"The Tain" - Review from the NME dated 2nd February 1974
This new album by the premier Irish rock band Horslips is based around an original and interesting idea: reviving the Celtic sagas based around the exploits of legendary hero Cu Chulainn, realising that their own culture is neither moribund nor the preserve of dusty seekers of knowledge through microscopes and glass cases. But whether it is successful in its execution may be a different question. I admire the vigour with which they've taken the story of Cu Chulainn and the life and times of pre-Christian Ireland and thoroughly shaken it up to bring home its contemporary perspectives.
And they deserve a big hand too for the way so many traditional tunes have been slipped into the structure of a piece which is in fact mostly self written. But there are things about it that are not altogether convincing, most notably the production, which feels wrong. The rawness of some of the subject matter, and Horslips' own inclinations too I would say, call for a thick, fat sound best described as raunchy - like the Stones. The cut I like the best is "Dearg Doom", a very strong and riffy song and the one where the group seem to be pumping it out at full pressure - apart from the wondrous trio of reels - "The Silver Spear", "Tie The Bonnet" and an untitled tune - which go under the name of "The Silver Spear". "More Than You Can Chew" is the tune where the Irish instrumentation is most obviously crossed with rock music, and sounds pretty good, though somebody way back in the mists of time must take credit for the tune, which is "The March of the King of Laois".
Apart from the tempo Horslips would seem to take it pretty straight, though there again I don't find it altogether pleasing the way the rock beat has been added on - the cross panned drumming which is overmiked and overdone throughout the record is redundant. And again the panning on the final track "Time to Kill" is necessary and distracting though in this particular case the moving drums sound OK.
Perhaps I've been tough on "The Tain", but it's an ambitious concept and does not deserve to be damned with faint praise. Despite the criticisms of the production I find it very pleasing to listen to. It has been well thought out and the adaptations of both tunes and words for the rock and roll idiom are pitched just right. But next time, more thought on how the rhythm sections records would pay disproportionately large dividends I feel sure.
Written by M.H.
"The Book of Invasions" - Review from the NME dated 15th January 1977
Despite what some august worthies would have us believe, Horslips are first and foremost a rock band. They're also Irish, crazy and well versed in the musical lore and pre-history of their native patch.Which is where the sorcery starts.
There are various possible ways of handling venerable (traditional?) snatches of song and dance. You might play them straight, please the purists and nobody else. You can respect the originals but add some electric's (aka Steeleye Span), have hit singles and run the risk of wrapping yourself into a stylised straitjacket. And so on.
Horslips' method is more flexible, more radical. They grasp a suitable snatch of melody, slyly insinuate it into what's basically a straightforward rock format. They weave the motif through a song, modify and develop it. A fairly complex undertaking, but their collective expertise as players and arrangers ensures the songs are their own justification, mostly pared down again after the grafts to uncompromising essentials.
So much for theory which in practice works a treat.
"The Book Of Invasions" is Horslips' seventh album, easily their best. The material is consistently strong, the production at long last sympathetic. Like "The Tain", it's all of a piece and deals with Old Ireland, in this instance the Tuatha De Danaan, a semi-mythical race of warrior magicians who were eventually overcome to be worshipped as gods by their conquerors. But that's fate for you. For further fax consult the copious notes on the inner sleeve.
Horslips write their own lyrics. Their view of the Tuatha has a smattering (and why not?) of UFOlogy about it. There's even an unnerving sense of alienation - as in Thomas Jerome Newton - expressed in several songs. Despite their diffident 'heroic' status, the protagonists are accessible - as people, you know. No thees, thous or other such nonsense; the lyrics are everyday English and sung with characteristically clear Irish diction. The episodes (victories, defeats, betrayals, loves, leave-taking, etc.) are finely drawn with some evocative imagery.
The album's divided onto three sections or strains. Geantrai (the joyous strain) takes up the first side. It has an appropriately martial intro and outro theme, also linking bridges between songs.
"Trouble With A Capital T" is the opening song, fleet and airy with unison fills from John Fean's guitar and Jim Lockhart's flute.
"The Power And The Glory" is more muscular, throbbing smoothly to the brisk smack of Eamon Carr's drums and Barry Devlin's bass marksmanship. Lockhart moves to organ, Fean spins his chords neatly off the beat and Charles O'Connor scythes a fiddle break.
