Horslips were a 1970s Irish rock band that composed, arranged and performed their music based on traditional Irish jigs and reels. They were one of the first, if not the first, of the Celtic rock. Formed in 1970, they disbanded in 1980, although in 2005, the original line-up has regrouped and performed a small number of gigs.
Horslips were one of Ireland's leading rock groups of their era, although their success overseas was mixed, they came to be regarded as one of the defining bands of the Celtic rock genre, with a revival of interest in their music in the late 1990s, among a whole new generation of fans.
Barry Devlin, Eamon Carr and Charles O'Connor met up when they worked at a graphics company in Dublin. They were cajoled into pretending to be a band for a beer (Harp Lager) commercial but needed a keyboard player. Devlin said he knew a Jim Lockhart that would fit the bill. They enjoyed the act so much that they decided to try to do the rock thing properly. They hooked up with guitarist Declan Sinnott, a colleague of Eamon Carr's from Tara Telephone and Gene Mulvaney (briefly) to form Horslips (originally Horslypse) in 1970. The name originated from a spoonerism on The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse which became "The Four Poxmen on The Horslypse".
They went professional on St Patrick's Day 1972 having shed Mulvaney and released a single, "Johnny's Wedding", on their own record label, Oats. Declan Sinnott left soon after, primarily due to his annoyance at the group appearing in an advert for Mirinda orange drink (shot in The People's Park in Dun Laoghaire in Easter 1972) and was replaced by Gus Guest briefly, then Johnny Fean.
Horslips designed their own artwork, wrote sleeve-notes and researched the legends that they made into concept albums. They had their own record label and licensed the recordings through RCA for release outside Ireland. They kept their base in Ireland, unlike previous Irish bands.
In October 1972 Horslips went to Longfield house in Tipperary and recorded their first album, Happy To Meet, Sorry To Part, in the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. They then released another single, "Green Gravel". On the first album the melodies were mostly traditional. Jim Lockhart was on keyboards and gradually mastered other instruments including uillean pipes. Eamon Carr was on drums, including the Irish bodhrán. Happy To Meet, Sorry To Part was the fastest-selling album for 8 years in Ireland.
The Abbey Theatre in Dublin asked the band to provide the background for a stage adaptation of "The Táin". They leapt at the opportunity. "Táin Bó Cúailnge" (The Cattle-Raid of Cooley) is a tenth-century story written in Old and Middle Irish. It tells of an ancient war between Ulster and Connaught. The Táin was released in 1973 and had more original material alongside the traditional tunes, and greater emphasis on rock. In the same year a single, "Dearg Doom", went to number one in Germany.
Dancehall Sweethearts followed in 1974, and also balanced folk with rock.Their fourth album, The Unfortunate Cup of Tea, drifted toward pop music and was a disappointment by comparison.RCA ended their funding deal for the group in 1975. The group funded their next venture themselves and went back to basics. Drive The Cold Winter Away (also 1975) was their most traditional album to date. They signed with DJM Records worldwide through A&R man Frank Neilson. The Book of Invasions: A Celtic Symphony (1976), like The Táin, was an adaptation of Irish legends built into a complex story. It went further into rock than any previous Horslips album. It is usually considered their best work. It was their first UK top-40 album since The Táin.
Ever ambitious, they now tried to make it in the United States. They brought in Jim Slye to become their manager. He later sold their publishing rights to William McBurney for £4,000. In 1977 they produced Aliens, about the experience of the Irish in nineteenth-century America, which included very little folk music. They toured Britain, Germany, Canada and the United States. The night that they played the Albert Hall in London was described by one critic as the loudest gig there since Hendrix. The Man Who Built America (1978 ), produced by Steve Katz of Blood, Sweat and Tears and Blues Project fame, concerned Irish emigration to the USA and was commercially their most successful album. The heavier sound did bring some acceptance in America but they lost their folk base and their freshness. Short Stories, Tall Tales (1979) was their last studio album and was panned by the record company and critics alike.
Horslips - Best Tracks (1999 Ireland Celtic Rock)