Welcome to the final installment of Let The Music Keep Your Spirits high. Over the last three Sundays Andy Nolan of the most popular and influential Irish band in England over the last 20 years – the Bible Code Sundays – has shared with us the history and meaning behind some of his songs. A fascinating trip through the Irish diaspora in England, Ireland and the USA and their historical figures. So here is Part Three (links to the previous two are at the bottom) so get yourself a cup of tea (or maybe something stronger) and sit back and enjoy.
GHOSTS OF OUR PAST
I wrote this about growing up in Hammersmith, West London during the 1970s and 80s. Most of the pubs around Hammersmith, Fulham and Shepherds Bush were Irish back then – ‘The Hop Poles And Swan’.
“You’re not wanted here, stopped by the law, comin out of the station, just like before”.
My dad used to get stopped by the police all the time going to & from work simply because he was Irish. ‘What’s in the bag Paddy?’ they’d bark, referring to his work bag holding his sandwiches & tea. The truth was they were looking for guns and explosives or to fit someone up. But for the grace of God go I – look what happened to the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven. My dad and his mates sometimes worked seven days a week on the buildings back then and were in the pub every night sinking back 15 pints. They’d still be up for work in the morning of course and they worked their fingers to the bone rebuilding this country. The ‘riverside strolls’ refers to our walks by The Thames and Hammersmith Bridge when we were kids and all the down and out winos (who were mostly Irish or Scottish) we’d meet along the way –
“the broken old men, battered and down, down by the riverside falling around”.
NOW WE’RE PRINCES
I wrote this as the soundtrack for my crime drama feature film project Clan London, which unfortunately didn’t receive the industry funding it required to go into production. Looking back, it wasn’t the right time for that movie to be made for several reasons which I won’t go into now. Rest assured and God willing it will be made one day with a fantastic cast and crew on board! The money we did raise through crowdfunding was used instead to make my two short films Tax City (Steve Collins, Jon Campling, Razor Smith) and Jack Mulligan (Terri Dwyer, Steve Collins, Dean Smith, Ruth Adams). Both films were premiered at BAFTA, Piccadilly to sold out screenings. Jack Mulligan won Best Overall Film at the Ambassador Reel Film Festival in Cork, Ireland and was premiered on the London Live channel in 2019.
We filmed the music video itself with Darren S Cook around Ladbroke Grove, West London where the Clan London storyline is set and also at Under The Bridge, Chelsea and Roughrockers Studio, Uxbridge. The lovely Lorraine O’Reilly sang on this track too which featured on our album New Hazardous Design!
Next up – Night Crossing. I wrote this about the Syrian refugee crisis & the photo of the little boy Alan Kurdi RIP washed up dead on the shores of Turkey after his boat capsized while trying to reach Greece with his parents. I wanted to open peoples minds with a song written from the viewpoint of a refugee family embarking on a desperate & perilous journey to Europe. All too often we witness deplorable comments on social media such as ‘good, that’s one less of them coming over here’ when these tragic stories break. Where’s your humanity? Where is your solidarity? Imagine if this was your family living in a war-zone trying to escape being blown to bits on a daily basis, what would you do? Of course, you would do exactly the same thing & try and escape to give them a better life. And who sells the weapons of war to these governments – making profit from innocent people’s heartbreak? Yes, quite probably your own government so think before you judge!
We got the brilliant Brian Kelly in to play banjo & mandolin on this track which featured on our most recent album Walk Like Kings. Enjoy, rethink, reflect X
THE PITTSBURG KID
Well I couldn’t just write one song about an Irish American fighter could I? There’s so many to chose from! Our good friend Gary McDonald was onto me for ages to write a song about his adopted home of Philadelphia. The nearest I could get was Pittsburg (sorry Gary) because of my love for one of its finest sons. My affection for Billy Conn goes back to when I was a kid and the boxing stories my dad RIP used to tell me. He’d always be raving about Conn, Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, Gerry Quarry and Rocky Marciano:
‘My father told me when I was six
Of Billy Conn, the Pittsburg Kid
And as he spoke I wished that I had been there
To the Steel City his parents came
From Ireland’s shores in search of fame
The streets of S’Liberty became their home where –
William David Conn was born,
A tough street fighter, hands of stone
With film star looks and a left that fighters dream of….’
