IT WAS all so promising. By 1988, Cork four-piece rock band, Cypress, Mine! had supported bands like Aztec Camera, Echo and The Bunnymen, and U2, released their first album, Exit Trashtown, and were getting extensive airplay for their latest single, ‘Sugar Beet God’. But by May of 1989, the band had folded.
“I suppose, we got bored of the whole thing,” says former vocalist, Ciarán O’Tuama. “We were in talks with people, but I remember just getting frustrated that it wasn’t happening. We just kind of went our separate ways; there were no hard feelings, as such.”
O’Tuama now lives in Dublin, where he works in graphic design. Bassist Denis O’Mullane, aka Skoda, and drummer Mark Healy both stayed in Cork, where they work, respectively, in the restaurant business and in IT. Guitarist Ian Olney would go on to play in Power of Dreams and the Sultans of Ping.
Now, Cypress Mine are re-releasing Exit Trashtown, on limited-edition vinyl and digital download. The new, extended edition is a double album, including several singles, as well as demos for a long-lost second album.
“When we released Exit Trashtown, we only released 1,000 copies,” O’Tuama says. “We were happy with it, but it was recorded on an eight-track, which was rather basic. That was done in ’87, and we had another two years of band life. We recorded some very good stuff in ’89, just before we broke up. It sounded better than anything else we did, and we always felt it should be out there.”
The band have some epic memories: going on ahead of U2 for their legendary appearance at Lark by the Lee in 1985, and supporting Echo and the Bunnymen, in Ulster Hall, in Belfast, where, local punks gave them “a reception that was a little wet, shall we say. There was spitting and throwing bottles; I don’t know if it was love, or contempt.”
O’Tuama’s memories are backed up by a treasure trove of gig photographs from the 1980s; in his teens, he took up photography and used to go to the Arcadia, where he photographed bands like Five Go Down To The Sea and Microdisney, as well as U2’s appearances.
He has recently started scanning and archiving these photos, releasing them via social media.
With Cypress Mine singles fetching up to €150 and copies of Exit Trashtown selling for €500, there’s clearly still a market for the band’s work. O’Tuama believes this is, in part, because of Olney’s connection to Power of Dreams, who live up to the ‘big in Japan’ cliché.
Cypress Mine were approached by Pretty Olivia records, a company specialising in rare releases. “The vinyl release is a limited edition, about 300 copies,” O’Tuama says. “It’s still a collector’s item.”
Digital downloads will expand the reach of the double album, and a video for one single, ‘Last Night I Met The Man For Me’, comprised of old band footage shot for RTÉ, and additional material filmed by O’Tuama in Dublin and London, will also be released on YouTube and through social-media channels.
The top-down structure of the pre-digital music industry that so frustrated Cypress Mine is gone, replaced by democratised, but less-lucrative, digital platforms.
Does O’Tuama think the band’s trajectory would have been different if they had access to today’s outlets? “Pre-internet, it was hard to get your work heard; you had to rely on the mainstream media. We got press in Ireland, but it took a lot of work. But the press wasn’t really our problem; a lack of patience was probably our problem. We should have just stuck at it.”
So will the band reform for a nostalgia tour? O’Tuama laughs. “I haven’t opened my gob for the past 25 or 30 years, so I’d be very ropey!” he says. “But you never know.”