I was in Dublin’s southern docklands on business today, and taking a wander at lunchtime came upon an unexpected stone wall in the middle of all the flashy glass office buildings. An old wall, with tales to tell . .
The short piece of undeveloped land on Hanover Quay is the site of U2‘s famous recording studios, now demolished, but not forgotten by the bands legion of fans.
When you live in Dublin it is easy to be blase about the band’s international appeal, but I was amazed today at just how many of the tagged tributes were from forigen fans. The odd pieces of criticism seemed mostly to be local!
I’ve never been a huge U2 fan myself – I can take them or leave them – and if you ever hear me play them on the radio, it is done out of the sense of duty that I can’t let my own lack of enthusiasm dictate that others should never hear them.
But I have to admit, on stumbling across this unexpected shrine, to feeling a little glow of Irish pride nonetheless.
It’s just after sunset on a weekday evening sometime in the late summer of 2001. I’m in the front room of a suburban house somewhere just off the Rock Road in Dublin, within a stones throw of the sea. I can’t remember exactly where, now, but I do remember the excitement of all involved, especially myself.
I was in a house I’d never been to before, facing four lads I didn’t know, who were about to give me a wonderful gift – their dreams, inspiration and pespiration, all wrapped up in that little package of hope that is called a demo CD. They gave it to me, freshly burned and unlabelled, and I was out the door promising them that yes, I would listen to it, and yes, I would give it a spin on the breakfast show on Phantom (this was back in the pirate days when we were glouriously un-corporate and unbranded ourselves).
I was the breakfast DJ on Phantom FM back in those days, and had developed something of a reputation amongst newly formed bands for my willingness to put new material straight on the air, without letting my own opinions moderate, and without any vetting process other than making sure that the contents were not obscene. I was always willing to give a new band their first play, and indeed later developed a feature or “hook” on my show whereby I would ask people to send me in their demos, and I would open the package, and put it straight on, live on air, giving a running commentary of what it looked like and anything else in the envelope. The music wasn’t always outstanding, but it often showed promise and sometimes greatness, and best of all it made for wonderful live radio.
There were unintended comic interludes too, like the time that a then unknown band called Ham Sandwich left me a CD, and to pique my interest, they included a Ham Sandwich in the package. Sadly I was away for a couple of days, so when I did open the package on air, it was to a quite noxious smell . . .
Better still was my dumbfounded silence and quick switch to music one morning when the package I opened during a live link, expecting a musical treat, turned out not to be a demo from some new band, but an ex-girlfriend returning some belongings to me c/o the station a few weeks after we split up!
But to go back to the lads in the house somewhere off the Rock Road, I did indeed play their music, and liked it so much that I still have the CD some ten years later. There were two epic tracks and one very passable 4 minute single-candidate on their, with a depth of lyrics that matched the passion I had seen on their faces during our brief encounter.
Nothing ever came of this band, indeed I never heard of them again, and as far as I can make out, they must have split up and gone their different ways many years ago without even the faintest glimmer of the success that I felt they deserved. I can find no trace of them now, and an internet search only reveals a new, and seemingly unrelated Dublin poprock band who have taken the same name – “Milk“.
Now, by any defination of those involved in mainstream radio, my demo tracks from the original 2001-era Milk band are unknown, unplayable, in effect worthless. But I ask myself – why?
Does it matter that these people had no rise to fame, no chart success, no record deal? If I like what I hear when I play the CD, does it matter that no one knows them? If a piece of music deserves to be heard for the passion put into it, why should it be discounted just because it is unknown?
For me, music, once committed from the soul of its creator to the medium of storage, is a valid choice forever, even if it is the tree falling in the forest that nobody is there to hear.
I still seek out and play brand new music on my shows on Radios Seagull and Caroline to this day, alongside the better known material, and i still dig out and play, from time to time, the songs of the forgotten bands who came and went unknown despite their talent.
Join me, this Saturday (5th March 2011) for my regular weekly show on Radio Seagull, for two hours of music worth hearing, old, new, successful and unknown alike, including a track of that 2001 demo from a forgotten band called “Milk” (no apparent relation to the current Dublin band of the same name).
And I may even throw in some Ham Sandwich too, though without any noxious smells!
Saturday 6-8am (repeated 6-8pm) Irish time (or 7-9 CET)
or 1602Khz AM in the Northern Netherlands