Home Lifestyle Entertainment Fiachna Ó Braonáin of Hothouse Flowers is on the road again

Fiachna Ó Braonáin of Hothouse Flowers is on the road again

Fiachna Ó Braonáin of Hothouse Flowers told David Hennessy about his new collaboration with Tom Dunne of Something Happens, the rise of his band from busking on Grafton Street to playing Wembley Stadium and playing with the late Sinead O’Connor.

Despite having shared stages across the world over several decades, Tom Dunne of Something Happens and Fiachna Ó Braonáin of Hothouse Flowers had never actually performed together until they were invited to do so on RTE Radio 1’s Ray Darcy show where they performed the Christy Moore song, John O’Dreams and a Willie Nelson song, On The Road Again.

Ray D’Arcy loved it, Fiachna Ó Braonáin and Tom Dunne had a ball… and were joking they should do more of it. But it wasn’t just a joke, that’s exactly what they have done. Since then they have played shows around Ireland and even graced The Late Late Show.

This Sunday they bring their collaboration to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith for their first show outside of Ireland.

Fiachna Ó Braonáin told The Irish World: “We’ve known each other for the guts of forty years and always got on great. I remember running into Tom at Feile ’90, running into him around Dublin at umpteen gigs. I sat in with Something Happens at a charity gig one time, we’ve known each other since forever.

“We’ve known each other for so long that I can’t actually remember when I met him first. This recent collaboration came together just kind of by accident. There was a gig – The first gig after the lockdown – in Dublin in the 3 Arena was a revisiting of the Feile Classical Tom had been involved in putting together a couple of years previously.

There were accolades being thrown at us by Rolling Stone magazine, Melody Maker, the NME and all of that quite early on too so it generated a buzz around the band

“There was a gig in Semple Stadium where the Irish Chamber Orchestra got together with Something Happens, The Stunning, Hothouse Flowers, Jerry Fish, Frank and Walters and a couple of others and they basically created arrangements for three or four of each band’s songs, and then just one after the next each band came along and then we all did kind of a finale.

“It was a brilliant event. It was a very joyous event down at Semple Stadium, and everybody loved it. That was an idea when we were being allowed fill the 3 Arena again with everybody still wearing masks, everybody being careful. I guess it was towards the end of 2021 and they asked myself and Tom to come into RTE, the Ray Darcy Show, to talk about the gig and being on the road again.

“So we decided we’d perform Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again. And we had never actually played together before this radio appearance, and there was so much warmth and lovely reactions from listeners

“We had just got together that morning and rehearsed quickly and Tom kind of came away from that thinking, ‘We should do something together sometime’. And I said, ‘We absolutely should’.

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“So we started meeting regularly enough, a couple of times a week maybe out at my house. We just started rehearsing songs and practicing and we decided we’d do a gig in my local theatre in Greystone called The Whale where Hothouse Flowers have played many times. I thought that would be a perfect place to try out our collaboration. So we did that and it sold out and it was absolutely brilliant fun.”

Hothouse Flowers.

The duo would become a trio when they were joined by Alan Connor who has toured with Sharon Shannon and often plays with Something Happens and Frances Black.

“And we brought in, at Tom’s suggestion, Alan Connor as the third wheel, who is an incredible multi- instrumentalist, plays piano.

“So we put together a show that was kind of some of his [Tom’s] songs, some of my songs, a couple of cover versions that are connected to the stories to do with either Tom’s life or my life. That was it, simple as that. And that gigs went so well, we decided we’d try and do a few more. It just kind of grew there.”

What can we expect from the show?

“It’s a mix of songs from both of our lives, I suppose. There’s Something Happens songs, a couple of Hothouse Flowers songs. There’s some Hothouse Flowers songs that I wrote that I can tell the story of. And then we obviously do some of the bigger, more popular Flowers songs as well. We can’t avoid doing them. And we wouldn’t even want to, it’s been great fun.

“Liam saw us doing Don’t Go and he was remarking about Alan’s  piano solo, ‘He’s playing the piano solo better than I do’.

“It’s good fun. We’ll take everybody to Connemara at some point with a traditional song. We’ll take everybody into the world of the Beach Boys. Tom has a great story of his many encounters with Brian Wilson. There are stories and songs, it’s a fun show.”

Are there plans to record something like an EP?

“We’ve got a new song that we do during the show. Funnily enough it’s called Our Song so we tell the story of how that song came to be. He’s got a whole bunch of half written songs, I’ve got a whole bunch of half written songs. We’re trying to find the time to get together and finish another few songs and maybe, as you mentioned, put together an EP of some sort, absolutely. That’s the plan.

“Why not? We enjoy it so much. Let’s do the things that we enjoy doing. We don’t feel obligated at all to be doing it but it’s really genuinely great fun. It’s like hanging out with your mate, singing a few songs and telling a few stories. What could go wrong?”

Being hosted by the ICC gives them the opportunity to play outside Ireland for the first time.

“It’s that kind of excitement all over again as well. I remember the first time Hothouse Flowers played outside of Ireland in 1987 when we played at the ICA in London. A show that people still fondly remember.

