Following on from our Issue 3 look back (Out now!) at how independent promoter Hope put Ireland on the punk and hardcore map, Leagues O’ Toole shares his memories.
What was the Dublin live music scene like pre-Hope?
“Hard to say as HOPE already had a strong history of gigs and activity prior to me becoming aware of it. It goes back to the days of Not Our World and the first Membranes and Fugazi shows in Ireland.
However, at that time of me becoming aware of it in the early 90s I have to say the scenes in Dublin, Cork and Belfast were amazing. There were different expectations back then. Bands didn’t have the sort of careerist or professional attitudes they have now, which manifested in a more positive feeling overall because people still took the music and the gigs really seriously. A gig was an important event, not just a stepping to stone to a more lucrative career. Most of my favourite Irish bands stem from that period; In Motion, Wormhole, Pet Lamb, Cuinas, Groundswell, Dog Day, Pan’s Apprentice, The Idiots, The Grown Ups, Luggage, Jam Jar Jail, Joan of Arse, Tucker Suite, The Golden Mile, Monomer, Decal… to name a few. Naturally, the music was of its time to some degree, in that it was influenced by what was going on elsewhere; Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Shudder To Think, Codeine, Bitch Magnet, Slint and so on, straight-ahead punk stuff, shoegaze stuff and a lot of 4AD recording artists were big influences on some of these bands. Ambient electronica and techno was becoming an influence. Perhaps the most prevailing influence, at one point in particular, was American hardcore music – you certainly heard a lot of that at HOPE gigs. Dischord and Fugazi, NoMeansNo… these people were sort of figureheads, if there could be such a thing. It all came from punk though, in one way or another. No matter if it was an obvious or abstract musical influence, or if it was ideological influence, it came from punk. I remember one point there were a lot of great HOPE shows in a venue on Capel Street called Barnstromers, which appeared to be run by this biker crew called the Devil’s Disciples if I’m not mistaken, and you’d hear crusty-punk bands and Lookout! Style pop-punk bands and more almost industrial sounding bands. And then out of the blue you’d have this twee jangly band from the Sarah Records label called Heavenly. But it was still punk. Anyway, it was a great time with a lot of genuine talent. It was great to watch a drummer like David Lacey play or hear brilliant songwriters like Ross Hackett and Alan Kelly.”
How did you first come into contact with them?
“I came into contact with HOPE via REACT. Niall [McGuirk] primarily wrote REACT. I bought my records at that time from John Dee and the guys in Freebird Records on the quays. I would be in there nearly every day listening to music, chatting with John, constantly meeting new and interesting people. That’s where I first picked up REACT. I loved it instantly. It had reviews of local bands, gigs, demos, imported seven inches and LPs from independent and punk labels, info on distros, commentary on the various scenes going on and articles relating to other non-music subjects such as veganism (a big part of Niall’s life) and various non-profit organisations. Oh, and football. This was back when fanzine culture was still hugely influential, particular for music fans. Thinking back, it’s amazing how much time we spend on design and photography and production and fancy printing and free CDs and DVDs, and this yoke was literally a photocopied folded-over A4 sheet.
Yet, I have to say, this was more vital and exciting and stimulating than any other publication I’ve ever read. Sure, that has to do with the time of my life and the general atmosphere of the scene and the newness of everything, but still nothing has had a more profound effect of me than the spirit of that magazine and that era of fanzine writing and publishing. Anyway, I wrote to Niall to his house in Donnycarney. And he wrote back and we built up a postal correspondence. His letters were amazing. He’d recycle junkmail that came through his letterbox and make envelopes out of them. Each envelope was stuffed with flyers and distro lists and a scrawled letter from Niall. I loved receiving these letters. I’ve kept them all. Eventually I started meeting Niall and girlfriend Miriam and the various musicians and friends that made up HOPE.
