While we’re used to re-discovering lost nuggets from America, Europe and Africa, it’s rare that Ireland re-evaluates its own commercially unsuccessful music. But Strange Passion (subtitled Explorations in Irish Post Punk DIY & Electronic Music 1980-83) provides a fascinating insight into an era which is, in terms of an Irish musical subculture, generally forgotten. For many, there will only be one song here by a recognisable name – Virgin Prunes, but that does not detract from the quality on show.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this compilation is the theatricality evident amongst much of the material. Considering the international acclaim for our theatre, this playfulness is something which has been lacking from our musical output. Yes, there are some exceptions but, unfortunately, they are few and far between. Strange Passion, however, goes to prove that Irish music in the early 80s was rife with experimentation and theatricality.
Operating Theatre, consisting of composer Roger Doyle and actress Olwen Fouere, were a band clearly aware of their extravagant sound – they were also a theatre company. Their wonderfully bizarre ‘Austrian’ features a spoken word section where a photographer orders a model around. This is followed by an interlude performed on out-of-tune plastic pianos, accompanied by a man making extremely odd vocal noises. It is most definitely not the Hothouse Flowers. They triumph again with the most beautiful track on the album, ‘Eighties Rampwalk’, resembling Boards Of Canada played on toy instruments.
Although this is the real find here, there is also the marvelous Young Marble Giants-esque ‘Always In Danger’ by Choice, the indecipherable gangbang chaos of Virgin Prunes’ ‘Twenty Tens (I’ve Been Smoking All Night)’ and the excellent chant-along ‘Avenue B’ by Major Thinkers. As you might expect, not everything here matches up to the aforementioned tracks and some of it is too indebted to the British music scene of the time (although, ‘Play Safe’ by Chant! Chant! Chant! manages to successfully blend a Teardrops bassline with the guitars from The Bunnymen’s ‘The Disease’). For those who would struggle to name more than one Irish act from the early 80s, Strange Passion is a tremendous snapshot of what was happening then in our very own underground.