Caitlín O’Riordan is best known as being the bass player for The Pogues in the mid 1980s. Now she’s a DJ – Rocky O’Riordan – with a show on U2-inspired American satellite radio station -Sirius-XM, still playing and singing as well as being a popular human on Twitter. But, respecting her ‘No Direct Message’ policy, this blogpost is punkgirldiaries’ way of congratulating Cait, not just for creating music and style that we love, but noting she has actually got through; she’s survived.
The music industry and rock n roll lifestyle didn’t destroy her or frighten her off as it has done with so many women. We’d love to interview Cait and hear her reflect on her career as bassist, singer and daredevil, but for now all we can do is compile a brief history from previous interviews and say a huge …
Congratulations on achieving 14 years sober today!
Like many involved in punk and post-punk music, Cait’s childhood had its complications and difficulties. Other punk girls have briefly chased fame and then escaped to other countries, found religion, art or closed off to become private but happy people. They learn that shouty bands, drugs, alcohol and fan adoration don’t seem to bring the peace that is craved by those with childhood neglect or trauma. Our theory is that, given time, the aging process does heal and it’s often a question of staying healthy and alive until you’re old enough to have wisdom. And here’s the evidence – a healthy and happy looking Cait O’Riordan from 2019, playing, singing, being a charming grown-up woman with poise, passion and humour.
In previous interviews, Cait seems to be highly self-aware and loyal to those with whom she has been involved. Married, or perhaps ‘not married’ to Elvis Costello for 16 years until 2002, there were plenty of musical projects but also a lot of trouble and strife. In an interview with Ireland’s Independent.ie in 2008, Cait speaks with the wisdom of hindsight, post-therapy and post-rehab. She’s obviously a strong survivor and is still involved with musical projects and is a valued friend to many of the stars of alternative music.
In a series of mini-interviews with Tom Semioli – Know Your Bass Player – Cait reveals that she started playing bass after meeting U2’s Adam Clayton at a 1980 London record signing, where the band invited some of the fans to have a burger with them. Before that, Cait’s 1970s influences were Top of the Pops kids’ favourites – Mud, Slade and The Wombles.
“I watched punk happen but I was just too young to participate… I was 11 in 1976 … I watched Bill Grundy on TV eating my tea … that all went down!”
Getting started in music after that was suddenly easy. Punk had opened the doors for anyone to have a go; there were community arts grants as well as suddenly-successful musicians who wanted to make things accessible and affordable. In the Semioli interview, Cait cites how Grant Showbiz, manager of The Fall started a scheme where young people could hang out and use the instruments. She was also allowed to borrow a bass and take it home to practice; at home, Cait found she was able to play along with the radio:
“John Peel was playing a Fall track ‘Fiery Jack’ – it was a rocking guitar riff and I was picking it out on the bass; I thought, I could just do this forever … but at some point you have to stop and do your maths homework.”
Cait O’Riordan was too young to get in to see Shane MacGowan’s first gig with his new band Pogue Mahone in 1982, but met him the day after and he asked her to play bass – partly to make the acoustic band louder, but Cait claims McGowan also needed her Irish credibility and passport to make the band less London-ish and more Dublin-ish. The name Pogue Mahone – meaning ‘kiss my ass’ in Gaelic was hilarious but had to be changed to The Pogues when the band wanted to make records and gain wider acclaim.
Coming from the punk world, no-one expected great musicianship – Cait is at the same time amused and regretful about not becoming more accomplished as, on the interview with Tom Semioli, she shows the simplicity of the fret-counting bass-playing approach:
“I was a teenager; I didn’t know how rubbish I was because nobody expected anything of me… all our songs were 1,5,1,5,1,4,5,4,3,2,1 and over and over again. Nobody asked me to do anything else; it wouldn’t be punk, and if Dee Dee didn’t do it, then why would I do it? … Everyone [in the band] got better but I just stayed at the fighting and snarling level”
We guess that the years of playing and recording with The Pogues up to 1986 must have been amazingly dramatic. The band’s most enduring song ‘Fairytale of New York’ was written for Cait O’Riordan to sing with Shane MacGowan, although Kirsty MacColl eventually sang on the recording. After that, Cait worked with Elvis Costello, co-writing a number of songs while they were together. Since 2002, there have been several musical projects, including touring again with The Pogues.
What we like now is seeing the new millennium sober, mature and extremely likeable O’Riordan creating music within her local scenes, taking the Celtic sounds to small venues and keen fans.
Somehow it is still punk rock. Cait has become one of those grown-up punk musicians who are creating their own formats; keeping the punk attitude but being realistic about how drama, nostalgia, trauma and hedonism don’t help in the long-term.
“I benefit from the post-punk era – there was a DIY attitude after punk … you didn’t have to be any good, you just had to do it.”
Here’s one of our favourites – Cait singing ‘Haunted’ with The Pogues – a track which featured on the 1986 soundtrack for the film ‘Sid and Nancy’. That’s a film about how two people got destroyed; it’s a story about not surviving. We’re so glad that Cait O’Riordan has survived and has now made a better life for herself – a big punkgirldiaries salute goes to you today, Cait!