Last summer, I was invited down to NYC to meet Jim Lockhart and Barry Devlin of Horslips fame. The boys were over making a documentary for Irish TV based on the travels of Mickey McGowan, whose 19th century autobiography Mór an tSaoil (“The Big Wheel of Life”) documents the hardships of Irish immigrants in the USA and Mickey’s travels from NYC, to the steel mills of Pennsylvania to the Klondike gold rush. Mór an tSaoil was a major inspiration to Horslips on the albums Aliens and The Man that Built America (ok, can anyone say Cornelius Larkin?)
Both Jim and Barry were fascinated to hear about the Celtic punk scene in the US and the ever expanding global scene and one thing lead to another and on St. Patrick’s day, Jim broadcasted a short documentary on Irish national radio on Celtic punk, interviewing yours truly.
You can listen to the full documentary here:
bands featured include The Rumjacks, Belfast, Greenland Whalefishers, Mr Irish Bastards, Black 47 and many, many more.
BTW, I’m the one being interviewed with the sexy voice and the face for radio.
While Shite’n’Onions has focused on Celtic punk and rock since inception there is one area of Celtic rock that we have never really touched on –\m/ Celtic Heavy Metal \m/.
This omission is somewhat ironic as I first heard the mixing of traditional Irish music and rock through metal bands. My introduction to Celtic anything (with the exception of my parents Dubliners and Wolfe Tones tapes and successfully avoiding trad music at school) was through a band called – Mama’s Boys – 3 brothers from the North of Ireland raised playing traditional Irish music who discovered Horslips and had a Saul on the road to Damascas conversion from trad to rock’n’roll. Mama’s Boys recorded and toured throughout the 80s and while the infusion of Celtic sounds was somewhat sporadic (tracks like Runaway Dreams) it really perked up my ears. Small bit of trivia – Flogging Mollys’ Dave King was briefly singer for Mama’s Boys prior to joining the big league with Fastway (and former Mama’s Boys bassist and vocalist John MacManus now plays bass for Fastway). Mama’s Boys split in the early 90s after death of younger brother Tommy and the remaining brothers John and Pat want full into Celtic music with an band called Celtus who had moderate success in the UK.
With my interest pricked I delved into Thin Lizzy’s back catalog and especially stuff like Emerald (please Flogging Molly cover this!) and the amazing Black Rose. While Lizzy never incorporated traditional instruments the guitars shreaded Celtic melodies like you wouldn’t believe.
Thin Lizzy lead me to Gary Moore and his 1987 Wild Frontiers album – the most complete Celtic metal/rock album I had heard to date – Moore took Lizzy’s Black Rose (which he played on) and added trad instruments – fiddles and uilleann pipes – and was joined by members of The Chieftains to make the ultimate tribute to the late Lizzy front man Phil Lynott.
And that was really my Celtic rock world (and yeah The Pogues existed but when you did the metal then that was all you did) through the early 90s. My interest in Metal wained in the early 90s as I opened up to newer sounds – Therapy?, That Petrol Emotion – and metal changed when Kirk Cobain slew big the beast that was hair metal and I didn’t like the sound of the new flavors of the month from Kerrang!! – Sepultura and Pantera and all the various shades of black, death and fart metal. One band I did catch by chance playing live around that time was Skyclad – the originators of Folk-Metal – thrash meets Lizzy”s Emerald with a full time fiddle player to boot – Skyclad were to open for Danzig in Dublin but Glen stubbed his toe and Danzig pulled out – Skyclad pulled together a last minute gig in a biker bar in Capel Street and they were amazing (audience filled with guys in kilts with clamors and this was pre-Braveheart). Skylclad had started something for the metalheads of Dublin. Me, I moved and moved on musically.
Interestingly both Celtic punk and metal bands stick within the musical structure of their respective genres. While the punk bands will see their roots in The Pogues and their forefathers The Dubliners and that drinking, fighting, rebel ballad tradition. The metal bands reference Horslips and further back to The Chieftains and focus on Celtic mythology and pre-history – the scally caps are replaced by blue face paint.
So, 17 years on there is now a whole sub genre of Celtic Metal with bands from Ireland, Germany and as far a field as South America. The scene developed first in Ireland and was primarily influenced by the aforementioned Skyclad and Horslips – early and influential Irish bands were Cruachan, Primordial and Waylander who all took the lead from Skyclad and combined trash/black metal with traditional Irish folk in a Horslips goes metal style.
“Skyclad were the original Folk Metal band I suppose and they certainly influenced both Waylander and Cruachan, but coming from Ireland I’m sure both Keith [Fay of Cruachan] and myself thought we had a divine right to play Folk Metal, especially as we’re both influenced by the Horslips as well.“
Following on in the wake of Cruachan, Primordial and Waylande came more Celtic metal bands from Ireland including Geasa and Mael Mórdha and bands cropping up in places as diverse as Switzerland (Eluveitie), Spain (Mägo de Oz) and Germany (Suidakra).
So, with the help of Wikipedia and Youtube I thought we would take a look at the current crop of bands that Skyclad, Horslips and to a lesser extent Thin Lizzy can take the blame for:
Cruachan – Founders of Celtic metal waaaaaay back in 1992. Founding member Keith Fay was inspired by Skyclad and took what they were doing and added a Celtic dimension. Horslips were another big influence. Originally Cruachan were a black metal band infused with traditional Celtic music though their metal sound has moved more towards traditional heavy metal. Cruachan will be the band most familiar to Shite’n’Onions readers as Shane MacGowan co-produced their album Folk-Lore. Shane-o also contributed vocals to versions of “Spancil Hill” and “Ride On” on that album.
