Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Would Be's - I'm Hardly Ever Wrong

A few months ago, I rediscovered one of my all time favourite records. It's one of those perfectly composed examples of the three and a half minute artform that seemed to say everything about my life at the time when I first heard it, and can be returned to over and over again, and still sound exactly the same however my life has changed since I last listened.

I first came across I'm Hardly Ever Wrong by Irish band the Would Be's when I recorded it by chance from Steve Lamacq's Evening Session. Growing up in a small town, his daily show on Radio 1 was my only entertainment for a couple of years, and it introduced me to many classic songs, as well as new bands.

I still have the cassette, which is marked Jan-March 2002. I'm Hardly Ever Wrong, a lost indie classic from 1990, takes up even less than the conventional three minutes, nestled in between Hole and a live session by Easyworld. Presumably, my finger, hovered over my stereo, hit the record button soon after the song started, drawn in by the distinctive opening notes of the intro, which trundle into a piece of perfect pop that is as unique as it is timeless. The female singer's slightly husky voice is unforgettable, gliding through lyrics about how seeing a film, reading a book, hearing a song, "changes your life, but only for a day, and a day is not enough". She's almost blase, prematurely worldweary like someone who's been through it all before, the chorus soaring to its conclusion that "i'm hardly ever wrong" with the self-assuredness and world-conquering ambition that's unique to teenagers - or at least, I saw in my 14 year old self.

I'm Hardly Ever Wrong is tinged with regret and melancholy, anchored by slightly mocking horns that follow the floating vocal line like an encroaching conscience or voice of doubt. The arrangements are highly sophisticated. So far, I've only tested it out during bedroom discos, but I'm trying to spead the word so that I'm Hardly Ever Wrong can be played again and come to life on the dancefloor, assuming its rightful place alongisde the establishd indie cannon of Smiths, Stereolab and et al...

Despite its superfluous apostrophe, in my mind The Would Be's is also up there with all time great band names, memorable because of the aura of mystery it creates - 'would be' suggests unattainable dreams, unfulfilled ambition, something elusive and hard to come by, not yet accomplished.

I tried to find out more about the band on the internet, but to no avail - until a few months ago, when I discovered they had finally created a myspace, where two more superb songs can be heard. Unfortunately, it seems the Would Be's were to become Would Have Beens, and disappeared without ever even releasing an album.

I'm Hardly Ever Wrong is one of those songs I wish I could have written, and something my own music aspires towards. I contacted the band with a list of questions, as much to satisfy my curiosity as anything else. I'm fully intending to write their responses up as a proper interview for a fanzine soon, but until then, and to coincide with the 19th anniversary of the release of the song, here are there answers in full, which are brilliant even in their unedited form and discuss subjects close to my heart like the radio, John Peel, teenage spirit, grand dreams and ambitions and even just the experience of being a young band in the music industry.

Who is in the band?

The Would Be's consisted of three Finnegan brothers, Matthew, Eamonn and Paul, assorted guitars. Julie McDonnel singer. Pascal Smith drums. Aideen O'Reilly trombone and saxophone. Eileen Gogan singer who replaced Julie.

How did you meet and get together?

Guitarist Matt was asked to play in a local variety show in which Aideen was involved, Aideen was a friend of singer Julie, so due to a shared interest in good music the Would Be's were born....and of course a secret shared interest in being rich and famous but we didn't talk about that !!!

How did you come up with the name the Would Be’s?

We wanted a name that would suit our down-to-earth unpretentious modest attitude to music and life, plus we had the mistaken belief that we just couldn't be a great band without being part of some elite group of people who were somehow ‘born to greatness' . I did say that we were modest, it's the one thing that we could boast about at that time !! so after some searching in ' Virtues English dictionary' ( Encyclopaedic Edition ) we found '' Would be '' and we liked the sound of it and how it looked in print.How old were you when you released I’m Hardly Ever Wrong?

A mental age of about nine or ten but the band had a physical age of between thirteen and nineteen ish and it's a fact that our thirteen year old rhythm guitarist Paul didn't get to play a certain gig in Dublin because the owner of the venue wouldn't let him in cause he was underage. but hey....that's rock'n'roll...man !

It sounds quite teenage - what did you write songs about?

We tended to write songs about certain deep thoughts that we had from time to time, like for instance, how our 'radio sounded different in the dark ' and how things seemed to be '' funny ha ha and funny peculiar'' at the same time, we tried to get a balance of ' insight into life and a good sense of humour about it all, we'd like to think that we achieved that in our songs....( well we hope so anyway !!! )

Who were your influences?

