Northern railway journey photographs and travelogue

Northern Rail DMU at Carlisle Station

Northern Rail DMU at Carlisle Station

In December 2014 my late evening train from Liverpool was delayed. It stopped just beyond the platform at Lime Street. It was just a minor fault and after 15 minutes it was on its way, but I missed the last train from Piccadilly. I sent a complaint to Northern Rail and a few weeks later I received a written apology and a special ticket for one day’s travel anywhere on the Northern Rail network.
I had planned to use the ticket on the longest Saturday of the year, 20 June, and go to Newcastle and Middlesbrough via Leeds and Carlisle. In the end I went on the 31 July, via Leeds and Carlisle but then I took a different route. It was a fantastic day out and here’s my travelogue.
Manchester Victoria Station panorama of the new roof

Manchester Victoria Station panorama of the new roof

It’s 5.50am when I arrive at Victoria Station and would you believe it, the train is late! Not the train I intend to take, but the previous one, the 5:46 departure. It has not yet left and so I am able to hop on board and get ahead of schedule. Late trains are not always a bad thing.
We head out through the north of Manchester, hillier and more rural than the south. Soon we are leaving Rochdale station, and shortly after, we enter the tunnel that seems to mark the transition from Lancashire to Yorkshire. Beyond the tunnel is actually historic Lancashire, only since 1974 designated as Yorkshire. More on boundaries later.
The train is still quite empty when I fall asleep but when I wake up it’s full of commuters travelling into Leeds. It’s standing room only and I have to give up the seat next to me.
Leeds is so similar to Manchester and yet so different – Different region, different accent, a white rose rather than a red rose. I have one hour and twenty minutes to wait. What can I say about Leeds station? Big. Modern. Functional. Efficient. Fit for purpose. The only part that retains an air of the past is the art deco style entrance hall, now occupied by shops and cafes.

I sit and have a cup of tea, check my e-mail and then it is time for my next train, the 8:49 to Carlisle, which is waiting at the platform, just a few steps away. It’s a DMU, that’s Diesel Multiple Unit, like most Northern Rail trains. Rail enthusiasts will be aware that this is a British Rail class 158 Sprinter. I take my seat, it departs on time and I drift into another snooze. Some time later I open my eyes and see a glorious landscape coming into view on either side. We are about to go onto the Settle to Carlisle railway. It is cloudy today but the views are still magnificent.
It’s hard to imagine that the Settle to Carlisle railway line was once scheduled for closure but after a campaign, it was saved and today it is a thriving transport link, moving people and goods through this otherwise inaccessible but spectacular region of northern England.
The train moves north along wide valleys, tall hills, small farmhouses, steep slopes, sheds, houses, lanes, fields full of sheep, and soon we are in sight of the famous three peaks: Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent, a Welsh type name that reminds us of England’s Celtic heritage.
The train slows down to cross the Ribblehead viaduct, and then gathers speed. There is plenty more spectacular scenery along the way. This is how I like to travel – sit back, look through the window and admire the view – I’m taking lots of photos of course! I want to prove that a trip like this provides plenty of photo opportunities and you don’t even have to move from your seat. The only disadvantage is that on modern trains, there are no open windows, so you always have to shoot through glass.
North of Ribblehead we leave Yorkshire and enter Cumbria. In traditional terms we travel through the county of Westmorland and then Cumberland. In 1974 Cumberland, Westmorland and part of Lancashire came together, with a few boundary adjustments, to form the present county of Cumbria.
Panoramic photograph of Carlisle Station

Panoramic photograph of Carlisle Station

When the train arrives at Carlisle I am sorry the journey is over and would like to do it again in the other direction. Everyone should travel on the Settle to Carlisle railway, it is one of the most spectacular railway lines anywhere. At the end of the platform there’s a display about the campaign to re-open Gilsland station on Hadrian’s Wall. This sounds like a great idea.
Carlisle Station retains the grandeur and history of the 19th century railway age, though it’s been updated for the present with modern signage and facilities. I take photographs including a panorama but if I don’t hurry I’ll miss my next connection, the 12:08 to Barrow-in-Furness.

This is another DMU, a Class 153 railcar, and almost as I jump on, the doors slide shut and it starts to move. The first part of the journey is uneventful but before long, the sea comes into view and we are travelling south along the coast of Cumbria (here, historic Cumberland). Dumfries and Galloway is visible across the water like an island, in front of it is a vast offshore wind farm. This is Robin Rigg wind farm, completed in 2010.
NwRailWasp-F731The train moves on at around 30 mph, rounding curves. We are just a few distance away from the shore. We stop at station after station. There are lots of people getting on and off. This coastal rail link is obviously very important for the local economy. The train continues its journey south, and then I catch a glimpse of a place I’ve heard of since childhood: the word that comes into my head is Windscale, but for many years it’s been Sellafield, the nuclear power station. It and the facilities associated with it now being decommissioned. Though there’s plenty to see outside, I notice a wasp on the inside of the window, and I carefully photograph it.
Just a bit further, one more station stop and we are at Ravenglass station and it’s time to get off. This is a small town by the sea with Roman connections – there was once an important port and there’s a Roman ruin. It’s the only coastal town in the Lake District National Park. Now it’s famous for the intriguing Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. The station is just opposite the mainline station and as we enter, we see the tiny railway carriages parked on narrow gauge tracks.

