Rewind: 10 Most Underrated Irish Bands of the 80s

The Irish music scene was arguably at its most vibrant in the eighties, producing as it did our most successful act ever in U2. The punk explosion of the late seventies fired the imagination of kids across the country, as the realisation that forming a band was not some unachievable aspiration took hold.  The mega stardom achieved by U2 was never likely to be matched by too many others but bands like In Tua Nua, Something Happens and Cry Before Dawn went on to achieve modest success at home and abroad.  But what of the rest?  Here are ten of the most underrated bands from that era, ten of the forgotten greats of the eighties Irish music scene.


1. Stars Of Heaven

Formed in Dublin in 1983, The Stars of Heaven are perhaps the most criminally underrated band to have emerged from this country in the last thirty years. Their brand of Byrds/Gram Parsons influenced country rock quickly brought them to the attention of British independent label Rough Trade.  Debut album Sacred Heart Hotel showcased the sublime song-writing talents and guitar playing of Stephen Ryan and Stan Erraught but it was their second and final album, Speak Slowly (1988) which even to this day, is a powerful reminder of just how great this band were in their prime.  They split just after its release, leaving a slender but impressive body of work.



2. Microdisney

Hailing from Cork and featuring the inimitable Cathal Coughlan as lead singer and main songwriter, Microdisney were the purveyors of classic pop, but with a decidedly caustic edge.  Their growing reputation on the indie music scene saw them come to the attention of the major record labels –but not before they had released a string of fine independently produced records, culminating with their classic album The Clock Comes down the Stairs, released in 1985. The inevitable major label signing happened soon after – they disbanded in 1988 after two further albums, and a brief flirtation with chart success that left them disillusioned with their major label venture. Coughlan went on to front the more extreme but equally impressive Fatima Mansions and cement his reputation as one of Irish rock’s most controversial and colourful characters.


3. A House

Dublin’s legendary and now sadly defunct venue The Underground Bar offered some of the best bands of the era a chance to take their first tentative steps as fledgling rock stars and A House were one of the brightest graduates of this illustrious breeding ground. Singer Dave Couse was one of the very best songwriters in the country and their energetic live shows made them one of the biggest draws in their hometown.  Debut album On Our Big Fat Merry-Go-Round hinted at their considerable promise, and they went on to release four superb albums that failed to give them the break-through that they thoroughly deserved.  Singles ‘Endless Art’ and ‘Here Comes the Good Times’ should have been massive hits but alas, it all came to an emotional end with their farewell concert at a packed Olympia theatre gig in 1997. They were cocky, self-assured and borderline arrogant, but boy, did they have the talent to match. Get your hands on 1991 album I Am the Greatest, and hear just how good these guys were in their prime.


4. Into Paradise

One of the least celebrated bands of the eighties Irish music scene, Into Paradise recorded two albums that still sound as fresh and vital today as they did when first released. Heavily influenced by Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Sound, they were a dynamic live act that never really garnered the attention they deserved. Albums Under the Water and Churchtown are uniformly strong; arguably as good as anything produced by bands like Interpol, Editors and White Lies, acts that have all been hugely successful in mining the Post Punk sound of the eighties.  Songs like ‘Burns My Skin’ and ‘Angels’ were dark, anthemic and wonderful – their albums are still available on iTunes and well worth checking out.


5. Blue In Heaven

Blue in Heaven started out life as a slightly generic gloom rock outfit from Churchtown, heavily influenced by 80s post punk stalwarts Joy Division and The Chameleons. Their debut album All The Gods Men, released in 1985, was produced by Martin Hannett and stirred up some interest, but singer Shane O Neill and the boys must have experienced some kind of epiphany, as almost overnight, the band transformed into leather clad, Stooges-obsessed rock gods with front man Shane O’Neill doing a very passable impression of Ireland’s answer to Iggy Pop. Their live performances during this period were adrenaline-fuelled, exciting affairs and before long, Chris Blackwell and Island Records came sniffing around; the band was whisked off to the Bahamas to record their major label debut and swansong Explicit Material. The radio friendly production smoothed out all the excitement they generated in a live setting and the album failed to chart.  It was all over within a couple of years but the band will be remembered as an incendiary live act that never really translated what they had live on to record.


6. That Petrol Emotion

Formed from the ashes of legendary northern punk heroes The Undertones, That Petrol Emotion were a dark, exciting thrill ride with a pop twist and featured the guitar and song-writing talents of the O’Neill brothers. Heavily influenced by the dual guitar interplay of bands like Television, their debut album Manic Pop Thrill shot to no 1 in the indie charts and found favour with legendary DJ John Peel. Despite signing for a major label, chart success eluded them as a succession of singles and albums hovered around the outer fringes of the charts. Dropped by Virgin Records, they released one more album on their own label before splitting amicably in 1994. Their debut album and follow up Babble are probably the band’s finest moments.


7. The Slowest Clock

Another graduate of the Underground Bar on Dame Street, The Slowest Clock are one of the real forgotten bands to have emerged during this period, but no less notable than some of their more celebrated peers. They released a couple of vinyl E.P.s and featured on a number of compilation albums at the time, but it was on the live circuit that they forged a reputation as a unique presence with their distinctive psychedelic guitar sound. They were a prime example of the diversity of the Irish music scene during that era, incorporating unusual tempo changes and a distinctive guitar sound that made them a little different to the other bands on the circuit around then. They recently released their long lost debut album ‘Smile Futurismo! All I Heard Was Purple’ almost 25 years after the songs were originally recorded.


8.  Light A Big Fire

Formed in 1984, Light A Big Fire were one of the most talked about bands on the local music scene, and very quickly, they found themselves tagged as the ‘next big thing’ on the back of some impressively energetic live performances. At one point, they looked destined to follow U2 on the stellar road to success – singer Thom McLaughlin was a charismatic stage performer and their catchy, quirky guitar tunes saw them build up a huge local following.  Singles ‘C.I.A’ and ‘Mr Twilight’ provide ample evidence as to why they were held in such high regard. While recording their third album in 1989, the whole thing fell apart and LABF were no more – another promising band that became a forgotten casualty of 80s Irish rock.


9. Guernica

Dublin five piece Guernica had a lot going for them – they had the cheekbones and cool haircuts, a spiky, melodic guitar sound that owed more than a passing nod to New Order and a healthy local following, all of which should have provided a springboard to more widespread success. Yet like so many bands from this era, they found it hard to make the breakthrough and never even got to make an album. Singer Joe Rooney went on to carve out a very successful career as a stand-up comedian and guested on the Father Ted TV series as ‘Father Damo’. Guitarist Derek Turner runs one of Ireland’s finest small venues, The Spirit Store in Dundalk. As a live act Guernica were one of the best on the local scene, and those who were lucky enough to see them in McGonagles and the Underground would readily testify that with the right breaks, they were a band capable of going on to greater things.


10. The Fountainhead

The British charts were awash with New Wave/Synthpop acts in the 80s, but rather surprisingly, Irish bands were slow to follow suit, preferring to adhere to the traditional guitar, bass and drums line-up. The Fountainhead can claim to be synth-pop pioneers on this side of the water – formed in 1984, they made music of a similar ilk to early Simple Minds and Tears For Fears. They released a number of singles and E.P.s and just two albums, nabbing a support slot with Queen at Slane in 1986. Success beckoned before it all fizzled out in the late 80s, as international music trends started to shift away from their brand of pop.