CACTUS WORLD NEWS arrive back in Blighty this week after a coast-to-coast trek across America. Barry McIIheney caught up with them in San Francisco and heard how everyone from Joey Ramone to Lou Reed has been getting in on the act.

Just think about this for a minute. Four blokes from Dublin, one of them completely bald, decide to get a wee band together to try out some songs they've been knocking out together in a freezing flat over the previous few months. One of these chaps wears serious school swot glasses and the others one's hair flows sideways at an extraordinary rate. They've already got the baldie so they ask this odd-looking bass player who no one's ever heard of before to come in on the bass and make it a four. They call themselves Cactus World News.

The music they eventually produce relies heavily on the guitarist who finishes off all the early shows by practically bonking his guitar and then letting it hang in mid-air to produce loads of feedback. It's some sort of rock`n`roll with twists in all the wrong places but somehow or other they get signed to a major recording deal and that's the last anyone ever expects to hear of them. By now, or so the script goes, they should all be back in Dublin nursing their pride and scouring the sits vac columns with a vengeance.

Funny that. I ran into them in Los Angeles two weeks ago and they'd just packed the Whiskey-A-Go-Go to the rafters twice over so I thought this was a bit odd and I raced back to the hotel and couldn't get them off the radio. So them I went to San Francisco with them and they kept getting stopped in the streets for autographs and bumping into T-Bone Burnett and Big Country at their shows. I went there expecting a sob story and all I could smell was success.

These shows on the West Coast are the culmination of a seven-week trek that has seen Cactus World News play just about every hole in the hedge on the American mainland. They've been interviewed by everyone who has ever published a sixth-form essay and been played on every radio station from here to New York City. It's all a long way from Dublin, where the band are still regarded by many as Johnny-come-latelys, or even London, where grown men who write for other music papers stamp their feet with annoyance because the noise they hear doesn't quite tally with the morris dancing so popular in their neck of the (back) woods.

Hardly surprising then that singer, Eoin McEvoy, guitarist Frank Kearns and bassist Fergal MacAindris are so chuffed with their reception in the big country.

"Certainly, Americans just seem to be eternally enthusiastic about music," says Eoin, "and you would think, you know, they've seen it all before, but their knowledge about new British bands just embarrasses me. I was doing one radio interview in Boston and the deejay asked me what I thought of the new Ruefrex album and it was like… well, I can't say because I haven't got around to hearing it yet. Embarrassing."

Fergal MacAindris chooses this early moment to make his official debut in print: "I've been on shows where people ring in and ask for a song by, say, The Telephone Operators and they must be a new band from New York and they turn out to be based in Bangor, North Wales. And it's not just deejays, it's like the people who come to the shows as well and you're talking to them after the show and they're apologising for not really being too well up on music 'cos they've only got 2,000 records in their collection!"

And it's not just the deejays or the punters who appear to be so taken by the latest Irish export to the States. Way back at the start in New York, Joey Ramone dropped in backstage to pay his respects and have a bit of a chat, causing lifelong Ramones fan Frank to nearly pass out on the spot.

"It was like a part of my youth just standing talking to me - and I just couldn't really take it in. I thought at first that he wasn't really listening to anything we were saying but then he would say something from behind the shades and you'd realise that this guy is totally on the case. He's just started doing some work for the American music magazine Spin and he was walking around saying 'Well, I'm a journalist now' and anyone listening to him would have thought this guy's a bit thick but he's not, no way. I still can't believe it happened and that he LIKES us. You start thinking why on earth would the great Joey Ramone ever listen to anything I do, let alone LIKE it."

Or Lou Reed for that matter, Eoin.

"That was another real heartstopper. I've got a friend in New York who watches MTV 24 hours a day and he rang me to say Lou Reed had just been on talking about us and he's taped it so I went around there to watch Lou Reed introduce the 'Years Later' video and then say a few kind words about how he really liked the band. We've probably still got this inferiority complex but, like Frank said, how can Lou Reed be saying these things about US?"

Because you're never off the radio here, you're never out of the papers ("Punk Drummer Slams Pogues" being the best yet) and maybe, perhaps, these people might even like you because you're actually quite good. Certainly, this Cactus live model puts the old one to shame, with a new-found confidence bred from such extensive touring and a lot more room now for the songs to flourish instead of the old one-dimensional charge right from the word go.

The San Francisco show, in particular, demonstrated just how far they've come from their last British performances, with a lot less rugged plodding and a lot more genuine emotion and even humour about the whole thing, leading to a stage invasion in 'Frisco and a near-coronary next to me.

It was this young bloke and it was during "Maybe This Time" and it was the bit just before all hell breaks loose and Frank comes romping in and this bloke, he started to roll his eyes and his arms in a fit of glorious anticipation and then when it comes he just… bursts himself open with joy and relief, screaming "fucking splendid" into my vat of beer.

Something's happened.

Eoin: "I don't really know. It's hard for us to say because we're closely involved with it all the time. I sometimes think it would be nice to go into the crowd one night and see Cactus World News play live and then I might have more of an idea. I know what you mean about it being less cluttered and there being more light and shade now which is something that's there on the album and which we're finally trying to get live. I suppose it's a lot more…"

"Disciplined," interjects Fergal, "more disciplined due to the touring here. There are maybe more gaps and that probably comes from a new confidence and knowing that we don't have to be playing all the time now. Although, we do still rely on our instincts a lot and, like in L.A., where we did the two sets, a couple of numbers went off at a completely different tangent to the first."