At the top is a scaled down version of a steam train. With its shiny green paintwork and brass fittings, it appeals to the child in all of us. But it is a fully functional steam locomotive capable of pulling a train fully loaded with adults and children. It was originally a mining railway but has been a visitor attraction since the early 1960s.
I take my seat in one of the open carriages, the guard checks the tickets and we are ready for departure.
A tree-covered hilltop seen from the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

A tree-covered hilltop seen from the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

With a toot of the whistle the train moves forward and gathers speed. Once we have left the station we enter an attractive, hilly landscape with views over the river estuary and hills in the distance. To the right, there are steep tree-covered hillsides and to the left, woods full of wildflowers. After being cooped up inside the modern train, to sit in an open miniature carriage is literally a breath of fresh air. The train gathers speed and heads up the long and gently winding narrow gauge track. Every so often the driver toots the whistle but he pulls very gently, as tiny water droplets fall on the passengers, including me! The train stops half way at the passing point where we stop next to the down train, then we continue our journey into the hilly landscape. After a final curve to the right we arrive at Dalegarth Station.
There are lots of people on the platform. At the very end of the tiny track, adults and children watch as the drivers push the locomotive around on a small turntable and then move it down to the bottom end of the train for the journey back down to Ravenglass.
The station looks well used and very popular with visitors. On a plaque I read that it was opened by Pete Waterman, pop producer and railway enthusiast.
We climb in for the return journey. I get into an open carriage again. Now it’s an easier journey for the miniature locomotive as it’s downhill. We pass by more wonderful landscapes of woodland, hills, trees and views over distant mountains and finally we are back at Ravenglass and the end of our narrow gauge journey.
After taking a few final photos, I rush back to the mainline station expecting to see the Barrow train arriving, but there is no sign of it. I overhear from people on the platform who’ve phoned for information that it’s half an hour late. That’s fine as there is plenty of time for my connection from Barrow-in-Furness.
Class 37 diesel-electric locomotive 37610 named TS (Ted) Cassady about to arrive at Ravenglass Station

Class 37 diesel-electric locomotive 37610 named TS (Ted) Cassady about to arrive at Ravenglass Station

Looking up along the line, in the distance I see what looks like a freight train hauled by a diesel locomotive, but as it approaches it reveals itself to be a passenger train. It stops and I realise this is a ‘real’ train, an old-fashioned diesel locomotive hauling older-style carriages – they look to be from the 1980s. It’s not operated by Northern Rail but by Direct Rail Services. I discover that they are a railfreight company connected to British Nuclear Fuels. Earlier in 2015 they were contracted to provide some of the services on this route, freeing up Northern Rail’s DMUs for use elsewhere.
The train screeches to a halt and I see that there are many passengers on board. I get on board, and it’s like going back a couple of decades. The carriages are old but spacious, with slam doors, windows that open and wood interior finish. There are even compartments at the front – I thought they had disappeared from the British railway network years ago.
The train is quite full, so I stand next to the door to take photos through the open window and with a loud grinding sound from the diesel locomotive – it sounds more like an agricultural machine – the train slowly gathers speed. The coastal line continues to offer stunning views over the Irish Sea. Inland further south the hills have taken on rich colours, and then we drift away from the coast and look out over distant expanses of water, and finally the train turns towards the west and arrives at Barrow-in-Furness station. We are now in historic Lancashire, the north west section that became part of Cumbria in 1974.
We get off and I pause to photograph the locomotive with its vintage yellow and blue livery. There is another loco at the other end of the train, ready to pull it back along the coastal line and on up to Carlisle.
I am disappointed that Barrow Station is smaller than expected. I would like to visit this historic town, but that can wait for another day. Soon a train moves up to the platform. It’s going to Preston. I’m disappointed to be back on a modern style DMU. The old fashioned carriages were a much more enjoyable experience and much better for photography.
Diesel locomotive at Barrow-in-Furness Station

At Barrow-in-Furness station, Class 37 diesel-electric locomotive 37610, built 1963.

Now heading along the line from Barrow-in-Furness towards the east, there are more wide vistas with water on both sides – the railway was built on causeways that cut in a straight line across land and water along the uneven coastline. The main road, the A590, passes north of here, no cars can venture into this watery landscape, and as dusk falls, we are approaching the town of Arnside. The houses overlooking the water seem to be to be built upon one another. After a brief stop at the station, we head further towards the main West Coast line further inland.
Now we are in Lancashire, both historic and current, heading towards Lancaster. After a brief stop we continue along the main West Coast line to Preston where I get off. There’s one thing I need to do: Walk into the town centre and photograph the famous Preston Bus Station.

I return to the Preston railway station and get on the train that passes through Blackburn, where 25 minutes later I change to my final train of the day, which will take me back to Manchester Victoria. Now it is dark. All I can see in the window is my own reflection.
As the train approaches Manchester Victoria I looked over towards Strangeways prison and imagine what it would be like to be inside. No days out on the railway. No days out, full stop. Thankfully that’s not my place of residence and I’m very glad that today I have been able to enjoy the freedom of taking any (Northern) train and going anywhere I want on the network.
That freedom to travel is precious.
Northern Rail is the main train operator in northern England. It’s run by a joint-venture Serco and Abellio. Serco is a UK company that provides outsource public sector services including public transport. Abellio is a subsidiary of the state railway company of the Netherlands Nederlandse Spoorwegen. Northern Rail has held a franchise since 2004 and it expires in 2016. Northern rail operates the largest number of stations in the UK, 462, nearly a fifth of the 2550 stations in the UK’s rail network.

