Zombieguide’s exclusive interview with Niall Quinn

January 23, 2002  |  Comments Off on Zombieguide’s exclusive interview with Niall Quinn  |  by Zombieguide Archives  |  The Cranberries

No Cranberries history is complete without the name Niall Quinn.
It began one night in late August 1989. While waiting in The Granary Nightclub, Mike and Noel met with Niall Quinn, their longtime neighbor who lived only a few hundred yards away. Niall, a drummer for his own band The Hitchers, was opening the set that night. They introduced Niall to Fergal, also a drummer. Mike, Noel, and Fergal, all three about the age of 16, were by this time looking for a singer to complete their band.

“Over the course of a pint they told me they were putting a band together, were actively looking for a singer and I guess I volunteered to give it a go. A couple of weeks later while on the way home from school a little white car screeched to halt across the road from me and out bundled the three boys to see if I was still interested,” Niall writes in a newly-written online narrative of the early days of The Cranberry Saw Us, titled “Another Story”. The story is by far the most informative resource on the previously obscure early days of the group that eventually formed The Cranberries.

He notes, “We decided on the name that day [in September] – and contrary to what I’ve read elsewhere I came up with it. Actually what I came up with was the name ‘The Cranberries’ and then suggested several variations on it. These included ‘The Cranberry Saw Us’, ‘The Cranberry Doodles’ ‘The Crandoodles’ and several more I can’t remember. Without actually voting on it we discussed them and eventually settled on ‘The Cranberry Saw Us’. I remember favoring it over ‘The Cranberries’ – which I reckoned sounded like a band a girl would be singing with – like ‘The Darling Buds’ or ‘The Sugar Cubes’. Maybe that’s why long after my departure they shortened it back to its source name – because it fitted perfectly a band fronted by a female.”

Over the next few months, the novice band practiced regularly, eventually moving into the “The Whiteroom” rehearsal room of the local record company, Xeric Records. On September 18, 1989, The Cranberry Saw Us did their first gig at the Flag Cafe in Limerick. “It was in The Flag Cafe – a little coffee shop that used be on Broad St. in Limerick that was popular with students of the nearby art college. We actually performed as a five piece that day. We’d toyed with the idea of getting in a keyboard player and a few weeks before the gig I’d convinced a mate of mine from school to give it a go,” Niall writes. Although titles such as “My Granny Drowned in a Fountain” on Lourdes” are common among the major Cranberries biographies, it was crowd-pleasers like “Sixty-Niner” that stole the band’s early live gigs.

The Cranberry Saw Us’s live gig experience only adds to the legendarily “quirkiness” of the band. Niall admits, “At this stage I was enjoying the novelty of being a frontman and wasn’t particularly concerned that my voice was at best work-a-day or that my guitar playing was simply awful. I think I premiered a quaint little ditty called ‘Sixty-Niner’ at that second show [at the Flag Cafe] too. From then on I’d usually sing it with my trousers ’round my ankles for extra dramatic effect. Though the trousers down stunt was in truth stolen wholesale from ‘They Do It With Mirrors’ frontman Kevin Brew… Maybe to compensate for my discomfort I experimented a bit. I reckoned if I’m going to feel ludicrous I may as well look ludicrous so I’d tie my hair up in pig-tails, borrow a school uniform off one of the lads girlfriends and wear that onstage. And why not?”

Early Cranberry Saw Us Gig Ad
As the end of the year approached, however, Niall was becoming concerned about the time he invested in the band. In his mind, he was firstly and primarily a drummer for The Hitchers. He wanted to be sure that his reputation would remain that way and he wouldn’t become instead “the singer for The Cranberry Saw Us.” Mike, Noel, and Fergal were also anxious to record a demo of their new mass of songs. Niall remembers, “The lads were gung ho to book a day in Xeric Studios and record a few songs. I was a bit hesitant if only for the simple reason that I couldn’t afford it. The plan was for each of us to chip in fifty quid which would be enough to get us a day. Truthfully they may as well have been asking me to chip in fifty million. I didn’t have it and had little way of raising it. In the end I managed to scrape £25 together and that was through calling in a lot of favors.”

The band booked January 7th, 1990 at Xeric Studios and recorded their first and only demo, titled “Anything,” the title being an alluding tribute to the English guitar band Ride. The art to the demo was hand-done by Noel, who ironically misspelled “Cranberry” (as “Cranbery”).

