Words: Vanessa Monaghan
It’s the weekend before Christmas and Dublin city centre is in the party mood, revelers in festive garb merrily make their way along the streets. Indoors, Horslips have embraced the festive season and gig goers heading to their Olympia Theatre show are treated to a little Christmas card and Santa hat as they enter the venue. This small gesture sets the good natured vibe for the night as the Horslips ‘Drive the Cold Winter Away’.
When the music kicks off, it does so thanks to Trouble Pilgrims, (The Radiators from Space minus Phil Chevron). Fronted by Pete Holidai, who playfully introduces the band with a pun on a Horslips song, ‘Yes, that’s trouble with a capital T’. It doesn’t take long for the seated audience to warm to the band. Holidai looks every inch the rock star and his vibrant red jacket makes him stand out on stage. As the band play ‘Second Avenue‘, the manner and urgency with which they deliver their material shows that this is a band that, despite their years together, still enjoy making music. They’re not presumptuous either, expecting everyone to know their material, introducing each song and making both long term and new fans feel at home. It can sometimes be hard to gauge a reaction to an act in a seated venue but the band are obviously feeling the good will from the audience as Holidai says ‘Don’t ye wish they took the seats out now’.
Trouble Pilgrims mix it up onstage with Holidai and Steve Rapid swapping lead vocalist roles. The five piece are joined by Charles O’Connor’s daughter. Aphra for ‘Kitty Rickitts’ and her vocals work beautifully. There’s a happy dischord in this track, making you feel slightly ill at ease while with the help of a theramin is exactly as it should be, perfect.
The set seems to rise all the time, with tracks like ‘Sunday World‘ followed by ‘Enemies‘ proving The Radiators from Space to be one of Ireland’s greatest ever bands. A cover of Them’s Gloria gets the crowd going even more before the band finish their set with ‘the first punk single ever in the Irish charts’. The band is so personable, it’s hard not to like them as Steve says ‘If you don’t believe us you can look it up on the internet’. The uptempo ‘Television Screen’ does exactly want every band wants, leaves the audience wanting much more. Very enjoyable set.
Chants of ‘Horslips’ move around the venue as the audience wait for the band to come to the stage. When they do, the band come to the front of the stage for what is described by Jim Lockhart as an acoustic set. The stage set up is pretty traditional, tin whistle, mandolin, guitar, bass and Ray Fean on bodhran and drums. ‘Drive Away The Cold Winter‘ was a 1975 album from Horslips, which featured Winter themed songs. Tonight, for the first time, the show is being interspersed with tracks from the album, starting with a special twenty-minute traditional set.
‘Drive Away The Cold‘ is Horslips most traditional work, where other albums embrace rock music, here we are treated to a brand of music which wouldn’t be out-of-place as a soundtrack to a TV show such as Game of Thrones. As the band play, a huge screen appears on the back wall on depicting old video footage. The band know this mightn’t be everyone’s cup of tea with Barry Devlin saying ‘If you haven’t got a pint or a geansaí, you can feck off to the bar now.’ . ‘The Piper in the Meadow Straying‘ features a ‘Deck the Halls’ style melody which the band get the audience to sing the ‘Fa La La’ refrain while ‘Ny Kirree Fo Naughtey (The Sheep ‘neath The Snow) is sung in Manx by Jim Lockhart. Not only are we being musically entertained but it seems, the audience is also being culturally educated. (Never thought I’d say that about a gig. ) Adding the Winter theme, snow falls onstage and balloons are released onto the crowd, just as the electric rock part of the show kicks off with ‘The Power and The Glory’.
Ray Fean is now behind his usual kit at the back of the stage and the band are in regular rock formation, not forgetting Charles O’Connor’s brilliant fiddle playing. The audience are now in full party mode, singing the refrain to ‘Mad Pat’ loudly. There’s something about this track, it’s definitely seventies prog-rock and it seems that Horslips have more than dabbled in the idea of concept albums, they’re a Celtic rock Pink Floyd.
‘Furniture‘ almost confirms this with great vocal harmonies reminiscent of Floyd. It’s no surprise that the musicianship tonight is world class, Charles O’Connor’s mandolin and Johnny Fean’s guitar playing are both inspiring. The intricate arrangements of each instrument show that Horslips are more than just a rock band. The beat builds up to an end with a line from ‘Drunken Sailor’, complete with keyboard electro squiggles.
The party is in full swing now, seats are abandoned in favour of standing and dancing, and Aphra O’Connor joins the band briefly. Behind the music, subtleties are happening on stage, during ‘Charolias‘ each member is literally given their time in the spotlight, highlighting their musical ability. Johnny takes over lead vocals on ‘Speed the Plough‘, again the vocal harmonies are impressive as four vocal lines are sung across the front and dry ice fills the back of the stage.
‘Trouble with a Capital T‘ gives the audience the Christmas pressie they were looking for, that could only be followed by the awesome ‘Dearg Doom‘. The band are giving it all, the audience are giving it all. This is pure entertainment and a great way to end a set.
It’s Christmas so of course there’s an encore. Keeping the Winter theme going, the last track from the ‘Drive Away The Winter‘ album, ‘When a Man’s in Love‘, is played. Its not over yet though, The Trouble Pilgrims are back on stage for a Christmas bash as Aphra O’Connor sings some Christmas favourites. Confetti and streamer bombs pour from the ceiling covering the Olympia Theatre crowd. A great night’s entertainment as well as a night of cultural learning, one hell of a Christmas party.