The testosterone years. When mono became stereo. The rush of blood, or sound. It was 1972. The battered record player was unplugged. Make way for the stereo. For most of us, stereo meant two speakers on either end of the wall and extra long wires. You could listen with both ears!
The tired old record player had pumped out the muffled sounds of John McCormack, Richard Crooks and John Hanson. Tenors were the norm. Anything else was just that, anything else. A few light opera LPs existed but rarely made one revolution around the turntable, never mind thirty-three-and-a-third.
If it wasn’t ‘Mother Dearest,’ ‘The Holy City, ‘The Student Prince’ serenade or ‘Bless This House’ it was nothing. Mother, God rest her, had a record of Dev giving some spiff and Seán Ó Riada’s ‘Mise Éire’ on a 45. They got a very occasional “It’s okay! Dad’s at work!” spin.
Roll on one Saturday night when Patsy Staunton arrived, laden with boxes upon boxes. It was approaching 9pm with Dad just home from work. Working until 9pm on Saturdays was normal. (A Bus Office Clerk, Dad worked until nine o’clock six nights a week.)
The table was cleared and boxes ripped open. What a smell of new! Everything new had a smell. Patsy dug out the perspex cover (we thought it was glass), unwrapped the speakers and the record player. The folded up wires were an enigma. How? Where? For what?
The small table under the Sacred Heart picture was cleared. The radio was moved to the lower shelf, where the old record player had been. The radio lead was too short in its new position. That wouldn’t do. The news had to be heard, especially at eight o’clock every morning before Dad went to work. The problem was solved with a few volumes of Collier’s Encyclopaedias correctly placed. At least they were being used for something!
The new record player took the place of the radio, under the all-seeing eye of Jesus. The real reason for the positioning was that there was only one socket in the room, under God’s holy picture. This was single two-pin sockets land, long before adaptors.
For something to work it had to share the space and power. The television lead that wound its way over the curtain pelmet and snaked down behind the Sacred Heart was left to dangle. Patsy was hard at work, explaining all as he went along. “This is the plug that goes into the socket. This yoke goes into that thing and that is the sound for the speaker. I wouldn’t touch that…” Young minds wondered how sound could travel within wire.
Suddenly, John McCormack was unleashed and ‘Macushla’ rang out across the room. No matter where you went the sound was with you. This stereo business was great stuff.
Not owning any records myself, I knew my older brother had a single – Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day’. I waited and waited and waited. More than four hours later after overdosing on McCormack, Crooks, Caruso and many more, Dad called for a tea break. Mam obliged while the two relaxed. I manoeuvred Gilbert on to the turntable. “What kind of rubbish is that?” I heard as four surprised eyes glued on me. “My rubbish” I replied, with Mother urging them to let me be.
From that moment I felt a kinship with this Waterford-born, Swindon-based Irishman. Over the years I have seen him in concerts in Dublin, Galway, Castlebar and London. He became the testosterone years’ soundtrack. Sure, I got the autograph, T-shirt, filled the scrapbooks and now even enjoy tenors!
A lovely family memory was with Mam and family in Castlebar at Gilbert. Mother loved ‘Clair’ especially. After one Dublin show I handed Gilbert the phone. He generously spoke with Mam wishing her well. He didn’t have to but he did. We remember such simple kindness with deep affection.
In truth, we grew up with Gilbert at No 1, St Mary’s Crescent, in Westport Demesne. Holy Trinity is as close as it gets, so fáilte romhat – welcome home Gilbert! We’ll be there this Friday, October 26, DV, Mam’s birthday. She’ll be with us in spirit.