Manchester’s Oxford Road – chaotic but fascinating

Oxford Manchester 3 July 2015

Oxford Road begins at the River Medlock under the rail bridge and extends to Moss Lane East by the Curry Mile.

Oxford Road and the area on either side has a remarkable assortment of facilities: Four third level educational institutions, five hospitals, a strangely shaped theatre, two Catholic churches, one of which looks like a French cathedral, two parks, one of which is the site of an Anglican church after which surrounding area is named, several music venues, two former cinemas, a neo-Gothic Victorian building containing a natural history museum and opposite it, a thing that looks like a fuel storage tank.

There are two bridges over Oxford Rd and a 50m swimming pool. It’s said to be Europe’s busiest bus corridor and possibly its smokiest, as there are still many older diesel buses in operation. The BBC was here but now the site is a car park.

Oxford Road is chaotic but fascinating, a piece of pure Manchester and I love it just as it is. But soon general traffic will be diverted away to make more room for bikes and buses. Will it retain its character? We’ll see. In mid-2015 my Victoria Baths videos are still showing on the Corridor Manchester Digital Screen opposite Grosvenor Street.

How I made my VW artwork from photos


This is my illustration of a 1950s oval window VW Beetle next to the beach and the Promenade in Blackpool. I’m known for my photography but I also like to draw. As I always emphasise to my photography students: Art and photography are closely linked.

In February 2015, Manchester-based digital marketing agency Code Computerlove contacted me and asked if I’d like to produce an artwork to be used in a promotional campaign for The Car Buying Service featuring classic cars.

In a survey, they asked around 2000 people the question “What’s your favourite classic car?”. Based on peoples’ responses, they came up with a ‘Top 10 list’ of the UK’s favourite classic cars. One of the cars was the VW Beetle, one of the world’s most popular cars, and my personal favourite. I owned one in the late 80s.

My brief was to produce an artwork featuring the Beetle, but it had to have an oval rear window. This type of Beetle was produced in the early 1950s.

VW Beetle, Kandy, Sri Lanka VW Beetle, Kandy, Sri Lanka
In my archive I found a photograph I took in Sri Lanka of an oval window Beetle, and I used it as source material for my illustration.

In my mind’s eye I visualised the Beetle on Blackpool Promenade on a sunny day, with Blackpool Tower visible on the right and one of the piers on the left.

I have developed a special method for doing illustrations. Although I’ve used graphics tablets, I find it easier to use pencil or pen on paper. I’m very proficient at Photoshop having used it for nearly 20 years now.

And so my technique is to draw on paper with pencil or pen, and then scan it and import it into Adobe Photoshop. Then I work on it using layers and I can add colours and other effects.

Illustration (work in progress) of a VW 1500 oval window Beetle

Scanned line art of the oval window Beetle

This method offers me the best of both worlds. I can use an old fashioned pencil and paper to create the line art, and then after I’ve imported it into Photoshop I have virtually unlimited creative possibilities.

To make a piece of art like this you don’t have to be very skilled at drawing. It’s easy to trace from a photograph – anyone with patience and a steady hand can do it. It’s possible to use tracing paper but I use a slightly different method. I lighten the original photograph in Photoshop using ‘Hue/Saturation’ then print it out. It looks as if it has a layer of tracing paper over it, but it’s easier to draw on one sheet of paper. It’s very easy to get an accurate picture, in fact it’s rather like using the camera obscura of past centuries.

Even if I make mistakes at the drawing stage I can always correct and improve them later in Photoshop.

I also selected one of my archive photos of Blackpool using the same method: Lighten, print out, trace, scan.  I  added the tower and pier on layers underneath the car. For a final touch I traced over a photo of the Union Flag and included that in the image at the top of the tower. I experimented with different shades for the sky and following advice from my 13 year old daughter, I decided to use a deep blue graduated fill. The windows are filled in with a darker shade of blue. This makes them look as if they are reflecting the sky. I used grey shading on the bumpers.

The sea was a bit difficult to draw and I was running out of time, so I just included a section of the photograph. It looks like a paper cutout that has been pasted on with glue!

Trace of one of my photos for the VW Beetle illustration

Trace of one of my photos for the VW Beetle illustration. The marks were deleted in Photoshop


With this type of illustration, anything goes!

I intend to use this method to create lots more illustrations to be featured in articles on this site.

It’s a great demonstration of the way photography and art are closely linked.

I believe it’s very important for all photographers to develop an artistic appreciation and to experiment with illustration and painting. I always recommend to my photography students that they should visit art galleries and exhibitions of both art and photography and experiment with art.

Go on, give it a try!

I was very pleased to see my illustration alongside others featuring the top 10 most popular classic cars on The Car Buying Service website

But where is the VW Beetle in the Top 10 list? Take a look at the page now.

There’s a competition and you could win a print of my Oval VW Beetle illustration as a prize!

