HorslipsHorslips are an Irish Celtic rock band that compose, arrange and perform songs frequently inspired by traditional Irish airs, jigs and reels. The group are regarded as 'founding fathers of Celtic rock' for their fusion of traditional Irish music with rock music and went on to inspire many local and international acts. They formed in 1970 and 'retired' in 1980 for an extended period. The name originated from a spoonerism on The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse which became "The Four Poxmen of The Horslypse".
Although Horslips had limited commercial success when the band was playing in the 70s, there was a revival of interest in their music in the late 1990s and they came to be regarded as one of the defining bands of the Celtic rock genre. There have since been small scale reunions including appearances on The Late Late Show and RTÉ's Other Voices. The band reformed for two Irish shows in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast and the 3Arena in Dublin at the end of 2009, and have continued to play shows since then.
Original line-upBarry Devlin, Eamon Carr and Charles O'Connor met when they worked at the Ark advertising company in Dublin. They were cajoled into pretending to be a band for a Harp Lager commercial but needed a keyboard player. Devlin said he knew a Jim Lockhart who would fit the bill. The four enjoyed the act so much that they decided to try being proper rock performers. They joined guitarist Declan Sinnott, a colleague of Eamon Carr's from Tara Telephone and, briefly, Gene Mulvaney to form Horslips (originally Horslypse) in 1970.
The band went professional on St Patrick's Day 1972 having shed Mulvaney and released a single, "Johnny's Wedding", on their own record label, Oats. Declan Sinnott left soon after, primarily due to his annoyance at the group appearing in an advert for Mirinda orange drink (shot in the grounds of Ardmore Studios Bray in Easter 1972) and was replaced by Gus Guest briefly, then Johnny Fean.
AlbumsHorslips designed their own artwork, wrote sleeve-notes and researched the legends that they made into concept albums. They established their own record label, Oats, and licensed the recordings through Atco, RCA and DJM for release outside Ireland. They kept their base in Ireland, unlike previous Irish bands.
In October 1972, Horslips went to Longfield House in Tipperary and recorded their first album, Happy To Meet, Sorry To Part, in the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. They then released another single, "Green Gravel". On the first album the melodies were mostly traditional. Jim Lockhart was on keyboards and gradually mastered other instruments including uillean pipes. Eamon Carr was on drums, including the Irish bodhrán. Happy To Meet, Sorry To Part was the fastest-selling album for eight years in Ireland. The sleeve was an elaborate concertina-shaped fold-out design.
The Abbey Theatre in Dublin asked the band to provide the background for a stage adaptation of "The Táin". They leapt at the opportunity. "Táin Bó Cúailnge" (The Cattle-Raid of Cooley) is a tenth-century story written in Old and Middle Irish. It tells of an ancient war between Ulster and Connacht. The Táin was released in 1973 and had more original material alongside the traditional tunes, and greater emphasis on rock. In the same year a single, "Dearg Doom", went to number one in Germany.
Dancehall Sweethearts followed in 1974, and also balanced folk with rock. Their fourth album, The Unfortunate Cup of Tea, drifted toward pop music and was generally considered less successful. RCA ended their funding deal for the group in 1975. The group funded their next venture themselves and went back to basics. Drive The Cold Winter Away (also 1975) was their most traditional album to date. They signed with DJM Records worldwide through A&R man Frank Neilson. The Book of Invasions: A Celtic Symphony (1976), like The Táin, was an adaptation of Irish legends built into a complex story. It became their only entry in the UK Albums Chart, where it peaked at No. 39 in 1977.
Ever ambitious, the band now tried to make it in the United States. They brought in Jim Slye to become their manager. He later sold their publishing rights to William McBurney for £4,000. In 1977 they produced Aliens, about the experience of the Irish in nineteenth-century America, which included little folk music. They toured Britain, Germany, Canada and the United States. The night they played the Albert Hall in London was described by one critic as the loudest gig there since Hendrix. The Man Who Built America (1978), produced by Steve Katz of Blood, Sweat and Tears and Blues Project fame, concerned Irish emigration to the US and received considerable airplay but broad approval was missing. The heavier sound did bring some acceptance in America but they lost their folk base and their freshness. Short Stories, Tall Tales (1979) was their last studio album and was panned by the record company and critics alike.
"The Last Time"At a time when The Troubles were at its peak, Horslips played gigs in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland without prejudice and were accepted everywhere. Their last recordings were from live performances at the Whitla Hall in Belfast April and May 1980. A few months later, on 12 October 1980 they played their final gig in the Ulster Hall. They made no public announcement. They simply gave an encore — the Rolling Stones' song "The Last Time" (this was a reference to the recording studio of their first album) and the final act was Charles O'Connor throwing his mangled fiddle into the audience. Ten years after they formed, they disbanded.
Musical life after the break upEven before Horslips ended, Johnny Fean, Eamon Carr and two others founded the Zen Alligators in 1980. They played straight rock and soul on the Irish circuit, and they recorded several singles. Another spin-off group called Host contained Fean, O'Connor and Carr. They issued one album, Tryal, in 1984, and two singles.
The final album that had a Fean/Carr collaboration in the 1980s was The Last Bandits in the World (1986).
Barry Devlin issued a solo album called Breaking Star Codes in 1983 with some help from Jim Lockhart. The album had 12 songs, each based, loosely, on the signs of the zodiac. Further Lockhart/Devlin collaborations included the theme tune to the popular RTÉ drama series Glenroe.
In 1986, Johnny Fean moved to England. An English indie band called Jacobites (1983 to 1986) consisted of Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth. Their 1986 album Ragged School had Johnny on guitar. He also played sporadically with a Horslips tribute band Spirit of Horslips and pub gigs with pick up three-piece The Treat, which sometimes featured former Thin Lizzy guitarist Eric Bell instead of Fean.
