Veteran Irish DJ Dave Fanning has a new ten-part radio show charting the history of Irish rock from the early days of Taste and Them. Fanning intends to bring listeners on a journey with selected pit-stops across each decade from the ‘60s through to the present day
“It's called Dave Fanning's Story of Rock, if I put my own name on it I get away with murder,” he jokes. “It’s a journey through the history of rock with me. The complete history of Irish rock would take much longer than this, but I like the idea of someone taking the long journey and listening to it for the whole five hours.”
Fanning is conscious of keeping one eye on the big names while keeping the other firmly on the lesser known stories of the origins or Irish rock'n’roll, rather than the big moments and albums that followed.
“The way I see it, is that it starts off with Gloria; Van Morrison ’64, he's left his showband and was now in a band called Them. Rory Gallagher did it later - left the Fontana Showband and started becoming Taste. And in Dublin there was a guy called Phil Lynott and then he had Thin Lizzy. So, by the end of the '60s these three were the big names and they were the ones who pushed it all into the 1970s. I would see them as the three important names to start the whole thing off”
“I interviewed Philo in the studio a bunch of times so I've bits on the beginnings of Thin Lizzy, and Rory Gallagher talking about how he gets Taste together. I Interviewed Van Morrison on the altar of a church in Bristol once. I've a little bit of Led Zeppelin from the Stadium, Bob Marley from Dalymount Park, Thin Lizzy from Slane - the sound is muddy and awful because they were never recorded properly.”
“The Revenants were one that meant a lot to me,” says Fanning, speaking of the lesser-known delights of Irish music. “When I think of something like Speed To My Side by Rollerskate Skinny or Serotonin by Simple Kid, I think if those guys could've kept going and done more than that, it would be the ultimate - it would be as good as My Bloody Valentine, but they didn't, and the reasons most people don't continue is personal and luck, and don't tell me U2 weren't lucky cause they were really lucky. McGuinness made an awful lot of that luck for them but it's still luck.”
“Speed To My Side by Rollerskate Skinny really isn't known, but it's one of the most powerful songs from a band ever in Ireland. I did a thing called the Rollercoaster Tour - I toured Ireland for 10 years every February and the most popular of all the bands were The Frames, but the one I liked the most was The Revenants. They'd two albums - ‘October No Wonder’ and ‘Horse Of A Different Colour’ - and the first song on ‘Horses Of A Different Colour’ is called Let's Get Falling Down. Most people don't know it, It's a song about going out and getting lashed and it's fucking brilliant. There's something about Stephen Ryan (The Revenants) that sums up so many musicians I've seen down the years; brilliantly talented and nobody knows anything about him."
Fanning is attempting to keep his naturally fidgety mind in check throughout the series by taking the scene in dollops, decade by decade, but as ever with Fanning you can expect a few detours. "To be honest, I am jumping all over the place as well and I'm picking bits from here and there. I'm doing things that people will be annoyed at...like I've hardly mentioned U2 in the first episode. I didn't want to have any U2 in it because it's just too big.
“The first sentence should be the history of Irish rock is inextricably bound up with U2 blah, blah, blah, now let's have the rest of it. I have mentioned them here and there...the effect that they had by ‘85 was the fact that Irish rock bands were being looked at because of U2's success, so I have to mention them in that light. Also in 85 they did a 2FM gig in the back of a truck in Cork, so I've mentioned that, but I haven't gone through the early days of U2 like I have with some of the other bands".
Fanning is well aware that U2 provoke strong reactions from Irish people who seem to either love or loathe them in equal measure, and he has some stark medical advice for those of you with acute cases of Bonotosis ahead of their upcoming Croke Park shows. “If you don't like U2 this is a good time to leave the country,” he says, acknowledging the fact that as a nation we are about to be beaten over the head with all things U2. “It's gonna be done to death [U2] over the next three weeks too - once they start coming to play at Croke Park we'll all be at it” says Fanning. “Everyone will be looking for me to put on all the interviews. It is gonna be a U2 two weeks, so if you don't like U2 this is a good time to leave the country. Anyway [this series] is not meant to be about U2, even though they are at the very top of the tree of Irish rock. There's no question whether you like them or not, they just are.”
“They're not my favourite band, The Beatles and a few others would be much further up, but I do like what they do and I am a major fan of what Bono does - the amount of bricks that get thrown at him and the amount of people that hate him for being so up front and wearing everything on his sleeve."
"He's just astonishing; when U2 aren't doing anything he's working 26 hrs a day on these charities and fuck the rest of the world. He really is, he does so much work it's unbelievable and he's very honest - too honest - and suddenly it just comes out like "Oh God, Bono, won't you shut the fuck up!" That's what most people say and I get that. The more good people do, the less rock fans like it. That's why John Lennon is much more liked than Paul McCartney. John Lennon was an asshole, Paul was just too nice.”
"It's almost above comparison" says Fanning at the mention of 'The Joshua Tree'. "It’s so ubiquitously there. It's so part of who we are."
"The fact that they are still on top...the fact that the biggest tour this year is theirs is mad. How did that happen? They were supposed to be gone by 1990; they had their five years the same way Zeppelin did in the '70s, now fuck off. And they're the biggest band in the '90s, biggest band in the '00s, in terms of touring it's just bizarre, it's off the charts.”
What’s next for U2? Fanning doesn’t know but he knows where they shouldn’t go.
“I'm glad they haven't gone into rap - apart from the new Kendrick Lamar album - because they'd just make fools of themselves.”
“A lot of people don't like U2 simply because they're big, and you know something, that's okay. They're so big, that's enough of a reason to dislike them. That might sound stupid but it actually is.” It’s a reasoning Fanning can fully embrace himself. “I'd say part of the reason I don't like Ed Sheeran is because he's so big, the other part is because his music is shit.”
Fanning is concerned that the modern forms of musical consumption are cheapening people’s appreciation of music, and in turn their expectations of what music provides them with, and he blames this change on Apple.
“When Steve Jobs stood on a stage and said 'I've got a thing my left hand called iTunes that's gonna feed this iPod'; the record companies fell apart that day.” Fanning also blames technology for the future death of radio. “Rihanna, Drake, Beyoncé are as big as any Beatles and Stones...are as big as anything that's happened at any time, but not because of radio, radio just doesn't play to anybody under 18 anymore, they get it elsewhere.”
"There's a generation out there that expect to get music for free, and gets music for free, so don't tell me that music hasn't been devalued. It has."
"People were looking for different things to get from music, and now they're getting it from something that's as fucking shite and bland as Ed Sheeran. Everyone tells me he's a lovely guy, but my butcher is a nice guy as well - I don't fucking' listen to him all the time on the radio."
"You're telling me The Rolling Stones fought the rock wars for this shit? I don't know why the Ed Sheeran has happened, you're not meant to go to a rock show with your bloody parents, that's stupid."
"Don't get me wrong, get your shovel out and there's still great music out there. There will still be ten albums at the end of every year that will stay with me forever."
However, It would seem that not many of those ten albums from 2017 that stay with Dave Fanning for the rest of his life will be Irish.
"There's nothing massively exciting me Irish-wise, and I blame myself as much as anything else. But the bigger names don't do anything for me - The Coronas, The Script, I don't get it. I've seen Picture This, I went to see them at the Electric Picnic. I really wish them the very best and they seemed like nice guys when I met them, but Jesus fucking H. Christ, that music. Don't tell me I'm supposed to like that."
Dave Fanning’s Story of Irish Rock, 10.30pm, Tuesdays on RTÉ Radio 1. Listen to episode one here.