Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – O

“Oh, you pretty things (you pretty things)
Don’t you know your driving your
Mamas and papas insane”
Oh, You Pretty Things – David Bowie (Great song almost ruined by overplay in a Joe Fresh commercial last fall)
Sinead O’Connor
I always looked forward to receiving advance releases from Ensign Records. We were their distributor in Canada (MCA) and had first dibs on releasing them domestically. The label was founded in the late seventies by Nigel Grainge and Chris Hill. For my money Nigel had two of the best ears in the business and had major early success as an A&R rep for Phonogram with 10CC and Thin Lizzy and then formed Ensign and signed the Boomtown Rats. In the late seventies and early eighties the label had hits with Eddy Grant, Flash & The Pan and Phil Fearon. A new slew of signings in the mid-eighties included The Waterboys and World Party and the strange album that arrived on my desk with a striking cover “The Lion And The Cobra”. The original UK cover was different from the one that would be released in North America. There was a video included and I popped it in to the massive PAL machine in the board room and watched “Troy”.  I then  watched it again. Who was this completely shorn woman with one of the most powerful and emotive voices I had ever heard? I put the album on and was doubly impressed as Sinead rocked on songs like “Mandinka” and “Jackie”. scratched the surface of hip-hop with “ I Want Your (Hands On Me)”  and just belted songs like “Troy”. After playing the video at a marketing meeting to a roomful of snickers I finally convinced enough people that it was worth a shot to release the record but warned them that it would either sell 500 or 50,000 copies and there was likely to be little radio or video airplay.
I let Nigel know we were going to give it a shot and he proposed that Sinead come over for a couple days of promotion with her manager Fachtna O’Ceallaigh. I found out that Fachtna was the former manager of The Boomtown Rats and had recently worked with U2 at Mother Records. Not a bad pedigree for 1987.
It was a pretty cold November night when I headed up to the airport to meet their flight. I wanted to make a good first impression so I hired a sedan to drive us around. Sinead and Fachtna were pretty easy to spot at the baggage carousel; he was well over six feet tall and Sinead was wearing a beige men’s suit which was covered in writing.  She was stunning. After nervous pleasantries I told them I would call the car around to take us to the hotel. Fachtna pulled me aside and said that Sinead would not get in to a limo and I better find an alternative method of transport. I pleaded my case with him to no avail and asked if I could speak to Sinead about it. Over a cigarette I apologized to her and then told her a couple of stories about recent promo trips by  Jellybean Benitez and Vanity and finally convinced her to get in the car. I think the fact that Prince protégé Vanity had used it recently sealed the deal. I also assured them both that for the next two days that would be travelling in the blue Cavalier. Lesson learned.
Of the course of the next few days we did quite a few interviews with the more adventurous media. I found out that Sinead had produced “The Lion And The Cobra” after discarding four months worth of work by producer Mick Glossop (Van Morrison, The Waterboys, Magazine). She was twenty and pregnant at the time. It was a good promo trip and we started the ball rolling in Canada.
In the spring of 1988 a short tour was set-up for select cities in North America. It would start in Buffalo on March 23 and end at The Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles exactly one month later. The Canadian shows would consist of two nights at The Diamond Club in Toronto, now known as The Phoenix, and a show at the Spectrum in Montreal. At Sinead’s insistence one of the two Toronto shows had to be all-ages and a local hip-hop artist would be the opening act. For the Canadian dates Michie Mee got the nod. Since the original promo trip Fachtna and I had spent a lot of time on the phone and were in constant contact regarding the development of Sinead’s career. There were a lot of unofficial rules about marketing and it became pretty obvious that they were not going to play by the industry standards. We stayed away from all of the obvious gimmicks and marketed her on her music alone and seemed to gain the respect of Sinead, Fachtna and the label. Being her first ever North American date I decided to drive to Buffalo to catch the show. It was an unusually warm March day when I  pulled the Cavalier in to the backstage parking lot at Buffalo State University and was stunned to see Sinead roller skating around the parking lot. She was working off her nervous energy before her big debut and had purposely picked a smaller market and a university crowd to open the tour. As we were receiving decent play at CFNY at the time there was a pretty big contingent of curious Southern Ontario fans in attendance. Live Sinead was even more powerful than the record. Any worries I had about her voice translating to the stage were immediately dismissed. I knew the sold out shows in Toronto were going to be amazing.
