THE VINCENT MUSICAL CULT AND OTHER THINGS THAT ONCE MADE BANGOR THE PLACE TO BE YOUNG.2 Comments
“Hi Joe.” This was how I introduced myself to Joel Vincent when I arrived at a party at, former Made in Korea Guitarist, Richard Graham’s house. That was probably 8 years ago, maybe a touch more? That wasn’t the first time I had met him however, no the first time was after school in the Flagship shopping centre. He had black marker over his finger nails, he had a haircut so great it made mine crawl off my head and vomit on itself for being so pathetic. He went to a different school from me and the black uniform made me freak out even more. The man literally looked like an old vinyl found at a car boot sale. Our school had a terrible uniform in combining a navy blazer with black trousers, the man who designed it was obviously very stubborn.Joel had five sisters and three brothers, some of which would help complete the beautiful box set that was “The Vincent Musical Cult.”
Standing beside Joel that day was Glen Mitchell. If there was ever a posterboy for indie music it was this man. A cigarette and a uniform have never been combined more poetically. If he was caught smoking in school he was asked only to finish it and get back to class, that is how awe inspiring the image was. Unbeknownst at the time Glen would later hold the mantle of being the greatest indie song writer in the United Kingdom for one or two sunny months in the early 2000′s. After which he would walk away and set down the guitar, putting to bed one of the most influential periods of my life. At this stage however Glen was writing “Glen’s Indie Dustbin” for a website.
Barry McKee was two or three years older than me at this time but it may have well been decades. He was the singer in “Made in Korea” , the first local band I ever saw. I remember thinking that “Made in Korea” were massive. They had made it as far as I was concerned. Barry was Bangor’s first celebrity. Whether he would confess or not there was a period when the man was untouchable. He was a front man full stop. He didn’t play guitar, all he had was a dictaphone which he would carry around with him on walks through the streets late at night. I remember hearing he was at university and that could have been another planet as far as I was concerned. “Made in Korea” would be the first band I knew to have a release, the Message Received E.P.
In a beautiful twist Glen Mitchell used to be the bass player for them before being replaced by Richard Graham who hosted a party at which I met Joel Vincent.
The death of a wrestler was the incident that first brought Paddy Conn to my house. We had a love of wrestling that wasn’t very popular in our school. Stephen Darragh, who would later form The Danny Brown Show, was also a follower of the squared circle. I was embarased about wrestling at the start but I couldn’t help but adore it. I thought about it all day long. I honestly believe if I had been examined by a doctor I may have been put in a hospital.I was obsessed with it and probably had a period of several months to a year where I actually believed I was a wrestler. Anyway we started a wrestling company which lasted a year or so. During this period I became more friendly with Robert Reid. The “arena” in which we would wrestle would shut and become known as the garage. The ring was thrown out and a sofa was put in. There was talk of forming a band and I bought a bass. I had no idea how to play it but just wanted to play some heavy punk. Paddy Conn played the drums and a man who would later become a recluse called Ricky Black played guitar. Ricky was known around the area for having a ton of equipment. He would buy it and then stay in and play it which is a fair enough existence I guess. His out put was always minimal however. In all the years I have known him I have only ever heard one E.P/L.P called “Black Man, Big Penis.”
Anyway this collaboration wasn’t really going anywhere. Glen Mitchell, Paddy Conn and Robbie Reid then formed Exit To Millrow. They recruited their friend who had just moved home from Wales to play drums, William Whelan. The garage became the rehersal space, Joel Vincent became Roadie 1 and I Roadie 2. Their first song, ‘Chocolate Biscuits” was made up of a two chord riff and had a punky pace and melody. Other tunes followed such as “Ice Cream” , “Fish on a bungee rope” and “Plasticine Man”. The first real signs of magic came to my ears courtesy of a mini-disc Paddy let me hear in school. The band had met up for a practice and Glen showed up late. Eventually when he did show up he took out his guitar and played “Pegbeg 101″. To this day I would say it has got to be one of the most perfect teenage love songs I have ever heard. The titles divine, the lyrics perfect :
“She was the beautifulest girl i’d ever seen
Especially when she was on her knees
She made very nice cups of tea
White with one sugar.”
