu playing the drums in Charlie McGettigan’s early band Jargon in the Blue Lagoon in Sligo while Cavan Girl itself is a cleverly coded reference to power struggles within the Stasi during the mid seventies.
Acoustic Irish folk/rock and Communist security services were closely linked at the time., During Jimmy O’Brien-Moran’s uileann pipe solo in Scullion’s The Cat She Went A Hunting you can clearly hear two guys discussing the interception of mail in Bulgarian.

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9. eamonncork - November 1, 2012

Great post and great to see the Tony Koklin mention. Isn’t this magnificent.

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10. eamonncork - November 1, 2012

I always thought this was Midnight Well’s masterpiece.

There’s a great best of Gay and Terry Woods called Lake Songs From Red Water which is well worth a listen. It’s culled from the three albums they recorded between the break-up of The Woods Band and Tenterhooks. Very talented people who somehow seem to slip between the cracks when that era is discussed, not folk enough for the folkies or rock enough for the rockers.

Fab fact: Terry Woods turns up in the background playing one of his Pogues songs in Hidden Agenda. (It’s the bit where the investigators are in a Provo club).

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11. Phil - November 1, 2012

The years haven’t been very kind to Rick Epping, or maybe it was just that overhead angle that’s not too flattering. Amazing playing, though. I’m interested he plays the English system concertina rather than the Anglo – not only is it much more common in Irish music, it’s got similarities with harmonica (different notes on pull/push vs different notes on suck/blow). Glad he does play the English, though – I’m a big fan (& small-time player) of the box myself, and it’s great to see a master at work.

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12. John Dundon - November 26, 2016

Just listening to what so far seems like a perfect vinyl copy of the Pumpkinhead album which picked up for handy money at a vinyl fair in Dublin yesterday and have dug out a few others mentioned by you for a Mulligan feast tonight

It was a great label and for some of the late 70 , s was the only one we had 😀

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