There is only so much “Diddley Diddley” music you can stand. The Rogues have never really been a true Irish band, a folk band or a Country-Rock band, having always maintained that we are a punk band in the true spirit of the word; we don’t care what we play or how we play it, if it’s a good song, we’ll do it, whatever the genre and whoever the audience is. Irish diddley stuff at a bike rally? Rock music at a wedding? Yep, we’ll do it.
However, I was spending a lot of time playing banjo or mandolin-led music and it was perhaps in response to this that I bought Neil Young’s latest album. Now, he’s never been a laugh-a-minute kind of bloke noted for his lighthearted approach to song writing, but “Mirrorball” is a particularly weighty record full of heavy riffs and intense themes. Using Pearl Jam as the backing band, it has some great tunes on it and features Young’s distinctive, chiming guitar sound, but it’s not what you’d want to listen to on a Summer’s day driving through the countryside. It opens with “Song X” a dense, grungy sea shanty that sets the tone for the duration. On “I’m The Ocean” Young declares that, ‘people my age, they don’t do the things I do’ which is exactly what makes him such an exciting, curmudgeonly old sod who never does what people expect him to do. And which is why The Rogues have never really fitted into any musical pigeonhole. Where we differ in attitude is that on “Mirrorball” none of the proper songs are under four minutes long and many are a good deal longer, whereas we’ve always tried to get them over and done with in under two minutes. That’s what you get for having seen the Ramones I guess.
I decided that seeing as how I’d been singing about Ireland every week for a couple of years, it was time to go and experience the real thing. Which was why, in the summer, a fairly newly pregnant (phew) Wendy and I flew on a Fokker 50 (the pilot separated from the passengers by a drawn curtain) and hired a car to travel around Southern Ireland to visit as many places in the songs as possible. We picked the car up in Dublin (home of Molly Malone) driving through Mullingar (“Rocky Road To Dublin”) to stay in Galway (“Galway Races” etc) for two nights. There, we went to a few pubs, one where we saw a few blokes, surrounded by Spanish tourists, playing traditional music but looking totally bored and really just going through the motions. In the hotel bar that night we watched a Country & Western band. Next day we went out to the Connemara National Park (“Hills Of Connemara”) which was truly beautiful. From there we took a very circuitous route through Athenry (the fields were particularly low-lying) onto Limerick (where there was an old lady) to Tipperary (it was a long way) before ending up in Cork (near the ‘sweet Cobh’ mentioned in “The Irish Rover”) for the night. We saw a band in the hotel bar – playing Country & Western. After a couple of nights there, we passed through Waterford, up to see “The Curragh Of Kildare” (a racecourse) called in to the Newgrange monuments on the River Boyne before going back into Dublin for a couple of nights. On one of the nights we’d been invited to a wedding by Louise and Carl, two regular Rogues fans. We knew nobody apart from the couple but were absolutely welcomed with open arms by everyone there, all asking me to sing them a few songs. I declined. It didn’t feel right that a lad from Sheffield should sing Irish songs to a load of Irish people living in Ireland. Next day, on an early morning stroll around Dublin, we stumbled across a film crew shooting scenes for a forthcoming film about Michael Collins starring Liam Neeson. At least I now knew what I was singing about but as for the music? Well, there’s only so much Country & Western you can stand!