Eluveitie are a Celtic metal band from Winterthur, Switzerland founded in 2002. Switzerland was of course the original European home of the Celt’s. Eluveitie often sing in Gaulish (an extinct Celtic language). The band had decent chart success with their last release Slania in both the Swiss and German charts.
Geasa are a Celtic metal band from Dublin, started in 1994. Their style is traditional Celtic music merged with black metal. The band has released one demo album, one EP, and three full-length albums.
Mael Mórdha (founded 1998) are also from Dublin and play Celtic doom metal (ie Black Sabbath at their most depressed.) They describe themselves as “Gaelic doom metal”. The band tried to enter the Eurovision Song Contest 2005 as Ireland representative.
Mägo de Oz are from Spain and have been around since 1988. Their style is more traditional heavy metal (ie Iron Maiden) meets Celtic (band members included a violinist and flautist). Mägo de Oz has had some serious success in Spain and South America.
Primordial – are from Dublin and along with Cruachan are the Granddads of Celtic metal. The band was formed in 1987 and added a Celtic bent to their black/doom metal sound in the early nineties.
Suidakra are a melodic death metal (if you can imagine that) band from Germany with Celtic influences.
Waylander are from Norn Ireland and play more traditional heavy/power/trash metal with Celtic influences. The band were formed back in 1993 and were part of the first wave of Celtic metal bands emerging from Ireland – as with Cruachan, Horslips were a huge influence.
Celtic Legacy were another Irish band that were around from the mid-nineties to 2010 (they basically went broke trying to finance their own stuff). The band were heavly influenced by Thin Lizzy at their Celtic best.
Horslips – Live at the O2 Arena [Audio CD]The story of the Horslips comeback is a great rock’n’roll tale. Horslips went their separate ways in 1980 – 10 years together as a band was a long time in those days and it was time for the various members to move on and do other things with their lives – drummer Eamon Carr became a successful journalist and ran a record label, bass player Barry Devlin, a music producer, screen writer and director, organist Jim Lockhart became head producer at Ireland’s national radio station, while fiddler Charles O’Connor became an antique dealer in his native England. Guitar play Johnny Fean was the sole member to keep slugging away treading the boards.
The legend of Horslips in many ways faded in the 80s and 90s and the band were forgotten by all but a few diehard fans – it didn’t help that the band – one of the most independent minded bands of the ‘70s had lost control of their catalog and then disassociated themselves with the shoddy LP and CD reissues of their back catalog. Eventually after many years of court battles the band were able to get control of their music again.
2004 saw a exhibition of Horslips memorabilia in Derry, Ireland put together by some uber-fans; posters, flyers, velvet loon pants, mustaches and Barry’s legendary shamrock bass. The band of course attended and but happiness of seeing each other in the same room other than a court room quick turned to fear when they released they would be expected to actually play something – they did oblige and a short acoustic set was performed to a small audience, none of whom expected to see Horslips ever play together again.
That brief set lead to an acoustic album of Horslips favorites – Roll Back – in 2004 and finally in December 2009 something that I don’t think anyone ever really imagined would ever happen again, Horslips playing live again for real.
Live at the O2 documents one of the two December gigs (the other gig was in Belfast)- the O2 in Dublin is by far Ireland’s largest venue and the 10,000 capacity arena was filled to capacity and the two disk live album captures the excitement and enthusiasm of a fan base who had waited an awful long time……
Haven’t heard Horslips, Live at the O2 is the place to start – you get 29 of their best tracks played by a band that is feeding off the enthusiasm of an audience that would put Bieber fever to shame and all with top notch 21st century production and recording. Sure they are an unashamedly 70s rock band and at times unashamedly prog rock but that are also the original masters of Celtic rock and at the O2 there is no doubt that they are still the masters of Celtic rock as the shook the very foundations of the O2. And to quote Phil Chervon of the Pogues, Dearg Doom is still “the greatest Irish rock song of all time”, nuff said.
A couple of weeks back I was down in NYC to be interviewed for a documentary series for Irish TV. The series traces the journey of an Irish man named Micky MacGowan who emigrated at the end of nineteenth century and worked his way across North America before striking it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush. This fella’s memoirs “The Hard Road to the Klondike” were the inspiration for Horslips to make some of their finest albums; Aliens, The Man Who Built America. Anyway, Barry Devlin and Jim Lockhart formally members of the artists know as Horslips wanted to speak to me about Celtic punk in the US – where it comes from, what does it mean and why it could only come from anywhere but Ireland. So in the back room of Paddy Reilly’s I bullshitted away about all of the above and anything that came into my mind, which wasn’t much – bloody hard to think when surrounded by a camera crew and being grilled by two musical legends. I did my best! Later in the night at Paddy Reilly’s, Jim and Barry joined Black 47 on stage as their 20th anniversary gig was filmed by the boys from TNG for inclusion in the documentary. Black 47 were on fire that night and honestly in a setting like Reillys Black 47 are the best live band in the world!
After a few pints and some reflection on the night and being really impressed with the lads from Horslips I thought it would be great to put together a Celtic-punk tribute to Horslips – basically these guys started it all and wouldn’t it be great to bring it all back to where it started
So, if your interested in contributing a track let me know I’ve a couple of spots left to fill