So the story goes: it was a wet Friday night in downtown Dublin and in a cosy international bar on Wicklow Street nobody plays a blind bit of notice to The Cranberries or an American producer named Bruce Fairbairn huddled together at a table who were soon to enter the intimate domain of a studio in Dublin to create their third album – a portrait of a world rocked by emotional turbulence and nylon guitar chords – to be titled To The Faithful Departed.
In other parts of the world, such a gathering would have brought the local music press scrambling through its doors, armed with notebooks and cameras. But in the battle-scarred nook of Dublin, people went about their business, supping beer while a sense of calmness and down-to-earthness pervaded. Known for their spritely passion and love of music the occupants of the bar nodded towards the cosy quartet in respectful recognition and continued with their conversations.
Should The Cranberries’ diminutive vocalist Delores O’Riordan, the fiery, volatile banshee and humanitarian Gaelic diva have taken the stage and let rip those bewitching, howling vocals that reverberated through the anguished Zombie or unleashed a soothing and heartrending medieval ode to the spirit of her countrymen, no doubt she would have warmed the hearts and lit the eyes of the folk around her, and somehow that would probably have been as gratefully received as it would standing in some of the world’s largest venues bathed in applause from 200,000 people high on The Cranberries bittersweet cacophonies.
For Ireland’s sonic patron saints of the working class, and particularly The Cranberries drummer, the pensive Fergal Lawler, whose Gaelic tones are filled with sobriety and retrospection, the insularity and low-key atmosphere of the inns of Dublin and its people helped him to deal with a notion that he is not yet ready to face: “It is a big thing to comprehend the fact that with No Need To Argue we touched about 12 million people,” he gasps. “It’s silly trying to think about it too much because it’s too freaky. It’s scary to think about the fact that, that many people have listened to our music.
“Aside from that thought, I think that everyone is dealing with it quite well. We’re all very down-to-earth people. I think with success everyone was kinda saying ‘okay, don’t lose the head’, because it’s so easy to go this way or that way,” he gestures frenetically. “I think we had two choices and we could have gone either way, so everyone became more down-to-earth than would normally have happened. Everyone’s focused on trying to be as normal as possible and the one thing that we promised ourselves from day one was that if it got to the stage where we got really big we all agreed we wouldn’t lose our heads.
“We decided we would never go off on the sex, drugs and rock’n'roll kind of thing that so many bands have done before because at the end of the day your music suffers …” Sharing a similar kind of organic rawness and grassroots patriotism as fellow Celtic musicians Luka Bloom, Sinead O’Connor, Shane MacGowan and an Morrison, The Cranberries are icons of the working class spirit who remain true to who they are and where their roots lie. Throughout their autobiographical snapshots of alternate anger and vulnerability on Everybody Is Doing It So Why Can’t We?, No Need To Argue and the soon-to-be-released To The Faithful Departed they mark the passing of time with their caustic, jangling and lilting odes of death, birth, innocence, loss, memories and bloodshed. It’s the sniff and stench of passionate people drowning theirsorrows at the bar, head in hands, seeking and searching for a solution to the world’s problems.
O’Riordan’s lush and caustic howl soars through tributes that mourn at the loss of John Lennon in (I Just Shot) John Lennon and Kurt Cobain; rekindles memories of her grandfather sitting in an armchair beside the fire in the lillting shuffle ofJoe ; condemns the futility of the war raging in Bosnia and the suffering of children in War Child; swoons between medieval vaudevillian strains of Will You Remember?; and contorts with rage at drug addiction and “all the people doin’ lines …” in Salvation..
From ethereal diva to a woman purging the contents of her very soul, O’Riordan waltzes, struts, howls, strums and mourns, while Fergal, Noel and Mike Hogan create shards and walls of jangling sparsity and pyromaniacy. This is The Cranberries at their rawest without the aid of a safety net or any polish. “It’s not too produced or compressed or too anything. It’s just there … in your face. It’s live and that’s what we were looking for,” Lawler agrees. “There were very few takes, very little editing, and there are rough edges on this album , but we wanted to leave them there.
