Horslips were, and in many ways still are, the Irish equivalent of Steeleye Span and, to a lesser extent, Fairport Convention, as they blend English and Irish traditional material and a rock and roll sensibility into what was the first Irish folk rock group.
Formed in nineteen seventy, they lasted just a decade, but came back in 2004 and have been active, with new recordings and occasional concerts to this day. So they’ve had a long enough career that a biography should have occurred by now. Why one hasn’t is uncertain but rumors suggested the usual legal entanglements that caused books of this sort to get delayed or cancelled altogether. Certainly this book was delayed, as I remember hearing about it a decade ago.
Mark Cunningham, in an interview online, says he’s been following the group since ‘seventy sixt when he was thirteen. He also notes that this work has been in the works for eighteen years! He was taken, like me when I first heard them, by, as he says in that interview, ‘how they married traditional music to rock ‘n’ roll, introducing Irish history and culture to me along the way.’
The book itself is an impressive affair, at the size of the usual coffee tablebook. I hasten to add that I’m not using that comparison as a perjorative, just as a measure of its size. Tall Tales came out forty years after The Tain, their song cycle based on the Irish epic. Tain Bo Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley).
Opening the book will haveg you seeing a collage of tickets from the many, many concerts, including one where they opened for Thin Lizzy, the well-known Irish rockers. I see it here, they played Fair Convention’s Cropredy festival in 2011, and with Steeleye Span in seventy-three at Royal Albert Hall.
What else is here? First up is an intro of sorts, “A Fanboy Odyssey,” which documents Cunningham’s fascination with the group, and rightfully notes the active cooperation of all members of the group. The latter is a neat trick, as getting all the members of any group is usually way beyond the possible.
The book is largely a straightforward chronicle of the group from their beginning to present day, with nice biographies of all the Horslips as well. This bios include looks at the bands they were in before the The Horslips.
For me, the highlight of the book is the extensive memorabilia that makes up roughly half of the content. Oh, and I just found a festival where the bill also included Fairport Convention, The Chieftains, and Tir Na Nog! There’s even set lists here, something I’m always fond of.
OK, the bottom line is that all Horslips fans should go get a copy now; anyone strongly interested in the history of Irish rock ‘n’ roll should have this as well. It’s that bloody good!
(O’Brien Press, 2014)