“The show will be going out live so we’ll have to ask you not to swear…” Mick Pyro and Benjamin Loose exchange bemused glances. The Republic of Loose vocalist and bass-player (respectively) have ducked out from a soundcheck in Brixton to appear on BBC Radio 6. But with Mick unused to curbing his tongue, and with most of their songs riddled with profanities, it’s going to be a tricky half hour.
Already I’ve noticed his partiality for the word ‘bullshit’. He delivers it as though tasting a fine wine, rolling the first syllable around his sandpaper gullet before spitting out the second: booull-shi’. Just imagine you’re talking to your mother, I suggest. The singer looks confused. “This is how I talk to me fuckin’ mother!” 1. Live at the Beeb
Presenter Craig Charles bounds out of his chair to welcome the pair. He is a lively interviewer; enthusing about the album, gently ribbing his guests for coming from the posh southside of Dublin and yelling HOLD UP! unexpectedly whenever the mood grabs him. Benjamin manfully attempts to muddy the geo-economic waters, claiming that there are plenty of affluent areas north of the Liffey, but the former Red Dwarf star shoots him down. “Clontarf, Howth and… where else exactly?” He lived in Rathgar for two years.
The only sour note comes when the Scouser compares Republic Of Loose to The Commitments. Mick winces but manages to avoid turning the airwaves blue. “The Commitments are fuckin’ shite” he tells me later. (“They’re not even a band, it’s a fuckin’ film!” Benjamin interjects.) “Just some guy who thinks he’s a blues singer” continues Mick bitterly. “He’s not a fuckin’ blues singer. Its booul-shi’.”
2. Takin’ a piece of the pie
Republic of Loose are five white guys from Dublin who are blatantly infatuated with black music. Gven that practically all popular music is of African-American or Afro-Caribbean origin, this shouldn’t be too controversial a state of affairs. But, for some reason, a lot of people seem to think it is. You see, the music these guys dig is funk, soul, gospel and hip-hop. Their heroes are Sly Stone and Rick James (R.I.P). And their method of paying homage is to these heroes of theirs is NOT by watering down their influences until they end up sounding like fucking David Gray. It’s by by kicking out the jams and going at it full pipe.
“I’m defensive about it because people keep fuckin’ asking me about it,” spits Mick. It seems an unfair thing to be singled out for the accent you sing in, given that every other Irish rock band from U2 to the Thrills does the same. “Exactly! Elvis Costello, Mick Jagger – they all fuckin’ sing in American accents as well. The people who ask me about it are just morons. In future I’m just going to swat them away like flies in the market place because that’s what they fuckin’ are.”
3. Introducing the band, Brixton
Inside the Windmill the support band are already onstage. Outside the headliners sit in their minibus smoking hash. It takes a while to match the names to the faces. Or the facial hair. The earnest, thoughtful fella with the heavy stubble is guitarist Dave Pyro. He looks tired, but remembers being less in demand well enough not to complain about the schedule. “If you think about it from the time when we were Johnny Pyro & The Rock Coma and were considered Doran’s house band, it’s such a massive leap to where we are now.” (The band tell me he once went twelve days on tour without masturbating. I’m not sure I had wanted to know.)
In contrast to Dave, the easygoing Brez Breslin (no facial hair) appears to have nothing more than a mop of long hair weighing on his shoulders. He may grimace in front of the camera a bit, but in person he could pass for Donny Osmond’s baby-faced grandson.
Which makes composing a seamless link from Brez to Coz Noleon (full beard) a little tricky. Coz is a gangsta rap aficionado who prefers to let his drumming and creditable map-reading prowess speak for themselves. But the last time this hombre could have been called baby-faced was when he actually was a baby, if even then. Next up is bass-player Benjamin Loose (‘tash, stubble.) Bouncing around on stage – rocking what one English newpaper memorably described as Mexican council estate chic – he is undeniably a cool motherfucker. He talks the talk, he walks the walk and most importantly he looks the part.
And then there’s Mick. Listening to the album This Is The Tomb of the Juice you might assume that the Republic of Loose frontman was locked when he recorded that spoken word rant. And for all I know, he may have been. But that grizzled, half-cut mumble of his also doubles as his actual normal weekday voice. It is a fine instrument for coaxing reticent hands into the air or relaying the gist of a chinwag he had with Jesus the other night to a roomful of strangers. But over breakfast – as I am to discover – it can take a little getting used to.
Certainly, the band seem terrified of him. My mate spotted you on the Ha’penny Bridge Inn a couple of weeks ago, I tell him. “Oh yeah?” Said you were having a bit of bother putting your jacket on. For once, he doesn’t rise to the bait. “Ha ha, well I’ve always had a little trouble with that technical shit!” he cackles.
4. Bugaloo, Archway Road
The coked-up brother of a middle-of-the-road Irish crooner is at the bar. He’s mouthing like an auctioneer and buying pints for anyone with an Irish accent who ventures within five feet of him. As much as the band have railed against the cliquishness of the Dublin rock scene, but they’ve no problem accepting support from the Irish mafia in London. They’ve been crashing in this famous North London pub for the last two weeks, sharing the place for some of that time with celebrity fan and unofficial Bugaloo resident Shane McGowan. He’s not here right now but there was a message for him on the answering machine from Bono the other night moaning about the theft of some songs from his latest album.
There’s a really shithot jukebox by the window and, when the customers clear out, our hospitable host Gerry O’Boyle throws on a load of free credits. Mick and I are soon roaring along to Iggy Pop’s Turn Blue, while the rest of the band swap festival stories. Such as the one about trying to get some mid-afternoon kip in a tent set up right behind the main stage at Glastonbury. Or the one about the festival in the Basque country where Benjamin inadvertently took to the stage wearing the Spanish colours. (He was politely asked to change a couple of songs in.) Or the one… Well, this one they can explain themselves.
