Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Song Lives On - Irish Music Scene 1995-2003, Part 1

John Hume, Bono & David Trimble, 1998

Italia '90, and all that jazz

Preamble: Rose-tinted glasses and nostalgia are a lethal combination, and I think I'm yet to meet someone who has not been a victim of both. We commonly look back at the past as a secure and comforting place, and toward the future as a great unknown. Every older generation scorns what is to come, while the younger generation view the idyllic past with disdain. For the sake of this post I'm going to be up front, I'm not going to try and convince anyone that the 1990's were the best thing to happen to Ireland since Fair City first aired, I'm going to say it was the best decade, relatively. After centuries of rule from Britain, and a few decades (not those ones) from Rome, the eighties came along, mass emigration and unemployment, and no Angela Merkel to blame, we were just in the shit, no country for young men or women. 


As I was a child, born in 1980, I have quite muggy memories, I remember orange and green buses, dungarees, punks with mohawks, and no money. Then, out of nowhere, the 90's came, and swept us all up on a wave of optimism and unbridled happiness, and it happened straight away, in 1990. Following the success of beating England and drawing with the USSR at Euro'88 (but not getting out of our group), the Irish team qualified for Italia '90, and without winning a single match, got to the quarter-finals, at our first ever World Cup, we went mental, and rightly so. Then we started having mad summers, with heat waves, we even had our water turned off by the local councils, the highlight of our week was getting some shit toy from a cereal box and we won the Eurovision 4 times in 5 years (and haven't won it since....!). On the political front the hugely historical Good Friday Agreement was signed and economically we were commencing our foreplay with the Celtic Tiger, it was all good, the plebs were delighted with themselves and the politicians thought they were demigods. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we all know what happened next and is still happening, but now it's time to get to the point of this post.

Playing hardball in Europe

This was the background to a small snippet of the Irish music scene that I experienced from the late 90's to the mid-noughties, britpop was morphing into indie music across the water, and the domestic scene was flourishing. There were some incredibly talented Irish bands which have still left their mark almost two decades later such as The Frames and Whipping Boy. What I want to focus on here a selection of the bands that were regulars on the scene, but also some bands that very few people will have ever heard of, or their music. Unfortunately, during this time, the internet was only arriving in Ireland, therefore digital archives of music by independent artists are impossible to come by. By complete chance my mother handed me a shoebox that had been in my family bedroom 2 years ago which contained about 15 tape cassettes, some of which had tracks by Irish bands recorded from Dave Fanning's old 2FM show and Phantom FM in it's pirate days. Another valuable resource for looking at Irish bands from this time has been a site that, as far as I can recall, has been going since the dial-up days. I also used some compilation CD's, and in one case an E.P. I was given by a guy I worked with after I finished college. Next week I'll be putting together a list of tracks from these bands in the second half of this post, the list isn't about bands who should have 'made it', (maybe they should have), it's an indulgent collection on my part of bands, or even just songs that I loved back then and listening back to them now, still do. 

There's one other reason I felt compelled to cobble together all of these songs by bands from days of yore. All of the music I review these days is contemporary, and a lot of it from bands that are starting out. You find, and it's always been the case, going back decades, that money and life eventually become big factors in whether a talented band or solo artist continue doing what they want to do, i.e., make great music, play live shows, record albums etc. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, and musicians end up working in unfulfilling jobs and are forced to make ends meet outside of music. When that happens, initially it can appear temporary, but eventually time goes by and the last live gig suddenly seems so long ago. Miserable and all as that scenario is, there's a hidden silver-lining, and that comes from the songs that were created in the first place. The strange thing is, especially in this technological age, that when bands cease, what they created doesn't. Songs never expire, they never cease to exist just because the band has, they outlive the band and they can resonate with the listener one, five, ten or twenty years after they have been written / recorded. Most of the bands which will feature in Part 2 of this post broke up long ago, some of them I never saw live, but each track reminds me of a specific time, and it's almost as if the songs themselves are saying to me, 'Yeah, they're gone, but you're still digging my shit aren't you?!', and that's what it's all about.

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