With their Adventura Majestica album currently enjoying critical and commercial success, Sack explain what a long, strange trip it s been. Stephen Robinson holds the tape recorder
That s like asking John Lennon about the Quarrymen snaps Sack guitarist John Brereton when I ask about a band called Lord John White, the eighties outfit that first united John with frontman Martin McCann.
LJW was a very different band, just a garage band, really. Martin had met my brother Tony at a Housemartins gig, and he came back to our place and stayed the night. The next day he was persuaded, by my mother I think, to sing Nature Boy by Nat King Cole, and we thought hello voice and he was in.
The singer had previously fronted Finglas electro outfit Aiken Drum. McCann s talents as both a singer and frontman helped raise the profile of the band and several tracks were released. Kill The One You Love was featured on the soundtrack to the 1988 film The Courier, but just as the plan was coming together disaster struck. Returning from a gig in Cork the band s Hi-Ace van collided with a cow and left the road. While the entire group suffered injury, guitarist John was most seriously affected, badly damaging both legs and eventually spending five months in hospital.
I had the last rites, it was pretty hellish. I had to have extensive surgery on both legs and I wasn t sure if I d ever walk again, then I had to learn to walk again. Eventually I recovered. By this time Lord John White had lost all momentum so we decided, at the suggestion of Kieran Owens who was helping us at the time, to restart with Sack. From the very beginning it was an exciting outfit, quite experimental and with different influences from the different personalities involved.
By 1994 the band had demoed an EP called What Have The Christians Ever Done For Us. Cutting a hundred copies, they divided the lot into five batches of twenty and flew to London, each equipped with a one-day-travel-pass and a list of record company targets. Martin McCann takes up the tale.
I did it, I got us the deal, he deadpans. My beat was the Carnaby Street area, home to Lemon Records who we were aware had signed Power Of Dreams and who had a reputation as being supportive of bands on their roster. They liked the demo, came to see us live in Dublin and agreed to release the EP. Although we had by then been talking with a couple of other companies, Lemon were genuinely impressed by us and we felt we could trust them. So we signed and moved to London.
Their trust was not misplaced, at least not initially. The Christians EP earned Single Of The Week status in both the NME and Melody Maker and was followed by the You Are What You Eat album which led to more press and TV coverage. The band were regularly gigging around Britain in the company of The Wedding Present, The Fall and Compulsion. Behind the scenes at Lemon, however, financial problems led to the collapse of the label.
A lot of people thought that Lemon were actually owned by a bigger company but that wasn t the case, explains John. At this point the line-up of the band changed, in that Derek Lee moved to London to get married and shortly afterward Dave Dorgan came in on guitar and that brought a more melodic, almost poppy edge to the music that we hadn t had up to that point. Laughterlines in particular from the Butterfly Effect album is a favourite of a lot of people. By 96 we had agreed to record the album with Shane O Neill s Dirt Records, but again, though it was critically well received, Dirt didn t really have the budget to promote it.
Two years later the band were playing in Whelan s of Dublin when one Stephen Patrick Morrissey came back to the dressing room to complement them on their show.
I missed him, I fucking missed him, sighs McCann. I was deejaying, so I left directly after the show, but he s been an icon of mine for years. I hooked up with him shortly afterwards at the Heineken hotpress music awards in Belfast and we had a chat. I was amazed that he complimented me on my lyrics because up until Laughterlines John would write almost all the words.
By now we had a manager, Paul Congdon, continues John, who had already arranged gigs in New York and Cannes for us, and we were again playing for major companies. When our manager heard that Morrissey was going on tour he approached his organisation looking for a possible support for the Dublin slot. We were blown away when they asked us to do the European tour, and again when mid-way through the European leg he asked if we d come to the USA.
What was it like working alongside one of your heroes?
Morrissey s a very private guy, he doesn t really hang out much muses Martin. So you didn t check out the gay hangouts of Northern Europe then?
I did, he didn t, smiles McCann. But he was always pleasant. He used to watch the shows from side-stage, and one night he presented me with a towel which he had fringed with a feather boa, with the word Diva printed on it. His fans were fantastic and loved us, to the point where they were listing our sets on the Morrissey websites diarying the tour. It was strange to play for what we thought would be a partisan crowd and after a week the front row is singing along. Plus we shifted literally thousands of albums and other merchandise, live and through the web, which proved to us that we are a saleable commodity. It s given us the confidence to record the new album.
(John interrupts) Which has so far sold more than any of our previous albums and has been lauded by the press, and thanks for appreciating it. We had planned to return to the US but the momentum is such that we need to be here to capitalise on it.
Adventura Majestica, Sack s latest release, is proof that the man doesn t lie. A searing soundscape that includes elements lifted from dance music and also sees guest vocalist Miriam Ingram duetting with McCann, the album is testament to Sack s enduring talent. Somebody, somewhere must soon offer these guys the backing to take advantage of the wave of critical and commercial success upon which they are currently riding. Otherwise, they re very close to doing it on their own.