In 1990, the electric guitar intro to "Dearg Doom" was used for Put 'Em Under Pressure, Ireland's 1990 World Cup song, written by Larry Mullen and featuring the Republic of Ireland national football team and Moya Brennan. This use of the intro may be better known in Ireland than the original.
Charles O'Connor released an instrumental album, Angel on the Mantelpiece, in collaboration with Paul Whittaker in 1997.
Copyright issuesFor 20 years William McBurney, head of Belfast-based Outlet Records for over 40 years, received royalties from the sales of vinyl and CDs, including many compilations. He claimed that he bought the rights in good faith from Jim Slye, who managed Horslips from the late 1970s until the band's final gig. However, the quality of these releases left much to be desired. Shoddy artwork and poor sound meant that most of these releases were sold at bargain prices, leaving the five former band members disillusioned. They fought back and on 7 March 1999 won a court victory in Belfast for copyright ownership and a substantial financial settlement. Horslips are now once again fully in control of their music and they released the entire back catalogue on CD in 2000/2001 with updated artwork and digitally remastered sound.
ReturnIn March 2004, three Horslips enthusiasts, Jim Nelis, Stephen Ferris and Paul Callaghan, put on an exhibition of Horslips memorabilia in The Orchard Gallery in Derry. It was opened by the band, who played five songs acoustically. Buoyed by this first public appearance in 24 years, Horslips returned to the studio in Westmeath to produce a studio album, Roll Back, in the summer of 2004. Described as "Horslips Unplugged", the album contained acoustic reworkings of many of their best-known songs.
The same exhibition moved to Drogheda in October 2005, courtesy of longtime fan Paddy Goodwin, and was formally opened on 6 October by a tribute band, Horslypse, composed of nine teenage musicians. Horslips did a version of "Furniture". The exhibition moved to Belfast in February and March 2006 and there were plans for a New York showing in 2007. In February 2008, the exhibition opened in Ballinamore in County Leitrim, and in July it opened in Ballybofey in Donegal.
A double DVD entitled Return of the Dancehall Sweethearts came out in November 2005. Disc one is a documentary and disc two was live footage of the band from the 1970s, including promo videos and slots on The Old Grey Whistle Test.
In December 2005, the band played in front of an invited audience for the recording of the RTÉ television program Other Voices in Dingle in County Kerry. Part of the set included three songs done "full-on" - the first time the band had played live and electric since October 1980.
The last Horslips' event in this phase of their career was a TG4 tribute show recorded and broadcast live on 25 March 2006 before a live invited studio audience. A number of Irish personalities were interviewed, in Irish, about what the band meant to them and how Horslips shaped modern Irish music.
2009 reunion to presentOn 2 July 2009, it was announced that Horslips would reunite for two shows, their first 'open public' gigs since 1980. The band played the Odyssey Arena in Belfast on 3 December and the 3Arena in Dublin on 5 December. Drummer Eamon Carr did not play the concerts, citing personal reasons, though he was fully supportive and remains a fifth member. His place was taken by Johnny Fean's brother Ray Fean. Recordings from these shows were released on the DVD/CD 'Live at the O2' in November 2010. The O2 Arena has since been renamed as The 3Arena. The Irish band Something Happens were the support act for the show in The 3Arena.
The band played two invitation-only warm up gigs in McHugh's of Drogheda on 26 and 27 November. The band was set to play at "Live at the Marquee" Cork City on 26 June 2010, but the concert was cancelled due to Jim Lockhart falling ill.
In November and December 2010, Horslips, again with Ray Fean on percussion, returned with a four gig tour of Ireland. These included the INEC (Ireland's National Event Centre) in Killarney (27 November), the Royal Theatre in Castlebar (28 November), the Waterfront Hall in Belfast (1 December) and culminated in a return to the O2 Arena on 4 December. They played at the 2011 [https://web.archive.org/web/20110708131756/http://www.celticconnections.com/whatson/event/103945-Horslips-and-Support Celtic Connections] Festival in Glasgow's "Old Fruitmarket" on 18 January.
On 10 February 2010, it was announced that Horslips would be special guests under Fairport Convention at Fairport's Cropredy Convention 2011. They performed on 13 August.
On St Patrick's Day, 17 March 2011, the band played a BBC concert with the Ulster Orchestra at Belfast's Waterfront Hall.
On 3 June 2012, Horslips performed as the headline act at the Rory Gallagher Tribute Festival in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal.
On the 25th and 26 August 2012, Horslips played two shows in the national concert hall with the RTÉ concert orchestra in Dublin.
On 4 November 2013, Horslips released their biography Tall Tales. The book was written by Mark Cunningham and features interviews with the band. A double album featuring all the group's singles released outside Ireland, called Biography, was also released.
On the Summer Solstice (21 June) 2014, Horslips played at Dunluce Castle, near Portrush in Northern Ireland.
In August 2014, Horslips played at Milkmarket in Limerick, County Limerick.
On 12 March 2019, two of the band, Barry Devlin and Jim Lockhart, played at an [https://www.facebook.com/events/327300567879483/ event in the National Concert Hall], Dublin, to commemorate the occupation by radical students of the administration block at University College, Dublin, 50 years before. They joined the house band for the night, made up of members of Chris Meehan and his Redneck Friends, along with other well-known musicians, actors and performers who had been involved in [https://universityobserver.ie/a-campus-in-crisis-ucds-gentle-revolution/ the events of 1969], when the building that is now the NCH was part of UCD.
On 11 & 12 May 2019, with Charles retired from music, original members Barry, Johnny and Jim plus Ray Fean (drums) played two concerts at Belfast's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, at Custom House Square. The shows were promoted as 'Barry Devlin, Johnny Fean & Jim Lockhart from Horslips'.