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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… early Horslips March 17, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

Well, it’s St. Patricks’s Day, so following hot on the heels from the link posted up the week before last, here’s a selection of tracks from Horslips early to mid 1970s albums, The Táin (1973) Dancehall Sweethearts (1974) and The Unfortunate Cup of Tea (1975).

A fascinating band, Horslips, whose output was remarkably variable, even bizarrely so given how prominent they were, and yet who bar their final album always had something well worth listening to on each successive release. That they were spoken of in the same breath as Jethro Tull and other progressive giants during this period is not entirely surprising.

I’ve always been fond of those three albums – though the last, TUCOT, is by far the slightest work.

The Táin is a strange one. Where to place ‘Dearg Doom’ which almost feels like an entirely different group with the near-metal riff underpinning it. And then one listens to ‘Faster than the Hound’ and ‘Maeve’s Court’ both of which have an air of haunting melancholy that they should have patented.

I think they got the balance right most obviously on Dancehall Sweethearts between rock and traditional music, allowing the latter to function well. ‘King of the Fairies’ hints at that, but ‘Mad Pat’ and ‘Blindman’ work even better (the latter has a sparse but compelling arrangement and the counterpoint of the vocal in the background retains its power all these years later).

The Unfortunate Cup of Tea was less successful with some fairly dodgy excursions into pop and near-funk. It’s not that they couldn’t play that, it was that the production simply wasn’t good enough to allow the melodies to shine through. Perhaps tellingly none of those tracks are up on YouTube.

Of course all was to change utterly in terms of the context they operated in, but a year or two later, as punk, and then new wave, swept all aside. But they adapted to some degree and it’s perhaps difficult at this remove for many to appreciate how big they were (or even who they were) back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least as a presence on the Irish music scene and further afield. Not that they ever quite made it as big as they should abroad, but they had a recognition that few enough other Irish groups did during that period. One more thought strikes, and that is that they were peculiarly adept at managing to represent mythic elements of – well, for want of a better word ‘Irishness’, look at the visual imagery they used on their albums, look at the blending of different musical forms, look at their song titles, ‘Man Who Built America’, ‘Guests of the Nation’, in a way that I can’t think of any single formation before them and precious few after.

And the music itself? Watching the live tracks in particular there’s a real sense of what a tight operation they were and why they managed to tough it out as late as 1980.

Enjoy, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day…

Everything Will Be Alright [From The Unfortunate Cup of Tea. Shameless, but appropriate given the day that’s in it, promo of Ireland in this video!]

Blindman & Mad Pat [From Dancehall Sweethearts – but a live edition with a typically light entertainment intro from the commentator…National Stadium 1975] ]

We Bring the Summer With Us (Thugamar féin an samhradh linn) [From Dancehall Sweethearts]

Maeve’s Court & The Charolais (The Táin 1973)

Dearg Doom (The Táin 1973)

Faster than the Hound (The Táin 1973)

King of the Fairies [From Dancehall Sweethearts]

The Blind Can’t Lead the Blind [From Dancehall Sweethearts]

The Snakes Farewell (Originally from The Unfortunate Cup of Tea – with Johnny Fean & Steve Travers, 2007 – Live)


1. LeftAtTheCross - March 17, 2012

Great post WbS. Love those albums.

Also Drive the Cold Winter away (1975), which is my favourite of all their works at this stage.

Happy St. Patricks Day to all.

As an aside, 17 March is also the anniversary of the 1992 referendum on apartheid in South Africa, and the 1991 referendum in the USSR in which they reconstituted the federal structures before it all fell apart at the end of December that year. So there’s more to the day than saints, snakes and leprechauns.


WorldbyStorm - March 17, 2012

And likewise.

It’s funny, I haven’t heard Drive the Cold Winter Away in years, decades even. It’s a great great album.

Great point re those anniversaries.


2. Michael Carley - March 17, 2012

Brilliant. The only thing that caused me some discomfort on the Great Festival of Sodom and Begorrah was the image of the boys on stage for Dearg Doom, lacking only a couple of leprachauns dancing around a tiny model of Newgrange.

Anyway, I’m off to support some migrant workers. Weren’t we the immigrants ourselves fado’, fado’, to be sure, to be sure?


WorldbyStorm - March 17, 2012

A tiny model of Newgrange – eh? Lowered from the roof of the concert hall. That would be brilliant.


Tomboktu - March 17, 2012

A tiny model lowered from the roof? What you need is This Is Spinal Tap.


Michael Carley - March 17, 2012

I’m just back from a demo in Swindon in support of Goan cleaners at the hospital who have been getting a hard time. I don’t know what their shop steward said to them, but I suspect it included `you have nothing to lose but your chains’ and `death to the Carillion running dogs’.


3. irishelectionliterature - March 17, 2012

They were on Miriam O’Callaghans radio show the other week and its well worth a listen as they performed live versions of a number of tracks.


4. WorldbyStorm - March 17, 2012

Nice one IELB.

Funny, thinking about Horslips it strikes me they’re like Hawkwind, a band that had some proggy aspects in common, in that while they had some fantastic albums they also had some ones that weren’t that great in production terms.


5. Joe - March 18, 2012

Two albums I remember from them are Happy to Meet Sorry to Part and the Táin. Great stuff. Thanks, big sis. And nice to be able to relate to a This Weekend …. thread for once!


Clive Sullish - March 19, 2012

Sorry to disagree here, but having been persuaded by your enthusiasms to blow the dust from my copy of Drive the Col Winter Away, I found myself trapped for 40 minutes or so in a strange and utterly tuneless timewarp. If you want to listen to something from the same era and the island that still seems completely contemporary, root out a few of the early Planxty albums


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