- 08 Sep 11
They blew Smashing Pumpkins off-stage and, with a little luck, could have been as big as U2. Now the great lost band of 90s indie rock Whipping Boy are on the reunion trail. From his new home in the depths of Leitrim, frontman Fearghal McKee talks about the group's colourful past and their future ambitions.
“It’s like fuckin’ Woodstock here, man!” It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in lovely Leitrim and, talking to Hot Press on his mobile, a somewhat croaky-sounding Fearghal McKee seems to be in flying form. So much so that the Whipping Boy frontman is a lot more interested in talking about the free music festival he’s just helped put on than he is about the recent resurrection of his band.
Having decamped from his native Dublin to Ballinamore a few years ago, McKee is one of the organisers of the town’s Free Fringe Festival that’s just winding to a close today.
“Over the last four days we had a total of 80 bands coming here to play for nothing,” he enthuses. “And I have to cook all the food and feed the whole lot of them. And we organised free accommodation with the town. It just really took off, you know.”
The cooking won’t be a problem. When Whipping Boy split at the end of the ‘90s, having almost but not quite made it internationally on the back of their acclaimed sophomore album, Heartworm, a disillusioned McKee spent periods on the dole and working as a chef.
By the sounds of things, though, the 44-year-old has definitely got his musical mojo back. “I was pissed off about the band, but that’s the way it goes,” he says. “I’m now really enjoying the approach of my middle-age. The world can fuck off! There’s the ninth wave coming. Everything’s gonna change. And we’re gonna fuckin’ play with that change. It’s energy, man! It’s probably the best energy humans have had to live on. And it’s coming from the earth, it’s coming from all around you.
“Like what’s just happened here with the Free Fringe is amazing. It’s after waking up this town. All the locals have come on board and everyone’s been helpful. It’s been mad craic. Bands jamming in the street until 4.30 in the morning!”
Whipping Boy have been on the comeback trail for the last two months, playing pubs and clubs around Ireland. Even 16 years on from Heartworm’s release, there’s still an audience willing to pay to hear such classic tracks as ‘Twinkle’, ‘We Don’t Need Nobody Else’ and ‘When We Were Young’ live.
Now, as then, they’re a musical force to be reckoned with. McKee’s proudest moment with the band came in the mid-’90s: “I’ll always remember blowing The Smashing Pumpkins off the stage in the SFX in ’94 or ’95,” he laughs. “We supported them and we just fuckin’ annihilated them on stage!”
Although all four original members reunited for a gig in 2005, only McKee and drummer Colm Hassett are in the current line-up. “Well, there’s two of the old line-up, really. Cillian MacGowan (guitar) was always there, but was never given accreditation, shall we say.”
The band are working on new material – “They’re fuckin’ roaring out of us!” – and there are three new songs already in the can (including the wonderfully titled ‘Fuck Off Bad Energy’). He’s just not expecting them to be played on Irish radio any day soon.
“We need to drastically change the radio-play in Ireland bigtime,” he says. “There’s a lot of Irish bands making great fuckin’ sounds. Why aren’t they played on the radio? There’s a band up here called Sister Lovers. You’re talking about Television meets Magazine meets Gram Parsons. The most perfectly structured songs! Are they being played? Not a chance!
“They have to go back to at least 80% Irish music played on the radio to 20% foreign. Just do it for a year or two and see what happens. We’re making loads of music and it’s just as good as the American or English stuff. We’re not allowing ourselves to be heard.”
He says that Whipping Boy have no particular interest in signing a record deal. “You don’t need a deal these days unless it’s gonna be huge. But that’s actually a young lad’s game. We’d love to make an album or just keep on releasing songs. But we’ll be playing live anywhere we can. We’re hopefully going to the Czech Republic in the new year. So we’ll be concentrating on eastern Europe and Russia.”
Now that he’s back on a rock ‘n’ roll, McKee says he has no regrets about all those lost years. “You can’t dwell on these things. Karma always comes around. You’ll always find money or a way to keep going. There’s a chap I was talking to here this morning. Came down from Dublin, broke and off his tits, played the greatest gig of his life, off his tits, and wakes up this morning with €40 in his pocket. He thinks it’s raining money, man!
“That’s rock ‘n’ roll. That’s the essence of the spirit. When you just don’t give a bollocks, and just go out and do it. You’ll always find good receptive spirits there when you take that plunge and just go off and do it.”