By February, however, Niall knew his resources were being strained. The Hitchers was a demanding priority, so he decided he knew he had to leave The Cranberry Saw Us. He wished them luck in finding a replacement, but his involvement in the band didn’t end here. “Outside the take away [of the Termite Club] I bumped into an ex-girlfriend of mine called Kathryn who asked how TCSU were getting on since I’d split,” recalls Niall. “I said the lads had mentioned that they were considering getting a girl and straight away Kathryn suggests a girl in her older sisters class at school. ‘Her name’s Dolores …she sings with the choir but she’s into Sinead O’Connor as well. I’ll get her phone number for you tomorrow.’ And that’s how, one Sunday afternoon, I ended up phoning a girl called Dolores — out of the blue — to see if she’d be interested in singing with my old band.” Dolores O’Riordan was interested. She arranged to meet at Xeric Studios late that spring with the band.

Niall remembers the moment Dolores opened her mouth to sing, saying, “She started playing a Sinead O’Connor song — I don’t know which one… I think it’s on ‘The Lion & The Cobra’ LP — but she was scarcely three or four lines into it by the time all our lower jawbones had hit the floor. This girl could sing — effortlessly. I think I was off the hook with Noel, Mike and Ferg by the time she finished and within a couple of minutes I’d made my excuses for dashing off, said my see ye laters and quietly slipped out the door leaving history to get on with its making.”

“The songs [they played] were not to my taste, but I saw the potential in the playing. It was easy for me because no matter what their first impressions were, the minute I opened my mouth I knew that they were going to be impressed.” -Dolores

Niall Quinn rarely does any interviews whatsoever regarding The Cranberry Saw Us, but has graciously made an exception for Zombieguide, and chatted with us earlier this today.

ZG: Zombieguide.com
NQ: Niall Quinn

ZG: First of all, thanks, Niall, for the opportunity for us to chat with you. We’ve gathered some questions from fans along with some we came up with ourselves.

ZG: Is this, then, a picture of you?

NQ: Yeah, not TCSU period though. I can date it exactly. That shot was taken on Dec 23rd 1992 — the coldest day of that year here in Ireland and just The Hitchers’ luck to have pre-booked a photo shoot for that morning. It’s like 10 below freezing or something.

ZG: The narrative that you wrote titled “Another Story” is in excruciating detail and is by far the best source of information about the early band that we’ve yet to run across. What motivated you to compose the entire story? Did you just want to set the story straight once and for all?

NQ: I guess so. I mean for the most part reports that are out there of that short era tend to be really scant on detail. I should correct something you said to a contributor to the message board the other day too. I’ve not actually seen many Cranberries fan-sites. It was a friend of mine said to me a while back, “Have you ever typed your name into a search engine on the web? There’s some really funny shit out there about you.” So I guess I was a bit intrigued. The fact that there isn’t much detail available has maybe contributed to people drawing their own conclusions about some bits of the story and filling in the gaps with those conclusions however wacky they are. So seeing as I was setting up a website for the new band I decided that maybe this was the right forum to deal with the issue. I mean, I think it’s an interesting little story — but it is a LITTLE story in the greater scheme of things — it was never going to be long enough for a book nor for that matter have I the remotest interest in writing a book about it. I don’t think either that I’m making a particularly big deal about it. It’s just my best recollection of that period and it’s even buried pretty deeply within the website. To be perfectly straight, you guys are the only people anywhere [whom] I’ve told that it’s in there because I guessed that as fans of the band it’d be attractive to you. What’s attractive about it to me is the fact that I’m the editor and I’m not going to clip quotes out of context and I’m not going to try and make it into something it aint.

ZG: The Belgian newspaper article that you described was very far from the truth… were there any other notable examples of false information about The Cranberry Saw Us that you’ve come across?

