IT BEGAN life in a rented farmhouse; the first to hear its songs were people going to concerts in Salthill in the late eighties and early nineties; and almost quarter of a century later it remained one of the best loved Irish albums.
The Stunning - Steve and Joe Wall, Derek Murray, Cormac Dunne - with Jimmy Higgins, will perform Paradise In The Picturehouse in its entirety at a ‘Róisín Dubh presents...’ show in Seapoint Ballroom, Salthill, on Saturday December 29 at 8pm.
Paradise In The Picturehouse began life in a farmhouse in Tirellan Heights which the band rented in 1987. “It’s gone now,” Steve Wall tells me, “but it had hay, chickens, and a donkey. We cleared out the shed and that’s where we rehearsed. A lot of the neighbours didn’t like the noise but the moment we appeared on The Late Late Show, they were proud to say ‘We heard them first’.”
The eclectic nature of the songs on Paradise - from hard rock (‘Brewing Up A Storm’) to country-rock (‘Got To Getaway’) to pop-rock (‘Romeo’s On Fire’) to jazzy touches (‘Half Past Two’) reflected the diversity of music the band were listening to at the time.
“The thing about that house was we all had our record collections with us,” says Steve. “Derek was into soul music, Cormac had Pere Ubu, and we had Led Zeppelin and The Clash. Country was also a big influence - Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle.”
Joe adds: “In Galway at that time there was Macnas and the Mamím Cajun Band and a sense that anything was possible. We were reacting to all those influences. A lot of the bands coming out of Dublin were influenced by U2. We didn’t want that, we wanted a Galway sound.”
Paradise is one of those rare albums which has no bad songs. Yet two stand head and shoulders above the rest.
The mellow ‘Half Past Two’, the band’s second single, was released in 1988. Although it never mentions Galway in the lyrics, anyone around back then knows how that song sums up that era in the city.
“That song brings me back to summer Saturdays in Galway,” says Steve. “It was my favourite time to be in Galway, when the arts festival was on, everybody standing in Quay Street, talking about ‘the talent’ that was around - ‘Looking all around when she’s in town’. That song was about trying to capture that innocence.”
The song, through the cheeky lyric: ‘Should I buy some rubber balloons just to play it safe?’, also reflects the different moral climate which then prevailed.
“When the song came out you couldn’t get condoms. You had to get a GP to sign a prescription,” says Steve. “I remember going to Germany in 1981 and I couldn’t believe seeing condom machines on the streets! I emptied one of them and stuffed my jacket full of them and distributed them back in Galway. You couldn’t even say ‘condom’, that’s why we had to say ‘rubber balloons’, even we were being affected by some form of censorship.”
The song also shocked some residents of the Wall’s hometown of Ennistymon, County Clare. “One of our former schoolteachers met our Mum on the street,” recalls Joe. “He had heard it on the radio and referred to it as ‘that smutty song’. He was deeply upset.”
If ‘Half Past Two’ was languid, ‘Brewing Up A Storm’ was its polar opposite - a hard rocking blast of fury with the guitars, brass, and drums building a furious head of steam as the track progressed to its mighty climax - but it started off very differently.
“When I first came up with the song it was like my ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ but it wasn’t working,” says Steve. “I played around with the arrangement and it became beefier. I was picking at the chords, it’s just the basic Am-C-Em-G, and the riff emerged.”
That riff is one of the all time great Irish guitar riffs, but perhaps owes a little to Blue Öyster Cults’ ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’? “It has that vibe,” laughs Steve, “and Cormac did use a cowbell on the recording so that seals the comparison.”
Cover to cover
Almost as impressive as the music on Paradise was the sleeve that housed them - a montage of photos of the band, their friends, and interests in a collage style reflective of Galway in that era (the 1986 and 1987 arts festival posters also used collage and bric-a-brac styles).
“We loved the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street montage and that set us on the path,” says Steve. “Each of the band brought in photos and memorabilia to personalise it, as well as key rings and 3D objects. The whole idea was to make it personal.”
The Stunning had built up a terrific head of steam on the back of relentless gigging and the singles ‘Got to Get Away’, ‘Half Past Two’, ‘Brewing Up A Storm’, and ‘Romeo’s On Fire’, resulting in Irish audiences sending Paradise to No 1 when it came out in summer 1990. It stayed at the top for five weeks and went multi-platinum. Ireland then, as now, was in recession, and the band wanted to make the album affordable for the public.
“We were always giving out about the price of records at home and when we went to the States we couldn’t believe how cheap CDs were,” says Steve. “When Paradise came out we wanted to make it affordable so we printed a sign on the artwork saying ‘Pay no more than £4.99’. Usually the price is up to the shop but they couldn’t change it. People really respected us for that and said fair play.”
Along with all the above, Joe Wall also admits to two further factors in the band’s success.
“Part of the appeal was that we were a good band to go and see, we were lively and good to dance to,” he says, before laughing, “we were also in our early 20s and weren’t the worst looking lads so that helped appeal to the girls.”
For The Stunning’s Seapoint show the band will perform Paradise, non-album singles, and tracks from second album Once Around The World. Joe is looking forward to it as Seapoint has a special resonance.
“Seapoint is ideal,” he declares. “Some of the best gigs we did in Galway were there, so it’s appropriate we are back there and it will be nostalgic for people to see the band there.”
Tickets are available at www.roisindubh.net, from the Ticket Desk at OMG, Shop Street (formerly Zhivago), and The Róisín Dubh.