Once upon a time, many moons ago circa 1986, Rolling Stone magazine called Hothouse Flowers "the best unsigned band in the world". Fiachna O Braonain, co-founder of the group, joked to me in 2004: "Oh, I think it was something to do with Bono having a word with someone at Rolling Stone."
In truth, Hothouse Flowers are one of the great Irish bands – as much a part of the Irish musical landscape as U2, perhaps. Songs like Don't Go, Hallelujah Jordan, I'm Sorry and Love Don't Work This Way still resonate as powerfully as they did when they were released all those decades ago.
I went to see them on December 29, in Whelans with some friends. I had a few pints onboard, but it was, in fact, one of the best gigs I'd seen all year – the holy trinity of Fiachna (on guitar), Peter O'Toole (on bass) and Liam O Maonlai (on just about everything) bordered on the mesmerising to watch. Moving about the stage like Van Morrison channelling James Brown in a cowboy hat, Liam remains one of the most enigmatic and intriguing frontmen on these shores, or any shores for that matter.
A few weeks later he's sitting in a cafe in Dublin contemplating it all. "Sometimes I literally place my hands on my belly to keep the fire there," he says. "There is always something out there that inspires love or rage. Both are related. The act of performing in a room full of people never ceases to awaken me. As the years progress I have learned also to take value out of adversity. To dig deeper, to bring a worthwhile energy to a situation. I believe anything is possible. It has been said by many before and I will say it again."
Liam adds: "Songs are offspring. They are different aspects of one's self. I don't have a favourite or one that I am most proud of. I sang the bilingual version of Carrickfergus (do Bhi Bean Uasal) one Christmas at a Flowers concert in Wembley Arena. The place was silent and it made me proud of my culture and of my life. My father had a deep love of our music and culture and this he transmitted to me."
Asked what kind of man is Liam O Maonlai, he answers: "A dreamer. It was a term used about me as a boy in a derogatory way. I have come to learn that it is a quality that enriches your life and keeps you from getting bogged down in the maze."
He is honest to say that "when I hurt those that I love through selfish behaviour that brings me down. That hurts. But lows are quiet places and can often give birth to refreshed self-esteem".
He has been working on some new music – recording in Bill Shanley and Ciaran Byrne's Cauldron up in Blessington Street "looking down on the city", which he describes as "inspiring".
Liam says: "I also took myself to Drumlish to where Johnny and Michael Cronin have a place in the heart of the country. I have been touring with a dance show called Rian directed by Michael Keegan Dolan and myself. We were in Rome last weekend. I have been working as a duo with Peter O Toole which is a fulfillment of our first knowing each other back in 1979. I have been working with master glass artist Roisin de Buitlear. She has created instruments out of glass that are beautiful." As for The Flowers, he says "we have a record to make. We are playing in the Cork Opera House on April 24. An album should follow".
Sunday Indo Living