Hothouse Flowers are an Irish rock group that combine traditional Irish music with influences from soul, gospel and rock. Their 1980s hits – including Don’t Go, Love Don’t Work This Way and Hallelujah Jordan – still resonate powerfully
Hothouse Flowers started as buskers in Dublin. What are your memories of those times?
Busking was like a right of passage or a path to freedom for us. It provided us with an arena where we could hone the craft of communication between performer and artist, and underline the fact that you can stop people in their tracks and transform the space no matter where you are. We had played indoor concerts before we went out busking, and looking back I guess busking was like the anarchic wing of the band. Anything and everything was possible in those given moments and that dynamic remains with the band still.
What role did punk play in the band’s evolution?
Punk rock appeared on our horizons in the late 1970s when we were in our early teens – it was as if music and rebellion were mixed together in a brand-new way. It coincided with a time in all of our lives when we were looking to break free anyway and stand up to authority. But punk rock lived alongside traditional Irish music and reggae music and all kinds of other music for us and we never really had to make too much of a distinction between them… They all represented freedom.
What have been your biggest musical influences?
We grew up surrounded by traditional Irish music and that remains a deep source – bands like Planxty, the Bothy Band, de Danann and Moving Hearts. Alongside this I had a passion for blues such as John Lee Hooker and BB King. I loved (and still love) the lyricism of Bob Dylan and the swagger of The Rolling Stones.
Bono gave you encouragement and support in the 1980s. What was it that Bono saw, do you think?
I think he saw a uniqueness in the band. You would hear our song Love Don’t Work This Way and think it was like a classic soul song. And whenever we got on stage we gave it absolutely everything… We had a hunger and energy to transform whatever space we were given to play in and to take people with us on a musical journey. This remains to this day the primal instinct that keeps us going.
Your first album People (1988) was the most successful debut album in Irish history. How do you look back on it?
We had an amazing time recording this. The whole recording process was relatively new to us and it was fascinating to hear the work take shape. We decided to remain as true to ourselves as possible in the studio and not to rely on technology. Everything you hear on that album was played – no machines, no synthesisers – just five guys giving it their all.
What were some memorable highlights from the 1985–1994 years?
Playing Wembley Stadium in London in 1991 as a special guest for INXS was a great gig – watching and hearing the entire stadium singing and clapping along to I Can See Clearly Now was a standout moment. The first time we played at Glastonbury Festival in 1989 we decided that the world should be just like that – peace, love, sunshine and music. It was also a great thrill to play multiple nights in the Royal Albert Hall in the round.
How do you work musically together as a band?
We pretty much make it all up as we go along – we get behind our songs and let the music fly.
How do you feel about your most long-lasting ballads: Songs like Don’t Go and Love Don’t Work This Way?
They feel as fresh as they ever did – we love them. Our better-known songs have been very good to us, so we keep them alive by reaching into them constantly.
How do you balance your solo careers with the band?
Much like life itself – you learn to keep the plates spinning! The solo careers feed the band and vice versa, so it’s a happy symbiosis.