Some thoughts of an ex-Microdisney Keyboard player.


First of all I must say it's a bit of a liberty for me to speak about Microdisney in any public forum at all since I was only in the band for a year or so (83-4 ish) and my memories of that time ('82-88) are unsequenced and full of holes - I was only functioning at about 30-40% (sometimes 5%) for the whole of that period. So to other ex-members who might happen across this, I hope you find my contribution funny rather than annoying … and that you accept that my motives are not entirely unwholesome…

1.How did you come to join the band?

Jon (who I'd known for a few years) told me about the band at some party and suggested I came to London to meet Cathal with a view to relieving him of keyboards so he could focus on singing. I thought the name Microdisney was interesting - a good-looking and stately word if you look beyond its constituent parts (the collision of which I supposed neatly compressed some kind of agreed position about things). I knew Jon as a politicized and original thinker so I smelt ironic or satirical intent.

He gave me a copy of Everybody is Fantastic which was about to be released (or had just been released) and arranged to meet me at Paddington. We went to Cathal's flat, talked, I played some keyboard, then Cathal showed me the chord progressions for Liberal Love and Dolly. I'd only been in a punk band before (Dangerous Nonsense) so the moves were more complex and unexpected than I was used to - major and minor sevenths, sixths etc. which I think partly explain the sort of unresolved undecideable feel of a lot of the songs. They only really made sense at the first rehearsal - I played my first gig about a week later in Bath. It was a steep learning curve…

2. Do you have any contact with the band now?

I last saw Cathal, Sean and Jon in about '96, '97 - backstage at Fatima Mansions and High Llamas gigs in Newcastle. Fatima Mansions were pretty apocalyptic, with Cathal pretty frenzied at times, emerging from an incontinence of dry ice and profligate lighting like some doomed maniac…'Wilderness on Time' was particularly good and Cathal's most recent stuff reminds me of it in some ways…'The Sky is Awful Blue' is a great CD. By now Cathal should, I think be held in equivalent esteem to the likes of Nick Cave or even Tom Waits (though obviously he is nothing like either). So what happened?

Saw Sean about a year later and was equally impressed by the High Llamas - the effect of watching the two bands in relatively close succession was for me like watching a personality split in two. The fact that Jon played in both bands (the old tart) reinforced this feeling… Actually I think Jon was quietly influential in Microdisney… a really versatile bass player with an ear for a hook - the start of 'Town to Town' for example…

Sean and me reminisced a bit about the Disney days, particularly the tour of Communist Poland in 1984…what a brilliant idea by Rough Trade, like 'I know let's send Microdisney to Poland during martial law so we can spend all our money on The Smiths while they're away…you never know they might not even come back!'

3. What are your feelings these days towards the songs Microdisney produced?

I rarely listen to it - I'm sometimes tempted to play it to new people I meet, in full and gleeful consciousness of the Crème Brule / League of Gentlemen potential of doing so. But when I do I'm surprised at how good it sounds - dated only really by technological advances and inevitable anachronisms. I remember Sean once saying he wanted to make something that would last and I think he and Cathal managed that.

It's nice to hear it without nostalgia and to experience objectively how affecting it was. I still like the way the music resists closure and stating the bleeding obvious. It's hard to say anything detached about the lyrics - I just let them have their effect … wilful, honest, brutal, tender…

4. Do you have a favourite period or set of songs that you felt summed up what Microdisney were all about?

Clock Comes Down the Stairs is my favourite period because that's the one I toured and played most. Bits of Everybody is Fantastic for the same reason… 'Escalator in the Rain' has good memories because we played it on TV in Rome (it was very popular in Italy for some reason) - their equivalent of TOTP… the only time we mimed a song while I was in the band- revolving stage, audience apparently selected for beauty and clothes (we were the ugliest, tiredest people for miles around), voluptuous make-up women, good wine. Altogether an appropriate event… Bastards remains eerie and I have select favourites from the later albums - 'And he Descended into Hell' - I heard Crooked Mile in a mental hospital…

I loved playing '464' to watch audience reactions to the sudden screaming and feedback bits - their faces were like those of the audience watching 'Springtime for Hitler' in the film 'The Producers' - like 'Microdisney aren't supposed to do this! You told me they toured with Everything but the Girl…!'

