St. Lukes, Glasgow 23rd May 2023
When the Hothouse Flowers create their earnest Celtic rock, it is as if the Doors, the Boss, and ’71-era Van Morrison morphed into one soulful ensemble. Hailing from Dublin, Hothouse Flowers became critics’ darlings in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a rockin’ mix of Irish folk and gutsy rock/gospel…just listen to “Don’t Go” and its pretty clear how much of an influence Bruce Springsteen was over this band’s live show.
Hothouse Flowers began as a trio of street musicians in Dublin, with schoolmates Fehily, O’Braondin, and Ó Maonlai. They were originally called the Incomparable Berzani Brothers, but changed their name to Hothouse Flowers when they enlarged to a sextet. The band received rave reviews from U.S. press outlets including Rolling Stone, when their Irish import indy discs filtered into the hands of journalists. Eventually, they landed a slot on a late night Irish TV show, which caught the attention of Bono. A phone call later, the band was on their way to being signed to U2’s Mother label, and in the U.S., Polygram Records. With the PR support of U2, the group landed the top spots on both British and Irish pop charts.
Still, despite great reviews and the backing of what was soon to become the biggest band in the world, Hothouse Flowers never bloomed commercially in America. They released albums stateside through the early 1990s, and continue as an on-again, off-again band.
When the band reformed in 1998, only core members Fiachna O’Braonain and Peter O’Toole rejoined the charismatic frontman for a return to the studio – but not form – for fourth album Born and since then things have settled down. The formerly wayward singer now wears a wedding ring and the band know he’ll be at the next gig.
With live music, like any of the arts, there are times when things just come together extremely well and a few hundred people are privileged enough to have been there to witness it. Hothouse Flowers show was one of those times.
At around half past eight, the band takes to the stage. Engaging frontman Liam Ó Maonlaí starts leaping about, in exactly the manner one might expect of an artist bereft of the encumbrances offered by shoes and socks. Shaped by thirty eight years of singing and playing together all over the world, yet no two shows have ever been the same! There is a sense of musical adventure, an impulse to reach new heights and depths in music where the unspoken aim is that the band and the audience become one and the world becomes a different place for a while.
Improvisation can come at any point and allow the band express their brightest and their darkest influences. Rock and Roll is not about safety or politeness, it is not about perfection either. It is expression and it is spirit. Humour is also never far from a Hothouse Flowers night. They don’t take themselves too seriously however, there is no mistaking the musical integrity among them as they open up to each other in musical dialogue. Despite the bands lengthy career which is now in the latter half of its fourth decade there is a sense of unfinished business. Every night they want to play the best gig they have ever played and take the musical risks that can maybe make that possible.
Since their days playing Limerick in The Savoy in the Eighties, the band has always delivered a soulful and energetic show where anybody in the band can start a song and jam out how it flows. It has never been the O’Maonlaí way to just deliver the hits by rote in the same jaded old way every night.
Sticking primarily to favourites from their first four albums O’Maonlai and the Flowers presented can’t miss material with a great deal of passion, highlights included “This Is It,” a showstopper from the band’s “Songs from the Rain” album that featured Native American chanting and O’Maonlai’s amazing work on the bodhran (Irish drum) in its live incarnation, and my all time favourite albeit sans saxophone “I can See Clearly Now”
It’s soul. Celtic Soul. Hothouse Flowers are Celtic Soul. They personify it. Liam’s passionate vocals are the surface of this but look slightly deeper and the live performance by all the musicians is heart felt. They enjoy it and look like they’re enjoying it, guitarist Fiachna O’Braonain, singer and multi-instrumentalist Liam O’Maonlai, and guitarist/bassist Peter O’Toole, along with tour drummer Dave Clarke, deliver an exceptional performance tonight in St. Lukes, Glasgow.
Ó Maonlaí comes to the end of the show and starts to walk off stage, there can be only one thing that his legions of fans must think to themselves: “Don’t go… don’t leave me now, now, now…” and so it finished off a most excellent evening of the best live music anyone could ask for.
Review and Photographs by Stuart Stott