Neck: Leeson O’Keeffe talks some PSYCHO-CEILÍDH-BABBLE

September 2001

Led by songsmith Leeson O’Keeffe (formerly of Shane MacGowan’s Popes), NECK is a 6-piece London-Irish band playing PSYCHO-CEILÍDH. Their songs reflect the emigrant and second-generation Irish life experience: combining the vibrant spiritual abandon of Irish songs and tunes with the rip-roaring electric guitar driven energy of Punk Rock. This heady mixture is evident in the line-up of whistle, fiddle, banjo, punky guitar(s), bass, drums and vocals – the overall effect is one of total release! Individually too, NECK are recognised musicians in their own right: with whistle-player Marie McCormack in demand for solo recitals; while Leeson (occasionally with fiddler Marion Gray) has been guesting regularly with The A3 (Alabama 3), from TVs’ “The Sopranos”. -That’s with all three NECK players maintaining a well-known presence on the London traditional Irish session circuit! (From Neck’s Bio)

The following interview was carried out over a serious of emails with Leeson O’Keeffe and Marie McCormack.

(S’n’O) Celtic Punk is exploding in the US have you checked out The Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly yet ?

(Leeson O’Keeffe) “We’ve shared column inches with Flogging Molly from day one since we’ve been coming here (the US that is), but we didn’t hear them until we were given a tape of Swagger by a guy who was coming to our gigs in October last year & I think they’re brilliant (we actually do a cover of “The Worst Day since Yesterday”! – it’s one of the best songs that Shane never wrote! – it’s a corker!).”
“We’ve seen The Dropkick Murphys twice in London and again, we think they’re brilliant – I’ve never heard “The Rocky Road to Dublin” done like that before in my life! – but it’s brilliant! and it’s great that they all sing at the same time on the choruses in those massive Boston ‘Irish’ accents, and that the crowds are so typically punk’n’daft! Wicked stuff! – you just stand there (Down the front me?-I should co-co!-I’ll leave that to Marie – she went down the front at The Underworld show in Camden – her boyfriend got biffed, but some unkind souls found that highly amusing….I wonder who that might be then? MOI?-perish the thought!) with a beer in yer paw, tapping your foot with a dirty great grin on yer face! -It’s fuckin’ brilliant to think that there are people thousands of miles away, who grew up completely different to you, but are doing something that is on completely the same wave-length! The feature in Broadside fanzine was brilliant!”

“I’m chuffed -to-fuck about the whole thing. I just hope that the U.S. bands like what we do as much as we like them – I would love to do a gig with both bands – but particularly Flogging Molly, because we are so similar-for my money, they’re the best punky Irish band since The Pogues and that includes everyone! Dave Kings’ a very good song-writer, although his voice is an acquired taste when he goes for the high notes-when he stays down ,it’s great-particularly on ‘Worst Day’, the start of “The likes of you again” & “the whole of grace of God go I” deadly! and he’s from Dublin!(can’t be bad-we’ll have none of yer culchie bollocks around here now!) Anyway-y’know what I mean?”

(S’n’O) How have you gone down in Ireland?

(Leeson O’Keeffe) “It’s been a dream come true – I was very apprehensive at first (coals to Newcastle & all that, and I know that The Pogues had a nightmare when they first went over) but probably thanks to the Pogues, it’s all different now. I mean Dublin now is predominantly a dance town, like London, Manchester or Kansas City (?!) but there is still a thriving live music scene and outside of Dublin (we’ve been to Derry, Belfast, Waterford, Letterkenny, Draperstown & Dublin) live music appears to be doing o.k. altho’ Belfast again, has a huge dance thing going-on; even in staunch Nationalist areas like Ballymurphy in West Belfast they’re all into Tall Paul, as well as people like The Wolfe Tones, of course. But then the best gig we had in Belfast was there!”

(S’n’O) So what have Neck been up to recently?

(Leeson O’Keeffe) “We’re just back from a “craicing” tour of Ireland, taking-in gigs in Derry & Dublin (including one with The Alabama 3), a live radio session, three Festivals: The Waterford Spraoi, The West Belfast Feile an phobail & The Derry Gas Yard Wall Feile (the last two were with the incandescent Undertones! -we got paid to watch The Undertones!!!!!)-jumpin? Jaysus! AND—–then there was the POITIN!!!!!”

“Also the regular trad. sessions are still occurring every Thursday in The Twelve Pins, Finsbury Park & every Sunday in The Queen, Brixton (both 9 p.m./no cover) London”

(S’n’O) Explain the “Plastic and Proud” logo and what is a “Plastic Paddy”?

