Cause baby I’m a wild cat strutting thing
Pride of lions feeding thing
A history of hearts loving thing
Wild cat strutting
[Wild Cat Strutting Thing] – Interference
In many ways it seems as if time has finally caught up with one of Ireland’s most influential bands Interference. Caught up in the sense that they were always, to an extent, out of step, not just with the musical fashions, but also with the ways of doing things, conducting business and working in the music industry. Now both fashions and ways of doing things have changed, very much in their favour.
Cast your mind back to the Ireland of the late ’80s, early ’90s. A pre-Internet, pre- Celtic Tiger Ireland. That’s not to say that we need to imagine a grainy black and white country, it’s only fifteen or so years ago after all. It was a country, though, that, to a large extent, operated on certain received wisdoms; you had to go to University to succeed, regardless of whether you had a specific discipline in mind; you had to search for a good job that would provide you with stability for life; and to get ahead in any field, there was every possibility that you would end up going to America or the UK.
And if received wisdoms were the norm in general, they were even more so in the music industry. Some would say they remain the norm, in a business where we still suffer from the ‘cloning’ syndrome – be it Britney Spears copies or polished guitar bands – but in Ireland in the ’80s and ’90s it was not only the Record Company execs but also the bands that seemed to suffer from the notion that there were a set of guidelines and rules. You had to have a) a dynamic frontman, and b) an international record deal to be taken seriously.
These over-riding assumptions worked against Interference because despite their brilliant songwriting, their extraordinary musicianship, and intimate engaging live shows, a dynamic, physical frontman was one thing that they couldn’t provide, and without that an international record deal would remain elusive. That’s not to say that Interference didn’t have a front man. In fact, Fergus O’Farrell, the frontman, is for all intents purposes Interference, . He’s the constant factor in a line up that over the years has been as much a co-operative as a band, co-opting some of the best talents in Ireland. To say that O’Farell doesn’t have a presence would be mistaken as well, blessed with a powerful and expressive voice, on stage he always remained the focal point of Interference gigs. His presence though was certainly not that of a budding Bono. With the quality of songs that he has written, it shouldn’t be an issue, but unfortunately, in the Ireland of the ’90s, and the wider music industry, it was: because O’Farrell has Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive condition that is characterised by muscle wasting, and is wheelchair bound as a result.
For O’Farrell though, it was as much the musical diversity involved in the band that kept the record companies at bay. The breadth of songwriting styles, ranging anywhere from rock and country, through to soundscape type pieces, made it difficult to discern their ‘market’. “Record companies don’t like that. They want bankable consistency”, says O’Farrell. The interference ‘sound’ “never settles. It’s easily bored. You never know for sure what is coming next”. He accepts though that his ‘condition’ didn’t help matters: “The wheelchair compounds matters. I was once told that blindness can work from a marketing point of view but wheelchairs don’t. And I also heard through a friend that a top record label AR man had said that he wouldn’t touch a prospect that had muscular dystrophy, meaning me, with a barge pole”. But, he’s always been philosophical, and good-humoured about it: “If I was as talented at business acumen and marketing myself as I am at making music and talking crap, then the wheelchair might not have been a problem”.