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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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?
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
Darius Drewe Shimon
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