Tuesday 27 June 2017

Return of Bloody good innovators sets hearts racing

Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

These days, it seems that virtually every band reforms sooner or later. Indeed, quite a few groups don't even let death get in the way of making a quick buck.

However, last week's announcement that My Bloody Valentine are reuniting for shows in London, Manchester and Glasgow next year induced a ticket-buying frenzy that sent websites into complete meltdown. The reformation of this seminal Anglo-Irish band is far more than just another band reunion; it could well be the musical event of 2008.

Founding members Colm O'Ciosoig and Kevin Shields met as teenagers in Dublin in the early Eighties and joined a band called The Complex. The pair bonded through a mutual love of punk and jammed in several other bands around the city, including a group with Liam O'Maonlai, who of course went on to form Hothouse Flowers.

The first My Bloody Valentine gig was in the old Underground Bar on Dame Street. This early incarnation of the band released a mini-album entitled This is Your Bloody Valentine that is still regarded as a poor debut. According to All Music Guide: "It is an unfocused and derivative collection of post-punk goth rock that offers no indication of the revolutionary guitar sound the group would later create."

After a spell in Berlin, the band relocated to London. Conway left the group for health reasons, so MBV placed adverts in the music press looking for a new singer. Londoner Bilinda Jayne Butcher joined the fold, adding a new ethereal quality to the group's sound.

Early EPs Ecstasy and Strawberry Wine hinted at the groundbreaking music that was to come, but it wasn't until the release of You Made Me Realize in August 1988 that they started getting attention from the likes of the late John Peel and Melody Maker magazine.

Their next EP, Feed Me With Your Kiss, was equally as strong, paving the way for their breakthrough album Isn't Anything in November 1988.

Its 1991 follow-up, Loveless, has been hailed as the best album of the Nineties and one of the most influential records of all time. However, their masterpiece had a difficult gestation period.

"The reason it took so long is because we started on the wrong foot and never got back on the right one," Kevin Shields said in 1992. "Right up to the last minute, we kept thinking that it would be finished in a couple of months. We spent two years thinking we would be finished in a couple more months."

To be fair, the length of time they took over recording Loveless isn't particularly peculiar by modern-day standards, as long gaps between albums are increasingly common.

Dick Green of Creation Records claimed many years later: "The two singles [from Loveless] were to the Nineties what Strawberry Fields Forever and I Am the Walrus were to the Sixties." The legendary producer and musician Brian Eno claimed that the closing track Soon "set a new precedent for pop music".

The subsequent tour for Loveless blew people away. A staple of the set was a raucous, strobe-drenched version of their early hit You Made Me Realise that sometimes lasted up to 40 minutes.

"Usually, people would experience a type of sensory deprivation and they would lose a sense of time," explained Kevin Shields. "It would force them into the moment, and since people don't usually get to experience that, there'd be a sense of elation. There would be a feeling of, 'Wow, that was really weird, but I suddenly heard this symphony ... ' It was such a huge noise with so much texture to it. It allowed people to imagine anything."

The prospect of this enigmatic and influential band treading the boards again is a tantalising proposition. Mainstream alternative music has become frustratingly insipid and sterile in recent years with most modern guitar groups seeming content to slavishly rehash the past.

Ireland has produced lots of household names in rock and pop, from U2 to Westlife, Thin Lizzy to Sinéad O'Connor, but few, if any, can claim to be as innovative as My Bloody Valentine.

"It is astonishing how often they are cited, it really is," agrees broadcaster and long-term MBV champion Dave Fanning. "There has never been an Irish band that has done anything like what they did. I don't even know of a single band in the world that sounds like them, let alone in Ireland."

Hopefully, Colm and Kevin will also bring it all back home for their first Irish show in nearly 16 years.

Last week, MBV sent out a circular via their MySpace page. "Thanks to everyone for your support, it's been really touching," it read. "We're looking forward to seeing you next year."

And so are we. Welcome back MBV. We've missed you.

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