The Road Goes Ever On
In 1968 the Rolling Stones constructed a mobile recording studio made famous in the song "Smoke On The Water." Recording studios in England were a 9-5 enterprise at that time, and unless you were the Beatles, you adhered to that schedule. The Rolling Stones, tired at not being able to record when they wanted, utilized the newly constructed mobile that also gave acts another choice - where they wanted to record. Without the mobile, Led Zeppelin may not have recorded the booming drum sounds found on Led Zeppelin III and Led Zeppelin IV. Bob Marley's classic live version of "No Woman, No Cry" would have only been a memory for those who attended the show. But the mobile is just a backdrop for this story which revolves around a series of fortunate events which helped to give rise to one of the biggest bands in the world that are not the Rolling Stones.
Stephen Ferris, who along with others created the Horslips exhibition which led to the band getting together again to record and play live shows.
In 1972, in Ireland, Horslips, a Dublin based band, had made a name for themselves touring Ireland and had built a war chest that they planned to put to good use. At that time in Ireland, showbands dominated the live music scene - bands who played cover versions and dressed up in fab gear. An established circuit allowed groups to move from smaller cabaret settings to more massive dance halls, which formerly had hosted traditional gatherings that featured classical Irish music and dancing. Horslips, in their self-proclaimed no boundaries approach, took Irish folk songs, elements of rock and classical music and established what became known as Celtic Rock. The band raised some eyebrows and hackles as the traditionalists balked at the irreverent treatment they were giving Irish music, and the kids loved it, from both sides of the religious fence. It brought both groups together under the common bond of something, exciting, unique and distinctly Irish. Now was the time for the band to strike while the irons were hot. They could not afford to go to England to record (there were no sophisticated recording studio's in Ireland at the time), so they decided to bring the Rolling Stones Mobile and its sixteen-track console to Ireland. It was available having been recently used to record Exile On Main Street and Deep Purples latest with the single "Smoke On The Water." They established themselves in an old manor where they recorded their first album Happy To Meet, Sorry To Part. Trying to deaden the sound in one room, a friend of manager Michael Deeny, Paul McGuinness, who was with an acting group at the time, brought in a stage curtain to help with the sound and stayed throughout most of the recording. He will become part of rock music lore some years later. Horslips re-wrote Irish music history by having not only the best selling debut album (a record which stood until the first Abba release) in Ireland but also one of the more expensive album covers produced at the time. The fact of the matter was, the band spent more on the cover than the recording itself. They formed a record label, licensed their recordings while maintaining their copyright and set the management style that was to become the model for others in the years to come.
Shifting to the end of the band's career, which included eleven studio albums spanning eight years and fast-forwarding to 1978, we have Paul McGuinness seeing U2 for the very first time. Although the dates vary U2 in November or December of that same year, went into the studio with Horslips bassist Barry Devlin producing. Paul McGuinness knew Barry from Horslips, and since Barry was moving into record production, it was a decision he and the young U2 could endorse. Impressed by the band Barry, when asked by Paul McGuinness what he should do with the group, suggested Paul re-mortgage his home, and he became the bands' manager that year. Using the same management and business model of Horslips, McGuinness was able to negotiate for full control successfully with Island Records. The group owned their masters and complete control over their songs. The relationship continued with Barry producing videos for U2, including "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." U2, as did Horslips, remained in Ireland running their operations from Dublin rather than moving to England.
Another legend in the live rock music world was Steve Iredale, who, after repeatedly showing up at Horslips gigs around Ireland, offering to help load in the bands' gear, eventually being hired by the group. As the band reached was nearing the end of its recording and concert career (taking a rehearsal break of 25 years), they suggested to Steve that he take on a job that was being offered to him by U2. He went on to great acclaim as a tour production manager for artists such as Prince, Bon Jovi, George Michael and produced Woodstock 1994, which are just a few of his many credits and remains active to this day.
The producer of their first album was Alan O'Duffy (pictured above), remaining at the helm for a number of the bands' records. The album, Horslips Live, was recorded at the National Stadium on the mobile but using a different producer. Exchanging emails with Alan, he was more than eager to go on record regarding his experiences using the mobile. He also sent me a photo, never before published of him at the console of the mobile. Alan went on to engineer/produce the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaboration Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as albums by many artists including Paul McCartney, Rory Gallagher, and Deep Purple.
So what began as a project to record their first album ended up affecting so many other people's lives. Would U2 have been as successful if Barry had not produced that demo and recommend to Paul McGuinness that he take the band on? What would the future for Horslips and U2 have been if the Stones never built the mobile? Michael Deeny himself went on to manage Murray Head of One Night in Bangkok fame and becoming a successful concert promoter in Europe. U2 certainly benefitted from the management experience of Horslips and by proving an Irish group could make it and not leave home compelled U2 to do the same. Steve Ireland may have chosen a completely different future, and those incredible U2 live shows would not have benefitted from his vision. The music industry is a funny business and full of what if's and happy accidents. Bono even remarked that if not for Horslips, U2 would not have existed.
As an end note to this piece, while in Dublin, my wife and I received an invitation to have dinner with band member Jim Lockhart, his wife and a few other Horslips associated persons. Earlier that day, Eamon Carr, drummer for the band, treated me to lunch and a few hours of great stories. Another happy coincidence was our accommodations in Dublin, booked months in advance turned out to only be a few hundred meters from Jim's home and steps away from where I met Eamon for lunch. Horslips continue to be extremely popular, and an exhibition of band memorabilia in 2006 was the catalyst for the band to get back together since 1980 as a playing unit. By this time, band members had moved onto different careers and getting together to rehearse a few acoustic numbers for the exhibition saw them come back to sold-out shows in Ireland. A show recorded in Belfast with the Ulster Symphony, a book published, and a DVD charting the band's past and present career was released, including their appearance at the O2, which benefitted from a double album Live at the O2. I keep missing seeing the band again as they played Dublin, but I was in Edinborough and missed them by a day. My first experience was at school, where I did stage production for my university when the band played there in 1975. They were never as popular outside of Ireland as U2, but without them, maybe Bono is right.
I grew up in Southern Ontario, so I had one foot in the early British Invasion and the other in Canadian and American rock and pop. Early on I loved this music thing and managed my first band in grade 7, another band in high school, and then gained a great deal of experience working in a record store, a commercial radio station, tour production at my university all culminating being hired by a major record label where I spent 20 years handling promotion and marketing.