The Pleasure Cell / Top Hat Music Exhibition – a guest post by Michael Murphy

Deko of Paranoid Visions recently posted on Facebook that the Pleasure Cell single, ‘New Age‘ was his favourite Irish single of the 1980s. Niall McGuirk of the Hope Collective (promoters of Green Day, Fugazi, Chumbawamba etc) said it was his favourite single ever by an Irish band. The following is an essay by Michael Murphy who is coordinating an exhibition on the history of the Top Hat as a music venue in Dún Laoghaire.

pleasure cell - new age

There was a band I loved in Dublin, who played the Ivy Rooms and the Undergound a fair bit. My friend, Mick McCaughan, was the Ents Officer in Trinity and he loved them too. He gave them gigs and he helped other great bands like Paranoid Visions and the Horde by giving them gigs in Trinity. He brought Serious Drinking to the college, and he encouraged serious drinking by arranging the Pogues’ first headlining tour of Ireland. They were blistering in McGonagles. He also brought over some righteous French punk bands by cleverly convincing the French embassy that it was a cultural event. Which it was. A huge plate glass window was smashed on the night by some disgruntled youngsters.
Brilliantly, he hired the Meteors to play at the Trinity Ball, but an assault conviction scuppered that, so he instead hired the Virgin Prunes, who didn’t have any convictions preventing them from playing and being brilliant. He also helped lots of other acts who were starting off like Barry Moore, Cry Before Dawn and Hothouse Flowers.
Anyhow, the Pleasure Cell, who were great, asked him to manage them. He said he couldn’t since he was going to Nicaragua because he loved the Clash’s Sandinista album so much. Which was true.
pleasure cell top hat ticket
The band then asked me to work with them, because I was friends with Mick. I helped them as much as I could. And we saved enough money to release a single. They recorded the two songs in county Meath. Which could have been Ireland’s Muscle Shoals, but it wasn’t. And when the songs didn’t sound great the next day, we got on the bus to ask if we could spend some more time, and some of the money we didn’t really have, to make them sound better. There’s nothing like travelling on a CIE bus down the country on a weekday, listening to Roly Daniels on RTE to make you feel like you’ll never be heard.
Anyhow the single got done. We got a student in NCAD to help with designing the sleeve, although I wanted it to look as cool as Vox magazine and to look a bit ‘monumental’ too. So it was done in black and gold on matt paper. We had to cut every one of them into the shape of a record sleeve as we saved a few pounds by not having them professionally cut. Not only do you save a few pounds, but you also get to inhale industrial glue for hours at a time in a garden shed if you do it like that.
pleasure cell - back
As I pasted every one of the sleeves together I would gaze at the band’s photo, which, by accident, had the negative of the photograph instead of an image you could make out. It did look good though.
Flush with 300 copies in hand-made sleeves and full of optimism and glue fumes we dropped one off at RTE for Dave Fanning and Ian Wilson. Realistically we figured that no one else there would even listen to it. Brilliantly, the test pressing that we handed in had the labels on the wrong side of the single. If you thought you were playing the A-side you were actually listening to the B-side which was recorded in 90 minutes and was not Irish rock’s high point. We had blown the chance to impress the only person we really wanted to impress in Ireland.
Amazingly Ian Wilson was impressed enough by the B-side, masquerading as the A-side, to give the band a Dave Fanning Session. This was a complete thrill, and a decent payday. If you weren’t around in the 1980s music scene you may not appreciate just how much a few hundred quid could matter. It wasn’t just the money. It was that someone who played the music we loved (except when he played Led Zeppelin for lads in Cork or Thurles) was willing to give us a chance.
We wanted to get attention for our new release, so we spray-painted 10 bricks with the anarchist slogan, “Imagine The Power Of One Brick In One Hand…” Well, we actually only painted one of them with the full slogan. It was in black and gold so it was a quality product. On the others we just wrote ‘Imagine the Power’ which may have appealed to some very spiritually devoted people, or it may have given the New Age self-help movement in Ireland a timely boost.
The brick was well reviewed in the Irish music press. It got more attention than the single to be honest. But we persevered. And they were an incredible band, with the ferocity of the US hardcore bands, but the melodic guile of the Stranglers. There was nothing like them, so there was no movement for them to be part of.

pleasure cell top hat setlist

At this time, and people who went to see bands in the mid-to-late 1980s will understand this, a man moved to Dublin. To us, he was ‘The Man’. The musician we most admired. The man who could listen to Van Morrison and Bob Dylan yet not sound crap. It was as if Joe Strummer got married to Patti Smith and moved to Newgrange. Mike Scott. The Waterboys. Man, and I use that word with such fear, he was as cool as could be. Those first three albums were sublime to us.
One day he walked into the shop where I worked, The Diceman. The drummer, Will, from the Pleasure Cell worked there too. Mike Scott was looking for a chess set, Newgrange probably gets boring of an evening. We got chatting, he was a super nice guy and we told him that the Pleasure Cell played one of his songs: ‘Be My Enemy’. He said that was cool and off he went.
A few weeks later, he arrived in a busy Underground on a Saturday night. He brought his guitar and climbed up on that little stage behind the rickety red picket fence thing, and he joined the Pleasure Cell. For five minutes. But it was five minutes of pure magic. Pure decently too. He had lots of things he could be doing on a Dublin Saturday night. Yet he took time to visit a young local band, to take them seriously, to collaborate with them for a few brief moments that were played back in our minds over and over again for years.
The Pleasure Cell never ‘made it’. And what does that even mean? But on that night, when our favourite rock star was ‘one of us’, there was no place I would rather have been. No performance I would rather have seen.
The Pleasure Cell were Noel Green (guitar & vocals), Dermot Reid (bass) and Will Walsh (drums).
Michael Murphy was part of the Dublin DIY music scene in the 1980s before emigrating to London where he worked for Virgin Records, and then to New York to work for Imago Records (Henry Rollins, Aimee Mann). Later he set up his own music management company. He is now lectures about the music industry at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology and has written extensively about the Irish and global music industries.

4 Responses to “The Pleasure Cell / Top Hat Music Exhibition – a guest post by Michael Murphy”

  1. Paddy McPoland Says:

    Inspired recollection Michael!

  2. I remember The Pleasure Cell because I thought it was such a cool name and certainly better than my band Tie The Boy, which sounded cool in 1983 but then we hadn’t thought there’d be a thing called Google.
    Lovely piece of writing and yes you did “make it”, sure you have those wonderful memories that have stayed with you through time and still bring pleasure to you and the reader. I stood in as drummer for St Vitus Dance, a cracking band from Belfast, at the 1986 Trinity Ball and remember sticking a tape of TTB into Shane McGowan’s jacket.
    Happy Days.

  3. Did Microdisney write a song about him?

  4. gerry molyneaux Says:

    good piece,they were a great band,blindingly loud,raucous and great melody a la punk.Mick Mc Gaughan was a great lad,met him more than a few times,had a mohawk you could see from 10 miles at one stage.Good pal with mate of mine Dermot Mullen who compiled punk compilation OUT OF THE TREES.

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