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The Late Late Show
Though he was busking in Grafton Street at 14, it s taken Glen Hansard more than a few shakes of the lamb s tail to reach the plateau of success which his songwriting talents have, for so long, threatened to take him but after the colossal success of Revelate , The Frames are, finally, set fair to enjoy their day in the sun. Here, Glen and guitarist, Dave Odlum, put Niall Crumlish in the picture.
Niall Crumlish, 14 Jun 1995
As is his wont, Glen Hansard wrinkles his brow, tugs pensively at that much-talked-about ginger goatee and cuts to the chase.
When you re down, he says, reboarding for a while the somewhat spiritual train of thought that first led his rock n roll band The Frames to the smash hit single of the year Revelate , and when things aren t going right, and life is shit cos life is shit! And I m not being a pessimist but life is a constant up and down thing, it s not linear you re drifting. But I think when you re down, and when you get so far down there s only one thing you can do . . .
He tosses a quick, furtive glance towards the ceiling, and eyeballs me again.
. . . And some people don t! When you re so far down, you put your hands together, you look into the sky and ask, y know, Is there a God? Are you there? , and these kinds of questions, y know. What s it all about? I m not much of a pray-er myself I think that s one of the things the songs are there for but I think that s kind of where Revelate is coming from.
Glen takes a brief breather, and the nervous flicker of a smile he allows himself is that of a man by whom and for whom many, many decades of the Rosary have been trudged wearily but ever-hopefully through; not only this, but the very same thoroughly inscrutable Creator of the Universe who day in, day out refuses with a chuckle my plaintive pleas for the hand of Sharon Nm Bheolain has finally decided to plug the old hearing-aid in.
Quite simply, the astonishing and massively heartening turnaround in the fortunes of Glen Hansard s group would make a believer out of Beelzebub: Revelate is this year s Everybody Hurts . The Frames are The Band Of The Moment and their stone cold classic second LP due out any day now looks set to make them The Band Of The Moment for the rest of their working lives.,
In short, there is a God, after all, it appears, and wouldn t ya know it? He s on our side. Well, Amen to that.
However, amidst all the back-slapping and idle talk of multi-platinum solo side projects it should be remembered that a comeback as this, I think is, with bells on is not worthy of the name unless you first have a vale of tears from which to return, Lazarus-like. The Frames have had their dark moments; we re almost lucky they re still with us.
Glen: Yeah, and I think if there was a word for all the songs on the new LP they d be, like, redemption songs, or songs about not giving up.
While the last LP was, of course, chock full of manic, unrequited love songs.
Right. That seemed to be the general threat that went through it, whereas now it s more about picking yourself up from somewhere you might have been, y know, or I have certainly been.
Like, I went through the whole Commitments experience which was all very big and I had to somehow validate my career, which was The Frames, which was so much smaller. So, when our album came out [1992 s Another Love Song, an occasionally flawed, mostly mighty record, and the recipient of a not inconsiderable 12 on the dice from the legendary and always, but always spot-on Michael O Hara NC] it got drowned, basically, in the fact that I was in this film, and we could never measure up to it cos it was Hollywood superstardom, beyond your wildest dreams. It s very rare you hit that on your first record. So, em, the whole thing sort of went into the background, and we got dropped, we didn t sell many copies of it, and then our bass player (John Carney) left us, who was a very important member of the band.
As you might expect, all this adversity got them thinking, if not drinking.
And basically, things got really . . . things were kind of falling apart and it was a kind of a sink or swim situation. So we decided to swim. And when we did, that was when the whole momentum and good feeling started to come back into the situation, and we started writing a bunch of songs that had to be written, y'know, about the situation.
Was there ever a moment when you thought we d seen the last of you?
Glen thinks for a minute. Em, no. We never really sort of talked about it . . .
Dave The Rave Odlum, lead guitarist extraordinaire and favourite son of the home of rock n roll, Ballinteer (home also to Revelino and, ahem, me), continues: . . . there was almost a sense of, that s the subject you don t bring up (laughs).
Glen, with a glint in his eye, glares: Yeah, that s right.
I apologise profusely: I m jut doing my job, guv.
Dave: No, no, back then! It s OK now!
Glen: Once we decided to stick together, the whole thing became OK. Even now, it would be OK for the band to split up at some point. It s not a problem anymore. We re all intelligent enough to sort of say Now, we re gonna do this, and if it doesn t work . . .
Dave: We tried.
