How do I go about introducing one of my favourite bands of all time to you? You may not have heard of Hothouse Flowers or you may vaguely remember their biggest radio hit “Don’t Go”, but if you miss an opportunity to see them perform live, you are truly missing out on a night of pure musical magic.
My very well-travelled best friend Jen discovered Hothouse Flowers on her first visit to Australia in 1988. She turned me on to them right around the time I had broken up with the only man I ever lived with. I fell in love with their People (1988) album in 1989 and it became the soundtrack of that summer. Home (1990) and Songs From The Rain (1993) are also filled with blooming fantastic songs (I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Born (1998) and Into Your Heart (2004)) and the band’s combination of rock, soul, blues, gospel, and Celtic & African folk influences is what has always made them so interesting and appealing to a widely diverse audience. They are hugely successful in Ireland and Australia and have toured extensively throughout Europe, the United States and Canada.
Lead singer Liam O’ Maonlai’s (pronounced O’Mwan-lee) voice is powerful, soulful, unforgettable, and should be proclaimed a national treasure in Ireland, if not the world. Bono once declared him to be, “…the best white boy soul singer on the planet.” He plays keyboards, tin whistle, bodhrán and an assortment of instruments and is a musician of the finest caliber. Liam, his long time mate, guitarist Fiachna O’ Braonain, drummer Dave Clarke and bassist Kieran Kennedy currently form the precious orchid of music that is Hothouse Flowers.
The Flowers last played Kingston in August 2005 and they’re back on August 25th at Time To Laugh. To have another opportunity to see them in Kingston is the best news I’ve had all summer!
Through the wonders of modern technology and the phenomenon that is Facebook, I was able to ask Hothouse Flowers guitarist, Fiachna O’ Braonain some questions about himself, the band and music in general.
Christine: I know that you and Liam met in high school and have been playing together, on and off, ever since. What was your vision for the band when you first started out and how has it changed over the years?
Fiachna: Originally it was all about filling whatever space we found ourselves in with upfulness…the kind of uplift that happens with genuine enthusiasm…which we had in bucketloads…kind of inspired by the spirit of soul music. Showing off…not being afraid, and having the conviction that anything was possible. Not much has changed really…it’s just how you present that…we do it with perhaps a little more stealth now!
Christine: The original line-up was you, Liam, Peter O’Toole, Jerry Fehily and Leo Barnes. Can you explain how the band’s line-up has changed and why?
Fiachna: The line up originally changed after we took a break of almost two years where everything was questioned. We decided to reform as a three piece… me, Liam and Peter. Then as we got into the studio we added drums and bass again…initially Wayne Sheehy and Rob Malone for the Born album and tour, and then Dave Clarke joined on drums for Into your Heart. Kieran Kennedy has been playing bass with us for almost five years now.
Christine: Where is Peter and what is he up to?
Fiachna: He moved to Spain with his family several years ago, and has been making music and producing.
Christine: Can you tell us a bit about Dave Clarke and Kieran Kennedy’s musical backgrounds before they joined the band?
Fiachna: Both were members of Blue in Heaven…Dave being a founder member. They have both played in all kinds of bands, Dave most notably with Warren Zevon, Kieran with the Black Velvet Band who often toured with Hothouse Flowers and also featured his wife Maria Doyle Kennedy…who was an original member of the Flowers too! Long time family basically!
[Note: Maria Doyle Kennedy has a gorgeous singing voice and is a recording artist and a wonderful actress who is perhaps best known for her role in the movie The Commitments, as backup singer Natalie Murphy, and more recently, as Queen Catherine of Aragon in The Tudors on CBC.]
Christine: It’s time to get a big nostalgic. What is your fondest memory of The Incomparable Benzini Brothers?
Fiachna: The freedom of it all…and putting a load of change from the streets behind the bar at Tobins pub in Dublin, and getting into the Pink Elephant free…it was Dublin’s only late club at the time!
Christine: How did it feel to be the object of Bono’s admiration and to be touted as the next big thing to come out of Ireland back in the early days of the band? Was the pressure a bit much?
Fiachna: It was an honour in a way. We felt delighted, although we possibly also felt it was completely justified, such was our confidence. I felt no pressure at all.
Christine: What was that whirlwind period in the world spotlight like for you, both personally and collectively?
Fiachna: Great fun, exciting…a truly amazing time. It did take its toll personally at times but life does that anyway!
Christine: You were quoted in Downbeat magazine (in 1990) as saying that Irish bands in general, “don’t get concerned with stardom. We just enjoy ourselves and tour. Stardom isn’t as real as your family or where you come from.” Do you still subscribe to that ideology?
Fiachna: Yes I do…stardom is a figment of other people’s imagination and has no tangibility to it really.
