‘My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big.’
Those great ‘I was there’ moments in music history don’t come along often, and admittedly I’ve occasionally been proved wrong in the past when calling them. But this was one such slice of on-the-spot gratification, a band pervading rock’n’roll star quality just a few feet ahead of us.
They came, they thrilled, they signed merchandise (seemingly a little shell-shocked in that awkward moment), and moved on, these much-touted products of ‘a pregnant city with a Catholic mind’ soon headed for Nottingham, London, Brighton, Diksmuide, Rotterdam, Paris, and quite possibly indie world domination.
As I write this I hear that the debut album, Dogrel, released three days earlier on Partisan Records – recorded with Dan Carey in Streatham, South London – nestles among the UK top-five, above the likes of fellow high-fliers Emma Bunton, Tom Walker, George Ezra, and the Bohemian Rhapsody and The Greatest Showman soundtrack albums. And I’ll raise a glass to that.
Building on a string of inspirational, critically-acclaimed singles, the first long player captures their very essence in a mighty 11-song opus that ‘taps into the social and mental consciousness of Dublin City’ (Peter McGoran, Hot Press), proving art and lit remain prime Irish exports, 105 years beyond James Joyce’s Dubliners.
We only got a half-hour set on this occasion, but by God it was impassioned, five 20-somethings from Ireland’s own D.C. (and in this case I don’t mean Derry, fellow Undertones fans) taking on the Brits and leaving indelible marks on hearts and minds here, there and everywhere.
This was something of a coup too, treasured Lancashire independent centre of gravity Action Records somehow borrowing its guests from under the noses of bigger sold-out UK venues. Initially booked as an in-store promotion, it wasn’t long before Action kingpin and 2018 WriteWyattUK interviewee Gordon Gibson switched them to a nearby nightspot in the shadow of Preston’s renowned Brutalist bus station.
Gordon, on hand at the venue, seemed pleasantly surprised at the value for money received, and from the moment this all the rage quintet strolled on stage to The Pogues’ ‘Boys From the County Hell’, we were indebted to them and would have gladly lent them £10 so they could buy us a drink.
My youngest daughter joked that she didn’t want to be judged, having lead singer Grian Chatten and compatriots Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley (guitars), Connor Deegan (bass) and Tom Coll (drums) staring at a rapturous audience as if asking us all out for a fight, setting up what would prove a memorable, explosive set. But while there were elements of Stone Roses and Oasis-like bluster and Grian has the frenetic mark of Ian Curtis at times, these are no copyists, their innate sense of post-punk presence and fervour all pervading.
What’s more, it proved a perfect venue, Grian checking out the workmanship on the low ceiling in front of his head when he briefly settled from his relentless stage wanderings, shaking his arms out and thriving on that nervous energy, the assembled – all in after pre-ordering the album from Action – appreciative throughout but leaving it late to become a pogoing mess, the last couple of songs really having the place moving.
I won’t dress this tucked-away venue as something it isn’t, but I saw it as the kind of sticky-floored, dingy, superficially-grubby cavern where art dreams are hewn if the guests are up to the challenge. And these lads have said qualities in abundance. ‘Is it too real for ya?’ Not a bit.
Inevitably, there were great songs from the LP we didn’t get to hear on the night, notably wondrous 2017 debut single ‘Liberty Belle’ and ‘Television Screens’ and the more radio-friendly ‘Roy’s Tune’ and their Poguesque tribute to home, ‘Dublin City Sky’. But they certainly filled their 30 minutes or so wisely.
We were pulled in from the moment they launched into the punky rock’n’roll meets The Fall charge of ‘Chequeless Reckless’, their acerbic manifesto of sorts overcoming the early technical gremlins, the club PA struggling to cope, the backing harmonies initally lost in a soup of noise terrorism. But by the time the opener was pared down to Tom’s percussion and Grian’s searching ‘What’s really going on?’ we were caught in the spotlights.
‘Hurricane Laughter’ took that on, ‘tearing down the plaster’ (thankfully not around that afore-mentioned low ceiling). And yes, there was certainly a connection available tonight.
