Eight years ago today


5th December 2009 is a day I will never forget. Music has been my number one hobby my entire life and I really do mean my entire life. My parents swear that I was singing in Gaelic before speaking English owing to the Irish music I was listening to in my early years! Tales of me lying next to a tape player listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland or Irish folk music are plentiful and the first ever ‘what do you want to be when you grow up conversation’ ended with me pointing at a busker. So it really has been my lifelong passion. So unsurprisingly live music experiences tend to be very significant for me and going to see my favourite bands has always been something that has excited me beyond belief. But none quite like this gig…

I was fortunate to grow up in a house where my parents listened to a wide variety of (mostly) really great music. My mum had some great blues stuff like John Lee Hooker and Elmore James. My dad had Irish folk stuff and the Beatles. But my dad’s favourite band were always Horslips, an Irish rock band from the 70s massively influenced by folk and traditional music. They were one of the bands I grew up listening to as a result and they were always one of the bands that meant a lot to me. Three albums in particular – The Tain, The Book Of Invasions and Aliens epitomised what I loved best about them. Genius use of trad melodies as rock riffs, superb lyrics often about aspects of Irish history and wonderful guitar parts from the legend that is Johnny Fean.

Not only were they a massive part of my childhood but when I went to university I seemed to obsess over them even more and they had a huge influence on much of the stuff I was writing, particularly on the rockiest of my albums Tomorrow’s Still To Come. Then Sword Of Light became a live solo favourite while Walsh and Pound recorded Wrath Of The Rain. But here’s the nub – while Horslips had very much become my favourite band, they disbanded in 1980 so sadly it looked as though I’d never get to see them live. Then came the news…they were back! I happened to be watching some videos on youtube of them and noticed one from only a year or so back on Irish TV. This was their reunion and the more I read the more excited I got – three uber fans had put on an exhibition of Horslips memorabilia in Derry and persauded the band to come and play an acoustic set. Then these TV appearances happened. And then…I went on their website and they really were back with a gig at the O2 arena in Dublin scheduled for December 5th 2009 two days after a gig in Belfast, their first full live public gig in 29 years! I couldn’t believe my eyes – I got straight onto the phone and asked my dad the question I never thought I’d ask: ‘would you like to see Horslips’. Within about an hour we’d booked flights, a hotel and of course those all important tickets. I couldn’t comprehend it: I was going to see Horslips!!!

The guys in Horslips are very funny guys and in a later DVD about the concert, Barry Devlin joked ‘this was probably the first gig I’ve ever been at where the band were feeling quite relaxed and the audience were bricking it’. He had a point. As Dad and I sank a few pints of Guinness during the day in Dublin, we did worry ‘what if they’re shite…’. We figured they’d have to be really really shite for us not to have a good time, but at the end of the day these were men pushing or possibly even in their 60s who hadn’t played in 29 years and only one of whom had really consistently gigged since. We got to the arena with a sense of massive anticipation and then the lights went down and that chugging opening riff to King Of The Fairies kicked things off. Myself and my dad were in heaven. Here was our favourite band who we never in a million years thought we’d ever see live (again in my Dad’s case, he did catch them once in the 70s) playing a huge venue with thousands of people who all knew the words. I’d spent my life sharing my love of Horslips with Dad and my mate at school who I introduced to them. Suddenly here they were rocking an arena and best of all – they were bloody awesome. Johnny Fean in particular was on sterling form and showed why he is the most criminally underrated guitarist I’ve ever come across. The full range of their output was on show and Dad and I sang every word and then came Dearg Doom, the band’s anthem. Almost involuntarily I was pogoing up and down like a madman and looked to my left and my Dad, not a man particularly given to boogieing it’s fair to say, was doing exactly the same. I could have cried with joy, in fact I’m pretty sure I did. As a folkie as well, there was something rather special about 12,000 people rocking out to a melody so old no-one knows who wrote it…

It was the perfect gigging experience and can never be topped. Even my great hero Paul Simon didn’t quite top it although he came bloody close – at the Albert Hall last year he was unbelievable and musically if I’m being honest it was just perfect. But nothing could quite top the all round experience of seeing Horslips the way I did. My favourite band who barely anyone in my life seemed to have ever heard of and who I thought had disbanded for good nearly 30 years ago had rocked an arena with 12,000 people, played the gig of their lives, were obviously themselves stunned and overjoyed at playing that kind of venue so successfully (they weren’t exactly massive in their heyday) and best of all I shared it with my Dad who was the man who introduced them to me in the first place and was as ecstatic to see them as I was. I wish I could experience it again somehow but I guess I just have to be grateful to have done so at all. What a night!