“And we used to play the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town quite a lot. And then kind of moved from that to the Hammersmith Apollo, and then moved from there to the Wembley Arena, and then famously opening for INXS at Wembley Stadium.

“Then our band kind of went on a bit of a hiatus to allow us to put our ship into drydock and scrape all the barnacles off the hull kind of thing.

“We came back and we played in London as recently as last May actually, Shepherds Bush empire and we had an amazing show there. In fact Clive Langer, who produced our first album People, was at the gig and he sent us a gorgeous message afterwards.

“He was saying it wasn’t nostalgia, there were memories certainly but he felt that the show was really very much of the present time, the moment. It was lovely to hear him, who has been with us from the very beginning, feeling that the band’s still evolving which I think is probably the key to Hothouse Flowers’ longevity. That we just keep trying to reinvent our own wheel, you know?”

Something Happens.
You were buskers before all that. It was on the street it started for you, wasn’t it?

“It was and it wasn’t. The very first gig that we played was in April of 1985 in a place called The Magic Carpet in Dublin, just outside Dublin in a suburb called Cornelscourt.

“For the summer, we started busking on Grafton Street. As a result of our busking, people would come up to us and ask us to do shows in restaurants nightclubs.

“And eventually by the following autumn, we were being invited to play at the university rag weeks and the freshers weeks and all those sort of gigs, you know. That was a really exciting time.

“We were completely in control of our own thing and full of that youthful confidence and fearlessness that is so wonderful. So yeah, obviously, we started writing songs.

“By the end of autumn 1985 I think we’d been on the radio and on telly for the first times as well which I guess caught people’s attention and then by kind of ‘86 we were getting into the studio and starting to make our first recordings.

“There were accolades being thrown at us by Rolling Stone magazine, Melody Maker, the NME and all of that quite early on too so it generated a buzz around the band and it resulted in us being signed to London Records and going into make our first album, People.”

Being signed to London Records, did you make the move to London?

“We were never based there full time. We never sort of did the thing that bands used to do of moving to London the same way that the Boomtown Rats moved to London. I guess we never felt the need to move to London despite the fact we were signed to a UK record label, We got to know London a bit.

“I remember feeling that London was very big and very cold at first when I went there and, probably because I was in my early 20s, I didn’t know anybody really. And then gradually, over time, you make friends that became great friends. I still am very close friends with John Reynolds who produced Sinead O’Connor and Damien Dempsey and Pauline Scanlon. John was someone I would see absolutely every time I’d go to London and Sinead when she lived there as well.”

We enjoy it so much. Let’s do the things that we enjoy doing. We don’t feel obligated at all to be doing it but it’s really genuinely great fun. It’s like hanging out with your mate, singing a few songs and telling a few stories. What could go wrong?

What are you memories of Sinead O’Connor who passed away only recently?

“In some ways I couldn’t believe it, in other ways I could believe what had happened particularly with what had happened to her in recent years and her struggles, her huge struggles with her own mental health.

“And then obviously her struggles with poor Shane’s mental health, her youngest child and then his death as well. Just a tragedy that I don’t know how anybody can come back from, particularly if you’re already in a vulnerable, fragile place.

“But my memories of her were first when I met her of somebody who was quiet and shy, and I suppose I was probably shy enough meeting her as well the first few times. I remember sitting in her house and listening to world music and hip hop for the first time ever.

“She was just tapped into music that was really meaningful, music that spoke to the struggle of the people who were making that music. I remember chatting to her in probably the early 90s about how she felt about Ireland and the Catholic Church and child abuse. She was so ahead of her time on all of that to the point that a lot of people in the establishment thought she was mad. But how right she was.

“John actually invited me to come and play guitar with Sinead for a while when she had just released Universal Mother and it coincided with a time where the Flowers were on a bit of a hiatus so it was great for me to kind of get stuck into something else. So I ended up hanging out with Sinead quite a lot and playing with her quite a bit.

“I ended up not being able to tour because by the time they were going off on tour, Hothouse Flowers had opened up our shop again, but we did the Letterman Show, we did Top of the Pops, we did loads of TV and radio stuff together. It was just great to be in and around that and then she was a neighbour for a while when I was living in Sandymount when my kids were little and Jake was little. She’d drop Jake around to us and we’d look after him or vice versa.

“TG4 invited me to interview her ten years ago at her house in Bray and I hadn’t seen her for a while and we had a great reconnection, it was really warm and lovely. And then we did an interview that was more just a natural chat between friends and that is a lovely memory to hold on to now.

“We were having fun and chatting about music and she played a few songs and it was just great to see her. She texted me later that night going, ‘That was the nicest interview I’ve done in ages. I loved that’. That’s the Sinead I’m remembering and will hold in my heart.

“What can you say except she’s at peace now? She suffered an awful lot from her own mental health and difficulties navigating the rocky world in which she lived. But what a remarkable artist. I think she’s going to be celebrated for many, many years to come.”

On The Road Again: An evening with Fiachna Ó Braonáin, Tom Dunne & Alan Connor comes to the Irish Cultural Centre this Sunday 15 October 2023.
For more information and to book tickets, visit the Irish Cultural Centre website.
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