Thirty-five years ago Dublin punk band The Radiators From Space song Television Screen, became the first punk single to make the charts anywhere in the world. With their fourth studio album due on April 30th, Sam McGrath recently caught up with the bands ever stylish, Dublin born Philip Chevron to talk about life, music and his days in The Pogues.
After fronting a number of bands in his teenage years, Chevron came into contact with Pete Holidai who had put an appeal to meet ‘like minded spirits’ in Fachna O’Kelly’s influential Evening Press rock column. After several name and personnel changes, the band settled on the name; The Radiators From Space and played their first gig supporting Eddie and the Hot Rods in UCD’s student bar in August 1976.
A record deal with Chiswick and a host of sell out gigs around the country followed. Tragedy struck though in June 1977 when an eighteen year old was stabbed to death at a Punk Festival at which the band headlined in UCD. The tabloid press reacted with fabrications about the violent nature of punk rock and most of the bands gigs were cancelled by promoters. As a result, the band move to London and record an album.
‘We didn’t set out to do that album.’ Chevron explains ‘we had just put out Television Screen and were thinking about a second single when the Belfield incident happened and it soon became obvious that we didn’t have a career in Ireland.’
The result was Television Screen (1977), an express train of thirteen catchy ’77 punk tunes that came in at just over thirty-three minutes. A whirlwind tour of the Britain followed. ‘We actually did 18 gigs in London in our first month there, the same amount we had done in Ireland in the last year’ Chevron remembers. Their next album Ghost Town (1979) remains one of the most ambitious and magnificent Irish albums of all time. Underappreciated at the time due to ‘business problems’ that delayed it for over a year and for its innovative, experimental content that confused both English music reviewers and their punk fan base.
‘Nobody had done an album that interesting at that time in the Punk and New Wave scene. By the time [it] did eventually come out, other people had somewhat caught up with us and that led to even greater misunderstanding of the album.’
Ghost Town, an album hugely influenced by Joyce’s Ulysses, Plunkett’s Strumpet City, the 1913 Lockout, the Easter Rising and Dublin’s working-class social history, has subsequently been called by many leading music journalists as a ‘lost classic’.
With morale low, Pete Holidai getting married and Mark the bassist leaving the band, the Radiators called it a day. ‘We gave up just after a pretty successful Irish tour in 1980. The band had run its course.’ Chevron spent the next four years working in Rock On vinyl record shop in London and producing work for Agnes Bernelle, The Prisoners, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and The Atrix.
Listening to music all day and being able to take time off to produce bands was an ideal arrangement. But then one day he found himself volunteering to play banjo for his mates in The Pogues while Jem Finer went on paternity leave. ‘I got through the two weeks by playing the banjo as a guitar. It was only after a few months that I realised I wasn’t going to be leaving’ Chevron jokes.
Famously, the band received a hostile response at first from most of the music business, especially the Trad scene back in Ireland. ‘I became acutely aware that the foundation for considering The Pogues second rate or plastic was entirely false. I knew from being in a punk band that reverence was a very overrated virtue.’
Undeterred by criticism, the band ploughed on and has become one of the most revered live acts in the business today. From 1985 to 1993, Chevron played on five of the band’s albums and gave to them one of their most celebrated songs Thousands Are Sailing.
As well as touring with The Pogues today, Chevron has been busy with The Radiators who are due to release Sound City Beat, a tribute album to the Irish rock, blues and beat groups of the 1960s.
The album contains cover versions of 18 seminal Irish rock classics with guest appearances from Terry Woods, Henry McCullough, Conor Brady and Eamon Carr. ‘It was on our minds for a long time, almost as long as we’ve been together. We’ve always felt a connection with these bands that have preceded us. A sort of kinship.’
Chevron, who has recently successfully beaten throat cancer, now spends his time between Dublin and Nottingham, recording with The Radiators and touring with The Pogues while maintaining his close relationship with the theatre.
When questioned about the state of the country today. He’s optimistic. ‘I think we’ve got through the worst of it. We’ve had a century of bullshit from the politicians, priests, teachers and everyone else as well. I genuinely believe that people are moving forward.’
Let’s hope so. Sound City Beat is out on April 30 on Chiswick records.