When My Friends Become Successful (Cousteau/Liam McKahey)

When you live in London you don’t always play out with the people you work with. You may get along just swimmingly while you have punched the clock but you could live 20 miles or more away from each other. Anyway you, & the one’s you would consider spending any out-of-work time with, have a life of their own. It was different on the building site. “Coming for a drink after work” may have sounded like a question but it was really an offer that needed a pretty good excuse if you were going to refuse. I was not unfamiliar with a post-shift beverage or few but now the dust of the day needed washing away & the company was nothing more than a blast. This mainly Irish crew were young men just left home & making their way in the big city with a few quid in their pockets. To call it the “craic” would be lazy. There was a joy of vivre, a tangle of language & laughter where you did not need a loud voice or sharp elbows to make yourself heard. If you were giving it out then you had better be able to take it but there was no malice in the humour, it was not at anyone’s expense. That was why I was in the pub with these guys, a beer in my hand & one waiting for me at the bar.

We were knocking the bejaysus out of  some funky old warehouses. After the sweat, the dust, the graft I would paint whatever was left, try to make it nice y’know. “Nice” was the best I could do, I was a painter not a fucking magician. I attempted this alchemy alongside a young dandy from Cork, a bequiffed rockabilly rebel without a clue who was ready for a bigger world than the one proffered by the South-West of Ireland (no Cork-sucker this guy). Liam & I shared an interest in at least knocking on the doors of perception which led to some late & extreme nights. We also agreed that, as we had been given a brain, it made sense to make use of it. I recognised in Liam a fellow moralist. Someone prepared to examine & challenge their own actions & motives before raging against the lame-brained, blockheaded solipsism of the world. We became very good friends for a good while before Life & London got in the way & we lost touch. This is how Liam McKahey looked…& sounded.

Now…”Later With Jools Holland” is a late Friday night TV music show. At the time our thing was to drink 2 or 3 over the 8 then home to watch the music & the roll ’em, smoke ’em, put another line out routine. Hey, it doesn’t make me a bad person ! So…on comes this group & here is this singer & Double Yew, Tee, Eff ! My first look at Cousteau confused me. I got the reference points, the smooth modern cabaret of Scott Walker sings Bacharach tousled with hints of the Bad Seeds & Tom Waits. It’s all good, “Last Good Day of the Year” is a stand-out song from the eponymous debut LP but what was wrong with this picture ? That young Sinatra on vocals was troubling me. He had appropriated, lock, stock & two smokin’ cheekbones, my friend Liam’s own very individual style. Now, if you are going to steal then steal from the best but mate, just what is your game ? Get your own ! I was confused but I said nothing. The Friday night heebie-jeebies & I were on better than nodding terms at the time.

The next day, in that brief window of weekend discernment, I checked for Cousteau. What do you know ? The singer of this fine new band was our very man, Liam McKahey. Well brilliant, knock me down with a rad roller ! I’ve got information man! New shit has come to light! It all made sense. When he was a decorator, doing no music, he still had a presence about him. If you had a band then he’s a guy you would want out front. Liam & I shared a love of music, he brought me the fine later work of Iggy Pop, the Cramps, while I introduced tunes from when it was too soon for him to know. “Last Good Day…” was a near-thing. The most popular breakfast DJ in the UK gave it more than a nudge which almost became a push. This debut TV performance is a little tentative but they had some good songs on their LP & Liam was a quick learner as an audience came around. Here’s that one fact everyone knows about Cousteau…they were Big In Italy.



I love this clip. Starting at 3.33 Cousteau playing “Talking To Myself” in a Roman amphitheatre in Sicily. A unique venue, a big audience, TV cameras winging about to capture the moment. Liam Maximus, a gladiator with a quiff & some decent threads, leads his men into the arena & nails it. His voice is rich & deep, the whole thing sweet & dandy. On the 2nd LP both writer/multi-instrumental Davy Ray Moor & the band hit their stride. The elegance & romanticism is more their own, less an homage to their influences.”Sirena” (2002) is an individual piece of work & I don’t play it as much as I should but I will.

So…let’s all meet up in the year 2000. I was in Birmingham & Cousteau were coming to town. I called by the club, Ronnie Scott’s, after work & did not have a long wait before a familiar scene transpired. I gave the guys some time to lighten the loaded van before going across to find my friend. Man. we were pleased to see each other but that was going to be a given. I arranged to see Liam later, he was working after all. It was a great night to catch up. He was fit (too fit) & well, the band were good company . It was so cool to see his committment to & relish in making  the music. The band’s performance, in an intimate club with an appreciative audience, was the very thing, sophisticated, considered tunes for grown ups.It was still an odd conjunction between the young construction worker becoming a cool modern cabaret crooner. I liked it, it made me smile & was a memorable night.

Cousteau did not train on. Davy left, Liam stepped up as a songwriter. Now the electronic wonders of the 21st century has made the world a smaller place. I am in the North of England Liam on the other side of the planet in Canberra, Australia but I get his stuff in my computer &, I assume, he gets mine…Cool. He is a family man, still sickeningly handsome & still making good music. Liam Mckahey & the Bodies released “Lonely Road” in 2011, “Lovers & Fools” is a cinematic stroll though some sad, bad things from the past that reminds us of Lee Hazlewood & of just how good a singer our boy is. I think that there is new music to come from the band, they are certainly still gigging in the Australian Capital Territory (Oh yes !). Any news about the band can be found on their F-book page, right here.

I have stories about this man & our adventures that would perhaps surprise you. “You gotta say yes to another excess” could have been a motto back then.  No-one was hurt, no harm was intended, we were younger & dumber. Those stories belong to & will stay in the past. Just a couple of things…after preparing an outstanding meal (though I say it myself) for Liam, Eddie & Dave, I was told that I must be middle class because working class people don’t cook that well ! Funny bugger ! On yet another hungover morning at work Liam announced that he was a  “Social Alcoholic”. “How so ?” inquired innocent me. “I can’t stand the idea of any of my friends getting drunk without me !”. One of the funniest, most insightful one-liners I have been lucky enough to hear & steal.

Seeing my friend do well with his music, use a talent which was evident but could have been neglected is a source of pride & admiration. More than that though is knowing that the the honesty & friendship that passed between us those years ago will sustain a friendship from a long, long way away. Cheers my brother.