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Flowers come in from the cold

Evening Herald - December 1, 1997

by Eamonn Carr

They said they'd be back. And they've kept their word. It's just that it took a bit longer than anyone anticipated.But not only are the Hothouse Flowers rehearsing for a few gigs before Christmas, they're also considering the track-listing of songs for the new album they finished recording in September. Putting together the band after a few years of separation is often more difficult than forming the band in the first place. Any number of personalities can have their own agenda when sifting through the debris of personal relationships, musical politics, business affairs, financial entanglements, public virtues or private vices. A healthy-looking Fiachna O'Braonain is nobody's fool. "It's a step at a time," he declares.


Liam O'Maonlai, older, wiser, even slimmer, hair-cropped in a functional manner, nods agreement. "It's a whole new thing," he says. Sitting among amps and flight cases in their rehearsal room, the duo who, as the Benzini Brothers formed the creative nucleus of the original band which was once hailed as the logical follow-up to U2, take me through the timetable of their voyage of self-discovery. According to Fiachna, it was Liam who called a band meeting while they were touring before Christmas of 1993 to discuss their mutual future "It was in the Stormont Hotel," says Fiachna conscious of a curious irony. The subject of the debate was a temporary split for the band who'd toured the world and had headlined the RDS. "A year off," says the guitarist. "A year with no commitments to each other or our band, with no office, with no plans being made. Nothing. That happened and at the end of that year we still weren't quite ready. Throughout that time we were still in touch with each other and all went off on our own little journeys and it was just a bit of space. We were ten years older than when we first started and we just needed a break."


Were the musicians aware that things would never be the same again? Were they aware of the risk they were taking disbanding a popular group? "We needed to feel the fresh air of the possibility that we wouldn't keep going," says Liam, explaining why they had to risk everything. "For me it was too definite. The band was a big long corridor that was being decorated and I didn't like the way it was being decorated. I felt there was no air coming in at all, no influences that were going to stimulate us or bring us to places that would surprise us." It wasn't until later that the possibility of not re-forming became an issue. "When we started the move to come back together again was when we actually verbalised the possibility that we maybe didn't want to come back together," says Liam. "That set me free. At last I'd said it. Because it had been going on in my mind for a long time. Then we were able to deal with it and see. We looked then instead at what damage we had done to each other and could we repair that if needs be. And then do we still want to play with each other? Then that was the priority, to see what we meant to each other and what we neglected as dignified human beings operating with each other. Once that went in, suddenly there was n intriguing reason to stay in the band, a purposeful reason. Neither Liam, Fiachna or bass-player Peter O'Toole were idle during their time apart. First Liam flew to Australia to visit his uncle. He was still coming to terms with his fathers' death.


"Then I lived in Howth for a year and a half and dealt with grief," he says. "Coming off the road after 10 years, I didn't realise it but I was really quite dazed. I didn't know what I wanted but I got over that." Later he would record an album with Andy White and Tim Finn. This further delayed the Flowers come-back. Meanwhile Peter had set up his own home-studio and was mastering modern recording technology and writing songs. "I was working with Michelle Shocked a lot during this time," says Fiachna. "Which was great. You learn so much. It put away a lot of lifestyle myths about rock'n'roll that I built up. That you have to have a few beers after a show and you have to have this mad energy and so on and I kinda bought into a lot in the previous 10 years. With no regrets," he adds with a raucous laugh.


Now that they're again working well as a unit, the Flowers are attempting to ensure they can keep it together.To this end they've taken the unique and enlightened step of working with a counsellor. "We have a relationship with a woman called Marie Keenan who acts as a fourth party and who bought us into dangerous places," reveals Liam. "It is so natural." A courageous move for a fragile band, surely? "It takes a bit of courage," concedes Fiachna. "When you think of it now it would take more courage not to do it," states Liam. "Cos it's such a safe haven. If something really heavy comes up now I know I can bring it up there. Yet we try and push at working things out ourselves." After prolonged soul-searching the trio believe they have something special together. Something worth working to develop. "We have a chemistry now that we've put to work and made a record," says Fiachna. "And we're going to take another chemistry that plays those songs on a stage."