Sunday 17 December 2017

Sarah McCauley: The raw energy of Nirvana... when they played in Dun Laoghaire

Kurt Cobain with Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic
Kurt Cobain with Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic
Ticket stub from Nirvana show at Point in 1992. TO GO WITH SARAH MCCAULEY NIRVANA READ
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
Nirvana, from left, Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic
Kurt Cobain during the taping of MTV Unplugged at Sony Studios in New York City 1993

In August 1991 Dublin was buzzing. The Commitments had just been released and every Irish rock band of the time seemed to have at least one member on the other side of the front door of Jimmy Rabbitte's home.

Hubbard Casting had been in town the year before visiting every small venue every night to check out the local talent and we were all eagerly waiting to see our mates on the big screen.

David Bowie was here too rehearsing new material. He did some secret shows at a packed and very sweaty Baggot Inn, the next night at The Waterfront on Sir John Rogerson's Quay and then another show in The Factory studios on Barrow Street.

Maybe The Factory show was first. It was all one great and surreal blur.

I was working in various jobs, promoting and being doorgirl at venues such as The City Arts Centre and Smiley Bolger's New Inn as well as doing days in the Damascus, Purple Haze and Revolution trilogy of clothing stores in Crown Alley.

Sounds and stories of new bands came through quick and fast. Temple Bar was then a place that locals actually did drink in. Factories were starting to move out and corner shops and coffee shops were not yet chains.

Some of the gigs by bigger promoters had proper, printed tickets and these were saved for one or more boxes of souvenirs which lived under your bed.

Eleven house moves later, however, many have disappeared but some still remain and act as testament to having been present at some legendary shows.

One of these is my stub from Nirvana's show at The Point in June of 1992. But it was their gig a year earlier - in Dun Laoghaire - that will stand out for many.

Nirvana are back in the spotlight at present after the premiere last month at the Sundance Film Festival of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the first fully authorised movie about the band's frontman.

The movie will likely show at venues in Dublin that were far bigger than the one Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic played in back in 1991. Venues in town were centrally located back then, with most just south of the Liffey. It took a special effort to travel further out to Dun Laoghaire, especially if you were a northsider, but Sonic Youth in the Top Hat was worth it, even on a Wednesday night.

I also wanted to check out the support band whose debut album Bleach was released two years before. Both bands had played Sir Henry's in Cork the night before - to great reviews.

It may be one of the fabled Dublin gigs of the time but I recall that Nirvana played to a less than half-full venue.

Possibly there were a few hundred there. Most were going just to see Sonic Youth after all and were likely still in the pub downing their last half pint as Kurt Cobain and his bandmates took to the stage.

They previewed new material along with numbers from their first album, which few of us had heard yet.


Their raw energy, strong songs and the belting, gravelly vocals from singer Cobain proved this was not just another support band. Still, who would have guessed what was to come in the following months.

My relationship with Nirvana was over nearly before it had begun.

Smells Like Teen Spirit as first single on the second album was released in September and Nevermind followed a week later.

The album knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous off the US Billboard No 1 spot in January. And that was it. We would never see this band in a smallish venue again - and certainly never at a 1950s-era ballroom in Dun Laoghaire.

Dublin, Cork and Belfast might not be worked in to their European tour. Their audience would change.

It would become more mainstream and you would lose that sense that the band was yours, part of the alternative scene they once emerged from and you were still part of.

The following year, Nirvana headlined The Point. I went, and it would prove to be their last Dublin show. Kurt Cobain died three days before they were due to play the RDS in April 1994.

I was on the shop floor in Damascus when I heard the news on the radio.

In the days that followed it was all that we talked about. The grunge scene had lost its poster boy and poet.

And August 21, 1991 at the Top Hat was perhaps more special as a consequence.

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