Have yourself a very Therapy? Christmas!

Folks, I'd like to share a piece of writing that has recently been published. A few weeks ago, as a member of the Therapy? fan-club, I was approached to contribute to a book that was being put together to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary.

Only too happy to write stories (although you wouldn't think it if you were a frequent visitor to this website) and being a huge fan of the band, I sat down and attempted to write again. It felt good to be chasing the cursor across the screen once more.

So, in its entirety, please find below my contribution to the book "We're Here To The End Too", a book written by Therapy? fans and available from the following website:


I hope you enjoy my trip down memory lane, even if the photos are a little grainy....

Have yourselves a very Therapy? Christmas!

My first exposure to Therapy? was back in 1992.

I was 20 at the time and in my second year at Coleraine University. One of my class-mates, Joe, who hailed from Dublin came into class one day wearing a black T-Shirt, with the word “Therapy?” emblazoned across it with a rather strange looking grinning face below it.

I remember looking at it as he walked into class wondering what the hell it was all about. Was he making a statement? Was he asking a question? I surmised it had something to do with a band but seeing as the guy was a lot more ‘emo’ than myself, as I was someone who just liked his music loud and heavy, it was all a wee bit strange and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by showing my ignorance on the matter, so I let it slide.

Strangely enough my next experience of Therapy? came from my uncle JB just a few weeks later. My father and I went to pick him up from the airport just before Christmas of 1992 and on the drive back to our home town of Ballyclare, in county Antrim, Northern Ireland, he asked me had I heard any of the music “that the young Cairns fella from Ballyclare and his band-mates from Larne” were playing. Not for the first, nor the last time, uncle JB had displayed a far superior knowledge of the goings on in our home town than we were ever privy to – in spite of the fact that he spent the last third of his life living in London. As it turned out, uncle JB was close friends with Andy’s parents and he had found out about the band from them.

I guess Ballyclare’s that kind of town....

My interest was piqued - what with the band’s lead singer hailing from my home town making inroads into the music scene. Like most of us as kids growing up, I’d spent many a private moment singing and playing air-guitar in front of the bedroom mirror but here was someone from Ballyclare, of all places, actually living the dream. I knew who Andy Cairns was – he was only a few years older than me and Ballyclare is not that big a place. I had memories of him and his mates hanging out in the river park at the foot of the town. As we played football, they sat nearby consuming their alcohol carry-outs. It’s strange to think of now, but by the time I was old enough to indulge in that particular recreational past-time myself, Andy and the rest of the band were well on their way to becoming the Therapy? that we all know and love today.

That day, I headed down to Bert McCormick’s Record Store in Ballyclare Main Street and purchased the album “Nurse” on cassette (remember those?) and rushed home to give it a play. Not having a clue what kind of music I was letting myself in for, I was actually a little surprised to find out that it was something I really enjoyed. The noise was different to anything I had in my collection - the unique style of drumming, heavy bass, the scorching lead guitar all accompanying the dark lyrics, the album had a very industrial sound with “Teethgrinder” being a stand-out track for me. My love of all things Therapy? had been born.

A few evenings later, I ended up doing a pub quiz in the Square Bar in Ballyclare with my father and uncle JB. The other members of our team? None other than Andy Cairn’s mother and father. They told me that Andy was back in town and in the Ballyboe - another pub in our home town - if I wanted to pop in and say hello but I declined not knowing what I would have said to the guy without sounding too much of an eejit. Ballyclare’s that kind of a town as well.

Along the journey with Therapy? I am proud to say that I bought every album, a few EPs and several T-Shirts. I loved listening to their music and it was with great excitement that I greeted the release of a new Therapy? album. Some albums were of course better than others and line-ups changed, fall-outs with record labels ensued, but deep down, you knew that these guys were in it for the long-haul. I was also very proud of the fact that they were “local lads made good.” After graduating, my career and life took me away from Northern Ireland but I have always been proud to hail from our wee misunderstood corner of the world and would get great enjoyment from people back home being successful and telling anyone who cared to listen – or didn’t for that matter – about the fact that Therapy? and I were from the same neck of the woods. Even if Michael and Fyfe were “harbour rats” from up the road in Larne(!)

