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Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow 18 January 2011

Tonight we are in the presence of greatness, and if there is a God, while he may not be onstage, he's almost certainly in the details.

The minute five black-clad, middle-aged Irish men take the stage to the ‘Setanta' intro (from that most revered of concept albums, ‘The Tain'), and launch straight into a throbbing ‘King Of The Faeries', a feeling of anticipation and sheer wonderment rarely experienced in today's cynical age erupts within the Fruitmarket's ancient portals: following this with the ensuing triumvirate of 'The Power And The Glory' 'Mad Pat' and 'Blindman' is the sonic equivalent of a semi-on rising to a full-blown erection and exploding in one's black worsted grundies.

Of all the bands currently treading the reunion boards, this is the one (with the exception of the New York Dolls) who most of us thought we'd never see again. Well, not in the UK anyhow.

In Eire they've been having another ‘craic' at it for the last five years, since the release of the excellent Return Of The Dancehall Sweethearts DVD documentary and the unplugged Roll Back album, but the thought of them setting their cloven hooves upon British soil (the ambiguous Belfast notwithstanding of course) was far in the distance.

And it says a lot that even now, the only mainland show is here in Glasgow, as part of the annual Celtic Connections festival (a sort of Scottish Meltdown), with London conspicuously absent from the touring schedules.

So, on this decidedly cold and inhospitable winter's day, I find myself once more Glesca-bound: I guess I obviously like them. A lot. And seeing them stood in front of a huge monochrome backdrop bearing nothing but that logo (possibly the most sinister and evil looking font ever used by any progressive rock act?), it's all too apparent why.

The simple truth is, Horslips' music slashes and bites you in a way most prog acts don't, stimulates the senses more cerebrally than the average hard rock act, and resounds with an energy lacking in even the greatest ‘acid folk' bands.

The band that once had the affront to dress like emerald-draped drag queens in the highest of platform heels, whilst blaspheming twice at once by mixing the reels of Paddy Moloney with the riffs of Roky Erickson and Mick Ronson as if it were the most natural thing in the world, don't befit sensible retirement just yet.

The green jumpsuits may now be gone (replaced by the more flattering suits of the respectable sexagenarian rocker) there may be a little less hair on both the head and lips of Barry Devlin, and Eamonn Carr is missing, recouperating at home while guitar hero Johnny Fean's brother stands in on drums, but nothing has really changed.

Sole Englishman Charlie O'Connor stands stage right, hair greased and leather-jacketed, switching from fiddle to concertina to his legendary electric mandolin with complete ease whilst still simultaneously intimidating the guys and invigorating the girls: Fean, as rake-thin and brooding as ever, adjoins him, wrenching the bludgeoning riffs to 'Sword Of Light' (on which he also takes lead vocals) 'Night Town Boy' 'Ride To Hell' and 'Sure The Boy Was Green' from a low-slung Gibson with fury equal to the tenderness and taste he applies to mellower material like 'Sideways To The Sun' and the peerless musicianship of the 15-minute epic 'Furniture', the latter of which caused the hackles to rise on my neck in a way I hadn't experienced since I saw Arthur Lee perform the entirety of 'Forever Changes' in 2002.

Both of them and the wisecracking Devlin take lead vocals, while at stage right, Jim Lockhart, though not singing, is a commanding overlord, his banks of keyboards still tilted at the angle only he seems to prefer, his flute ever at the ready, and his youthful looks stuck permanently somewhere around 1978.

According to my companion Jim Rowland, it's a shorter (and more musically stripped down) set than they played in Dublin a few weeks previous, and it pelts along at a fair old pace too: no sooner have the band really broken into their stride with 'Charolais' (prefaced by a great pisstaking introduction from Devlin) and several selections from the evergreen Book Of Invasions album, than we're practically halfway through, and by the time we reach the more commercial waters of 'Speed The Plough' and 'The Man Who Built America' it's almost over: after the triple-pronged assault of 'Trouble With A Capital T' 'Dearg Doom' (which finally incited the otherwise staid crowd into bouncing frenzy) and the inevitable 'Shakin' All Over', it is. 100 minutes never seemed to pass so quickly or enjoyably. Yet in hindsight it seemed to last forever. How do they manage that?

I've seen some legends in my time, from the aforementioned Dolls and Arthur Lee to the Stooges, Page & Plant, Sabbath, MC5, Radio Birdman, Van Der Graaf, Hawkwind, Bill Nelson, Comus, Faust and Neu!! and in terms of visceral, sweat-dripping rock excitement, coupled with genuine progressive musical inspiration, Horslips are the equal of all of them.

They may not have the legendary status outside their own country (possibly because their use of traditional jigs and reels is so inextricably associated with it) that they deserve, but in centuries to come, when rock and roll is merely a footnote pawed over by archaelogists in history books, theirs is an name that will stay immortally etched in the pantheon. They really are that important.

Sure, they still swim in the tributaries that link the decidedly uncool seas of prog, glam, metal and traditional folk - none of which will never earn them any brownie points with the self-appointed style fashionisti - but at their age, why should they have to care two blind fucks anyway, especially when they create some of the thickest, meatiest riffs known to human ear and deliver them with an attitude that still spits more venom 40 years on than any recent-wave, skinny-trousered Noo Yawk faux-blues merchants or cosmetic Dalston punks?

All that remains now is for them to come to London and remind the rest of us. Seriously, another drinking session like that followed by a coach journey of that length and I'll be as dead as both Ferdia and Chu Chulainn themselves.

Review by Darius Drewe Shimon

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