Horslips in Irish Musical and Literary Culture

By Murphy, John L. | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

Horslips in Irish Musical and Literary Culture


Murphy, John L., Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


Abstract. This essay examines the literary impact of a musical electric-folk band. Horslips combined psychedelic, and hard rock with Irish traditional motifs and Celtic narrative themes. Spanning the decade from 1970 to 1980, their success and decline followed the trajectory of the countercultural movement, which came late to Ireland. The band's revival of mythic characters and historical events drawn from the Irish past attracted fans from all over the island, as well as the diaspora; many young people gained an appreciation of their Irish heritage for the first time, as Horslips became the first electric folk-rock band to fuse disparate genres, and to succeed as an Irish-based independent collective who controlled the graphics, marketing, distribution, and promotion of their music. They inspired the likes of U2 and the Irish punk and new-wave rock musicians who followed them, and without the pioneering efforts of Horslips, Irish music and culture today may never have reached its current success, three decades later.

Keywords. Horslips, Irish popular music, Irish traditional music, Cheryl Herr, John Kelly, Patrick McCabe, Paul Muldoon, Gerry Smyth.

Resumen: En este trabajo se examina el impacto literario de un grupo musical de folk electrico. Horslips combinaba rock duro y psicodelico con motivos tradicionales irlandeses y temas de la narrativa celta. Su exito, que abarca de 1970 a 1980, y su declive siguieron la trayectoria del movimiento contracultural que llego a Irlanda tardiamente. Al llevar a cabo un renacimiento de los caracteres miticos y los sucesos historicos del pasado irlandes, el grupo atrajo seguidores de todas partes de la isla, asi como de la diaspora; muchos jovenes llegaron a apreciar su herencia irlandesa por primera vez. Horslips se convirtio en el primer grupo de rock folk electrico que fusiono generos muy dispares, que alcanzo el exito como un colectivo independiente asentado en Irlanda y que consiguio controlar los graficos, el marketing, la distribucion y la promocion de su musica. Fueron la inspiracion y los predecesores de, entre otros, U2, el 'punk' irlandes y los musicos del rock 'new-wave'. Sin el trabajo pionero de Horslips la musica irlandesa y su cultura no habrian alcanzado, tres decadas mas tarde, el exito del que gozan en la actualidad.

Palabras clave: Horslips, musica irlandesa popular, musica irlandesa tradicional, Cheryl Herr, John Kelly, Patrick McCabe, Paul Muldoon, Gerry Smyth.

Horslips joined literary craft and cultural heritage with musical fusion. Playing traditionally inspired tunes on amplified instruments, they combined harder, commercial rock with Irish themes. Beginning what U2 advanced, Horslips became the first successful rock act based for their entire career in Ireland. Abroad, they hit the charts and toured widely. These five Irishmen formed a home-grown, counter-corporate and countercultural collective, influenced by the Beats and the Beatles, Mairtin O Direain and Elvis. Horslips controlled their stage presentation, graphic design, record pressing, and concert promotion. They composed music for The Abbey Theatre which exp anded into a concept album, "The Tain". They worked with Paul Muldoon and have been featured in novels by John Kelly and Patrick McCabe.

Their albums in the 1970s adapted legendary and historic texts, as they interpreted the Book of Invasions, Turlough O'Carolan, the Famine, and emigration.

This essay will explore the band's musical legacy through their appropriation of Irish motifs. Horslips blended the energy of the hippie movement with the glitz of glam-rock. They mixed progressive arrangements with traditional tunes. They issued concept albums that explained the Irish past to an international audience eager for amplified narratives that took forty minutes to hear rather than four weeks of class to memorize. For many young people in the 1970s, Horslips energized Irish identity. In the words of bassist Barry Devlin: "There was something about Horslips that Irish kids recognised as being theirs. …

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