My eldest turned twenty a few weeks back: Tom Dunne’s 30 Best Irish Hits, a double CD of love, hits and magnificence. From U2 to David Kitt, Rory to Glen and all points in between. It was six times platinum, spawned several follow-ups and yet, the evening before its release, the manager of a well-known boy band told me it would never sell.
I still remember the night he had decided to share this knowledge with me. It was a Radio Awards night and a pre-release copies had been left at each table. Seeing that his band, then wowing the charts, had not been included, he was incensed. “None of these are hits,” he told me. This wasn’t true but before I could speak his anger had moved on.
He made short shrift of one or two of the ‘cooler’ acts. ‘What are these guys even doing here?’ he asked. He hated ‘cool'. Cool bands were loved by critics but didn’t sell. Plus critics didn’t rate his band. He eventually lost patience with me: “They are the biggest selling band in the county! And they aren’t on this.” He started to walk away.
But therein lay the rub. From the moment this album had been conceived, the issue of who wasn’t on it had been a bigger one than who actually was and at this point I’d been fighting that battle for way too long to worry about a boy band. I was happy to die on that hill, so to speak.
The list of songs had become somewhat sacred. It had been one of the first things I had done as part of my then new radio show, Pet Sounds. It was just a listener poll, nothing ground-breaking there, but it had somehow caught the public imagination. Many, many votes had been cast, with letters and long emails and they had been assiduously assembled. This was the actual, un-rigged, result.
What had floored me most was the love for Horslips. Horslips’ career had ended after a gig in Belfast on October 12 1980. And yet, 20 years later they were still the third most loved band, after U2 and Thin Lizzy, in Ireland!
It was the gigs that had stood to them. Even at this remove people wrote of seeing them with hushed admiration. But what has seared those performances into memory was the fact that Horslips had come to their town. Horslips had brought real music and the modern world to every small, otherwise forgotten, town in Ireland.
The list, for me, told its own tale of Irish music, its origins, its heroes, its tides, its new beginnings. It had a flow to it, an arc. You could see what led up U2 and what followed on from there. There was commonality of purpose, of vision, of belief. It needed to be protected.
The main threat to its integrity were the record companies that owned the masters. “Yes you can have that band,” they would say, “but would you mind using another track?”
This seemed innocuous but it was deadly. It was like asking for Motorhead's Ace of Spades and being offered something from Lemmy’s new album of sonnets.
Plus they wanted above all else to foist their new acts on you, regardless of their suitability. I have watched in horror over the years what this does to compilations. An album that is supposed to be the Best Of Punk, also contains tracks by metal acts, and, inexplicably, Kula Shaker. Being ‘on the label', it seems, transcends all genre.
So I, and the label the compilation was on, stuck to our guns. If I could say no to close friends, people I knew whose careers were in deep peril and for whom inclusion here would be manna from heaven, I could say no to a record company’s new band-de-jour.
The boybands brought the most pressure. “Just add them,” they’d say, “and you’ll get not just this market but the youth market too!”
This was delivered as a no-brainer, but I wasn’t buying it. When a record sells 100,000 in Ireland, it still means 4.9 million people didn’t actually get it.
That night I had stood my ground with the boyband manager. I wasn’t as confident or as sure as I sounded but I had told him the fact that his band, or any band like them, wasn’t on this record, was the actual reason it might sell.
I think, deep down, he actually got it.
- Phil Lynott - Old Town
- U2 - With Or Without You
- The Divine Comedy - Something For The Weekend
- Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U
- Aslan - This Is
- The Pogues & Kirsty McColl - The Fairytale Of New York
- Horslips - Dearg Doom
- The Undertones - Teenage Kicks
- The Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays
- Christy Moore - Ride On
- Paul Brady - The Island
- Shane MacGowan & Sinead O'Connor - Haunted
- Them - Gloria
- Rory Gallagher - Tatoo'd Lady
- Luke Kelly - On Raglan Road
- Mama's Boys - Needle In The Groove
- The Golden Horde - Friends In Time
- Thin Lizzy - The Boys Are Back In Town
- The Frames - Revelate
- David Kitt - You Know What I Want To Know
- Something Happens - Parachute
- The Blades - Downmarket
- THERAPY? - Nowhere
- A-House - Endless Art
- Hothouse Flowers - Don't Go
- The 4 Of Us - Mary
- An Emotional Fish - Celebrate
- The Stunning - Brewing Up A Storm
- The Fat Lady Sings - Arclight
- Whipping Boy - We Don't Need Nobody Else
- Ash - Oh Yeah
- The Devlins - Waiting
- Stiff Little Fingers - Alternative Ulster
- The Sultans Of Ping - Where's Me Jumper?