Some of you out there in readerland will be very familiar with The Radiators from Space, some of you might know the name and most of you will know squat. I would argue that the Radiators were the most important band in the development of the sound of modern Irish rock – sure there were great Irish rocks bands before The Radiators formation in 1976 – Them, Thin Lizzy, Taste and Horslips and I’m a big fan of all of them (including Them!) and each of them was uniquely influential and laid not only the foundations but also the walls of the house of Irish rock. It was The Radiators who I would argue that all the great and the should of been great Irish bands of the 80s and onward can trace their sound and attitude to – The Undertones, That Petrol Emotion, SLF, Cactus World News, Therapy?, A House, The Fatima Mansions, Blue in Heaven, Sinead O’Connor, The Pogues, The Virgin Prunes, My Bloody Valentine and of course those muckers from Ballymun and Malahide – U2 (and Bono even admits it).
The following feature was written a few years back my friend and Horslips fanatic Lora Templeton and originally posted on the excellent irishrockers.com. My thanks to Lora and Aidan Curran of irishrockers.com for allowing me to reprint.
June 16, 2004 was the centennial of Dublin’s most celebrated literary almanac entry. It would take a bold soul to launch any public venture not in line with the Tourist Board’s agenda for the day. But there were five bold souls – Philip Chevron, Pete Holidai, Steve Rapid, Cait O’Riordan and Johnny Bonnie – who did exactly that, when the Radiators (from Space) hit the stage again after a 24-year absence and re-emerged on the Dublin music scene as the Radiators (Plan 9).
And for the Radiators (Plan 9), this high-energy Village gig was the opening of a new and ongoing chapter in the history of one of Ireland’s most influential bands.
The Radiators (from Space) grew out of a succession of early seventies garage bands formed by singer Steve Rapid and guitarist Pete Holidai, notably Bent Fairy and the Punks, and in 1975, Greta Garbage and the Trashcans. The Philip Chevron Band also made their debut in the summer of 1975 at Blackrock Park, Co Dublin. Chevron established contact with Holidai at the end of the year and they begin rehearsing as a new band in the spring of the following year.
With the advent of Chevron (guitar), and then Jimmy Crashe (drums) and Mark Megaray (bass), a truly consistent group emerged as a threat to the moribund Irish music scene and quickly began making history. Band names tried and discarded throughout 1976 included Rockettes, The Hell Razors, Rough Trade, and finally the Radiators (from Space).
In September 1976, as Rough Trade, they recorded a demo for CBS man Jackie Hayden and Horslips drummer Eamon Carr, who had recently launched independent record label, Midnite. Shortly after the session, there was another name change, and the band became officially the Radiators (from Space). In November, Carr played the tape to Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll at Chiswick Records in London and the band signed a contract with Chiswick. That same month the Radiators made their ‘live’ debut as support to pub-rockers Eddie and the Hot Rods from Essex, England.
In early 1977, the Radiators recorded their debut single ‘Television Screen’ b/w ‘Love Detective’ with producer Roger Armstrong. In Ireland, it was licensed by Midnite to CBS Records and became the first Top 20 punk single anywhere in the world.
‘Both Television Screen and Love Detective outdistance most of the competition. The drumming is a powerful slice of rock’n’roll, the bass is neat and modest and the guitars don’t get carried away in their distorted frenzy. May best of all, the engineering concentrates on the higher frequencies, giving the songs real bite.’ (Charley Waters: Rolling Stone, October 6)
If the entire audience walked out of the Radiators gig at Asgard House, Howth, Co Dublin in January 1978, a sell-out show at legendary Moran’s Hotel, Dublin in March demonstrated how fast the band was rising in the music scene. In June, they performed alongside The Undertones, Revolver, The Gamblers and The Vipers at the University College, Dublin Punk Festival, a show marred by tragic violence when a member of the audience was stabbed and killed. In August, they played at Dalymount Park, Dublin, sharing the bill with Thin Lizzy, Graham Parker and the Rumour, The Boomtown Rats, Fairport Convention, Stepaside, and Stagalee. It was Steve Rapid’s last gig with the Radiators (from Space), although he remained a guiding light over the years that followed.
Singles released in September 1977 included ‘Enemies’ b/w ‘Psychotic Reaction,’ and ‘Sunday World’ b/w ‘Teenager in Love.’
