The band that could have been
Imagine having the music world at your feet by the age of 14 and then losing it all? Being offered half a million pounds to sing for a major label, only to chose the most obscure? This is the tale told by Paul Finnegan of cult Irish band The Would Be’s. He told Brian Hayes Curtin about leaving school at 14 and his hopes for the reformation of the band over 20 years later
Has any band ever had a name more apt than The Would Be’s? From being chased by most of the biggest record labels in the world in 1990, an incredible 14 of them all told, while the band had an average of 17 when they released their debut single, they called it a day scarcely two years later.
At that stage guitarist Paul Finnegan was washed up and only 16. The tale of The Would Be’s is a singular, salutary and scarcely believable tale. The six-piece which comprises three Finnegan brothers, vocalist Julie McDonnell, drummer Pascal Smith and Aidin O’Reilly who played trombone and saxophone.
The band reformed this year and are giving it a go all over again. “We are getting into it now. This time around it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable.”
“I was 14 when the band started. It was a real whirlwind romance with the music business that was over in two years.
“This time we are a lot more focussed and music orientated. I’ve learnt a little since I was 14,” he laughs. “We all seem to be enjoying it anyway.”
A glowing mention in Tony Clayton Lea’s ‘101 Irish Records (You Must Hear Before You Die)’ led directly to their reformation.
“That was the start. At the launch of Tony’s book in Dublin the three brothers and Aidine were there and we got talking. Ashley was there from The Frank and Walters. He said that if we go back together, we could play a gig with them in Dublin in March.”
They did, enjoyed the gig and decided to get in the studio soon after and record a new single. They actually recorded three new songs. Things have kept rolling on since then.
They will have a new single out in September and plan to go back into the studio in October and release an album in February or March. That album would actually be their first, since they never got around to releasing an album the first time around, although they released two great EPs and a classic single.
“Three of us left school. I left in second year.” That’s second year of secondary school! Asked if his parents worried about this, he is pretty offhand.
“They were a bit alright but they knew that my brothers were with me. It was a big move to make at the time, but I couldn’t see myself being a bloody accountant,” he jokes.
“We thought music was going to be our livelihood for the rest of our lives. There were record companies looking for our signatures for half a million pounds.”
Paul says this without regret, although it is crazy to think of a band being offered such a big advance to sign with a major label while three of them were still going to school.
“Our biggest mistake was signing to an indie,” he says. “It was a mixture of naivety, idealism and downright stupidity,” he laughs. In the end, the band chose the most obscure label, Decoy Records for the release of their brilliant first single, ‘I’m Hardly Ever Wrong’.
“They didn’t have the money to put the record in the shops. Bands need money! Maybe it would have been a little better to sign with a major.”
“I can look back now and say it was probably for the best. How would I have turned out (if they had been successful) at that age? I would have liked to have toured the world though.”
John Peel was a huge fan of the group and the band recorded one of the famous Peel sessions in 1990. They recorded two great songs, ‘Must It Be’ and ‘Funny Ha Ha’. Their sound is unusual, a classic guitar based indie sound very reminiscent of The Smiths with a female vocalist, clever lyrics and a brass sound. Their songs and sound remain quite singular.
You would hope the band didn’t break apart because of sibling rivalry or drug or alcohol problems given the youth of the band. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case.
“Julie made the decision to go back to school to do the Leaving Certificate. She wanted to go to art college.” In the end it just wasn’t fun anymore so they called it a day. Now they are back to do it differently.
The Would Be’s play the Murphy’s Little Big Weekend this Sunday 26 August at the Beamish and Crawford site. For a chance to win tickets to these great nights out, visit littlebignightsout.com, and keep up to date with developments on the Murphy’s Official page on Facebook.
See http://www.facebook.com/thewouldbes for more info on the band.