Classic Car Artwork Competition

Aidan O'Rourke and his 1971 VW Beetle 1500. Photo by Kieran Sheridan

Aidan O’Rourke and his 1971 VW Beetle 1500. Photo by Kieran Sheridan


From Manchester to Liverpool by bus train car or ferry

Manchester and Liverpool

I often travel between Manchester and Liverpool to run my photo walks, visit friends or just explore the city. So what’s the cheapest way to do the journey? And what’s the quickest way? There are lots of options: road, rail, canal, footpath. And is it possible to fly? Read on to find out more.

Liverpool and Manchester are the two biggest cities in North West England. They are approximately 35 miles apart apart and I have made the journey between them countless times. People often ask me for information so I decided to write this article.

National Express coach, cheapest transport method between Liverpool and Manchester
National Express coaches offer the cheapest fare for bus travel between Manchester and Liverpool. The service runs approximately every hour during the day, less frequently in the evening. To book, go to the National Express website at least a couple of days in advance and look for the cheapest fare. You can also buy your ticket at Manchester Central Coach station or Liverpool Norton Street Coach Station (with some restrictions).

The day return economy fare is around £7.40 (early 2015). It may be possible to obtain even cheaper fares – Funfares – by booking well in advance. Always visit the website to find the most up to date information and the lowest fares.

National Express coaches use National Express coach stations, Manchester Central Coach Station is located on Chorlton St, close to Piccadilly Gardens and Piccadilly station (postcode: M1 3JF). Liverpool Norton St Coach Station is located about 10 minutes walk from Lime St Station (postcode:L1 1JD) Unless there are delays, the coach journey between Liverpool and Manchester takes just under one hour.

There is a Megabus connection between Manchester and Liverpool but there are only three services a day, one early morning, one in the middle of the day and one late in the evening. The fares are not competitive with National Express.

If you’re going from Manchester city centre to Liverpool John Lennon Airport, or vice versa, then you can take the coach shuttle bus service operated by Terravision. It runs hourly from very early morning until after midnight. It departs from Manchester’s Shudehill Transport Interchange and arrives outside the terminal building next to the Yellow Submarine artwork some 50 minutes later. The journey in the other direction is about the same.

Liverpool Lime Street Station

Manchester to Liverpool by rail: second cheapest and also quickest
Taking the train between Manchester and Liverpool costs slightly more than the bus. In early 2015 the off peak day return between both cities in either direction is £12. You have a choice between Piccadilly and Oxford Road on the southern edge of the city centre or Manchester Victoria Station on the northern side. Journey times range from just over three quarters of an hour to over one and three quarter hours. For full details and to book tickets go to or any of the train operator websites such as

Historical note: Manchester and Liverpool are pioneer cities in rail travel. The first passenger railway service began in 1830. The original station building still exists. It’s part of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. Travelling at 14 mph, I calculate that the journey must have taken around three hours. In the mid-20th century steam era, the journey between Manchester and Liverpool was faster and more frequent than today.

Services between Liverpool Lime St and Manchester Victoria run mostly along the original 1830 route. In early 2015 the last train from Liverpool to Manchester leaves Lime St at 23.38. The last train from Manchester leaves Oxford Road at 23.20. Please don’t rely on these times. Always check for up to date schedules at the station, by phone or online. There could be timetable changes or rail replacement buses.

Drive along the M62 between Manchester and Liverpool – or maybe the M56
The most convenient, and maybe the fastest method if you break the speed limit – not a good idea! – is to drive by car between Manchester and Liverpool, probably along the M62, but if you’re going to and/or from the southern parts of both cities, you could also take the M56, or a combination of M62 and M56. If you’re going from the north of Greater Manchester towards the north of Merseyside and Liverpool, it might be worth taking the A580 East Lancs Road.

Historical note: The A580 East Lancs Road was the UK’s first purpose-built road constructed to link two cities. It was completed in 1934 and has since been widened and adapted. The section of the M62 transpennine motorway that runs between Manchester and Liverpool was completed in the 1970s.

The distance from the eastern end of the M602 motorway at Cross Lane, Salford to the western end of the M62 at Queens Drive, Broadgreen, Liverpool is 27.8 miles (44 kilometres). I can cover this distance at quiet times in less than 30 minutes (without breaking the speed limit!). If you add on the journey along busy urban roads at either end, the total journey time will be about one hour, at rush hour times considerably more. For the return journey I generally use around two gallons of petrol (c9 litres) costing around £10. (early 2015 prices).

By boat, bike, horse and on foot
It is possible to travel by ship from Manchester to Liverpool. You can do this on the Manchester Ship Canal Cruise, operated by Mersey Ferries during the summer months using one of their celebrated river ferries. The journey takes around 6 hours. As you watch a changing industrial landscape go by, you will hear a fascinating commentary from a tour guide over the loudspeakers. There are refreshments on board and plenty of nice places to sit or stand, both inside the ferry and on deck. The Manchester Ship Canal Cruise is a wonderful experience, I highly recommend it.

Mersey Ferry on the Manchester Ship Canal Cruise at Irlam

You can cycle, horse ride or walk from Manchester to Liverpool or vice versa along the Transpennine Trail, a continuous footpath that runs across northern England from coast to coast. There are no scheduled flights between Manchester and Liverpool, though it might be possible to fly a microlight or ride in a balloon between the two cities. I must try that some time!

Happy travelling between our two great North Western cities of Liverpool and Manchester!

Have you got question? Just post it in a comment or tweet to @AidanEyewitness and I will reply!

