Online January 2002
Niall Quinn told about how it was to be an original member of The Cranberry Saw Us 1989 to 1990.
There has been a considerable amount of what could only accurately be described as horseshit written about my brief time in the band that evolved into The Cranberries. Maybe the fact that it was only once referred to in an interview given by me and was never referred to in any of The Hitchers publicity material prior to our signing to Murgatroid in Feb 1996 (and even thereafter only briefly during the push with the first single ‘Killed It With My Bare Hands’), has contributed to the initially scant detail surrounding my involvement and the considerable volume of hyperbole and myth thereafter. Some of what’s been written has I’m sure been a simple accident of translation and re-translation. For example apparently Some Dutch or Belgian magazine reported back in ‘93/’94 direction that I was in a psychiatric hospital. This I could easily understand is a foreign journalist misinterpreting or confusing the term ‘mad’ – which is commonly used by Irish people to describe eccentricity with ‘mad’ -meaning mentally unstable. That said though I’ve seen enough of what’s been written to know there are quite a lot of lazy journalists out there and a good few more who have no hang-ups when it comes to embellishing a story or turning a blind eye to the truth in favor of a better story they reckon they can dream up. I guess that’s why I decided to stick this page into the site. Simply so that I could tell my wee tale (actually it’s about 5000 words so if you haven’t gone offline yet I suggest you do so now!) in my own words without any creative editing being done to the story. If I go on a bit please forgive me and if I leave anything out or unclear feel free to E-mail email@example.com and I’ll try to answer or clarify points. Anyway here goes…
In August 1989 I’d been playing drums with The Hitchers for a little over six months. We’d made steady progress in that time for a bunch of secondary school lads. I was 16 and had done my ‘Inter’ cert ( The GCSE would be the UK equivalent) the previous June. We’d won a local bandslam which got us some studio time and we’d done a three track demo in July. A couple of weeks later we got our second trip to the recording studio when we were sponsored the money to get on a compilation LP of local bands. So we were feeling pretty good and confident about the way things were going. I was the main source of songs which – being the drummer – was a little unusual. Now I’ve heard it said that most drummers would love to have a go at being a frontman. I don’t remember having that kind of ambition myself. I think I did want to join a second band but it would’ve been as a drummer – maybe a metal band ( I’d recently started listening to Anthrax and Metalllica). I definitely remember a sense of frustration that The Hitchers couldn’t rehearse my new tunes as quick as I was writing them and I’d have had a backlog of songs that were either unrehearsed or deemed unsuitable by them or me.
Then one evening in late August The Hitchers were the opening band at The Granary Nightclub in Limerick. I’ve it narrowed down to one of two gigs – we were either opening for Up The Downstairs whose singer Sett Nieland is now The Cranberries road manager, or Cactus World News – a once hotly tipped for stardom Dublin band who were on U2s Mother label. Whoever it was, after our set I got talking with Noel, Mike and Fergal who I’d been introduced to through a mutual friend called John. Noel and Mike I knew to see as they grew up only four or five hundred yards from where I did and John had already told me that Fergal was a drummer too. 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.
This Photo of me playing drums with The Hitchers was probably taken the night I joined TCSU
Having confirmed I was in, a rehearsal was arranged for the following weekend and that’s how we found ourselves setting up a cobbled together backline on the patio of Fergal Lawlors back yard on a Sunday afternoon in September.
