Flowers Blooming Again

From Ireland On Sunday - December 7, 1997


This month Hothouse Flowers play their first gigs in four years - Eugene Masterson met them

Where have all the Flowers gone? That seemed to be the question on many a person's lips since Hothouse Flowers mysteriously departed the scene some four years ago. Many were convinced they were dead and buried - like a plant that had withered away while its seeds began to blossom elsewhere.

We had heard that drummer Jerry Fehily and saxophone player Leo Barnes had departed the band.

Then we heard there was a split between the original three members - Liam O'Maonlai, Fiachna O'Braonain and Peter O'Toole - and their long-term manager, Robbie Wootton.

Even more bizarre was the news that O'Maonlai had fallen for the charms of a 19-year-old called Aoife on the set of a Christy Moore special at The Late Late Show. Information began to trickle through that they had a whirlwind romance, got married and had a baby son.

There were disconcerting rumblings that Fiachna had split from his partner, Jadzia Kaminsky - one of the people behind the charity, Cradle and the mother of his twin seven-year-old daughters. Kaminski is soon to move to Sarejevo for a year.

And then we had Liam fronting an Irish language music series on television as well as taking part in the ALT album and concert tour project with Andy White and Tim Finn. "Well, that's pretty much it," Liam chuckles at my summing up of their last few years. "Is there anything left to say now? We just took a break and did our own thing.

"When we came off the road, I actually hibernated in Howth. I hardly saw anyone except my brother and some local people. So I was kind of settled anyway."

It was through a bit of match-making by Eilish Moore, Christy's sister, that love began to sparkle between Liam and his now wife, Aoife, after the Late Late Show tribute show. "It took everyone, myself included, by surprise," he recalls. "I was tempted to go home quite early that night and this all happened. Aoife and Sorcha - her sister - came up and started chatting afterwards. Neither Aoife or myself really saw any possibility. We just thought we were from different worlds, different age groups. But I mean there is only a 12-year difference. My dad was eight years older than my mom, so it's not too far from a reality.

"So that was it. It was Eilish, working to and fro which intrigued me and started something going. It was natural, there was actually no seduction involved, for a change. "I'd say it took a year to really decide. It was quite an emotional roller coaster, I suppose. I was ready but she wasn't really, for a while. I gave her the space to let her decide what she wanted..." The couple now have a baby son, Cian, and live in south Dublin. Aoife came on tour with Liam when he was performing with ALT in Australia, America (?? no) and Europe.

Fiachna has two daughters, Liadain and Kasia. "They go to school in Monkstown," he says. "Liadain is learning the piano. She was learning the fiddle for a while. They're both into painting and they sing of course - Spice Girls songs, the odd Oasis song, and the odd Hothouse Flowers song since they heard the album."

He is engaged to his current partner, Suki. "We do intend getting married," he confirms. "I never thought I'd see the day a year ago, but I'm looking forward to it now." Peter took a few years off "hibernating" in Blessington with his partner, Theresa. They have a baby son, Doolin. Himself and Fiachna hooked up with Michelle Shocked for a while and recorded and toured with her.

"There was more touring to be done with Michelle and I just decided then that I just wanted to stay at home in the house I bought in Blessington," he explains. "I had a son who was born and part of taking a year off was to spend time at home and I hadn't really done that. Plus I wanted to get on with writing."

Hothouse Flowers first burst onto the Irish music scene in 1987 when they were signed up by the U2-owned Mother label and had a major Irish hit with Love Don't Work This Way. They were then signed by London records, part of the giant Polygram empire.

Their biggest hit, Don't Go, followed in 1988, and they performed it as the interval segment of that year's Eurovision. Three albums followed before their temporary departure from the scene four years ago.

Their new album will be released in March, to be preceded by the single You Can Love Me Now in February. "What's new is that I've stopped playing bass guitar," Peter reveals. "We got in a bass player a drummer. I was playing guitar, for years before the band started, so I went back to that. So that's given a whole new element, two guitar players. There's lots of loops and lots of fun. We all have individually and collectively written the album, songs written by ourselves and collectively. Plus we co-produced it ourselves with an engineer."

Now to the sore points. The Flowers are now looked after by a London-based manager following their split with Robbie Wootton. What happened?

"It was inevitable," sighs Liam. "That will all come out in due time. It was just an inevitable sort of thing. The chemistry wasn't right. He wanted strippers in the show," he jokes, in a tongue-in-cheek reference to lap dancers performing nightly sessions in the Wootton-owned Columbia Mills in Dublin. "So that was the end of that..." And their former colleagues Jerry and Leo?

"That's unfinished business as well," says Liam "Like, they weren't in at the formation of the band (which sprang from the Benzini Brothers) so that's how we kind of looked at it when we made the decision to continue working as the three of us, band wise. But it is very much unfinished business."