An Island Tale

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In Tua Nua had just been signed to Island Records by an A&R man called Nick Stewart. Nick was an eccentric and slightly posh ex British Army officer who had apparently been instrumental in getting The Undertones signed while on his tour of Northern Ireland. Our deal was apparently worth half a million or something like that but in reality there was some money up front to kit the band out with new equipment, a small advance to give us the equivalent of the dole as wages and they had agreed to two albums per term for three terms (our manager Mark Clinton thought of this, trying to commit them to paying for 6 albums).

When we arrived in London to visit our label’s headquarters we were like a bunch of excited little kids. We all spent the morning looking for equipment and split up into groups depending on needs to trawl the music shops (except Leslie who didn’t even get so much as a microphone). I must have tried out every drum kit in London with Jimmy Hickey as my accomplice. We had such great craic that day…and a decent budget too. I bought my Sonor Signature Ebony kit that day and I still use it in my studio as the house kit. I bought well that day.

Finally at 4pm we all convened in Island Records for out big meeting with Nick Stewart to decide on a producer and recording schedule. It was July and we had a current top 10 single in Ireland with ‘Coming Through’ (on Mother Records) so we were anxious to capitalise on it. Nick suggested we do an extended EP or Mini Album in September for release in October/November and we all agreed enthusiastically. He asked us who we would like to get to produce it and we suggested John Punter (Japan, Roxy Music) or Steve Nye (Japan). But he was thinking much bigger and started throwing about names like Trevor Horn, Steve Lillywhite and Dave Stewart. At that time Leslie was obsessed with The Eurythmics so she jumped in at this point and said yes to Dave Stewart. Bewildered we just all nodded in agreement, most of us taken aback by the sudden leap we seemed to have just taken in terms of where we seemed to be headed. Nick had bumped us up from looking at obscure engineer producers who would help us becomes Ireland’s version of Japan to massive mainstream pop producers who would have very different ambitions for our music and its success.

‘I’ll call Dave now, Aunty, get Dave Stewart on the phone’ said Nick to Aunty, his long-suffering pa. A few minutes later the phone rang and Nick said ‘Dave, how are you old chap’. The seven of us sat around his desk listening intently, barely able to control our excitement. As the conversation went on dates were being agreed and we all started to dream. Then came the punch. ‘That’s fantastic Dave, how is Annie by the way?’…silence. ’Oh I see, yes, I am so sorry Dave this has been a terrible mistake, thanks you, take care.’ Our hearts sank. Unbeknownst to Nick, Aunty had called the other Dave Stewart as in ‘Its My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want to’ with Barbara Gascoigne. I left Nicks office that evening with a terrible sinking feeling that Island Records wasn’t going to work out. Over time I would be proved right.

If ever there was a turning point in the development of the band and the individuals’ notions of themselves, then this was it. From that moment on we were never the same united unit we had been up til now. Some members started to see things through the label’s eyes, others got inflated views of themselves and a few dug their heels in, determined to stay true to what we set out to do. My advice to any young bands that seem like they might have a chance is stay true to yourselves. You were a band before you got a manager, a deal, a big time producer and all the gurus that will befriend you. Things might change around you but you are still the band you always were and nothing should be aloud to change that.

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