The greatest Irish band you’ve never heard

Sad, beautiful, vitriolic, and far too ugly to be famous. A House had everything going for them but their looks. But all the years of being unhappy, unattractive outsiders, gave them the cynical, melancholic, bittersweet nuance which affects their work.
Founded in 1985 in Dublin, A House released a few EPs and a couple of very-hard-to-come-by albums before coming up with the beautiful I Am The Greatest, an album that should be in every PopJunkie’s collection.

Musically, they straddled what might reticently be called indie and folk, via traditional Irish instrumentation.
Singer Dave Couse has a wonderfully expressive voice, and you believe his sentiments from start to finish, while Feargal Bunberry’s guitar wraps itself around the songs like barbed wire. Think Bernard Butler after a good long mope.

The songs are, sometimes, nothing more than a catalogue of life’s disappointments. And, boy, has Couse been let down. The Church, charity collectors, record companies, bands whose names are made up of initials (KLF, EMF etc…) – he really doesn’t have time for anyone or anything, and his obsession with listing those things makes at least half this album funny and loaded with scepticism.

As with Dexy’s Midnight Runners, A House’s scepticism is borne of thwarted romanticism. Never is this more evident than on the two ballads to be found here; I am Afraid and I Lied. They are two of the most moving, beautiful songs ever recorded. Really.
A House would never sound this bitter and naked again. The last track, I am the Greatest, is effectively a series of tirades from each member of the band, spoken over what sounds like the backing track to Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. It begins ‘Whatever happened to good music, you know, in the days when you could feel it, it was almost sexual, sending shivers up your spine’ and ends with Couse’s voice repeating over and over again, as on a stuck record, "I AM the Greatest." This may not be strictly true, but it is a damn fine mantra and a fantastic album title.

Their subsequent albums brought in brass sections and bigger choruses, but a lot of their targets had been hit already. The further they reached, the smaller A House sounded. In 1997, they finally called it a day. This album is simply arranged, moving and effective. It’s like a confessional, but you certainly wouldn’t want to be Couse’s priest.

A House – I Am The Greatest (Setanta)  1992


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