- 14 Aug 19
The Receipts started out on a journey. They were contenders. But they never got to make the album that they craved before calling it quits. In an astonishing twist, 25 years later, they’ve finally gotten round to making the record they dreamt about. The result? Impressive sales figures. Rave reviews. Packed out shows. And an upcoming festival appearance. Peter McGoran talks to a band who are reenergised and determined to make their mark.
It’s 2015. The four members of The Receipts have stumbled upon an opportunity too good to pass up. For the first time in over 20 years, they’re all living in roughly the same part of Dublin. Granted, they’ve all got families, full-time jobs, other commitments – but getting together and playing some music, even just casually? Sure. They’ve got some time to spare.
They call one another in a process of catching up. As is natural for musicians who used to live out of each other’s pockets, and spend all their free time together as kids, they start to jam. It sets them off on a spin through a mental archive of old songs. They try out ancient riffs. They test each other on the familiar lyrics. What did that one go like again? That wasn’t half bad, after all, was it?
Slowly, they start to realise that the rhythms and sounds of their youth are built into their muscle memory. They have been there all the time – dormant, but still very much alive. When they play them, the songs sound as good as ever. But more than that, the passion is still there. Lead singer Karl McDermott’s hooks are a cry for the past; less a twee nostalgic longing, more a howl that says, “These songs were hot shit at one point, and we’re not gonna let them die in obscurity.”
Memories come flooding back. The electricity they brought to their live shows. The music that captured a time and a place. The fanbase they had – and that might just be out there still.
Beyond that, there is the dream of that album that they never made. Could they do it now? Press it onto vinyl and throw it out there into the world for people to ignore – or perhaps, just perhaps, to fall in love with? Could it all be possible? That was the question.
Suddenly, it felt like they might have an answer.
THOSE EARLY DAYS
Much-touted, much-lauded, much-loved – The Receipts were one of Ireland’s most promising bands throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Their combination of no nonsense power pop hooks and affecting lyrics meant that, at one stage, they stood a chance at becoming Ireland’s answer to the bands at the centre of the Britpop phenomenon in the UK.
A few weeks ago, sitting in the snug confines of the Blue Light Bar in the Dublin Mountains – a haven and a sort of second home for the band – I sat down with The Receipts to talk through their early days and what exactly happened to them.
“We were school friends from Ballinteer,” Karl McDermott, lead singer with the band, told me. “We were just local lads getting together. We weren’t very good at the start but we played a few gigs.
“My next-door neighbour had told me about this bloke up the road from me. Said: ‘He’s a drummer. Why don’t you head up to him and bring your guitar?’ So myself and James Brady – the drummer – we sort of hit it off. Then Ronan came on board.
“We knew of another local lad from Broadford, Paul ‘Max’ McDonald, who played in a band in Ballinteer House,” Ronan Clinton reminisces. “We nabbed him from them and he joined us. It was just local lads from two or three housing estates.”
The Receipts immediately set off on the gigging beat. They found themselves swimming against the current though: nearly every up-and-coming band was doing covers to get by at the time. The Receipts knew, however, that they could hammer their own tunes together. So why play someone else’s music?
“It was all our original songs, right from the get-go,” Karl nods. “We didn’t do any covers. When I met James he was writing good songs, so I said, ‘Ah, I’ll have to do better than that!’ I thought, ‘Well if I’m gonna sing, I might as well sing my own’. So we’d write songs, the two of us. This album that we have out now is a collection of songs that we’d written from that time.”
A promising band they were, giving a memorable performance on RTE’s Jo Maxi back in 1992. The music industry of the early ‘90s was an unforgiving place for musicians who could barely afford to breathe. For The Receipts, teenage dreams gave way to hard reality.
HAIL THE REUNION
Reality meant not doing music. Not being in bands. Slowly but surely, the four members of The Receipts slipped off to do their own individual things. For two decades – twenty years! – The Receipts were just a fleeting memory in someone else’s archive.
But real life eventually delivered a semblance of financial stability. Even more fortuitously, the four members of The Receipts found that they living in close proximity to each other again.
“It was a few years ago that we realised we were all living in the same place,” Ronan explains. “So we thought, ‘We have to play music’. You know when you meet an old friend and it feels like you’re picking up on a conversation you had yesterday? It was that feeling.”
This time around, the four men were able to set themselves up with better equipment, and to rock out at their own pace. What they discovered, almost right away, was that the old songs sounded as relevant as ever…
“It was like hearing ourselves playing in tune for the first time!” Karl says.
Ronan laughs. “Thinking to ourselves, ‘Jaysus, we’re not as bad as we thought’.”
“We really thought, ‘We have to give these old songs a run’,” Karl says earnestly, “because not everyone survived the last, what, 25 years or so? People we knew had moved on. Some had stopped playing music entirely. People we’d known had passed on. And yet here we were, still sounding as tight as ever – so we knew we had to do this.”
GETTING IT DOWN
The band are currently doing a Thursday night residency at The Blue Light – a series that have proven to be blistering affairs. But there was an insatiable dream that they’d had for over 30 years – they wanted to make a real, physical record.
