MUSIC SHOP MEMORIES: “WILL WE GO LOOK AT THE POSTERS?”

Seeing as the last few nostalgia blogs about growing up in Letterkenny during the 1990s / early 2000s went down so well – one on teenage disco days at the Grill and another on weekend cinema trips – I thought I’d stay local again this week. I won’t lie though, I was struggling for an idea to write about until I recently took an early morning walk past what used to be The Music Centre.

Those of a certain age will recall there used to be two of these shops in town. One on the second floor of the Courtyard and the other on the Main Street, nestled just on the corner of the Market Square. While I do marginally recall the Letterkenny Tapes store down at, what’s still sometimes called the ‘Old Quinnsworth’, it was the old building by the Square that sparked my inspiration. 

One morning last week, just before the mayhem of school-run traffic congestion took over the town, I was dandering down past the redbricks of Mount Southwell Place. I’d gotten a bit tired of the same songs on repeat funneling through my earphones and thought it might be time to hit a random playlist and see what comes up. 

In essence, the song could choose me rather than vice-versa. 

Anything, and I mean anything, could’ve come on but, low and behold, I was more than content with what did. It was an old 1979 rock (and some might say, ‘oddly romantic’) song by Kiss. You might remember them as the old metal guitar band who dressed up in black and white face-paint, with wild untamed jet black hair and often performed with their tongues poking out.  

Main Street, Letterkenny.

While it’s a look that’s more suited to dodgy Halloween attire these days, it doesn’t take away from the great toe-tapping and air-guitar inducing riffs that they played. So there I was, humming along to “I was made for loooving you baaaybay. You were made for loving meee! And I can’t get enough of yooou, baby! Can you get enough of meee?” 

Guilty pleasure, yes, but sure why not!

That’s when I spotted the old sign on the side of the wall where the music shop once stood. The fact that it was an advert letting customers know that they had PlayStation 2 and MP3 players in stock is a time capsule in itself to how quickly technology (and time) has moved on since they ceased trading; presumably well over a decade by now, but open to correction on that one. 

Inevitably, this led to flashbacks of school lunchtimes or Saturday afternoons when we’d occasionally loiter about the steps of the Square on days when the weather was half-decent. And maybe because we’d been told to not hang about the Four Lights or Abrakebra unless all of us were eating. 

Every now and again, the question might occasionally arise: “Will we go to the Music Center and have a look at the posters?”

More often than not, you might take a wander in and flick through the big slider they had of wall posters. Obviously, being a music shop, you’d have bands, singers and pop-groups that catered for all tastes. It could range from one of Kurt Cobain wrecking the stage after a set to one of the Spice Girls posing for ‘Girl Power.’ Popular movies and album covers were also a prime feature.   

On the other hand, you might unearth one of some random male models showing off their six-packs while splashing around in the ocean; pictures that looked like an advert for an after-shave product. Then, maybe, a close-up one of a rather alluring Jennifer Aniston – aka “yer doll Rachel from Friends” – giving you a reassuring, subtle and somewhat flirty hint of a smile. 

“That’d look well on my wall, but sure what would me Aul Pair say, hiy?” That was the dilemma. 

Invariably, the question over equal rights between male and female sometimes cropped up. Usually from the perspective of moany boys, by the way. 

“See my wee sister, hiy? She has loads of pictures up on her wall of boy-bands that she gets from her Smash Hits magazine. My Ma says nothing about it, but then if I stick up one of some foxy looking chick standing underneath a waterfall with her head tilted back and her eyes closed, I have to hear about it! I mean jeeeez, like!” 

The mysteries of life. 

Obviously the shop sold much more enchanting products than just posters. Traditional Irish instruments like bodhráns, tin-whistles and accordions were found up on the higher shelves behind the counter. Us being teenage boys though meant that getting a nosey at Cindy Crawford’s or Pamela Anderson’s legs was just a bit more important at the time. 

Having said that, it wasn’t all poster-gazing and ogling. Occasionally, we did actually buy something. 

This was back in the days when you’d count down the days to when your favourite artists were releasing their latest singles. With no internet access to hand, knowing when a song was going to hit the shelves usually relied on what you heard from the chart shows on the radio or if the Top of the Pops presenter mentioned it in the Thursday evening broadcast. 

Being something of an indie rock fan in those days, I still vividly recall putting a bit of pocket-money aside so that I could get my hands on CDs (remember them?) that the likes of Oasis had released. When I’m asked the question about the first record I ever bought, I’m still pretty sure it was a song called ‘Perseverance’ by an alt-rock group called Terrorvision. Don’t ask why.

Then again, as Den TV was mandatory viewing for all children who were growing up in Ireland, it could just have easily been one of those dodgy tracks that Dustin the Turkey released. 

