WATCH: All hail Emperor Of Ice Cream... Cork's comeback kids release new single Lambent Eyes!

After over 25 years since their breakup, and the unceremonious shelving by major-label bosses of their debut long-player, Cork indie outfit Emperor of Ice Cream are saddling up for a return. 
WATCH: All hail Emperor Of Ice Cream... Cork's comeback kids release new single Lambent Eyes!
Back! Emperor of Ice Cream.

Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with John ‘Haggis’ Hegarty and Colum Young about revisiting the album in 2020, finally releasing it independently, and what happens next for a beloved 90s band.

Emperor Of Ice Cream in 1990s.
Emperor Of Ice Cream in 1990s.

It was an article in The Echo’s sister paper a few weeks back that started all of this, apparently. As part of the Irish Examiner’s ‘B-Side the Leeside’ series of retrospective pieces, focusing on various heydays and points of impact in Cork music over the past three decades, journalist Ed Power revisited the body of work of indie/shoegaze four-piece Emperor of Ice Cream.

It’s the kind of story that doesn’t happen anymore: youngfellas get in a room and jam, the magic happens, the community gets behind it, the major label (in this case, Sony) swoops in and sets them up for a run at the top. Following the chart-topping exploits of Leeside predecessors The Sultans of Ping and the Frank and Walters, the band made tremendous progress in the UK, touring regularly and releasing singles that made an impact at the independent level via their own imprint, and garnered primetime radio play.

Soundcheck at Trinity College in 1992.
Soundcheck at Trinity College in 1992.

And then, right as 1995 came calling and the rise of Britpop seemed like an open invitation to the dance for so many young and energetic outfits, it was over. The band’s debut album, nearly finished and awaiting the green light, was shelved, and the band called it a day after being unceremoniously dropped.

Fast-forward, then, to 2020: as the aforementioned article made headway online in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, fans of the band from their salad days in Cork’s venues of their youth shared their memories, contacting the band and informing them of their impact. A WhatsApp chat was opened between the people that were involved, and suddenly, conversations started happening, according to vocalist John Hegarty, better known to the band and its circle as ‘Haggis’.

A 1993 Emperor Of Ice Cream press photo.
A 1993 Emperor Of Ice Cream press photo.

“We just started chatting, and someone started throwing up tapes. ‘Oh, I’ve a bag of old tapes of all the demos we did right at the end, before we were supposed to do the album.’ We had done some demos with ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke (of rock ‘n’ roll icons Motorhead), and 25 years later… we downloaded them all, listened to them, and I wrote to Graham (Finn, guitarist) and said, ‘there’s ten good songs there, while all this is going on, maybe we can entertain ourselves, and a few others who’d asked for the old songs.’ It was nice to look back and say ‘there were some great songs on there’, and put it out.”

“Privately, we listened to them”, says drummer Colum Young, “and we said, ‘I don’t remember this track, or that track, and someone put in the call, ‘hey, this really sounds good, it’s a shame we didn’t get to put this together. So we thought, why can’t we? Let’s do this for ourselves. It all just snowballed from there.”

The memories of 1993 for Emperor Of Ice Cream.With the debut album until recently under the auspices of Sony Music, alongside the band’s imprint for its earlier releases, a safer guess when the band officially resurfaced on social media might have been a collection of the band’s singles and demos. Talk of finally assembling the long-player and giving it those finishing touches gave way to the early stages of making it happen.“From what I know, anything that we wrote was our own,” reckons Haggis. “Sony were always nice to us, and it was a developmental deal. The next band signed after us was Whipping Boy, and they only got two years as well. They were lovely to us, gave us support, and the other bands were always nice to us, but the music scene was changing. The idea was just to put out this album, to show people where we were headed, right as the carpet was being pulled from beneath our feet.”

The memories of 1993 for Emperor Of Ice Cream.
The memories of 1993 for Emperor Of Ice Cream.

With the debut album until recently under the auspices of Sony Music, alongside the band’s imprint for its earlier releases, a safer guess when the band officially resurfaced on social media might have been a collection of the band’s singles and demos. Talk of finally assembling the long-player and giving it those finishing touches gave way to the early stages of making it happen.“From what I know, anything that we wrote was our own,” reckons Haggis. “Sony were always nice to us, and it was a developmental deal. The next band signed after us was Whipping Boy, and they only got two years as well. They were lovely to us, gave us support, and the other bands were always nice to us, but the music scene was changing. The idea was just to put out this album, to show people where we were headed, right as the carpet was being pulled from beneath our feet.”Emperor of Ice Cream with then Cork councillor, Bernie Murphy, at The Brog in 1994.“We had the masters for the demos, all recorded on 24 and 48-track in studio”, adds Young. “Stuff that wasn’t on Sony wasn’t such an issue. We’d been in contact with Sony, and no-one had any digital forms of the music or its masters. The legalities of it then were left up to Eddie Kiely, our manager.”

Once all of the formalities were clear, the band were finally able to set about doing what they’d set out to do half a lifetime ago. Rewriting the ‘nearly men’ narrative that unfairly surrounded the band in subsequent years was within their grasp, and the band’s debut album was quickly confirmed for release. For Haggis, it was a breather after years on the go musically.Graham Finn, 1992 Manic Street Preachers support slot.“We haven’t seen each other a lot over the past 25 years, because we’d had such an adventure, and it had ended so abruptly. I went back to college, Graham went to New York and made some great music. It took me a few years to find my way back into music, making soundtracks for TV and film. I never got to look back, I went on to play drums for people, produce albums for Katie Kim. I’d bumped into Graham over the years and there was never a mention of going backwards. This Covid thing gave us time to reconnect, and it’s lovely that everyone is still around.”