“It sounds great and I really think it captured the spontaneity and almost a live feeling. It’s really fresh compared to the other stuff we’ve done,” he grins. According to Lawler the genesis and conception of much of the lyrical observation on this album was catalysed by what they saw going on around them, even in the maternal haven of Limerick, home to all of the Cranberries except O’Riordan (“she is between Canada and Dublin at the moment, because her husband is Canadian”). Lawler concedes that even in such lush surroundings the drug problem has risen to new heights.
“The song Salvation is a glance at drug addiction,” he muses with a forlorn look in his eyes. “If you look around you see so much of it going on day-to-day, even in Limerick, which is quite a small town. You walk around the place and go to pubs at night and you see people drinking water because they’re on ecstacy or whatever. It’s quite scary to see that. I mean no matter how much you travel, and how much you see, nothing can prepare you for that kind of thing. You see your brother’s friends who are 16-year-old and they’re totally out of it. It’s scary to see how it’s taken over the whole world. “I dunno,” he sighs, “you meet so many people who have been through all that and they look back and they say ‘what’s the point’?” He pauses suddenly, “People learn the hard way I suppose. It’s just unfortunate that some people don’t survive it.” Lawler almost throws his hands up in despair, while O’Riordan mirrors the same kind of reaction towards War Child and its origins. She explains “I love children and I received a letter from Brian Eno who asked me to design something for a War Child fashion show that didn’t happen, but I was moved by Bosnia and that morning in my hotel room I wrote the song in about 10 minutes – children suffer most of all whether it’s Bosnia or the Bogside. It’s sick. They’re so vulnerable,” she concludes.
Synonymous with speaking her mind, O’Riordan inspires in Lawler and the rest of the band pure admiration for her honesty, courage and uncompromising stance when it comes to penning her thoughts. Lawler remembers the slip of a girl who first volunteered to replace their vocalist Niall Quinn back in 1989. “When she first started singing it was like ‘this is it.’ The four of us looked at each other and knew that this hadn’t been done before,” he remembers.
The year was 1990 and after a swift name change to The Cranberries and their first gig at Limerick’s Rugby Club to an audience of 60 people, they released a cassette entitled Nothing Left At All which contained the beautifully lush Linger, Dreams and Put Me Down. Pressing 300 cassette copies it took only a few days to sell out. The following year, they embarked on their first UK tour supporting Moose and a month later in July signed a contract with Island Records in the US after being courted by Virgin, EMI, CBS and Warners.
In October of the same year, The Cranberries released their debut EP Uncertain in the UK, arousing little attention and some disappointment from their critics. By December, they had began another UK tour headling a show at The Power Haus with Verve as support. Sadly, the band were due to support Nirvana in Belfast, but it never eventuated as Nirvana cancelled at the last moment.
March 1992 saw them hire a new manager who put them in touch with producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur) and the band returned to Dublin to record their debut album. Later on that year they released their debut single Dreams which made it to No 75 on the UK charts. In January 1993 when they released Linger it hit No 74 and left them more determined than ever to succeed.
A tour followed in February with indie goddesses Belly and the subsequent release of their album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?. Ironically, a year after its release the album re-entered the UK charts at No 1 and The Cranberries became one of only five artists to ever achieve a re-entry at that position. To date, the album has sold five million copies worldwide and remained on the Billboard album charts for two years. It went double platinum in Australia. Support slots with Mike Oldfield, a European tour with Hothouse Flowers, a US tour supporting Suede and a support slot for Duran Duran’s Arena Tour suddenly cancelled when Simon Le Bon fell ill all followed. Due to their already spiralling popularity they stayed on and quickly arranged U.S. club dates.
1994 saw them re-release Linger and begin recording No Need To Argue with producer Stephen Street. By March, the band had been awarded the IRMA Award (Ireland) for Best New Irish Band and won the UK Music Week Awards Top New International Act. But it wasn’t until the release of No Need To Argue, an album that sold over 12 million copies worldwide, went quadruple platinum in the U.S. and gold/platinum in 25 countries around the world, that The Cranberries were finally catapulted to world-wide fame and success.