Early U2 Dublin Music Memories

Bands from the late 70s Dublin music scene

Bands venues from late 70s Dublin music scene

My earliest memory of U2 is from 1978 when they played at a 24 hour music festival at the Project Arts Centre, which had recently opened in what’s now known as the Temple Bar district. The performance wasn’t very polished, but the band had lots of energy.

A new band named U2 had appeared on Dublin’s music scene. I first saw them at the Project Arts Centre duing 1978. They stormed onto a very high stage – I seem to remember staring at lead singer Paul Hewson’s pointed cowboy boots – and delivered a frenetic and bewildering set.

They had something, though I wasn’t quite sure what. The youthful lead singer with his ruddy cheeks, unfashionable medium length hair and tight trousers pranced around the stage yelling into the microphone. The vocals were haphazard – frequently out of tune and croaking in the upper registers. Each of the band members seemed to be pushing the pace of the music.

In the following year, U2 would go on to carve out a respectable following on the Dublin music scene. They often did lunchtime concerts at Trinity College, where I was a modern languages undergruate (1976 – 1981). At that time I’d taken to carrying a portable tape recorder around with me – the precursor of the walkman or boombox – and taped a lunchtime concert they did on the cricket field. I have since lost the tape recorder but I still have the tape. The sound is barely containable, the vocals still croaky in the upper registers, but there was an unmistakable energy there that just needed some channeling.

U2 up through the floorboards

U2 had common origins with the Virgin Prunes. I had also witnessed their concerts, recording the sound with my portable tape recorder, so that I knew their entire set by heart. In some respects I preferred them to U2 as they were very edgy and experimental.

Having seen the Virgin Prunes live several times and familiarised myself with their material, I had strong views about them. One day in the post office near Essex Street, not far from Trinity, I saw their lead singer Gavin Friday in his characteristic pale raincoat and white face powder. I seized the chance to talk to him and after introducing myself, I gave a full and frank appraisal of the music. He seemed to appreciate my interest and nodded attentively.

I was also acquainted with the Virgin Prunes bassist Dik, brother of the Edge. During 1979, Dik lived in the room directly below mine, 28.2.2. Trinity College, overlooking Front Square. I often used to hear the latest U2 and Virgin Prunes demo tapes coming up through the floor.

“Most people think it’s a song about a girl but actually it’s about his mammy”

I chatted to Dik a few times and occasionally went downstairs for a cup of tea and a chat. He also appreciated my interest in the Virgin Prunes. He told me a lot about U2 and Bono, including the fact that the song ‘I will follow’ was about Bono’s mother: “Most people think it’s a song about a girl but actually it’s about his mammy!”.

In bed at night, listening on headphones plugged into my portable tape recorder, I used to listen to Dave Fanning’s show on the fm pirate station Radio Dublin. The reception was hissy, but the music was great. He often played demo tapes by U2 and other bands. That was my third year at Trinity.

My second year at Trinity College – from October 1977 to June 1978 was an exciting and formative time. Punk rock had brought new energ to the Dublin music scene, which was stagnant when I arrived from Manchester in late 1976. Two years later, seemingly everyone seemed to be going to gigs and was in a band, either a real or supposed one.

The late Bill Graham Irish music journalist

An influential contact that time was the Irish music journalist Bill Graham. I often used to bump into him at various gigs, always dressed in a scruffy polo neck sweater, clutching a note pad and a packet of 20 Silk Cut cigarettes. Bill would enthuse about the lowliest and most obscure of Dublin bands as if he was giving a lecture on Jean Paul Sartre or W B Yeats. He had a genuine and passionate interest in music and local musicians. I felt lucky to have him as a friend. He would talk to me, stare at me with those wide, probing eyes set in a wide face, and listen intently to what I had to say about various bands.

Bill Graham is credited as being an early champion of U2. He introduced them to their manager Paul McGuinness and so helped to make rock history. Bill Graham went on to write many influential articles on music and other subjects for the Irish music magazine Hot Press. I was very sad to learn of his untimely death. He gave me confidence and inspiration which remain with me to this day.

Bewleys cafe Grafton Street

Playing as one of ‘The Sinners’

At this time I was experimenting with songwriting and played in a band. We did some Buzzcocks covers, plus a few of my embryonic songwriting attempts. The bass player was Fergus Nolan, a guy who seemed permanently half-asleep, but he was okay, we got on fine. I was on vocals and lead guitar. Two guys from north Dublin were on rhythm guitar and drums. The drummer’s name was Bernard, I can’t remember the guitarist’s name. We rehearsed in a ground floor room opposite the church on Westland Row, hence the name, chosen by Fergus, ‘The Sinners’.

We played a total of about three or four gigs, one of them at the Magnet, Pearse Street – Bill Graham came to see us – another in a rough club in the town of Banbridge north of the border. Our biggest and final gig was supporting the Buzzcocks at a venue I’ve forgotten the name of on Mary Street, off O’Connell Street on the north side of the river.

It was some time in 1979. Just before our final song, Fergus broke a bass string and I had to somehow keep the audience entertained until he returned with a new string, though the bass was badly out of tune. With the last song finished, I jumped back into the audience for the Buzzcocks gig, which was very enjoyable.

Playing with the Sinners was not the most satisfying creative experience, though it was good to spend time with people from outside Trinity. To be honest, as an arts undergraduate, I felt I didn’t have too much in common with them, but they were good guys and I wouldn’t have met them if it wasn’t for the vibrant music scene in Dublin at that time.

