Northern Ireland’s Therapy? have been playing their own brand of “agitated guitar music” for thirty years now. 2020 is shaping up to be a momentous year for Andy Cairns, Michael McKeegan and Neil Cooper, dates on the 30th anniversary tour are starting to sell out, but before that there is the small matter of the imminent release of ‘Greatest Hits (2020 versions)’, a brand new album of Therapy’s greatest hits re-imagined at Abbey Road Studios. Guitarist, vocalist and founding member; Andy Cairns, talks us through the early days of the band, and the process of recording the new album entirely in one day.
Back in 1994 on ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’, you sang – “The world is fucked”, did you expect that in 2020 that it would be even more fucked?
Haha! If I’m honest, I never thought that it would get this bad, this quickly. That’s the scary part. First of all there was Trump, then Boris Johnson, in the background you have what’s going on with the environment, but we knew about that 20 years ago, people just put their fingers in their ears. But at the end of the day, now that the genie is out of the bottle it’s up to people to do something about it. It’s little steps, like people can do their bit when it comes to voting on the day, no matter how windy or rainy it is outside, if they can get themselves up off the sofa and away from Eastenders, and go vote, it might be a bit different.
You’ll remember the bad old days in Northern Ireland of the dreaded border checks and carnets?
Absolutely, we remember that, when we first started playing outside Northern Ireland and played down in Dublin, Cork, Donegal, places like that, the British Army were still on the border. It used to take forever to make the crossing because not only were the British Army there, but there was also customs to go through. So we would have a van and be leaving for Dublin, and the Army would see the gear and they would make us take all the gear out so they could check it, make us lift out all the backline, all the drums, all our personal bags, then the Army would go through it. We would then lift it all back in, we would drive 100 yards then someone at customs would go..”well we want to make sure that you are not taking anything down into the South to sell”…and we would have to take it all back out again!
We remember touring in Europe and even though it was part of the EU at this point, in 1990/1992, most countries still had their own borders that weren’t open, so you had to stop at every single one and there was a carnet, and I remember having to constantly load the gear in and out. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that there was also a fee that you had to pay. In some places this could be as much as £380, so these days, even for us, I mean we tour two or three times a year and most of our work is in what you would call mainland Europe and if we are having to pay between £100 and £380 every time that we cross a border, then that adds up to a hell of a lot of money!
That’s your profits taking a battering before you even play a note…
They are, and that’s Priti Patel just announced that EU artists coming into the UK are going to have to get a visa, and I never thought about this, but, that also means bands from Ireland. So if you’re Fontaines D.C. or The Murder Capital, or someone like that, then you’re going to have to get a visa to come and play shows!
That’s insane when you stop and think about it!
You’re Scottish, so you know yourself, Scotland is quite similar with sectarian issues, we grew up in a generation ourselves – myself and Michael (Michael McKeegan – bassist), where there’s a protestant and a catholic in the band, and a drummer with mixed parentage. And as far as we were concerned, all the sectarian issues ever did was give our generation grief. We wanted to move on and we were all happy when The Good Friday Agreement came along. I married my wife in the late 90’s, moved over here in 2002 and have lived here ever since, my son was brought up here. Just after Brexit was announced, I live in Cambridge, and I went to a friends dinner party one night, and we were just sitting there chatting about Brexit and I said that as a musician I remembered what it was like in the old days, and I don’t think that I want this to happen all over again, and that it was all very insular, pulling up the drawbridge. A very educated, middle aged, middle class man said to me….”well if you don’t like it you can always go home”!
….And I thought, my wife is English, my son was born in England, I had been here, at this point twenty years, nobody has called me a Paddy, nobody has said..”I hope you didn’t bring any bombs with you”, which they used to say in the late ‘80’s, and nobody has told me to go home!…until Brexit! And this wasn’t some neanderthal, this was a very educated man from Cambridge. And I thought…is this what this has done to people? Is the division that deep? And I think that it will take decades to get over the damage that it’s caused.
There’s no-one that can challenge it (the government), so it would be easy to feel completely lost!
Like you said…”The world is fucked!”
Onto the album, due March 13th, am I correct in thinking that you recorded it in one day?
Aye we did, the background to the record is that our label Marshall Records bought a venue, and they were going to build a recording studio, and a stage, and a sound system, the idea was to get bands that are on the label to do a live album in there. Send out invites to hardcore fans on the bands mailing lists, and the record the show. That’s what we were going to do for our 30th anniversary, time was getting on and the venue wasn’t finished, so we spoke to Marshall about getting something else sorted. Marshall wanted a live album because they don’t own ‘Screamager’, ‘Going Nowhere’, ‘Die Laughing’ etc, and they basically wanted an album with those songs on it. Chris Sheldon, who produced a lot of our albums in the ‘90’s, happened to have overheard the conversation and turned round and said..”why don’t you get the band to do their greatest hits at Abbey Road? I know the people down there, I’ll give them a ring”… So we talked about maybe going there for three or four days, and Chris basically said..”if you’ve been playing the songs live you should know these songs anyway, go in there, start in the morning, leave in the evening and if there are any problems then we’ll deal with it”…so we set up exactly the same equipment that we use when we play live and by 11am we pressed the green record button and away we went, we finished the last song at 10.15pm..
