The Rea-issues #2 – Shamrock Diaries (1985)

Shamrock Diaries became the first UK Top 20 album of Chris Rea’s career when it peaked at #15 on the chart.

Warner Music’s Rhino imprint has just re-issued five of Chris Rea’s most successful albums as lavish 2CD sets, with the original albums joined by a full bonus disc of B-sides, Live recordings and outtakes from the same period; Shamrock Diaries (1985), On The Beach (1986), Dancing With Strangers (1987), The Road To Hell (1989) and Auberge (1991).

Over the next few weeks, amazinglyfewdiscothequesprovidejukeboxes will cover each of these in detail, and look back at this part of his career.

It’s fair to say that Chris Rea was not really on my radar when Shamrock Diaries appeared in May 1985. Stainsby Girls, its lead single, had been a (then) rare foray into the UK Top 40, so I was aware of this gruff-voiced guy singing about the schoolgirls from his youth, but as with a lot of acts during the early years of my pop obsession, there were many misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding Chris Rea and his music.

Shamrock Diaries….was he Irish? Did he just make that kind of music which…. shudder….. *grown-ups* buy, like Elkie Brooks, Chris de Burgh or Joan Armatrading? Is he just a bit…naff? What does this music say to me? Why can’t I relate to it at all? When is the next Thompson Twins record coming out?

And so on.

This man could be potentially confusing for 13-year old chart pop followers.

Thus the appearance of the album in Our Price, Boots, WH Smiths et al failed to attract my attention, or even my interest. The big albums in my life at the time were Around The World In A Day, Be Yourself Tonight, Low-Life….and the very week of Shamrock Diaries‘ release came Youthquake by Dead Or Alive. If something such as Brothers In Arms (also out on that same day, May 13th 1985) couldn’t inspire anything more than a dismissive “ugh, boring music for old people” in my happy teenage ignorance, then what chance did poor Chris Rea have?

(Brothers In Arms would end up one of my favourite, essential albums by the end of 1985. Shamrock Diaries had to wait until sometime in 1987 before I even heard it in full).

My loss, of course. While it lacks the cohesion of his work that followed, and still betrays the effort involved in attempting to appease record labels and sundry radio station programmers, there are a lot of very good things about Shamrock Diaries. For a start, it includes three genuine Chris Rea classics; Stainsby Girls, Josephine and All Summer Long. No coincidence, either, that these were also the chosen singles.



Each one very different, just to add to my confusion! Josephine proved to be the first chink of light in my appreciation of his music; it made #16 on the weekly personal chart I compiled, although I had completely forgotten what the original UK single mix sounded like until this new 2CD reissue (it’s a brilliant, brooding, AOR chugger that is as up my street as it is probably possible to be). The later versions, be they the 1988 re-recording for New Light Through Old Windows (which has graced most Rea compilations since then) or the sublime, almost Chic-like “Version Francaise” that is featured on the bonus disc of the Dancing With Strangers reissue (as it dates from 1987 and was on the B-side of one of its singles) are the ones am I very familiar with, so hearing the 1985 7″ mix again is a welcome experience.

All Summer Long failed to chart, and indeed I wasn’t familiar with it until he dusted it down for 2000’s King Of The Beach album.  If anything, its super smooth groove is ahead of its time; the shifts in style from single to single arguably not helping Rea’s commercial prospects in an unforgiving mid-80s market.

Such a seemingly schizophrenic, uncertain musical identity was counting against him, with the trucker-friendly riffage of Stainsby Girls alongside plodding, drawn-out rockers like Hired Gun, and the strangely Miami Vice-evoking widescreen AOR of Stone. There are surprisingly conventional love songs such as Love Turns To Lies, where the Rea growl is tempered by a melody and set of lyrics that feel like a different artist to the one we grew to know on Dancing With Strangers and beyond.

None of this is actually bad, far from it, but the range of genres and styles Chris Rea covers on the 10 tracks leaves the listener wondering which is the real him, which of these sounds are the ones he genuinely wants to be writing, recording and exploring further. In time, we would find out.

Three years later, with New Light Through Old Windows requiring a look back at his Magnet-era material, it’s telling that of the Shamrock Diaries songs, he chose Steel River, Josephine and the title cut. They best fit the recognised milieu which he subsequently created, and Steel River is both a key song here and also an example of the limitations in studio budgets which often failed to provide the requisite heft his excellent songwriting deserved.

The 1985 original of Steel River feels almost demo-like, the various components oddly detached from one another, and sections of the track sometimes unevenly arranged. Compare and contrast to the 1988 version, helpfully included on this reissue’s second disc.

Shamrock Varieties: The curious case of the many different versions of its artwork. Note the grass is greener on the French edition….

While it undoubtedly laid the foundations for what followed, and represented a decent success on its own terms, Shamrock Diaries just falls short of being counted among the top-tier Rea albums. One senses that record company interference was still an issue, compromising the final results. Listening to the array of B-sides and non-album tracks on the reissue’s bonus disc tends to confirm this.

All of them exude a warmth and intimacy that is lacking on the main album, so hard was it trying to be all things to everyone (and every global market, perhaps). Glimpses of typical post-1986 Chris Rea are clear on the relaxed, jazzy shuffle of Dancing Shoes (it could easily sit alongside Let’s Dance or That Girl Of Mine from Dancing With Strangers), while the balearic drive of Everytime It Rains must have come as quite a shock in 1985. Disco Chris Rea!!! Sunrise was in a similar vein, and the lovely instrumental And When She Smiles hints at the sun-kissed, easy beauty that culminated in the On The Beach album a year later as well as the exotica of Espresso Logic from 1993. September Blue – definitely not to be confused with the closing ballad on Dancing With Strangers – is another blissful meditation, with horns and female backing vocals to the fore.

The 2-disc 2019 Deluxe Remaster

The rest of the bonus disc is taken up with those aforementioned New Light Through Old Windows interpretations from 1988, plus a trio of live recordings from 1986. At just 13 tracks and 50 minutes, it may look less comprehensive than the Dancing With Strangers package but in fact it helps to bring an extra dimension to this particular phase of his career and provide added insight and evidence that what the public got to hear on the main album in May 1985 was only part of the story…



  1. My first acquaintance with Chris Rea was in 1984. “I Don’t Know What It Is But Love It” was the first Single from “Wired To The Moon”, but it did not enter the charts. They also played “Reasons” on the radio, but I am not sure if it was released as a single.

    His breakthrough in the Netherlands was with “Josephine”. the highest ranking in the Dutch charts was number 3.

    I would like to end my reply with a question. How good or bad is the soundquality of this reissue ? Is it a good remaster ?


    • Hi Robert! Overall the sound quality is very good, especially the bonus material on CD2. With the main album, its limitations are still audible due to the source material (see my comments about Steel River) but it’s a big improvement on the old CDs.


    • I would say that Shamrock Diaries and On The Beach are definitely much better, and their bonus discs are essential. Dancing With Strangers is probably enough of an improvement to be worthwhile, and the second disc of that is also excellent. With the last two later albums, sound quality was already pretty good for 1989/1991 and so the originals aren’t in need of much improving. For the Road To Hell and Auberge sets, it depends on how necessary the bonus material is to you. Or you may just want to be a completist! 🙂


  2. I have only got “Shamrock Diaries” and “On The Beach” on CD. I have “Dancing With Strangers”, “Auberge” and “The Road To Hell” on cassette. I rented those albums from the library at the time. So maybe it’s time to get them on CD.


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