Arts

Hothouse Flowers' Fiachna Ó Braonáin says band all set for Stendhal festival

With their distinctive blend of trad, blues, rock and soul, Hothouse Flowers have been making music at home and abroad since 1985. Founding member Fiachna Ó Braonáin tells Scene how he's looking forward to returning to Northern Ireland for this year's Stendhal festival

Hothouse Flowers, with Fiachna Ó Braonáin at front right. Picture by Richie Tyndall

NOT many Irish acts have enjoyed the success and staying power of Hothouse Flowers – the irrepressible rock group combine traditional Irish music with influences from soul, gospel and rock, and have been selling out shows and wowing audiences around the world in a career that has spanned four decades.

The band, started in 1985 by Dubliners Liam Ó Maonlaí and Fiachna Ó Braonáin who had been schoolmates at Coláiste Eoin in Booterstown, have released nine albums, numerous hit singles and played all the big gigs you can name. Yet they aspire to experience more and, more importantly, create more experiences.

“We are at a great place now as a band,” says guitarist and vocalist Ó Braonáin. “It’s not like it was at the start when there was a lot of pressure and we couldn’t really do anything outside of the band. Now there is no all-encompassing master plan – the phone keeps ringing with people asking us to come and play shows, so we play shows.

“It’s a very different industry now from when we started out but, for us as a band, gigging is just as fresh and exciting as ever. We have shows all over Ireland, the UK and Japan this year and bringing people together and creating experiences for people with our music still gives us the same thrill as ever.”

Festivals in particular are a favourite gigging experience for the band says, Ó Braonáin, who is also a presenter on RTÉ Radio One.

“Festivals really are our natural habitat,” he says. "We love the community spirit you find at them. We love that you have an audience made up of people who know every word to all of your songs as well as people who are discovering you for the first time.

“We love to meet up with other bands, see other bands play and embrace an atmosphere and experience that you simply don’t get on tour shows.”

Although they have played at festivals all over the world, from Glastonbury to Fuji Rocks, headlining Stendhal Festival in Limavady this summer will be the band's first time topping a festival bill in Northern Ireland.

“We are really looking forward to Stendhal,” says, Ó Braonáin. “We have always had great experiences in the north, going all the way back to when we used to play the Rialto in Derry.

“One of my fondest memories of playing Northern Ireland was back in the 80s when we played the Ulster Hall in Belfast. I remember there was an added edge to the audience reaction that night, a reaction that almost said, we are embracing life in these uncertain times and to hell with all the troubles.

“When we finished the set, the promoter Jim Aiken came backstage and told us that the mix of communities in the crowd who stood side by side with each other watching us that night was a sign that things could get better. He didn’t have to come and tell us that – it was very generous of him.

“So yes, [we're] really looking forward to playing a festival up north along side a host of other great acts.”

In terms of the current crop of talent, Ó Braonáin sees it as a great time to be involved in the Irish music scene.

“The scene in Ireland, north and south is amazing at the minute,” he says. “It seems that people are now tapping into how to express themselves through their Irish roots and backgrounds as opposed to copying styles from other places. Acts are starting to really understand what they are about and aren’t afraid of putting it out there.

“Acts like Lankum, Ye Vagabonds and Jack O’Rourke are great examples of this. There are loads of acts that I love but, I must say, at the minute the Borders collaboration between Ryan Vail and Elma Orkestra is something very special indeed – it’s brilliant and hopefully I’ll catch it again at Stendhal.”

:: Hothouse Flowers headline Stendhal Festival in Limavady on Friday August 16. For more info visit stendhalfestival.com

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