Thirty-three years after its release, a rare and essential Dublin New Wave single has finally made it online. The New Version’s ‘Like Gordon of Khartoum’ was released by Mulligan Records in 1981. It has somehow evaded a digital airing until now. Thanks to the uploader.
The New Versions (1978-82) were:
– Ingmar Kiang (aka Iggy Kiang) on Vocals and Guitar
– Johnny Byrne (1956-97) on Bass
– Regine Moylett on Keyboards
– Paul Bibby on Drums
Ingmar Kiang, son of Chinese-born Irish astronomer Professor Tao Kiang, was a Trinity College student when he co-launched “Dublin’s first mobile Punk Rock disco” in early 1978 with his pal Mark Ryan who worked in a “Grafton Street hamburger restaurant”. Presumably the recently enough opened McDonalds or Captain Americas?
Fed up with 70s disco music, the pair launched a DJ night called Snots in TCD’s New Library offering Punk/New Wave and 1950s Rock n Roll. They told the Sunday Independent (8 January 1978):
We’re in it for the fun, we don’t charge in … We toyed first with calling our disco Scabies until a girl friend of mine came up with Snots. [Our posters say] ‘Snots will be appearing under your nose’.
Regine Moylett with her sister Susan launched their ‘New Romance’ punk/new wave clothing store in the Dandelion Market in July 1978. Their brother John (aka Johnny Fingers) found fame as keyboard player with The Boomtown Rats while another brother Pat was the original drummer with Berlin and later became their manager.
Originally a trio called Sordid Details, playing their first gig supporting U2 and Revolver on 17th March 1978 in the Project Arts Centre, the band added Moylett on keyboards and changed their name to the New Versions in the summer of ’78.
During their four year careers, the band played all the main live music venues in Dublin, supported a number of touring bands and were part of one of the first New Wave tours of Ireland with fellow Dublin band Berlin.
They appeared on the definitive Irish Punk/New Wave sampler ‘Just For Kicks‘ released in 1979 with ‘Tango of Nerves’.
Hot Press journalist Shane McElhatton, now an editor with RTE’s Morning Ireland, reviewed the band’s headlining gig in The Magnet in April 1979:
I came to the gig ready to slag the Versions right off the stage. A so so track on the “Kicks” LP, and a godawful “Our Times” video were my only previous experiences of the band. However, I left all my preconceptions and prejudices (“No Romance” and Boomtown Bigtime connections etc.) in a plastic bag outside. Objectivity prevailed … Imagine a big, fat fairground organ sound tacked on to a melodic ’77 thrash, and you’ve got the New Versions.
Regine Moylett looks like a cross between the wicked witch and a music teacher. She sits at the keyboards, pumps out the colours, the textures that flesh out the rest of the sound. Guitarist Iggy Kiang (somebody read this man the 2nd commandment) pale, gangling, with a self inflicted haircut, wraps himself round his guitar looking incredibly like George Harrison circa 1960. He strikes the right poses, plays the right guitar (Fender telecaster original!!) from which he gets the right sound – raw, dirty, and very loud. Bassist Ivor – plays bass, and looks grim. Drummer Bibby – plays drums, and adds effective backing vocals. Covers include Glen Miller’s “In The Mood” and Talking Heads’ “ Psycho Killer”, which they play without sounding like Talking Heads.
The Versions are by no means a great band, and probably never will be. They do make, however, an entertaining rock ‘n’ roll noise. The songs start to run into each other as the set progresses, the result of a lamentable lack of pace and variation. The need; (a) a lead singer (Kiang cannot sing). (b) a lot more texture on guitar. Moylett’s keyboards do too much of the work in that area. (c) Some manners.
Declan Lynch, Sunday Independent columnist and author of several books, reviewed the band for Hot Press supporting Salford punk poet John Cooper Clarke in the Project Arts Centre in March 1979:
That the majority of today’s Irish bands are outstandingingly mediocre – much worse than boring – is one of the more disquieting features of a trip downtown on a Monday morning. That the “New Versions” are certainly an exception (the exception?) was made plain by their support set Bob Dylan – Cooper – the first time I’d seen them. A certain Ms. Moylett, of a well known musical, political family, plays the most simplistically charming, and endearingly poppy keyboards I have ever witnessed – such a change from the “musicians” with an abundance of facial hair, who should have turned in their piano lessons at grade 3 instead of trying for that Royal Irish Academy scholarship. Vocally they are weak, and percussively, (?) they need a new one, but, without being effusively laudatory, they cut it better than 92% (to quote Berlin – average age 58) of other Irish bands. They deserve your immediate and undivided attention.
The late great Bill Graham wrote the following in Hot Press in May 1979 after the band supported The Blades in the Baggot Inn:
For the New Versions, it wasn’t such a happy Sunday afternoon. Granted that their supporters claimed they could do better and a claque of antagonistic Blades fans obviously disturbed and distracted them so the set may have suffered from lack of conviction, but the New Versions’s design could still do with some revision. Overly Stranglerish in their construction, the New Versions’ problems come down to the lack of colour and versatility in their arrangements. Johnny Byrne’s pulsating bass is the backbone of the band but alongside him both Regine Moylett and Paul Bibby could contribute more.
