Cork's other Premier League side The Sultans OF Ping FC are sick of being compared with them across the park. Clark Collis sews on a sequin with the cyberpunk Monkees...
Okay, let's go through this one more time. How exactly is the presence of a Japanese film crew at the Venue in New Cross going to turn The Sultans Of Ping FC into a cyberpunk Monkees for the Nineties? Easy. The TV station wants the lads to play themselves, only in the show they really are a football team. Unfortunately they lose all their matches. So the Sultans get invited over to Japan and play an all-girl club at which point they perform Japanese Girls. They lose the game but get invited back to a karaoke bar, where they let loose on a rousing rendition of Karaoke Queen before ending the show on a happy note by falling in love with the opposition.'
And people say that drugs aren't what they used to be.
It's alright to say things can only get better, but you haven't lost your brand new sweater, I know I had it on when I had my tea, And I'm sure I had it on in the lavatoryEverybody knows about the Sultans Of Ping. They are the band from Cork who aren't The Frank And Walters, the ones who did that reetum-rippingly annoying single called Where's Me Jumper?. A huge indie hit and one-time Select Single Of The Month, Where's Me Jumper? rescued them from obscurity at the start of last year and simultaneously doomed them to Novelty-Single Hell. One Hit Wonders, you see. Too funny for their own good. Not really 'cut out' for the long haul. The Sultans were now expected to be grateful for their allotted 15 minutes and bugger off back home.
Except that somebody forgot to tell them. Subsequent singles did just as well while the Sultans spent most of '92 touring their sequin-clad arses off to packed houses. And now they've got a proper hit, U Talk 2 Much. One hit wonders? Time to eat it, detractors...
'We were actually a No hit Wonder." guitarist Pat O'Connell confesses as the Pingers prepare to play the Venue, yet another date on their infinite tour. Where's Me Jumper? got to 67.'
'They all got to 67,' muses bespandexed singer Niall O'Flaherty.
Pat: 'The real problem has been with the music press. We had a very, very minor hit and the press praised us to the skies. Our next two singles actually sold better and nothing was written about them at all. What do we have to do? Have a number one? Have live sex on stage?'
It might help.
Niall: 'Okay, critically they have every right to say, Well, we don't think that this is as good. But people like The Independent are constantly writing about us as a phenomenon, and the music press, which is supposed to represent alternative music, has ignored us. When they do mention us they have little bitchy things like calling us The Crap Frank And Walters. That's just joke journalism.'
But even on more sensitive songs such as Let's Go Shopping your humour is so upfront that it's impossible to keep a straight face.
'Well, would the fact that Madness were a humorous band have stopped you listening to them and really enjoying them?' Pat asks.
'One of the most famous quotes from Aristotle is that tragedy is humour. Now, I'm not saying we're deep, but just cos our music is permeated with humour doesn't deny the fact that it's serious, real music.'
Being lectured on Aristotle by a man clad entirely in silver, spangly trimmings is an experience everyone should have at least once. Niall, however, can go one better.
'Look, from begining to end Nietzsche makes you laugh. And I don't see any novelty in that.'
The Sultan's debut album is called Casual Sex In Ihe Cineplex, and despite its jokier-than-thou title could be just the job to confound doubters everywhere. Mixing up grim humour, astute observation and association football, tracks like Indeed You Are or Kick Me With Your Leather Boots manage to be both hugely entertaining and tellingly relevant. If this is a piss-take then it is the kind of joke that has sustained The Fall for nigh on 15 years. The most enchanting thing about the Sultans though, whether on record, onstage or in person, is their gloriously naive enthusiasm for 'that whole rock'n'roll business'. Ask Pat what the best thing about the previous year has been and he will say 'meeting the Cramps', while Niall points to the rise of Shonen Knife...
'They show people that there is so much more to rock'n'roll than introspective, self-indulgent, wallowing pop music. There's been an emergence of a sort of arthouse movement - Verve, The Auteurs - and I find this all pretty sick. The Auteurs, they're dangerous cookies. Suede are a great band but they're part of it as well.'
But surely Verve's version of glamour isn't a million miles away from your own?
'Well OK, but their portrayal of sexuality is far more egotistical than ours. We're not actually saying that we're sexy and dangerous - although we are, of course, far more sexy and dangerous than Verve. But we aren't saying it, we're just being it. People say Suede and Verve are sexy and dangerous. Compared to The Cramps they're just a bunch of pussies.'
Is there not a danger now you are signed to Epic that some of this glamour will be watered down? Wasn't the original point of The Sultans to be anti-big bands, anti-corporate?
Pat: 'Well what we are anti is bands saying that they're anticorporate and then not being. Like The Levellers saying, There's only one way in life and all that, and then charging 16 quid for their T-shirts. That's what really sucks. All that I was a boatman on the river stuff...'
Niall: 'I wish I was a boatman on the river earning 15 grand a night'.
Pat: The Levellers are our absolute nemesis. This culture that lives outside the state and yet relies on the state to give them their dole cheque every week... We were going to get T-shirts made which instead of saying Lev-ell-ers said Par-asi-tes.'
The gig, when it finally rolls around, is less of a concert than a communion. The Venue is packed with committed Sultanites who know when to sing, when to stage-dive and, most importantly, when to do the Dying Fly. In the cool light of day it may be easy to criticise the Sultans for being too derivative or too trite or even too clever for their own good but see them live and you'll realise this is simply churlish. Face-to-face Niall O'Flaherty might appear almost ridiculously polite and thoughtful, but onstage he becomes quite simply one of the maddest, baddest mofo's ever to squeeze into a pair of fake leopardskin strides. He is a star.
As the shattered audience finally disperses, Niall's synopsis of the average Sultan's gig starts tugging at the memory banks.
'It's much better than a night in. But not quite as good as a trip to Sainsbury's.'
Copyright Select Magazine 1992
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