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Lifestyle & Leisure

Hothouse Flowers are still blooming 38 years on

Wednesday, 19th December, 2018 4:58pm

With artists’ careers ever more fleeting today, longevity has become the exception rather than the rule.

So with 38 years under their belt, Hothouse Flowers are not merely an institution of Irish rock music; they are a proud bastion of staying power in an increasingly volatile music industry.

30 years since the four-piece's high-spirited single ‘Don’t Go' hit the airwaves, it has remained active, regularly playing live and releasing its seventh album ‘Let’s Do This Thing’ online in 2016.

The so-called grind, though, is not part of Hothouse Flowers’ modus operandi. In fact, as frontman Liam Ó Maonlaí attests, taking things down a peg is likely the reason they have kept it together.

“We’re a band now that, if a gig comes, we go and do it, but we’re not on the machine that we were on back in those days,” the shaggy-haired singer says. “Now I get excited about a gig. We still do a two or three week tour every now and then and I do like it. But I also like coming home.”

Calling relentless touring schedules “unnatural” and “unmerciful”, Liam adds that he feels the band is in a position to go to “great musical heights, because we’re not exhausted”.

He says the years of not making a profit from touring took a toll. “We were filling big houses, and that sort of stuff makes you think ‘well if this isn’t working, then why are we doing this this way?’, you know? Things like that can eat you up on the inside, especially when we were just getting on with it and nobody seemed to want to ask ‘is this ship a healthy ship?’

“Now, it’s a little bit clearer. There are no faces behind closed doors, it’s all us. It’s much healthier.”

Always reflective and reserved, Liam Ó Maonlaí has always exuded a certain confidence. Such an assuredness no doubt stems from his youth, when he pushed back against his parents’ wishes when choosing to pursue a life of music.

He says constantly acquiescing to the demands of the industry made him feel like he was part of the exact life he thought he was escaping by pursuing music.

“Living a rock and roll life was a choice not to live the so-called norm, not to follow what was expected of an adult male at that time.

“It was about stepping away from that and inventing life according to my own energies, my own abilities, my own talents, my own needs. And at a certain point it looked like that was being taken away. And now we’ve claimed it back.”

While his parents’ reservations thankfully dissipated, Liam’s lust for creating art has never wavered. When he is not playing with the Flowers, he works and gigs his solo project, takes part in trad sessions in pubs around the country, supports causes he feels are important, and enjoys life.

In 2008 he visited Mali with traditional musician Paddy Keenan, meeting, performing for and playing with local musicians as part of the ‘Dambé: The Mali Project’ documentary.

Hothouse Flowers tour less frequently these days, though you can still catch them regularly on the circuit. They recently played Dublin’s iconic Olympia, and will grace Cork Opera House this New Year’s Eve.

I ask Liam about growing up in Clonskeagh, in southern Dublin, and he recalls the strength of the culture at the time. In the ‘70s, he explains, culture was being “reappreciated” in the capital with the likes of The Dubliners, Joe Geaney and Seán Ó Riada. He says both parents, his father an engineer, his mother an actress and musician, became involved.

“Everybody was rubbing shoulders. There was this rich activity that was not orchestrated, and I can only imagine it was a volcanic, energetic time. I was being taught songs in Irish when I was still learning to speak, and I didn’t know they were songs. I was learning all this stuff before I was even old enough to understand or appraise it.”

In the wake of seeming growing division and discontent in the world, Liam says music “allows you to survive through bleak times”.

“That’s what they try and ban it in some places. You see a woman in the desert in Mali and she’s playing a drum when she should be putting all her energy into finding food.

“For some reason, a lot of energy goes into making music. When you come across a community where music is more important than daily life, that’s healthy. And I feel there’s hope for us yet, if we have that.”

Hothouse Flowers play Cork Opera House in association with Murphy's Stout on Monday 31 December. Tickets are available from corkoperahouse.ie.

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