INTERVIEW: Thirty Years of THERAPY? – A Chat with ANDY CAIRNS

Therapy?

Northern Irish rockers Therapy? celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the band with Greatest Hits (The Abbey Road Session). To coincide with the bands So Much for the 30 Year Plan Tour, the band re-recorded 12 of their UK Top 40 hits, many of which have become standout anthems, in Abbey Road to bring the tracks into the present. Mark Millar caught up with frontman Andy Cairns to talk about the new release and 30 years of Therapy?

Therapy?


Hi, Andy can you believe that Therapy? Have been around for thirty years?

AC: I can’t actually. For a start, it doesn’t feel like thirty years. Michael (McKeegan) recently dug out video footage of us on a TV programme on Channel Four from about 1992. Nurse had just come out, and we had done a gig at the Academy in Manchester. DJ Gary Crowley was interviewing us backstage. And he asked us, “Can you see yourself being like the Rolling Stones and being around in another ten or twenty years’ time?” and Michael Fife and I burst out laughing and just looked at him. And here we are thirty years later.

When he started, we wanted to have a single out in the Belfast record shop, Caroline Music, then we wanted an album out and to play the Ulster Hall. Then we thought maybe we should record a second album and tour Europe and maybe try and get over to America. But that’s the way we have always taken it and bit by bit it’s kind of built up to three decades.

Interestingly, you mentioned Caroline Music. It was a trendy record shop back in the days when there was a record shop on every Belfast street. And now there is only HMV and a couple of independent stores. It’s mad! 

AC: Caroline Music used to be a big thing for everybody. In those days the staff in the shop would help you. I remember the first Hüsker Dü record I bought in Caroline Music. I had heard of them, but I hadn’t got any of their albums, and the shop had Metal Circus, Land Speed Record and Zen Arcade.  I said, “Which one do I buy?” and I remember Angus who used to be the head honcho in the shop saying, “Buy Zen Arcade first then work your way back.”  You don’t get that anymore, but I used to love that about the place.

Looking back, what was the catalyst that made you form Therapy?

AC: Myself, Fyfe Ewing and Michael McKeegan had been playing in different bands. I had never been in a proper group, Fyfe was in a punk covers band called The League of Decency, and they used to play loads of gigs around the East Antrim area. They played all covers apart from a couple of original songs. They had a female singer, so they did stuff like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned and The Dead Kennedys. Michael and his two brothers had a death metal band called Evil Priest, and they used to release demos recorded in their mums’ basement in Larne. And I was just in bits and pieces of bands playing around Ballyclare, Jordanstown and Antrim, Carrick area. I met Fyfe one night at a gig in Whiteabbey, and I was watching this band that Fyfe was in. He was a phenomenal drummer.

I was chatting to him later on about Sonic Youth and Belgian new beat and hardcore punk records. And because he lived in Larne, he said, “Why don’t you call up to my house someday and jam?” So I phoned him up one day and said, “This is the lad you met at that gig in Whiteabbey do you fancy a jam?” So, I drove from Ballyclare up to Larne with a little five-watt amp and my Epiphone guitar, and he had his drum kit set up in his spare room.

After that, we would meet up once a week for an hour and a half every week. After a while, we had a few ideas, and then we decided to do a demo. At this point, there was only two of us, and I was playing guitar and bass. A guy called Colum Muinzer who used to be in a band called Cruella De Ville opened a studio on the Lisburn Road, Belfast when the group split up. I called him, and he said he would record the demo for £50 – We made the demo for our amusement. We sent away and got fifty copies made on cassette to see how it would go. Fyfe gave copies to a lot of people he knew in Larne, and I gave some to my friends who were into music around the Ballyclare area, and we dropped one off into Caroline Music.

We realised if we want to keep doing this and start playing gigs, we would need a bass player. Fyfe said he knew a guy in the band called Evil Priest who was an excellent bassist. So Michael came down to meet us in Larne, and I will never forget it because he was wearing a Voivod T-shirt.  We kept that lineup and kept practising. Then we were fortunate because Warzone Collective in Belfast offered us a gig. After all, we had sent them a tape. They gave us a gig opening for a band from the UK called Decadence Within. We were first on the bill, and we went down very well. And then that was it we were a gigging band who had got a demo tape out. We made a second demo tape, and that led to us thinking that we wanted to make a record.

