Time Travel

“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.

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11 Responses to Time Travel

  1. stephenemoss says:

    It’s impossible to ignore a post about Horslips. I first saw them in Edinburgh while I was there as a student. Let me see, must have been around 1979, student union. What was most exciting was that my own band was the support act that night. We even had the temerity to do our own version of King of the Fairies, but stopped short of doing Brian Boru which we used to cover at that time. Great days.

    By the way, I’ve been so away with the fairies myself over recent weeks that I’ve missed what seems to be an exodus of my favorite bloggers from Nature Network. What happened?

  2. Stephen says:

    Wow – I’m seriously impressed that you were the support act for Horslips! Respect!

    As for the departure from NN, it was partly to do with long-standing gripes about MT4 (which were slowly being dealt with, but a bit too slowly) and the high wall for commenters. But, as I say in my farewell post (which should appear tonight or tomorrow), this is mostly a positive move to a new venture where we can hopefully earn a more diverse audience and not feel entirely tied to scientific topics, though that will be the main dish served here!

    And congratulations on being my first official commenter – I’m afraid there’s no prize.

  3. stephenemoss says:

    Ah yes, MT4 doesn’t encourage one to blog, though in my case it’s just been a furiously busy couple of months. Not sure if it’s possible to upload a picture into comments here though.

  4. Stephen says:

    You should be able to display a photo that’s already on the web if you have the html.
    Ah, I see you’ve posted a pic of your band via yfrog.

  5. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Glad you had fun, Stephen!

    The first live concert I ever went to was, ahem, Jason Donovan (Whitley Bay Ice Rink, 1990). So I sincerely hope that I won’t ever try to recreate my own first gig experience (although for a group of 13 year old girls, it was heaven!)

    p.s. I’m seeing Roger Waters do The Wall Live tomorrow night. For my husband and many of his friends, this is akin to a religious experience, whereas I, being 7 years younger than them, never got into Floyd. I feel like if I don’t fall to my knees and declare it to be the most amazing experience of my life EVAH, I’ll be a divorced social outcast by the end of the weekend. So much pressure!

  6. El Picador says:

    Well for whatever reason it may be…best of luck with the new digs and collective. Should be a pissah.

  7. Stephen says:

    Cheers Cath – no need to be ashamed of Jason Donovan. Most will have a skeleton like that in their hinterland. As for the Roger Waters concert, like you, it wouldn’t be my first choice (though I did think Floyd were brilliant at the Live 8 concert a couple of years ago). I recommend toe-ing the party line on that one!

    Thanks for your good wishes El Picador. You have the honour of being my first pseudonymous commenter.

  8. Jenny says:

    Stephen, your dedicated fans deserve – nay demand – a photo of you circa 1977.

  9. ricardipus says:

    I said it over on your Flickr account, but I’ll reiterate here – you got some great concert photos. It’s very tricky to get any sensible looking pictures under concert lighting conditions, let alone ones that look as good as these.

    And I agree with Jenny.

  10. Stephen says:

    Unfortunately Jenny, I think that first concert took place before the invention of photography… As I recall, I was even more handsome that I am now.

    Very kind of you to say so Richard. I used a Panasonic Lumix TZ3 set to a speed of 800 ASA. It’s got pretty decent image stabilisation so you get reasonable shots even at around 1/15th of a sec. And I did push to the front.

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