If you ask anyone in Ireland of a certain vintage to name a Radio DJ or music journalist, 99 out of 100 times the name you will hear back is Dave Fanning. With a reputation without equal, Fanning has proven to be the most dependable, most outspoken and most genuine voice that people turn when it comes to music.
He has a new show on RTE Radio 1 called Dave Fanning’s Story of Irish Rock, where he discusses Irish music from the very beginning up until the current day. We caught up with Dave and spoke about all things music, his distain for Ed Sheeran, and the unforgettable Aidan Walsh.
What is the show about?
It’s on Radio 1, called Dave Fanning’s Story of Irish Rock and we are doing 10 shows, doing exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a history of Irish Rock and because I was there for the whole lot of it, I’m expected to know everything. But the beauty of this show is that it not a definitive list, it’s just MY opinion so if I leave some bands out or put too much emphasis on a different band, I can’t be wrong! It’s my opinion and I think I know my opinion better than anyone else would.
With such a massive timeframe, where do you start?
I start of around ’64 with Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher and then Thin Lizzy who were the 3 artists and cornerstones of Irish Rock music. How did they get their breaks? From being popular in the UK and America, these guys did something big enough and great enough to put Irish music on the world map by the time the ‘70’s came along.
What were the most important songs from each of those artists?
Gloria and Here Comes the Night from Van Morrison when he was with Them were hugely important but when he went solo, his first ten albums were ten of the greatest albums ever released by anyone, ever! His next 30, well, you can pick and choose from them. Rory Gallagher’s first solo album, simply titled ‘Rory Gallagher’ is also up there as one of the finest albums ever made, definitely his best anyway. Thin Lizzy scored a massive hit with ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ which I think is a dreadful song but it resonated with a lot of people for some reason and everyone thought that Thin Lizzy had ‘made it’. It didn’t work out that way though cos their next couple of albums didn’t do well and it wasn’t until 3 years later when The Boys Are Back in Town and Jailbreak came along.
Are there any bands that have disappointed you with their lack of success?
I don’t think anyone has ever ‘disappointed’ me. Success comes from 70% luck or being in the right place at the right time. I remember meeting Bono on Grafton Street and he told me that they were heading to London to try and make it work and that disappointed me because I said to myself “For fuck sake! Every bloody band goes to London and end up split up after 3 months because of it”. So I guess I am not the best judge for this question. I suppose you could say Ed Sheeran disappoints me…just in general…because his music is so shit.
U2: When were they at their best?
I love the Joshua Tree but I suppose Rattle and Hum was probably my favourite time. Some people see a lot of the tracks on that album as filler but the less played songs are equally as important as the hits when it comes to the evolution of their sound. I’m sick to the back teeth of talking about U2 and I kind of wish that I could not mention them on the show because everything has pretty much been said about them but it’s impossible not to.
We all know how influential they are, how many great songs they have, their amazing ability to reinvent themselves and keep relevant, but they just get in the way when it comes to shows like mine, and with their gig coming up, everyone is going to have a major pain in their arse with U2. You won’t be able to turn on the radio, read a newspaper, go online or even walk down the street without being bombarded with U2 songs and trivia from all angles.
Who in your opinion is the best music journalist?
Well Larry Gogan is the benchmark in my opinion. A legend in the business. But the job of music journalist or DJ has changed a lot over the years. Whereas we used to be giving people an insight into a world they knew nothing about, today everyone knows everything about each other. It’s a different animal these days and some radio presenters and journalists are better than others. There is a wide spectrum there but unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on what you think about me) the best aren’t always the most popular or successful.
Are there any bands you just don’t ‘get’?
I saw Bon Jovi in the RDS some years back and I saw people dancing and singing their heads off but I just didn’t get it. There’s lots of bands that I don’t get and lots of styles I don’t get but that’s the beauty of music. It’s so subjective.
Worst interview you’ve ever done?
