Excitement brews ahead of Horslips return to Limerick

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

Founding fathers of Celtic Rock: Johnny Fean and brother Ray with Barry Devlin of Horslips, who play in the Milk Market this Friday night and below, the band in their heyday in New York City
THERE is a giddy air of excitement as Horslips prepare for their first gig in Limerick in 35 years, one of only a handful of gigs the seminal Irish band have played since 1980.

THERE is a giddy air of excitement as Horslips prepare for their first gig in Limerick in 35 years, one of only a handful of gigs the seminal Irish band have played since 1980.

That giddiness is palpable as three of the current line-up - brothers Johnny and Ray Fean and Barry Devlin - join the Limerick Leader for a chat ahead of the Live at the Big Top show in the Milk Market this Friday night that will also feature Jim Lockhart and Charles O’Connor.

A recent publication documenting the history of the band, from foundation to break-up in 1980, during which they played some 2,000 gigs and released ten albums makes for interesting reading.

An accompanying online listing of gigs reveals that, in Limerick, while they played the Savoy regularly, they also played the City Theatre, the Stella Ballroom and the Jetland and, somewhat unlikely now to think, the Confraternity Centre on January 6, 1972.

“That was right at the start,” says Barry Devlin. “Reform were there, Don O’Connor asked us to play a tune that I don’t think we knew how to play! I think that was our first gig in Limerick.

“I remember it very well. It was a great night, no one had seen the band in Limerick before but we had started to get a reputation of some kind, and so there was a degree of excitement.

“The one we remember best was the Savoy - that was a great venue. It was always a mad gig. In theory it was seated, but people sat down for the first 20 seconds.”

Johnny, who was born on Henry Street and lived in Garryowen before eventually settling in Shannon in later life, nods his head in agreement.

“Coming back to Limerick and especially playing in a place like the Savoy - it was the posh cinema - was great. To play in Limerick itself really was fantastic,” he smiles.

“It was a lot less posh when we finished with it,” laughs Barry.

The last gig listed on the website is April 29, 1976, in the Savoy. The process of working on the biography - Tall Tales by Mark Cunningham - was a cathartic one.

“When you are asked to ‘fess up to where you have been, you suddenly remember a bunch of places,” says Barry. “I think it is a great book, the research is impeccable. It was interesting to find out that people didn’t hate you as much as you had thought!

“But also different versions of what happened - and everybody telling their own truth about it. That was a real revelation, and the gigging thingtoo, I don’t think we realised how many gigs we played.”

Horslips released some ten albums in eight years, plus two live albums, an “incredibly productive and intense period” as Johnny recalls it. They include 1972 debut Happy to Meet – Sorry to Part, The Táin, Dancehall Sweethearts, The Book of Invasions and Aliens - the latter which Johnny and Barry agree is their best album.

“Not everyone loved or like what we did, in fact we were a bit like Marmite, you either loved us or hated us,” says Barry. “One of the nice things about coming back was that people had time to stand back from it and get out of the ‘we hate these’ and had gone ‘ok, they did a singular thing’ - and that has remained.”

Of Friday’s show in the Milk Market, Johnny says he knows “the venue well, it is great. I am very much looking forward to it. Great sound.”

Leaning in, Devlin laughs about the 35 year break since playing here, calling it “the longest fag break in rock and roll history” and they all laugh.

Excitment is in the air and Horslips are ready to rock again.

Horslips play Live at the Big Top this Friday. See www.dolans.ie for more