We once advertised for a lead singer, as I felt my vocals weren’t good enough. The ad mentioned Bowie as a musical influence, and a Bowie lookalike with crazed eyes – and from the town of Monasterevin – turned up at our meeting place, Bewleys on Grafton Street. We invited him to sing, but he didn’t stay with the band for long.

How I nearly joined ‘The Vipers’

In 1979 an opportunity to join a more successful band came up. One of the bands I regularly used to go and see was the Vipers, founded by Paul Boyle, a very talented songwriter and performer. I knew all their songs by heart, so when I auditioned to be bassist, they offered me the job on the spot.

But I had a dilemma. Should I quite university and go to London to seek fame and fortune with one of the most promising bands on the Dublin music scene, or should I stay at Trinity? I was lucky to have a generous grant from my home town Stockport and I was determined to finish my Modern Languages degree. I decided to stay.

The Vipers took on another bassist and I continued to enjoy their gigs and had no regrets. Then they went to London and I tuned into their session on John Peel’s radio programme. To think that could have been me helping to record it at the BBC studios in London. But then they disappeared and I never heard anything about them again.

Around six months later, in 1979, I bumped into the drummer on Griffith Avenue in north Dublin. The band had gone to London to seek fame and fortune on the music scene there, but things had not gone well. The band eventually split up and the various members returned to Dublin separately.

It seemed making it in the music business was a very dodgy and unpredictable affair. Many bands and artists desperately wanted to make it, yet very few of them ever did. DC Nien, Some Kind of Wonderful, U2, and from Cork, Micro Disney. I enjoyed all of them and got to know their songs very well, but which one of them was going to make it, if any?

One of the places I rehearsed with the Sinners was a room in a run down Georgian terraced house on the south east corner of Parnell Square, north of the river. I was friendly with the guy who ran the rehearsal room – John Breen (thanks to Peter Breen for contacting me in Nov 2007 to remind me of his name).

He was bright and had some very definite ideas about bands he thought were going to make it. He rated a new British band very highly. They were called ‘The Police’ and thought they’d go far. Another band he was keen on was one who also practiced in his rehearsal room.

The name of that band was U2. I said I’d heard a lot of their stuff and thought they were very talented, but, and these are the ‘famous last words’ I tell everyone – I didn’t think the lead singer was good enough for them to be successful. They had some good songs, but I felt he was very shaky in the high notes, and I reckoned that sadly they would find it difficult to get a recording contract. John Breen thought differently, predicting they would be very successful. The rest is history.

In Summer 1979 I left Dublin and the Sinners. They continued without me and achieved some success. There is a reference to the Sinners on the Discogs website. Do a search for ‘Aidan O’Rourke The Sinners band’.

From September 1979 to August 1980 I was in Berlin on my year abroad, and lost all contact with the Dublin music scene. By the time I was back, U2 were well on the way to success. They had secured a recording contract in early 1980. I had their first album ‘Boy’ on tape, in addition to earlier versions of the songs recorded off air from Radio Dublin. It was about this time I used to visit Dik in the room underneath me.

Liverpool to Dublin ferry Leinster arriving at Dublin Port

Very early one Sunday morning in around April 1981 I went out on my very first photographic expedition. I had with me an Olympus Trip which my friend Kieran Sheridan had kindly lent me.

I walked down from Trinity into the then undeveloped Docklands area by the River Liffey. In my head was the album ‘Boy’, the track ‘In the Eyes of a Child’ and the glowing, golden sound of the Edge’s guitar became fused with the sunrise over the Dublin docks and reflected on the side of the Liverpool ferry which had just arrived. A new decade was well underway, my university days were nearly over, a new era had dawned.

This is just a brief summary of my early U2 Dublin memories, many of which lie forgotten in my latent memory banks. Here are some of my other Irish music highlights:

  • Seeing the Clash play in the TCD exam Hall in 1978, where I later did my final examinations
  • Seeing the Damned play in a venue off Grafton Street the name of which I’ve forgotten.
  • Seeing the Boomtown Rats play the Trinity Freshers Ball in September 1976.
  • Recording the Virgin Prunes at a forgotten venue on Stephens Green, and other venues.
  • Travelling to Dun Laoghaire to see The Jam play at a dance hall venue, also unnamed.
  • Witnessing Eric Bell, the genius guitarist of early Thin Lizzy – the three piece – play a lunchtime gig at Trinity College during 1976.
  • Earlier in 1976 I also saw the Thin Lizzy – the four piece – play at the National Stadium on South Circular Road
  • Earlier in the 70s, my favourite Irish band was Horslips with their haunting and visually evocative album The Táin
    On summer holidays, at dances down the country where Irish showbands played, I used to go up and chat with the guitarist.

I’d just like to add my very earliest Irish music memory: Bringing home to Stockport and playing on the old Dansette record player a copy of ‘Folk Songs of Ireland’ by Irish traditional singer, musician and storyteller Seamus Ennis.


U2 changed the way the world thought about Irish music. I’m glad that what is now my most vivid musical memory is the one of U2 playing the Project Arts Centre in 1978, and also three years later, taking photographs of the Dublin cityscape to a mental backdrop of U2’s music.