Back then the Belfast music scene wasn’t like it is now there was no fanzines, blogs or record labels. Good Vibrations had been and gone, and the Limelight was the only place you could gig. We decided to record a 7-inch single and looked into the costs of it. At this point, Michael and Fyfe were at college, and I was working in Ballymena. We looked into it and worked out if we save a bit of money it should cost us about £700 to go into a recording studio and probably another £500 to get some 7-inch singles pressed up. And then we will have our record which we can sell.

So we went into Randalstown with producer Mudd Wallace for two days, and we recorded two tunes which were ‘Meat Abstract’ and ‘Punishment Kiss.’ Then I sent away the master tape to the UK, and they sent us back one thousand 7-inch singles. And that was it; we gave them out to local radio DJs Mike Edger and Mary Carson. We sent some to Steve Albini, Thurston Moore and the Sub Pop label – anywhere we thought people might like them.

The big break came when the manager of the band called The Beyond from Derby heard the single. He got in touch with us and said, “We like the single are you on a label?” And we said, “No,” He said, “We are doing five shows in the UK one of them is in London do you want to open for us?” So we got a mate who I shared a flat with in East Belfast at the time to drive us around the gigs. I remember we had a day off in London, and I was so naïve I said, “I wonder if John Peel would play our single?” So we got a map out and found out where the BBC was, and I got dropped off and went in. There was a concierge there, and I said to him, “I would like to give this 7-inch single to John Peel.” The guy looked at me and said, “Are you a plugger?” I said, “No, I’m the guitar player in the band.” He said, “I don’t think it works like that. Do you realise John Peel is not in this building at the minute? He does his show in the evening.” And god bless her, the receptionist overheard the conversation and said to me, “Give me the record, and whenever I see John Peel later, I will give it to him.”

Then about a week later, I was hanging out with Michael and his brother at their place. His brother Charlie was in the kitchen making some dinner with the radio on. Suddenly he came into the living room and said to us, “John Peel is playing your record.” We went into the kitchen, and sure enough, John Peel was playing ‘Meat Abstract.’ After that, we got attention from Touch and Go Records in the states and Ouija, which is part of the Rough Trade group in the UK. And that was the start of it when we started putting records out and touring Europe and getting into the indie charts.

Therapy? Celebrate the 30th anniversary of the band with Greatest Hits (The Abbey Road Sessions). Why did you decide to rerecord the hits rather than put out a conventional hits’ album?

AC: It was one of these things where the record label that we are signed to had asked us if we would record them a live album for our thirtieth anniversary with all our best-known songs on it and we said, “OK.” They had a venue with a recording place in it that they were going to build and by the end of the summer, it was pretty apparent that they weren’t going to have the site finished. We said to the label, “Look we can’t record a live album if you don’t have a venue with a recording studio. we’re not going to have enough time to sell tickets, and we are not just going to book a gig on the hoof to record a live album.”

So we had a meeting down at Marshall Records, and we happened to hear from Chris Sheldon who produced our last album he was working on some stuff with Marshall Records at the time. They said, “Can you not just book a gig and play it?” but we didn’t want to book a gig and play it for the sake of it. It would have to be a special gig, and we would need plenty of time to sell tickets. The label was racking their brains and said, “We really want you to have something out for your thirtieth anniversary.” We asked, “Why do you want a live album?”

They said, “Marshall Records don’t own songs like ‘Teethgrinder, Nowhere, Screamager’ and all that, but if you record a live album it will have all those songs on it.”

Then Chris Sheldon interjected and said, “Why don’t I take the band into Abbey Road, and we will record whatever songs you want live and see if that works out?” So, the label thought that was a good idea and to make things easy. Chris asked us what our biggest selling songs of the nineties were. So we looked online and found out the tracks that made the album were our biggest selling songs, so that made it easy for us to choose.

Did you enjoy recording at Abbey Road?

AC: We had been to Abbey Road before because one of our noisiest albums Suicide Pact – You First was mastered at Abbey Road, so we had spent a couple of days there previously. We were in studio three where Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side of the Moon and where the Beatles recorded quite a lot of The White Album. I like it, it’s a lovely studio, and the staff are friendly and its got entirely up to date modern equipment. We got down there to set up our gear at eight in the morning, and there was already about forty tourists walking along the zebra crossing. I said to the receptionist, “Does this go on all day?” And he said, “It doesn’t go on all day it goes on for twenty-four hours, no matter what time day or night there will be a gang of people getting their photograph taken crossing it.”