Ah yes, the old eye-contact gamble. Even after six weeks on the road?

"Eoin: "Well, it's very easy to slip into the same routine every night but, ultimately, your audience will sense that and they'll know you're not being honest with them. I think the one thing we try to keep all the time is that impression of building up to something, then releasing it, that light and shade."

Fergal: "A lot of people, especially in English groups, seem to think that it's very clever to build up an audience and then leave them all tight and frustrated by not letting it out. Clever, but not very enjoyable. We tend to take it all the way through, quite naturally. It's almost medicinal."

Sounds like my drinking, but this pop dynamic of taking you through the early stages to the crushing denouement is what separates Cactus from the darker side of the Goths to whom they are sometimes compared and plants them more in the U2 (he said it, he said it) Alarm/Big Country mould, if anywhere at all. In the States, however, the old U2 chestnut appears to have died a death due to the simple passage of time and the gradual realisation that here is a band with a character all of its own.

"We still get a bit of the U2 lark," admits Frank, "but only in a very natural way in that people will always ask 'what was it like to work with Bono'. There are other instances though where people will actually turn quite protective towards us when U2 are mentioned and will stress that this is Cactus World News, not U2 Mark II. I think it's great that we're not easily pigeonholed."

Maybe that's not too surprising when your singer cites T-Bone Burnett and Run DMC as particular faves in the same sentence, or when you go on stage with the bass player in a cowboy hat, the singer in a waistcoat, the guitarist in his inevitable necktie and the drummer without his wig. Similarly, the inner sleeve of the Urban Beaches album makes none of the usual attempts to portray the band as a clean-cut unified image, with Frank actually snapped in a souwester FISHING(rock`n`roll) and drummer Wayne looking every inch the heavy-duty biker.

It's Wayne in fact, currently off doing whatever it is that drummers do before gigs, who perhaps lies at the very roof of the Cactus live sound, driving the beast with a frightening intensity and glaring at the others when the pace appears to be flagging for a second. Frank and Fergal meanwhile, "unrepentant hairies" in Fricke's memorable phrase, stand either side of McEvoy and turn it on, Frank spring about all over the place and Fergal adopting the classic Irish showband tradition of staring straight at the clock at the back of the hall for the entire show. Girlies wet themselves at this for some reason and I even bought him a breakfast to see if it would rub off. And then there's Eoin McEvoy, the most unlikely frontman since… well, for an awful long time. Small, desperately skinny, clean-cut and wearing the faithful old Gregory Pecks. Young ladies want to mother this boy, mothers want to educate him.

"There's this one girl and her mother, who's a middle-aged woman and they've been to see us about six or seven times already. And at the Philadelphia show this time around, the mother gave me this brilliant dictionary, which is basically a rhyming dictionary in that it gives you one word and then about 500 that rhyme with it (don't even MENTION this to Ted Mico) and inside the flap she'd written out the first two lines of "Jigsaw Street", which go 'I looked in a dictionary to try to find a word, but really there's no way to describe this level of the absurd', and under that she wrote 'hope this is of some use to you'. This middle-aged woman knows the songs really internally, better than I do! I was moved by that."

The Cacti people now plan to play one London show at the Camden Palace this week before jetting off to Europe for a four-week tour of Scandinavia, the Low Countries and all points in between. They've also just released "The Bridge" single, which would appear to be a bit of a backward step for a group at this stage of their development. "The thing about The Bridge", says Frank, "is that it was only ever released through Mother Records in Ireland and they only made about 2,000 copies. And everywhere we go now, we get people coming up and asking where they can get it, so it's really frustrating for them and for us. It's hard to describe how we feel about it, obviously we hope it's a success but still on our own terms. It's not like there's any big pressure on it to be a hit single NOW, because we've always said that we are the sort of group who will gradually build up a following rather than charging straight into the charts at number nine or whatever. It was the same with the album which sold steadily but which will probably only make sense to most people after the third album."

Good Lord, the third album already, but then Cactus World News have never been short on the old determination, pledging from the start that this was going to be no six-month phenomenon. Eoin McEvoy, a very tired man, still gets these funny dreams when he thinks back to what he left behind in Ireland.

"I had this total recall experience when I was in Arizona after a long drive and a night of thunder and lightening. It was ridiculous because I was dreaming about this guy in school who I didn't even know that well and he was shouting at me about the number of strings I break and I was shouting back at him and eventually I woke myself with the sound of my own voice, really screaming and yelling. I think now that maybe I was going a bit funny because I was starting to forget where I was and what had happened the previous night and it all became a bit of a blur. And all I could think of was this woman I'd seen in New York and she was sitting in the business area, respectably dressed and holding up a sign which described how she had just had a calamity in her life and how she was suddenly out on the street. And she had tears in her eyes and it could have been you or me, and that is all I could remember about my time in New York."

That might not make much sense, but Eoin McEvoy tends to ramble on a bit anyway and he doesn't really work like most people I know. A few hours later he was walking down towards the concert near San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf area and some bloke who'd travelled a long way to see him came over, shook hands and tried on his glasses.

"Shit," he said, "the world looks a different place from here."

The world looks a different place from behind Eoin McEvoy's glasses. Just think about that for a minute.

Barry McIIheney - Melody Maker, September 20, 1986