This was a groundbreaking, though not especially happy time for me. I had frustrated creative ambitions, and wasn’t lucky enough to find others who could help me achieve them. Musically I wanted to do something bigger, broader, more all encompassing than traditional rock music.

The fact is that U2 went on to do what I would like to have done. And what if they’d needed a bass player, auditioned me and invited me to join? Would I have turned them down to finish my degree?

I have one regret, and that is that I wasn’t taking photos of bands. At the time I wanted to be up there, playing the music myself, not on the sidelines. In any case there seemed to be very few people around me with a camera, still fewer taking photos at gigs. If I had been capturing my experiences on film, I would now have a prime collection, both from the Dublin scene and from the equally vibrant music scene in Manchester, my home city. But there’s no point in going on about regrets. My early U2 Dublin music memories will stay with me always, and I can at least share them here.

If anyone can provide the names of people or venues mentioned in this account, or have any corrections, comments or additions, please contact.

Thanks to Matt McGee for spurring me on to write this account.

Thanks to Kieran for lending me that camera.

Thanks to Bill Graham for providing me with some early encouragement and for helping to discover U2.

Responses to “Early U2 Dublin memories”

Aidan loved your site, brings back lot of memories, Dublin in the late 70s music-wise was a great place to be.

Me and my friends saw this guy walk into Advance records one HOT
summer day in a long trench coat once inside he took it off to reveal a leopoard skin jump suit. We gave him a laugh and left, only to see him on the Late Late Show a couple of months later was Bono .

Been to McGonagles more times than I can remember but I do recall that
awful white wine Black Tower, that was where the Damned played.

Saw DC Nien support the Ian Gillan band back in 78 at UCD and Sonny
Condell supported them, best concert I ever went to, show started at midnight,
and all for the princely sum of 1 pound 50 p .

I was a neighbour of Sean Hines who played bass in the Strougers. Good
local band from the Navan Rd

Great site will refer my friends


Thanks very much for your great comments – they brought that time back to me as well. I was there when the Damned played McGonagles! I think I was probably drinking flat Harp lager! Very best wishes!

Sean Kenny

October 14th, 2006 01:26 e

Brilliant account Aidan. I must have been your shadow, having been at all the concerts you were at. Wish it could all happen again mate!


December 18th, 2006 17:21 e

for the rest of the vipers story

Bernard Walsh

February 16th, 2007 22:01

Hi Aidan, just stumbled onto your site, I am one of those northside blokes your played with in The Sinners the other was Tony Pugh.

Wow it’s great to hear from you, and as it turns out, Bernard has a site with his stills photography from various films, and the RTE soap opera Bachelor’s Walk. Go to


March 20th, 2007 18:50

I think the venue on Wolfe Tone Street where you went to see The Buzzcocks might have been called Dingwall’s. It was pretty short-lived anyway.


April 8th, 2007 19:18

Hi Aidan I was also at a lot of those gigs and my band the Strougers (Crap name, did ramones covers etc) played a half dozen gigs in the Dandelion Market way back then. In fact I reckon we supported the Sinners there too. I also think the Sinners played in The Ivy Rooms on Parnell st on the North side of Dublin. The Damned played in McGonagles on South Anne Street, The Jam played the Top Hat Dun Laoghaire, The Prunes played the Dandelion. Unfortunately i dont share your enthusiasm for U2 who we had the misfortune of playing with in the Dandelion in 1978. I know Tony Pugh your guitar player, last time I met him he was a DJ (a few years ago). The Count Bishops supported the Clash in Trinity and just like the GPO everybody was there ha ha. They were great days man.

The Strougers? My memory must be failing me but I don’t remember that name. I remember the Dandelion Market. The Ivy Rooms on Parnell Street? Any connection with the rehearsal room on Parnell Square? Yes, I remember the Damed at McGonagles, with the white faced lead singer prancing around from stage to speakers. Also remember the trek out to Dun Laoghaire to see The Jam – I would never have remembered the name the Top Hat. I saw the Prunes at McGonagles and also at a venue on Stephens Green, not Dandelion Market, but a big hall on the south side. Well, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about U2 in the early days! The Count Bishops – another name that has almost disappeared from my memory. I remember the Clash in the Exam Hall quite clearly. I was standing quite near the band at the top. I was standing very close to Joe Strummer. Damn, if only I’d been taking photos then. I just wish I could turn back the clock!
Thanks very much for contacting.


April 9th, 2007 14:53

Hi again just to let you know that there is a guy in Dublin that is putting a book together about the punk/new wave scene in Dublin plus other cultural/musical phenomenon eg, skins/mods/hippies etc. from way back when. He has spoken with me and other geezers who were active on the punk scene in Dublin in the 70’s. He is still looking for photos/anecdotes/stories etc. His name is Gary and his e-mail address is
PS. There is a website that features most of the irish punk/new wave bands from that era plus the 80’s. The strougers and the sinners are included. Its a step down memory lane
The website is

Thanks very much, I will contact Gary. It was a great time, but I’m not sure if I would like to relive all of it.


May 8th, 2007 09:03

If I recall correctly, The Clash also did a matinee before the evening gig in the Exam Hall.
ALSO, the Ivy Rooms went on to become Fibber’s. It was a real hellhole.