(Leeson O’Keeffe) “Obviously, I’m paraphrasing the “say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud” slogan, just in the same way the T-shirt paraphrases the Sex Pistols. (Whose singer-John Lydon, whose parents are from Galway & Cork – grew up down the bottom of my road and did have bricks thrown at him as a kid ‘cos he was Irish. Incidentally, round the corner from him is a pub called ‘The Favorite’, where Tom McAnimal from The Popes grew up. It was one of the main traditional session pubs in London in the 60’s and 70’s, and as such, played a hugely important part in the social-life of the Irish-Emigrant community (particularly for those living in digs) – as all those pubs did, and still do. No wonder this area’s known as Co. Holloway!) We – the second-generation Irish in Britain- get called Plastic Paddies (I believe in the U.S. our equivalent are called ‘narrow-backs’) as a derogatory term by the first-generation Irish-because we’re not “the full ticket”. I personally don’t give a toss, it’s just a daft name, but there are contemporaries of mine who find it ignorant and offensive. -So the idea is to turn it on its head & reclaim it: if you call yourselves it, it takes the sting out of the intended ‘dig’, if y’knowwotahmeen…. and,of course, I am proud to be second-generation Irish – so if that means proud to be a “Plastic Paddy”, then that I am: I had no control over the place of my birth, but I choose to hold an Irish passport – I feel I’d be a hypocrite not to, doing what I do. -phew”.

(S’n’O) Would you ever let Ronan Keatin cover a Neck song?

(Leeson O’Keeffe) “Boyzone did a version of “She moved thru’ the fair” (my niece has the album-honest!) and James McNally (Afro-Celt Sound System-brilliant band!!!!) plays in his band as a session player I dunno, if he paid us loads of wonga and he had to do it in a NECK stylee, then maybe. Actually I think doing something with Shane Lynch might be a bit cool, he stuck -up for his missis with all that carryon when Puff Daddy (Puffy Daddy got beating up by Lynch) was in Dublin. EXCLUSIVE NEWS: we are working on some new T-shirts, which will please the Plastic Paddy callers, they’re just gonna say “DUFF PADDY” -geddit? I know, we’re being naughty little ironic tinkers. We could do some tuff jams & break-beats and then diddly-aye all over it!”

(Marie McCormack) “As to Ronan Keating: we’re happy to write songs for anyone but can his leather trousers cope with the crazy mad rocking that performing a Neck song would entail and could he cope singing songs about Irishness, when he is a bit of a m.o.d. croooner – watch the lawyers on this one! But we do not wish to blacken the name of Ronan and take it in vain when he very likely will end up the President of Ireland at some time down the years!”

(S’n’O) What was it like growing up Irish in London?

(Marie McCormack) “I didn’t know any different , it was just as things were. Nevertheless, this is how I recall growing-up: My upbringing was a little unconventional anyway-having the excitement of a pub to grow-up in: unlimited access to coke and crisps (potato chips) until my dad said who do you think has to pay for those when the auditor comes round, etc. etc.

I did Irish dancing instead of modern and tap unforced by my parents, whistle lessons rather than piano lessons, a complete uninvolvement with music competitions but mucho Irish dancing and medals galore for that. Always asked to do impromptu performances: ‘Ah, will you play a few tunes on the accordion/ whistle for…’, ‘The Sally Gardens’ reel being a popular one and ‘Boolavogue’ (watch the spelling for the weepy eye section). Donning harp medals on St. Patrick’s day -never enough shamrock from granny!

First Sunday in July- a proper Irish festival in Roundwood park in ‘County’ Kilburn in London (huge Irish area): stalls from every County; Irish soda bread ; step dancing; Irish dancing and a big parade.

My sister and I carting our dancing shoes to Donegal every summer and the ‘little English girls’ ‘entertaining the natives’ to a display of dancing in Egans on a Saturday night drew a big crowd: handed over the crown in later years to two more ‘little English girls’.

I only remember being asked once if I was Irish or English by Mrs Dunphy in Navan and actually had to think about that one: came down on the side of second- generation Irish( a sgi !).

Val Doonican on the telly on a Saturday night -oh yes! Must have claddagh rings (the secret sign!) until Argos stores started selling them 4 or 5 years ago!

No obvious signs of racism in school cos the majority were second generation everything – during the 70’s tension in air re: bombings and relatives questioned by the Metropolitan Police C.I.D. when they got off the boat train in early hours of the morning on their way to a wedding. A ban on ‘The Sun’ newspaper when it advised the public not to buy Kerry Gold butter, as an anti-Irish reaction. Others not so fortunate in securing their Irish identity, but that is their story and I cannot speak for them.

(S’n’O) Long term ambitions for Neck?

(Marie McCormack) International travel; the band that made a contribution to the world of music -make people happy; for some members, obviously, (whodatden?) to get laid around the world – watch this for future prospective brides. Memorable songs that enter the psyches of the world; and to have a bloody good laugh along the way!

We don’t live in the future but we have an eye to it, the journey thus far has been incredible and long may it continue -oh: and to play the London and New York Fleadhs 2002!

Fuck the messers and begrudgers !

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