Glen: Yeah. We tried. We gave it our best shot. So, in a way, we re quite realistic, cos it could all fall apart again. I ve seen some of my favourite bands split up without ever making a record at all, so things could go that way.
Or, he goes on, lifting the pall of gloom which has mysteriously settled over the last few paragraphs, things could keep going the way they are now, and we could naturally progress into selling records, and doing quite well. I hope it goes that way.
The thing is, though, we ve never going to lose Glen Hansard, so stop worrying! Songs are the only things he knows, he admits sheepishly: should the stock market plunge into the abyss and the entire rock n roll business crumble to its very knees in the morning he still won t sell us out and join the Civil Service. For starters, as he himself explains, they wouldn t have him.
I ve been doing this since I was fourteen, that s what eleven years? I wrote my first song then, it was about my granny, cos when you re that age, you re not worried about matters of the heart, you re into growing up, getting old and all that, it s all such a mystery, y know? So it was around then I told my Ma I wanted to be a singer, and she didn t stop me! She went Well, OK, but if you re going to be a musician, you d better do it, and don t just talk about it . And she bought me a guitar, straight away, and I went straight away busking on Grafton St.
Excuse me? Does Glen Hansard, role model to all of young Ireland, really mean to say that precisely one year into his teens, one year before his Inter Cert and with the full, unadulterated blessing of she who brought him onto this earth, he abandoned his full-time education for the dubious delights of banging out rickety old Beatles numbers to streams of horribly disinterested, recession-stricken clients of Mr Burger and suchlike? Like, really?
Yeah, he laughs, a little ruefully. It was mostly Dylan and Neil Young, though, and I had two songs of my own. I mean, I was in school in Ballymun, and there were fifty-four kinds in my class, so it made no difference really if I stayed or left, y know? And I didn t get on with them, cos I was into music and playing guitar and that kind of stuff, and they weren t (laughs), so I didn t like my schoolmates, and they didn t like me. I didn t have many friends, I was glad to get out, y know? I ve worried about it since because I really have put all my eggs in one basket. This is all I know, I m a full-time Frame.
It was a mad time, though, he goes on. I met some amazing people, some of whom are still my friends. I have some great friends, and I love them they re my only other passion besides The Frames: like Jimmy Judge, who s still my best friend, who saw me on Grafton St. back then, eleven years ago, and told me early on to keep it up, that I had a gift. That was brilliant. It was the first encouragement I got, I mean, y know, apart from my Ma, the first outside encouragement. I loved it, like I started at 14 and my life completely changed in two weeks. It was mad, Glen s eyes glaze over nostalgically.
I pretty much left home then, I d go out in the morning with my guitar and my lunch and I d see my Ma again in a fortnight (laughs). Everyone on the street knew each other, y know, we d busk and then we d go off to someone s place for the night. There were some mad sessions. There was always somebody s floor to sleep on, y know?
Thus was born our Glen Hansard, writer and singer of some of the most sweepingly romantic, unashamedly passionate love songs in rock n roll.
Well, em, I didn t write my first love song until I was, maybe, sixteen or seventeen. But I was staying in other people s homes, all the time, there was always a crowd, and there were obviously plenty of girls. I had lots of girlfriends, at a young age, a lot of serious relationships. Like, I moved in with my first girlfriend when I was sixteen, and we were together for a year.
So, my admittedly hugely uncorroborated theory that the most beautiful, spiritual love songs are written by people who ve had very few relationships, and so have the otherworldly idea of love and sex to cling to and write about rather than the sometimes mechanical and grubby reality, that s all bollocks, is that what you re saying, then, Glen? Eh?
He smiles again and ponders awhile, does the man who broke a hundred thousand hearts with And I told her as the ship sank/That I loved her/And I told her as we walked off the plank/That I was all hers . . .
Yeah, he nods bashfully but wisely, I ve been in love.
No more need be said.
All of which brings us, I think, to Revelate , a smitten song if ever I ve heard one. And I have. What more is there to say though, you might wonder, four months after its unleashing upon a visibly stunned and obviously ravenous public? One third of a year after Glen Hansard first peeled off those tights, scrunched up that face and wildly, gleefully bellowed Sometimes it s easy just to hate, YEAH! into a very inexpensive rented security camera in Donnybrook Post Office, like the misanthropic humanist Bill Hicks was and all sane people aspire to be? Well, there are a few things.
