When Joe Solo wanted someone to help bring his We Shall Overcome idea to Ireland, he had only one person in mind – Niall McGuirk, part of the Hope Collective and a group of people who played a crucial – and largely unsung – roll in live music in this country.
To meet Niall McGuirk now, you’d be hard pressed to guess that he was part of something revolutionary, something that helped change the entire music scene in Ireland. As the driving force behind the Hope Collective (although he would modestly claim to have been just a part of it), McGuirk helped some of the finest US and European bands play alongside their Irish counterparts for the best part of 15 years.
“There were a few venues on the local scene”, he remembered of the pre-Hope days, as State meets in a Dublin vegetarian restaurant,”but they were very well established and as a kid, they were pretty hard to get into because of the licensing laws. Very few bands came over to Ireland, so they were generally used by local bands. The bigger name bands would play places like the SFX and those gigs were expensive enough. The bands that I was into weren’t coming over so I started writing to them saying, why don’t you come to Ireland and they’d say that no-one had asked them before. That was how it started”.
Sounds easy enough, but take into account that McGuirk was 16 at the time. “The first band we picked up were The Membranes. They said they’d come, so we took out the Hot Press Yearbook and went through venue after venue, seeing if we could book anywhere where kids could go. We got a place called New Books for a Monday night and that was it. It wasn’t a grand plan, we just started with The Membranes and then people started ringing me for gigs. We didn’t bring bands over, they brought them-selves and we just helped them along the way”.
Hope grew in numbers (including Niall’s future wife Miriam) and their philosophy became more definite. “We all paid into the gigs. It meant we didn’t have a guest list but also that we were part of it as well. It seemed the right way to do it, it made sense, there was no expectation of getting something back – you just did it to help out”. A large part of it was also making sure that Hope was a national concern, not just Dublin. “We used to try and get bands over on a Thursday ferry on the weekend special and get them gigs on every day before they went back on Tuesday. We’d try and get them into Trinity College on a Friday lunchtime, pay them some money and try them in other places around the country”.
As their reputation grew, Hope became the Irish promoter of choice for more and more international bands, including Nomeansno, NOFX, Babes In Toyland, MDC and Spermbirds. They also staged Green Day’s Irish debut on a Sunday afternoon gig at The Attic (now The White Horse) in 1991. It wasn’t quite the legendary event it could have been, with Hope losing £50 on the gig. “I was in town doing some last minute Christmas shopping”, remembers PR guru Pete Murphy. “I knew Niall was organising an afternoon gig for this band on Lookout Records, called Green Day. I knew their first couple of records, and I’d always support the Hope gigs when I could, so I took some time out to pop in and catch the show. Armed as ever with my trusty walkman recorder I headed in and, along with, I guess, 25 other people, caught a great gig. I still have that tape somewhere”.
If one band became inexorably linked with Hope, it was Fugazi. “People in England were telling us that there wasn’t much in Ireland”, says Ian Mackaye of the band. “They said we’d lose money and there weren’t any gigs but we were just blown away. We had such a good time. At that time, Fugazi had come straight out of the DC underground. We did three months touring in Europe with no record out. We existed as part of a community that supported each other based on ideals. We were always looking for like-minded people but it wasn’t hard because they were contacting us. If people came to us, they were on the right wavelength because we weren’t on anybody else’s radar”.
Ian remembers their first visit well, even if it was for dubious reasons. “At our first gig in McGonagle’s I was so sick that I had to do the show sitting down. We missed the ferry and had to load all the gear in through the crowd, which was insane. I couldn’t really sing. I think Guy sang ‘Waiting Room’ that night, which was really unusual. We stayed at Niall’s parents’ house”. He laughs. “I think we missed the ferry three times. I don’t think we made it easy for Niall”.
For McGuirk, the success of bands like Green Day brought a noticeable change, as the US punk they had championed slowly began to move from the underground to the mainstream. “It felt for a while that bands had more expectations. The demands were small but they were enough. They wouldn’t get involved in conversations with us, whereas we were trying to create a community that these people were coming into. We wanted them to be involved in it and there were bands coming in who would barely talk to us. That’s not to say that they didn’t deserve the treatment that they were looking for: they just weren’t going to get it from us”.