We enjoyed working there, and we set up pretty much a lot of the stuff that we had used back in the nineties and then a few more modern amps, and we gave each song three goes. We had rehearsed a lot before the session and decided what the songs were going to be. The idea was we play each song three times. If I sang wrong lyrics, out of tune, played guitar wrong or Michael hits a bum note, or Neil drops a drumstick then we go back straight away, and we do another version. And out of the three versions of each song, we’ll choose the best one, and we’ll fix any mistakes and by doing it that way we will keep the energy.

Initially, we were going to go into the studio for four days but the way the band works if we know we have got four days, we will hum and ha for the first three and then on the last day we will panic and try and record everything so we thought we might as well go in for one day and keep it tight. So we went in at eight in the morning to set the gear up we set the ball rolling and pressed record at a quarter past ten, and we finished the last song at ten o’clock at night.

James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers features on ‘Die Laughing.’ How did he get involved?

AC: James is a friend of ours we have known him since 1992. He used to come to our shows and then just when they had released The Holy Bible the Manic Street Preachers opened for Therapy? on a three-week tour of France. They did that tour with us, and then they did a tour with Suede in Europe and then Richey went missing. If we ever play in Wales, James always comes to the show. We were doing this festival in Portugal last summer, and the Manic Street Preachers were on the bill with us. We were all hanging out backstage, and James asked us what we were doing next. We told him we were celebrating the thirtieth anniversary, and he said, “Is there any way I could be involved?”

I said to him, “Why don’t you play the guitar on one of the tracks it would be brilliant to have you onboard?” His favourite Therapy? song is ‘Die Laughing.’ I remember before Troublegum was released, we were on tour in Japan and the Manics were on tour at the same time. We had a night off in Tokyo, and we found out the Manics had a night off too so James came over and hung out with us and he said, “What’s the new album like?” So I had a cassette of the album with me, and I played it to him and whenever he heard ‘Die Laughing’ he said, “Play that again that’s amazing – I love that song.” On the new album, he said, “I’ll sing and play a bit of guitar.” And I said, “Why don’t you play the solo too?” So it was brilliant to have him on board because we are big fans of the Manics, but we also respect the way that they work and the way they have kept going for all these years – there is a real kinship there with both bands.

Alongside the 12 tracks, the CD edition comes with a second disc. This 15-track (containing one song from each of the bands 15 studio albums) ‘official’ bootleg is from the band’s archives. It features a selection of previously unheard live recordings spanning 1990 to 2020.

AC: Yeah, they are all live. There is a version of a song from the Limelight in Belfast which was recorded from Michaels Walkman plugged into the desk by an adapter. We have tidied up the tracks up using modern technology, so they don’t sound like they were recorded from a passing bus. Michael McKeegan is the bands’ archivist if you want a flyer from a gig we did in Dundalk in 1991, Michael is your man. We talked to the record company and told them we would like to do the bonus CD, and they said, “That’s no problem, but where are you going to get the tracks from?”

Michael went into his attic, and he had cassettes he had DAT cassettes and CDRs. He had about four or five hard drives worth of stuff from all over the years. And bless him he sat down and went through everything over a whole weekend. The remit was to get one track from each album and preferably not a single but as they say in the modern parlance a ‘deep cut.’ And he did that and digitised it all as well which took him forever, and he sent us the mp3s. For a hardcore fan of Therapy? It’s something outstanding to have.

Of all the songs on the album what songs mean the most to you?

AC: I think the one that everyone knows that would mean the most to me would probably something like ‘Nowhere’ that hits a perfect point because whenever I was growing up, I listened to Rudi, The Outcasts, Stiff Little Fingers and the Undertones and then when I grew older, Fyfe Ewing and I bonded over Hüsker Dü because they were one of the bands he liked whenever I met him in Whiteabbey that time. Then Michael got involved, and he was always a Thin Lizzy fan, so I think ‘Nowhere’ is the perfect blend of melodic Ulster punk and Thin Lizzy – that’s why I like it.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary, the band will be embarking upon ‘So Much for the 30 Year Plan’ Tour 2020. What kind of show do you have planned? 