We decided on the name that day – 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. Though I acknowledge that it was more likely shortened because it was a dumb, corny name. But long-ish corny names were kind of ‘in’ at the time anyway. There was Pop Will Eat Itself, They Might Be Giants, A Guy Called Gerald. Even here in Ireland you had An Emotional Fish, The Fat Lady Sings, The Sultans of Ping F.C. and without even leaving Limerick you’d They Do It With Mirrors, Up The Downstairs, A Touch of Oliver and Toucandance. So quirky names were nearly the order of the day. Though I readily admit The Cranberry Saw Us WAS cornier AND cheesier than any of those due to the Saw Us/Sauce wordplay thing . Jeez what was I on? Anyway I can’t remember a whole lot of what we did at that first rehearsal. I have a very vague memory of us trying to jam ‘New Dawn Fades’ by Joy Division. As we were just swapping ideas and as none of us, except Fergal who was already quite a good drummer, could really play I think we were just messing around with some three chord trick ideas that Noel or I had. I think one of those evolved into a song called ‘How’s It Going To Bleed’ which we ended up demo-ing a few months later. I think the lads used like that tune and it was probably the only one we played that showed any inkling of how they’d evolve into The Cranberries but I thought it was piss-poor. I remember a couple of people saying to me after a TCSU gig one night ” Wow that song about bleeding sounds really heavy -what’s it about?” I’m pretty sure I rhymed off some schpiel about god knows what but I can now exclusively reveal to anyone who cares less that it was about absolutely nothing.-Pure mid-teenage stream of consciousness scribbled down on paper steaming hot cack!
Over the next couple of months we rehearsed on a pretty regular basis -once or twice in a shed at the back of Noel and Mikes parents house but we soon switched to the rehearsal rooms run by Xeric studios on the other side of town. Musically we’d plenty of common ground –most notably The Smiths who we were all big fans of. Also The Wonderstuff were just breaking through at that point as well and looking back on it they’d definitely have been influencing the way I was writing too. There were areas where I’d have distinctly differed from the three of them though. They were all big fans of The Cure – a band that I’d at best tolerate while acknowledging that they’d some fine songs like ‘Catch’, ‘Inbetween Days’ and ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. For the three lads part none of them were particularly impressed with my ‘Hevvy Kettler’ tendencies. As I said earlier I’d recently discovered Anthrax and Metallica –for that matter I’d been listening to Motorhead since I was about 14 and before too long more I’d be listening to Godflesh and Sepultura too. I remember one incident that shows that gap between us pretty perfectly.
Some months after I left TCSU – I think we’re talking about maybe May or June 1990, Noel called down to my house to copy some records and I played ‘One’ by Metallica for him. For those of you out there unfamiliar with the track ‘One’ it’s a seven minute epic of a tune that proved to be the breakthrough single for Metallica upon it’s release in spring of ’89. As far as I can remember it was only their second chart single in the U.K. where it reached no.11. The first half of the song –which is about a soldier left horribly mutilated by a landmine, is slow and mournful. It starts with a single guitar picking out a B minor _G_A sequence and as it progresses other instruments join one at a time till the vocals kick in. Absolutely fantastic, heart breaking stuff. If you were unfamiliar with Metallica you could easily be forgiven for thinking it was Mike Oldfield or Robert Fripp. Then after two verses and three chorus’ the whole thing goes nuts and becomes very angry –shifting out of the B minor thing into vintage Metallica 100mph E minor _F rifferama!
Anyway Noel heard this tune, apparently liked it and got me to tape it for him there and then. But when we got to 100mph rifferama section he got me to fade it out for him! Absolute blasphemy.
With rehearsals having moved to what was known as ‘The Whiteroom’ in Xeric practicing became more frequent, business-like and expensive –especially so for me as I was in 5th year and the only money I was earning came from Saturday afternoon busking sessions on O’Connell St. in Limerick. Noel, Mike and Fergal were all working at least part-time. But at least we were getting a few tunes together and were confident that we’d be gigging before Christmas. So it happened that on the 18th November 1989, a Saturday afternoon, The Cranberry Saw Us did their first gig. 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. He came along to a couple (at most) rehearsals and did the gig but he wasn’t particularly keen so after that first gig he was on his way. We didn’t do too badly for our first show. That is to say we were most likely awful but we weren’t bottled off or anything.
