Horslips Live at the Cropredy Festival

‘Forty years ago Fairport Convention asked us to play with them, tonight we’ve finally got round to it’.

This should give you some idea of the longevity of the Horslips, and also their enduring popularity. How to describe their sound if you’ve never heard them before? Well, it’s a mixture of prog rock/folk/blues/traditional Irish music. Their songs tell of love won and lost, and of course tales of mythology and war – but don’t let that put you off! There’s something in their back catalogue for prog, rock and folk fans alike.

Many say they pioneered Celtic Rock and paved the way for other Irish bands like Thin Lizzy. Horslips toured tirelessly across Ireland in the 70’s, particularly in the North, before calling it a day in 1980 when the five members of the band went their separate ways to pursue their own projects. You’ll know some of bassist Barry Devlin’s work, probably without realising – he worked closely with U2, producing ten of their videos including I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Pride (In The Name Of Love).

29 years after their last live performance, the band reunited (sort of, with drummer Eamon Carr replaced on stage by guitarist Johnny Fean’s brother Ray) following a resurgence in interest in their music. After playing a few gigs across Ireland and Northern Ireland, they were signed up for London’s Feis and Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festivals in 2011.

So, to Cropredy 2011, and after a fairly chilled out day kicked off by Richard Digance and all-female band The Shee, The Blockheads really got the crowd going with their popular brand of (sex and drugs and) rock and roll. Lead singer Derek ‘the Draw’ Hussey belts out all the hits you’d expect: Sex & Drugs & Rock n Roll, What a Waste, Reasons to Be Cheerful and, of course, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick to name a few.

As award-winning folk band Lau brought their set to a close, there was a clear sense of anticipation for Horslips’ arrival, with a rush (well, as much of a rush as you get at a folk festival!) to get a good spot near the barrier.

Taking to the stage to a rapturous welcome from the crowd, the band opened with the instrumental King of the Fairies, before launching into The Power and the Glory with the audience joining in enthusiastically. Quickly followed by Mad Pat, Blindman and High Reel, Horslips then launched into the slightly (I’ve always thought anyway) mediaeval-tinged Charolais, the story of a battle between the forces of Connacht and Ulster for the ownership of a prize bull. And then, in the finest prog tradition, a 15-minute long medley from The Book of Invasions , moving from the peaceful traditional Irish instrumental piece Daybreak through Ride to Hell, Sideways to the Sun and culminating in the very popular (judging by our collective reaction in the crowd) and more upbeat Sword of Light.

Well into their stride now, the band was clearly having a great craic up on stage, joking and smiling broadly at each other and at the crowd’s reaction to each song. I love it when a band looks happy to be on stage, it’s great when they look like they’re enjoying the gig as much as I am!

With the crowd now in the palm of their hand, they kept their most well-known songs coming with The Man Who Built America, Trouble with a Capital ‘T’ and finishing off their own material with a rousing Dearg Doom.

The band closed with an upbeat ‘Shakin’ All Over’ which went down well with the crowd, although I could have lived without it – though this was only because I was greedy for more of Horslips extensive back catalogue in their seemingly too-short set. The loud chants for ‘More!’ after the band left the stage proved just how much the crowd had enjoyed their set, as did the boos once it became clear there was no time in the tight schedule for them to return for an encore. One thing was evident – Badly Drawn Boy was going to find Horslips a very hard act to follow.

As a fan since I was a little girl, this was pretty much the perfect set for me, albeit I would have liked them to have played all night! These are stirring songs that will by turn have you listening peacefully, or singing along and rocking out. You can’t beat a bit of rock/prog flute and electric fiddle action, coupled with a bit of stomping rock and trad reels to stir the Celtic blood in you.

As the announcer who introduced them said: ‘The best band ever to come out of Ireland…’ And based on last night’s performance, I’m inclined to agree with him.

Set List:

King of the Fairies

Power and the Glory

Mad Pat

Blindman

High Reel

Maeve’s Court: Charolais

Book of Invasions: Medley

Speed the Plough

The Man Who Built America

Trouble with a Capital ‘T’

Dearg Doom

Shakin’ All Over