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Hal Get The Business Buzzing
They’re the hottest new act in Ireland – and the record companies think so too.
Tanya Sweeney, 30 Oct 2003
Right now, Dublin quartet Hal are in a hugely enviable position, with a host of UK labels hotly pursuing their signature. They may well be the next Irish superstars in the making.
Rewind back to February 2003, when members of the Irish and UK A&R fraternity were feverishly investigating the whereabouts of a new, mystery band. They didn’t have long to wait – Hal made their debut appearance at Dublin’s Sugar Club the following month, with drummer Brian Murphy having joined the band six days previously. Two months later, a similar, tight-as-a-gnat’s-arse showcase gig was held in the same venue and the UK industry turnout was even more impressive.
The industry buzz happened at just the moment when The Thrills were beginning to hit paydirt for Virgin – leading some to speculate that Hal might be groomed as the ‘next Thrills’. The upward trajectory of those other sun-drenched southsiders may indeed be somewhat prescient of the rise of Hal – but there, the band insist, the similarities end.
Unfortunately, for this reason, it’s near nigh impossible to mention Hal without mentioning those other sun-drenched Southsiders, The Thrills, whose upward career trajectory is eerily similar. But there, Hal insist, the similarities end.
“I think musically, we are a million miles away from each other, even though we both appear to love American music,” notes vocalist/guitarist David Allen. “Killiney is our beach as opposed to San Diego, though. We love the Beach Boys and Bacharach, but I think we’re taking it in another direction. As a comparison, it would be nice to be compared to Burt Bacharach, but I guess The Thrills comparison is one we’re comfortable with.”
Fortunately for Hal, the proof is in the pudding. Forget the hype, and that The Thrills ever existed, and the general contention is that the music Hal are bringing to the table is deserving of acclaim in its own right.
And they’re getting it. Their UK debut, for example, was in the 4,500-capacity Glasgow Barrowlands, supporting Starsailor. A tough venue – but the boys done good. At this point, keyboardist Stephen O’Brien produces snaps from the tour, and it’s fair to say, some of them are not a pretty sight.
“It was the best time we ever had, the first time we saw what we were like away from home. Think about it, four lads away from home… lots of aftershow parties…” recalls David. “I thought I was going to die on the outskirts of Birmingham in the Scooby Doo Van…”
“To be fair, Starsailor really looked after us,” says bassist/vocalist (and brother to David) Paul Allen. “They were great to talk to, great at giving advice. It couldn’t have gone any better – although we were mistaken for their guitar techs a few times as we were playing.”
“In the UK, people really get into the support bands, instead of hanging at the bar until the main act. And they expect you to be good,” observes drummer Brian Murphy. “When we came out we were so nervous, but we got such an amazing reception from those who were listening, people just went mad… it was a great experience”.
“My brother, the roadie, got married to one of the girls from catering after one of the gigs – it was that kind of tour,” remembers Stephen. “We were in such an emotional state that those kind of situations arose…”
The next task is the enviable one of label shopping. Several are currently in the running, although one or two get mentioned with increasing regularity. Of the ongoing A&R scrum, David remains philosophical.
“We’re not all that fazed by the label interest… it’s flattering, but at the moment we’re doing what we like doing best – writing and recording songs, for ourselves. If someone else is into it, well, it’s definitely a bonus.”