Christine: How do you feel about the music scene in Ireland today as compared to when you started?
Fiachna: I’m not aware enough…my kids fill me in from time to time. There is always a sense of throwback in Ireland. A sense of music being carried on, or a torch being passed…and from the music I have heard from my daughter’ generation that is pretty evident. It’s what makes tradition survive…by being kept alive.
Christine: What inspired you when it came to your contributions to ‘People’?
Fiachna: Doing the best job I could really. The songs were all there prior to recording and all I wanted to do was participate in getting the best possible take. Guitar wise, Clive Langer had some great ideas for sounds and parts that he helped me put together.
Christine: What is your personal songwriting process like and does it differ from the other members of the band?
Fiachna: We used to write in a jamming situation always…just make up songs all day…and then arrange them afterwards. I tend to write lyrics first now then find a melody and a feel before recording them. Probably a more structured way of working, but not necessarily better.
Christine: What was the first album you bought?
Fiachna: Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack!
Christine: During my research through early press, you counted among your musical influences the likes of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, The Band, Aretha Franklin and John Cougar Mellencamp. Who are you listening to today?
Fiachna: Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Grinderman, The Dead Weather, Bob Dylan, Irish sean nós singing, Iggy Pop, The Stooges and all the above too from time to time!
Christine: Do you think you’ll ever work with Daniel Lanois again?
Fiachna: He nicked a lyric from me in the pub about a year ago…maybe he has finished the song by now!
Christine: What did you take away from your experience of working with Michelle Shocked (in 1995)?
Fiachna: Craft, craft and more craft. She is a great songwriter and she really encouraged me to become a songwriter in my own right. She also encouraged me to sing lead vocals…an invaluable collaboration.
Christine: You performed a duet with Belinda Carlisle on her 2007 release, ‘Voila’. How did that come about?
Fiachna: My friend John Reynolds who was producing Belinda’s album called me to help out. I played guitar and cut basic tracks with John for the album as well as helping choose the songs. Then my main role was helping her with her French pronunciation…I am lucky to be a fluent speaker since I was a child so it is second nature to me. Then on Bonnie and Clyde, I laid down a guide vocal and they decided to keep it!
Christine: What’s your dream guitar/amp?
Fiachna: Vox AC30 and a Fender Twin Reverb running side by side.
Christine: When you’re not writing, recording and performing, where do you spend your time and what do you enjoy doing?
Fiachna: Hanging out with my friends and family…ideally with sun, sea, food and wine!
Christine: Are your twin daughters musically inclined? Do they have any interest in pursuing a career in music?
Fiachna: Both are very interested in music, and despite my occasional incantations of “Architecture, medicine…law!” they are pursuing creative paths. Drama and photography!
Christine: I know that Liam has released a couple of solo albums and you also play with Prenup, but do you have plans for a new Hothouse Flowers album and if so, when can we look forward to it?
Fiachna: We kinda do! Soon, hopefully…
Christine: What are some of your favourite songs to play?
Fiachna: All of them come alive every night…which is great. But I could single out Sweet Marie, This is It, Forevermore, Your love Goes On and Si Do Mhamó Í…I have also recently been singing a sean nós song, Amhrán na Trá Báine which I love doing.
Christine: Can you reveal any of the songs on the set list for this year’s tour? What can we expect in Kingston? Please say you’ll play Hallelujah Jordan!
Fiachna: We probably will play Hallelujah Jordan…it’ll be a mix of everything… just shout out a song and we will most likely oblige!
Christine: Thank you very much Fiachna for taking the time to answer my questions. Kingston’s fans are really looking forward to seeing you all again!
Hothouse Flowers’ discography can be found online at http://www.last.fm/music/Hothouse+Flowers and they can be found online at http://www.hothouseflowers.com, on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/hothouseflowersmusic and on Facebook.
Liam O’Maonlai’s solo album, “To Be Touched” can be ordered online at http://www.liamomaonlai.ie
PRENUP (Fiachna and Dave Clarke’s band with Cáit O Riordan of The Pogues) is delighted to announce the release of PRENUP “LIVE at the Crawdaddy” recorded at their performances in the Dublin venue in 2008. It is now available to download on iTunes alongside their studio album “Hell to Pay.” http://www.myspace.com/prenupmusic
HOTHOUSE FLOWERS are playing in Kingston on Tuesday, August 25, 2009: at Time To Laugh Comedy Club, 394 Princess Street. Doors 7:30 pm; Show 8:00 pm. $25 advance tickets are on sale at Brian’s Record Option, The Kingston Brewing Company, Kingston Sound Works and Time To Laugh Comedy Club during events. This is an S.D.G. Production. 613-542-LAFF (542-5233) www.timetolaugh.ca.