PURELY FOR CURIOUS MUSOS! Our own instruments were some way short of professional standard. For the gig Fergal was smart enough to borrow a set of Pearl Export drums and some good quality Paiste Cymbals. For my part I had a very old imitation SG (borrowed from The Hitchers guitarist Benny McCormack) which was in poor health and was playing it, virtually unaffected AND Not a tuner between us, through an equally ancient HH amplifier. I remember at the time we used joke that HH stood for Ha fuckin’ Ha! My microphone was probably scarcely more than a toy. Mike had a fairly new entry level bass -which possibly went straight into the PA. Noel had one of those Hondo Revival imitation Gretch guitars which were quite popular with kids at the time as they at least looked like something you’d see Johnny Marr or John Squire from The Stone Roses using. I think he borrowed a modest Peavy amp to play it through. His guitar couldn’t handle gain or Overdrive but boxed above it’s weight with a phaser, flanger or chorus effect on it. My guitar couldn’t handle anything. I rarely wish ill on any musical instrument but it would please me to find out that thing is now half buried on a boggy hillside somewhere, being used as a scratching post for goats. It even had a tremelo system which, mercifully, I had the bit of sense to avoid most of the time. The spring on the tremelo wouldn’t look out of place if were being used as a coil on an MPV and the actual ‘wanker bar’ was enormous! It was like one of those pivoting handles you find at the the bottom of an old window.
We did a second gig in the Flag about a month later and even had a Christmas song prepared for it. I can’t really remember it now but the jist of it was that Santa was a bit of a deviant and his whole operation was about to be closed down by the child protection agency. It went down quite well actually. 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 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.
On Christmas Eve 1989 we went for a skinful of pints to The Old Stand bar up at the top of Henry Street and I remember we were feeling pretty good about the way things were going for us. For my part I was delighted to be in two bands that lots of people were saying good things about. If I’d a worry it would’ve been that I’d been complimented more for my frontman performances with The Cranberry Saw Us than for my drumming with The Hitchers. It probably sounds silly but that’s the kind of thing sixteen year old musicians worry about. It wasn’t a case of …’oh sure nobody notices the drummer.’ Fergal was getting -and indeed had earned -plenty of backslaps for his drumming and we’d only done two gigs! Remember I still saw myself as a drummer first and foremost and anything else thereafter. So I think in the back of my mind it was starting to bug me a bit that maybe people might be starting to refer to me as The Cranberry Saw Us’ singer rather than The Hitchers drummer.
One of the things we talked about that Christmas eve and also the on the following Christmas night -over another skinful of beer -was a desire to record something. 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 Ј25 together and that was through calling in a lot of favors. It seems like chickenfeed now but when you’re sixteen and just don’t have the means it’s tough. As things were I was paying out to rehearse with two bands, had to keep fresh strings on a guitar, skins on a drum-kit as well as sticks and all that before the all important teenage social life. So I think maybe as early as Christmas 1989 I realized I’d over extended myself and something was going to have to give. But for now it was great fun. We were working on our set, bringing some new songs in, getting rid of some earlier tunes. I’ve visited a few Cranberries related sites on the www and often when The Cranberry Saw Us or myself are referred to it’s pointed out that we had eccentric tunes with wacky titles. The one that seems most commonly pointed out is ‘My Granny Drowned in a Fountain at Lourdes’ – But I think we only ever played it once, maybe twice. The titles not even really relevant to the song. In fact the titles not even mine …I borrowed it from a Billy Connolly sketch. Some of the songs weren’t bad at all but keep in mind we’d only been together four months at this stage so everything was still fairly rough and up in the air. So ‘My Granny…’ only lasted the first one or two gigs along with a couple of others before falling out of favor and in came a couple of probably stronger songs instead. The aforementioned ‘Sixty-Niner’ used go down great at gigs as did another couple of tunes ‘Lost Sally’ and ‘I Was Always All Ways’. We’d usually also play a cover version of an Arlo Guthrie song ‘Coming Into Los Angeles’ which we gave our own slant. In that brief period from Christmas 1989 to late February 1990 there was a relative glut of gigs. I’m not at all sure how many gigs I did with TCSU, certainly more than half a dozen but no more than a dozen. We played support to The Stunning who were really popular in Ireland at the time. Also we played support slots with Rex & Dino who would go on to be quite popular in Ireland as Blink and with The Subteraneans. We did a couple of other shows with local bands too. I think we enjoyed ourselves onstage despite the fact that I was never 100% comfortable with my role. I always preferred playing the songs that I played guitar on as well as singing. 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?
