Culture That Made Me: Niall O’Flaherty of the Sultans of Ping 

Culture That Made Me: Niall O’Flaherty of the Sultans of Ping 

Niall O’Flaherty, 52, was born in Brighton. He grew up in Carrigaline, Cork. He’s the lead singer of Sultans of Ping, a band he co-founded in 1988. The group released Casual Sex in the Cineplex in 1993, the first of three albums.

The band still play occasional gigs, but O’Flaherty also lectures about the history of European political thought at King’s College London. 

  • Sultans of Ping will perform at Cork Opera House, Friday and Saturday, Feb 10-11. See:
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Larry David.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

I can relate so much to Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm at this stage of my life, curmudgeonly at people not obeying unwritten rules of etiquette. I was one of those people who, like Larry, knocked on the windows of cars: “You know, you broke the light a little bit back there?” That’s not a healthy thing to do in London. A Dublin guy pulled me aside one day. This was a while back because I was already like that in my thirties. He said: “You’re not gonna make it to 40 here. Cut that out now. Suck it up.” 

The Ramones

I remember in first year at school, somebody lent me the Ramones’ second album Leave Home. I brought it home and played it and played it. I could not understand what’s going on here. It blew my mind. Lyrically, it was astonishing. I brought it up to my next-door neighbour. She listened to it and she said, “You know these guys got no talent.” That didn’t change my view in the slightest. That record converted me to punk.

New York Dolls

Further down the line, I got to love the New York Dolls. I loved both albums. Everything you could want your guitars to do and the voice – David Johansen is underappreciated as a singer or front man. For the Sultans, it shaped what we were doing, which might not be visible. The ferociousness of everything. We loved the clothes. Our problem was we could never get clothes as good as them. Although you see photos of them and they’re not always a pretty picture. I also thought Johansen is a great lyricist, great at capturing the edgy life they were leading, the parties, the people they were hanging out with. Their first record in particular was astonishing.

Gregory Peck in Youghal in 1954 for the making of Moby Dick. Picture: Irish Examiner Archive 

Moby Dick film

I love Moby Dick, the version that is shot around Youghal in Cork. I love Gregory Peck’s Captain Ahab. I love it because it’s him, of all people – the last person in the world you would think of. He’s a fantastic Ahab. I love his Satanic conviction in it. Every minute of it looks fantastic. The way the director John Huston captures faces. The dialogue is stunning, obviously because the book is stunning. I’ve watched it many times.

Elvis Presley

Singing wise, Elvis could do absolutely anything. He sang in the later stages other artists’ big hits. He tended to make everything he did better, better than the original. I love his version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. I couldn’t stand the original, but when he did it, it brings a tear to my eye. Not everything, but almost everything he made better. And the performance, the electricity of it. Elvis was the greatest performer there has ever been. Everyday humans can’t do what he did.

Tampopo collage

There is a Japanese film called Tampopo. It’s kind of a collage. It’s mainly about a woman running a noodle shop in Tokyo, and her efforts to become a master noodle maker. It’s interspersed with short stories, all about food in Japan. It captures Japan’s obsession with food, their ideas reflecting on European Food, our ideas of theirs. It’s light. It’s funny. There are sad, poignant moments in it too. It’s a blast of a film.

The Cramps

I love everything about The Cramps. I managed to get a copy of their live album RockinnReelininAucklandNewZealandXXX. I learnt The Cramps were the same band in the studio, doing exactly what they did on stage. Lux Interior was the greatest I’ve seen on stage, better by a mile than anybody else. No one came near him. It wasn’t just the charisma. Say their song How Far Can Too Far Go? He pushed it as far as it could possibly go. There’s a limited number of things you can do on stage but he seemed to invent new things. Every time I saw him he had something else up his sleeve, which I would always copy if I could! Like, say, he’d hold a wine bottle in his mouth and drink it with no hands, something which had great appeal. He was outstanding.

The Damned

I remember a fantastic gig in Sir Henry’s in Cork, seeing The Damned. Sam Steiger, the Sultans’ guitarist, and I were discussing this the other day – The Damned are underrated. It was around the time of their 1985 single The Shadow of Love, which wasn’t a direction I was into. Dave Varian was going through that slightly pop-goth phase. It didn’t put us off. I’ll never forget that one. I was young at the time. It made a big impression. God, they were a ferocious sound in a venue l

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