As predicted “The Lion And The Cobra” sold 50,000 copies in Canada and was certified gold. Knowing that she would not be one to covet a standard gold record I had one custom made with a CD (which were still new at that time) and had it made out to her new born son Jake. We were both new parents at the time and we also had that to fall back upon when “industry” chat wore thin. Apparently it hung in his room for years. Sinead was never one for awards and she turned down her Grammy award for Best Alternative Album in 1991 and her CASBY award for Best International Album from 1990 sits in my kitchen.
The atmosphere at The Diamond Club was electric. I was standing by the soundboard watching Michie when I noticed a dark haired woman speaking to the soundman and then she settled in beside me. Assuming, by her thick Irish accent, that she was on the tour I introduced myself and she said her name was Mary O’Hare. She was really in to Michie and near the end of her set Fachtna took Mary away to get ready. Taking one more look at her eyes I realized that Mary was Sinead and loved to be in the crowd to watch her opening acts. I introduced Mary to a couple of industry folks in Montreal and none were the wiser.
The Canadian shows were fantastic and we knew a star was born. When the tour wound up on April 23 in L.A. Sinead was beginning to reach her tipping point in the U.S.A. . After the show we were hanging out with the likes of Rosanna Arquette and Rutger Hauer and our Irish girl was the toast of Hollywood.
It would be a couple of years before “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” would be released and Sinead would become an international superstar. With the massive success of “Nothing Compares To You” things had changed. Fachtna was no longer involved and she was now being managed by Steve Fargnoli, who also represented Prince. Although it is assumed that Steve hooked her up with the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares To You” it was Fachtna who found the song on an obscure The Family album and originally suggested it. . The John Maybury produced video, a tight shot of Sinead’s face with a single tear streaming from her eye as she sings the line about a mother, was one of the most stunning clips ever shot. Although the rules and status had changed it was still the same old Sinead I picked up at the airport in my new Dodge Caravan. We checked in to the rather posh Four Seasons and spent the afternoon sipping girl drinks poolside. A press conference was arranged for Lee’s Palace the next day and Sinead and I chain smoked Du Mauriers as we blasted N.W.A. in the van driving across Bloor. Although we spent some time on tour together later that year (with Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce from The Smiths in the band now) I never really got anymore one on one time with her. Shortly thereafter Sinead  or I changed labels and I was no longer involved. Everyone was witness to what happened in the following months and years from the infamous Saturday Night Live performance, the verbal war between her and Frank Sinatra and a series of high profile marriages culminating in her recent 16 day marriage.
Around this time last year I noticed the signature Fachtna on a Bob Lefsetz newsletter with a Twitter handle attached. I had often wondered what had become of the man and went on a hunt for him. I managed to find him on Face book (under an assumed name) and sent him a note. We picked up our conversation like it was yesterday. He let me know that he was back working with Sinead and wondered if I would give him my thoughts on some new material she was working on. He sent me seven tracks, and one of them, “Wolf”, gave me the same goosebumps I had when I first heard “Troy”. I hope the record will be released one day as it is too damn good to be ignored. It was the most played song on my iPod in 2011. With Fachtna back in the picture the labels are once again going to have to play by their rules and hopefully one will let the music do the talking.
If you only know Sinead from “Nothing Compares To You” and the tabloid headlines do yourself a favour and pick up her debut  “The Lion And The Cobra”. It was here that the genius was born.
Other Things
For the next eight Wednesday nights we will be showcasing two of our artists at The Supermarket in Toronto. Morgan Cameron Ross kicked off things last night and next week Robyn Dell’Unto will headline. They will alternate Wednesdays and all shows are “PWYC – Pay What You Can”. There will be some great support acts and it’s a great downtown venue in the heart of Kensington.
We now have an email where all of us here at Don’t Believe A Word I Say can be contacted dbawis@rogers.com. Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you would like to read about, links you would like to share, and, let’s hear what you have to say.
Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

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