This song changed my life and made my entire perspective on what music was change. The image of Glen sitting in his room, picking up the guitar and crafting this in one or two takes has to be one of the most magical things to happen in the U.K period. At a New Year’s evening party seven or so years later Glen played this song for the first time in years as it struck midnight. It was video taped and I swear that it looks like a demon comes out of him from the pit of his stomach. I’d like to think that it entered someone in the room and that one day they will be able to write a song as perfect as “Pegbeg 101.”
The gloriously understated fashion in which Glen probably played “Pegbeg 101″ to the band for the first time may have made it hard for the band to understand what they were witness to. He later introduced another song he crafted called “Skipping”. Paddy has told me before about how exciting it was hearing it for the first time. Robbie Reid told me how he was in town and saw our friend Robbie Best. As he walked up behind him to say hello he heard that Robbie Best was singing “Skipping” whilst planning his next trip round the square on his skateboard. This was a man who shat Pavement and was the indie guru you spoke to if you found yourself around the Mckee Clock. (The Mckee Clock isnt anything to do with Barry Mckee. I had heard though that there was cause for concern that the McKee Clock was a target for Al Quida.) It was at this moment the mantle of Greatest Indie Song Writer was firmly in Glen’s hands. Not that he was worried, he was too busy breaking rules of fashion with his famous brown jacket or writing about his distaste for bands such as “JJ72″ for “Glen’s Indie Dustbin.”
Clifton Road was the location of “The Vincent Musical Cult.” There was a ladder which led up to the roof space where most albums were played for the first time in Northern Ireland. There was a bedroom at the top of the ladder which was the place to be. I remember Joel telling me he wasn’t allowed to have the room as it was an area where cheeky cigarettes could be smoked by the window. Due to not being allowed to sleep there he went for a cigarette behind the shed in his garden. When he came back inside he was rumbled as his Mum had been in the kitchen and noticed smoke rising up from behind it. Later he would move into a caravan in the drive way. The caravan could be described as Indie Music on four wheels with a bed.
However, it was in the days of the roof space that “The Vincent Musical Cult” was born. I think the best way to sum up the feeling of what was going on is to watch the music video for “Man Size” by PJ Harvey. I imagine people being bored and a dusty camcorder being found and that sort of magic being made. His sister Katharine was dating a man 20 years older than her that looked like Elliot Smith. His sister Hannah lent me a CD which gave me my first listen to Arab Strap and Mogwai. His brother Stephen was in university hanging out with Gary Lightbody when he was a genuine contender for Glen Mitchell’s title. There were rumours that the man who would become “Simple Kid” lived up the road. The house was home to flares, haircuts and records you couldn’t find anywhere else. It was as if they were sent to the roof space and passed down to the chosen few. Possibly one of the first copies of “Is This It?” was sent to Joel and he brought it along to Ballymacormick Point where we would meet and drink by a camp fire on the rocks near the sea.
At a battle of the bands in neighbouring town Newtownards, Exit to Millrow, were playing. It was a competition that they would win. (As a result they earned the right to get some recording time in a studio for free. That night champagne was drunk and there was a terrific atmosphere in the garage. Exit to Millrow were on their way and I was delighted and if I’m honest a little jealous. Robbie rang up the studio a week later and bizzarly it had been flooded. He was told to ring back in a few weeks but that never happened. Maybe the Northern Irish tendency to blow it was being flirted with or maybe it was nerves but that studio time still hasn’t been claimed.) During their performance and while Glen was tuning up Paddy charged into “Night Corrosion” by Made in Korea. It is captured on camera and is a fascinating moment in the history of the Bangor music scene. The crowd went wild. Robbie Best particularly. Was it a new era beginning? It felt like it but the brilliance of “Night Corrosion” cannot be denied. I still listen to it. There is a point when Barry comes in with argubly his greatest vocal performance, that is just perfect music in my mind. Its the song that announced Barry as a poet and a master of melody. The ferocious guitar intro crafted by Steve Irvine flying in a vehicle heading straight to Hell to kick Satans ass. Backed up by Chris Mac on the drums and argubly Ricky Grahams sexiest bass performance. I remember hearing that the band were really excited by a song called “Fury” that also appears on the E.P but it is Night Corrosion that I would go back and play today. It was the first great song to come straight out of the Bangor Music Scene and cemented Barry McKee as Bangor’s first celebrity :
Ballerina by my side
No need to run and hide.”