‘No wall-to-wall sneers here, and after all living on the other side of the Irish Sea would justify them a lot more than those who insist on adopting such a stance just to be chic. A hit, I hope.’ (Steve Clark, NME, October 8 )
Following close behind the summer of singles, their first album TV Tube Heart demonstrated that beyond the fast-and-furious punk sound lay a couple of major songwriting talents in Philip Chevron and Pete Holidai. Then, an offer from Phil Lynott landed the band a support spot on Thin Lizzy’s 1977 UK tour, and with this, they left Dublin.
‘That what makes TV Tube Heart stand head and shoulders above so much of what’s currently going down. There’s hardly a song on the album that doesn’t have the kind of claw that sticks in the brain and just won’t go away… a great debut. It’s an album that puts the final stamp on what’s been an astoundingly good year for Irish rock.’ (Niall Stokes/Hot Press October 29)
Within four months of their arrival in London, the Radiators (no longer ‘from Space’) began work on a new album in Soho with producer Tony Visconti. The resulting record Ghostown, released in 1979, remains a unique outpouring of love, frustration, anger and heartbreak. Chevron and Holidai delivered songs that offered visions of Dublin and Ireland trapped in a childhood jam-jar and set free again in exile. The sheer scale of the material could be seen when ‘Million Dollar Hero’ became the great lost hit single, the late Agnes Bernelle performed ‘Kitty Ricketts’ in her West End show and Christy Moore (and later Moving Hearts) covered ‘Faithful Departed,’ adopting it as the perfect song with which to launch his own vision of modern Irish music.
Singles released in 1978 bridged the two albums, starting in April with ‘Million Dollar Hero’ from Ghostown b/w Blitzin’ At the Ritz’ Live, a TV Tube Heart composition. In July, another glimpse of Ghostown with ‘Walking Home Alone Again’ b/w the ‘The Hucklebuck’/’Try and Stop Me’ was scheduled, but cancelled. A remix of ‘Million Dollar Hero’ appeared in September.
‘The single of this summer… a new epoch in the Radiators story… This should be a complete and utter chart smash. For me the summer of ’78 will always be epitomized by ‘Million Dollar Hero.” (Hot Press) ‘If there’s justice, it’ll chart’ (Record Mirror)
In October 1978, the Radiators, with supporting band Stiff Little Fingers, performed to an unreceptive audience at the Electric Ballroom in London. It would be their last concert in the UK and they returned to Ireland in December.
‘If there is a lesson to be learned from last Tuesday’s performance at the Electric, it is simply that the band’s music has progressed so dramatically that they must now find a new audience to appreciate it.’ (Harry Doherty/Melody Maker Nov 11)
Despite gigs in Dublin, including a one-off conglomerate of the Radiators and Horslips playing as ‘The Meanies,’ Mark Megaray and Billy Morley left the Radiators in early 1979. The summer saw the release of two more singles from the Ghostown album. ‘Let’s Talk About the Weather’ b/w ‘The Hucklebuck’ and ‘Try and Stop Me’ in June, and ‘Kitty Ricketts’ b/w ‘Ballad of the Faithful Departed.’
Ghostown was not released until August 1979 and it bombed commercially. But reviews attested to what would become its enduring significance.
‘It’s a monumental achievement in rock, possibly the most significant Irish rock album ever… its greatness lies partly in the fact that it’s not purely dismissive, that it explores aspects of what it’s challenging and in doing so discovers a language which is all the more moving for the associations it evokes.’ (Niall Stokes/Hot Press August 10) ‘An epochal statement of Irish rock, an utterly indispensable artifact in even the most selective collection of Irish albums… Ghostown is – to utilize that much debased word – a classic. It positively redefines the artist terms of Irish rock… the Radiators rise to the top of the class of ’76.’ (Bill Graham/Hot Press August 10) ‘A magnificent record… full of inspired and memorable urban images’ (Mark J. Prendergast/’Irish Rock’ O’Brien Press 1987)
Four on the Floor, an EP featuring ‘Television Screen,’ ‘Psychotic Reaction,’ ‘Enemies’ and ‘Teenager in Love’ was released in February, 1980. Other singles that year included ‘Stranger Than Fiction,’ produced by Hans Zimmer, b/w ‘Prison Bars’ and ‘Who Are The Strangers’ in July on the Chiswhick label and again ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ b/w ‘Paddy ‘Guitar’ Paddy’ and ‘Who Are the Strangers’ on Mulligan, the Radiators’ Irish label. In September, various mixes of ‘The Dancing Years’ were released and the Radiators made three major Irish TV appearances, including The Late, Late Show. An autumn and winter of gigs throughout Ireland followed.