We were influenced by a wide range of music, famous bands like the Smiths and the Pixies, no so famous band like, Half man Half Biscuit, Bongwater, Freiwillige selbst-kontrolle ( F.S.K. ). I.Ludicrous, Shonen Knife, the Frank Chickens, the Pooh Sticks, Jonathan Richman, Flying Lizards, John Cooper Clarke, and lots more.

How did you come up with the idea of having brass in the band?

Well one day I was walking past the local scrapmetal yard and I saw a big brass bed.......( only jokin ). The trombone and saxophone came about because Aideen was a member of the local brass and reed band, we thought that it added a nice touch to the guitar based pop music that we were playing and as we got more well known we found that people really liked the fact that we sounded different to the other rock and pop bands around at that time. '' Ya cant bet a bit of brass '' as they say...........in brass bands, I suppose !

How did you write one of the catchiest indie songs ever and then just completely disappear?

Well it wasn't easy, it takes a special kinda talent to disappear so quickly after breaking through in a very competitive business, when the single '' I'm hardly ever wrong '' came out, some of the biggest record companies in the world wanted to sign us, the phone was hopping all day every day after the late very great ' JOHN PEEL ' played the song on his bbc radio 1 show, we had A & R people coming from New York and London to hear us playing live in some small out-of-the-way towns in Ireland, sometimes they got lost on the way to the gigs and were never seen or heard of again !!!!!!!!!! maybe....! but in the end we signed to a small independent record company in London because we wanted complete artistic control, we thought that the big companies would tell us what to do, well the small company didn't tell us what to do....... but they also didn't have the money to make the record a hit, so it was a combination of ' naivete, idealism, big headedness and downright stupidity that helped us to disappear from the scene. but we're not bitter......................oh yes we are !.......but only a little......when it's very cold and we haven't much to eat..!

Why is there no information about you on the internet?

We didn't plan it that way but we kinda like the fact that there's not too much information on the internet about us, it adds a bit of mystery in these days of instant knowledge, instant gratification and instant coffee.....it's nice to be anonymous but then again that works against you if you're trying to sell music.............can we have it both ways ??...........no, didn't think so !

Did you never record an album/ why?

We didn't get to record an album, we got a bit distracted at the time and our first singer Julie McDonnel decided to stay at school, we were looking for a new singer for a few months, which is a long time in the music biz, when Eileen Gogan joined the band we recorded four songs with producer '' STEPHEN STREET ' those four songs plus four songs we had recorded with Julie McDonnel have just become availible on itunes as an E.P. '' SILLY SONGS FOR CYNICAL PEOPLE '' the song '' I'M HARDLY EVER WRONG '' is included on it. so that's the nearest thing to an album that we have released.

Did you ever meet John Peel or go on his radio show?

Sadly we didn't get to meet john peel but he did phone us a few times, I think that he was a bit concerned that we might get eaten up by some of the big sharks in the music biz ,and ya know I think he was right, we kinda did !! . John gave us his home phone number which was an honour to have but wouldn't you know it one of the times that we rang him he was in the middle of his sunday dinner, he talked to us anyway and didn't seem to mind, he was a very rare and genuine person in a business that is known to be full of common and false people, we were very saddened to hear of his death, I'm sure he would still be doing his show on radio if he had lived, we didn't get to go on his show live but we did record a four song peel session for his bbc radio 1 show in Maida vale studios London, he broadcast it a few times which was a great experience, we had been big fans of his show for years before he played us, it was a dream come true, so that proves that dreams really do come true...............well, some times.......................if you dream hard enough!

What did he like so much about your song?

The first time that he played it he said he liked the sound of the guitars on the intro and he played the intro part a few times to point that out, he also played the b side that first night and he said that '' I'm hardly ever wrong '' was a wonderful classic pop song and that he hoped that bbc radio 1 would put it on the daytime playist but alas for some strange reason they didn't , maybe because it was a wonderful classic pop song and you cant have that kinda thing on daytime radio now can ya !

You beat Morrissey, the Charlatans and Nick Cave to reach number 12 in John Peel’s 1990 festive 50 - that’s quite an honour! How did you feel about that?

We were very flattered by that as we are big fans of some of the bands we beat, it was a good confidence booster at the time, but maybe it's not a good thing to get too confident when you're young and foolish, there's nothing bigger than a big head.

You have a song called My Radio Sounds Different in the Dark - are/ were you a big fan of the radio?