NQ: Well obviously the ‘mental institution’ story is a fairly extreme example. But there are plenty of common misconceptions out there — not just on the www but in urban myth as well. Even here in Limerick I sometimes encounter people who think I was in The Cranberries as opposed to TCSU, that I was in TCSU at the same time as Dolores, that I was the drummer, that I was the guitarist, that I was kicked out, that I was asked to leave because the boys had seen Dolores singing with another band and wanted her to join. Another common enough one is that I used sing ‘Linger,’ ’Dreams’ etc… none of which obviously were written ‘til Dolores joined. Let’s see… Oh there was a good one I heard ages ago that included a complicated romantic entanglement between myself, Dolores and one of the lads — don’t know who. All bullshit. But journalists are the worst. I’ve been asked in the past to do interviews on the basis that The Hitchers have a record out, been asked one or two questions about The Hitchers and a dozen about The Cranberries/TCSU. Now some may say that’s only to be expected. I’ve a policy these days (thankfully I don’t get asked much anyway) that pretty much excludes talking to the print media (I’ll break it for two individuals who I trust impeccably) and anything else has to be either by e-mail (where I get to keep a copy of exactly what I wrote) or has to be live broadcast. That may sound tight-assed but it restricts the amount of creative editing people can get up to. By example there was one interview that I was told I was doing for the rock column of a paper here in Ireland back in 1997 when The Hitchers first LP “It’s All Fun & Games ‘Til Someone Loses An Eye” was released. There was virtually nothing of the interview published. What they did publish was a photo and front-page banner headline something like “I Could’ve Been A Millionaire!”. At the bottom of the page in a 11⁄2” square was a footnote saying the LP was out. That’s the calibre of wankers you’re dealing with. But I’ve been in interview situations where I could see that this guy has no interest in me or The Hitchers and even when they hear the story of my involvment in TCSU you can see visible disappointment on his face because he SO wants this to be a ‘Pete Best’ story. He needs this story to be about how I narrowly missed out on “fame and fortune”, how I proverbially “lost the Winning Lottery ticket” when even a cursory glance at the facts rubbishes such nonsense.

ZG: LittleHoss asks to “Describe each of the band members for us in your own words… Do you have any funny stories about the band you’d like to share?”

NQ: Is LittleHoss a web handle or something?

ZG: No, uh, the names were changed to protect the innocent! *laugh* Yes, it’s a web handle.

NQ: The Hitchers’ bassist was a guy called Hoss Carnage — he was 6’2” though. A couple of things first — these descriptions would be how I’d remember the lads over a decade ago because, unfortunately, I rarely see them these days. Also while obviously I’d have known Dolores as the singer with The Cranberries — a fellow musician about town trying to make her way in the world — I was never as close to her as I would’ve been to the three lads. Therefore it’d be rich of me to be describing her personality when I never got to know her very well. All I would say is that on the occasions we did meet she always seemed very quiet, unassuming and friendly. Noel was the quietest of the three boys. Despite being quiet he’d a quick wit and I’d say if he were in the army he’d be singled out as leadership material early on. He has a great sense of melody and has always been a far better guitarist than I’ve ever seen him given credit for. Mike was and I dare say most likely still is the joker of the pack. I hope he’ll forgive me for saying so but he could find the funny side of a motorway pile-up. I’ve met him most recently of the lot of them — even that’s got to be a year ago. I bumped into him in a local club. He was just having a beer and a game of pool so we’d a chat. I was telling him that The Hitchers had a recent line up change as Hoss the bassist had left and we joked about him joining in Hoss’ place as The Cranberries were quiet at the time. Fergal was the most outgoing of the three. A genuinely friendly and very down to earth guy — as indeed they all are. He was always fiercely enthusiastic and a perfectionist with it. I think that actually comes across in his drumming.

ZG: Crandana asks, “Did you ever have any serious aspirations of becoming famous, or was the band strictly for fun?”

NQ: I take it the band you’re referring to is TCSU, so yeah I took it serious as a heart attack. My reasons for moving on are probably best explained in my own site. I dunno [if] has Alex posted a link to it. It’s www.geocities.com/thepennywhores/another_story.htm. The band was fun as it should be. ‘Serious aspirations of becoming famous’ wouldn’t be my way of putting it. Yeah, I’d still like to be a successful musician and writer but how do you quantify successful? What I’d ultimately like would be to be able to do this professionally and make my living from it. That is actually a lot to ask in this day and age so I’m more than prepared to accept that most of my living will have to be made elsewhere and making records is always going to be an uphill struggle and probably a cottage industry. I don’t think I’d handle ‘famous’ very well so if I could take or leave it I’d most likely leave it. ‘Fortune’ I’d be willing to try though! *laugh*

ZG: Mummbz asks, “Do you still live in Limerick or have you moved elsewhere?”

NQ: Yeah I live in Limerick these days. I lived In Cork which is 60 miles south of here from ’92-’95 as I was in Art College down there doing sculpture and print. That was hard as the band was scattered and we used have to trek home most weekends to meet up, rehearse, get drunk, chase skirt… usual lads stuff.

ZG: Mummbz also asks, “What did you think of The Cranberries at the start of their rise in popularity? At the height of their popularity? Today?”

NQ: You seem to imply their popularity has waned. Has it? Not in this part of the world. I mean, I know there was a media backlash in the UK but they set you up to blow you out of the water anyway. They still do really well over there. I was and still am delighted for them. I remember seeing them on Top of the Pops years ago and saying, “Wow, I actually know these people.” It was all very exciting. I always thought they’d [create] some really cool songs. From their early stuff I’ve always thought ‘Uncertain’ was a beautiful song. They also had a song on their first demo (after me) called ‘A Fast One’ which I still love. It’s more like a Belly song or even a Sleeper song than a Cranberries song but it’s great. I really like the title track and ‘Icicle Melts’ from ‘No Need To Argue’. More recently ‘Just my Imagination’ is a really nice tune — very Smiths.

