We follow Acid Granny, “the Endymion’s of 21st Century Dublin”, as they wheel their trolley round the streets of the city.
“Acid. Dirt. Acid. Dirt. Acid. Dirt and acid. Dirt. Acid. Dirt. Acid. Dirt. A sandwich, sandwich, sandwich, sandwich, sandwich, sandwich, sandwich, sandwich. Dirt.”
Taoiseach Shame has prepared five chicken fillet rolls. Dressed in a cow onesie, the artist – real name Louise Butler – brandishes the foil-wrapped sandwiches in a sizeable Ziplock. They are the evenings sustenance, she says, before stashing them in a schoolbag hooked to the handlebar of a Lidl trolley inside the entrance to the Block T warehouse studios on Bow Lane.
The trolley is laden with speakers connected to a car battery. There are miniature synthesizers, power banks, plastic bags, cans, water bottles and a Chinese takeaway box repurposed as a digital amp. Fastened to the cage is a long Casio keyboard. Hanging off the side is a partially banjaxed Dora the Explorer keyboard and an Xbox controller, designed as a Fender guitar, for the game Rock Band 3.
Originally, on its front, the trolley had a sign, fashioned from old car licence plates, bearing the band’s name: Acid Granny. But that, vanished at a forest rave in Kilkenny several months ago.
In the middle of the cart is a red ironing board, sourced from a farmhouse in Wicklow. It is folded out to accommodate a spread of guitar effects pedals, a drum-machine, an old iPad and a mess of cables. Fixed to either side of its frame is a microphone. Dangling from its iron rest are six cardboard potatoes.
“Before this, we were always bent over at fucking ninety-degree angles,” says Alex Moore, one of Acid Granny’s members.
“We were those lands, hunched over, heads bobbing,” says Cillian Byrne.
“We’d be on Zimmer frames by next year if we hadn’t got this,” Moore says.
On a warm, sunny Thursday evening in late April, Moore and bandmate, Robbie Reilly lean over “the Granny”, warming her up for an imminent live session on the streets of Dublin.
Reilly, or Minglord Gran Reilly, wears a curly blonde wig, a blue satiny shirt, and baggy basketball-themed trousers. Meanwhile, Moore is in a blue and green frock with white pyjama bottoms.
In a corner is Byrne. He wears a witch hat, pink dress and glamour nana sunglasses, and he fiddles with a calculator-like synth. It produces a series of grotesque, squelching beats, which delight him with their almost scatological textures.
“Oh, I feel I’m in Coppers,” he says. “Tunes like that.”
Behind the trio, and by two boxes of potato wedges, is Oli Ryan, the vocalist and guitarist for the experimental group Tongue Bundle. His face is smeared in make-up. Around his neck is a large metal sign, reading ‘Staff Only.’ He wears a long beige trench coat and a bridal veil. They are calling him their “business cherub.”
Today is doubling up as Ryan’s training day and an on-street rehearsal. After the release of two albums in two months – Urban Hurling in February and Songs from the Radio on April Fool’s Day – the group is eager to impose a degree of structure to their set ahead of festival slots at All Together Now, Open Ear and Glastonbury.
Although generally, Reilly says, they would be inclined towards the insane all-night improv-heavy sessions, now is not the time for that. They want some semblance of order to balance out the chaos.
Once six o’clock chimes, Moore starts up a gentle, glistening three-chord lounge jazz loop. Butler warms up her voice, turning a stray remark into a lyric, singing tenderly, “I like my life to be in a state of stress.” Reilly generates a spaced-out melody using a delay effect. Byrne barks gruffly into the mic, “mash”, and across the street, a bemused mother and daughter stand in silence, watching as the cart is lugged onto the sidewalk.
They roll the trolley up the sloped street, pass the entrance to Swift’s Hospital, and ready themselves for the two-kilometre march to Grattan Bridge. Repeatedly, the wind blows off Byrne’s hat. He duct-tapes it to his head, and proceeds then to ad-lib a call-and-response with Moore, passing observations on nothing in particular.
“See that yoke there?”
“Yeah, that yoke right there.”
Their voices are sampled and warped into abstraction. The smooth opening number is atomised until it is a freeform wall of noise, splattered with arhythmic digital percussion. A respectable suited pedestrian on her phone awkwardly attempts to walk by, avoiding all eye contact. Noticing this, Byrne inquires, “are you on yer way to work?”
“I think they’re just terrified of us interacting with them,” Butler says later.
“Yeah,” Byrne says. “It’s like if they acknowledge us, they’re somehow complicit or a part of it. It’s, ‘no, I’m just going to pretend they’re not there.’”
“Fair enough, like,” Butler laughs.
Though a parade of urban nomads now, the idea that germinated into Acid Granny was sown in Bayside by Howth, around 2015.