For Lawler, though the slow burn that had preceded their success taught him a very valuable lesson. “When we started off we were very young. We were like 18-years-old and there was a lot of strange things written about us. We were naieve and four little Leprechauns from Ireland, y’know, that kinda thing, and it all felt strange, and we got a raw deal from the press mostly in the UK and Ireland. I mean, that happens to everyone really, and the fact that we came through it … it did us good in the end because we learnt to watch out for different things. It was an education,” he asserts.
Today, it is impossible to forget the pained expression and vocal anguish that Dolores O’Riordan bled in the video clip of Zombie; surrounded by children scarred by war in an urban war zone that ignited like a funeral pyre. And with To The Faithful Departed, The Cranberries continue to evoke visions of icons and memories of people who have left behind them a legacy that continues on long after their deaths. O’Riordan concludes, “After listening through the full set of songs on this album it’s not a sombre thing. I believe death is a good thing because you’re going to a better place than where you are and there’s lots of songs here about people who have left this earth but they’ve left good things behind them, like John Lennon and Kurt Cobain, and we learnt from them …”
Rock star’s house has them talking in Kerry By Dick Hogan, in Dun Chaoin Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries likes to make statements. She made one when she brought her group to superstar status, making it one of Ireland’s hottest rock exports, and she made one when she got married with her underwear showing. Now she has chosen Dun Chaoin in the west Kerry Gaeltacht to make the kind of statement that certainly speaks for itself. But this time she has used bricks and mortar to proclaim her message. Standing on a hillside dominating the scenic hamlet of Dun Chaoin, her sprawling holiday home is in the final stages of completion. Signs in the driveway warn curious visitors they shouldn’t be there, and if they come to harm it’s their own fault. Her “mansion”, as local people refer to it, is an eye-catcher.Some think it is more a monument than a home, others say it fits in just fine. A slate roof is set off underneath by fine stone work.
A porthole side window is matched in the front by two huge windows followed by a further three, and what appears to be a conservatory in the middle before a more conventional structure joins the rest at right angles. Oh yes, and there’s a round tower capped in slate to add to the overall design. In Dun Chaoin, where the bungalow blight argument has raged for years, this is the daddy of them all. It will be a talking point for as long as it stands in the village which overlooks the crumbling stone houses on the Great Blasket Island – now deserted and forlorn. And while the O’Riordan villa will spark discussion, the likelihood is that it will be no more controversial than the nearby Blasket Interpretive Centre which has aroused heated debate – mostly negative – as to the appropriateness of its design. One neighbour of the superstar – “Mike” was all he would concede – said that a reporter from the Sun had been nosing around lately and he didn’t trust journalists any more. “You needn’t bother quoting me because all you fellows do is make things up,” he added. Mr Brendan O’ Connell, a vet on call in the area, said that the edifice was acceptable as far as he was concerned. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it’s fine. It must have cost some money, though,” he went on. Designed by the Dingle-based architect, Mr Michael Williams, the O’Riordan mansion has all the hallmarks of success. “You could fit three or four normal bungalows into it. What does she want all that space for?” wondered another neighbour aloud. “My name? get away with you. This is a small place, too small to be speaking out,” she said. But Mr Michael Mitchell, who will be Dolores O’Riordan’s nearest neighbour,was quite content that the singer would be coming to live close by. “This is a very small parish, and most of the bungalows you see are foreignowned holiday homes. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Should such a large building have been given planning permission? – “That’s not for me to be talking about – I’ll say nothing about that. About three months ago, she called in to say hello. She was very nice. The house has stables at the rear as far as I know. It should have been finished on St Patrick’s Day but I think now there’s another month or two in it.” The cost? “Nobody knows,” he added. The other Mike – the shy one – said that newspaper talk of controversy in Dun Chaoin was wide of the mark. “There’s no controversy about it. There was far more controversy about the Blasket Centre, I can tell you that,” he continued. The last word falls to Mr Brendan Mac Gearailt, the vice chairman of Kerry County Council. “Dolores O’Riordan went through due process and was granted planning permission like any other citizen,” he said. Now she’s entitled to her privacy.