Robbie Reid held a party at his house while his parents were away on holiday. The house was filled with everyone we knew for two weeks straight in July. It caused me to perform my first criminal act in stealing a bottle of milk from a doorstep in the very early hours of the morning. Paddy took out his mini disc and invited me to have a listen to what he and Glen had recorded earlier that day. I cant remember if there was anything before the song I’m about to write about but if there was I cant remember probably because I was more blown away by a song than I have rarely been since. The song was called “Roman Ether”. Paddy had written some lengthy experimental piece and when listening back to it he found a sequence that he liked. He recorded the music and Glen mitchell called round later that day and listened to it. Glen then wrote some lyrics and sang them like i’d never heard him sing before or since. The lyrics come in at a point that unless you’ve studied the song for a long time is impossible to predict. You aren’t sure what’s going on and then you have a moment of clarity and just realise that its pure brilliance :
“My head is like Roman Ether
bring me to the head of state
on a silver plate.”
I listened to the song back to back for at least an hour while lying on a trampoline in Robbie’s garden staring at the stars and moon. It is certainly one of the two fondest memories I have of listening to music. The song became the staple of the Exit to Millrow set and grew into a monster of track over the coming months. A pounding drum beat, magestical keyboards, extended lyrics, a perfect anthem. There is something about the original demo though that cant be beaten. It is a moment of inspiration captured perfectly. It was the time where Glen Mitchel exploded and everything reached its peak. It is one of the top songs ever written and was possibly the time when Glen realised it couldn’t be beaten, let go of the mantle and began to walk away.
Exit to Millrow had been experiencing terrible fortune getting a new drummer after Whelan left. A gentleman called Lou Spicoli was about 14 at the time and the new prodigy. He was the best drummer in the town. He came along and played with Exit to Millrow at a few practices but in a move similar to Decca passing on the Beatles, Millrow passed on Lou Spicoli. Stephen Darragh was waiting in the wings thou with visions all of his own. He recruited Lou, borrowed Paddy Conn as Millrow practices didn’t seem as frequent at this stage and Paddy being a music addict needed a fix. He finished the band off by bringing in Danny Brown who in himself symbolised a new era in the Bangor Music Scene.
On a non-uniform day Danny came into school in a dress as part of a bet. The thick assholes two years above him couldn’t comprehend what was going on and I think they beat him up and ripped his dress. He sported a mohican hairstyle for a while and the same culprits found it as something to slag him off about. The same unimaginative cunts would later copy his hair style years later when David Beckham said it was Ok.
This crew became known as “The Danny Brown Show”, it was a move of genius seeing as Stephen was the lead singer and wrote the songs. They played around numerous venues with one being held at Hamilton House. Hamilton House was the place where the bands of the scene cut their teeth. It was a place where you had to sneak beer in and risk being thrown out. The drummer Lou and guitarist Danny would later distribute their first demo from music they made with a different outfit at this same venue, making the demo’s on the spot using a conveyor belt system of cutting, sticking and packing. But at this stage they were firmly in the bosom of Stephen and his “Danny Brown Show“. When the Show where playing it was like going to an indie circus. I remember coming out as a mummy during a performance and someone throwing a bag of monopoly money about. It was a marvelous spectacle. The band on after them showed how thick they were and complained about the mess. They must not have got it. The Danny Brown Show went into a studio and some tunes are saved somewhere but the vocals for these were never recorded. I think they owed the producer about forty quid and so they did a runner. There was one gig where Stevie was dressed as a tramp, Paddy as a business man, Danny as an Army Soilder and Lou was the king himself, Elvis.