“We did this biker festival and two stippers got onstage!” boasts Brez, wide-eyed. “I was sitting down playing slide guitar and this one had her back against mine and…” Mick interrupts: “This bitch comes over and she’s fully naked right? And she’s like ‘Can I sit down here?’ And she gets down and the other bitch is, like, eating her out. And its right there man! I can see the inside of her and everything. I was playing guitar…” “Not for long you weren’t”, jeers Benjamin. “You were just standing there pointing and smiling”.
“They didn’t want to do it, you know,” Dave Pyro chips in. “I saw them arguing with their manager beforehand. They reckoned they were only hired as topless waitresses. But he made them do it.” “And the fact that they didn’t want to do it definitely made it more of a turn on…” concludes Mick.
Where was this? Germany? Holland?
5. Truck Festival, Oxfordshire
The Truck Festival is shit. Its run by an indie label called Truck Records – so it has nothing to do with trucks or truckers. And the five “stages” are packed so closely together that at least two acts drown each other out no matter where you’re standing. Dazed and Confused magazine has said that it’s “shaping up to be one of the more entertaining alternative festivals of the season.” But you can bet your life the nancy boy who wrote that preview never bothered his arse actually coming out here. Because this is a fucking travesty.
The whole event revels in a sort of self-consciously eccentric, ‘More spacecake, Vicar?’ Englishness you either find quaintly charming or blood-boilingly fucking irritating. Practically everyone here seems to be called either Tom or Pippa – and even the dealers are polite. I want to punch just about everyone we meet. Sufficed then to say: come back Ticketmaster, come back corporate sponsorship – all is forgiven!
Aside from a foray out to pay their respects to Damien Dempsey on the main stage (a lorry trailer) the band don’t seem much enamored with the festival either. There are no dressing rooms and no backstage area, so they lounge around in the back of the minibus, sipping some of the 12 or so cans of not-exactly-premium lager they’ve been given by the promoters. (This may actually constitute their pay packet for the afternoon. It seems impolite to ask.) So what would this bunch of reprobates be doing if they weren’t Republic Of Loose?
“Playing with another band,” reckons Dave. “Well, either that or back in college for another eight years.” Wouldn’t he get pissed off being broke all the time? “We’re pissed off being broke all the time now!”
So what do they want out of this? Is it money? Sex? Drugs? “Yes,” Benjamin deadpans. “All of the above.” “It’s great playing to people onstage,” reckons Mick. “It’s great fuckin’ puttin’ your shi’ out there. I suppose its ego driven, all artists are ego driven. I’d like to say I’m not but…” He stops for a second and recalibrates his tone. He doesn’t want to sound like a wanker. “Once you get used to the attention,” he shrugs, “it’s hard to do without it.”
Who’s got the biggest ego in the band?
Dave Pyro gives a wry smile. “Who do you think?”
There’s a nervous silence.
What do they say to those who accuse them of simply cashing in on their looks? The bus explodes with laughter. “I tell them we’re broke,” says Benjamin.
6. On the town, Oxford
The Truck Festival was shit. By the time the band headlined the Trailer Park Tent, the Dublin contingent probably outnumbered the actual punters. The band put in a characteristically wholehearted set anyway and, afterwards, their manager insists on bringing us all for a drink in Oxford. The town is dead this late on a Sunday night but Dermot Doran is undeterred. It’s the end of the tour. They try one place where, after letting the band, the crew and this writer pass without comment – and, believe me, they could definitely have said a thing or two – the bouncers take exception to the tracksuit worn by one of the band’s sisters and refuse her admission.
Dermot swings into action. He’s a reasonable guy and expects the people he comes up against to be reasonable people too. His standard tactic seem to be to (1) find out the first name of the person he’s dealing with, (2) pay that person a compliment of some sort and (3) get down to brass tax. But there’s no budging this fucker. The rest of the group depart, but Dermot stays behind for another fifteen minutes fighting for a cause that has by then pissed off and found a better place twenty yards down the street.
In the Moroccan bar a rather opulent-looking glass bong containing flavoured tobacco is offered around. “There’s no whiskey in this,” spits Mick into his glass. “I ordered a fuckin’ whiskey and coke and there’s no fuckin’ whiskey in it.” The others are too busy jostling for a draw to pay much heed. I suggest to Mick that he complain to the barstaff. He doesn’t like that idea much and, instead, waits helplessly for Dermot to return. “There’s no whiskey in this, Dermo!” They confer briefly and the manager approaches the bar. “Excuse me my friend, what’s your name? Ari? Ali. This is a nice bar you have here Ali, is that mahogany? Listen, this gentleman ordered a whisky and coke…”
By the time that crisis has been resolved, Dermot’s firefighting skills are required elsewhere. A lump of hash has mysteriously found its way into the hukka making its way around the table. The contraption magnifies the smell much more than if the lads had just sparked up a couple of joints. It’s immediately seized by irate staff members and we’re threatened with eviction. “It won’t happen again guys. We’re very grateful for your hospitality… I really like those jackets by the way.”
The night is going pleasantly off the rails. Time to wrap up. If Graham drove the minibus over a cliff tomorrow, I ask them (their horrified reactions suggest this hypothetical scenario might just be a little too close to the bone), what would be the one thing they’re happiest about having done?
“I’m glad we made the album,” says Mick, to general noises of agreement. “I’m glad it’s out there… in the stratosphere.”
“I’m also glad we went to Tramore,” says Brez. And no one disagrees.