STOCKI: What are you been doing in these non Horslips years?
JIM: After the band split I got into doing advertising jingles and then into TV music "theme music and incidental music for dramas and documentaries and soaps, plus MD-ing (with Barry) on series like The Live Mike, which featured the late and greatly-missed Dermot Morgan. He was a quite a bunch of characters to work with. One of his regular personae was a manic priest, Fr. Trendy, who foreshadowed Fr. Ted. That whole period was a great training ground in terms of learning the craft" writing, arranging, scoring, producing: different kettle of fish to dossing around in a band with your mates. I went back and studied orchestration for two years to get on top of writing for strings and brass and so on. But by the end of the 80's I'd seen enough of TV and moved over to radio, which is a much more intimate, direct medium. You don't need a cast of thousands looking after makeup and wardrobe and vision mixing and whatnot, it can be as simple as you and a mic, and your vision's in your head. I was lucky enough to find myself after a few years working mainly with Dave Fanning, and we've stuck together as his territory has shifted over time. And with Ian Wilson I've produced most of 2FM's live music output, which has meant producer credits on releases by Van Morrison, Divine Comedy and the final Stone Roses live EP. Rather pleased about that.
ST: So when did you yourself hear of a reunion?
JIM: Maurice Linnane was the director with Dreamchaser, a film production company that did videos for U2 for donkey's years, as well as other projects like the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. As a kid he'd been a mad Horslips fan, and now he wanted to make the definitive film history of the band. So after a few preliminary skirmishes, that started to take shape about the start of last year. Meanwhile in various corners of Northern Ireland, Jim Nelis, Stephen Ferris and Paul Callaghan had discovered a mutual passion for collecting Horslips memorabilia, and decided that what they had amassed between them shouldn't be kept under a bushel. So they decided to stage an exhibition in the Orchard Gallery in Derry, and that came to fruition about March of 2004. They'd asked us at an early stage if we'd all come along whenever it would open and we said sure, no problem. But as the day drew near we realised we couldn't very well turn up and not a note out of us, so we got together in my front room over a few weekends, got O'Connor over from Whitby, and strung together 20 or 25 minutes' worth of an acoustic set. In fact we'd done a couple of exploratory sessions in Charles's place a year or two earlier, but there was no impetus to keep us at it so it hadn't led anywhere. But this felt like a bit of fun and the opening was a blast â€“ both playing at it and the exhibition itself, which left us staggered at the range of posters and memorabilia the guys had collected and the sheer class with which it was displayed. It was an amazing night, brilliant audience reaction, and by now Maurice was filming away, and Pat Maguire and Steve Iredale from our old crew magically appeared and suddenly there was a feeling of momentum. So that was the tipping-point. It was only a short hop to the idea of an acoustic album.
ST: And what were your initial feelings?
JIM: Well we were all a bit apprehensive beforehand, but the rehearsals started throwing up new ways of looking at things, and voices and instrumental styles and tastes had changed and developed, so it became an unexpectedly fresh experience, exhilarating at times.
ST: Why has it not happened before?
JIM: While that whole legal business was happening between about 1980 and 2000, we couldn't really do anything without contributing to sales of the illicit copies of our albums that were in circulation and so endangering the long-term goal of getting back control of the music. So we had a sort of self-imposed radio silence. Extraordinarily effective in retrospect.
ST: The talk at the time of the break up was that there was a bit of friction in the band. How true?
JIM: What's remarkable is that there wasn't more. We were pretty exhausted after touring solidly and living in each other's pockets for ten years, putting out an album a year, and like any normal healthy individuals we'd started to grow in different directions. So we'd got to the point of being tetchy and disagreeable. We didn't realize then that many â€“ maybe even most - bands start from there and get worse.
ST: If there was had the years healed?
JIM: Ah yeah, the nice thing about the current setup is that there's no pressure apart from wanting to do it right. So we can take it easy.
ST: Do you all remember the good times with just a little more in focus?
JIM: Focus, maybe no. It's all a bit hazy, which I have to assume means I had a pleasant time!
ST: I have to ask you Jim?On Roll Back?Where?s the flute in Trouble?