ZG: I don’t doubt that they’re still a hot commodity in Europe, but I think in the United States things have “waned” a little bit. MTV is chock full of crap (almost more so now than before) and I haven’t seen The Cranberries on regular MTV in nearly 3 years. I can’t be bothered by it too much, but if you ask any American fan in the discussion boards, they can give you a recent “frustration” story. Well, next question… several fans have asked what you have been doing since you left the ‘Sauce. So, please, tell us a little bit about your time with The Hitchers and now the Pennywhores — or anything else you care to talk about!

NQ: Well before, during and after my time in TCSU I was I was the Drummer/chief songwriter/ occasional singer with The Hitchers and we actually only broke up last year. We released two LP CDs in the UK and Ireland, ‘It’s All Fun & Games ‘Til Someone Loses An Eye’ (1997) and ‘For the Want of Some Better TV’ (1999). We just released our farewell EP single ‘She Broke My Heart So I Ate Her Liver’ on Dec 30th last [year]. I’ll be posting The Hitchers’ new site in the next few days so I’ll send the URL when it’s up and running. Actually I know the URL already it’s www.thehitchers.com. That’d be the best way to find out about The Hitchers because otherwise there’s just too much to tell. My new band The Pennywhores haven’t played live yet but it’s going to be my first time fronting a band since TCSU. Check out the site and have a listen to a tune or two. I’ve done about a dozen solo shows in the last year so I’m looking forward to doing more of that too.

ZG: Why the name Pennywhores? It’s very, um, unique!

NQ: It’s a lyric from a song called ‘Rachael’ by Bostons finest -‘Buffalo Tom’ from their LP ‘Smitten’. It goes “Rachael tell me what you’re waiting for? / Rachael aren’t you just a penny whore?”

ZG: LittleHoss asks, “Your lyrics to early material have been described as ‘quirky’. How do you respond to that?”

NQ: Well they probably were/are quirky — if quirky means unusual and uncommon way of putting an idea across. Unfortunately there are those who attach to quirky — insincere, lacking gravitas and therefore irrelevant. But it wasn’t just TCSU that affected. It clung to The Hitchers the whole way through our career. At the same time I was in TCSU, The Hitchers would’ve been selling demos of ‘The Streaking Chicken From Mercury Who Exposed Himself To Everything EP.’ Now there was a song on that called ‘Which Leg of A Chicken is More Tender?’ and we got pigeon holed by people who’s attitude would be, “Oh you guys sing songs with titles like ‘Which Leg of A Chicken is More Tender?’ therefore you’re wacky, you’re not earnest, You’re a comedy band, you don’t take this seriously, therefore we’re not going to take you seriously — in fact we’re going to ignore you ‘til you go away.” Despite the fact that if they’d bother to listen they’d find that ‘Which Leg of A Chicken is More Tender?’ is about something very real. It’s about as far into love song territory as I go and it is very sincere. But I always have and always will blame pop music for that narrow-mindedness. It makes people extremely conservative — for all the bullshit pop acts spout about ‘free your mind,’ ‘express yourself,’ ‘hurray for everything’. Pop music is very much the pre-school of conservatism (Academy status is still held by TV) and the message that I believe it constantly rams home to kids is keep your head down, be one of the gang, don’t make waves, don’t try to be different! If you DO try to be different YOU WILL BE PUNISHED psychologically, emotionally, socially and financially all your life. Now… that’s my anti-pop/anti-tv rant out of the way for today.

ZG: Yeah, I’d have to agree with that in a lot of ways. Several fans have asked, “Do you still keep in touch with ‘the lads’ ?”

NQ: Like I said earlier I rarely see them these days, which is a pity. On the rare occasion that I would bump into them while out for a beer, to be honest I feel a little awkward because I’m guessing they’re not in town for long and are catching up with family and loved ones of their own and I’d feel a bit bad about cramping their time. I’d always say hi and have a quick chat but I wouldn’t swarm round them or anything. I would love to meet up with them for a few beers sometime though. The most recent contact was nice. Noel signed in to The Pennywhores guestbook the other day with some words of encouragment for us.

ZG: Out of the three guys, which do you think had the best musical talent at the time?

