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Safe and Sound

The last time I spoke with Thomas Walsh, the conversation turned to chicken sandwiches. But then, that's what a lengthy press day will do to you. Fast forward a year or so and we're more or less back at the same spot; checking in at the end of another long day of questions and answers.

The Pugwash frontman may be a genius songwriting talent but he is, first and foremost, a terrific talker. With plenty of critics on his side. And whaddaya know? Maybe it was the record which he and part-time musical partner Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) made about cricket that convinced the wider-listening public what they were missing out on.



Stunning

Or perhaps this is just his time. Either way, heads are beginning to turn. And as the 42-year-old Dubliner gets comfortably re-acquainted with the day job, it seems Thomas is finally ready for his close-up. Twelve years and five records says it's about bloody time, too

"The first album was made in a house in the Dublin Mountains that we borrowed off a dear friend," he recalls. "We just brought a load of cheap gear up there and made a record with microphones dangling over balconies. Brilliant fun."

Of course, that was then. These days, Walsh and his new bandmates (multi-instrumentalist Tosh Flood, bassist Shaun McGee, and drummer Joey Fitzgerald) have a major label to help fund the cause. And The Olympus Sound may be the finest Pugwash record yet; a stunning collection of dreamy, intelligent pop.

The success of 2009's The Duckworth Lewis Method (the aforementioned cricket record) caught everyone by surprise, not least Thomas. First came the Choice Music Prize nod. Not long after, the record was nominated for an Ivor Novello award ("one of the greatest days of my life").

The reviews have always been glowing, but the very idea of commercial success is something that Thomas is still getting his head around. It must be tough, though -- sitting on the sideline, so to speak, waiting for your moment to arrive.

"Well, without sounding like a basket case, it would put you in hospital -- it did put me in hospital," he says. "It does eat away because you look at your bank balance, you look at your life -- you've got all these wonderful reviews and these fans, but, you know, there's a huge vacuum in the middle, so that vacuum is normally filled with drink and drugs and bad living. Which is what I did, as a lot of people do."

"I ended up in hospital and it took a week to get over it in there. And then I decided to change my life around, and without preaching to anybody, I just had to because I was going down a very bad road -- death road." Thomas has since lost five stone and has given up the drink, too.

As Thomas explains, recording The Olympus Sound was a "big, bright, fun experience." It's a summery record -- made during one of the worst Irish winters in recent memory. The Electric Light Orchestra influences remain, only, this time around, Thomas is very much aware that his hero, former ELO ringleader Jeff Lynne, is listening. And he's got a personal letter from the guy to prove it.

"It's framed," he gushes. "It was framed at nine o'clock the morning after I got it. I kicked the door open of the hardware shop in Crumlin village to get a frame. Overnight, I put it under about 10 boxes of records and books to flatten it out. I pressed it and everything and slept beside it. It was incredible. He just said some beautiful things . . ."

> Pugwash will playing a show with Lir and David Gray as part of a Lir benefit show, in Vicar Street on Saturday September 24


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