JIM: I tried flute on various tracks on the new album; it wasn't ruled out but for some reason it wouldn't sit comfortably anywhere I tried it. Didn't seem to gell with the sort of roots countryish feel. So rather than force it in, the governing vibe was if in doubt, leave it out. As for Trouble specifically, it changed rhythmically and feel-wise, with the slide guitar taking over the lazier version of the riff. So best not to muddy the waters.
ST: In the light of that how much thought went into the new arrangements?
JIM: Not so much thought, more experimentation. The Trouble arrangement grew out of a few sessions jamming in Charles's place in Whitby two or three years ago. The 3/4 versions of Man Who Built America and Wrath Of The Rain were how they were originally written by Barry on acoustic guitar. Johnnyâ€˜s slide playing and Charles's tenor and slide guitar just had everyone's mouth watering in studio, so they had to be given room to breathe. A lot of stuff came together in studio, in fact, rather than being meticulously planned. Like putting The Lambs On The Green Hills in counterpoint to Wrath Of The Rain, that was just experimenting as we recorded.
ST: Why did you chose the songs you did? Was it that they were favourites or that they most lent themselves to acoustic arrangements?
JIM: A bit of both. We tried a few others, but these were the ones that seemed most comfortable in this context.
ST: You were saying in Hot Press about which Horslips would return if you started touring? Would making an album and touring not be the way to find out?
JIM: Yes and no. Everyone's got a fair amount of work and family commitments that we didn't have before, so touring isn't that straightforward an option. A few gigs from time to time would be easier to get the head around. As for what you'd get on stage, we'd have to see what we sounded like! But the couple of live sessions we've done so far have been both fun and encouraging.
ST: So are there now some creative juices flowing for a new album?
JIM: No sign of that yet. But who knows what people have up their sleeves?
ST: Hot Press again described you as one of the ?Most culturally influential outfits.? Did you realise that at the time?
JIM: Nah, we were out for a bit of crack. We were serious about the music though. But that's not the same as covering yourself with a culturally influential mantle. Plus that's for other people to judge, and only in retrospect.
ST: Is this what the Return Of The Dancehall Sweethearts DVD is all about?
JIM: The DVD is something we can sit back and look at, since it's someone else's baby: Maurice Linnane has taken this idea from birth and run with it, so the first we saw was when it was all done and dusted. And yes there is a bit of culturally-influential going on, which is very flattering, but there's also amateur footage of us mooning from German hotel balconies, which is more like real life. And a fair bit of scene-setting black-and-white TV stuff from what seems like another era. Well, it was.
ST: Was the move from Celtic folk to American rock a sign that you had lost the art for the commerce?
JIM: I don't think so: every album we did had a different feel, a different approach, a different blend of rock and roots and acoustic and electric. Probably not the most commercially-sussed way to go about building an international audience. But we had a sort of core agenda, and we kept at it. There's traditional ingredients on the last few albums just as much as on, say, Dancehall Sweethearts or The Unfortunate Cup of Tea. Which came before Drive the Cold Winter Away, remember. So I don't really accept that we left celtic behind; the acoustic element had always ebbed and flowed. Plus which the music had always reflected where we were at personally, and where we were at was increasingly America. So that was something we were absorbing and dealing with at one remove by putting our own reactions in the context of the fierce moustachioed men 100 years earlier. And we were revelling in being a solidly honed band, as a result of all that gigging.
ST: Do you ever think if you had had the luxury that bands have now of longer between albums that you?d have been more consistent in output. I am thinking that Book Of Invasions was a big one to follow but three or four years and you might just have topped it. Aliens seemed to have a great concept but without being fully realised.
JIM: Perhaps, but then again we might just have gone to the pub!
ST: There has been some talk of legal battles to claim back the rights to the albums. Now that you have that and the profile is up? Can we hope for re-releases with extensive sleeve notes and extra tracks? Only nine tracks on the Belfast Gigs? Surely there is more stuff from the Vaults?
There was more stuff from the Belfast Gigs, but unfortunately the master tapes have gone AWOL. Other than that I think we've put out pretty much everything else that's lying around, bar a few stray tracks like Bridge From Heart To Heart. However live recordings we did for US radio stations have turned up in the last few years and we never thought they'd surface again, so who knows? Maurice has collected a bundle of live TV performances which will form part of the DVD package when it comes out, so that's something people won't have seen. Which may not have been a bad thing. I might take a long holiday.