Hothouse Flowers set for Cork Racecourse concert in Mallow this weekend

No matter the course Hothouse Flowers are always on form, says Don O'Mahony, ahead of their Cork Rocks performance
Hothouse Flowers set for Cork Racecourse concert in Mallow this weekend

Hothouse Flowers: Playing Mallow in Cork this weekend. Picture: Shane Sharpe

There must have been a feeling of seeing clearly now the rain has gone when the Hothouse Flowers got to play their first gig after restrictions were lifted, but judging by guitarist Fiachna Ó Braonáin’s recollection of their first post lockdown forays, it seems they were simply beside themselves with joy.

“Never before were we so excited to be getting up at 3.30 in the morning to get on a Ryanair flight to Luxemburg,” Ó Braonáin exclaims. “It was just great to get back out there again. And the following week we had a show in Italy. And again, similarly, it was great. To be in Italy — to be anywhere! To be in a foreign country! To be in Italy, the beautiful city of Ferrara. Nick Lowe was on the bill as well, so we got to see him play on a gorgeous evening.

“And then we came back to play the Claremorris Folk Festival the following day, and a completely different atmosphere. Wild and unrestrained, and great. And now, getting into the swing of it again has been wonderful. It feels like it’s kinda gone back to normal again now, and hopefully it will stay that way. Who knows?

“Obviously people still need to be careful and mindful of one another, and all of that stuff. Pandemic or no pandemic, we’ve got to be like that anyway.”

I guess if the Hothouse Flowers have one thing they don’t have to worry about when it comes to their return to the live arena it’s the setlist. As a band that have released only two studio albums in the last 20 years, they’ve long untethered themselves from restrictions, particularly the restriction of having to “promote” the latest album.

“We’ve long outgrown the notion of the cycle of album-tour-album-tour,” says Ó Braonáin. “We made an album a few years ago. Actually, we barely released it. So we released it again in 2020. And there’s no great machine behind it. It’s there if people want it.

“We’ve been doing this for nearly 37 years now, so the idea of being the hamsters in the wheel generating whatever it is...” he scoffs. “We’re doing it because we love doing it and it’s viable and it’s fun. It still feels fresh to us, which is amazing. But I guess we’re like a family. We stick together. We’re in each other’s worlds and we’re extremely lucky to be able to do what we do.”

That last album was 2016’s Let’s Do This Thing. It came about purely because they had the opportunity to do so. It is also different from its predecessors in that the songs for it weren’t written in advance, but emerged from a week spent in the studio.

“It’s funny because when you make an album that’s largely improvised then you’ve got to go learn it afterwards,” Ó Braonáin chuckles.

Hothouse Flowers: Back in Cork. Picture: Shane Sharpe
Hothouse Flowers: Back in Cork. Picture: Shane Sharpe

Given that there’s no map or set list for their gigs, just a general agreement in advance about what the first song will be and then they just take flight from there, I wonder what the album format represents to the band in this era. Ó Braonáin sees them as a way for people who follow the band to keep in touch with what they are doing, but it’s clear the live performance is where the magic happens for them.

“We don’t have a label,” says Ó Braonáin. “We don’t have management. We don’t have a big PR machine putting it out there, apart from just the bit of word of mouth. So, in a sense, it’s like the beginnings of the band where everything was word of mouth again. And there’s something kind of nice and organic about that. We’re not looking to shift vast quantities of it because we don’t have the infrastructure to do that in the first place. And I look back now at all the albums as kind of one body of work from which we draw every night we play.

“So we play some of the more recent songs. We obviously play a lot of the well-known songs that people love and want to hear. There’s a tonne of songs to dip into from night to night. In terms of the show, I guess it keeps us fresh.

“I mean, I’m a big fan of structure, but then there’s a kind of a risk you take by not having a setlist, as well. Because there’s a bit of push and pull between the members of the band, pulling it maybe in different directions. So that creates a kind of an interesting musical tension sometimes. And it creates these kind of moments where people are looking at us going: ‘What are they doing now? Wow! OK.’ And there’s a search going on musically to try to reach new heights, I suppose is what it is. And then people get off on that because people are seeing something that they won’t have seen at the last gig and probably won’t see at the next gig either.

We kind of go anywhere during the show

“Now, we’re not bending the songs completely out of shape, and we’re playing the songs as they exist. We’re not reinventing them. We kind of go anywhere during the show.”

They go anywhere in the show, and they go anywhere with the show, and next week they return to Cork Racecourse in Mallow.

Are any of the Flowers horsey people?

“Not really,” says Fiachna. “We’ve obviously played Mallow before. We’ve played at the Cheltenham Races around St Patrick’s Day.

“You know, it’s fun, isn’t it? I guess they’re providing entertainment for people at the end of the day to hang out at the racecourse a little bit and keep the bar full and keep the craic going and people together.

“So that’s what we’ll be at.”

Horses for any course.

Cork Racecourse presents Cork Rocks with Hothouse Flowers, Mallow, on Friday, July 8. First race starts at 5.05pm. Hothouse Flowers will then take to the stage at 8.30pm.

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