by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Once a year, at Christmas, I indulge another of my passions and write about music on this blog. This year I’m allowing myself a second such diversion to tell you how I could have been Bono. It’s a timely post as Bono and the U2 boys are all over the news again with their world tour commencing in Vancouver. I don’t mean that I could have been the lead singer of U2. Bono and I are the same age and height and, if I dyed mine too, we could have the same hair colour. No, I could have been Bono because at the same time as U2 formed and became a rock group, Andrew Basquille, Eugene Murphy and I formed FactorOne and, for a while, like U2, were amongst a plethora of gigging / recording bands in late seventies / early eighties Dublin. Then, of course, our paths diverged. U2 became the biggest rock group in the world and FactorOne didn’t even merit a footnote in the history of Irish rock.
“Years have passed, whole generations …” [Beauty and the Beast]
Years turned into decades and now, almost 4 decades after Andrew and I first successfully tuned our acoustic guitars to Eugene’s piano, we’re staging a 30th anniversary re-union concert at The Unitarian Church in Dublin on Friday next, 22 May. The “30th anniversary” thing was Andrew’s idea and is a bit random. It refers to our career apotheosis, our zenith, our magical moment in March 1985. We were representing Ireland at a youth rally in Rome with our song “Yes to you” (which featured more recently on “The Hit”, a TV show like “The Voice” but centred around songs rather than singers). “Yes to you” is a slow ballad which builds gradually around guitars, piano and voices. By the time it reached the first chorus the cigarette lighters were out (these were pre mobile phone days) and 20,000 flickering lights set the Palaeur ablaze. It was an unforgettable, magical moment the likes of which we never experienced again.
“Keep on Movin’, flying high, don’t stay on the ground now, reach for the sky” [“Keep on Movin’]
Our pathway to fame was blocked by many obstacles, not least the fact that we found it far easier to support our growing families by activities other than a crazy musical dream. The gigging stopped as the children arrived. Instead of schlepping instruments and amps we manfully moved baby strollers and high chairs. Late night performances became all night vigils as crying children replaced screaming fans (Ok, so that never happened. The teething children, yes but not the screaming fans). We spent the remainder of the 80s and most of the 90s standing pitch side watching our children play team games, not stage side waiting for our call. And we have results to show for it: 12 children between the 3 of us.
“He takes bits and pieces of worn out timber, wood that’s lying around” [“Bits and Pieces”]
But the songs never stopped. We continued to write, both separately and together, weaving stories from the bits and pieces of our lives as sons, husbands, fathers and friends. One or two of our later songs are inspired by geo-political themes but mostly our songs are about relationships, commemorating and celebrating real people in our lives, the threshold and milestone moments. When we started planning next Friday’s concert, we had well over 50 songs from which to choose the eventual 25 that we’ll perform. And we’re deeply proud of these songs because they’re real, hammered into shape on the anvil of life, formed by the myriad joys and on-going sorrows of day to day living.
“The pencil sketcher draws a face of grey, illuminating forms of thought” [“The Dancer”]
The set list spans well over thirty years and includes songs from the late 70s when we were still at UCD. You can detect Eugene’s Philosophy studies in the words of “The Dancer” (” … illuminating forms of thought …”) but this 35 year old tune has now re-interpreted itself as a great country-pop tune with a killer hook. Andrew’s “Books in the Attic”, a perfect piece of early 80s reggae, has an aura of timeless classic about it and sounds just as good “unplugged” as it did when we did it with a full band. The newer songs are definitely singer-songwriter style with clear undertones of bluegrass or else more mainstream folk-pop like Josh Rouse. Our naturally acoustic line up of 2 guitars, piano and harmony vocals suits our style and our songs and maybe we would have been U2 had this style been as popular in the 80s as it these days!
If you’re in Dublin next week we’d love to see you on Friday, 22 May at The Unitarian Church at 8pm. We’ve been in rehearsals for the past month or so and the old magic is definitely back. In preparation for the show we’ve created a Facebook page which has some rare 80s video footage and there’ll also be a new website where we’ll be posting all our recordings, outtakes, rough mixes etc.
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique marketing agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on their strategy for MICE and Business Tourism. Today, however, he is songwriter, guitarist and singer with FactorOne.