Formed in Dublin in the early 1990s, Blink became stalwarts of the Irish music scene. Dermot Lambert, Robbie Sexton, Brian McLoughlin and Barry Campbell signed to a major label, released three albums and toured America. They lived every young musician’s dream.
Now, the band have just released ‘A Demo of The Universe’. Socially distanced, I caught up with front man, Dermot Lambert, to chat about the release, lessons learned in Blink and life as a solo musician and radio presenter.
You’ve just released ‘A Demo of the Universe’, a collection of previously unheard demos, live tracks and alternate mixes from the ‘A Map of the Universe’ era, which was released in 1994. Why decide to release it now? I take it that this was decided before the world went weird?
In truth this should have come out last year, being the 25th Anniversary of Map Of The Universe. I thought it would be nice to mark the occasion, but I was thinking more along the lines of a live show, then I got distracted by my own solo material, and I ended up performing some Blink tunes as part of my new live show, complete with 20 piece Mezzo Music Choir and the new band (Ian, Danni and Alice), which we still haven’t named. We’re working on a kicking live version of Cello for the next phase.
Blink recorded three albums and it’s said you had recorded up to 100 songs in some form. This collection is 25 songs full, is there potentially another album’s worth of material?
The tracks on this album had been recently digitised from various sources by a good friend Trevor Elliot, so I set about collating these older materials. There’s a lot of stuff, and the plan is to release at least another 1 album of about 18 tracks from the period between Map and The End Is High (1995 to 1998). We recorded an entire second album that was never released due to a variety of frustrating reasons.
A couple of months after Blink played your first gig, you ended up in a studio with John O’Neill from The Undertones and Gil Norton. Are any of these tracks from those sessions?
Those sessions are actually on A Map Of The Universe, believe it or not. Gil Norton produced It’s Not My fault, while he remixed Going To Nepal, which John O’Neill had produced alongside Dave Pine and Steve Hillage. Steve finished off the tracks that John and Dave started, so on one track (Christmas 22) I got Steve to play guitar, and I’d already gotten John to play on the same track, which meant we had a punk icon on the same song as one of the hippy kings – and I’m not joking when I tell you that nobody has ever been told this before! – no reason, there was just a lot going on – I might re-release the track so it states that they’re both featured on it.
The calibre of who we were working with was never lost on me, I was totally enjoying what was going on. Chris Dickie was one of the engineers on the session, and he was working between us and Nellee Hooper while they were doing Bjork’s Debut, I was beside myself when I later heard that Bjork had the Blink album! Fanboy to the end.
The version of ‘The Greatest Trick’ that’s included is from Wembley Arena when you were on tour with Crowded House. 1994 and the whole era was before digital storage. Asking as a bit of a nerd, how did you guys ensure that you managed to keep top quality masters of all these?
DATS – everything is on DAT, I’ve always been a complete collector of this stuff. I also have about 300 cassettes of rehearsals going back through all my bands as far as 1982, you’d be amazed at how the quality holds up on these too. I also have some reel to reels, but mostly it’s impossible to access these, there’s not many reel to reel machines in working order these days.
I need to ask the artwork for the album. It’s a really good companion to the demo-ness of the early recordings.
My daughter Clare rattled this up using Corel on my PC, I asked her to copy the original, she’s just turned 9, and she’s thrilled to have something she’s done ‘released’. NERD FACT ALERT – The original sleeve was designed by Nick Seymour from Crowded House, and later reinterpreted by Steve Averill. Then when we released the album in America, the yanks completely hated the sleeve and that’s how we ended up with the ‘Eye’ sleeve, which none of us like, especially as the original sleeve was so feckin good!
You signed to EMI, signing to a major label was a huge thing and it gave you the opportunity to tour in the US. What’s the biggest thing you learned from your time with a major label?
It’s a different world, or it was then anyway. Nowadays you can record something quite cheaply and bang it out on Spotify, whereas in those days it cost so much to print vinyl or cassettes or CDs, and then get sleeves printed etc etc, and THEN try to get the thing played on radio!… I did all this for years with my two earlier bands Empty Shell and Rex & Dino, and it’s not for the feint hearted – I earned my indie stars I don’t mind telling you. The major label input is the difference between reaching a huge audience or not.