Moore and Reilly started out as the bassist and guitarist in Spudgun, a band with between four and fifteen members at any given time. Their music drew from the likes of Frank Zappa and post-punk, and on-stage they were noted for their “space-related theatrics.”
“We wore random, weird clothes,” recalls Sam Burton, lead vocalist for Spudgun and I Am The Main Character. “We were like an alien group who crash landed on this planet and raided a department store, not knowing what was intended for what gender. So, we blitzed the women’s section of Penneys.”
Spudgun’s initial plan was to write an entirely new set for each different gig, Burton says. “We just didn’t want to bore ourselves, and I think, over three years, the most we ever did one show was three times.”
Artist, director, model and Acid Granny collaborator, Katie Freeney says seeing the band live “spurned her on to start making videos again.”
“After a fairly sterile four years at art college, I was so happy to see that there were weirdos making absurd art in Dublin.”
In late 2016, a “shock opera,” evolved out of Spudgun, titled Schindler’s Fist. Butler came on board at this point, characterising the show as a less “PC version” of Acid Granny. Moore calls it “fetish techno with real instruments and people dressed in drag.”
“We did a wedding with the birth of the anti-Christ onstage,” says Reilly.
“Cillian was a priest, and then a member of the Galactic Senate, and then a God,” says Moore. “Naturally.”
The first of the Acid Granny Trolleys was stumbled on in a warehouse one day in 2018. It was a Superquinn trolley, Moore says. “It was being used as a bin.”
“We wanted to bring a car battery and a couple of amps to Portobello Square and play some psychedelic music,” Reilly continues.
“It was guitar and bass, our expensive equipment,” Moore says. “Then we started messing around with small Casio keyboards, silly little funky grooves, which we’d put through mad effects pedals, and it was like, ‘wow, you can get mad shit outta this.’ If we just put these toys in the trolley, easy. We don’t need to care about this equipment half as much.”
“And we just kept on doing that,” Reilly says. “It was just casual, like we’ll do that again and people were picked up along the way.”
Byrne says he joined up after having fallen out of regular contact with the group for a brief period. “I was in town on a sunny day after work, and I saw the lads with their weird wonky beats.”
“I had this flute in my bag which I can’t play. It was like, ‘okay, this is perfect’ as I was playing two notes along with them.”
In April 2019, they began selling an eleven-track mixtape out of the trolley. Now titled Just Be Hoors, at first, the CD was given a new name with each sale – the estimated total being 90 – including Hoors Dying of the Flu, Hoors in Lourdes and Don’t be a Dry Balls in the Swimming Pool.
“We’re just fucking built for marketing and branding,” Reilly says.
The next month, Acid Granny went viral when, a pair of construction workers filmed Reilly and Butler wheeling “Granny” home after an all-night session. Praised online by Blindboy Boatclub, the result of this “taste of fame” as Byrne puts it, was Smells Great, their grubby, woozy debut single.
“We became more of a unit after that,” Butler says.
“The main thing before had been singing ‘give us your money, give us fifty quid,’” Byrne jokes.
“Yeah, we started trying a little bit more,” Butler says. “We’re a bit more classy, now.”
“CASUAL! CASUAL! CASUAL! CASUAL!”
Outside St. James Church, a deafening mantra bellowed by Oli Ryan attracts the attention of a security guard and a family of stunned tourists.
En route for Grattan Bridge, they rattle down Meath Street, shouting to a pair of Gardaí outside a bakery, “give us a meow.” The lounge sound has been replaced with an amped up techno number about catching an STI at the Reichstag.
Any trace of mindless good sense has been left behind in Block T along with the wedges. The sheer energy being spent encourages the odd passer-by to let loose, shouting in delight at this brazen, but steel cart.
An individual strolling by stops to drop his trousers. He is wearing a pair of Acid Granny underwear with the words ‘Smells Great’ emblazoned across the rear-end. It is Eric FitzGerald, the electronic musician and producer who performs under the moniker Qwasi.
FitzGerald’s label Ecstatic Intervals released the band’s 2021 single, I Love the Brits and I Love the Queen, and later he says, “I feel like we’re in a kind of golden age of Irish independent music.”
“Avoiding the fucking norms of what is expected is always a good thing,” he continues. “And I think Acid Granny really represents that going against the grain.”
Their DIY ethos, he argues, embodies the defiant spirit of Dublin’s underground artists presently. “With venues now, now a lot of them aren’t receptive towards an act like them,” FitzGerald says. “But they just decided, ‘fuck it, we can just do this on our own.’”
Katie Freeney, who directed the bondage, Babestation-inspired video for I Love the Brits…, says that there’s a “real freedom” in their non-commercial output.
“Acid Granny are a wonderful example of artists who do whatever the fuck they want and don’t care about money, listens or views and they’ve inspired me to do the same.”