"The Rock Remains" is relaxed. O'Connor scatters electric mandolin through the well-spaced mix before Horslips hot their full-bloodied stride in "Sword Of Light". Fean lashes echoed riffs that were once a reel; the rhythm section is brutally precise.
Goltrai (the hammering strain) comprises two songs, one fast and desperate, the other grandiloquent and courtly, also a headstrong instrumental with more viciously soulful lead from Fean.
Suantrai (the sleeping strain) closes with a sad, mysterious ballad and another fine riff job, split by a short acoustic interlude.
There's an unexpectedly open ending as the power chords of "Ride To Hell" fade to flute and a repeat of the section's dominant theme. The most striking feature of Horslips' work is their attention to detail, the way they organise their extended pieces so coherently. But Son-Of-Tain this isn't. "The Book Of Invasions" is more ambitious, sophisticated and ultimately more substantial than its forerunner.
No mean feat.
Written by Angus MacKinnon
"Angel on the Mantlepiece" Charles O'Connors Resolution Suite
Anyone playing this CD and expecting to hear the Charles O'Connor of Horslips could be disappointed. Oh sure there are snippets of the Charles of old but this album is as far removed from the early Horslips material as you can get. But that's not to say it is bad, it is just different.
On first listening it comes across as a sort of Captain Pugwash sea shanty tribute album (Captain Pugwash was a Children's cartoon about an English Pirate). Quite a bit of jolly, jaunty Concertina and Ukelele. Not really what was expected from the ace Horslips fiddle man.
However, this is an instrumental album that grows on you and after several plays you find yourself wanting to listen to it more and more. Written and produced by O'Connor himself and Paul Whittaker, there is certainly something in the 14 tracks which will please even the most diehard Horslips fan and on occasions there appears to be pieces of violin work which just seem to have started way back in Horslips territory.
Buy it and give yourself time to listen to it. Play it when you need to just sit and watch the world go by or when stuck in a traffic jam. It's another dimension to the man's musical talents and you just know your collection won't be complete without it.
I got to like it that much that when I had to give the CD back, I hit Amazon and bought a copy. Something I thought was impossible on first listening. It's not Horslips, but it was never meant to be and shouldn't be judged as such.
Written by Pete Millar
"More Than You Can Chew" - Review from Sounds dated 6th April 1974
Not related to Silverhead's entertaining "More Than Your Mouth Can Hold", as far as one can tell. The Horslips are a tricky band to come to terms with - some of their stuff is just fine and then other aspects of the same work will tend to strike a jarring note. Here the arrangements and the instrumental work are excellent - listen in particular to the pipes, which are beautiful. The vocals on t'other hand, work less well. They sound too far forward in the mix for a start and, despite some clean-cut harmonies, even a trifle weak.
This weakness is accentuated when the instruments take over again, for the band sounds then so much more assured and definite. Horslips' chosen brief is a difficult one to fill and despite the acclaim given to their ambitious "The Tain" I'm yet to be convinced that they are filling it. They may well in the future, the signs are certainly there, but this single, like the curate's egg, is excellent in parts - and that's not enough.
Written by John Peel
"Nighttown Boy" - Review from Sounds dated 24th August 1974
I never read the weekly music papers so it came as bit of a surprise to me find the Horslips on RCA Victor after all the bouhaha that Warners stirred up over "The Tain" LP.
Once again the feeling once the record has finished, is that the boys are on the verge of doing something fine. It starts with strident electric guitar, slips into a modest glitter beat and then changes again in the twinkling of an eye into a more ambitious little thing, with overtones of Bowie / Ferry et al. The playing is good, the band have shifted somewhat from their traditional posture, but the feeling remains that this is yet another plucky try. It's a whit messy and inconclusive, really.
Written by John Peel
"King of the Fairies" - Review from the NME dated 8th February 1975
A set dance from "Dancehall Sweethearts". Non-traditional synthesisers open the band's account, then the fiddle plays the toon while the group operate with greater cohesion than I have noted on previous recordings. Guitar picks up the baton from fiddle, then pipes from guitar. The synthesiser wirdles on regardless. The tin whistle leads the mob into more ethnic action. Very listenable and struttable stuff.
Horslips at the Imperial College, London 26th January 1974
Just behind London's Royal Albert Hall stands Imperial College, one of the more prestigious gigs on the rock 'n' roll circuit.