Although Niall was clearly the central protagonist, it was a very open entity. If you wanted to get involved, you could, and to whatever degree you wanted. I started helping out by putting up posters and making posters. I loved making posters with photocopied illustrations from Love & Rockets comic books. Myself and my mate Jonny recorded the gigs on Jonny’s Tascam 4-track. People generally did whatever they could to help; made the sandwiches, did the door, put their own shows on, whatever. I contributed reviews to REACT. One time Niall asked me to edit an issue. It was my first editorial job and I was very proud of it. REACT was made with a typewriter, paste, scissors and Tippex. That’s how fanzines were made long before the days when every household had a PC. Although one time I remember Niall had access to a computer and that was quite a novelty. Innocent times, I guess. I remember queuing for hours in READS of Nassau Street photocopying fanzines back in those days. The shop assistants would generally not be happy to see the fanzine guys coming as they’d be there for literally hours photocopying stuff.
One aspect of the HOPE thing that was personally every exciting was the release of the twelve-inch EP A Weapon is a Statement in an Empty Hand featuring In Motion, Cuinas, Mexican Pets and Wheel. There wasn’t a lot of independent vinyl being released in the country at that time and I thought this was something that could take off. Sadly, it didn’t. However, I feel it did kick-start the indie label boom in the mid-late 90s in Ireland.”
How did your own Hope gigs go?
“I did a series of shows in The Fleet pub on Fleet Street, on the top floor. A lovely man by the man of Peter Quigley ran the place. He bought me a pair of stereo headphones one year for Christmas, which was really touching. It was a small venue and these shows were mainly for Irish bands. I did a lot of shows around that time and I can’t remember which ones were HOPE shows and which ones weren’t. I did a bunch of shows in the Fox & Pheasant which were great. I remember Aidan Walsh playing one of them with [well known promoter] Declan Forde playing drums despite having one arm in a cast and Chane from Jam Jar Jail playing his flying-V guitar. I think Cornershop playing in Fibber McGees was a HOPE show. Jam Jar Jail and Wheel supported. I got very drunk on whiskey, which probably wasn’t a very HOPE thing to do as most of the HOPE people didn’t drink or were ‘straight-edge’ but no one seemed to mind.”
Favourite gigs / events?
“Lots of great memories. The Fugazi gig in the SFX was an amazing event. It wasn’t one the best Hope gigs but it was an important landmark on so many levels. It was a benefit for an AIDS awareness activist group called ACT UP [I think – I must check the poster]. It was the biggest HOPE gig. It was probably the biggest independently promoted gig in Dublin in those days. It was an amazing coming together of people and ideals. In Motion and Chumbawamba supported. In Motion were very nervous. They were my favourite local band at the time. At the time Chumbawamba had a really cool political-theatrical performance style show. Fugazi were deafening. Alice Donut in Barnstormers was phenomenal. I loved the Heavenly show because it broke the stranglehold of American pop-punk bands at the time. Circus Lupus playing a co-headline with someone was incredible, The Slum Turkeys, Crane, Thatcher On Acid, Dawson, The Ex, Spermbirds and, of course, Frank Sidebottom. One particular event was an exchange trip as part of the Co-operation North organisation where we met promoters and bands and learned about other independent incentives and venues in Derry and Belfast. I’ll never forget that trip and the overwhelming positivity of that time.”
What is the legacy of Hope?
“So much has changed since then. HOPE was vital at the time and it’s the sort of thing that will probably become vital again in the future. Everything has become so disseminated now, there’s less music culture, there’s no independent label culture, and the independent media is almost entirely online. Everything is streamlined and global and accessible, but at the same time it’s nowhere near as romantic, as human, as tanglible and tactile and emotional as it once was. There’s some great promoters around in Ireland but it’s only the really underground punk-rock promoters who can honestly say they’ve stuck to the non-profit ideals of HOPE. Granted, the rest of us have taken a lot from that period and worked hard bringing interesting artists to Ireland and keeping operations running on a more grass roots level, but really that’s only half the story. The legacy probably lies with the musicians who are still there and the musicians they inspired, the kids who went to a HOPE gig and had a positive experience and formed a band. Whether you are aware of it or not, HOPE is ingrained in Irish music culture.”
Archive Photos by Ricky Adam & George Curran
A book by Niall McGuirk – Document: A Story of Hope containing a history of Hope gigs and vegan recipes is available to buy here.
More info on Hope Collective.