Northern Ireland rock group Therapy? on music 20 years later
Twenty years after their third album was slated in the music press Therapy? still feel the pain
More than most bands, Therapy? know what it means to be able to cling to your favourite bands when everything around you seems to be crumbling - they grew up in Larne and Ballyclare during the grim, Troubles-afflicted Eighties, after all.
So when frontman Andy Cairns got offstage from a gig in the Netherlands three weeks ago, switched on his phone and heard of events in Paris, there was no question that the band's European tour - then just three dates old - would be cancelled.
"We were in Germany, Austria and Belgium for the next two weeks so we saw quite a lot of people cancelling shows," he says. "I think the Foo Fighters went home. With our background, we remember what it was like growing up - bands cancelling gigs and people being scared to come and play at the Ulster Hall. We were getting calls from all the gigs going, 'Are you guys coming?' and we were like, 'Yeah, of course we are'."
In fact, as Cairns points out, the spirit of defiance that fuelled the travels of Therapy? through Europe extended to a few other of our finest musical exports as well. "One thing that warmed my heart was that Black Star Riders with Ricky Warwick, who's from Newtownards, were on tour, Ash were on tour and Stiff Little Fingers were on tour - and not one of those three bands cancelled a gig.
"We heard some brilliant stories from promoters about American metal bands turning up armed with baseball bats and refusing to go on and play," he adds with a wry laugh.
So the show goes on, and the three-piece alternative rock band return to Belfast to play the Limelight 1 next Saturday night. At their most recent Belfast gig last November, they were honoured with the Oh Yeah Centre's Legend Award before tearing through their classic 1994 album Troublegum to a delirious Mandela Hall crowd - something Cairns recalls as "one of the best nights of my life".
Next weekend, they will repeat the trick at the Limelight 1 - only this time the album being honoured with a full live airing is Troublegum's follow-up, Infernal Love. Back in 1994, this strange little band from east Antrim had unexpectedly gatecrashed the top five of the album charts and been given the keys to the rock kingdom. But success was already taking its toll and it's not a period that Cairns remembers with much fondness.
"I absolutely hated 1995," says Cairns. "It was one of the worst years of my life. The only diamond in the apocalypse of s*** that was 1995 was the gig at the Ulster Hall at the end of the year with Ash and Joyrider. The rest of it was f****** completely and utterly horrendous."
The reasons were manifold - under pressure from their label to capitalise on the unexpected success of Troublegum, the band were worked like pack horses, touring constantly to promote the record. Excess drinking and recreational drugs reared their ugly heads. The atmosphere in the band was corrosive, with the three members - Cairns, bassist Michael McKeegan and drummer Fyfe Ewing - barely speaking to each other. Ewing would leave Therapy? at the end of the year. And they were shoved into a very expensive recording studio with no music prepared, expected to come up with an even more successful follow-up to their breakthrough record - "an excruciating process", says Cairns.
That anguish was writ large on Infernal Love, a very different beast to the pop-metal rush of its predecessor. Over time, it has become recognised as something of a flawed classic by fans and critics, but it was a dark, difficult, wordy and experimental album - "ostentatious" is a word that Cairns uses. It didn't sell nearly as well as Troublegum, the band got a kicking in the music press and Cairns - who grew up obsessively reading the music papers himself - took it badly.
"Britpop was all-conquering and anything rock-related was 'rubbish', and the big criticism of that album was that it was traditional rock," he says, still smarting from the experience 20 years later. "You know, traditional rock albums don't have David Holmes doing electronic segues, they don't have a jazz freakout in the middle of the first song…"
The surprise is that Cairns still struggles with the record even now. "I don't know if proud is the right word, but I stand by it," he says. "I was brainwashed into believing that it was a complete disasterpiece for years, so I couldn't bring myself to listen to it because it brought back so many bad memories. But I do think it's an unusual record in the Therapy? canon. You have to be in the right frame of mind for it, I suppose."
Next week's Infernal Love shows in Dublin and Belfast will put that theory to the test, but the omens are good. Last summer, the band played the record in full for the only time so far at the Sonisphere festival. For Cairns, it was a revelatory experience.
"It was amazing," he says. "I was really nervous for the first song, but then I realised that there were 10,000 people in the tent singing the words, so I thought, 'this obviously means an awful lot to these people'. It gave me a bit of confidence and vindication."
Next year there's more touring - Infernal Love shows and regular gigs promoting the latest album, including what is sure to be an emotional gig in Paris - and Cairns says that new material is in the works as well. Looking back to Troublegum and Infernal Love has been an exercise in piquing old fans' interest again, attracting new ones and gathering the momentum to roll on, ever onward.
"I think everything has aligned for us," says Cairns. "The fans like the new album, we're still around and we're not going anywhere, and there's been a bit of a renaissance in support for the band. We're already writing new material, so when we get down to the new record then hopefully we can get on with that for the next few years."
After more than 25 years on the road, it's hard to know what will ever slow Therapy? down.
Therapy? will play Limelight 1 on Saturday, December 12. For tickets visit ticketmaster.co.uk