The idea for this short memoir comes while I’m nursing a pint in Dublin’s DC Music Club last night, waiting for Dr. Strangely Strange to take the stage. Save for a few people whom I’d likely tag as offspring of the band, I’m practically the youngest person in the room – a plum-coloured, basement timewarp of faded flock wallpaper and fringed curtains – not a thing that happens to me very often, any more.
As far as rock music goes, the psychedelia from a few years either side of 1970, in all its infinite variety, is most definitely my thing; everything from The Zombies & Arthur Brown, to H.P. Lovecraft & Amon Düül II. So I’d for a long time been vaguely aware that Dr. Strangely Strange existed, without, save for one track on an Island Records compilation album, ever having got around to dipping my toes into their oeuvre. I certainly don’t think I’d ever appreciated that they were an Irish band. If I had one single example of Irish psychedelia in my consciousness, it would have been Andwella’s towering ‘World’s End Part I’.
But as a wise man once said “Strangers have met on longer trains before”. Eighteen months or so ago, I began sketching out my plan for world domination via my debut short story collection, Irish Tales (which is out on September 28th this year). The first task I decided to address, was commissioning an illustrator and, seeing as I was just starting out on the writing side, I thought it would be fitting to give a newbie a break on the art side. I don’t know how you’re supposed to go about finding an artist – I used Google image search a lot, and contacted the ones whose work gelled with me.
Without exception, every budding artist I got in touch with was way too overloaded with work to take a commission from me. This repeated over and over until the search for an illustrator was threatening to become a nightmare. Whatever happened to toiling unrecognised in garrets? In desperation, I broadened my criteria and quickly found Kerry-based Tim Booth. Tim is many things, but a newbie is not one of them: from his profile it seemed he was a long-time graphic designer and fine artist who latterly had moved into comics and found success drawing the latest reincarnation of Dan Dare.
Tim was available, and I signed him up. Working entirely through email we hit it off well over the ether: he had a good appreciation of what I was looking for and I, in turn found it easy to give him direction when it was needed. The fruitfulness of the relationship is no better encapsulated than in the detailed and exacting brief I provided for the artwork for the book’s cover, which almost incredibly (to me) he absolutely nailed first go. I was delighted.
But over time, I gradually copped on to something else entirely: that Tim was one of the principals of Dr. Strangely Strange. As the clouds parted, I began to realise that the band had been active for longer and had more output than I had previously imagined. For the first time, I gave them a good listen, and of course wished then that I had first done so a long time ago. I marvelled over their unique sound, exemplified by Ivan Pawle’s ethereal voice, complex vocal harmonies, the agile imagery of their lyrics (Like Cardboard Scarecrows on the See-saw – priceless!), and the magus’ arsenal of eclectic instruments they deployed. Science-fiction aficionados should check out the fabulous ‘Mirror Mirror’, a bonus track from the reissue of their first album; Kip of the Serenes: it’s quickly become my favourite Strangelies track of all.
Which kind of brings me full circle back to the gig last night, which was taking place on foot of the launch of a book about the band, going on as I write. It was, first and foremost, lovely for me to finally meet Tim in person, and thank him for his work. I hope we’ll be working together again shortly. It was naturally great to hear the band live and to report, considering that it’s fifty years since Kip and that they don’t perform regularly, how good the gig was. Of course the sound of a voice like Pawle’s is something that necessarily changes with age, but he has kept his distinctive phrasing, so it was recognisably him.
And I heard some great songs for the first time, particularly a couple penned by Tim Goulding; one about Kerry herring fishermen and another a setting of some Gerard Manley Hopkins: I must track down the albums containing them. I think the gig last night will have well and truly blown the cobwebs away – the one tonight, after the launch, should be pretty special.