THE OUTFIT are reunited – Just don’t call them Sea Urchins

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The Outfit led by Limerick songwriter Ger Costelloe went from unknown festival bill fodder to Sunday night festival headliners in a weekend, signed to one of Ireland’s most respected indie labels, played hundreds of shows, and was on the cusp of going international in the early eighties.

The Outfit on RTE’s Non Stop Pop

1980 – Ger and his young band The Street Urchins played punk, reggae and new wave, writing protest songs and playing regularly in The Olde Stand Bar when an invitation to play the Carnsore Point Anti-Nuclear Power Show came through.

The Street Urchins packed their van and headed to Carnsore Point in Wexford, where the free concerts were the centre of anti-nuclear protest from the late 70s.

The young punk band tried to get backstage to play their gig but were stopped by security.

Security Guard -“Who are ye?’

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Ger – “We’re The Street Urchins!”

Security Guard looking down through the list of bands – “We don’t have any ‘Street Urchins’. Are you sure you’re playing?”

Ger – “Of course we’re playing – we have a van full of gear.”

Security Guard – “I got a band down at the bottom of the list here called The Sea Urchins?”

Ger Costelloe’s fast and furious band had gone from being the street smart punks to a bunch of slow moving, dull, spaced out, hippy sea creatures and that couldn’t happen. The band changed their name right there and then to The Outfit – as straightforward a name as they could think of … The Band was already taken as a name.

“There was a Woodstock vibe to the Carnsore festival. All voluntary and Moving Hearts supplied the sound system free of charge,” Ger remembers.

“We did our show on Saturday afternoon. We just tore into our ten original songs. And tore the place down – it worked! The organisers asked us to headline on the Sunday.

“We went from being a nobody band to headliners in two days.’

That band was Ger on guitar, Brendan Wallace on drums, Dermot Moloney on saxophone and Brian Healy on bass.

Fellow headliners Christy Moore and Moving Hearts would play a further role in the story of The Outfit in the following months.

When Moving Hearts played two nights at The Belltable, Ger snuck backstage on the Saturday night to invite the group to see The Outfit play at their weekly residency at The Courtyard on Sundays.

“The following day at our usual gig in The Courtyard – in walks the band Moving Hearts and their road crew. “We were shitting ourselves – but we had a good following at that stage. We played a blinder of a gig.

“After the gig Christy Moore came up to me and said, ‘Are you the bould little brat that came into the dressing room? Do you want to play with us in the Belltable?’”

Moving Hearts invited The Outfit to support them at the Belltable that night and then took them to The Baggot Inn to play at their three nights a week residency at the Dublin venue.

“They became our mentors. I’m sure they were influential in us getting a record contract.”

The Outfit soon signed with Irish indie label Scoff Records and released two singles.

The first was in 1981 (‘El Salvador’) and the second in 1983 (‘Toytown’). The band appeared on ‘Non Stop Pop’ hosted by the late Gerry Ryan. He liked the band so much that he asked for their pin badge and wore it for the show.

The Outfit toured all over Ireland and built up a huge following throughout the country. They played a gig for Channel 4 in the SFX in Dublin with Moving Hearts. They were championed by Dave Fanning and recorded two Fanning Sessions for the show and held the number two spot on the indie charts for eight weeks.

By then The Outfit had attracted the interest of the huge UK dancehall/reggae label Greensleeves. (The label has over 20,000 copyrights in reggae music from the likes of Gregory Isaacs, Aswad, Black Uhuru and more recently Shaggy’s ‘Oh, Carolina’ and Sean Paul’s ‘Get Busy’)

Signing to that UK label never happened and led to the band break up in 1984.

Ger says that experience “tore the heart out of the band.”

“It was a hammer blow when we didn’t get the UK deal at that time. As far as we were concerned everything was done, everything was dusted.”

In just four years the band had built up a strong following in this country, were being played on the alternative shows on radio and toured consistently. They were on the cusp of being a rare signing on the predominantly back artist label Greensleeves.

In fact some at the label were surprised to hear that the voice singing with The Outfit was not black.

“As far as they were concerned, Bob Marley’s long lost brother was living up in Janesboro,” Ger laughs.

Ger Costelloe gravitated towards the O’Malley’s after The Outfit broke up and has been at Peter’s side in that legendary outfit ever since. His song ‘The Dying Soldier’ was recorded by Christy Moore for the best selling ‘Ride On’ album. Ger has never stopped writing, releasing the critically acclaimed ‘Letting in Water’ in 2016.

“It took an awful lot of cajoling on Peter Donnelly’s part to get me to come up and sing a few songs with the O’Malleys,” Ger recalls.

“It all went from protest music to Ireland’s version of the Grateful Dead.” Laughs.

Other members formed The Groove, had a hit single with Blue Blue Monday and supported David Bowie in Slane.

Five members from the various lineups of The Outfit are in rehearsal for this upcoming show. They are joined by Ian Mac on drums. The songs of protest the band are reviving sound as strong now as they did in the early 80s.

“It is uncanny how relevant a lot of Ger’s lyrics are today,” commented guitarist Paul Healy.

There is a possibility of new recordings from The Outfit and when asked why pick this time to do a reunion gig Ger had a straightforward unconvoluted answer.

“We’re getting ancient and we are all still alive!”

The Outfit reform and play Dolan’s this Saturday September 2.