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Music / Horslips

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Packaged as Other Medium - their first album sleeve, Happy to Meet, Sorry To Part

Horslips were an Irish Celtic rock band that composed, arranged and performed based on traditional Irish jigs and reels. The band members were working in an advertising agency design studio in Dublin when they were prevailed upon to act the part of a rock band for a commercial. They enjoyed the experience so much that they pressganged a keyboard player and set about doing it for real, pioneering a fusion of traditional Irish music with rock.

The group formed in 1970 and "retired" in 1980 for an extended period. They reunited every so often for one-off gigs. In 2022, they played a concert in Belfast that they announced would be their very final appearance, retiring the band for good.

The name is a wordplay in the best traditions of Flann O'Brien or James Joyce: it originated from a spoonerism of "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" as "The Four Poxmen of the Horslypse".

The group is regarded as 'founding fathers of Celtic rock' for their achievement and oeuvre.

Most notable works by this group:-

  • Happy to Meet, Sorry To Part
  • The Book of Invasions
  • The Táin

This group and their albums provide examples of:

  • Badass Boast: Cú Chulainn gets multiple ones across multiple tracks on The Táin. "Dearg Doom" is an "I Am" Song, while "Ferdia's song" is a sad tune as Cú Chulainn tries to convince his beloved foster brother Ferdia to back down from their fight by describing how everything he says is larger than life itself, and every step he takes is measured in centuries.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A large chunk of their work is performed in, or at least titled in, Irish.
  • Celtic Mythology: specifically Irish myth and legend. The Táin is based on (obviously) the Táin from the Ulster Cycle. The Book Of Invasions is divided into three movements - the first is based on the Mythological Cycle, the second on the Tóraíocht Diarmuid agus Gráinne from the Fionn Cycle, and the third goes back to the Mythological Cycle for the story of how the Tuatha Dé Danann left the surface of Ireland to the Sons of Míl and retreated to the Otherworld.
  • Drums of War: In the song Charolais, the men of Connaught are gathering to march to war:
    The druids read the smoke and sand;
    Told her that she would love again;
    The rhythms from the wolfskin drums
    Called men to war in hide and bronze...
  • Folk Metal: They could be considered an Ur-Example of the genre with their fusion of traditional Irish music with driving hard rock.
  • Fighting Irish: Lots of examples. The Book of Invasions takes the primal myth of how the Irish came to Ireland and set it to music. The key song ''The Power And The Glory", with its Ominous Pipe Organ theme, has the lines
    not so much teachers as fighters, and what we teach is how to fight!
    • The Táin is all about the fighting Irish. Even sex is a fight;
    Her words were sharp, they cut him deep/In the war between the sheets.
  • Genre Roulette: hard and soft rock jostle with pieces performed in a more traditional style, and there's even a bit of reggae on one album..
  • The High Queen: Medhbh, the domineering greedy monarch who plunges Ireland into destructive war.
  • Holy Pipe Organ: The Power And The Glory concerns the coming of the Irish to Ireland to take the land as their own. The main theme sounds like a triumphant hymn on pipe organ.
  • "I Am" Song: "Dearg Doom" is one for Cú Chulainn.
  • My God, What Have I Done?; Cuchulain's Lament in which the hero comes out of a battle-frenzy to realise he's just slain his BFF.
  • Matchmaker Crush: Diarmuid for Gráinne. He's meant to be escorting her to the King she is to marry, and to ensure she arrives at her wedding in one piece. Instead... See song The Warm Sweet Breath of Love.
  • Oireland - a sort of mythological other-Ireland emerges from their work.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: The Power And The Glory which dramatises the coming of the Irish people to Ireland in the primal myth. The song opens with a stirringly ominous theme on pipe organ that recurs throughout the track, and underscores the determination of the people to fight for and hold the land as their own.
  • Packaged as Other Medium: their first LP, Happy To Meet, Sorry To Part, was released in an octagonal LP sleeve that was designed to open and pull out, like an old-fashioned button accordion. If you looked closely you could see the faces of the band members on the buttons. (See page picture)
    • Unfortunately, supplies of the eight-sided custom inner sleeve for the record soon ran out. Later editions were marred somewhat by the record being packaged in a conventional 12" square paper inner sleeve. The four large corners sticking out rather spoilt the illusion.
  • Progressive Rock: Straight from the Horslips' mouth: "It was a time of fusion. We wanted to do something with rock. We weren’t absolutely sure what. We definitely wanted to be a prog rock band. And for the “prog” bit to be trad." - Barry Devlin.