All Kinds of Everything

Dublin Event Guide - 1998

Colette Colfer casts her vote in the Hothouse Flowers song competition

Eurovision fever has been and gone for another year. A craze for all things kitsch erupted onto television screens during the last two weeks, filling Euro appetites with anecdotes, flashbacks, and nostalgic clips outlining the birth and evolution of Eurovision. A clip from 1987 flashes on RTE. Hothouse Flowers with an energy epitomising youth and an obvious lust for life joyously screams out from the screen "Don't Go." Photo of band Liam O Maonlai bounds through the sea, flailing limbs splashing in all directions and the band sport happy smiling faces framed by shoulder length hair which is blowing wildly in the air. They look like they're starting on a big exciting adventure ready to plunder the world and have buckets of fun in the process. The band, born from a busking troubadour, seem in touch with their roots.

Way back then, it seemed that Hothouse Flowers were waltzing on the perimeters of not only European adulation but international success. People like Bono used to say to them "if there's anything I can do to help, anything, just ask". With support like that being landed at their feet, expectations were high. Very high. No one would've guessed that just five years later the band would split and the dreams be disbanded. But now they're back - well three of them are. Liam O'Maonlai, Peter O'Toole & Fiachna O'Braonain have regrouped and just released an album "Born". When I met the three of them in the Shelbourne bar, they're sipping tea from high class china cups and neat little sandwiches sit primly on silver trays in front of them. Gone are the youthful smiles of exuberance and excitement, gone are the flowing locks of hair, gone it seems, is that sense of adventure, that boyish charm and effervescent energy. They are now men with families and with an agenda. It seems that the album is wrongly called "Born" - they omitted the prefix "re-" or the suffix "-again". Excepting the odd giggle or snigger from Fiachna as he relates some past exploits, the Hothouse Flowers not only have gotten old, they have gotten very SERIOUS.

The music on "Born" has veered away from more traditional instruments and there's an inclusion of classical sounds. Cello's and violins are featured strongly giving an orchestral feel which they say "for the emotion, works perfect". Mick Ingman, previous collaborator with Portishead was drafted in to write the orchestral parts and unlike previous albums, all three of them wrote songs on "Born". There's a universal feel and a pop sound to the album which is more radio friendly than any of their earlier releases and deals in themes ranging from love, determination, fate and the future as destiny, and the past. The intervening years between their last album "Songs From the Rain" and this year's "Born" were filled with a variety of events for the three lads. Liam teamed up with Andy White and Tin Finn, presented a television programme and got married. Peter and Fiachna toured with Michelle Shocked amongst other things. And in their minds, all three of them juggled around their past exploits with The Flowers. Now, with the acquirement of hindsight they come up with a variety of answers as to why they had to eventually split in 93.

Instead of celebrating their youthful vitality and slight naivety of the early years, they berate themselves. "It was like a big party" says Liam, "this ball started rolling, and we went along with it. We hadn't stood back and said "this is what we're letting ourselves in for, this is how our heads are going to be fucked, this is what we may do to each other, this is what we have to be careful not to do to each other." Peter interjects "we were lousy talkers and even worse listeners". They talk about their lack of communication skills with each other and how fast everything was moving. It became time for them to stop, look around and figure out exactly what was going on - not only in their careers but in their personal lives. Liam likens the band at that stage to a broken ship which was still at sea but had to be brought in to land to be fixed.

So why do they bother making music, why are they back together again. "It's a variety of things" says Fiachna, "it's a bit of making a living, it's a bit of being creative every day". "It's a bit of world domination" quips Liam. "At the moment" Fiachna continues "we're pretty ambitious with this record coming out - perhaps even more than we ever were before." I surmise that this time around it's more about making a few bob. But when I say this, there's an uncomfortable pause, as if they're not sure how to react, they stutter "It's just. It's em it's, it's". Liam says "the songs say an awful lot". "There's a bit of proving ourselves, we know we're good" says Fiachna. Symbolically Liam likens the band in their present formation, not to a ship, but to a football team waiting to score the goal, or a strong man trying to hit the bell. "Bing!".