NQ: Ah that’s easy — Fergal. He was a sublime drummer even back then — always knew when to hang back, when to wade in, how much pressure to apply when and where… he had it all from very early on in his drumming career. Noel and Mike had to put up with an amount of bullshit about their playing ability, much of which came from jealous blues-men. I can relate to it because The Hitchers had to listen to an awful lot of the same nonsense about our playing abilities for a different set of reasons. Back then Limerick had a plethora of blues and hard rock bands. Several featured lads who’d dress like Megadeth for a photoshoot but when you’d go see them they’d scarcely be as heavy as Bryan Adams. The blues brigade were often as bad – -and I should know, I served my drumming apprenticeship with one of the better outfits. But, to these guys a band like The Cranberries were easy meat because they kept their musical arrangements minimal, as were The Hitchers, because all our songs were power-chord bashing three chord tricks.

ZG: Why Cranberry? You wrote that it was something you came up with in Fergal’s back yard, but didn’t say quite where it came from. Just a random thought?

NQ: Yeah pretty much. There’s no big story behind the names origin.

ZG: I’ve read in several publications that the guitar chords to “Linger” were originally used in a very different Cranberry Saw Us song. Can you verify this, and if so, give some more information?

NQ: I’ve heard this said before too and if it’s so I only wish they’d used more of it as it would‘ve entitled me to a bite of a very sweet plum indeed. There’s only one song that matches the chord pattern or sequence and that’s “My Granny Drowned in a Fountain at Lourdes” — which we used play in the key of A. The sequence was A-E-G-D. Now if you modulate A-E-G-D to play it in the key of D it becomes D-A-C-G, which happens to be the chord sequence of ‘Linger’. It’d be pretty unreasonable of me to go trying to copyright a chord sequence though -particularly as there’s only 13 notes on a scale. So the upshot of it all is — it looks like I still have to go to work tomorrow. Oh well. *laugh*

ZG: Do you remember any verbal or written critiques of “Anything”? Did you sell very many copies?

NQ: I can’t remember any though I was saying in my own sites piece that The (now defunct) Limerick Tribune published a picture so I’m guessing they must have said something about the demo. I don’t remember anything bad being said about it so it must’ve been okay. I haven’t a clue how many it sold. I’d guess we’re talking dozens. Very low dozens. Possibly a bakers dozen.

ZG: Yeesh! And I thought getting my hands on a copy of “Nothing Left At All” would be hard! Did Noel have to design all of the covers of “Anything” one- by-one? Or were they photocopied or… ?

NQ: Not at all. Noel drew the cover with some markers, brought it down to me to type the inlay, I either bottled pointing out that he mis-spelled Cranberry or maybe I did point it out and he rationalized it away! Then again my typing isn’t going to score me a whole lot of secretarial work either is it ? What I think is quite funny is where I’d typed in a retail price of £2.00 and Noel changed it to £2.50 with a pen! The sleeves are color photocopies.

ZG: If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you? Would you do anything differently?

NQ: Would I do it again? Yeah why not? I had a lot of fun with the lads and I learnt a lot. I made some use of what I learned too. Only eighteen months after I finished my TCSU stint my own band The Hitchers found themselves singerless. Had I not had that TCSU experience I’d probably have been favorite to step into the job and would most likely have dived headlong into a job I was not cut out for. Would I do anything differently? What would be the point in doing anything differently? Where’s the percentage in it? It’d create an all ‘round no win situation. Examine it a little. Let’s just say I didn’t leave TCSU in late Feb/early March 1990. What happens? Me and the lads limp on for a couple of years, sheer determination would probably get us a record of some sort out by late 92 and we’d probably split amicably but disenchanted by early ’94. That’s if the lads hadn’t gotten tired of me splitting myself between two bands and booted me out by Christmas 1990. So what’s changed. I’m still not in TCSU anymore and I still haven’t made my fortune from rock ’n’ roll. So there’s no material benefit for me to gain by going back in time and staying in the band. The only thing that has changed now is that Noel, Mike and Ferg (and Dolores) are in the same position as me. They’ve never heard of Dolores O’Riordan nor she of them. Dreams, Linger, Island Records, Stephen Street, the LPs, Woodstock II… none of it ever happened. That’d be a shame. I don’t believe in pre-ordination or pre- destination, I don’t believe in God so I can’t believe he maps out paths through life for any of us. I don’t believe in fate or destiny. But when I examine the alternative ways the dice could’ve fallen I can only conclude that it was for the best that my path and the lads path parted when and where they did.

ZG: Once again, thanks so very much for your time and effort…. perhaps we’ll be seeing you sometime in the future at Zombieguide?

NQ: No Problem

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