‘The Lotts’ is more about melancholic evocation, Connor D’s bass, Tom’s stick-work and the guitar licks suggesting hints of The Cure. And from there on in it was no-holds barred Fontaines D.C. alternative hits, the Noughties’ indie pop of ‘Sha Sha Sha’ getting the fingers poking, before almost-anthemic new single ‘Boys in the Better Land’ revved us up again, recently described by Grian as ‘a celebration of independent thought’. I’m all for that, and was taken back to the live fire of the early Mighty Lemon Drops.
Then came the mighty ‘Too Real’, its introductory alarm call – in the tradition of the wondrous call to arms of The Mekons’ ‘Where Were You?’ – keeping us on that high plane, the Wolfhounds-like guitar thrash that followed having the joint jumping, before the inevitable Strokes-esque show-stopper, ‘Big’, another impassioned band statement of intent that left you reeling, its six-string clang during the chorus carrying traces of Anglo-Irish old favourites Stump for me.
These boys, barely three years after getting something together at music college in Dublin – ‘from the ruins of early nowhere bands’, buoyed by ‘a shared love of poetry and common zeal for authentic self-expression’ – are going places, and we were proud to just be passengers on a brief part of that journey.
They’ve a hard slog ahead if they’re to carry on unaffected by all the hype, but they’re up to that judging by the recorded product and relentless itinerary so far – after a debut headline sell-out UK tour comes further sell-out US dates supporting Idles (after first-time sell-outs of their own in NYC and nine attention-grabbing SXSW showcases in Houston) and across Europe, with more festivals and big UK shows planned this year. And whether this is the start of something ‘Big’ or just a brief aligning of the stars is irrelevant. It’s something to savour for sure. Now, let me get back to that album again.
For a podcast featuring an on-air early April 2019 interview with Fontaines D.C. in the company of long-time band supporter and friend of this website Paul McLoone for his weekday evening show on Today FM in Dublin, head here.
Fontaines D.C.’s first UK headline tour continues this week (after those Preston and Nottingham visits) with sell-outs at London The Garage (April 17) and Brighton The Haunt (April 18), followed by Belgian, Dutch and French dates at Diksmuide 4AD (April 19), Rotterdam Motel Mozaique Festival (April 20), and Paris Le Point Ephemere (April 22), then a long trek to Mexico City’s Bajo Circuito (April 29) before sell-out North American dates supporting Idles in May, that month ending with Germany’s Neustrelitz Immergut Festival.
In June there are three French festival dates and others in Greece, the Netherlands and Croatia, while in July more European outdoor dates lead to further UK engagements at Glasgow’s TRNSMT Festival (July 13), London Citadel Festival (July 14), Oxford Truck Festival (July 26), Rainton Deer Shed Festival (July 27) and Pikehall Y Not Festival (July 28).
And after more festivals in Ireland, Canada, Norway, Germany, Italy and France in August, there’s the End of The Road Festival in Wiltshire (August 29/September 1), 14 more US dates in September (headlining, with Pottery supporting), four more European festivals in early November, then their next UK dates at Manchester 02 Ritz (November 19), Liverpool O2 Academy (November 20), Glasgow SWG 3 (November 21), Leeds Stylus (November 22), Sheffield Leadmill (November 23), Birmingham O2 Institute (November 25), Oxford O2 Academy (November 26), London O2 Forum (November 27), Brighton Concorde 2 (November 28), Bristol SWX (November 30), Southampton The 1865 (December 1), and two dates at Dublin Vicar Street (December 7/8, the first already sold out).
Meanwhile, Action Records team up with neighbour Blitz Preston again this weekend, Fat White Family promoting new album Serfs Up at the same venue, playing a special 7pm show on Saturday, April 20th (5, Church Row, Preston). To gain admission, pre-order the album from Action Records (46, Church Street, Preston), collecting your purchase and ticket anytime the previous day. For more information, head to Action Records’s Facebook page.