We have always enjoyed listening to the radio, used to listen to it in bed, in the dark for an hour or two before going asleep, that's where the inspiration for that song came from, music is much more vivid in the dark, much more intense.....man ! and as it happens, I'm listening to the radio at the moment as I write out this interview and you may not believe this but D J Chris Hawkins on BBC 6MUSIC has just said he will be broadcasting the Would Be's John Peel Session on his show, friday 20th.march 2009. now that is what I call a coincidence ! and it does sound different, in the digital audio dark . !!!!

Did you play much in the UK?

I think we did two short tours of the UK . which was very exciting for us at the time, we played in Liverpool, a venue called Planet X , Morrissey was suppose to come along to hear us play at that one but the manager said he always gets mobbed everytime he goes there so I dont think he showed up that night, I think the support band was called '' Barbel ''.

We also played in ''the Mean Fiddler '' '' the L.S.E. '' '' the Boarderline '' and the '' Venue '' new cross London where the support was from a band called the ''Boilweevils '' .We got to stay in that famous rock 'n' roll hotel near Hyde park '' THE COLUMBIA HOTEL ''where all the rock and pop bands used to stay and maybe still do ! New Kids on The Block '' were staying there at the same time as us, ahh well, bad timing there !! but the Inspiral Carpets and Lush and the Greatful Dead were there aswell so it wasn't too bad, a big name D J from Los Angeles '' Rodney Binginhimer '' a d j on KROQ radio came to hear us play in the L.S.E. ( london school of economics ) he took some photos of us and had a chat backstage, very rock'n'roll, He was one of the first d js to play Blondie and the Ramones, he's known as the Mayor of Sunset Strip ' these days. Oh, and a big fan of ours from England, a one '' William Shakespeare '' came up to say hello to us after that gig, now you wouldn't forget a fan with a name like that, wouldest thou !! so hello to William if he happens to see this. We really enjoyed the UK gigs a lot .

Were there any other bands that were doing the same kind of thing as you at the same time?

Not too many that sounded the same with brass instruments and a female singer and of course ' wonderful classic pop songs '. We're still modest !!!

Did I’m Hardly Ever Wrong enter the charts?

The single didn't get playlisted on bbc daytime radio at the time we released it and we were on a small indie record label so we didn't get through to a big commercial audience but it did reach number 5 or 6 in the independent charts, which was nice.

Why aren’t you famous?

Well, why indeed ! maybe we'' just haven't earned it yet baby '' ( as the Smiths once sang ) I think part of the reason is because we didn't make the right decisions at the right time, we got lost in the moment, and what a moment !! but as some wise man once said,( '' if everybody was somebody, then nobody would be anybody '' ). Hope he was right about that ?

Do you feel like your songs should be better known and should be being played at indie discos?

We would like it if people got the chance to hear our songs at indie discos so that they could decide whether or not the songs deserve to be better known, I suppose every band thinks their songs should be better known but ultimately the people shall decide.

How long were you together for and why did you stop making music?

I think we were together for just about two years or so, it was a kind of whirlwind romance with the music biz, not sure why we stopped but as the initial buzz died down I think we lost interest, it must have been a case of '' too much too soon ''.

What do you all do now?

Most of us are still involved in music, Pascal Smith is giving drumming lessons, Julie is an art teacher, Aideen is working in art and fashion, Eilleen is writing and singing songs under the name '' Melba '' us Finnegan brothers are still writing songs and playing music.

When did you last play together?

I think the last gig we played was in 1991, could have been a venue in Limerick city.

Are you going to make any music together soon?

No plans to make music as the Would Be's at the moment but the Finnegan brothers are writing some new songs with a female singer and may release them under a different name sometime if they sound any good.........which of course they will !!!!!!!

We almost got together a few years ago for a John Peel remembrance day show in Dublin along with some other bands but we couldn't get all the members of the would be's together at the time so we didn't get to do it

If you play any gigs soon, will you play some of your old songs? Would that be weird, playing them so long after they were written?

If we ever did play together again we would play the old songs, I dont think it would feel weird, it would be much more fun I'd say because we wouldn't be taking ourselves so seriously as we used to.

Are there any bands you like nowadays?

There are lots of bands that we like at the moment, the Gossip, the Arctic Monkeys, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Richard Hawley, the White Strips, the Kills and many many more, as they say !

Yours musically
Eamonn, Matt, Paul Would Be's
eight track album
''silly songs for cynical people'' available at itunes music store

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