And we still had time for lunch! We ran through each song three times, and I must admit, we are all over the moon with the results. We all went our separate ways after recording, a few days later Chris sent us MP3’s of the tunes and we were all really pleased.
And James Dean Bradfield from the Manics pops up as well..
That was great, actually, there’s a bit of a Scottish connection with this as well..
…I’ve known James since the early ‘90’s when The Manics and Therapy? toured France together, every time we play Cardiff he will come down to the gig, and likewise if he is ever near Cambridge then I’ll go see him. We keep in touch, he’s a really good lad, and his favourite song of ours is ‘Die Laughing’, we were playing a festival together and we asked him if he wanted to play on it, he said that he would love to, so he did his vocals on ‘Die Laughing’ and played guitar, I wanted him to play the solo and after it he said…”I really like it, but do you think it’s a bit too Big Country?” And I said..what are you talking about? There is no such thing as too Big Country, I fucking love Big Country!..so he said that he does as well, he’s a massive Stuart Adamson fan as am I, so there’s a little bit of that in there!
That’s an incredible story, strangely enough I was actually playing The Skids earlier in the week! Stuart Adamson’s death is still a tough one to take…
I think so as well because I remember the first time that we did Top Of The Pops, Big Country were also on, and years before I had seen Big Country open for U2. After they had played a brilliant set, Stuart Adamson was standing in the crowd afterwards, and I’d never seen anyone in a band do that before. He wasn’t backstage, he was in with the punters, signing autographs and chatting to everyone, so I went over to him and I was shitting my pants, shook his hand, told him that I loved the set, big fan of The Skids and Big Country, he said thank you, really appreciate that. So when we played Top Of The Pops and we were backstage and Stuart came over and said..”I just want to say that I really like your band and loved that song you just played” (‘Screamager’)…and I just thought…Jesus Christ! I wanted to say to him…I met you years ago…but I thought that would sound ridiculous! What a tragic loss.
A loss still felt by many today if I’m being honest. Back to the album, it’s not what you would call a bog standard, get-out-of-your-contract greatest hits is it? The extra disc means that it’s a proper one for the hardcore fans..
Oh aye completely, that was Mr McKeegan, we said to Marshall what songs do you want and they were really frank, they said what’s your biggest selling songs in the UK, and we said that there were 12 that charted in the ‘90’s, our best known hits, and they said okay that’s the 12 songs. We said..could we do anything else? And they replied that there was room for more tunes and we could do a live album, but they didn’t have any material. So Michael is our archivist and he spent an entire weekend in his attic taking out old DAT’s and machines, cassettes, videos, and loads of hard drives. We said that we wanted a song from each of our albums – live! So bless him, he went through them all and listened to all of them, he picked out a few and sent them to me and Neil (Neil Cooper, drums), and between the three of us we got the ones on the album. It’s nice, and it’s all Michael’s hard work.
So he’s the man to thank then?
Yeah, if you want a flyer from a gig in Aberdeen from 1994, he’s your man! He’s got flyers, albums, fan zines, ticket stubs. It’s very good because there is a guy writing a book on us at the minute, and he always contacts Michael asking when a particular track was released, and Michael is able to tell him the exact date, what formats it came out on….because I certainly don’t remember! I don’t even have half of the records that we brought out! In the ‘90’s we’d be on tour and someone would come down with a lot of copies of ‘Die Laughing’ and ask if I wanted one, I’d be like you’re alright I’ll get one later…decades later I’m sitting in my house thinking…I’d love a copy of ‘Die Laughing’!
Do you think the fact that Therapy? has always been a band that you couldn’t pigeonhole has played a part in the longevity of the band?
It has yes, it’s worked against us but it has also meant that we are still here. If you look at a band like say The Stranglers, I was a fan of them when they first came out, when I was about 13 or so. A lot of punks loved them, but a lot were suspicious of them, I think with Therapy? we’ve got a bit of punk, a bit of metal, so we do get metalheads coming to our shows, and we do get punks. But we also get some metalheads who are into Sabaton, or Pantera who might not like us because we are not heavy enough, and it’s the same as with punks, they’re like…well I don’t like them because the singer has a beard! We’ve got a worldwide fanbase and we do tend to get people that like our unique brand of agitated guitar music. We never get asked to play the big festivals like Download, it’s almost like they are suspicious of us, but if we do play, then we go down a storm but they don’t ask us again. We started out as a noise band from Belfast, put out our own records, we did all that for about three years before we signed to a major label, and those three years apprenticeship stood us in good stead.
