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Wednesday 26 July 2017

craig Re-lives the dream, 20 years on

Craig Walker was still only a teenager when his band The Power Of Dreams became one of Irish rock's proudest success stories in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Forming the band with sibling Keith when he was still at school in Templeogue, south Dublin, Ireland's own Walker brothers recruited bassist Mick Lennox and, for a time, guitarist Robbie Callan and later Ian Olney, and found that their dreams came true quicker than they could ever have hoped for.

A major label deal and numerous 'Single of the Week' accolades in the NME -- when that really meant something -- saw PoD bask in both critical and commercial success, two terms which had often seemed to be mutually exclusive in the Irish music biz.

Now, two decades later, Walker has reconvened the band for a short Irish tour and some UK dates to celebrate the special 20th anniversary re-issue of their trail-blazing debut album Immigrants, Emigrants And Me.

Yet, while the shows will allow fans of a certain age to roll back the clock to what some regard as Irish rock's halcyon days (and in the audience will be their old schoolmate Ian O'Doherty, of this parish, who championed them from the get-go), Walker is not content to merely look backwards -- the 38-year-old singer/songwriter has just released his debut solo album, the impressive Siamese, and has numerous other projects in the pipeline. Listening to Immigrants again after all this time, I'm struck by how fresh it still sounds. It's a record that could easily have dropped in 2009 without sounding out of place. Of course, you could argue that this is an indictment of the poverty of new ideas coming from today's guitar bands, but that's hardly Walker's fault. Rather, look at it this way: it ain't broke -- so nobody's calling a plumber.

So what does Craig remember of those heady days when Power Of Dreams first had dreams of power?

"When we started out, there was a real buzz about the fact that the biggest band in the world were from here," he says.

"It certainly changed me. I have U2 to thank for that -- they made me believe that I could make a career out of music. Before them, there was no one, really. Thin Lizzy? That had been years before."

Indeed, the history books show that there was a goldrush to sign Irish bands after the Mount Temple Four went supernova.

"There was an influx of A&R men coming over here from the UK, trying to find the next U2. That went on for a long time. There was a very healthy scene in Ireland at that time. There were a lot of good bands over a five-year period: A House, Something Happens, Stars Of Heaven, Blue In Heaven, The Honey Thieves, Cactus World News ... "

Craig was in the right place at the right time.

"It all happened very quickly for me. I was just a teenager, still in school. We used to practise in the garage at the end of my parents' back garden. That's where we spent all our spare time.

"My mum would make us all tea when we'd come back into the house. I think she was just glad that the band kept us off the streets. So she didn't have to worry about where we were, or what we were up to. She knew exactly where we were: in the garage!"

Back then, before the likes of Eamonn Doran's or Whelan's opened their doors, the Dublin scene for nascent local bands revolved around venues like the Baggot Inn and The Underground on Dame Street.

"Yes, we used to play The Underground, even though we were too young to be served drink at the bar."

And now the venue has been turned into a lapdancing club.

"Well, I can tell you the girls were all wearing woolly jumpers in my day. They were covered up head to toe!" he laughs.

Power Of Dreams were originally signed to Keith Cullen's London-Irish indie imprint Setanta Records, who released their debut EP, A Little Piece Of God (included on the bonus CD on the 2010 re-issue), but soon the majors came knocking.

"We chose Polydor," says Craig, "and suddenly doors opened for us pretty quickly. We recorded the debut album in London with Ray Shulman, who'd worked on one of my favourite albums -- The Sundays' Reading, Writing And Arithmetic. That was why we called it Immigrants, Emigrants And Me -- it was a sort of nod to The Sundays album title.

The label made things happen. We were given loads of tour supports, and so we travelled around all these different countries.

"I remember we went over to Japan and the reaction was unbelievable. We were treated as though we were megastars. There were literally hordes of screaming girls waiting for us in the hotel lobby. We got a taste of what it must be like to be genuinely famous. It really does mess with your head.

"Of course, what we didn't know at the time was that the exact same girls would be back there the following week waiting for the next rock band over from Europe to check in."

While Craig's influences growing up were guitar bands such as The Cure, The Smiths, and Echo & The Bunnymen, he later expanded his musical palate.

The Power Of Dreams split up after their fourth album, 1994's Become Yourself, failed to match their earlier success.

After briefly playing with Irish indie band Pharmacy, Craig took a left-turn by joining the well-regarded trip-hop collective Archive, with whom he made three albums from 2002-2005, eventually leaving when he got disillusioned with touring.

"In Archive, we'd spend the same amount of time obsessing about one drum pattern as it took the Power Of Dreams to record a whole album," he says. "It was just a different approach to making music." Craig remembers his Damascene conversion to dance music fondly.

"I remember going to one of those illegal raves off the M25 orbital outside London back when it was all kicking off. It was a real life-changing moment. It's like that Jarvis Cocker line: 'Is this the future or just 4,000 people standing in a field'. But it was great to be a part of a new youth movement as it was being formed. That doesn't happen very often."

And what about the new album, Siamese?

"I wrote and recorded it with a Scandinavian musician called Bardi Johansson. He's very popular in Iceland. He has a studio in Reykjavik. It's the first album I've done that has my name on the cover, so that was a good feeling."

For now, though, Craig is looking forward to that trip down memory lane.

"It's great to have the band back together. And I'm delighted Robbie Callan has agreed to play a few songs with us on the night, too. He's an excellent guitar player who played on the album, so it's only right he's involved."

nkelly@independent.ie

Siamese and Immigrants, Emigrants And Me 20th anniversary edition are released by 100% Music. Power Of Dreams play Dundalk Spirit Store, March 10; Tower Records, Dublin (1pm) and Whelans, Dublin (8pm), March 12; Cork Pavilion, March 13; and Whelan's, Dublin, March 14.

Irish Independent

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