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 heavy metal. It seems fitting to 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 EU police didn’t exist to protect anyone from happily going deaf, and the bars would serve watered-down piss to any old toddler with a fake ID.
I can even recollect what I was wearing: faded black jeans with a Jack Daniels belt buckle (that I still wear), a ‘Pogo on a Nazi’ Therapy? T-shirt, a red and black lumberjack shirt, a 1960’s police issue great-coat, a pair of worn out ox-blood Doctor Martens and a Jack Daniels bandana – most of which I still wear. 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, but 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 metal-beaters like ‘Potato Junkie’, ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’, ‘Accelerator’, and ‘Nowhere’. Fyfe Ewing was still drumming for the band then, and with his free-flowing style the music was never too rigid or structured. 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 as he looked in our direction. 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!
It would be 15 years before I would see Therapy? Again – at TJ’s Rock Club in Newport on the 16th October, 2009. To describe TJ’s as ‘a bit of a dive’ would be like saying Donald Trump parts his hair in the middle. With its stone/rock-face and rustic interior it closely resembles Santa’s Grotto in the spring-time, after being gate crashed by rowdy Klingons. The tables rock – not in a good way – the chairs are retired bar-brawl veterans, and the bar taps are simply there as part of the décor. In defiance of the Rock Gods there is no Newcastle Brown Ale, only cheap cans of Fosters and Carling. In one half of the venue the landlord has inconspicuously stashed some stolen pool tables in plain sight. The condemnable toilets could easily meet Olympic springboard diving requirements and 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 styleless sea of greying, receding veterans with sensible haircuts, facial hair, and jobs – who’d probably left the 4.2 kids with Uncle Dave for the night before slipping out of their familiar Henley’s gear, dusting off an old leather jacket from the attic and squeezing into a long-forgotten rock t-shirt; exiting via the upstairs window and sliding down the drainpipe. 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?). There was also a local, worn out old bike with false breasts who was, “here for a bit of moshing, like, innit”.
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 sceptical of Therapy? since those forgotten glory days; 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.
Supporting Therapy? were a Welsh band with a singer that hid his lisp well, and some guy from ‘The Almighty’ who had obviously fallen upon hard times because he couldn’t afford a band. 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’. 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. Each instrument effortlessly complemented the other. 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 dancing 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 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 ‘Born in a Crash’. ‘Stories’, ‘Diane’, ‘Die laughing’, ‘Nowhere’, ‘Potato Junkie’, and ‘Screamager’, relentlessly pounded the adoring crowd into submission . 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. For years I have been going to concerts with blinding light shows and super sound rigs 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 fuckin’ 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!