In research for this article though, friends of mine have since told me that they did the same with their limited funds for groups like Eternal, All Saints, 5ive and Robbie Williams amongst others. Artists that are probably now considered ‘ancient’ by kids today. The cheek! 

As the nineties wore on, and into the new millennium, there was something of a change in trends. Seemingly out of nowhere, purchasing vinyl records – the ones that you used to see under the gramophone at your gran’s house – became all the rage. Dance music was thriving thanks to Fatboy Slim, Binary Finary and Judge Jules etc so a new era was getting underway.

Older students in school, the senior lads who had scruffy facial hair and who always seemed way taller than they actually were, played guitars and drums. The slightly younger generation were investing in decks and the notion of bringing turn-tables to a “free gaf” when someone’s parents were away became the new popular music fashion. 

Mind you, parties like those, probably deserve an article of their own one day. 

View from the Square

Music, as we know, is invested in very differently nowadays. A monthly subscription to Spotify grants you instant access to any song you want any time. There’s nothing wrong with that in my book. The more headphones you see on walkers and joggers means that the popularity of music has grown rather than decreased. 

Still though, one wee final trip to the record store would be nice all the same. 

@johnnyfoley1984

“Will You Shift My Mate?”

THE TEENAGE DISCO DAYS.

Originally published in August 2022

Two editions ago, I took a wander down memory lane and discussed with you what it was like growing up in the Gortlee area of the town back in the days of the heady 1990s.

It rekindled memories of neighbourhood games, playing on rope-swings and underground dens and being out until your Mum called you in for your dinner from the back porch.

This time though, we’re moving onward with a look at a Letterkenny upbringing during the more teen angst-filled years.

Almost everybody goes through something of a teenage-rebel phase in their lives and I was no exception to the rule.

Compared to when I was maybe ten or eleven years old, I found myself answering back a lot more to my parents. Making demands to stay out later than I needed to and probably always giving them something to be rightfully annoyed about.

That’s not to say I was a ‘bad kid’ as such. I grew out of rebelling almost as quickly as I had gotten into it and maybe the reason why I occasionally found myself glugging cheap cider down an alleyway on a Friday night was because, in hindsight, perhaps I was hiding myself from something. Like any other adolescent, I had insecurities and maybe acting up was my mask. 

During my first three years in secondary school, I often found myself zoning out during lessons. It wasn’t necessarily always that I was causing disruption or winding the teachers up. It was more a case that I was disinterested in the way most classroom tasks followed the same routine of ‘read-the textbook-and-answer-the-questions’ over and over again.

It became mundane.

Maybe things like these nights out provided some sort of much-needed entertainment.

Girls become a bigger part of your life at this stage and while I – without sounding like a brag – did okay in the old ‘shifting department,’ it always seemed to be the case that the girl I fancied was busy fancying someone else; usually a friend or a classmate of mine.

These things wouldn’t bother me now, but you gotta remember, I was just a kid back then and absolutely everything was a big deal.

Of course, it wasn’t all drama and thankfully there was plenty of time for fun too. It also goes without saying that no kid from Letterkenny grows up without some sort of story to tell from the dancefloors of the Golden Grill nightclub. It was the late 1990s / early 2000s. Dance tracks, of which included genrés like House, Garage and Trance (and teeny-bop), filled up the charts.

Planning a night out at the end of term teenage disco took more effort than a CIA covert operation: “What time should we meet up? Who is sorting the pre-disco booze? Do we know anyone with a fake ID who can get served? Should we get some curry chips to take the smell of our breath? Whose house did we tell the Aul Pair we were staying in?”

And of course, the irrepressible matchmaking line: “Here! Will you shift my mate?” 

At this point, you’re probably all thinking that this was all very boyish and laddish behaviour. Rest assured though, and in the name of balance, plenty of girls have come forward on an online post I put up about the teenage disco days and through some giddy nostalgia, they too recalled the divilment they got up to. 

One female friend of mine recalled how she would get her mum to drop her off at a friend’s house under the pretense that they were having a slumber party. 

She’d be on the way to the house wearing a hoodie and pajama bottoms carrying sweets and a DVD, but once she’d been dropped off, she’d discard her attire and unveil that she had the miniskirt and top on underneath the whole time. She also let slip that competitions over who got the most ‘shifts’ was not purely a boys’ thing.

Other ladies were good enough to share with me the makeup routine beforehand. As one recounted: “The planning of the outfit and getting ready with your mates, the pang of Davidoff Cool Water or Exclamation off the girls with the Lynx Africa from the boys and the digital camera hanging off your wrist for the photos and I still remember my first slow set.”

At which point, her friend interjected with “the makeup, the panstick and basically, the more orange and tanned you looked, the better! In fact, looking back, I’m pretty sure I used to be using silver lipstick,” she laughed with just a touch of a cringe.  

