Emperor of Ice Cream: Cork band reunite for another scoop

Every parent eventually reaches that weird milestone where their children discover that their mother or father had a life before kids. For Cork musician John “Haggis” Hegarty it came this April, when his 17-year-old son walked in clutching a copy of the Irish Examiner.
Emperor of Ice Cream: Cork band reunite for another scoop
Emperor of Ice Cream. From left to right. Colum Young (drummer), John Hegarty AKA Haggis (vocals), Edward Butt (Bass), Graham Finn (Guitar).
Emperor of Ice Cream. From left to right. Colum Young (drummer), John Hegarty AKA Haggis (vocals), Edward Butt (Bass), Graham Finn (Guitar).

Every parent eventually reaches that weird milestone where their children discover that their mother or father had a life before kids.

For Cork musician John “Haggis” Hegarty it came this April, when his 17-year-old son walked in clutching a copy of the Irish Examiner.

“I didn’t know you toured with the Manic Street Preachers!” the young man said to Hegarty, who today runs a recording studio in Waterford. “I didn’t even know you used to be in a band.”

The edition of the Examiner he was waving contained a profile of Hegarty’s old outfit, Emperor of Ice Cream as part of the newspaper’s “B-Side The Leeside” series.

The piece chronicled the short lifespan of the group, who were signed to Sony Records in the early Nineties. It declared the Emperors the great Leeside band that never was.

Emperor Of Ice Cream had recorded three well-received EPs, were feted in the pages of Melody Maker and had, indeed, toured with the Manic Street Preachers.

But it all came crashing down at the 11th hour as Sony decided it wasn’t going to put out their album after all. Weeks before they were due to go into the studio, with Motörhead drummer “Fast” Eddie Clarke helping with production, the plug was pulled and that was the end of the story. Until now.

“It was all because of that article,” says Hegarty. “We all turned around and went ‘oh yeah’… We’d all kind of forgotten.”

The Examiner wrote the story and then someone set up at WhatsApp group and put up some old stuff,” says Eddie Butt, the group’s bass player, who now works at the Irish Examiner as a graphic designer.

In the days following the profile, the former members of Emperor if Ice Cream were inundated with texts and messages from friends and old fans of the band, which consisted of Hegarty, Butt, guitarist Graham Finn and drummer John Lynch -later replaced by Colm Young-.

A stock-pile of old demos was dusted down – all involved were surprised at the freshness of much of the material. Emperor of Ice Cream’s effervescent indie pop relayed didn’t sound as if it was recorded a quarter of a century ago.

Which is how they have come to put out a fantastic "new" single, Lambent Eyes. They have also set to work putting a finishing gloss on recordings intended for their debut LP.

The record they never had a chance to put out first time around is finally going to see daylight this July– more than 25 years later.

“Eddie sent me a text message saying, ‘we should do an album,” Hegarty recalls. “I said, ‘no way’. I listened back [to the recordings] and thought, ‘there are 10 or 12 there that might be a nice representation of what we did’.”

“We had a Zoom meeting,” says Butt of the Emperors getting back together.

“I haven’t spoken to John in years. The songs were a lot better than I expected. Someone commented that they sound like they were recorded yesterday.”

“I’d forgotten a lot of it,” says Hegarty. “People starting writing to me, ‘we would have been 16 and 17 and used to go see you live…If you have any recordings please sent them on’.

This is a great chance to catch up with the lads and also put a ribbon on it all.”

Emperor of Ice Cream back in the 1990s.
Emperor of Ice Cream back in the 1990s.

He feels the Cork scene of the early Nineties out of which the Emperors emerged was a special place.“There was a lovely atmosphere.

"You had [iconic South Main Street dive bar] the Liberty, the Frank and Walters and the Sultans. I remember meeting Cillian Murphy on the street one day. He was about to do his first gig with Sons of Mr Green Genes. He was about 17.

"He ran up to me and Graham and was like, ‘will you come and see us play’. There are a great energy about.”

The Emperors he said, had a relatively fast rise.

“The Frank and Walters had three or four years to hone their set. We didn’t have that. We did one gig and [Sultans of Ping drummer] Morty McCarthy turns around and wrote in his fanzine, No More Plastic Pitches, ‘if this band aren’t signed by the end of the year, I’m going to start drinking.’ And he’s never drank.”

“The Cork scene was definitely sparking to life. I remember going to see Sonic Youth and Nirvana play Sir Henry’s [in 1991]. I met a couple of guys from a grunge band called Muffdive.

"They were saying, ‘go and see Nirvana tonight’. There were about 600 people there and only about 15 danced to Nirvana.

“At the end, Dave Grohl kicked down the drum kit and walked off, the bass player threw off his bass, nearly smacked it in half.

"Kurt Cobain walked off the side of the stage into Chandras (the nightclub adjoining Henry’s). Morty called me in – Kurt Cobain was on the floor [in Chandras] still playing.

"All you could hear was noise. There was blood spitting out of his fingers. I remember standing there and everyone was going ‘oh my God, that’s unbelievable’. There was this thrill.

"It wasn’t ‘who’d does he think he is?’.It was, ‘we’re all in this together’.

  • Lambent Eyes by Emperor Of Ice Cream is due for release on June 12. An album follows in July.

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