In the midst of those gigs we took our only venture into the recording studio early in January 1990. The 4-track demo which we came back out with had at worst many of the most common hallmarks of a bunch of a teenagers who’ve only been together for four months. It’s a bit innocent, in places a little over influenced, not particularly tight and many of the lyrics are rehearsal room word sketches just rammed together because they rhyme … almost. (Wow this could be a review of any given Oasis record Couldn’t it?). With all that said I’d still call it an above average studio debut.
I’m sorry to say I don’t have any photographs from my few months in The Cranberry Saw US. We only did one photo shoot – in January 1990 – and the only publication that printed a photo was a local newspaper called The Limerick Tribune which went out of business in the early 90’s. So if anyone out there has one from a gig or even from newsprint I’d be really grateful to hear from you. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
What I have managed to secure is a copy of the 4-track demo ‘Anything’ which was recorded on Jan 7th 1990. I’d like to thank an old buddy of mine and The Hitchers –Anne Stack from Rockchapel, Co. Cork, Ireland who passed that on to me. The sleeve is reproduced on this page.
Noel Chose the title ‘Anything’ for the demo. I think this may have been done out of a bit of admiration for the English guitar band Ride who around the same time had a record called ‘Everything’. Noel also designed the sleeve and for reasons only he can explain misspelled Cranberry.
The extra musicians credited above are -Jim Hanley – an extremely versatile and much respected Keyboard player who still performs regularly with The O’Malley’s amongst others. – Andy Gallagher – who was even then one of my partners in crime and infamy with The Hitchers. – Morgan Lyons – a mate of ours who I only discovered, a few days before the recording, to be a dab hand with a squeeze box and so he got roped in. – And a girl called Claire -who’s surname I’m afraid I’ve long since forgotten who was a very talented violinist. Jim Played on the first three tracks. Andy, Morgan and Claire played on ‘Storm in a Tea Cup’.
Within two months of doing the demo it was all over. I was starting to seriously feel the strain of being in two bands and was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the whole lead vocalist thing. Circumstances were beginning to converge in such a way as to force the issue. The Hitchers, who incidentally were ploughing their own little furrow the whole time this story was unfolding, had stormed through the regional heats of a pretty big band-slam and were now in the semi-final. According to the school yard sages we were hot favorites to win. Now I’d just about made my mind up that I was leaving TCSU so I was faced with a little dilemma. Though my wanting to leave had nothing to do with The Hitchers prospects in a talent contest I was conscious that’s exactly how it would appear to Noel, Mike and Ferg if I were to wait until after the final to quit. I’d look like a right big-headed prick who didn’t have time for his old bandmates anymore because I’d made it big -having just won a somewhat less than nationwide school band competition. So I did the nearest thing to honorable that was available to me by throwing myself on my sword a full three weeks before the final took place down in Cork. For what it matters The Hitchers won.
I remember explaining to Noel, on the road outside my house one evening, why I was leaving and he was great about it. He said he’d only been talking with the other two boys about my situation a few nights earlier and they’d all agreed my leaving was on the cards. When someone’s not a happy camper it shows apparently. What I felt really bad about was the fact that we’d only recently done a demo and Dave Fanning (Irelands John Peel) had played us on his show only a couple of weeks previously. We weren’t doing bad at all for a band barely six months on the go and now I’d landed the boys back at square one. Anyhow Noel and I shook hands -I wished him well with the search for my successor and he wished me well in The Hitchers band competition. My TCSU days were over – but I still had a part to play yet in the coming together of The Cranberries.
