The National, Birmingham Irish Centre, 6th November 2007

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The National, Birmingham Irish Centre, 6th November 2007

“I wish that I believed in fate

I wish I didn’t sleep so late

I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders.”

– The National: Mr November

“Everything I can remember

I remember wrong.”

The National: Daughters of the SoHo Riots

It’s been a long time since I last visited Birmingham’s Irish Centre. I remember going there as a child, my Dad supping a pint of Guinness in the lounge while my little brother Rob and I scoffed vinegar-soaked chips and slurped watered-down Coke and tried to play pool on a table we could barely reach. Back then, Rob was significantly shorter than me and “little brother” was more than just a figure of speech. Ah, simple times.

And, look… there I am again: slightly older, none-the-wiser and now I’m standing outside the Irish Centre. I’m waiting for the coach that’ll take my family and me to Aunt Maria’s cottage in rural County Monagahan – via Hollyhead and the Irish Sea – and aren’t I the sulky wee gobshite! Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan was about to be released on the big screen and I was going to an Irish village with one shop, three pubs and no cinema. There was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t get to see Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan in the way that God intended, and this caused me great anguish. But I’d more than make up for it in later years, and – for that matter – in recent weeks.

As I got older, the Irish Centre became a regular fixture in my teenage calendar. I went to numerous gigs there – from late-80s seminal indie darlings like The Sundays to raucous Irish folk bands like the Wolfe Tones. It was also the regular venue for my sixth form college’s end-of-term disco. Yes, we called them “discos” and we weren’t being ironic or post-modern. That’s how O-L-D I am.

I can still remember one end-of-termer during my late teens, as the proper old-school, non-superstar DJ – a middle-aged man known as The Mighty Quinn – put on the obligatory Pogues track and the dancefloor erupted, as Anglo-Irish dancefloors have a tendency to do during obligatory Pogues tracks. It was Fiesta, one of the barnstormers from the classic If I Should Fall From Grace With God album, and it wasn’t long before I found myself entwined in a spinning huddle of drunken bodies. Fast, faster then even faster we spun, like some booze-fuelled, high-octane centrifuge of booze. Faces, lights and sounds melted into a dizzying, synaesthetic blur until, inevitably, I lost my grip, flew through the air and crashed into some vacant tables and chairs parked nearby. Within seconds I was back on my feet – dusting off the booze, ash, glass and bits of table – and launched myself back into the fray with tremendous gusto.

These days, my recovery time is a bit more sluggish. If I was catapulted though the air and crashed into furniture now I’d probably be in a body cast typing this with broken fingers. Or dead. Or possibly a broken-fingered corpse.

Like I said, it had been a long time since I’d last visited Birmingham’s Irish Centre. More than seventeen years had gone by since I’d last made an eejit of myself in the main hall, but when I went to see The National last month very little had changed. The same tricolour flag was hanging in the corner, the same Irish lakeside mural was on the wall and – unless I’m mistaken – the same fittings and fixtures were behind the bar. It was as though the place had been preserved in amber, a weird time-capsule of faded 70’s working class elegance. Nothing had changed, only me.

For me the Irish Centre is still loaded with meaning, and few places resonate with my memories – with my personal history and mythology – in quite the same way. As I glanced around the main hall – at the chipped paint on the Céad Míle Fáilte sign, at the school assembly hall stage with its gold foil drapes – it set off a wild cascade of half-remembered moments. Dreamlike glimpses of lost innocence and lurid triumphs, a nonlinear slideshow of images that all run together and never make sense. The shy 16 year-old gracefully disappears in a room while his boisterous older incarnation raises his heavenly glasses to the heavens. Snapshots from a simpler time, when all the wine was all for me and we were heirs to the glimmering world.

It was the perfect place to see a band like The National.


About the Author:

My name is Tom Lennon and I'm a freelance writer who specialises in humour at the geekier end of the pop culture spectrum. I'm based in Birmingham, UK, and my work has recently appeared in BuzzFeed and Time Out.

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