With killer songs like 'Romeo's On Fire', 'Everything That Rises' and 'Brewing Up A Storm', The Stunning were one of the most celebrated and popular rock bands to emerge from Ireland in the late 80's.
Although they never made the breakthrough internationally, they remain a fan favourite at home and still draw huge crowds whenever they perform. 25 years after their much lauded debut album Paradise In The Picturehouse stormed to the top of the Irish charts the band have returned. But founding member Steve Wall admits he's a little perplexed by the bands enduring popularity.
“Maybe it's not using too many fancy tricks with our music. It's a strange one. I was talking to a musician friend of mine about it last week. He was saying that one of his kids had asked him to download that song that was on the RTE Lip Dub thing. He said 'Ah Brewing Up A Storm' and he thought it was really funny that his 8 year old was asking for this song. I mean that song came out in 1989 as a single, but this kid thought it sounded contemporary”.
The Stunning are a band that have been rediscovered by generation after generation of music fans, helped in part by their frequent appearances on 'Best of Irish Rock' compilations. Wall feels that part of their longevity is down to that fact that when they started out, they were consciously subverting the trends.
“A lot of the music that came out around that time in the 80's, I actually didn't like it. My personal taste was veering more towards guitar bands, stuff like the Clash, The Skids, Joy Division, New Order. I wasn't that much into orchestral maneuvers and the more synth, drum machine type stuff that was around”.
“In a way there's not that many frills to the music and maybe that stands the test of time. There's no chorus and flange effects which were really popular at the time or putting massive big reverbs on the snare drum. We actually didn't get into that because we didn't like it. All that kind of stuff when you listen back to it sounds dated now”.
With Paradise In The Picturehouse and it's follow up Once Around The World both reaching number one in the Irish album charts and selling in excess of 100,000 copies the band turned their attentions to breaking out internationally. But despite gaining supports slots with the likes of Bob Dylan and the B-52s, it would prove to be a frustrating venture for the band.
“We had hoped to have made some kind of a break outside of Ireland. We put a lot of effort into it, in that we were constantly going to the UK and gigging over there and we went to the States three or four times, maybe more. They were all self-funded trips. We'd go over with a full band and we had a co-manager over there for a while”.
Though the band were playing their hearts out they struggled to make the right connections and never really got the breaks they needed. Having spent almost all of the money they'd earned from their success in Ireland, their failure to break out internationally eventually spelled the end for the Stunning.
“It had been seven years, we were going back and forth to the States and the UK and we kept thinking 'We'll do one more of these trips'. Because they were really expensive, any money we made was just spent on trying to break outside of Ireland. I think when we split up in '94 we got like two and a half grand each or something”.
“In later years I came to understand that, if I was a record company A&R person I probably wouldn't have known what to do with The Stunning. Musically it was so diverse. If you look at the singles we released, each one bore no resemblance to the one that went before it. I think maybe we didn't quite understand it at the time. We knew we weren't like a 'cool' band. We weren't groundbreaking or anything like that, we were basically an 'entertaining' band. Sometimes I couldn't quite understand why so many people were into it”.
Steve and his brother Joe went on to have further success with The Walls, while guitarist Derek Murray joined the Saw Doctors and percussionist Jim Higgins enjoyed success playing with Riverdance, Altan and various other acts. However the Stunning fans were persistent and in 2003 after overwhelming demand Paradise In The Picturehouse received a re-release and the Stunning went on a sell-out tour of the country.
Now as The Stunning prepare to celebrate their 25th anniversary, Steve Wall believes that they are enjoying it more than ever.
“It just felt that in the last couple of years with us, we were just taking things on the chin. We were all kind of bitter with disappointment. Because it's your career, it's your hopes and dreams. Now that isn't there, so when we go out and play it's actually really enjoyable. The band as well is playing better than ever, because everyone has gone off and played with a multitude of different bands and artists. When we got back together for the first time in 2003, it was like 'Wow, this feels really fresh'”.
With the band enjoying themselves more than ever, one wonders if now might be the time for a new Stunning album, which is something Steve refuses to rule out.
“At the moment just trying to find the time to write is the hardest thing. As life goes on you get involved in other things and I find now the most precious commodity is time. I could only do it if there was some really good material there. There's really good music out there these days, you know? The standard is really high. If we were going to do something we wouldn't want it to sound like it was a 90's band. We'd want to do something that sounded contemporary, and just... good really”.