The Radiators From Space: Cockles and Mussels: The Very Best Of (CD) – from the archive

When they are remembered in the States, if at all, it is normally for being the breeding ground of future Pogue Phil Chevron. Much more than this, however, is this fact: The Radiators From Space are an all-too often overlooked punk band. Histories omission is our loss, but this collection seeks to right this wrong, if only in a small way.

Formed in Dublin by Phil Chevron, the Radiators From Space have been called the best band to ever come out of Ireland. I’m not too up on the band’s history, nor their early days, save for what I have read: The Radiators were discovered in late 1976/early 1977 by influential London label, Chiswick Records, and their vinyl debut pre-dated such luminaries as the Clash and Elvis Costello. The Radiators were most certainly among Ireland’s first punk bands. ‘Irish’ being the operative word.

Chevron, while acknowledging the bands punk roots, also recognizes the uniquely Irish vision that band had. They weren’t London kids, after all.

Irish teens life-experiences were entirely their own; hence the subject matter wouldn’t be entirely the same, although the attitude was one they could rally behind.

Chevron explains: “While we shared many of the characteristics of the UK punk bands – the energy and the attitudes – we had nothing to say about tower-blocks or anarchy. Our best songs came from our experience of growing up in an Ireland still paralyzed by political and religious hypocrisies but which, we believed, was in its heart youthful and forward-thinking. We were the first Irish band to grapple with these contradictions but first and foremost we were a pop group and we could readily identify with the UK’s ‘No Fun’ slogan.”

Sadly, most of the original albums are now deleted, and fetch collectors’ prices. The first two albums, “TV Tube Heart” and even more so their second, “Ghosttown” are considered influential classics, inspiring everyone from Thin Lizzy (toured with ‘em) to Christy Moore (who does a nice version of “Song of the Faithful Departed.”)

This collection, however, is fairly easily picked-up, and is a wonderful introduction to the band. Chevron is a great guitarist, and his vocals start out with the ’77 sneer so familiar to most, but as the band progresses, his talent expands and the songs become much more than punk rock.

The opening cuts show the band at their fiery best. “Television Screen” shows teenage frustration with a rockabilly cum punk guitar propelling the tune all the way. “I’m gonna stick my Strat-o-caster through the television screen” a young Chevron roars.

As he said above, subject matter was more Irish-oriented, with songs like “Sunday World” showing a typical slice of mundane Irish life, and hints at a growing distance from the Catholic Church to the crazed rev-up “Enemies” to the namesake of the first album, the prison ditty “Prison Bars” (where Chevron does his best Johnny Rotten) to the Boomtown Rat-ish sounding boredom of “Let’s Talk About the Weather.”

As the disc progresses, so do the band. The fast, three-chord-type punk is replaced by angry rock-n-roll. “Johnny Jukebox” has a ‘50’s flair all it’s own and rocks. “Kitty Rickets” has an almost Specials-type feel, an Irish “Ghosttown” if you will. It breaks down Ireland’s legends in one fantastic song.

Then we come to “Song of the Faithful Departed.” It is now considered a true Irish classic, sidestepping any boundaries imposed by genres. With good reason, its modern Irish poetry, giving the more recently exiled a ballad of their own. The ghosts and tales of the Ireland of past and present are twisted and re-imagined in this tune, myths broken down, and spit back out with complete honesty. This one is probably the best on the disc, the best they ever did, and packs quite an emotional wallop for a ‘punk’ band. You can see the seeds of Phil’s later work with the Pogues in this, although it may well be his finest hour.

To attempt to fill up the review with any more drivel would be useless. I don’t know what became of any of the members other than Phil, I don’t know why they disbanded, I only know the legacy they left behind, and know how many bands count them as major influences. If you’re a true student of the punk movement in Ireland, this band is as indispensable as the Undertones and the Stiff Little Fingers, and pre-dated both of them. Pick it up and see what Chevron’s made his reputation on, and why the Shane and the Pogues were so glad to pick him up (“Thousands are Sailing” anyone?)

Review by Sean Holland