Horslips: Trouble (With a Capital T)
For a music geek like me, having access to a radio station’s library of music made me feel like a kid in a candy store. When I started training to be a DJ at WPRB, we were encouraged to come to the station’s beautiful basement studios and listen to music. One of the first records I picked out to explore was Horslips’ “The Man Who Built America.” I think it was the band’s unusual name that grabbed me at first, then the positive review that someone had written on a sticker on the album cover.
I immediately enjoyed their mix of Celtic music and rock; with the prominent flute, it sounded like Jethro Tull without the bombast. Over time, I investigated the other two Horslips albums the station had, “Aliens” and “The Book of Invasions,” and saw them as a trilogy—“The Book of Invasions” was about Irish folklore, “Aliens” was about the Irish experience immigrating to America, and “The Man Who Built America” was about the Irish experience in America. I also thought that these were the only three albums the band recorded—it wasn’t until years later, and because of the existence of Allmusic, that I found out that they had recorded a number of albums before these three, and many of them were considered to be better than the three I knew—their earlier sound was more like Fairport Convention or Steelye Span, with some prog rock influences.
“The Book of Invasions” is subtitled “A Celtic Symphony” and tells the story of the mythical, pre-Christian colonizers of Ireland, the Tuatha De Danann. Listening to the album as a whole, the band transforms traditional Irish music into rock songs, and there is a mix of modern, electric instruments, and more traditional Celtic sounds. The critics loved this album, much more than the next two, and after a couple more poorly received releases which progressively deemphasized the Celtic folk influences, they broke up. There was a time, in the late 70’s and even the early 80’s, where music like this would be heard on commercial radio, but Horslips never broke through in the U.S. Nevertheless, they are a band worth exploring.