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Lifestyle & Leisure

Hothouse Flowers still fresh as a daisy after 30+ years

Wednesday, 29th May, 2019 4:35pm

When I call Hothouse Flowers guitarist Fiachna Ó Braonáin, he is on the school run.

It’s a routine the Dubliner is well into the swing of, balancing family life with a radio show along with his work with Hothouse Flowers, now a bastion of the Irish rock industry after more than 30 years in the game.

“We’re a while on the go now,” he laughs. “There was a time when we were being dictated to and we were in that classic cycle. Now we operate at our own pace.”

Indeed, the conveyor belt of touring, recording, touring on repeat is one that the band became painfully accustomed to, rarely stopping to catch their breath for ten years while signed to London Records in the 1990s.

Their debut album ‘People’ took off with the success of the piano rock classic ‘Don’t Go’, propelling the band to a brief stardom which took its own direction, culminating in burnout and apathy.

“We were non-stop, with very little time at home to come up for air,” Ó Braonáin remembers. “Then life progresses, people have kids, families, and it gets challenging to maintain that kind of pace.”

It was the death of band frontman Liam Ó Maonlaí’s father in late 1993 that prompted the band to take stock of their weariness and take some time out. They cancelled an American tour, and Ó Braonáin recalls how poetically Ó Maonlaí put it at the time.

“He said ‘I need to spend four seasons go by at home’. We hadn’t even been able to do that. It wasn’t a surprise. I think his father passing sort of gave Liam the strength to be able to address the situation.”

Ó Braonáin kept busy in the intervening years; he worked and released albums with American singer Michelle Shocked and with PreNup, an amusingly-titled trio of then-recent divorcees featuring Ó Braonáin, Hothouse Flowers bandmate Dave Clarke and former Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan.

He still presents the ‘Late Date’ music programme on RTE Radio One at weekends, also standing in for other shows on occasions. He produced the ‘Poetic Champions’ series for TodayFM a few years back, and has written music for TV.

Perhaps, I ask, none of these projects would have happened without Hothouse Flowers taking a break?

“It’s entirely possible. I don’t think the band would’ve lasted if we hadn’t taken the break. It made everyone shed their dependence on Hothouse Flowers. For me personally, it caused me to explore other options in music and elsewhere. It got me into some amazing things, you know.

“It has made the band experience richer, coming back into it with new stories to tell, not only to each other but musically as well.”

Ó Braonáin met frontman Ó Maonlaí while the pair were attending Coláiste Eoin in Booterstown, Dublin. Since then, they have remained the driving force behind Hothouse Flowers, to such an extent that you sense the whole thing might be bound by a strange sense of mutual understanding, rather than meticulous planning.

“We haven’t done a rehearsal in at least 20 years!” Fiachna laughs. “It sounds ridiculous. We might run over a song or two in soundcheck, but I guess we’ve been playing together so regularly for so long, we don’t feel a need for it.”

Ever since their reunion, Hothouse Flowers have been flying solo; they have released a handful of records, moving on from London Records and self-releasing ‘Let’s Do This Thing’ in 2016. While families and other commitments have prevented them from writing together frequently since, Ó Braonáin says he’d love to write another album. However, he says the ongoing supply of gig bookings keeps the band ticking.

“The phone keeps ringing, people wanting us to play. Gigs keep coming in. We’ve made a few records, and the whole thing seems much less complicated.

“There’s a lot more freedom in the shows and the setlists. We’ve thrown away the format, when we get up on stage we follow each other. There’s twists and turns, we decide in the moment, and that keeps it exciting not just for us, but the audience too. They’re probably thinking ‘what are they doing now?!’”

Hothouse Flowers headline the Cork Rocks as it returns to Cork Racecourse Mallow on Friday 14 June. A free shuttle bus will be in operation from Mallow town and train station. For more information and hospitality options visit corkracecourse.ie.

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