Legendary Irish folk rockers Horslips are no more. Barry Devlin, the bass player and vocalist behind the iconic act, has called it: they simply can’t carry on under the name, minus several members. From now on will be playing under their own names, if at all.
It’s time then, for some nostalgia, with the group putting out a gigantic collection that summarises their 50-year career, something only possible because of an almost decade-long fight to regain the rights to their music that spanned the 90s and early 00s. The 35 disc, 500 track box set called ‘More Than You Can Chew’ is an ‘all you can eat’ of Horslips career.
“In defence of what can only be called ‘wretched excess’,” Devlin says to us in a sparkling conversation spanning Horslips’ career, “it wasn’t our idea. It’s done with Snapper Music who do this with legacy bands, putting out very large record collections. It’ll be a very limited edition costing a great deal of money, but we really liked the idea. So we went for it. It was very strange, and sometimes revelatory, as you forget a lot in 50 years. There are two CDs of essentially rehearsals, and it’s interesting to hear material making its way to the final shape. And to hear tracks that we probably should have put out, but we didn’t at the time.”
The story that started it all for Horslips is quite incredible. “The most bizarre thing is that we were pretending to be in a commercial, pretending to be in a band,” Devlin recalls. “We worked in advertising. And then we became a real band. In the 70s, we were doing an ad for Harp, and we were the fake band for the ad. One of the dancers in the video is Paul McGuinness, later manager of U2. It shows how small Dublin was at the time.”
“We loved it so much we decided it would be a great lark to do it for real, and we set out to start rehearsing. Gradually the idea of that Horslips ethos, Irish traditional tunes incorporated into songs we wrote ourselves, that arrived quite early. By the time we did our second album, we’d written Dearg Doom, the song we’re best known for, I think. We paid for our own recordings and then licensed them through RCA, Atlantic, and so on. For better or worse, we had artistic control. Enough rope to hang ourselves, perhaps.”
Later legal problems around ownership of the music became a big thing. “When the band broke up we took our eyes off the ball so badly that we had legal issues,” Devlin recalls. “We suddenly had a situation where we didn’t own our own music, and we had to fight to get our rights back. Part of it was that when the band broke up, we shook hands and went on to part two of our lives. And we all had those part twos. I went off and wrote and directed a lot of pop videos and stuff like that.”
“We really weren’t watching where what we had done with Horslips was going. It was catastrophic. Once we got our stuff back, we had a look at it again, and did some reworkings, an acoustic album called ‘Roll Back’. And we began to play again. Second time around it was absolutely fantastic. First time, it was just what we did. Age and wisdom told us anything else could have happened. Most people don’t get a second shot.”
“We actually played for 12 years in our second coming, for longer than in our first one, and we loved it. Really, really loved it.”