In his reality-bending 1937 memoir, As I Was Going Down Sackville Street, Oliver St. John Gogarty conveyed his sense of disgust at the state of 1930s Ireland by portraying Dublin as a city moving backwards in time while its characters move forward. Everyone appears oblivious to this inversion of the entropic process, bar one outsider, known as Endymion.
A real-life city icon, named James Farrell, and depicted in Ulysses as one Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell, the legend goes that Endymion lost his mind while rescuing a friend from a gin vat. He became an eccentric flaneur, always armed with two swords, and according to St. John Gogarty, speaking backwards and wearing the cuffs of his sleeves on his ankles.
By all appearances, as someone upside-down in a country moving backwards, he was St. John Gogarty said, the “National Mind.” And, in the 21st Century, few are as deserving as Acid Granny of that honorific.
They cut through Temple Bar as the sun sets, ploughing down Parliament Street. Across the quayside crossroads, dance frantically. The tempo of their set accelerates. A track comprised of bird caws appears to summon a flock of seagulls overhead. Reilly uses one of the chicken fillet rolls as a slide for his toy guitar, and Byrne approaches nervous pedestrians, asking questions in the name of “science.”
“Excuse me sir, what did you have for breakfast this morning?”
“Nothing? A little bit of a famine throwback.”
“Just like…” Butler begins, “famine times.”
“Just like famine times,” Byrne replies.
The performance is inherently absurd, and as such, a reflection of the city around them as it degrades. Like on tracks such as Would You Be My Landlord? and Respect the Garda, they soak up the various facets of Irish history, politics and culture, and spit them out as farcical composite images, or a deranged version of Reeling in the Years.
“In most parts of Irish culture, there are always these strands of… just absolute bonkers nonsense,” says Daragh Lynch, the vocalist and guitarist of Lankum.
“In a weird way, it taps more into the human condition, like Joyce, Beckett, or in musical terms, someone like Tommy Potts.”
“Acid Granny’s taking to the streets is symbolic of the stripping away of creative spaces in Dublin,” Freeney says. “Our government favours hostels and hedge funds over artists that really keep Dublin’s heart beating.”
Though not explicit in their politics, the group’s formation was noteworthy as having coincided with the emergence of the direct-action housing movement, Take Back the City in 2018. The next year, their trolley cropped up outside Leinster House one night as climate change activists chained themselves to the Oireachtas’ gates. And, in 2020, after retail chain Debenhams announced the closure of all stores in the Republic, they performed on the picket line, in support of the workers striking for 406 days.
Over the course of their development, more and more their bandwagon came to embody the sense among Dubliners that their city was pushing them out. That notion was only compounded further when, on 24 March, Richmond Road Studios, a non-profit artistic space was served a notice of eviction.
Among the 20 artists to be impacted by the looming closure of the studio in Fairview was Butler herself. During a visit to her studio space on April 1, she remarked that it was unfair. On the day of the release of the album Songs for the Radio, she couldn’t revel in the accomplishment. Instead, she had to stress as her ability to create art was hampered by receivers.
“The disintegration of Dublin’s cultural scene is a palpable presence in many peoples lives both in and outside of the creative industries,” wrote the Richmond Road Studios manager Maeve Brennan in a petition to extend the studios’ eviction notice.
“It’s a rental crisis, it’s the cost of living, it’s the disappearance of voices, it’s the endless hustling juggle of trying to keep the disintegration at bay, it’s knowing that there are bigger and constantly unfolding emergencies in our collective daily experience.”
At the tail-end of twilight, the trolley ventures into the south inner-city. The quintet weave in-and-out of people on the jammed footpaths. From the speakers, a sluggish drumbeat bounces across Dame Street, accompanied by a dense, metallic bassline.
“Trad wife,” Byrne shouts. “A traditional Irish bride. Irish Pride.”
Stopping outside the entrance to ‘Gay’ Spar, a homeless man asks if he can rap along with them.
“It’s time to raise some soldiers in this town/
Fuckin drug addicts and homeless people lost abound/
their heads are fuckin’ wrecked and they’ve nowhere to go/
Oh no not another disaster, another city lost and it needs a pastor/
Oh no not another disaster, another dead body, we must move faster.”
Proudly handing Byrne back the microphone, the group proceed to cross the road, singing, “Holy God is my Daddy.” The shops are closing. Butler does a quick run for cans. A punter steps out of a pub, asking if she can buy them drinks. “I love ye,” she exclaims. “I’ve bopped to ye whenever I’ve seen ye.”
In the dark and echoing Dame Court, they carry on performing until after midnight. On they go, the Endymion’s of 21st Century Dublin, the gloriously demented pastors of the precarious city.
Words: Michael Lanigan
Photos: Malcolm McGettigan