The Radiators From Space, Ireland’s first punk band, captured the subversive mood of 1979 in the groundbreaking ‘Ghostown’ album. Now they cast a long shadow over Trouble Pilgrims who have inherited band members Steve Averill and Pete Holidai. But the iconic pair of Irish rockers are not just surviving, they’re thriving. The reason for this must be the strength of their collaborators in Trouble Pilgrims. In fact, Trouble Pilgrims now are almost an Irish post-punk supergroup.
The lineup includes Bren Lynott who was a member of The End and The Cathedral, and Johnny Bonnie who comes via the Skank Mooks, Those Handsome Devils and The Baby Snakes. Tony St Ledger was in The Myster Men, The Deep and Vatikan3.
So there are plenty of ghosts in this album, and ghosts of hopes. The 1970s and 1980s Dublin’s scene’s glimmer of dreams. Prospects of stardom; the price – a ticket on the B+I ferry. As ex Radiator and Pogue, Philip Chevron said: “where the hand of opportunity draws a ticket in the lottery”.
‘Dark Shadows and Rust’ is a triumph, an essential piece of modern Irish art. It takes all of the hopes and aspirations of those Moran-ish, Baggot-y, Ivy Room-y (although that’s an oxymoron), McGonagle-y, college and Magnetic first steps of young bands and welds them together into an unholy celebration of the power of rock.
While ‘Dark Shadows and Rust’ is a very Dublin album, it also celebrates the dust and grit, the sweat and blood, the tension and release of the blues, from the Delta to Canvey Island. It wears the ghostshirts of glam, of Bolan and Bowie and Roxy and the candyfloss pop of the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison.
In the key word from the opening track, it’s a carnival.
Snake Oil Carnival sets the tone for the album in grand style. After an introduction featuring a cacophony of traffic, cymbals and radio drone (a riot in Chatham St music academy perhaps), Steve Rapid and Tony St Ledger combine to sizzling effect in a Doors meets Queens of the Stone Age sixties stomper. It’s almost overflowing with taut guitar whose sinewy histrionics pulse in this rock and rollercoaster.
And then without warning, with the sharpest of shocks, the Carny is over. It’s breath-taking.
Another outstanding track is Tony St Ledger’s, Instant Polaroid, which celebrates a Dublin character, snapping pics on O’Connell street. Capturing moments of bliss, delirious smiles, and the beauty of youth, and developing them in what must have been a lonely dark room. It’s an intensely evocative song and is delivered with the panache of early Bauhaus, the sparkle of Spizz Energi and the invention of the great post-punk bands. And that’s why ‘Dark Shadows and Rust’ is such an exultation: it captures the moment punk was a kaleidoscope of images and sounds, of personalities and dreams. It marshalled a sense of power and glory for the people who felt powerless and inglorious.
Death Ballad and Queen of Heartache are a pair of Moore Street meets New York-flavoured gems. The first contains a candyfloss melody combining with barbedwire guitars. If Debbie Harry fronted the Outcasts this would be the song to record. Queen of Heartache is the Ramones twisting with the Royal Showband. Style icons hucklebucking trends, throwing shapes at the mineral bar in some maple-sprung dancefloor of dreams. It’s the song the Golden Horde shudda wrote.
I am only pointing out the points of comparison that I imagine because: a) it’s fun, and b) the album refuses to be typecast or to fit into any neat compartment, and that makes it thrilling.
These kicks are encapsulated when Pete Holidai grabs the mic for Animal Gang Blues. To my ears, he’s never sung truer, more convincingly, more intensely than on ‘Dark Shadows and Rust’. It’s a career-high. The song itself is a prequel to ‘Ghostown’. It’s a bloody B-movie of a song, a scare-a-thon, washed in acid guitars where Holidai is the grinderman, voicing the moral panics that stalked deprived Dublin. Scorning the hopeless souls with finger wagging and wondering where it all went wrong. The characters of the first two Radiators’ albums are here in spirit, although it documents pre-1970s Dublin.
That’s one of the best things about the album. As rap did in the 1980s and early 1990s when it celebrated the tenements of New York City, Trouble Pilgrims take the same razor-sharp cinema lens to their own surroundings. Most rewardingly the Pilgrims invoke the past, but never wallow in it.