Graham Finn, 1992 Manic Street Preachers support slot.
Graham Finn, 1992 Manic Street Preachers support slot.

“We haven’t seen each other a lot over the past 25 years, because we’d had such an adventure, and it had ended so abruptly. I went back to college, Graham went to New York and made some great music. It took me a few years to find my way back into music, making soundtracks for TV and film. I never got to look back, I went on to play drums for people, produce albums for Katie Kim. I’d bumped into Graham over the years and there was never a mention of going backwards. This Covid thing gave us time to reconnect, and it’s lovely that everyone is still around.”Emperor Of Ice Cream play Fleadh Mór, Tramore, 1993.“We’re excited to have it,” says Young. “It’s been a bit of unfinished business, completing it. We felt we had achieved a lot, and the band had got into a really good place. We were ready to complete those steps that we had put together, and never had the chance, and this just feels right. It’s been amazing to talk to the band and put it together.”

Emperors Of Ice Cream recording their first demo at Sun Studio in Dublin.At the risk of spoiling the listening experience for ears old and new ahead of its release date, the album doesn’t sound like the masters have been mothballed for the past two decades: everything is crisp and clear, albeit with the aid of one or two overdubs in 2020 where instruments were unfinished. The tunes themselves are a snapshot of a time and place, but hold up well as a time when bands like Cork’s Deadbog, Dublin’s Bitch Falcon and Limerick’s Cassavettes wear nineties-inflected guitar sounds as a badge of honour.Eddie Butt of Emperor Of Ice Cream at Jazz Me Bollix festival in 1993.“Some of the songs hadn’t been finished, so Eddie (Butt, bassist) finished a few things last week, Graham finished a few things at the weekend, editing stuff and getting videos ready. Since that article, and listening to the demos, we figured out what we had to do to get it as close as it could to what it could have been. It’s a nice memory - working with Eddie Clarke, he was a lovely person, eager to work with us and ask us what we were about. We weren’t together long when we got signed, and we got cut short - this is a nice way of saying, ‘this is what we were at’.”

Emperors Of Ice Cream recording their first demo at Sun Studio in Dublin.
Emperors Of Ice Cream recording their first demo at Sun Studio in Dublin.

At the risk of spoiling the listening experience for ears old and new ahead of its release date, the album doesn’t sound like the masters have been mothballed for the past two decades: everything is crisp and clear, albeit with the aid of one or two overdubs in 2020 where instruments were unfinished. The tunes themselves are a snapshot of a time and place, but hold up well as a time when bands like Cork’s Deadbog, Dublin’s Bitch Falcon and Limerick’s Cassavettes wear nineties-inflected guitar sounds as a badge of honour.Eddie Butt of Emperor Of Ice Cream at Jazz Me Bollix festival in 1993.“Some of the songs hadn’t been finished, so Eddie (Butt, bassist) finished a few things last week, Graham finished a few things at the weekend, editing stuff and getting videos ready. Since that article, and listening to the demos, we figured out what we had to do to get it as close as it could to what it could have been. It’s a nice memory - working with Eddie Clarke, he was a lovely person, eager to work with us and ask us what we were about. We weren’t together long when we got signed, and we got cut short - this is a nice way of saying, ‘this is what we were at’.”Emperor Of Ice Cream, 1993 Jazz Me Bollix festival.“I just felt as though the atmosphere and the vibe of where the band was, is there,” says Young. “The good vibes of the time. We hope that people feel that same way when they listen to it.”


The first single from the album, Lambent Eyes, is an idea of what we can expect from the record: a bright and somewhat hazy slice of pre-millennial guitar-pop that progressed from the band’s earliest shoegazing influences. Surely it’s a bit mad to not only be doing the press cycle for this song now, but also in the middle of a global pandemic?“I genuinely feel excited about it. If you had told me a couple of months ago that we would all be sitting down, releasing this music… it really is on the back of what we heard on the demos, ‘this should be released’. The process has changed, and we don’t get the opportunity to go gigging, but we hope it’ll give people a chance to sit back, listen and feel good about listening”, says Young.

Emperor Of Ice Cream play Sir Henrys in 1993.
Emperor Of Ice Cream play Sir Henrys in 1993.

“When we listened back to the songs - ten or eleven of the songs we thought were good enough and gave us good representation - any of the five or six that had never been heard before could have been the single”, Haggis says. “We each picked one, Eddie Kiely picked one, and none of them were the same, and I loved that. Is it hard getting into that frame of mind? Yeah, because we’re so isolated from each other at the moment, but this gave us a way of not being isolated, and it’s been no trouble. We’ve been asked over the years to come back, play Indiependence, put out some of our old EPs, and we just kind-of left it, but this is a way of giving back.”

Emperor Of Ice Cream, Jazz Me Bollix, 1993.
Emperor Of Ice Cream, Jazz Me Bollix, 1993.

“There’s been no conversations about it”, says Haggis, “but in order to put new basslines on the songs, Eddie went away and ordered new gear to record at home. Graham is in New York, recording as The High Leaves with Ken Griffin of Rollerskate Skinny. I have my own studio here and Colum plays drums nightly in Holland. I’d never say no - it’s great to reconnect with the lads, and it’s always great to make music. So, we’ll see, I suppose. D’ya know? (laughs)”



Emperor of Ice Cream’s comeback single ‘Lambent Eyes’ releases across all major streaming services on June 12 via Cork label FIFA Records. For more info on the band’s comeback and their July album release, follow @TheEmperorsCork on Twitter.


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