Arts

Bagatelle, the band that inspired U2, prepare for their farewell gigs

About to call it a day after 38 years touring, Bagatelle founding member Ken Doyle reminisces to Jenny Lee about a career that has taken the Irish rock band all over the world

Irish rock band Bagatelle will play their final live gig next month

THEY'VE inspired U2 and shared the stage with Bob Marley; now 38 years after their humble beginning in a small bar in the Co Wicklow town of Bray, veteran Irish rockers Bagatelle are preparing to play their final gigs.

One of two existing original band members, bass guitarist Ken Doyle, has mixed emotions about 'retirement'. While thoroughly enjoying playing live and the audiences "making the hairs stand on his head", he admits that he is "just getting too road weary".

The 62-year-old, who has never missed a gig, has travelled far and wide, bringing the music of Bagatelle to audiences in Europe, American, the Middle East and China, as well as in Ireland. Their hit Second Violin was such a success in Uruguay that it's still played there today.

Over the years, the band has had various changes of members, but, currently it has four main performers – Ken, pianist and lead vocalist Liam Reilly, drummer Seanie Devitt and lead guitarist Kurt Schefter.

The group, dominated by the superb piano playing and songwriting ability of frontman Reilly, broke up for a while but reformed in 1992. Since then, they have been performing non-stop.

Bagatelle will play their final Northern Ireland gig next month ahead of their final ever gig is in Vicar Street, Dublin, on February 14, St Valentine's night.

"We've been having quite an emotional time during our final tour. Lots of people have been relating their stories to us, of meeting their life partner at our gigs and sharing photos of their parents who introduced them to Bagatelle but are sadly no longer with us," says Ken.

Bagatelle have shared the stage with the likes of Bob Marley, Van Morrison, U2, Thin Lizzy, Don McLean and The Pogues, but Ken admits he "loves them all".

Flight of Earls has become one of the most popular Irish emigration songs, while their 1978 hit Summer in Dublin has become one of Irish rock's iconic songs.

"When we are abroad and play Summer in Dublin, the emotional outpouring from people is unreal. In those four or five minutes they are at home – they are reliving it," smiles Ken, who is genuinely surprised by the band's success and longevity.

"The enjoyment we have given people and the enjoyment people have given us over the years has been incredible. We were just a band, playing a few songs with no plan and no real expectation. We just got together to play a few songs and drink a few beers because we like music. Our success over the years was simply a happy accident."

Ken has witnessed monumental changes to the music industry over the past few decades and he feels it's not for the better.

"I really don't understand the music industry the way it is at the minute. The way we started out and the way we got our record deal doesn't exist anyone. We probably would never have been heard of if we were starting off now. Everything these days seems to be manufactured stars with really good songwriters writing songs for them. The only advice I could give young musicians is to concentrate on writing original songs – and just to enjoy the music".

Bagatelle were playing in a small stone cellar venue in Dublin when they were approached afterwards by John Woods, the managing director of Polygram Records who treated them to a burger, chip and Coke after their gig and offer them a record deal.

"The late John Woods was the gentleman who believed in us before we did. He reckoned the music would sell and the following week we went over to Sussex and recorded it," says Ken, recalling a later conversation with John at his record headquarters.

"I remember him saying to me "there were four lovely young lads came in here from Dublin and they said to me if you give us a chance, we could be as big as Bagatelle". That was U2," laughs Ken, who is already pouring his creativity into new ventures including writing fiction and children's music.

:: Bagatelle play Belfast's Europa Hotel on February 7. Tickets from Ticketmaster.ie and the Europa Hotel reception.

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