IT’S been all about nostalgia this year for singer, songwriter and actor Steve Wall. First came the 25th anniversary reunion gig for his former band The Stunning, and then his appearance in Chris O’Dowd’s homage to the ’80s, Moone Boy.
It’s hard to believe it’s a quarter of a century since The Stunning launched themselves on to the Irish music scene with the infectious ‘Got To Get Away’. “Someone mentioned to us it was our 25th year this year. We don’t really plan things very well but we thought we should do a few gigs before the year was out to mark it,” recalls Steve.
Before he knew it, the group were together again and booked in for a gig in Vicar Street in Dublin, which took place last September. They played their entire 1990 debut album, Paradise in the Picturehouse.
“It was a great gig,” says Steve. “We put together an opening of clips from TV from 1990, with bits from the Late Late Show and other shows, and it was hilarious. It was a teaser for the crowd before the band came on, and really set the scene.”
The same crowd are likely to have loved the ’80s references in the TV hit of the year — Moone Boy, which featured Steve as cheeky Uncle Danny, returned from ‘out foreign’. Steve says he got the job the old-fashioned way, by auditioning.
He had been doing a three-day acting workshop in Dublin, when he heard about Moone Boy and a role they were having trouble filling. With his “thick Clare accent” and laidback attitude, he was amazed to get the green light a few days later. “I had no idea just how big it was going to be. I might have been more daunted by the whole thing if I’d known. Instead, I had a bit of craic with it.” So much, in fact, that he’ll be back for series two.
The Ennistymon man isn’t new to the thespian life, either. Before forming The Stunning, he worked with Druid in Galway, as an assistant to Garry Hynes. He moved to Dublin to pursue his acting dream but got caught up in what was a very strong music scene in the capital at the time, centred around a dingy basement venue on Dame Street called The Underground.
“The Underground was great, and you had bands like Blue in Heaven and A House and The Blades, and I realised you didn’t have to wait around for someone to give you a job, you just started a band.” And so he did, heading up what was to become one of the best Irish rock bands of the time. Beloved headliners at festivals and open-air concerts the length of the country, it was a shock to everyone in the music industry that their unique sound never transferred across the Atlantic. “We went to the US about four times but we never signed to a record label so all our trips were funded by the gigs in Ireland and I guess we just ran out of steam after seven years.”
The record companies couldn’t categorise them, he says. “They just scratched their heads at us, our music was too varied for them and they would say ‘how do you sell this?’ even though we had a huge loyal following.”
These days it’s all about the gigs, he says. His band The Walls, with brother Joe, means the brothers on the road almost as much as before, but in a tougher environment. “It’s harder nowadays. CDs aren’t selling and what you get paid by YouTube, Spotify, and radio stations, is tiny. And the recession means there are fewer gigs too. In the ’90s we would do massive tours, but the venues aren’t even there anymore.”
He fondly recalls playing iconic spots like the Hi-land in Newmarket, Connolly’s of Leap and Sir Henry’s in Cork. This was also at a time when Irish radio stations were more supportive of Irish music. “Now getting daytime airplay is difficult. You are up against the Kings of Leon and Beyoncé, and all the big guns. We are not getting the support here.”
Steve landed himself in hot water earlier this year for his criticism of the Arthur’s Day line-up which featured overseas performers, “without a single mention of any Irish act by name”.
He still feels strongly about the subject. “It has a lot to do with why Irish music isn’t visible anymore,” he says, referring to the “glory days” of radio with Dave Fanning’s show, when bands like Cry Before Dawn and Something Happens were household names. “And yet Irish music today is just as good, and probably better produced than ever,” he says.
And coming from the man who penned such classics as ‘Half Past Two’, ‘Brewing Up a Storm’ and ‘Romeo’s on Fire’, that’s really saying something.
* The Stunning play their entire album Paradise in the Picturehouse in Vicar Street, Dublin tonight and the Savoy, Cork on Dec 21.