Interview with Cáit O'Riordan
Former Pogue Cáit O'Riordan tells Gemma Tipton about her angry years and her new venture with a band of divorcees.
Caught in a shower in London a couple of weeks ago, Cait O’Riordan ducked into a bookshop and saw a photograph of The Pogues, her former band, on the cover of a new book. “Normally, I wouldn’t read anything that’s written about me,” she says. “I don’t want to actually know. I was 17 when I joined the band. I was 21 when I left. And my thing is, like, whatever I did, I didn’t kill anyone.”
But with time on her hands, and rain pouring down outside, curiosity took over. “So first of all I look at all the photos, because I love looking at photos of the band - I had great punk-rock hair then - but they were all boring. They hadn’t even got any new ones. And then I thought, I know, I’ll open it at a page and have a look. So I open a page, and I can see my name. I read it, and it says Cáit was very difficult, and I think, I don’t want to read that; let’s see if there’s anything nice. So I open another page, and it says Cáit was very volatile, and I think, I don’t want to read that, either. And I open another, and it says Gait was a very angry person, and I think, I don’t want to read any of this. And I put it down and ran out and just got wet in the rain.”
O’Riordan says she doesn’t remember too much about her years with the band. “I was just drunk... I was the only girl, and I had a lot of chips on my shoulder, so I tried to drink as much as them and be the roughest and toughest. And, of course, I can’t drink; I’d get drunk so fast.”
She does, though, remember knowing Shane MacGowan. “I was a music-mad kid, and after school, which was right out near Heathrow, I’d go into London and into this record shop. And, one day, they were just closing up and asked me if I wanted to go to the pub with them. Shane walks in, and I recognised him, because he’d been in a band called The Nips. And the first time I met him I said, ‘Wow, you’re a Nip,’ and he said, ‘Am I?’ and pulled a big face at me. I can’t believe how lucky I was. But I don’t think I ever took him for granted. I always knew he was a genius, but I don’t think I realised how much of a one-off he was. I think I just assumed everyone I’d meet was going to be a genius.”
After four years of The Pogues, O’Riordan left to tour with Elvis Costello, whom she had met when he was producing The Pogues’ album Rum Sodomy & the Lash. The couple married in 1986 and were together until 2002. Is she as angry as the book she saw says she is? “Once the teenage thing had kicked in, I think, I was in lockdown. I went from being an angry schoolchild to being an angry homeless kid — I left as soon as it was legal — to being the angry kid in The Pogues, to being the angry one who was married to the famous guy.
“But, looking back on being married, it was fantastic. He’s incredibly talented, and talented people get rewarded for being talented, which is quite right, too. So we were traveling first class, living in lovely hotels, there was all the music you could eat. If you wanted to go to a gig you’d just go. But I’m storing that up for myself now. I’m getting it for me. It was what it was: I knew him for 18 years, and it was an incredible experience. I didn’t spend the past being restless, frustrated, trying to work in an office; I had an amazing life. But it has to be a clean break, because what else could you say?”
In London O’Riordan was part of the city’s Irish set. “When I was growing up I thought that all the men in Ireland looked like either my dad or The Bachelors,” she says. “My dad, who died a few years ago, was huge - giant - and mad into Val Doonican. I guess my dad was the Mr Hyde if Val Doonican was Dr Jekyll ... He was into the beige slacks and the V-necked ganseys. He was great. He was from Lahinch, and he loved music. He had a photo of himself - I never knew who took it - but he’s walking down O’Connell Street, checking himself out in Clerys’ windows. He always said he was the first teddy boy in Ireland, and I believed him.”
Even though Costello and O’Riordan had a house in Dublin from 1989, she thinks of herself as having lived here only since she came back after her divorce, in 2003.
Last year, after hooking up with two other divorcees, Dave Clarke and Fiachna 0 Braonáin of Hothouse Flowers, the band Prenup was formed. O Braonáin’s brother Luan, a barrister, came up with the name one night in the Stag’s Head pub, in Dublin. “And it just fitted us all. There’s a gallows humour to it, in that we all have at least one disastrous marriage to our names. And also the theme of the record is traumatic, messed-up love affairs.” What does she mean by “disastrous”? “If it’s over it wasn’t a success is what I mean.”
Prenup’s first album is due to be released shortly. “Fiachna and Dave wrote the songs. It’s got a kind of slinky rock groove - The Flowers and punk, that’s where we’re blending. And I think it’s quite Rolling Stones — that’s the groove we’re going for, Europeans playing the blues. With some songs I get my ZZ Top vibe. . .I just want to whirl my bass guitar around.”
O’Riordan helps out two days a week at Rathmines Youth Project, in Dublin, teaching guitar and songwriting, as well as taking a course in psychology. “I’m an unstable extrovert, according to the grid,” she says. But, despite her “angry” start, she also points out how lucky she has been. “When I look at the kids I work with I think the pressure on them must be immense. When I was 14 my role model in music was Chrissie Hynde Back then all you had to do to be in a band was write the songs, play the guitar, wear eyeliner and have a fringe. That was it. Kids now think that if you want to play music you have to be Britney Spears. I remember Debbie Harry was beautiful, but she was from another planet. You couldn’t be her; you were never going to be Debbie Harry. But Chrissie Hynde, that’s who you were going to be if you were going to be in rock’n’roll.”
Another passion is playing bass for other bands. “I love being asked to play,” she says. (The irony, as she points out, is that when she was at her most famous, with The Pogues, she couldn’t play at all; not that it bothered the band at the time.) “The whole point for me with Prenup is to get on the road. I want to play live, be gigging every night. That would be heaven for me. Just to be touring again.”
When we meet, her next public appearance will be on New Year’s Eve, on RTE’s rather less rock’n’roll Celebrity Jigs’n’Reels. It seems a little incongruous compared with, for example, life in The Pogues. Is it unfair to think of Johnny Rotten on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!? “First of all,” O’Riordan says, “it’s for charity. Every phone call, no matter who you vote for, benefits Focus and the Simon Community.”
The other reason she agreed to take part, she adds, is that she was asked to by Bill Hughes, the programme’s producer. “I met Bill a couple of years ago, when I went to Miami to see U2. I was in the VIP section of this big stadium, and they were playing this song, and it was extraordinary. It ends up with Bono on his knees, singing “Pleeeaaase,” and it’s so intense. I’m almost weeping, and I look around this VIP section and it’s as if I’m in a cocktail party. There’s, like, 100 people, and they didn’t even notice this incrediblç thing the band just did - except for one guy who looks as shattered as I feel, and he has tears in his eyes, too, and we look at each other and say, Oh, God, wasn’t that incredible? And that was Bill Hughes. He was the guy in the crowd who was getting it . . . So anything he asks me to do, I’ll say yes.”
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