Spud were a four piece electric folk outfit active in the 70s who never achieved the recognition they deserved outside Ireland. Less rock oriented than Horslips, less trad than Planxty, Spud's chief influence was Steeleye Span but they quickly developed their own style, drawing on Irish and English traditional folk music as well as American country and bluegrass. Their set was a mixture of covers, traditional tunes and original material.
Spud were formed in January 1973 in Dublin by Dermot O'Connor (vocals, guitars), Austin Kenny (guitars), Don Knox (fiddle) and Michael Smith (bass). Some had previously played together in the trad folk group Thatch. Knox had been with The Weavers. They were managed initially by PJ O'Sullivan, later by Earl Gill. They made a big impact on the Irish scene right from their inception and were heavily plugged by Pat Egan in his column in Spotlight. They supported Steeleye Span at the State Cinema in July 1973 and Alan Stivell at the National Stadium.
Following a self-released single in 1973, Spud signed a 3 year deal with Polydor International the next year. They chose "Blackleg Miner", a song strongly associated with Steeleye Span, as the A-side of their first Polydor single (released on Philips in Ireland). The next single was "The Wind in the Willows", a surprising and somewhat unrepresentative choice which was an Irish chart hit. Finally their debut album A Silk Purse came out in December 1974. Produced by Donal Lunny, the sound is of crisply recorded electric and acoustic stringed instruments playing riff-laden folk tunes with all members supplying vocals in unison. The most Horslips-like track was a riff-heavy version of "Brian Boru's March". Overall the album suffers slightly from a lack of diversity but it's a very useful addition to the Irish electric folk canon.
The band toured Ireland, the UK and Europe in 1974 and 1975 (there was also talk of a tour of Canada -- did this occur?), building a strong live reputation. They appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1975 and toured the UK the same year supporting Richard and Linda Thompson. Their second album "The Happy Handful" came out in 1975. It was produced by Simon Nicol, most famous for his work with Fairport Convention. It builds on the debut without offering any dramatic new departures.
The band parted company with their label in 1976 for reasons unknown, presumably
lack of success. Don O'Connor left to form The Permanent Cure in 1976. He was
replaced by two musicians, multi-instrumentalist / lead guitarist Ken Wilson and
drummer Dave Gaynor (brother of Jimmy Gaynor, ex Skid Row,
Rob Strong Band, Angel).
The addition of a drummer signalled the bands
decision to pursue a full folk-rock direction.
On 4 July 1976, to mark the American bicentennial celebrations, RTE aired a musical drama called The Greening Of America. Spud plus Dick Keating on keyboards provided the music for this production which now has a permanent place in the museum of broadcasting in New York.
Turn of the Century, Galway 21 April 1973 and
Teach Furbo Galway 25 July 1976.
|Teach Furbo Galway 1 August 1974.|
|Bonapartes, July 1979||Tour news, 1978. "First for some time".|
Don Knox then invited Paul McGuinness, who he'd known at Trinity College, to
manage the band. McGuinness had been taking notes on how Horslips had gone about
managing their career and was looking for a band to manage at the time. So he
became Spud's manager for a year spanning 1976-77. He organised the self-released
single "Kitty", got the band good publicity in Scene magazine through journalist
Bill Graham, and landed an album contract with Sonet Records.
Spuds third and final album "Smoking On The Bog" was released in the Autumn of 1977. Recorded at Sawmills Studios in Cornwall in May/June 1977, it was produced by Tony Cox, producer of the Trees acid-folk classic "On The Shore", and engineered by Gerry Boys who'd earlier worked with Steeleye Span.
"Smoking On The Bog" is a far rowdier and far more rockin' album than the first two. It features great lead guitar playing throughout by Ken Wilson and a excellent cover of Richard Thompson's "Shame Of Doing Wrong". Some consider it their best album. Internal disagreements over the bands direction led Paul McGuinness to quit. He later found a new young band to manage named U2.
Spud's final release was a fine single recorded by a revamped lineup for Mulligan Records in 1979. Don Knox and Michael Smith were joined by Bal Kennedy (mandolin, autoharp, vocals), Jimmy Gibson (guitars, vocals) and Don Harris (drums, vocals). The band split soon after it's release. Knox and Kennedy continued as Bloom, who released a single in 1980. Was Austin Kenny involved in The Irish Travellers?
The UK specialist reissue label Kissing Spell announced CD editions of all three albums in 2007.
Brisk Young Widow
Open The Door Softly
For The Love Of Sarah
Wind In The Willows
Brian Borus March
Crow On The Cradle
A Sows Ear
Notes: All tracks Trad. arr. Spud except "For The Love Of Sarah" (O'Connor/ Kenny), "Wind In The Willows" (Bell), "Crow On The Cradle" (Carter) and "Nancy Brown" (O'Connor/ Higgins). Producer Donal Lunny added bodhrán and moog. The cover artwork is by Bad Taste Productions, i.e. Tim Booth of Dr.Strangely Strange.
Notes: First self-released single after the band was dropped by Philips. Non-LP A-side, but the B-side later turned up on the third LP.
NotesM: The A-side is a studio recording with live audience overdubbed. The B-side was subjected to the same overdubbing even though it's taken straight from the third album and there's no 'live' added to the title on the label -- a case of crossed wires somewhere, I suspect.
Notes: non-LP single.
Don Knox had earlier been in Spud. Bal Kennedy was in the final line-up of Spud that recorded a single for Mulligan in 1979. Bloom released at least one single and were active on the live circuit for a couple of years. Bal Kennedy joined the Sackville String Band in 1982.
Pat Armstrong had previously been a member of the Somertons, a Dublin based 60s/70s folk trio consisting of Pat, singer Paul Ward and singer/songwriter Kieran Halpin. The Somertons won the Letterkenny Folk Festival in the mid-70s. Kieran Halpin later pursued a successful solo career.
Notes: Recorded at Lombard Sound Studios, produced by Philip Begley.
A lone single on AART (via Polygram) credited to A.Kenny . . . is this Austin Kenny?
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