herald

Saturday 10 December 2016

The Drays

An evening I spent in a dive in Memphis with Alex Chilton is memorable for a variety of reasons. I was alongside a half-crazed Vietnam vet and a sweaty bloke who knew far too much about Keith Richards' activities on the wrong side of the tracks.

On a rickety bandstand, in front of six people in total, Tav Falco was exploring planets on the far side of the cosmos. On stage with him, his guitar spectacularly out of tune, Chilton was burying Big Star, that band of his that continues to influence so many aspiring young musicians.

The 1980s hadn't dawned yet but somewhere in Dublin Stephen Ryan was already joining the dots between Big Star, Gram Parsons and Lou Reed. (To quote my platoon buddy Georgio Byrneo, "The Dots were a great band.")

In distress, Chilton remained brilliant. How he bent his tuneless strings into just the right volcanic nightmare was remarkable.

His genius was unassailable. Barefooted, he left the stage and walked across a floor of broken glass to order a drink beside me at the bar. Our conversation consisted of grunts. The soldier wanted to fight. It was a great night.

I liked Stephen's band The Stars of Heaven. Particularly when they pushed things to the edge of chaos, which they sometimes did onstage. It felt as if Rough Trade preferred them when they sounded polite. Whatever.

And like that special bottle of whiskey you bought for your uncle's significant birthday, the version of Ryan's songwriting that's been distilled over time is a unique blend. As is his scuffed voice.

The other major plus with this 11-track collection is the wondrous melodic guitar interplay between Ryan and Conor Brady (formerly The Partisans and sundry others).

Always supplying the most indisputably effective riff, twang, tone, jangle and even power chord, Brady has been the most underrated guitar talent in the country for decades.

There's nothing rushed here. Ryan's last album (with The Revenants) was in 1997. Eighteen years ago.

From the spectral English folksiness of Spooked ("by the emptiness of this place") to the dignified cynicism of Playground of the Rich ("..Roger from Supertramp is playing on the cliffs tonight. Hey girl, that's as good as it gets…"), this set offers lots of fun.

Nice, too, to hear the late Derrick Dalton's instrumental co-write, the stately Look Away, Look Away. HHHHI

The Drays play the Celebrating George Byrne gig at Whelans on Friday 26 June

(Indalo Audio)

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