With Therapy?, I had a band whose music I loved and I could proudly say that they were from my home country. A country that for far too long stared into the abyss, could perhaps rise again and with the likes of Therapy? and later, Ash, we had bands that were spreading some joy from our war-torn country throughout the world. I’m not making any grand political statement here – I’m just saying as a native of Northern Ireland, it was great to have a band that played great balls to the wall music delivered with an infectious enthusiasm that has never waned - even after 20 years in the most hard-nosed of businesses.

In the early years, I saw Therapy? a couple of times in Belfast but after graduating, I ended up leaving Northern Ireland to live and work in Belgium. It wasn’t planned – it just kind of happened. I got the occasional trip home and it was during a trip from Northern Ireland back to Belgium that I bumped into Therapy? whilst waiting at the gate for a flight from Heathrow to Brussels.

Travelling with a female colleague at the time, I excitedly pointed out the band to her but she had no idea who I was talking about. I explained to her but she seemed a little non-plussed about it all. She suggested that we went over to say hello but, well, we’re not really like that back home are we? So I decided to leave it (we were after all, on the same flight – where could they go?) and if there was an opportunity to say hello to the band in the arrivals hall while we were all waiting on our luggage, then I would do so.

In Brussels Arrivals, I saw the band waiting at the luggage carousel, so I took my opportunity to say hello to the band. Somewhat surprised to hear my accent in Brussels airport, Andy asked “where the fuck is that accent from?” and when I told him I was from a certain part of Ballyclare, he replied with “Seriously?! I used to deliver newspapers round that way. So what are you doing here in Belgium?” So, we got chatting and passed a few minutes as we waited on the arrival of our luggage.

During the conversation it transpired that the band were playing in a small town about 40 minutes from where I was living and he invited us along to the gig. Andy then called the tour manager, Rog, asking that my colleague and I be put on the VIP guest list, saying that we could also meet them after the gig and have a few “Lucozades” back stage. The Lucozades turned out to be bottles of Grolsch in a tin bath full of ice. Rock and Roll decadence or what?!

I have to say we had a great time at the gig and the Belgian crowd loved Therapy? (something that I was to witness a few more times during my stay in Belgium over those years). My colleague was a convert and she had an absolute ball of a night, including her rather less than subtle attempts to woo Michael. (I hope he’s gotten over that one!) My memories of the night are a little hazy, but I do recall trying to convince Andy to invest a little bit of money into our local football team, Ballyclare Comrades, much to the derision of Michael. With him being from nearby Larne and therefore a ‘Harbour Rat’, he was more than ready to take the piss out of Andy and I for being “Sheep Shaggers”.

As the rock and roll lifestyle was coming to an end for my colleague and me, I mentioned to Andy that I was planning to take my wee brother, Darren, himself a recent addition to the Therapy? fan club to their Christmas gig at the Ulster Hall in Belfast in a few months time. Once again Andy got Rog to ensure that we would get on the VIP list and also back stage for their Christmas Party. As Rog was typing up “Jonny Black plus guest” on his laptop under Ulster Hall, Belfast, Dec 27th Andy said goodbye to us, adding “If you enjoyed yourself tonight, Jonny, you’ll have great craic back in Belfast at Christmas time!”

I couldn’t wait.

Having told all and sundry about my exploits with the lads from Therapy?, I was finding it difficult to keep it a secret from my wee brother that he had it all to look forward to in a couple of months time. Only 14, he was finding his way in the world of music and with two older brothers, some of our musical tastes was starting to rub off on the youngest with Therapy? being one of his favourites. To say he envied the “Hanging out with Rock Stars, Therapy?” story would be understating it. Perhaps even going as far as to think his IT geek brother was a little bit cool after all...

Somehow, I managed to keep the secret until Christmas Day itself. Opening his present, which was a rather fine looking Therapy? T-Shirt I explained to him that he would need it in a couple of day’s time because he too would get to hang out back stage with Therapy? The look of unbridled joy on his face is something that I will remember forever.

Two days later and we headed off to the Ulster Hall early, with my wee brother beside himself with excitement. It was a cold, wet and windy evening and there were plenty of people already standing outside the venue huddling against the elements waiting for the doors to open.

Not such a wait for us, of course, because we were on the guest list.

