Mad About The Whipping Boy

Thursday 11 July 2013, 14:52

Stuart Bailie Stuart Bailie Late Show Presenter

Whenever I hear a Whipping Boy song – which isn’t often enough – I have a vision of Ferghal McKee on stage, his hair brutally hacked off and his face streaked in congealed white powder. He was quite an artist, but he didn’t seem at ease with the gig. And when people praised him, he cranked up the self-sabotage regime. In this respect, the guy was successful. He was never famous, even though the Dublin kids adored him and the eulogies came from farther away. Still, we’ll always have ‘Heartworm’.

Not a few Irish critics have ranked the second Whipping Boy album as one of the greatest in the canon. It roars and turns lyrical. There are flecks of beauty and intense feelings about the girl. But it’s hardly a balanced record. This 1995 release veers into the obsessive, the violent and finally, a weird but calm review of schizophrenia. Which sends you back to the start of the record to witness those clashing impulses again.

Connoisseurs of Irish indie music may gravitate towards A House, Toasted Heretic, Microdisney, The Would Be’s, Sack or Power Of Dreams, but Whipping Boy exist on their own special pantheon. It's about the way that Ferghal castigates Bono in ‘We Don't Need Nobody Else’ and then veers into domestic abuse. “And you thought you knew me,” he deadpans, like a downhome Nick Cave.  Paul Page summons up belligerent guitar fuzz, very much of its era, but not harmfully so. The recordings are freshly out of time.

‘Twinkle’ has an odd passion and ‘The Honeymoon Is Over’ delivers a creepy confessional that Josh T Pearson would be happy to adopt. And in the deeps of this collection is a tune called ‘When We Were Young’, a rhapsody for bold behavior, already regretful that the innocence has dimmed. Pernod and dry cider, broken glass and altercations, missed opportunities and mocking daydreams. It breaks your heart.

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Music journalist and BBC Radio Ulster presenter Stuart Bailie writes on music and culture and opens up the archives on his long career in the business.

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