By Dara KELLY
The Hothouse Flowers are back and set to perform at Monroe’s Live on Dominick Street on Saturday, September 18th at 8:30pm in a gig not to be missed. The group burst onto the Irish music scene in the late ‘80s bringing their bombastic fusion of rock n’ roll with the rootsy sounds of Irish folk and American gospel. They began as a Dublin street-performance act called the Incomparable Benzini Brothers with schoolmates Liam O’Maonlaí (vocals, keyboards) and Fiachna O’Broainain (guitar). After winning the Street Entertainers of the Year award in 1985, they added bassist Peter O’Toole, saxophonist Leo Barnes, and drummer Jerry Fehily to become the Hothouse Flowers. Their 1988 debut, People, cruised to the top of the Irish charts and peaked at number two in Britain. Their follow-ups, Home and Songs From the Rain, continued their success. Since the release of their last CD, ‘Into Your Heart’ the Hothouse Flowers have been playing steadily around Ireland, America, Great Britain, Japan and Europe. Their shows last between two and three hours depending on the level of fever in the room. There is an unpredictable energy in the band, as they call upon their grand repertoire, to create a show that is unique to the time and place. No two shows are the same. “I take pleasure in facing adversity. I don’t see perfection as something that can be created externally. It is an experience. A connection between listener and player. If you feel the music, they will feel the music” says Liam. Improvisation can come at any point and humour is never far from a Hothouse Flowers gig. They do not take themselves seriously, however there is no mistaking the musical integrity among them as they open up to each other in musical dialogue.
Dying to find out more, our craicing reporter Dara Kelly had a chat with frontman Liam Ó Maonlaí..
Dara: What’s the craic? What are you up to?
Liam: I’m kind of travelling all the time. I have a couple of days at home and a lot of weekend work. I was in Germany until last week, I did a week’s studio work on my own and a tour with Peter O’Toole of the Flowers. We [Hothouse Flowers] got invited to play in Monroes – the band has been working with more frequency last few months – we have a tour of England, Scotland and Wales coming up. We start recording next Tuesday for a week. The intention is to make a record to have ready for October.
Dara: Will we here some of that in Monroe’s?
Liam: It’s possible!
Dara: Liam, have you any connections to the West or to Galway?
Liam: Oh yes. My grandmother was one of the last residents to live permanently in Abbeygate St – number 8. I belive my grandfather’s people go back to An Spidéal and Connemara. My mother has a strong sense of sean nós in her singing.
Dara: Tell me more about Sean-nós…
Liam: Those who sing in that unaccompanied style … they’re dedicated. It’s a lifelong passion. My father was a singer, he was constantly polishing up old songs, or learning new ones. I remember in the bathroom there’d be verses written on a cigarette packet.. he’d always have a few songs ready.. he was committed.. he wouldn’t want to be singing the same songs. I’d reel out the same old songs cos l Iike singing them, but I do like learning new songs. My first solo album, Rian, was great for that.. learning songs that I knew the melody of but not the lyrics. Jimmy mo Mhile Stór was a song that I always loved the melody of. I found book of my father’s with the lyrics and that reawakened my love of learning a song. It informs your singing, giving all the other songs a freshness… from the concentration [to learn a new song], to make it yours.
Dara:Who would you love to hear singing sean nós?
Liam: Mundy translated a song and he had a lovely style with it. Aretha Franklin! Give her Amhrán Mhaoinise, or Eleanór a Rún.. I learned that one recently.
Dara: What’s the first thing you will do when you hit Galway?
Liam: There’s always craic in Galway… the last time I’ve been to Galway Cormac Begley was putting on Tunes in the Church and I played a tune there and afterwards the lads were going out to Spiddal to meet Johnny Óg Ó Conghaile so we all played some tunes together. A pint in Neachtain’s is always great.. and the Crane.
Dara: When was the last time you did something for the first time just for the CRAIC?
Liam: When you hit that energy with the band, or even alone, when it feels like doing its own work, there’s always a newness in that feeling. I went to Mali a couple of years ago. I met a singer called Afel Boucoum, he straight away started teaching me a song of the Fulani people, nomadic people of Mali.. so I learned a song in that language, so that was a first.
Dara: How did you find that?
Liam: I think all kinds of traditional singing from any culture relates to another culture.. our language is old, it’s sympathetic to other old languages.. I find it quite easy actually. I love language. I like mimicing.. and music is part of that.
Read the interview with Liam in Rolling Stone magazine from August 9, 1990 here:
Source: Hothouse Flower Power