Revelate is Ireland s finest gospel (Yes!) gong since Dropkick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts Of Life , and maybe ever. Not that it need necessarily have anything to do with He who (some would have us believe) must be obeyed, but testifyin of the order of the finale, Redeem yourself! Redeem yourself! comes along only very rarely outside of the grooves of an Al Green record, and when the tense, gritted teeth verse blossoms into the flowing and, it has to be said, cleansing chorus of Sometimes I need a revelation it s just a release. Like Everybody Hurts or lashings of Deep Heat, it calms frazzled nerves, unties nasty knotted shoulders and lets on that all is groovy, for a while at least.
Glen, worringly, stares bemused when the G-word pops up: I mean I take that as a complete compliment, like, but I do it in the sense that I m talking about a relationship: I m talking about a relationship with myself, pretty much, if you know what I mean.
He has a fascinating, somewhat off-the-wall take on the theme of spiritual renewal that the song slaps you in the face with, though.
I am a believer, he confirms. I know about religions because I ve made it my business to read up on them, and learn about them, but . . . I think, y know, I remember reading somewhere about this, about people travelling to exotic places for space , or sitting in churches or hiking around Tibet to get in touch with their needs, or God, or whatever. And I ve always found that the most revealing moments to me about spirituality or when I ve had real realisations in my life, it s often been . . . on the road, or, y know, in a shop (laughs). s It just comes. And I think that, I mean, sure, being around beautiful scenic places can help, but most often with me it s happened on buses, or crossing the road and stuff.
Quite apart from all that, Revelate is also a blinding love song: whoever s on the receiving end of Sometimes I need your revelation (translation: when I m drained, when I m stuck in a rut, when I m lifeless and about to pack it all in, you are the one who brings me to my senses and reminds me that it s good to be here, you and no-one else) should be suitably flattered. It s just such a gorgeous, flabbergasting thing to say to someone: it reminds me a bit of Big Star s Blue Moon ( Let me be your one light/And if you d like a true heart/Take the time to show you re mine/And I ll be a blue moon in the dark ) and that comparison doesn t trip lightly off this here tongue. Then there s the grinding guitar, bringing fresh meaning to the word visceral : also, in case I forget, the snare sound is magic. Nice one Binzer. (And I never, ever, ever notice that kind of thing.)
Happily, and kind of inevitably, Revelate has struck a crashing chord with the plain people of (so far) Ireland, selling in Celine Dion-threatening quantities and winning, with the world s cheapest promo ever (about which you ve heard enough), fifth place when shown as part of the MTV EuroVideo Grand Prix, for the bewildered but madly enthusiastic perusal of 160 million of our EU neighbours. At long last, it s becoming fun to be a Frame.
It s exciting, yeah, confirms Glen. The past few months have been fucking amazing. He s beaming now.
I didn t expect it at all, like, shrugs Dave, smiling.
Glen goes on: When we released the single, we got an amazing response to it, like, straight off. We were on all the TV shows you can be on in Ireland. And people were coming up to us, other songwriters were ringing up, going This is a great song, where did you come up with it? or Well done, fair fuckin play to you, you re doin it on your own. We released it ourselves, on DC, and there was a great sense of people sticking up their thumbs and going Fair fuckin play! to us, all over the shop. There s been an amazing positive feedback to the song, and then the crowds have been getting much bigger and people know the words and stuff. It s great to get a crowd in your home town, y know, and it s amazing to be filling the place [Whelan s]. It just does your esteem a lot of good.
Dave: The way I d look at it is, you go to, say, the gig last night and there were hundreds of people in the place and they re all going mad and, like, alright, not everyone in the place is going to like the gig, but I d say the vast majority of people that were there liked it. And, it s like, any more success than that, all you re doing is doing the same thing in different places. In a funny kind of way it doesn t get any more than that. If you get people that genuinely like it . . .
Glen nods vigorously: That s success.
And they re absolutely right. The only tragedies in Pop (aside from freak incidents like the Kurt thing and the Richey Manic mystery) are when a glorious group has to throw in the towel to stop the old tummy rumbling. It s OK to worry that A House or AMC may have to become brickies for financial reasons, but hits? They re the cherry on the icing.
I would totally agree with you, avers Glen. Ultimately, I mean, I believe in the community thing where the potter makes pottery and the people in the town buy the pottery so the potter can make more pottery, d you know what I mean? I believe in that method, in that way of thinking. And as regards success, I d just like to be able for people to be given the opportunity to hear us, because when our first LP came out, it was put on shelves, it didn t reach people, and we ve realised through all this that it s all about playing live. So wherever we play, we know we re reaching people. And then they ve got the choice to like us or not, and that s OK.
