School got in the way of the Cavan band’s ascent in the 1990s. They’re back to try again, writes Ed Power
THE Would Be’s are slightly embarrassed. “It’s the season for the comeback, isn’t it?” sighs singer/trombonist Aideen O’Reilly. “And we’re another comeback band. We are self-conscious about that. Then again, we have very different motives to all those other groups.”
She’s right about that. The Would Be’s aren’t getting back together because fans demand it or because promoters are dangling wodges of cash. The Cavan indie pop five piece have reformed for more emotive and personal reasons. They want to make up for all the mistakes they committed first time around.
“We have huge regrets about how things finished,” says vocalist Julie McDonnell. “We don’t dwell on them. We just get angry. They are always there in the background.”
The Would Be’s are the great lost band of Irish music. Their 1990 debut single ‘I’m Hardly Ever Wrong’ caused a sensation. Morrissey championed it. Influential British DJ John Peel played it non-stop. Fifteen record labels chased their signature. They were alternative darlings of the hour.
“We got a bit cocky, I suppose,” says guitarist and songwriter Mattie Finnegan, architect of their jangling, occasionally whacky, sound. “You’re young, you take the attention for granted. You think it will never end.” Like many bands they made the mistake of believing the hype, of assuming they would remain press favourites forever. Rather than being sensible and signing to a major they tried to do things their own way and went with a smaller independent label. It proved a fatal decision.
“At the time it felt like the right thing to do,” says Finnegan. “But with hindsight we regretted it. The label we went with didn’t promise us huge marketing budgets. But they said they could do licensing deals all over the world. Things didn’t pan out.”
“You have to remember we were extremely young when this was all happening,” says O’Reilly. “The lads were in their early 20s. Me and Julie had just done our Inter Cert. It was surreal leaving school at 4pm, rehearsing for a concert, then heading off to play Dublin. At one gig, there were so many people in the venue none of the A&R men who wanted to sign us could get in.”
“The record companies used to ring the school,” adds McDonnell. “We’d be dragged out of class down to the principal’s office, where the phone was. Usually, they were looking for the lads. The only way they had of reaching us was through the school. It was such a strange thing to go through.”
Celebrity was fleeting. Within a year, the media had gone off them. Then McDonnell, whose voice was their most recognisable asset, delivered a bombshell. She was quitting. Her education was more important than the band.
“It was a choice really, between staying in the group and doing my Leaving Cert,” she says. “I chose my Leaving. It’s a shame because I think, if we’d gone about things differently, we could have done both, the band and school. The way it was presented to us at the time, it was one or the other.”
“That was really tough for me,” adds O’Reilly. “Because I had considered going back to school as well. To be honest, I think I was too embarrassed to go back. Then one day, there was a knock on the door. The lads had come to tell me they’d decided to knock it on the head. I was devastated, absolutely devastated. I had given everything.”
When the group petered out, the five members tried to make it in the real world. O’Reilly went into event planning, McDonnell became a teacher. Finnegan got by as a jobbing musician. The Would Be’s passed into obscurity.
They were jolted back into action after reading some kind words about the band in the media. There was a sense of unfinished business, the nagging suspicion their career wasn’t everything it should have been. Still relatively young — O’Reilly and McDonnell are in their 30s — they’ve decided to have another go.
The Would Be’s got together last spring for a one off show supporting the Frank and Walters. At that stage, nobody had raised the possibility of recording once more. However, the gig went well and before they knew it they had knocked together a new single, ‘Ivy Avenue’, which is receiving healthy airplay. It has started to occur to the Would Be’s that they just might have a career again.
“It’s weird. As soon as we released the single we were getting offered tons of sessions. People are playing it on the radio,” says Finnegan. “It’s great to know that people still care. We aren’t making longterm plans yet. We’re just happy to be here.”
* The Would Be’s play Whelan’s Dublin, Aug 18; Murphy’s Little Big Weekend, Cork, Aug 25.
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