Fast forward two months or so to late spring. Noel’s back down in my house, copying some of my older brothers record collection. I know they’ve tried out at least two other blokes as singers since my departure and it hasn’t worked out. The lads are thinking of playing couple of shows as a three piece with no vocals. After all The Cocteau Twins stuff, despite being able to call on Liz Fraser’s towering vocals, can go for ages with just instrumental passages. “We were thinking of maybe trying out a girl” suggests Noel. It can’t have been more than a couple of weeks later that I was at Limericks legendary Termight Club at the weekend and, having drank our fill, my friends and I decided to round the night off with a bag of chips. Outside the take away I bumped into an ex-girlfriend of mine called Kathryn who asked how TCSU were getting on since I’d split. 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 names 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. I can barely remember any of the conversation. I’m sure she must have asked what kind of stuff we’d being doing and why was I leaving. I knew the lads would be rehearsing the following Sunday so I asked her would she be interested in coming along to have a listen and do a tune or two herself.
I think we agreed to talk again later that week because she needed to find out if she could get a lift into Limerick (Dolores is from a village or town-land called Ballyneety which is at least 10kms from Limerick city). Anyway she made it to Xeric Studios the following week …a bit late but we’ll let her off with that. The lads were upstairs in what used be known as the 4-track room chatting and jamming a few tunes and I was at the front door waiting for her. I’d never seen her before so I hadn’t a clue what to expect but I certainly wasn’t expecting the bubblegum pink tracksuit. Maybe it was because I’d heard she was into Sinead O’Connor that I was half expecting an indie-kid. That would’ve been fine because I suppose myself and the three lads were indie-kids ourselves to varying extents. But the girl who got out of her dads car in a pink tracksuit clutching a keyboard didn’t look like any indie-kid I’d ever seen. But heh, she was here now so let’s just get it over with.
I led her up to the 4-track room and introduced her to the boys who were very nice and polite to her but I’ll tell you I felt six eyes burning holes in the back of my head at that stage. It was like I could hear them telepathically saying ‘Yeah nice one Niall -look next time you feel like doing us a favor just don’t bother okay?’. It’s a little strange, looking back on it, that we didn’t get her to sing something first. It may have been that I had to be elsewhere shortly, but for whatever reason we decided to play her a couple of the songs we’d done when I was in the band. I’m not sure how many we played, probably just two . Afterwards I think someone just asked her would she be interested in playing stuff in that vain before inviting her to do something herself. 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.
That’s pretty much where my story ends and theirs begins. They did their first gig, playing support to They Do It With Mirrors and still under the name The Cranberry Saw Us, just a couple of months later in July 1990. I was at that gig. They played ‘Linger’ and ‘Sunday’ in their set, both of which where pretty much done and dusted after only a couple of months. Dolores more than looked the part now as well but she didn’t look the most comfortable onstage. The gig was in the basement of Cruises Hotel in Limerick city center. The venue’s long gone. It was pulled down within twelve months to make way for a new shopping district so there’s now a pedestrian street right through where the venue was. We played together though a few times after that. They shared a bill with The Hitchers for a couple of gigs and, almost more importantly because it was something we all got paid for, we used busk together through that summer as the local authority arts office was actually paying buskers to liven up the Limerick city streets on Saturday afternoons. It was money for old rope. By Christmas they’d shortened their name to a far more agreeable ‘The Cranberries’. By the following spring there were literally dozens of A&R men over to watch them playing in the old Jetland center. Their signing a major deal was by then a certainty. The only issues to be decided were who would they sign with and for how much? Later that year they released ‘Uncertain’ before spending a lot of ‘92 recording ‘Everybody Else…’ . By the summer of ‘93 I’d done my first year in art college and was working in Holland when a friend who was visiting from Ireland told us that The Cranberries were in the process of going supernova. EEIDISWCW had at that stage sold 300,000 copies in the USA.
By the end of that year two Irish groups who would go on sell millions appeared on RTEs (Irish television channel) ‘The Late Late Show’ within only weeks of each other. The first were a boyband from Dublin called Boyzone who’d never done a gig, had never made a record, were clumsily prancing around the stage like a bunch of tits miming to a record they hadn’t performed or sang on and had been offered a slot on the national broadcasters flagship programme because their manager “Knew some people”. The second group were The Cranberries from Limerick and they apparently didn’t “Know people”. To be offered the same privilege they only had to take their first US single release -a song called ‘Linger’ to no.8 in the Billboard charts.