Once inside the venue, the traditional laps of the dance-floor ‘just to see who’s about’ had to be done and while most of the tunes were poppy and dancey, this was an era when the three song slowsets were still a thing. Essentially the banging tracks by the Vengaboys and tunes like Sandstorm by Darude were momentarily replaced by the likes of Mariah Carey, Boys II Men, and an up-and-coming group called Westlife.

If you didn’t get your shift by that stage of the night, you may as well forget about it. Mind you, getting the shift didn’t make you untouchable because it wasn’t uncommon for some members of the staff stewarding at the event to give you an embarrassing tap on the shoulder for you to quit what you were at, otherwise a phone call to home would be made.

On the flip side, if this was by no means your first shift with the same person, maybe something was in the air and this was a time to pop the question: “how’s about you and me start going steady?” And they say romance is dead! 

Those were just some of the guarantees on nights like these and the only other one was probably the certainty of a good old-fashioned scrap in the car park afterwards.

Usually between lads from different schools or different townlands; doing their bit to represent their parish with just a sprinkling of peer-pressure to join the fight thrown in, I suppose.

You’d think after all that craic, it’d be plain sailing and you’d just go home. Usually it did, but not often without the interrogation from your folks.

“Who was out with you? Who is he? What do his parents do? It’d be more in your line to do a bit of study than going at that galavanting! Such and-such a one was telling me there was fighting at it? What a bunch of galloots ye really are!”

Those days though, good as they were are – just like the venue itself – alas, no more. Mind you! They certainly wasn’t the end of our disco days. Far from it. Now it was time to move on the to next step … Yup, you’ve guessed it!

“Does anyone know where we could get some fake IDs to get into the over-18s, lads?”

@johnnyfoley1984

ALL YOU NEED IS LIVERPOOL

Originally penned September 2021

Now that travel is slowly but surely returning with some degree of normality, it was hard to resist the opportunity to not hop on a plane and explore a city. Granted, Liverpool is merely a hop and a skip away compared to some of the more far flung and remote parts of the world I’ve visited in the last five years, but even with that, it’s a city that’s good for the soul. 

By Jonathan Foley

Although I’m better known for being a Celtic fan in many circles, I’ve never denied the fact that when it comes to English football, I’ve always been a Red deep down. With the restrictions easing on attendances at matches across the channel, the Liverpool vs Chelsea fixture at Anfield had to be taken in once the sights and the sounds of Merseyside had been done.

While it was my late father who passed on his enthusiasm for LFC to me, it was my mum who did likewise with her love of The Beatles. And although I’d been to the city numerous times before, mainly for trips to other matches, this was really the first time I ever took an extra day to wander the city streets and famous dock areas that make the place what it is. 

As an Irish History graduate, there’s no denying that when it comes to our country’s history of migration, predominantly from the mid-nineteenth century, the port of Liverpool is just as much a part of our heritage as anywhere else. While on a stroll around the district of Everton, I couldn’t help but notice that I passed a local Catholic church with a road sign for Roscommon Street. 

Having nipped for a pint the night before – well, maybe a few more than that – I’d also got chatting to two local and fairly-elderly Scousers who went by the surnames of Mahon and McDermott. A pair of easy going and light-hearted lads who informed me that they both had grannies who came from Dublin. This gave rise to the famous old gag: 

“What’s the true definition of a Scouser? He’s a Dubliner who could swim well!”

Perhaps one of the best features about the city is that everywhere is fairly walkable. Matthew Street was noticeably busy on Friday evening as the pubs and clubs filled up with stag parties, hens and ones looking to start the weekend off in style. This being the same street that’s home to the Cavern Club and the statue of a young John Lennon created an ideal photo opportunity. 

The aforementioned docks, now known more commercially as Pier Head, is within walking distance. While it’s become much more touristy with its fancy cafés and souvenir shops since the city’s rejuvenation as ‘City of Culture’ in 2008, there still remains here a chance to take in the sea air and see for yourself the dockside that once made the city flourish in the old days. 

As good as the sights are, it’s the sounds and the energy which drives the city. Liverpudlians certainly have their own distinct high-frequency accent which is unlike anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Like the people, it’s welcoming, endearing and humorous while a love of live music and conversations about football are prioritised over anything else. 

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Liverpool’s ground at Anfield produces a special atmosphere. Having been away from stadiums for so long, and with all the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, the pre-match rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was notably spine-tingling and even a tad emotional. 

On a personal level, Covid-19 has carried a real and ongoing threat to my own career plans these past 19 months, but places and songs like these possess an uncanny ability to put things in perspective. They make you realise that you’re far from being the worst off person in the world, you become thankful for what you have and sure, as they say, money can’t buy me love.