So, grinning like Wayne and Garth out of Wayne’s World, we walked past the crowd to the front door of the Ulster Hall, where, when told by security to join the back of the queue, I proudly informed them that we were, in fact, down in the VIP guest list. Checking his clip board of names, we soon discovered that we weren’t, in fact, on the guest list at all.

My brother’s face crumpled in despair and anguish whilst a few at the front of the queue who had heard what had just happened, started to snigger. “Looks like you’re going to have to queue just like the rest of us” somebody wisecracked behind us.

I was dying.

“There must be some mistake – I was hanging out with the band back stage in Belgium a couple of months ago and Andy Cairns invited us to the gig tonight. I even saw their tour manager, Rog typing it into his laptop!” I pleaded with security. I knew I was name-dropping but I had to get my brother into the gig at all costs.

“Come on through to the lobby and we’ll see if we can get Rog to come out and verify this”

I’m not sure if it was festive spirit, my pleading, or my brother’s face of despair that swung it, but at least we were in out of the cold, all be it not knowing what was going to happen next.

Soon after, the rest of the punters started filing into the gig, with a few of the ones at the front taking great enjoyment in the two “VIPs” that were standing there looking like a couple of guys who have had the air deflated out of them. After what seemed like an eternity, I suddenly noticed Andy’s parents walking into the venue. Nothing ventured, nothing gained I thought, so I shamelessly approached them and explained the situation to them. Andy’s father, sympathising with our predicament, promised to go and find Rog to see if he could sort it all out for us. And off he went into the venue along with the streams of people going to the sold-out Christmas gig. With local acts Joyrider and Ash also set to play, this was going to be a big show, and after having been waiting here for over an hour, it was looking increasingly likely that the best present I had ever given my brother was being cruelly taken away from him by events out of my control.

As I was contemplating this, a rather flustered Rog came out into the lobby with Andy’s father in tow. Much to our delight, he recognised me and apologising profusely, he explained that his laptop had crashed and that he had lost a lot of information on it as a result. Of course we were allowed into the gig and of course we were welcome to party back stage with the band. The party with Therapy? was back on and I got a relieved hug from my brother.

The concert itself was a cracker. Joyrider opened the proceedings well and Ash – who were already starting to make inroads into the music world themselves – started firing up the crowd in time for the main act to take centre stage.

Obviously enjoying performing in front of their home crowd, the lads from Therapy? performed a great show that night with everyone in the audience adding to the atmosphere. There was even an impromptu performance from Skin (of Skunk Anansie fame) who appeared on stage for one song and then stage dived into the crowd afterwards.

Merry Christmas Northern Ireland!

Afterwards, we went back stage where there was a great atmosphere with all the performers mingling with friends, family and fans alike and when Andy noticed me, he was nice enough to come up to ask me how Belgium was treating me. My brother, obviously impressed with my rock ‘n’ roll circle of friends, took the opportunity to have his photo taken with Andy.

After chatting briefly with the rest of the band and enjoying a couple of complimentary cans of Harp, we left the party to continue on into the night. After all – Darren was too young to drink and I had enjoyed a late night one on one session with the band in Belgium a couple of months previously.

As we headed out into the cold, Belfast night a very excited wee brother, told me it was the best Christmas present he’d ever had. And I believed him.

Thanks Andy, Michael and Fyfe, as well as Andy’s father and Rog the tour manager for a very special Christmas party that will live long in my brother’s and my memory for the rest of our lives.

I could talk about the time I went to see you support the Rolling Stones, or even the several times I saw you at the Rock Werchter festival in Belgium (indeed at one stage only some band called REM(!) had played that festival more times than yourselves).

Or even the time that I saw you in Antwerp at the club known as Petrol, where, upon noticing my Northern Ireland flag and discovering I was the guy from Ballyclare you announced to the crowd that, in the same way some towns are twinned with others, “Ballyclare was in a suicide pact with Amsterdam”

Then there was the time that I brought my girlfriend, an Australian girl who had never heard of Therapy? to go watch you on our first date. Needless to say we are still together and I am now living in Brisbane with her. (BTW – any tours of Australia planned?!)

But they’re all stories for another time. Perhaps I’ll dust them out for the 40th Anniversary!

Thanks Therapy? for all the good times and looking forward to many more.