Thankfully, they had a friend in the multi-instrumentalist and producer Gavin Ralston, a man whose glittering career has seen him working and performing with everyone from The Waterboys and Clannad, to Vanessa Williams and Michael Flatley.
I talk to Gavin to get his side of the story.
“I grew up right beside the band,” Gavin tells me. “I would’ve known The Receipts growing up. When I heard they were doing a record, I was interested. And the amazing thing is that we’re all in our late 40s, but the passion they have is the same as they had, back in the ‘90s.”
The album is a fiery, passionate thing altogether, full of ‘60s-style rock and what might be best descried as power pop. There’s no guitar heroes in evidence. No protracted show-off solos. Just 10 songs with serious riffs, boundless energy, and razor sharp lyrics.
In a rave review of the album, Hot Press’ Pat Carty analysed the album’s best songs in fine detail. “‘No Greater Love’ sits on a beautiful orchestration from no less a hand than Fiachra Trench, the man behind the strings on ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ and ‘Fairytale Of New York’, the bubbling ‘Shoot The Crow’ sports a quasi-choral middle eight, and ‘Stay On My Side’ takes a good run at The Kinks during their prime. Turn the thing over and the choppy arrangement of ‘Lisa Jane’ recalls The Knack, ‘She’s Leaving Home’ could be a long lost outtake from The La’s, and the closing ‘Not With Me Anymore’ is a bit like ‘Ticket To Ride’ after someone’s cut the brakes.”
It was an album which fulfilled all of The Receipts lofty ambitions. They’d spent their youth idolising ‘60s rock bands, tried to emulate them in their own music – and now, here they were with a body of work able to stand amongst the giants of rock music from that era.
“When we were recording, we set it up live,” Gavin continues. “There was none of this ‘click track’ thing. Everybody played live. Within the first day we had about five or six songs down. I’m thinking – you know I’ve been a producer for that many years – I’m thinking, ‘This is great! This never happens’. The passion and the work rate that they had was incredible.”
Gavin also worked with UK producer Chris Kimsey (Rolling Stones, The Chieftains), who offered to mix some tracks on the album for the band. Then to top it off, the LP was mastered in Abbey Road, with the same gentleman who’d mastered some of the Beatles tracks. For the lads, this was all beyond their wildest expectations.
Even if you strip all that marvellous hoopla away, the songs themselves stand as a clear testament to the unique chemistry that the band have together, as well as the drive they had to make this record. Having barely changed a single note, riff or lyric in any of the songs from back in the day, The Receipts LP came out sounding like the pipe dream of four young men coming screaming into the present.
They’ve also made the collective decision not to go down the Spotify route with this one. 30 years of music has led the band to see the sort of exploitation that can happen when big streaming sites and record labels collude against musicians. They’re also not shy about asking fans of their music to pay to hear them live, or purchase physical copies of their vinyls. Whatever way you slice it, they’ve done something right anyway.
The Receipts eponymous album debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes charts, on the day of its release…
SO WHAT’S NEXT, BOYS?
So what’s the next step for the band after this?
“There’s a few ideas that we’ve discussed,” says Ronan. “If we can arrange the timing, we would like to go back to Abbey Road. It was a phenomenal experience. We didn’t get into any of the studios while we were there because there was people working in them, so we thought – the only way to get in is by booking time there. So that’s what we did! And now we might as well use it.”
Karl McDermott nods. “I genuinely think we’ve got it in us to make a great second album,” he says matter-of-factly.
The Receipts have no shortage of songs for it. They also showed that their live chops are very much intact when they performed at a massive outdoor homecoming gig at the Blue Light, in Rathfarnham, in March. For our part, The Receipts story of redemption and triumph is one for the ages. Would we do a flip cover with this most extraordinary of outfits? You bet your ass.
So a few weeks after our first interview, I got the chance to catch up with The Receipts, to talk about the success of their debut album – and to look afresh to the future. Top of the agenda was The Receipts’ gig at Summerland Festival in Wicklow in August.
“We’ve been tightening up our act,” said drummer James Brady, sitting in the Hot Press meeting room. “So when Summerland Festival came up – it triggered something in us. One of the challenges – between us having other careers and commitments – is getting to play together, so when the Festival idea was raised, we all jumped at it.” Ronan, the band’s guitarist, picks up the thread. “It’s something that we can plan in advance. And we want to do this, so that we make it onto the festival circuit proper next year. If you open the cage door, we’ll be doing as many festivals as we can.”
After all these years then, they’re still raring to get out there and play?
“Oh yeah,” says Ronan. “Why not? You look around you – the world’s full of the breaking of societal norms. One of the questions I get asked is, ‘Why the heck are you doing what you’re doing with The Receipts?’ And I always answer that – even aside from the core love of the music – by saying ‘why not do it?’ Every rule is broken in every corner of society now. Why shouldn’t The Receipts be out here doing exactly this?”
Well, there you have it. They have laid down the gauntlet for festival bookers next year. The Receipts are ready to rock. And they’re ready to deliver too. In a big way.
• The Receipts’ debut album is out now. For more details go to thereceipts.ie.