I've not heard a recording of '464' that got across its live impact fully. Incidentally rumours that Tracey and Ben were dull are completely true. After a gig in Neimegen in Holland we invited them to join us in our habitual post-gig exploration of a 'city's ripped backsides' and Ben said 'I don't think so - we're going back to the hotel to work on a song…'

5. How did life in Microdisney compare with your life now?

Then I was young, only tangentially connected to the world, fucking up liver and brain - it was a very bad-good time for me. Now I teach literary / cultural theory in a university part-time and write and record music with Shedstudio (CD Tales from the Shed available on the web at raven recordings and at selected outlets) I knew there was a reason for doing this!

Having been in Microdisney still crops up in odd places though. I had to teach the book 'The Commitments' to a sixth form student a few years back in which Microdisney are mentioned on the first page. He asked 'Who are Microdisney?' and I found myself saying 'they were this band from Ireland in the 1980s…' Another time I name-dropped in a pub in Dublin and two blokes behaved like they'd met the holy ghost. I recently got talking to the bassist from 'Super Massive Object', one of Newcastle's best emerging bands, and it turned their guitarist was from Cork - the same sort of recognition. And so it goes on… I suppose the point is people who liked Microdisney often loved them and remember them, and those who didn't loathed them or totally ignored them.

6. Why did Microdisney split up?

Don't really know, but the differences between High Llamas and Fatima Mansions would seem to make it pretty obvious. - the former Ariel, the latter what happens when Prospero fucks Caliban - I actually get paid for being this pretentious… both great bands anyway.

I suppose Fatima Mansions and High Llamas were the logical fallout of Microdisney exploding - Sean and Cathal both had a strong sense of the absurd and an eye for the surreal minutiae of British culture - Sean seemed to have an other-worldly whimsy, Cathal a kind of caged carnality - alliteration or what…. It was this constantly strained combination which, I think, gave the band its unsettling and inexplicable effect…the feeling of an unexploded bomb or a dormant virus. A sort of sickening beauty really, that finally had to be lanced....

7. Was the band very much Cathal and Sean or were the other members having much of a say in songwriting and attitude/direction?

When I was in Microdisney I pretty much did what I was told - sometimes quite badly. But it was a loving if horribly dysfunctional little family. Jon and Tom had more input than me to the music since Cathal wrote the keyboard parts and wanted them played as he composed them. But we shared an attitude alright and all had a clear idea of what the band was about. We laughed a lot at the world as we found it…

8. What were the biggest problems in dealing with the music industry?

Again I don't know the details… it seemed odd to be sent on a tour of communist Poland during martial law - one of Rough Trade's better plans for shifting records? It's a stupid industry which hates intelligence, co-opts subversion and has no place for the severely gifted. It's addicted to the exploitation of ignorance and innocence and the commodification of young minds and bodies. Obviously it's a business driven by markets and its own banal categories - like 'let's talk about Microdisney and the Pogues at the same time 'cos they're both Irish, aren't they?' Why not bring in The Nolan Sisters while you're on, for Christ sake?

Shane MacGowan writes brilliantly from the viewpoint of the alienated Irish diaspora and the underclass but is sometimes guilty of a nostalgia for a romanticised vision of Ireland. Sean and Cathal, on the other hand, brought the scrutiny of the exile / émigré to bear on some of the absurd prejudices, condescensions and assumptions of English (and specifically, London- South-Eastern) life…and the truth was often in the detail, like the attitude to pronouncing Cathal's name - 'we're English, we don't need to say your name properly..' encodes a whole mind-set. Add to this Sean and Cathal's vices of honesty and the telling of home truths and you've probably got part of the answer to your question. As I said, though, I don't remember any details…

9. How do you think politics has changed since the MD days?

I could bore you for hours on this…the Blair project is vile because it has colonized the only political movement that ever did anybody any good in the last century, helped to resurrect the spectre of cross against crescent by its nauseating alignment with American neo-conservatism, connived in the infantilization of culture and social life and contaminated politics with a truly sinister christian fundamentalism… the Dome was pure macrodisney. As for Blunkett's new 'Brit Test'… you could expect it from Norman Tebbit, but Jesus Christ...!
Thatcherism was unspeakable but at least the brutality was obvious - easier to confront. Microdisney played lots of miners' benefits in '84 - some of the most enjoyable I did - at least there was some access to resistence then.

10. What was Soul Boy about?

Soul Boy? Don't know - but I like the picture of a street full of exiles and refugees mingling with war criminals both finding a pointless and boring hell-haven…