‘Before a packed audience in the Project, they played a fine set that made a mockery of their fruitless search for gold across the water.’ (Joe Breen/Irish Times Nov 4)
In March 1981, ‘Song of the Faithful Departed’ b/w ‘They’re Looting the Town’ was released. That same month the Radiators cancelled their proposed Irish tour and ceased work on the demos for a third album (to be called Absent Without Leaving). The band formally broke up.
But it was still only 1981 after all, and it would take a few more years before the world was ready for a band expressing a new generation’s view of Irishness. By then, Philip Chevron was himself a member of that band,The Pogues. They went on to tour the world, sell millions of records, craft modern classics such as ‘The Old Main Drag,’ ‘Thousands are Sailing’ and ‘Fairytale of New York,’ and inspire wave after international wave of bands eager to find out what happens when you smash the genres of traditional folk and do-it-yourself rock-n-roll together.
Meanwhile back in Dublin Steve Rapid, the Radiators member who chose to stay behind in 1977 and concentrate on both his graphic design business and building a local scene, crossed paths with Dublin band The Hype, Rapid demonstrated that he had not lost his aptitude for striking band names and The Hype soon became known as U2. Steve (aka Steve Averill) also designed the sleeve of the band’s U23 EP and continues to be involved in their design process to the present day.
Under Clery’s Clock debuted at a one-off gig at Hawkins, Dublin in 1985, when the Radiators reformed for one night only at AID TO FIGHT AIDS, a Dublin charity event. In 1988, the band recorded this song and Plura Belle, another new composition, with Chevron and Holodai producing. Released as a single in January 1989, Under Clery’s Clock was named NME’s Single of the Week in February. That same month, both songs appeared on the digitally mastered CD release of Ghostown.
‘This really and truly was the one that got away, one of the most important and enduring LPs in my life… This is outrageously masterful stuff.’ (Carol Clark, Melody Maker Mar 11)
‘The transcendence of its art means that it will endure beyond the wildest aspirations of albums which have sold 100,000 times more. No contest.’ (Panel of 95 Irish music business/media people vote the album #16 of all time/Hot Press Yearbook 1989)
And the music endures, even thrives, beyond its own time. In February 2005,
Ghostown appeared in the Hot Press People’s Choice readers’ poll of the top 100 greatest Irish albums of all time. In April, Brian Boyd of the Irish Times reviewed the Ghostown reissue and reminded his readers that ‘Musically, the album was audacious for its time; lyrically, it’s never been better. Ghostown represents the first time in Irish cultural life that a rock music 33rpm could sit pretty alongside the country’s literary and dramatic outputàquite simply: a monumental artistic achievement.’
The Radiators’ Bloomsday gig of 2004 was not a one-off. The new band, with former Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan and Those Handsome Devils drummer Johnny Bonnie joining Chevron, Holodai and Rapid, rocked the Oxegen Festival in Ireland soon after. On June 24 2005, they were special guests on U2’s Dublin homecoming show at Croke Park. An EP The Summer Season was released in the same month. Tracks include ‘Hinterland’ a new and stunningly current Philip Chevron song, ‘The Girl with the Gun,’ and ‘live in the studio’ versions of ‘Sunday World’ and ‘Electric Shares.’ An active official website and discussion forum illustrates that the Radiators now have international and second-generation fans as well as the original punk kids who first rocked out to ‘Television Screen’ at Moran’s Hotel, Dublin.
Reissues of earlier albums TV Tube Heart and Ghostown in 2004, as well as news of recording of a much anticipated third album in 2005 show that the band continues to live up to the Sounds magazine pronouncement of ’77 that ‘The Radiators are [still] playing FIVE-STAR ROCK’N’ROLL PETROL.’
by Lora Lee Templeton