Red taped with extensive fire regulations ("no smoking fella, and don't block up the aisles so stand on someone's head") it is a venue I've always disliked.
However there is a theory that if a band does particularly well on a gig there, the pattern will be repeated on the greater concert hall rounds outside London. On that assumption, Horslips have everything going for them right now.
Their gig at the IC on Saturday was remarkable not only for their excellent performance, and the subsequent crowd reaction, but for the number of people who attended. And this all goes to show that this Irish band have grown in stature, from an initial hardcore following of paddies.
What is more important though is that the music has improved, while still retaining their original basic formula - both to display their standard of musicianship, and then to provide dance music. In other words, have a good time all round. And the effect is quite devastating, with huddled groups of young souls flying through he motions of a calaidh dance to the music of "Johnny B. Goode" and "Talkin' 'Bout You".
Before we reach that climax though, Horslips play an extraordinary large amount of their own repertoire, including the material of their debut album "Happy to Meet…Sorry to Part", and side one and part of side two of "The Tain". And although their stage presentation of the latter is rather hotch potch, it proves to be substantially more exciting than their studio version.
But their act is more dramatic purely because they now have an excellent sound mix and a startling use of improvisation which extends from Charles O'Connor on fiddle and mandolin, the bass runs of Barry Devlin, snappy guitar fills from Johnny Fean to the organ of Jim Lockhart. Then there's the demon of a little drummer called Eamon Carr propelling them through a variety of time signatures.
In spite of their heavy rock aura, there is still a tremendous amount of reels and jigs and strong melody in their music. And if you want my honest opinion, Horslips are one of the best outfits currently touring England.
From Sounds 2nd February 1974. Written by Tony Stewart.
Horslips at the Queen Elizabeth Hall 2nd September 1976
"Irish Magic (and still no contract!)"
"Irish Magic (and still no contract!)"
There have been numerous attempts to ferment that potent brew which at least in theory combines traditional song with rock rhythms and instrumentation.
More often than not this temperamental amalgam lurches clumsily into a sort of musical no man's land, offending purists in both camps and generally sounding affected, inconsequential and unconvincing. Most troubadours who cross the blood red stream into "the land of faery" seem content to return with a wholesale plunder of archaic lyrical mannerisms, then simply add bass, drums and guitar, well satisfied with their bastard hybrid.
However, the few honourable exceptions to this generalising must include Irish quintet Horslips who played to an enthusiastic full house south of the river last week. For various reasons Horslips haven't made an entirely satisfactory for English release - either the music has been strong and the production weak, or the other way round - whereas on stage these problems are neatly short-circuited.
The extensive caucus of Irish pre-history and legend the band dealt with in "The Tain" and have returned to again in their "Celtic Symphony" is by turns a brutal, bloody, heroic and magical agglomeration of fact and fantasy. Their performance successfully embraces all these aspects without any stress or strain. Briefly, the "Symphony" concerns the Tuatha De Danaan, a semi-mythical people who settled Bronze Age Ireland and who were both very musical and, of course, hardy warriors.
Horslips sensibly provide contemporary lyrics, thus avoiding preciosity (sic). The piece is musically complex, with recurrent themes woven about each other as delicately as the patterns in gold on black circumscribed over the band's stage backcloth. There are quiet, pastoral airs - Jim Lockhart's organ playing has a vaguely churchish feel about it - and full-blooded reels, either delivered straight or wound into the song's entrails.
All the band have taken to wearing black leather jackets on stage - in complete contrast to the delicacy of much of the material. Fiddler Charles O'Connor balances precariously on tapering heels and the bassist Barry Devlin impersonates Mott's Overend Watts with equal enthusiasm. Above all, Horslips play it loud.
The perennial "Furniture" has been rearranged to include lengthy solos from O'Connor's electric mandolin (plus reverb pedals) and John Fean's sensuous guitar. The song is built around Lockhart's resigned flute motif and the synthesis is complete - an old air is given an intravenous drip of musical glucose.
The storming "Dearg Doom" repeats the trick, splayed out on a forthright riff, and the obligatory selection of reels follows until close-down.
Horslips display an assured energy and abandon that's been found wanting in this field since Fairport disintegrated after "Liege and Leaf". Nonetheless, they're currently without an English recording contract - a poor state of affairs given the audience's reaction at this concert and their own, refreshingly intuitive eclecticism.
From NME dated 18th September 1976. By Angus MacKinnon.