The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Remember Them...

Remembering Joe Cassidy Of Butterfly Child
The Quietus , July 28th, 2021 07:39

Guy Sirman remembers Joe Cassidy, the Butterfly Child and Assassins musician who died this month

Joe Cassidy at Rockfield by Pendle Poucher

“Music and love is all that really matters in all its different permutations”
Joe Cassidy, 23 August 2012, 01.46am

The first time I met Joe was in November 1996 at a venue called The Garage in London. A mutual friend Lenny Franchi had brought him along to see a band I was working with at the time. Lenny had recently mixed a record for me by Sufi who were essentially Rudy and Maggie Tambala from A.R. Kane.

Prior Joe had recorded his first two records, the Toothfairy EP (1991) and the Eucalyptus EP (1992) for H.Ark!, Rudy’s own independent label. Along with another two EPs by Papa Sprain (led by Joe’s musical co-conspirator and Belfast friend Gary McKendry) it seemed as if a new sound lab of blissful melodies combined with dissonance had seeped into pop, immersive but panoramic.

Being a besotted (is there any other kind?) Butterfly Child fan myself the encounter was limited to a relatively sheepish, "What you up to?" It turned out that by then Joe had already sought to escape the “woefully uninspiring” barrage of Britpop, swiftly falling in love with Chicago. On the invite of the US label Hit It! to make an album with them he relocated and stayed for a decade. That third LP was 1998’s Soft Explosives.

The second time it occurred to me to contact Joe was during a headphone walk to work through palatial Tottenham (April 2010) whilst re-listening to the two John Peel sessions Butterfly Child had recorded (transmissions 1 March 1992 and 1 January 1994) and deciding it was time they were released. Hail spontaneity!

Not only was I surprised that Joe remembered our previous brief crossing of paths but he also immediately engaged in the idea of a self-funded independent re-kindling of some back catalogue flames. Ultimately ditching the sessions idea but drawing on a vast archive of unreleased demos, a new album was planned instead, the very personal and somewhat cathartic Futures (decided of course on 14 February 2013). Its tone was determined by the release of the single ‘No Longer Living In Your Shadow’ (the white Jaguar guitar in the video is the very same used by Rudy in A.R. Kane’s 'Green Hazed Daze' promo).

I can’t recall why it took so long to come out. Joe was no slouch, rather a workaholic, compelled to write a piece of music a day, by now working in LA writing for film, documentaries and commercials. In fact sometimes I wondered when he ever slept (“Where do your thoughts go when you fall asleep?”) Though always busy there’d undoubtedly be a prompt answer to transatlantic musings at 2am. Then a new mix the following morning.

Which accounts for why I wondered why Joe was suddenly so quiet this summer.

There was never any conflict whilst working with Joe, barely a disagreement and he tolerated my humour; entirely free of ego he would respond to any idea I pursued (and in practical terms I don’t have a musical bone in my body). He always seemed to thrive on having a foil to bounce off. His bandmates in Assassins concur, recounting how he’d transform a splinter of sound into a heady cocktail of euphoria.

During Future’s gestation I sent Joe what I described as a "pretty little string loop" I’d made, a snippet from an Italian soundtrack from 1971. Triggering a reminder of a Dionne Warwick song, within just a couple of hours he sent back an early version of 'Holding On'. Big, bold balloons of unbridled joy (even – or is that especially – when they were fundamentally melancholy) Joe’s songs appeared as if they had always existed somewhere. It was just that you were now compelled to free fall with them, strapped in to their broken parachutes.

Not dissimilar to those other souls we loved, Paddy McAloon and Mark Hollis, his language was intimate but never exclusive. The forlorn sound of love breaking down hugged back alive by the colour of spring.

I’m not sure whether Joe wished he had been a big pop star. He seemed genuinely absorbed with the opportunity to create, never jaded nor bitter. Perhaps he was too selfless, always available for others.

“The funny thing is that I thought I was writing very accessible pop music from the get go” he told me in the summer of 2016 (June 27, 7.32am) “I had no shame if any of it ever went mainstream but I think I was unaware of how unconventional some of the arrangements and production were. The musical universe going on in my head just doesn’t quite translate to the masses.”

Equally there was a contradiction in his records being perceived as solitary ruminations; between the idea of Butterfly Child being one Irish man’s vision and the collaborations that were actually involved. Though he was driving the bus on initial releases Rudy produced the first two EPs and the Rough Trade releases were recorded at Gary’s parents’ house, the pair of them stretching the boundaries of an eight-track tape machine, a cheap drum box, a reverb unit and a secondhand synthesizer. Ahead of its time some of the programming including drum patterns that would go on to be more akin to Timbaland productions than those associated with landfill indie.

His fine attention to details of sound, the playful turn of verse were all evident on that first remarkable album Onomatopoeia for Rough Trade. Melody Maker noted how it was “all about the sensual possibilities of language... finding its affirmation in the things it can’t define” (Jon Selzer 21 August 1993). Joe recalled in 2017 (on the album’s re-release) “I love that the song ‘Our Lady Mississipp’ is like the nursery school jazz version on the album, and then by the time we did the second Peel session six months later I had Pendle on guitar, James Harris on bass and Richie Thomas on drums finally realising what the adult version of the song could sound like.”

Sonic wonder was matched by his ludicrous tales of all the people he had befriended socially. Accidentally spending a day in a West London studio with Scott Walker whilst the icon was making Tilt. Living on Hoxton Square, London with a fledgling Alexander McQueen. Bumping into Jeff Buckley at a party whilst a guest of Allen Ginsberg’s. I was jealous that he had met Melanie Griffith. And chuckled at a recently recounted Simon Le Bon story.

During the last winter as the snow fell and his dogs padded around his living room behind him I asked him how it was he had so many stories. He recounted how on one of his first days in LA he was queuing for coffee and on finding himself short on change was rescued by a benevolent stranger you and I both know as David Cronenberg. “That’s just LA” he beamed at me. “That, and y’know, I’ve been around the block.”

Mostly though Joe’s working relationships were grounded in very personal ties. I loved that his long-term partner, Merritt Lear kept on returning vocals throughout his records (he’d often tell me how incredibly proud he was of her), that production with Stephen Hague (on the Assassins album and A Shot In The Dark) were threaded with mutual respect and that when I was to meet his childhood friend Tony McKeown I should behave myself because he was “an absolute gentleman”. I adored the way that because 'Holding On' was such a tribute to Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell he called on Webb’s three sons, Justin, James and Christiaan to add backing vocals while Glen’s son Cal plays guitar. I thought he was joking when he suggested the idea, little realising they were pals.

Without entitlement Joe knew he was blessed.

There will be (“with my eyes closed I swear to you”) further records released by Joe. At the time of his death (15 July, 11.50 CDT) Joe had a trio of albums very close to completion – his acoustic/ orchestral Butterfly Child album, a new album by Assassins and another under a third name.

Much like the way his friends regarded him as their dearest friend, their holiest confidante, their intimate drinking partner, their first go-to for comfort or a bolt of enthusiasm, Joe’s records also become an essential, something we can never live without, replace nor forget.

We trip out on their daydreams, those Soft Explosives that throw us giddily into the here and now.

Thank you Joe, you lovely fella. I'm lost for words, desperate for comfort and can do no better than quote your lyrics back at you.

“Sleep well tonight, don’t cry. Somehow it don’t feel like goodbye.”
Joe Cassidy ‘I Need You I Can See Straight’ 28 April 2015 8.38pm