Peter Breen

Nov 1 2007 19.00

I well remember those days my brother John Breen had rehearsal rooms on Mountjoy Square a full Georgian house remodelled and soundproofed with sand from Dollymount in the sash windows. He also played with a band called the School Kids with Dave Lee on vocals. Lots of bands rehearsed there Rocky de Valera , the Atrix, U2 and so many more that I cannot remember. Heady days to be sure

Keep on rockin

Peter Breen

Yes, I remember your brother very well indeed, and that fateful conversation about U2’s chances of getting a record deal – a very switched on guy

Hi Aidan
You asked for some info for names or places you couldn’t remember.
The Venue you saw the Jam at was .. The Top Hat Dun Laoghaire .. We
played support to both .. The Jam and The Clash at The Top Hat.

Take Care

Charlie Hallinan .. Ex Drummer Berlin

Great to hear from you. It was a long trek out to Dun Laoghaire, but worth it!

Great site. I was one of them punk rockers in that time. The Dando market, hangin outside Advance Records South William Street. That band the Strougers I remember the lead singer wore a pair of teddy boy shoes. There was the band Sidefx. Rocky was the bass player. The band the Threat the lead singer was Morris. The Damned played McGonagles as the Doomed. Drinking cider in the green. Way back in the day in a simplier time..r.i.p Lenny who we lost at Slane Castle 1984.

I still have no recollection at all of the Strougers! – I remember the Damned at McGonagles quite clearly, the white-faced lead singer prancing up onto the speakers and all around the venue. I don’t think there were many people at that concert. I also saw the Virgin Prunes at McGonagles and recorded the entire set on my bulky portable tape recorder and radio. I still have that recording somewhere, along with the ones of U2.


I enjoyed your piece on Dublin music scene in the late 70s, brought back some great memories. McGonagles, Toners, Bruxelles, the Buttery and a bunch of other places I have long forgotten. If you haven’t been to this website there is loads of band info from that time

Here’s what I remember:

The Dandelion Market, Sir Walter Raleighs for rainbow skins, The Alchemists Head to get copies of the Freak brothers magazines, seeing U2 and The Atrix (I think I still have a copy of “Treasure on the Wasteland”) for 50p in the underground parking lot off Stephens Green, Hijax wine bar on O’Connell street to score hash, Saturday nights in Bruxelles followed by McGonagles and walking home because both of the cities Taxis were nowhere to be found. Having “One from the wood” in the snug at Kehoes, Reggae at the TV Club on Fridays, sneaking in a take out 6 pack to The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Stella (Midnight Express and Taxi driver in Cork), Abracababra at 2.00 in the morning, the Rock in Stephens Green, outrage when a pint went over a quid, The diary of Adrian Mole on the radio, the Letters of Henry Root, Mulligans for the best pints, John Cooper Clarke, Micro Disney, Firstenberg and Colt 45, 24 hour shop in Rathgar, Johnny Foxes during mushroom season, rat fink Haughey, the 5000 quid giveaway on Radio Nova, Nova Park, “Ta said ag teacht” Arran island Guinness ad, Wine coolers, Snake bites, Durban poison (yeah!), nightclubs on Lesion St., The Pink Bicycle…
Don’t remember much else but a good time was had by all!

The attached was a great gig.

Cheers for stirring the memories

Dermot Houston

That’s fantastic, thanks – I remember quite a few but not all of what you mentioned! Funny how each of us has our own ‘version’ of how things were. Many thanks for contacting and sending the poster!

Manchester World Naked Bike Ride 3D video

Manchester World Naked Bike Ride poster and some of the riders

On Friday evening 12 June, the 2015 Manchester World Naked Bike Ride took place. I’m no stranger to public nudity, having lived in Germany, so I have absolutely no problem with it! I’m not used to seeing it in Manchester though, so this was a first for me!

Here’a link to the video which can be viewed on

The riders gathered in All Saints Park, next to Manchester Metropolitan University and there were crowds of onlookers many from other countries. What must the Oriental and Middle Eastern people have thought? They didn’t seem too offended actually!

Everything had been agreed with the police, who were not expecting any problems at all. The riders were committing no offence. The invitation was to ‘bare as you dare’, so while many went au naturel, others kept some garments on. Body paint also helped to reduce the impact for those not used to seeing the uncovered human body in a public place.

The aim of the ride is to highlight both cycling and the body. What struck me was that there were far more men than women. Some of the women wanted to make the point that females should be able to appear like this in public without being seen in a sexualised way.

Personally I find the female body far more aesthetic than the male body but this event is not about body aesthetics but body freedom and the benefits of cycling for the body and the environment. It would be nice if the male/female split was closer to 50/50 though. Maybe in years to come.

As the large crowd of riders prepared to set off they sounded horns and played loud music on portable boom boxes towed behind their bikes. And just after 7pm, they set off, speeding onto Oxford Road and on into the city centre. I didn’t count the number of people but I think have recorded everyone on the video.

It was captured on the now withdrawn Fuji Finepix W3 using its low res video facility. It can be viewed in 3D on the back of the camera or using a 3D television. I am building up a collection of photos and videos which I hope to display publicly in the future. If you have the facility to view 3D video and would like to watch the Manchester Naked Bike Ride video, just get in touch and I can send you a copy.

After an exhilarating ride around the city centre, the riders returned to All Saints Park.

All in all I think people will agree that the event was a big success and I look forward to the next one! Well done to the organisers and all who took part.

Here again is the link to the video