Tuesday 12 December 2017

Philo v Bono: who is Irish rock's greatest frontman?

Ed Power picks our Top 10 singers of all time

Ed Power

Ed Power

Gobby uber-lad Liam Gallagher has been voted the world's greatest rock and roll frontman by readers of a British music magazine. The swaggering Mancunian beat Bono, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and Jim Morrison to top the Q poll.

"There is Elvis and me. I couldn't say which of the two is best," was the reaction of the characteristically humble Liam.

Asked the secret to his charms as a singer, Gallagher, perhaps less than seriously, suggested: "Behaving yourself and not jumping around like a ***."

Scanning the Q list, you will be as struck by those who failed to reach the Top 10 as by who made the cut. While there is space for Blur's Damon Albarn and Muse's Matt Bellamy -- whose chief claim would seem to be his ability to simultaneously shriek and batter a guitar -- Mick Jagger is relegated to 13. And that's ahead of Morrissey, Bruce Springsteen and Robert Plant.

The always smackable Chris Martin, meanwhile, is at five. Is Q telling us that the whiney chap from Coldplay is a finer frontman than the leaders of The Rolling Stones, The Smiths and Led Zeppelin? Really?

Not surprisingly, the poll has been contentious. Kasabian's Tom Meighan who, according to Q, rates above The Clash's Joe Strummer, agrees that Martin's vaulted placing is a bit farcical. "Chris Martin is all right if you're 35 and feeling sad that your mortgage repayments have gone up," said the singer (29). "But Liam is the voice you want if you're young and free and up for anything."

Bono was second in the poll. Presumably, Q readers didn't dare rank him any lower, perhaps for fear that he would release another album as bad as No Line On The Horizon. Not counting Englishmen of Irish extraction such as Gallagher and Morrissey, he was the only Irish person on the list (come to think of it, non-British singers in general were under-represented). Which prompts the question: who would feature on a list of the greatest ever Irish frontmen?

Obviously, it depends on how you define 'greatest'. If you mean 'most influential', then it's hard to look beyond Bono. Gushing, preachy, larger-than-life Mr Hewson set the mould for a new breed of rock singer. Chris Martin, The Killers' Brandon Flowers and Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody are just marching in his footsteps.

Incidentally, if you're perplexed by the omission of The Pogues' Shane MacGowan, bear in mind he was born and largely raised in the UK, making him no more Irish than Liam Gallagher or Morrissey or indeed Kasabian's Meighan (whose grandfather is from Mayo).

Controversially, we are also leaving out Ronan Keating (well, wouldn't you?). Furthermore, like Q, we are taking the notion of frontman literally -- meaning no ladies and no solo artists.

Phil Lynott

Thin Lizzy's stock has soared to the point where they are now regarded as one of the most influential bands of the 70s. Everyone from Metallica to The Cardigans has proclaimed themselves fans.

Lynott was obviously central to Lizzy's appeal. More than that, his twinkling gypsy charm marked him out as a rock icon for the ages. His statue on Harry Street has become a place of pilgrimage for touring bands passing through Dublin.


Granted, lots about the U2 singer raises the hackles. The sermonising, the mid-Atlantic drawl, the way he insists on wearing sunglasses indoors (if we promise to dim the lights, will you at least consider taking them off, Bono?).

Still, there's no denying his influence. Bono was the driving force as U2 conquered the globe.

Liam Clancy

For sure, the trembly-lipped warblings of Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers came to be synonymous with Green Guinness 'Oirishness'.

They also convinced the population of the United States that we in the 'old country' all wore enormous Aran sweaters.

Setting such reservations aside, the Clancys were among the first Irish artists to achieve genuine international success, such as when they followed The Beatles on to the Ed Sullivan Show in the early '60s.

Cathal Coughlan - The Fatima Mansions

Though criminally forgotten today, The Fatima Mansions blazed a furious, expletive-gunked trail through early '90s Ireland. Back when bishops were still venerated and divorce prohibited by law, Coughlan was the angriest Irishman on the planet.

Rage can be a fruitless emotion -- but East Cork-raised Coughlan channelled it into rattling, spittle-spewing agit-prop. To see exactly how radical and inflammatory The Fatima Mansions were, search the web for their 'cover' of REM's 'Shiny Happy People'.

Niall O'Flaherty- Sultans of Ping FC

The second Corkonian on the list, "NOF" (as Sultans fans dubbed him ) was of a generation of Irish musicians determined be as unlike Bono as possible.

Singing in an odd faux-English rasp (acquired during a summer working in the UK, by all accounts), the UCC graduate wasn't interested in changing your life or reaching out to the dispossessed.

He wanted to be the centre of attention every time he stepped on stage. How is it, then, that, in its own shambolic way, Sultan of Ping's 'Where's Me Jumper?' feels as profound as anything U2 ever committed to vinyl?

Gavin Friday- Virgin Prunes

Virgin Prunes' arty post-punk rates as 'interesting' rather than 'listenable'.

Nevertheless, in the early '80s, they proved it was possible for a cross-dressing Brechtian cabaret band to gain a following, even in sullen, recession-wracked Dublin.

If you thought it was impossible for a straight Irish man to look imposing in mascara and lipstick, our man Friday was happy to prove you wrong.

Van Morrison- Them

Van sneaks on to our hit parade by dint of fronting early 60s blues-rockers Them.

In addition, it's been pointed out to us that, by law, any countdown of Irish rock greats is required to mention Astral Weeks, his 1968 masterpiece.

Gary Lightbody- Snow Patrol

The North's answer to Chris Martin, the Snow Patrol frontman is living proof that if you keep toiling away you may actually achieve everything you've ever dreamed of.

After half a decade of struggling to sell out Whelan's, Snow Patrol morphed into one of the world's biggest bands. Regardless of your opinion of their music, who could deny they deserve their success? Or that Lightbody knows his way around a tasty arena anthem?

Neil Hannon - The Divine Comedy

Technically Hannon is The Divine Comedy. However, if the Dublin-based Fermanagh native is happy to pretend he's fronting a band, so are we.

Also, he wrote 'My Lovely Horse'. How could we not put him on the list?

Mick Pyro - Republic Of Loose

Mick Pyro? The bearded mumbler from Republic Of Loose?

Having demonstrated that Irish people can get their funk on, channel Michael Jackson and sing in a falsetto without lurching into national embarrassment territory, we reckon the 'Loose frontman deserves a Top 10 finish.

Is there a better homegrown single of the past five years than 'Comeback Girl'?

Besides, who were we going to pick instead? The frowny chap from Bell X1? Exactly.

Irish Independent

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