AC: Well we are definitely going to play the twelve hits, and then we are going to have fun, and we are going to play another twelve songs probably. There are certain songs that people always want to hear like ‘Potato Junkie’ and ‘Accelerator’ and stuff like that. We were rehearsing last week, and we were playing some of the older material and also some things off recent albums. On the previous record, there is a track called ‘Callow’ which went down really well. It is going to be a nightmare because we are going to have to try and please everyone by finding twelve songs that sum up what we are about and we will always disappoint somebody. One of the things about being around for thirty years and having fifteen albums is we will always leave out something that’s a punter wants to hear.

Therapy? Play Limelight, Belfast in September. Do you always look forward to playing to your home crowd?

AC: I do, I have never been disappointed playing to a home crowd. Even back in the day whenever we first started, I remember playing McGee College once, and it was a GAA dance – I don’t know to hell that happened. (Laughs) We opened with ‘Punishment Kiss’ went into ‘Meat Abstract’ then played ‘Innocent X’ and finished with ‘Potato Junkie.’ And I remember two big massive lads coming up to the stage and looking over the monitors and lifting the setlist in front of me and reading it. One of them looked at me and said, “Do youse know any ZZ Top?” (Laughs)

We have always had a brilliant time playing back home, and I think it’s because we know what to expect. Growing up ourselves in the late 70s and early 80s, there was not a lot of bands came to Belfast. Whoever did come everybody really appreciated it. So I went and saw everybody. I think whenever we go on stage it feels like we are playing for a bunch of friends and we don’t feel like we have anything to prove if that makes any sense? We just feel like we are here for the next two hours lets just enjoy ourselves.

How do you feel that bands have to tour more now to earn a living as they are selling fewer records because of streaming?  

AC: It doesn’t matter to us because I think the digital thing works to our advantage. Whenever we started, we sold a lot of records, and we recovered a lot and because we have been around for so long, it’s only natural that we have seen so many trends come and go. What’s right about the digital age for us now is that somebody can go online and say, “That Therapy? album they released in 2004 called Never Apologise Never Explain, what’s that all about?” And they can look it up and listen to it and go, “Fuck, this is great.” And that’s what I like about it.

We are not work-shy as regards to the work side of it. We know very well we have to do so many gigs a year and I say this all the time, but it’s true. Many of my peers that I know from the music business don’t like gigging, and that always shocks me. James Dean Bradfield absolutely adores gigging he would play every night of the week, and I know Frank Turner adores gigging. But I know people in bands who shall remain nameless hate getting on stage and playing. They like recording they love being in the studio they like being in magazines and doing interviews but if you say to them, “Can you get in the van and do five gigs in Austria?” They will say, “Fuck that.” (Laughs) We have always loved it, and we’ve always embraced it from the very start, so I think that stood us in good stead.

Looking back on the band’s career do you have any particular highlights?

AC: I remember Caroline Music used to have a section for local music when we had the 7-inch single out for ‘Meat Abstract’ before John Peel had played it. And me Fyfe and Michael drummed up the courage to talk to Angus in the store – he was the kind of gatekeeper who knew everything. We went in clutching the single and said to him, “We are from Larne and Ballyclare, and we’ve got this single out can we sell it in your shop?” He said, “Yeah we have got a local section. I’ll take ten copies off you on sale and return so if you don’t sell any come and pick them up in a fortnight.”

And that was brilliant and such a big thing for us because we had bought all our records there. For us to go in and see our record on the local section on the wall was a big deal. Also ‘Baby Teeth’ and ‘Pleasure Death’ both went to number one in the UK indie charts, and that was a real highlight. Because we were in NME and people in local radio were playing us and obviously as I said before John Peel played us. I suppose the other big thing was playing the Ulster Hall for the first time on the ‘Nurse’ tour because all the gigs that we had seen were either at Queens or the Ulster Hall or small little punk gigs.

I remember turning up at the Ulster Hall in 1992 and thinking to myself, “I used to walk into this venue and walk right to the front and stare at the little lights on the amplifiers, and I had butterflies in my stomach. And tonight somebody is going to come in and do that when we are playing.” And that meant the world to me.


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Greatest Hits (The Abbey Road Session) here: therapygreatesthits.com

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