Their moment in time came at the battle of the bands. Like Millrow before them the competition was held in Newtownards. Unlike Millrow it was held in the Ards CFC. There was a great feeling of optimism during that evening. The Show played well and there didn’t seem to be much competition. The last band that went on were very tight but the superiority of The Shows tunes were clear. It was a competition where the audience voted by writing the name on a page and placing it in a box. I guess they trusted the audience not to make a ton of pieces saying the same name on it. Stephen retreated outside nervous that the last tight band had clinched it. One of our friends at the time had a few pieces of paper but hadn’t put them in for some reason. When she went to place her vote they said the polls were closed for counting. Anyway Stephen stayed outside playing the guitar to people coming in for whatever was on after the competition. He came in just in time to hear the really unfunny double act hosts announce that it was a very tight affair between The Danny Brown Show and whoever the tight band was. In a fatal moment he announced it was the tight band who had one and Stevie and The Danny Brown Show retreated from the stage. Months maybe years later I think they made it back to stage for an angst ridden performance in Donegan’s bar in Bangor. “Sorry if we weren’t funny” was uttered by Mr. Darragh moments before they played their last and most memorable anthem, Faker.
“Steve said that in Donnegans at the end of the gig, there seemed to be too much pressure to put on a “show”. It was a far cry from the excentric “hello and welcome” (to the danny brown show), a song that i feel summed up the youthful tavern days, it became a staple opener in the set almost til the end. The end came at the front page, the same stage that gave birth to kowalski a few months later. The last few gigs were the start of great new songs like “paper aeroplane counciling” and “the search for the perfect apple.” Where danny switched to the bass and i started writing and playing more guitar. I really believe we were starting to sound like a proper band.”
-paddy conn reflecting on the end of “The Danny Brown Show”,January 2009.
Paddy continued on with Exit to Millrow, Danny and Lou went away and returned a year or so later under the guise of Kowalski who led an all new era in not just the Bangor music scene but that of Northern Ireland. Stephen’s on stage persona was spoken of in a mysterious manner and he made solo appearances very rarely, much like Jeff Magnum.
Made in Korea released an album and then called it a day. There was talk of reuniting for a gig to resemble that one fateful evening in the Tavern when The Danny Brown Show, Exit to Millrow and Made in Korea all shared the same bill. However Chris Mac, the drummer wasn’t up for it and so that legacy we felt is in a deep sleep unlikely to be awoken. Exit to Millrow never found a permanent drummer and Glen Mitchell left. Glen says he put his guitar in the attic, that has to be one of the most tragic/romantic images of our time, reminiscent of footage of Alex Higgins in the snooker hall before he announced his retirement. Although Glen was in a much better frame of mind and had a much better lifestyle than poor old Alex. Robbie and Paddy up’d sticks and headed over to the pastures of Glasgow to continue to fly the Millrow banner. “The Vincent Musical Cult” like all good things came to an end. The family moved away from Clifton Road leaving behind whatever magic was in that roof space. Joel followed Millrow across the water, I guess he was justifiably Roadie 1. Stephen came out of retirement and joined me on stage under the guise of Cardigan Drive. I even managed to coax Glen back onto the stage for bass duty. Lou joins us on drums but his baby Kowalski are where his attentions are these days. All the people who made the scene what is was have moved on and gotten older, some still chasing the same dream, trying to make it. I wonder looking at the scene today if it has the same characters? Characters like Luke Chambers who fronted a band called Imperfect Art. He went to Russia and when he returned he had a big beard, would only listen to Coldplay and Radiohead and drink Black Russians endlessly.
written by gregg houston