Therapy?: Over 30 years of comforting the afflicted!

Covid-19 set the entire music business back - but for Northern noisemakers Therapy?, the crisis crashed their 30th-anniversary proceedings. Bassist Michael McKeegan talks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about their rescheduled 32nd anniversary extravaganza, including a Cyprus Avenue gig on Wednesday October 5.
Therapy?: Over 30 years of comforting the afflicted!

Therapy? have a long history of playing in Cork dating back to Nancy Spain’s, in the 1990s Picture: Tom Hoad

When Northern rock trio Therapy? were able to resume planned Irish gigging as part of their 30th anniversary tour, originally scheduled for 2020, gigs in Cork and Limerick weren’t initially on the cards. One worldwide pandemic later, however, and the punk-metal trailblazers had the goo to see fans old and new across the country, including a date on Wednesday October 5th at Cyprus Avenue, with fellow Nordies Naked Lungs in tow.

“Tour logistics, pre-pandemic, you look at a week, what's within a certain distance, you check availability at venues, and they get back and say this night's better,” says Therapy? bassist Michael McKeegan over Zoom from his home studio in Belfast. “Obviously, everyone wants a Friday or a Saturday night, because they're good nights for people going out, y'know, they possibly don't have work or commitments the next day.

“But with the rescheduled shows, if we booked a show with a venue, if they said 'we've got a Wednesday, and we've got one Wednesday free this month', we had to be there. So whether we were in the Czech Republic the next day, or we had to do a six-hour drive, an eight-hour drive, it was insane. The European stretch, I think we did four weeks straight without a day off. Every day off was, at minimum, an eight-hour travel day.

“So, it was quite fatiguing, in that aspect, but thankfully, the shows were amazing, so that takes the sting out of that. It's the old rock'n'roll cliche, you get paid for the travel, not for the gig, because the gig is so much fun.”

That tour was one prong of a whole campaign to celebrate the longevity of the boys in black after three decades and some fifteen studio albums - if, like the band, you count earliest releases Babyteeth and Pleasure Death as mini-albums - including a live-in-studio album recorded in 2019 at the legendary Abbey Road studios that took in current-day takes of their nineties singles, including ‘Screamager’, ‘Nowhere’, ‘Stories’, and a version of ‘Die Laughing that included the Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield on guest vocals; as well as an official band autobiography, compiled from exhaustive interviews by UK journo Simon Young.

Therapy? are set to play Cyprus Avenue on October 5, as part of their rescheduled 32nd anniversary extravaganza. 	Picture: Tom Hoad
Therapy? are set to play Cyprus Avenue on October 5, as part of their rescheduled 32nd anniversary extravaganza. Picture: Tom Hoad

These upcoming Irish dates are the tail-end of a long run of greatest-hits shows that would have concluded at the end of 2020, leaving the band free to head into their fourth decade on the buzz of writing, recording and touring a new album. That whole process lies ahead for the band, but first, there’s the matter of putting a pin in the big milestone.

"I mean, it's no secret that we've got a new album already recorded, but we just felt it would be weird to do a half-30th anniversary, half new-album tour. We're not going to play ten new songs on an anniversary, greatest-hits tour, it's meant to be a party, more of a different vibe, and we would approach it in a different way.

"There was, I suppose, considerable pressure to do the new stuff and all this, so we thought we would do this and honor that, because some people maybe don't want to come in and hear the new album. Maybe they want to hear the greatest hits, that's maybe what sold them the ticket, that's maybe why they're enthused and they're going to drive over to the show, so we decided to separate them out. And it's been great because, my fear was that it might neither be one or the other, and then you're done, then it'd be like, 'well, what do we do now? Do we do another new album?'.