But, convincing as it superficially sounds, this is not the whole truth, Hot Press can exclusively reveal. Pushed as to what his very wildest dreams for the Frames are, the not-very-rock n roll reality of the situation presents itself.
Well, when I left school at fourteen, my Ma bought me that guitar, y know? And it was on condition that, she kind of said If you get anywhere, I m expecting a house in Howth, alright?
Yeah. So I can t go home until then, Glen Hansard, quite possibly Ireland s next globe-straddling rock n roll demigod, whimpers, There ll be trouble.
The Pete Briquette-produced follow-up to Another Love Song remains, at the time of writing, untitled Angel At My Table and Monument are possibles, while Glen, with impeccable taste, is pulling hair, poking eyes, stamping on feet and generally fighting tooth and nail in his attempts to call it Fitzcarraldo, an improbably cool title, you will agree. (Also, it s the name of the epic standout track.) Homages to Klaus Kinski movies are always welcome in these parts.
Have you seen it? splutters Glen, as animated as he gets (which is really quite animated). It s an amazing movie. I saw it completely by accident. I was feeling lazy one afternoon and just sat in front of the telly, it was on BBC2 and I caught most of it, and got it out on video the following day again.
There s this Irishman, Fitzgerald that s Klaus Kinski he s a trader but his passion is opera, and he has this dream of building a big opera house in this tiny village deep in the Amazon Basin. And the authorities are going (waves hands frantically) No! No! You can t! No-one ll go!, but he ignores them and goes and does it, cos it s his passion, y know?
And so, without their help, he has to finance it himself, and he takes his old ship way down the river to extract rubber from trees, for money. But he goes down the wrong branch of the river and ends up in a village full of hostile natives, like, and the crew are, like, What re we doing here? They re pissed off, they re in trouble.
But Fitzgerald s passion is opera, he loves Caruso, so the natives are there beside his ship and so he whips out this Caruso record and plays it real loud; the natives can t believe it, they stop and listen, there s no more danger. They have this real communication, without words, y know? And then, the end of the film is, he gets the natives to actually lift his big ship out of the water and over this huge mountain onto the river they re supposed to be on.
It s not my favourite film, but it was the kind of film I needed to see then, I think. You know, it s about doing your own thing, taking the long way round but getting there eventually. It struck a chord.
This tale is telling, and the resonances pretty obvious. If there is one thing that links together everything on the LP and there is it s this admirable, even enviable lust for life and pointblank refusal to let anything come between you and what you need to do with your life: whether it s Revelate (which I ve already mentioned), the sweet strength of We re In This Boat Together, Babe ( If I had a wish/I d give it straight to you it sounds simple, but I love all that shit) or the serene but determined Say It To Me Now , it s a record made for, but not by, the faint-hearted.
Fitzcarraldo , with its groovy bassline courtesy of The Bass Police, Pete Works With Tricky These Days Briquette and Graham Son Of Brian Downey ( the least rock n roll person in the world, according to Dave), it s marvellous, overcoming-insurmountable-odds lyric and Glen s typically unstinting delivery takes the individual honours but there are eleven contenders out of eleven songs; the LP as a whole is far less breakneck than the Black Francis-borrowing Another . . . and Pete s elegant, rhythm-centred production combined with Glen s slower, flowing vocals gives the whole LP an incredibly warm, deep, soulful feel. You can lose yourself quite easily in a record like this; it ll emerge towards the middle of June, and we ll all be submerged by the end of the month.
Rumour and vile, not entirely unfounded gossip has it large amounts of cash and not inconsiderable distribution deals are about to be foisted on The Frames by an exceedingly large major label another malicious rumour has it that the name of the label in question starts with War and ends in ners you can only wish them well, this time, and, drooling, pray for the day that corporate incompetence and the poor taste of the punters (no longer a problem) ceases to prevent The Frames from springing their gorgeous, inspiring way of seeing things onto the unsuspecting world at large.
Think of it: to wander into a second-hand record store in Bogota and happen upon a bootleg Revelate 12"; to venture into a let s not be greedy medium-sized arena on Continental Europe, while five thousand recently rejuvenated rock n roll fans gasp as Monument's mad, obsessive, big, big love booms out, and Glen Hansard and Noreen O Donnell s voices waft up, swerve, loop and clamber all over one another, interlocking like double-stranded DNA: sure, all you can do is dream.