Published: Wednesday, 29th June, 2011 5:30pm
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There’s only so many times you can dine out on one album and Whipping Boy seem hell bent on discovering the exact number. The one-time darlings of Irish indie, who had the music press squirming with delight over their fearless second album, Heartworm are back, reformed and replaying the masterpiece.
It was surely intentional that they should open their set to about 50 people in a cellar in Cavan, with the line, “The honeymoon is over, and you’re still with me.”
The honeymoon seems an age ago. It was maybe 1995, and Whipping Boy appeared on Jools Holland’s show, Later. Front man Fearghal McKee, handsome with a head of curls, clean shaven, turned out in a new suit, open neck blue shirt, like his mum had dressed him up for an interview. It promised to be the moment to propel them onwards to conquering Britain. They offered unflinching lyrical truths, bleak tales set against a backdrop of searing guitars, mournful minor chords and uplifting choruses – how could anyone resist?
Somehow the public did resist, and that Later appearance marked the height of their rise. Despite gushing reviews and an album that some contend is the greatest ever released by an Irish band, they drifted into anonymity. Their third album was an inconsistent, poppy parting gesture from a band who knew their moment had passed – it even contained a song entitled, “That was then and this is now.” They split before it was released and without even bothering to give it a title.
A decade or so years later in McGinnity’s there’s a young Cavan buck coaxing a pal into going down to the cellar with the carrot that the band performing had appeared on Jools Holland. “Yeah but €15!” was the indignant response.
For the few gathered in the half full Cellar, they were grateful for the chance to pay anything to see this latest incarnation with just Fearghal and drummer Colm Hasset remaining of the original four piece. Fearghal is unrecognisable. He’s donned in a black Buddhist-style gown stretching to conceal his huge pot belly, his head shaven save for a landing strip at the back, a flapper’s headband, and a bowler hat.
And of course he’s very far removed from the sanitised surrounds of a BBC studio. He’s in the grubby reality of an indie gig in rural Ireland. Sweaty fans: some diehards longing for a musical elixir to rediscover their youth, some curious, some just looking for somewhere to go on a Friday. Fearghal doesn’t seem to mind as he spends as much time writhing and posturing amongst the dozen or so filling up the petite dance floor as he does on the stage.
To have a band of this calibre in such an intimate Cavan venue is a cause for celebration, but it’s also faintly depressing – this is what all that promise delivered. Just one previous reunion since the 2001 split and a half baked experimental project – Fearghal McKee and the Shitty Shit Shits – is an impossibly limited output from such a gifted band.
Fearghal’s anger has diminished, the sneer softened slightly, but that’s no bad thing. His voice has improved as he caresses the lyrics, at times he’s even tender during opener Honeymoon and again on the beautiful Personality. He ventures to more familiar, raging territory with Tripped and the other taut angst-ridden tunes such as Valentine 69 – his only foray into their lesser known debut album Submarine.
A laddish group bounce out of time in pre-scrum formation as the band bang out We Don’t Need Nobody Else – one of seven numbers off Heartworm on the 10 song set-list. Fearghal indulges them offering the microphone for the crowd to gulder the chorus, “We don’t need nobody else.” When it comes to the resolve of “Just you and me” the drunkard gripping the mic can only muster a guttural groan.
Whipping Boy do need somebody else. They need and deserve countless others. But if they continue to serve up the same meal, no matter how good, less guests will come to dine.