“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Dublin Airport,” says the pilot. “Please remember to turn your watches back thirty years.”
So goes the time-worn joke but last weekend that’s more or less exactly what I did. I flew to Dublin to hear a band I first saw in concert in the summer of 1977 when I was just thirteen years old.
It was a little bit crazy but I’m glad I went — I was not the least bit disappointed. But I’m not sure why I’m writing about the experience because I don’t think I can explain to you why this band and their music appeals to me so much. At least not in a way that will make you feel the same way.
Horslips are not well known outside of Ireland. I’m guessing that most readers here will never have heard of them. The band came together in 1971 and established a unique style of prog rock that fused traditional Irish music with good old rock’n’roll.
Several of their records, notably The Tain and The Book of Invasions, are concept albums that draw on folk legends. Others have songs with titles like King of the Fairies or Furniture. They play electric guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. And the violin. And the flute.
It might sound like a recipe for disaster, but it isn’t — not for me. Furniture lasts more than fifteen minutes on their 1976 live album and is one of my favourite tracks. To some it might sound as self-indulgent as I find longer pieces by Pink Floyd, but to me it is magical. I was delighted that they played it last Saturday night. The albums Aliens and The Man who Built America are about the experience of emigration, and I guess that is something I can relate to.
I saw the band only once, in that summer of ’77 at an international scout camp of all places. It was my very first live concert. By 1980 they had split up and I lost my chance to see them again. But I kept the flame of fandom alive with records and cassette tapes and, later, CDs ripped to my iPod. Maybe you have to be Irish to like them, to overlook the odd piece of weaker song-writing or the occasional limitation of the singing. I don’t know. I’d like to explain but I can’t. I guess our response to music is not just about an appreciation of the sound. All I know is that Horslips have been in my musical blood for a very long time.
And so I found myself in Dublin last weekend with my brother, his wife and their friends — immersed in a past that was over thirty years old. The sense of history was heightened when I ran into my cousin, whom I’d not seen since 1992, and an old school-friend whom I’d last talked to on a previous jaunt to a concert in Dublin. In 1986.
But the years fell away as the music started and I pushed my way to the front.
P.S. If you’re looking for the science in this post, look again. No wait – that was a joke. This wasn’t quite what I was planning for my first post on Occam’s Typewriter but, through force of circumstances, it’ll have to do. If you’re desperate for a scientific angle, consider this: even scientists can make fools of themselves at rock concerts in their forties.