Therapy? were my instrument of torture for family and Brit Pop loving friends during my teens; my rebellious musical equivalent of the Sex Pistols. This Irish punk influenced band was responsible for tuning my ears into the energy, power, and aggression of metal.
It seems fitting to now reminisce about the first time I saw them live because it was my first proper, stripped-down gig. That night in November 30th, 1994, at the Cardiff Astoria is an experience that has always been fondly etched in my mind; a time when the decibel police didn’t exist to protect anyone from happily going deaf, and the bars would serve watered-down piss to any acne with a fake ID.
I was armed with 30 quid, 20 Marlboro, and the obligatory Zippo. Out of the 30 quid I had managed to hose myself down with eight pints of cider and black. I can still remember the gig and the state I left in; puking in a flower bed, proposing marriage, and passing out.
Therapy? blasted on to the stage, performing ‘Isolation’ as the opening number, relentlessly stampeding through ‘Potato Junkie’, ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’, ‘Accelerator’, and ‘Nowhere’. Fyfe Ewing was still drumming for the band;. I really got off on his drumming, concentrating on him more than Andy and Michael.
I had found a strategic vantage point in order to get the best view – the upstairs bar overlooking the stage. I will never forget being sat in the company of two female friends during ‘Femtex’. I raised my pint to Andy Cairns and nodded to him. In acknowledgment he looked me straight in the eye, gave his wicked grin, winked, and nodded back before singing the lines, “Do you want a fuck, do you want a friend…?” Those were the good old days!
After Donington and Reading in ’94/95, it would be 15 years before I would see Therapy? Again – at TJ’s Rock Club in Newport on the 16th October, 2009 with its stone and rustic interior resembling Santa’s Grotto after being gate crashed by rowdy Klingons.
The tables rock – not in a good way – and the chairs are all retired bar-brawl veterans. The bar taps were part of the décor. In defiance of the Rock Gods there is no Newcastle Brown Ale, only cheap cans of Fosters and Carling.
The main stage, or balcony, is small enough to make the Spinal Tap ‘Stone Henge’ look impressive. It was a fitting venue for a heavy metal gig. Most of the crowd in attendance – married couples who sat on bar stools – were in their late teens during the 90’s; it was a sea of greying, receding hairlines with sensible haircuts, facial hair; grown-ups with jobs and mortgages. This was a mature, dedicated fan base that out-grew the need to look cool and trendy at the turn of the century (or was that just me?).
I wasn’t expecting anything special from tonight’s event; a few recognisable songs slung in among the newer material for nostalgia. I had become skeptical of Therapy? All the new stuff seemed pale in comparison to the earlier albums – ‘Babyteeth’, ‘Nurse’, ‘Pleasure Death’ and ‘Troublegum’ – listened to as they were through younger, less expectant ears. For me, the bands decline had coincided with the departure of Fyfe Ewing who always added an extra groove to the Andy Cairns/Mike McKeegan freight train. I was, however, about to be force-fed a molten slice of metal pie, served with a firm reminder of why Therapy? were my metal messiahs during my teens.
Therapy? took to the stage quite late. A displeased member of the crowd lobbed his pint at Andy, calling him a mother-fucking ‘female’s front bottom’. Welcomes to Newport, brah! Unabated they kick-started the proceedings with the classic ‘Opal Mantra’, steamrolling through ‘Turn’ and ‘Isolation’, stopping briefly to announce the next song; dedicated to Spike Milligan entitled ‘I Told You I Was Ill’.
I’d forgotten what good craftsmen Andy and Michael were. Andy can still deliver the vocal goods too, his voice sounding more mature, less strained and gruff. The drummer wasn’t too shabby either. His style seemed more rigid and less showy than his predecessor. This showed through on songs like ‘Isolation’ where (remembering 1994) Fyfe’s free-flowing style brought the song to life. Still, it wasn’t enough to stop me losing myself like a deranged idiot.
Two new songs – ‘Blacken The Page’, and ‘Enjoy The Struggle’ – from the ‘Crooked Timber’ album followed. Orbiting around us during the first few numbers was a freaky looking college couple that seemed determined to tongue the last breath out of each other while taking selfie photos at odd angles (I was a virgin, once).
During a belting version of ‘Teethgrinder’ some tanked-up idiots broke on to the stage in an attempt to stage-dive (have you ever tried to stage-dive in a wardrobe?). Andy Cairns ended up on his back and his guitar stopped working. The rest of the band carried on un-phased, waiting for Andy to rise to his feet. While waiting for the techies to get his guitar grinding again he serenaded the crowd with a chorus of “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna turn around or desert you…” Then, with his axe back in business, they ploughed on. “If you’re gonna come on to the stage, at least have the decency to feel my balls before you jump off!” adds Mc Keegan.
After ‘Teethgrinder’ and a surprise performance of the accompanying B-side – ‘Summer of Hate – Andy thanked everyone for turning up and supporting the band during difficult times; by the look on his face he was clearly being sincere. This is where I swallowed my metal pie, before certifiably rocking to ‘Innocent-X’.
A few post Infernal Love numbers followed, most noticeably ‘Live Like A Fucker, Die Like A Mother-Fucker’ – dedicated to Gordon Brown & Co. My deranged dance moves continued into the next two old-school memories ‘Fantasy Bag’ from ‘Pleasure Death’ and ‘Nausea’ from the ‘Born in a Crash’ EP. ‘Stories’, ‘Diane’, ‘Die laughing’, ‘Nowhere’, ‘Potato Junkie’, and ‘Screamager’, relentlessly pounded the adoring crowd. Fuck, this is what feeling young again is!
Over the next few days I would dig out my old albums and bootlegs and make up for what I had missed all these years. They don’t make bands like this anymore and I doubt – for me – they ever will. I’m older, more cynical and less inspired.
For years I have been going to concerts with blinding light shows designed to compensate for the fact that the performers are merely matchsticks in the distance. But gigs like Therapy? at TJ’s are as raw and stripped down as they come; up close and personal.
Commercial obscurity has not dampened Therapy?’s passion and enthusiasm. At TJ’s in Newport, these old-school Irish metal-heads reminded everyone of what they do best: they blew the mother-fucking doors off Newport!