It’s amazing how few interviews go badly. The bigger the star you interview, they better they are at ‘playing the game’. They’re getting asked the same 7 or 8 questions all day and they know what soundbites to rattle off to keep everyone sweet. I suppose if I had to pick a bad interview it would be Kirsty McColl, which is strange because we were quite friendly outside of the interview setting, but it just didn’t seem to go well when we sat down to do it. Something just didn’t gel. Oh and I interviewed Bryan Adams before a gig a few years ago. I don’t like him.
Have you ever interviewed Aidan Walsh?
Jesus, there’s a name that brings me back. I wasn’t ever sure if there was a level of exploitation around Aidan. I remember seeing that he had released an album on quite a big label, something that 30 other bands that I was listening to that at that time would never achieve, so fair play to him. I brought that cassette into work and played it for Gerry Ryan and Mark Cagney and Gerry ended up having to be carried out after banging his head against the wall to create his own pain to counteract the suffering caused by the music. “What Will We Do with the Community Games” and “The Eagle have Landed” were just insane songs but captured a very unique moment in time.
A short while later I had him on a music quiz show “Number One” that I was doing, dressed in his inimitable style and answered nearly every question with an outlandish answers like “Kangaroo”. As I said, I am unsure if there was any element of exploitation but what I am sure of is that Aidan is and was a decent, fun guy.
Best gig you’ve ever attended?
The one that sticks out for me was The Clash in The Top Hat in Dun Laoghaire. I had seen them 2 years previously in Trinity College and it was an okay gig. But on that night they were top of their game and firing on all cylinders. It was a ridiculously great gig that sticks with me. The most recent gig that I enjoyed was Radiohead the other day in the 3 Arena. It was just amazing music that combined their last 3 albums and was just an experience, all the music melded into each other and one song led into the next. Great show.
What was the most disappointing gig you’ve been to?
Ed Sheeran. I was one of those Arthur’s Day things and he was over for it. I met him and he is a genuinely lovely guy, really down to earth… can’t listen to him though. I was disappointed that I was there.
What is the best and worst thing about the music industry at the moment?
The best and worst things are actually the same thing. Being able to access music at the touch of a button makes it so easy for bands to get their songs heard and it’s mad to think that within seconds, I can go on my phone or my laptop and get to hear any song I want.
But the flip side of that is it takes the journey out of listening to music for the punter. I think the listener needs the journey; the anticipation of a new release, waiting for the first play on the TV or radio, heading in to buy the single, looking at the charts as if you were supporting a football team. It was a complexly different experience back in our day but in many ways, lack off immediate gratification was so much better. Kids these days don’t even know what a radio is never mind listen to the bloody thing.
I think with the new ways of consuming music, there doesn’t seem to be any new “movement”. I mean, in the 60’s you had your hippies, 70’s you had Rock and Punk, 80’s you had New Romantics and then in 90’s you had Grunge, Brit Pop and Boybands. I can’t think of a new era since then.
Perhaps the Reality Show movement?
Oh Christ! I think you might be right. That just proves what a shite state of affairs we could be in. Do you ever see these people being interviewed after being in the X-Factor calling each other “artists”? Fuck off, you are not an artist, you’re barely a singer! Even the Brit Awards these days are soulless, corporate affairs, even more than they used to be if that’s possible.
Hottest prospects in Irish music?
I really don’t know. I don’t even know what a prospect is these days and what metric you’d use to define it. It’s not that I don’t listen, but I hear lots of music and some of it is great and some of it is rubbish but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you who would make it. Great songs obviously aren’t a prerequisite these days considering Ed Sheeran has a career. There is a lot of talent out there though. You just need to look past the bigger bands like The Script and The Coronas and you’ll find some hidden gems.
Sum up the Irish music in three words:
Pretty. Damn. Great!
DAVE FANNINGS STORY OF IRISH ROCK CONTINUES EVERY TUESDAY AT 10:30pm ON RADIO ONE. YOU CATCH UP ON THE FIRST TWO EPISODES HERE