We still maintained our independence while on the label though, we had total artistic control (hence tracks like Everything Comes Everything Goes and Normans Mom were allowed to stay on) , and we frequently refused to travel in Limos and 5 star hotels that they insisted on providing for us (the Irish office were never that silly). Christy Dignam later told me that was a mistake, and that we should have taken all that stuff, so the record company would spend so much money that they’d try harder to sell the band and get their money back (the famous word is ‘recoup’). I’m not sure which was the right approach, but we mostly had a great working relationship with EMI, and it helped us a lot.
Listening to these tracks must take you back. Any stories you can divulge?
So many stories, I should write a book. We had tons of fun, mostly very innocent. One of the best stories easily is what we called the Cup Game. Blink as a travelling unit was a very silly collection of people, reasonably educated, delusionally optimistic, and sometimes very very funny. The Cup Game happened in 1995, when we were travelling across America. There’s every likelihood that I started this.
Here’s how it works, you have a cup of coffee in a takeaway cup, and when you finish it, you pretend you have to tie your shoe lace and ask the person next to you to ‘hold your coffee’. As soon as they take the cup from you, and they are then standing holding your empty cup, you make some sort of self satisfied face, laugh harder than the occasion really calls for, and set about ridiculing your friend for being such a total eejit as to fall for such a lame gag.
On one of these occasions, the cup in question got passed to more than one person, and by the end of the day, we had decided that this indeed was the height of fun, and whoever had the cup at the end of the tour (three months) would have to buy everyone a pint. We all signed the bottom of the cup so that nobody could replace it with a fake, and we established rules such as no hiding the cup inside amps or drums, no throwing the cup at another person (it was essential that the person accepted the cup from you), you could hide the cup inside a jumper though for instance. Some of the best ‘cup passings’ included Robbie showing somebody something on a map, only to discover the cup was sellotaped to the back of the map.
My personal best attempt was to buy a huge cup of Coke, empty out most of the Coke, put the cup in, and put the lid back on, I thought this was genius, but the problem with America is that it’s sunny all the time, and apparently the lads in the van could see straight though the Coke cup at the big empty mass with a bit of Coke on top, a bit like ‘Nothing To Declare’ and I was rumbled. It’s funnier than I’m telling it. In the end, we believe our sound engineer threw the cup in the bin because he considered himself slightly less silly than the rest of us.
You’ve recorded your own solo material also and released an album ‘Tiny’, what are the biggest differences you’ve found from a band set up to working as a solo artist?
I’ve played in bands since I was 17, and now I’m kind of back in a band again. There’s pros and cons. One of the big pros of being in a band is the camaraderie, shared goals means a lot. Maybe because I’m from a big family (11 kids). There’s songs that would never get written by an individual that can get written by bands (Cello for instance is a total band song). I enjoy both ways of working, and i feel I’ve produced some very good music in both settings.
Are you ever really a solo artist or will you always be a member of Blink?
When Blink exists I’ll be in it, but I like being Dermot Lambert too, I’m liking that more and more these days.Before Blink I had put two other bands together who did pretty ok. Empty Shell from 1982 to 1986, and then Rex & Dino from 1986 to 1990. I had always written and put my ideas into a band structure, and as such a lot of my best music lives forever in those bands catalogues.
Recently I’ve begun to play some of my favourite songs outside of the band settings, and it’s very nice to be able to still play songs I wrote while in these bands. I do a gorgeous version of The Raven and The Tiny Magic Indian, not to mention my recent rendition of It’s Not My Fault with the Mezzo Ladies Choir. I also perform Christmas Forever with the choir alongside this, it’s a brand new song from what will be my next album later this year.
You run the Garage Gigs in Ireland and present Garageland on RTÉ 2XM, promoting new Irish music, give us a tip for three acts we may not have heard before.
I’d rather not give 3, because there are so many, and also because part of my job at Garageland is to not select favourites – it’s hard enough for them all as it is! But people are welcome to tune in every Monday at 7pm to hear lots of great new artists. I will say however, that I have been right at the forefront of discoveries such as Inhaler, The Wha, Magazines and The Script, so my humble finger on the pulse is often used to detect early vital signs by muso industry types.
What venue are you most looking forward to getting back to when we get to the new normal?
As a musician, I am bursting at the seams to play The Wild Duck again. It’s a really cool little venue, and then I really want to play the National Concert Hall with the new album.