Over the years there have been many bands that have, for better or worse, helped shape the Cork rock landscape, even if, for most, the success was not long-lasting. The Sultans of Ping FC in all their obnoxious punk ridiculousness. The Frank and Walters with their awkwardly endearing melodic craftwork.
Shipping out across to the US in 1997 with little more than a sleeping bag and a phone number, Rubyhorse were the Cork rock tale that almost was. The Bishopstown quintet quickly established themselves on the US live scene, landed a residency in an Irish pub and became the subject of a label bidding war.
But commercial success is so often fleeting, and a combination of bad luck and a yearning for pastures new saw the band return home in 2004, never to return together. It wasn’t until a serendipitous set of circumstances saw some of the members once again living in Cork that Rubyhorse began to dust off the guitar cases and get back in the, er, saddle.
Shows scattered across 2014 and 2016 were well received, and the band realised there was still an interest in the group. Since then, they have graced the Cork stage on several more occasions, headlining last week’s Ballincollig Winter Festival in The White Horse.
With the band nowadays having their proverbial fingers in a multitude of pies (singer Dave Farrell owns the 12 Tables restaurant in Douglas, while guitarist Joe Philpott runs a community music organisation), they took to the stage in Cyprus Avenue on Saturday not looking to fulfil the lofty ambitions they had in their earlier days, but to perform as friends. To showcase the music that clearly still means a lot to them, and to the audiences they still pack in to their gigs.
Hopping onstage after a duo of support slots from Sam Clague and Sara Ryan, exuberant frontman Dave Farrell appears not to have lost an iota of passion, or confidence for that matter. He gestures madly at the crowd, yelps, roars and tilts the mic stand forward and back with the same effortless charisma that you can see in the YouTube video of the band performing on ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ back in the day (Google is your friend). Farrell has evidently never forgotten how to work a stage, something that makes you wonder just how far Rubyhorse could have gone had they not put a stopper on things 14 years ago.
The band wilfully motor through a packed setlist of favourites old and new, including the gleeful ‘Horseless’ and poignant ‘Punchdrunk’ as well as a couple of new tracks. Farrell joyfully recounts stories of the band to the audience (the majority of whom probably discovered Rubyhorse while on a debaucherous J1 in the late 1990s), including a chance encounter between Farrell and Seattle band R.E.M. that would later prompt a support slot.
Confident and assured, the band roll out superhit ‘Sparkle’ before a rousing rendition of The Waterboys’ ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ to close, Farrell mischievously cackling during the latter as he asks the audience to help him with the lyrics.
A triumphant return for a band whose story, if on a different path than anticipated, is far from finished.