Noise Annoys: Whipping Boy's 1995 classic Heartworm re-issued, plus news on Belfast City Gardens live shows...
:: Whipping Boy – Heartworm deluxe edition (album, Needle Mythology)
"WAITING to be bled, turning tricks just like your mother" – when it comes to arresting opening lines, Twinkle by Dublin indie rockers Whipping Boy takes some beating.
That the Fearghal McKee-fronted quartet front-loaded their 1995 major label debut with this gritty tale of obsession and destructive desire speaks volumes about the band's self-confidence at the time – remarkable for a group who had already seen their debut record, 1992's thrillingly noisy but undeniably derivative Submarine, torpedoed by a demoralising lack of wider interest.
However, the scuttling of Submarine was surely the making of Whipping Boy. Somehow, McKee, Paul Page (guitar), Myles McDonnell (bass) and Colm Hassett (drums) managed to regroup and create an incredibly strong set of new songs even as they were left bobbing disconsolate in their debut's murky wake.
Moody, melodic, magnificent works like the aforementioned Twinkle, their bruising/brooding anthem We Don't Need Nobody Else – which began as a kind of defiant statement of intent for the struggling band before morphing into something altogether more subversive, memorable and troubling ("I hit you for the first time today") – and the bittersweet but ultimately joyous nostalgia trip of When We Were Young with its poignant and eerily prescient refrain of "what might have been", raised Whipping Boy's game by several leagues.
Such big, bold and emotionally resonant songs became the bones (and indeed, the calling-card singles) of the markedly more sophisticated and ambitious Heartworm, which found them shrugging off the obvious 'My Sonic Mary Chain' worship of their early days with considerable aplomb. Little wonder that Sony imprint Columbia smelled success in the new demos coming out of Whipping Boy's dingy Dublin rehearsal space in late 1993.
Made as the first fruit of a guaranteed two album deal with the major label (a vote of confidence for an 'unproven' band pretty much unheard of in the music industry at the time), Heartworm brought the quartet much closer in line with the kind of lyrically dark, emotionally turbulent and sonically ambitious musical territory then being explored by the likes of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and The Afghan Whigs.
To be fair, like the Whigs, Whipping Boy still managed to bring the noise with style when the mood struck them: the churning quiet/loud/louder FX-pedal smeared intensity of tracks like Users, Fiction, Tripped and Blinded racked up respectable mosh pit points for Heartworm, all bolstered by the band's winning way with a hooky chorus.
Yet these songs sounded comparatively conventional next to the album's more subtly nuanced and musically courageous moments – the aforementioned trio of singles, plus swoonsome, swirling lament The Honeymoon is Over, Personality's playfully poetic string-enhanced balladry and the album's superb, sweeping, world-weary closer Morning Rise.
These days, everyone agrees that Heartworm is a classic – hence this hugely anticipated deluxe re-issue, which mops up the original LP, the excellent b-sides from its singles and a couple of early demos – yet it mystifyingly failed to set the world alight when it was originally released back in October 1995, almost a full year after recording was completed.
Heartworm hit record shops when Britpop was in its full, ludicrous pomp. Whipping Boy were clearly far removed from that carry-on, nor were they 'heavy' enough to fit in with the nascent Britrock and US punk scenes al la fellow countrymen Therapy?, Kerbdog and Ash.
If only they could have found an escape chute similar to that utilised by Radiohead who, lest we forget, were Just Another Indie Band teetering on the edge of one-hit-wonder obscurity until they released their creative watershed The Bends in early 1995, well before the Blur vs Oasis hysteria boiled over.
Had Columbia moved quicker, Heartworm might have also got out there in front of the Britpop juggernaut. "What might have been," indeed.
Instead, Whipping Boy continued to toil in relatively obscurity beyond Ireland (where Heartworm was a Top 20 album), a situation compounded by odd management decisions like crying off a major US support tour with Stabbing Westward at the last moment, effectively curdling relations with their all-powerful American paymasters.
The band held together long enough to make a third, self-titled album, independently released in 2000 long after Heartworm was deleted. That Whipping Boy record is also brilliant – just as musically powerful as its predecessor, with the added bite of bitter experience and dashed hopes in its lyrical and musical DNA.
It actually benefits from being made at a moment when Whipping Boy must have been all too aware that the boat to rock and roll fame and fortune had already set sail without them. Since there's a certain freedom in obscurity, then why not go out with guns blazing?
Happily, the broadband-enabled file-sharing revolution of the early 2000s eventually helped the long-deleted Heartworm find a global audience, mainly those curious about a record that was repeatedly popping up in lists of 'forgotten classics' and 'best Irish albums of the 1990s' despite being completely unavailable for the best part of a decade. This stoked a renewed interest in all things Whipping Boy which precipitated a chaotic yet warmly received reunion tour in 2005.
Now, the brand new deluxe re-issue of Heartworm on double vinyl, CD and digital courtesy of Needle Mythology means that their magnum opus is finally out there again. Apparently, the label are currently struggling to press enough copies to keep up with demand – it's good to know the world has finally fallen for Heartworm's considerable charms.
Become smitten at needlemythology.tmstor.es
:: Belfast City Gardens events
FINALLY for this week, word reaches Noise Annoys Towers of a new series of live outdoor music and entertainment events happening in Belfast city centre (remember the city centre?) over the next few weekends.
Belfast City Gardens kicks off today in the grounds of Belfast City Hall with a lunchtime set by Phil D'Alton at 1pm, followed by a performance by Kevin McCullagh and Fióna Ní Mhearáin at Cathedral Gardens beside St Anne's.
Tomorrow afternoon, Premiere Circus sword wallower Sideshow Ramone will entertain the crowds at Cathedral Gardens at 12pm before TS4 featuring Colin Reid and Seonaid Murray perform at 1pm. There will also be music at Belfast City Hall from Kevin McCullagh and Fióna Ní Mhearáin at 3pm.
Sunday brings Premiere Circus back to Cathedral Gardens with a circus show by Mr H at 1pm, before Noise Annoys favourite Rory Nellis plays at 2pm – or if you prefer, you can catch Premiere Circus magician Caolan McBride at 1pm round at Belfast City Hall, followed by music by The Gathering Drum at 2pm.
To find out what's happening next weekend and beyond, keep an eye on belfastone.co.uk/whats-on/event/belfastcitygardens – details of each week's line-ups will be posted every Wednesday throughout the rest of this month.