Certainly Ig sounds to have the capacity to add more than just well scrubbed rhythm guitar while as a neophyte keyboards player (no shame that), Regine Moylett might opt more for sound and effect. With a name like theirs, more novelty is expected form the New Versions than was on offer here.
Ferdia MacAnna (aka Rocky DeValera) was much more favourable in Hot Press June 1979 after seeing the band in McGonagle’s with Free Booze:
It’s a strange thing these days to see a young band as politically aware and as musically capable as they are. However they’re at a very early stage of their development and a lot more work needs to be done before their true potential is realised – but they’re heading in the right direction, that’s for sure.
On Monday night in McGonagle’s they managed to overcome some bad sound problems to play a tight, well organized set. At first they sound like a really fine new wave danceband but when you stand back and listen to them, there’s more to it than that. They’re not content to write songs which appeal just to the feet, (though that’s important): the attitude which comes across in original songs like “Orrors From Above”, “Tango Of Nerve” and “Brenda Spencer” is that there’s more to the whole thing than just bland acceptance – even bland acceptance of the new wave. It’s a stance which could easily backfire on them – and at times it nearly does – but, in the end, they win through despite the odds.
If they have a real problem, it’s with their sound. Regine Moylett’s keyboards playing is subtle and delightful – when she can be heard. On Monday she came through only at the end, which was a pity – because when she does she adds a whole dimension to the textures of the music. Her playing is very individual as is Iggy Kiang’s guitar work these two together giving the Versions songs a particularly melodic flavour. Johnny Byrne on bass (and excellent lead vocals) and Paul Bibby on drums, make up a fine rolling rhythm section. If the New Versions stay together, sort out their sound problems and continue to develop along the lines they’ve already charted, they could well become the most important band in the country within the next year.
In 1982, the band appeared on the RTE language show ‘SBB ina Shuí’ miming ‘Around The Corner’ (video below) and ‘The Only Cure’.
They split soon afterwards.
‘Like Gordon of Khartoum’ was the band’s first and only single. It was released by Mulligan Records who had been the home of other great contemporary Dublin New Wave acts like The Boomtown Rats, The Vipers, The Radiators and The Atrix. The single was produced by record label founder Donal Lunny.
The unusual title ‘Gordon of Khartoum’ refers to Charles George Gordon, a British Army officer killed in 1885 in Khartoum, Sudan. After a ten month siege of the city, the British were defeated by the forces of Muslim religious leader Muhammad Ahmad.
Henry McGlade in the Connaught Telegraph (17 June 1981) wrote that the single “features a blend rarely found on Irish releases – lively sound, good production and an intelligent lyrics”.
While Con Downing in the Southern Star (20 June 1981) was less enthusiastic:
this record comes in an eye-catching colour sleeve and a copy of the hand-written lyrics … but the attractive packaging is not enough to compensate for the lack of drive and edge which this record could have.
I think it’s catchy enough and stands up well when comparing the record to what their peers were releasing in the same period.
After the New Versions broke up in 1982, Ingmar Kiang and Johnny Byrne collaborated with Mannix Flynn in The Corporation and later formed Max with Marian Woods and Conor Kelly. Working for Island Records and others in the 1980s and 1990s, Kiang produced work for U2, Ronny Jordan, Aswad, Courtney Pine and also re-mixed a series of Bob Marley songs. An early manager of Damien Dempsey, he produced his albums ‘They Don’t Teach This Shit in School’ (2000) and the single ‘Hold Me’ (2005). Today, Kiang is a freelance journalist for The Sunday Times, Aer Lingus’ Cara magazine and a host of other publications.
From dabbling with the sound desk while playing with The New Versions, Johnny Byrne discovered his true calling and soon put down his bass to take over chores behind the mixing console. He worked at the Keystone and Windmill Lane studios in Dublin with artists like U2, the Chieftains, Christy Moore, the Boomtown Rats, Thin Lizzy, Paul Brady, the Radiators from Space and Rory Gallagher. He moved to New York City in 1985, where he worked as a live sound engineer while producing and recording acts that included Black 47, Eileen Ivers, Pat Kilbride, Rogue’s March and the Rascals.
In August 1997, Byrne fell from the fire escape of his East Village apartment. He was rushed to hospital with two broken legs and serious head injuries. After laying on life support for three weeks, he passed away in the Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. He was 39. Larry Kirwan of Black 47 called him the ‘the kindest, gentlest and most generous member of the Black 47 family’. Philip Chevron echoed others by saying: Even at a distance, Johnny was the most supportive and closest of friends He really taught me a lot about friendship, miles never seemed to matter.’
Regine Moylett moved to London after the band’s break up. She started writing gig reviews for NME before joining Island Records’ press office and working with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Since 1985, she has been U2’s press agent and publicity director.
For a full and updated list of Dublin Punk & New Wave singles released from 1977 to 1983, check out our previous post here.