Conn really was a great looking dude and Morrissey even put a photo of him on the front cover of his 1995 single ‘Boxers’. He wasn’t just a pretty face though that’s for sure and in 1939 he met World Light Heavyweight Champion Melio Bettina in New York, outpointing him in 15 rounds and winning the World Light Heavyweight title. Conn defended his title against Bettina and twice against another World Light Heavyweight Champion, Gus Lesnevich. He also beat former World Middleweight Champion Al McCoy and heavyweights Bob Pastor, Lee Savold, Gunnar Barlund and Buddy Knox in non-title bouts during his run as World Light Heavyweight Champion.
But he will forever be remembered for coming so close to beating arguably one of the greatest fighters of all time – Joe Louis. In 1941, Conn gave up his World Light Heavyweight title to challenge the brilliant Louis who was now the World Heavyweight Champion. Conn wanted to be the first World Light Heavyweight Champion in boxing history to win the World Heavyweight Championship and to do so without going up in weight. The fight became part of boxing folklore because Conn held a secure lead on the scorecards going into Round 13 – unlucky for some! According to many experts and fans who watched the fight, Conn was outmaneuvering and outboxing Louis right up until that point. In a move that Conn would regret for the rest of his life, he tried to go for the knockout in Round 13 and instead ended up losing the fight himself by knockout in that very same round. Ten minutes after the fight, Conn told reporters ‘I lost my head and a million bucks.’
‘Of all sad words of tongue & pen
The saddest are ‘what might have been’
One night in ‘41 in New York City
For 13 rounds he outboxed Louis
Blew away The Bomber but his Irish pride for once was his undoing’
Sleep well Billy RIP.
RUNNING FROM OUR SHADOWS
This will be the final Bible Code Sundays track I’ll be posting written by myself with a brief description about the song. I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings on here over the last three Sundays. Thanks for all your very kind words and for taking the time to listen to the songs X
Next up – Running From Our Shadows. I wrote this as a submission for the movie Black Mass which starred Johnny Depp as the notorious, real life Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. Although they really liked the song, in the end the producers decided to go with one specific musical piece throughout the film. It is written from the perspective of a fugitive on the run from the law, his reflections on the life he has chosen, how it brought him to this point and how it has affected the ones he loves:
“I can hear the bells of home
As I whisper down the phone
It’s a Black Mass, baby
It’s that ancient Irish code
I will always be a part
Of your New England heart
So don’t stop lovin now the Feds are on us”
We shot the video for this with Adie Hardy at Panic Studios, Park Royal literally weeks before we lost our dear Carlton RIP. I couldn’t watch it for a very long time. It was hard to go back to that day when we were all together and having the craic as usual. Little did we know what the following few weeks and months would bring. We deliberately went for a dark, moody shoot to tie in with the film’s subject matter but it took on a whole new meaning when we lost Carlton. It’s like watching a moment in time now where darkness would soon descend on us all. Very surreal.
Once again we asked the brilliant Lorraine O’Reilly to sing on this track. Her beautiful vocals on here sound angelic. I wanted a female vocalist because the song is about the relationship between a fugitive on the run and the girl he left behind back in South Boston:
“I’m remembering the air
The colour of your hair
Those Old Colony girls
With their tough & friendly stare
The projects where we ran
Our dreams held in our hands
They were right from the heart
Letters written from my…”
We love and miss you always Carlton but we know you’re around us all the time. Until we meet again, save us a seat at the bar buddy.
The Bible Code Sundays have been regulars on the London Irish circuit for over a decade and continue to pack them in across London. You can catch the band or some variation of them on most days of the week somewhere in the capital. The best place to find out their gig dates is on their Facebook page. Their records are still available on Spotify above or Amazon and iTunes or at their gigs. Most recently they starred on the compilation album Quintessential Quarantunes featuring six bands, three from Ireland and three based in London and recorded during the lockdown.