Especially in Belfast at that time..
That’s the one thing that we try and tell people, because we grew up with that, we were born into that scenario, we didn’t know any different. It was only when we started travelling that we realised how different the world was. I remember when I was 12, going to visit my uncle in Leicester and I think my Mum wanted to get something from Boots the chemist, and I walked in and immediately put my arms up in the air! Because at that point in time, every time you walked into a shop in Belfast you were searched, as if you were going through the airport. My Mum said…”Put your arms down, we don’t do that over here”!
That’s impossible to comprehend for anyone not familiar with living through this.
I was so conditioned to do this, that I put my arms up to be searched, I walked in, put my arms up and there was nobody standing there!
That’s quite scary to think that was considered normal..
Yeah I know, but that was a long time ago and things are different, but say for instance I had been born in England, Wales or Scotland and moved to Northern Ireland when I was 12 then that would have been a shock! But you pick up all the codes, what to say, what not to say, what areas not to go into, we were smart enough growing up to know that the situation was fucked up. And you knew enough to know that you didn’t want anything to do with it, which is why all our friends growing up were all mixed. I think that was why punk and metal was so big in Northern Ireland…. It was escapism.
You spoke about the major festivals perhaps not taking a chance on you, Therapy? Are still an intense, relevant band with a fearsome live reputation. The last few times that I’ve caught you live, there’s been no sign of slowing down, if anything, the opposite.
I think that takes work, I know that before a tour that I’ve got to go to the gym for a fortnight to get in shape! It’s not like we are playing a 50 minute set then trashing the set, we’ve got 15 albums so we’ve got to play nearly two hours. I know that say for instance we’ve had a great gig in Glasgow, and playing Edinburgh the next night, I can’t be out sitting in (Glasgow pub) Nice ‘N’ Sleazys until 4 in the morning getting pished! The gig in Edinburgh would be crap! I know that four hours before a show I can’t eat anything, because otherwise I’d be burping through the whole set! It’s little things like that, and trying to get a good night’s sleep. We’ve stopped using tour buses because none of us ever slept as we were up all night partying and playing music, so we switched back to hotels so we all go to our beds now. It might not look exciting to the music fan outside but it makes for a better show. Some peers of ours still live that rock & roll dream, and when it comes to nine o’clock and time to go onstage, they’re fucked!
How much of a buzz is it to see the sold-out signs on adverts for your gigs?
It’s the best thing, I love that. We sold out the gig in Cologne after a week, and the Electric Ballroom gig in London on this tour sold-out with two months to go. We know all the sales figures, and the tickets are doing better than the last time, I just love playing live! I love getting into towns, no matter if it’s Scotland, Spain, Canada..I just love getting into a new town and getting in amongst it. I do stupid little things like, if I’m going to a certain town I’ll think of any bands from that town and load up my phone with tunes from them, and listen to them on the way in. Now that I’m getting older, I also make a point of meeting up with anyone that I know in that town for a coffee, just a catch up after the soundcheck, that kind of thing. It’s brilliant, and I absolutely love doing what I do.
That’s a fantastic way to look at it..
Yeah, because I know enough people in this business that hate it! They hate playing live, I’m not going to name names but some of my friends that are musicians, a lot of them hate playing live. But I love it, same with James Dean Bradfield…he would spend his whole life on tour if he could. I know a lot of bands from the ‘90’s that love being in the studio, love being interviewed and on the cover of magazines, but for them to get on a tour bus and drive to France and play six gigs…no thanks! But it’s the live gigs that have stood us in good stead, the hits won’t be around forever, so you need to get out there and make a fan-base because that fan-base will still be there after the hits have dried up.
It’s the touring that is putting food on your table..
Oh exactly, Northern Irish people are like the Scots, there are no airs and graces about them. We’ve surrounded ourselves with good people so if one of us turned up one day in a three quarter length leopard skin jacket, and star shaped sunglasses, then they’d tell us to fuck off! We couldn’t get away with that, and that’s stayed with us, but it also means that we treat people with respect. We’re getting the chance to go over the world and play for people and nothing beats it!
‘Greatest Hits (2020 Versions)’ is available March 13th on Marshall Records, pre-order details here. Therapy? hit the road for a run of dates during March and April dubbed – “So Much For The 30 Year Plan”, they then kick off a lengthy European tour in Exeter on October 4th, all the relevant information can be found here.
Interview – Dave