"The new record came out great, I'm really, really pleased with it, and I think it deserves to be heard, like we've done with the previous albums, maybe since ‘Crooked Timber’, we'll do the album tour, and we'll play all the songs in the set, which we've been doing historically now since 2009, and do it justice, rather than shoehorn in five of them. We have played a few new songs live, just as part of the show, just to bed them in a bit and get people hearing them, and that's been going really well. It's kind-of bittersweet, because it seems such a long time coming, and now it's, it's going to be ending in Ireland.”

Underpinning the band’s anniversary wave of nostalgia has been a bevy of accompanying reissues from their former labels, making important entries in a long and sometimes fragmented body of work available again digitally and on CD, in the case of Universal’s deluxe redux of 1992 debut full-length Nurse, and in the case of their Demolition Records output from 2009 to 2015, vinyl reissues in the near future, including expanded editions of 2009’s ‘Crooked Timber’ - an unfairly-ignored masterpiece - and 2015’s ‘Disquiet’.

“Demolition, we've a very good relationship with, and they just wanted to do the CDs first, and obviously vinyl's a bit trickier and a bit more complicated at the minute, so there's hopefully going to be vinyl reissues of those.

“The Universal stuff has been really great, actually. There's a guy, Steve Hammonds, who kind-of liaises with us, and I've got to know reasonably well over email, and he's really, really good. And if you've got stuff, you'd say, 'look, Steve, I've got these skanky flyers from this year, can we get them tarted up'? He'll say ‘send them to us, we'll get them sorted’. All the demos on the Nurse reissue, for example, I ripped them off a cassette, actually, because the original data got corrupted and stuff like that.

“He fights your corner, he doesn't want to just bang out the album and the B-sides, he said, 'if there's any curios, and you'd like to do a bit of a booklet and stuff, it's good'. I'd like to push it forward a bit more. I mean, [1998 alt-rock album] 'Semi-Detached' would be great. I'd really like to do that, I've already because I know the format, I've got all the extra tracks and I've got a potential list of all the bonus songs and stuff like that. I would really like to look at the Ark21 [indie label formerly run by The Police’s Stewart Copeland] stuff, which is kind of Universal as well, but I don't know where that is.”

The band have had their history with Cork - from playing Nancy Spain’s in 1990 with Leeside thrashers Judgement, to taking in a two-night residency for the 2009 Jazz Weekend. The city is also home to some of the band’s most ardent superfans, and McKeegan says the band are looking forward to it.

Cyprus Avenue is great, we always get really well looked-after, the crowd are great, we're always really happy to go back

“Well, it's always been great, y'know, Cyprus Avenue is one of our favourite venues. It's been brilliant, because we've been playing there probably for twenty years now, and it's amazing to see how it's progressed. It's nice to see that they're forward-thinking, they're trying different things, they're creating a hub for different things. You go to some venues, and they're the same as they were twenty years ago, except worse and worn down. Cyprus Avenue is great, we always get really well looked-after, the crowd are great, we're always really happy to go back.”

There’s the usual whirlwind of new-album activity ahead of the band from early next year, but getting back out on the road after the events of the last two or three years, reconnecting with fans old and new, has also provided the band with perspective on how they’ve come this far, says McKeegan.

“I worked it out, and once you take away all the stuff, and you're sitting at home, listening to music, playing music, that's really what it's all about. You know, I mean, you play music for yourself, and your two bandmates, creating something. I think, maybe one of the big strengths of Therapy?, it's always been about the music.

“It's never been about a haircut, or hype or anything like that, we've always tried to focus as much as we can on the music, because that's what endures, and that's what I saw at those rescheduled anniversary shows, songs that meant a lot to people in the audience.

“It was quite humbling actually, because sometimes, all the hustle and bustle in your life, 'what time's soundcheck, aren't you doing that?', once you get up there on stage, it's like, 'f**king hell, this is incredible'. It's a real privilege.”

Therapy? play Cyprus Avenue on Wednesday October 5, as part of their So Much for the 32-Year Plan tour. Tickets €30 from cyprusavenue.ie and the Old Oak bar.

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