AMONG THE many storming music gigs I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in Galway, one of them was the first time I saw Hothouse Flowers, all of 30 years ago, during the arts festival, when they raised the roof and rocked the joint big time at the Burren Mount Hotel.
Still going strong, the Flowers roll into town again as part of this year’s Galway International Arts Festival programme when they strut their stuff at Monroe's Live on Friday July 22 at 8pm.
The group arrive here fighting fit having recently played Glastonbury as part of their latest touring circuit. “It’s been a couple of years since we last played there,” Liam Ó Maonlaí tells me. “It was nice to get back. My partner and our daughter came over with me as well, it’s a great place to bring a kid and then to see it through their eyes.”
I remark on the colourful wizard-like robe he wore for the Glastonbury gig. “That was an item of clothing I got in Mali,” Liam replies with a chuckle. “It’s a traditional African dress. It’s beautiful material and colour, it’s dyed with indigo. I was nearly not going to wear it onstage but then thought ‘to hell with it’.”
It’s hard to believe the group have been on the go for more than 30 years: Liam reflects on some of their permutations in that time.
“Maria Doyle Kennedy was our singer in our first incarnation," he says. "Our first bass player was Mikan Walker and he had a great approach to song-writing, it’s like he was about to build a cabinet or something; it wasn’t about waiting for inspiration it was ‘Now we are going to write a song’. His time with the Flowers was short-lived though because he’d been accepted into Art College in New York but he happened to be working with Peter O’Toole and asked him to replace him on bass.
"Peter hadn’t played bass before but he got himself one and then became our bass player. After Maria left I took over the main singing role. After a few years we came to a point where I couldn’t hack anymore the idea of being connected to this big monster of a company with people making decisions about my life without me even knowing what those people looked like.
“I took a year off and we then came back together as a trio without a drummer or a bass player. We toured the US, Europe, and Ireland, and that was a very exciting time for me because we had broken that bass-drum-guitar thing and were more into the realm of a lighter kind of musicality.
"There was a strong Planxty influence, with Peter particularly. He grew up across the road from Andy Irvine and used to babysit for him. Andy had introduced the bouzouki here and there were a pair of instrument makers in Donnybrook and Peter went to them and got a bouzouki made and he is still playing the same instrument today. That added a colour to the band, especially when we didn’t have drums, that I think was, and is, a worthy entity in itself.”
Recent interviews have hinted that a new album is maturing in the Hothouse. Liam spills some Flowery beans. “We’re all doing different things independent of the band but we performed a couple of years back for the Dublin Year of Culture in Windmill Lane and in payment for that gig they gave us a week’s recording time,” he begins. “They gave us a push-start into a new record; we had eight days there with a full crew looking after our every need. We played for hours every day and explored our collective muse which is something I’ve always been excited about, when we have this capability of creating something collectively.
"Somehow we had never managed to record a proper professional level until this time. We recorded four or five hours of music that we found so good that if we are bold and willing and let the thing go I think we might have something really nice. We’re now at the stage where we are trying to collectively say let’s take the risk and put this out there. It’s a slow process because we are all busy doing other things.”
These days the Hothouse Flowers come together and tour intermittently. Ó Maonlaí declares it an arrangement beneficial for both the group and himself. “Very much so," he says. "It just means I can say ‘Yes’ whenever I want, whether that be the Flowers or just me or me with different people. I like diversity. When we come back I feel we all do bring various things. There is great freedom in playing alone I find but there is also the appreciation of the experience that we have as a collective. We’re glad to be out of it and glad to be in it. Creatively, it’s living the dream.”
Liam is revved up for the group’s imminent trip west; “I’m very much looking forward to the gig, Galway is always special, my mum is from there so it’s home turf and it’s also Galway which is a multi-dimensional experience!”