Kerbdog, one of the great survivors of Irish rock music, return later this year with their highly anticipated live album ‘Congregation’ which will include their first newly recorded song in nineteen years. Of bigger significance is that Kerbdog have returned to their four-piece line up with guitarist Billy Dalton rejoining them. Dalton left the band in 1994 shortly after Kerbdog completed the recording of ‘On The Turn’ in Los Angeles. Now he’s back and loving being part of the band. Taking time out from a busy work and family life, Dalton spoke to GoldenPlec about how it feels to be back in the band he grew up being a part of.
After such a long time away, detached from the music business, Dalton took time to travel around Australia, getting up to the type of craic lads in their twenties do. He rejoined the band back in April 2014 and he’s found the experience amazing and “as good as it was before I left and it nearly feels as long as it does being away from it, particularly when you look at old pictures of being in the studio with Garth [Richardson].”
When asked if the dynamic of the band has changed, Dalton admitted “musically it’s pretty much the same. We were always a rhythm section kind of band. Cormac [Battle] and I would play roughly the same sequence but totally different chords and I never really lost that to be honest”. On band matters it’s a case of “when the four of us are together in one room we discuss things more maturely now. A lot of the dynamics we used to leave to our manager and if anything came up we’d leave it to him and trust he’d come out with the best idea. He didn’t a lot of the time, but now we’re vastly more mature and not wasting any time in general.”
After splitting from Kerbdog, Dalton stayed out of music for a long time. “I had a little trio going [shortly after Kerbdog] but playing punk covers only, for the craic. Then I literally put the guitar down in probably 1998 and didn’t pick it up for so long. I had an acoustic guitar and I sold that as there was no sense hanging around, you know what I mean. At that time Wilt had sort of came along and we’re all good buddies and stuff like that anyway. I didn’t see a reformation on the cards anyway. The boys started again in 2005/2006 and yeah, grand job, fair play to them. I was racing motor bikes at that stage and I didn’t have any interest really.”
Returning to Kerbdog didn’t come out of the blue as Dalton had dipped his toe in the water after being cajoled back into music by Darragh Butler, Kerbdog’s drummer. Butler had a side project called Souls. In need of a bass player they reached out to Dalton. “Darragh was kind of inactive and always looking for something to do and he had this band formed with Clives Barnes and another guitarist [Thomas Donohue] and they needed a bass player and I though sure fuck it I have a bass and got the loan of a speaker. At that point we just took off as a four-piece and did gigs here and there.”
Outside of this, Kerbdog had reformed for a few gigs and asked Souls to support them. Those support slots with Souls eventually led to Dalton joining Kerbdog on stage for a few songs and it evolved again. For Dalton he was “happy going along with it for the craic and I didn’t take it too seriously. I was getting married at the time and stuff like that. I didn’t really think about it. Then suddenly it started getting more serious with the live stuff. We did the live stuff in Dublin and Bristol with Souls in support. Each time I’d go up and play a couple of different songs with the lads. Sure, they asked me out of the blue with the album coming out. The album had been recorded over the course of three or four gigs. After they asked me I thought, fucking nice one.”
Leaving the band in the first place was not an easy decision for Dalton. “We recorded ‘On The Turn’ and we were sending out the reel-to-reels to get mixed. We got one guy in particular who mixed it and it cost us a lot of money. It came back and he didn’t do a good job. The record company were looking at us and questioning us. We came from the pinnacle of recording, living in LA, meeting all these famous people. Doing what we were doing was an absolute dream come true. We fully appreciated where we were and what we were doing.
“To leave LA in probably November ’95 to come back to the fucking pissy wet winter of Ireland, to Brit-Pop and all that shit that was evolving as we were writing ‘On The Turn’ and then absolutely exploded as we returned. We’d do a small little snippet for Kerrang. We’d get the small bit in the corner of a page on a feature with Shed Seven and all these wank bands. To come back to that and then come back to actual record company pressures which were severe at the time.”
But it was more than just band matters that were influencing Dalton at the time. “Along with that at the time in ’96 we have a family business in Kilkenny and my dad was retiring. My brothers were asking what you are going to do. I kind of had to make a decision. Family pressures with me coming back to the business along with the pressures that the four of us [in the band] were taking. I said feck it lads, I’m going to quit when we’re on a high here. It was a very hard decision. Six months afterwards I was saying God, what did I do that for? But life goes on and I got a good four or five years out of that. But there was no animosity out of them.”
Mention of Kerrang, brings back the time where the assistant editor Jason Arnopp for Kerrang spent the weekend with the band in Kilkenny with the aim for a three to four page feature on Kerbdog. It was the first time they had their full name blazed across Kerrang. Those were heady days for Dalton. “For me as a metal head that was just incredible. We were trying to act all cool around them while our rocker friends were asking them all the questions that were on our mind. We had someone from Metal Hammer over too.” An offer of sending a member of GoldenPlec’s world renowned editorial team down to Kilkenny just isn’t as enticing. Though depending on who GoldenPlec would send, Kerbdog might consider that a lucky escape.
The new live album ‘Congregation’ has Kerbdog’s first studio recorded track in nineteen years. This song Electricity has quite a chequered past. Dalton explained this track has been around since he was originally in the band under a different song title “Soaking Wet”. “After I left the band, the boys got all these riffs together and made songs out of them. Then some fucking eejit from Sun Studios (in Temple bar) let all his buddies in for a party. Basically they got all the reel-to-reels and threw them into the Liffey. Those were the originals and there were no tapes made of them.”
Releasing a new song to the public after such a long time is not without pangs of trepidation. “Definitely, there is nervousness. We could probably slosh on doing what we were doing but everybody kept asking us for some new stuff.” Dalton further elaborated that “We have riffs for more songs and given the time we could bash them out.” As well as the live album, “On The Turn” is set to be re-released. On the Irish scene it’s an album that compares very favourably with albums from contemporaries such as Whipping, Therapy? or Rollerskate Skinny. Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro has repeatedly stated how influential ‘On The Turn’ was for him. Dalton confirmed that “the boys heard that it came up in conversation between Simon and Garth Richardson [On The Turn’s producer], that they wanted us to re-record On The Turn.” Dalton also added Frank Turner is a fan but doesn’t think it likely Mumford & Sons will ever be inspired by Kerbdog.
Before finishing up the interview there was one final question that had to be asked. Cormac Battle is known to ask listeners of his radio show for their top three fantasy festival bands, dead or alive. For Dalton, who would be his fantasy three bands to support Kerbdog? After some careful deliberation he settled on Bad Religion, Fugazi and The Clash.
You can catch Kerbdog in The Academy 14th November while ‘Congregation’ will be released in October 2014.