IT'S A mighty long way from the Baggot Inn to Croke Park. You'll find more people than you would think who still express surprise that it's not the other Dublin band from the Baggot Inn days who will be performing at the GAAdrome tonight.
Back in 1979, it was The Blades who had "Next Big Thing" tattooed on their foreheads. They had it all and more: from the romantic band start at their local CYMS Hall in Ringsend, to their classic three-piece line-up, their Mod/Stax influences and, in Paul Cleary, one of the best songwriters this country has ever produced.
At Croke Park tonight, there will be some people who actually think that U2's debut album was The Joshua Tree. There will also be people who, when they hear the band play Electric Co, will think it's a brand new song.
Very few of the quarter of a million punters over the three-night stand will know anything about the great Blades vs U2 wars that were played out in Baggot Street in the late 1970s. It's not an overstatement to say that - in an Irish musical context - it was akin to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones both playing The Cavern Club on the same night.
If you look at it now from a distance, there is a salutary lesson in how, and why, which band ended up where. Certainly the type of music U2 were playing back then was not what major labels were looking for (and they did struggle to get signed). Punk had just travelled into new wave, and the socially aware pop-soul of The Blades was far more the appropriate sound of the day.
While it is a bit of a stretch between The Blades and The Specials, there were bits of Two Tone in Cleary's work before the label of the same name even got started. And how galling it must be for Cleary to have watched on as Weller's Style Council (a weak photocopy of later-era Blades music) stormed the charts.
You will often hear bands bleating on about how their record company doesn't understand them/how they refuse to promote their record/how they've given up on them and now have them down as a tax loss. Most times it's because the band can't write a tune to save their lives and are a bunch of obnoxious little brats who the label regret ever having set eyes on. The Blades are the exception that proves the rule. They provided their first label with songs of the calibre of Hot for You and the still sublime Ghost of a Chance, but the label, in their stupidity, passed on the album.
Remember, this was a time when Paul Cleary was effortlessly throwing out songs such as Some People Smile and Downmarket (perhaps the best-ever Irish rock lyrics) and routinely beating U2 in "Best Irish Songwriter" awards. The visiting A&R hordes who descended on the "City of a Thousand Bands" (998 of them shit) simply didn't get it, and instead threw obscene amounts of money at chancers and liggers who were promptly vomited back up within months of being signed.
A major record deal finally transpired for The Blades, but the label in question, Elektra, was clueless and negligent in its treatment of the band. The two Blades albums, The Last Man in Europe and the retrospective Raytown Revisited, were finally released on a local indie.
I don't know Paul Cleary, I've never met him and, apart from his music, I don't know the first thing about him. But you would wonder how he feels about the music industry, about U2, about those Baggot Inn days, and about all those crappy little Dublin bands who followed in his wake. Maybe genius is its own reward. Maybe it's not.
The Last Man in Europe and Raytown Revisited are available in a two-CD box set from www.reekus.com
From The Irish Times by Brian Boyd