Sometimes, being different beats being good

In 1986, the London agency I was working in was bought by a group representing News Corp and I found myself working on The Sun newspaper, which was never going to last; so I left and went to Ireland to stay with friends.

While there I came across the most extraordinary group (I use the term lightly) called the Bogmen, led by Tommy Woods, a farmer from Castleblayney, in County Monaghan, the heart of Bog Country.

Tommy’s farm was reportedly over a thousand acres in size, but apparently you could only stand on five of them, so he was a genuine man from the bogs.

His guitar style was odd, unusual, characterful, OK, bad; his singing was worse; he couldn’t remember lyrics, so made them up as he went along – but when he turned up at a pub, he brought the house down.

He was supported by a motley and changeable bunch of characters, one who played the accordion and one whose main job seemed to be stamping his foot and whooping.

A record company had produced an album with him, about 12 songs, all recorded comfortably within 2 hours; amazingly, his catastrophic version of Rock Around the Clock, released as a single, was at the time sitting at number 7 in the Irish charts.

I tracked down the studio in Slane where they made the album and agreed to see what I could do with this band in the UK, in partnership with the Producer at Slane, John Dee.

To cut a very long story very short, a letter I wrote to the BBC led to the band being booked to appear on The Wogan Show on St Patrick’s Night and perform Tie A Yellow Ribbon to an anticipated audience of close to 12 million.

Ten days before the show the band had a fight and broke up. Apparently, the accordion player had had enough of being laughed at, and the man who stamped his foot had fallen off the stage and sprained his ankle; so we now had a band of one.

Somehow we managed to dig up a character called The Bus Nellie, a bill poster who believed he was the singer Joe Dolan, danced in wellington boots and was available at the very last minute to travel to London.

John Dee and I decided to pack the background as a notional bass and keyboard player – despite the fact that the entire musical output on the record came from a single backing track gismo that Tommy carried with him on gigs. John Dee brought a bass guitar with him; I borrowed a keyboard from Samantha Fox, who was appearing on the same show, and somehow …

…. it all fell into place; the Bogmen stormed the show; the editor kept cutting to Wogan’s incredulous reactions, the audience went wild. Terry told me afterwards that the atmosphere reminded him of the early days of the Beatles, but asked me not to quote him.

Was there a record deal in the UK? No, unsurprisingly there wasn’t. The album tracks had some exposure on Radios 1 and 2, and a follow-up single, a cover of Born in the USA was released in Ireland. I wrote the B side, title: “If it all goes wrong, well, that’s alright”.

Image: Johnny Stiletto