NOW THAT we are in a recession, people are casting their minds back to the bleak 1980s and early 1990s when, as Tommy Tiernan said “you couldn’t get a job if you tried”.
For those who grew up during that time, The Stunning was their soundtrack. ‘Brewing Up A Storm’, ‘Half Past Two’, ‘Romeo’s On Fire’, and ‘Got To Get Away’ were the musical backdrop to the period when Italia 90 was in full swing and it looked like hope was on the end of the horizon.
Some 15 years after The Stunning officially disbanded, they remain much loved and will play The Black Box on Saturday December 27 at 8.30pm and the Royal Theatre Castlebar on Sunday 28 at 8pm.
In the beginning
The Stunning were formed in 1987 by students Steve Wall and Cormac Dunne. Although they were known as a Galway band, trumpeter Jimmy Higgins was the only native Galwegian in the group. Steve and Joe Wall were from Ennistymon and Derek Murray and Cormac Dunne were from Donegal.
However it was Jimmy and his trumpet playing that gave a truly ‘Galway’ stamp to The Stunning.
“My dad, Jimmy Higgins sr, played with showbands for many years,” says Jimmy. “All the showbands would have had the core rhythm section plus trumpet, trombone, and saxophone and that’s what ended up being a part of the music of The Stunning.
“Paddy Shutte, Donal Duggan and I would have been buddies growing up in Renmore and we all played in the local brass band that my dad set up. When The Stunning brass section auditions began I’d already started college down in Cork but Paddy and Donal went along.
“Based on their enthusiasm Steve Wall hired them on the spot but then they recommended that I come on board too. I missed the first couple of gigs with the band in The Hilltop Hotel in Salthill but as time went on I got more and more involved.”
Galway has long been a city where people from around the country converge to live the artistic life.
“Steve, Joe, and Cormac were living in a house in Terryland called An Clogher and that was sort of HQ for The Stunning,” says Jimmy. “They had all come to Galway as students and were in a band called New Testament.
“At the same time Derek Murray was running The Soul Solution club in Salthill and he had a guitar shop in town. Around that time Macnas were starting. Druid Theatre were going strong and the lads got various bits of work in that scene. Joe Wall and Leo Moran were good friends and were both involved in the early stages of Macnas. Steve got a part in one of the Druid Productions of a Tom Murphy play and sort of did some acting for a while.”
Around the same time, director Alan Parker was casting for a movie based on Roddy Doyle’s novel The Commitments.
“We auditioned as a whole band for The Commitments and they were on the brink of taking us on,” says Higgins. “At the time we were doing a lot of rare soul covers which would’ve come from the inspiration of Derek’s club on Wednesday nights at the Beach Hotel in Salthill. So the music that The Stunning played in the early days definitely fitted in with the sound that The Commitments played.
“I think Steve Wall got very close to getting the lead vocalist role and in the end it was between himself and Andrew Strong for the part of Deco Cuffe. They went with Strong in the end though.”
Between 1990 and 1994 The Stunning released four top selling albums and were more popular in Ireland than even U2, Nirvana, and Def Leppard.
“The thing about The Stunning was that we worked the country,” states Jimmy. “A lot of the popular Dublin bands sort of stayed within the Dublin scene but we went up and down the country. It was around the time of Italia 90 and Jack’s Army and there was a healthy appetite for live music. I think the fact that we worked so hard is why there’s still a big following for the band.”
The high point for The Stunning came during their years at Feile – the precursor to Witnness and Oxegen – and in 1992 they headlined Thurles ahead of Bryan Adams.
“We were the only band to do all the Feile gigs and we worked our way up the bill each year,” says Jimmy. “It all culminated in our headlining above Bryan Adams at the last Feile. On the strength of that we got the Fleadh in Finsbury Park in London alongside Van Morrison and The Pogues. Unfortunately we didn’t break into the English market in the same way The Saw Doctors did years later.”
The Stunning today
Since The Stunning split Jimmy Higgins has toured the world extensively with Riverdance and The Saw Doctors. In 2003 The Stunning re-formed to celebrate the re-release of their chart-topping album Paradise In The Picturehouse and since then have played at festivals around the country.
“It’s been really great the last few years and maybe that’s because we had time away,” says Jimmy. “When we did the AMP gig in The Warwick a few months ago we were sort of chatting about maybe re-visiting some of the songs we were working on towards the end of the band.
“There were two or three songs that we were planning to go into the studio to re-record. Unfortunately though time caught up with us but it’s definitely something we’ve discussed”
Check out www.thestunning.net to see the band’s performances at Electric Picnic.
For tickets contact the Town Hall on 091 - 569777. For tickets to the Castlebar show contact 0818 300 000 and see www.theroyal.ie