TO THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED
On the eve of their debut LP’s reissue, the remaining members of The Cranberries remember their singer Dolores O’Riordan.
The Cranberries were already deep into the process of pulling together out-takes from the making of their debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? for its 25th anniversary when frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan tragically died earlier this year. There were still mementos from their early days to pore over before it was ready for release, though. It added a heavy poignancy to the project for guitarist Noel Hogan, his bassist brother Mike and drummer Fergal Lawler, grieving the death of their friend and bandmate of almost three decades at the same time as digging through a treasure trove of artefacts that captured the singer in her prime. For Noel, that meant heading to Abbey Road Studios and sitting through reel upon reel of unreleased recording sessions, unedited so that they were bookended by his younger self and O’Riordan chatting away. “It was really difficult,” he says. “It gets better every month or two, you come to terms with it a bit more, but you just remember what she was like then, what we were like, and that sometimes is more difficult than remembering her later on in life.” It has been the same for all of the band, their minds cast back to those early days, to a time when the idea that an indie-rock quartet from Limerick would become one of the biggest groups in the world was as unlikely as it was improbable. “It was nearly 30 years of knowing each other,” says Lawler, “all those memories, first album, first tours, they were the memories that came back. We were so young. I see myself looking at the photos and going, ‘Jesus, I look like my sons.’” Revisiting the band’s early demos took Noel back to the Saturdays when he would head into the shop where O’Riordan worked, covertly handing her a cassette of new ideas without her boss noticing. Linger has become one of those universal anthems that always seems to be hanging in the air, out of a car radio here, or as the backing music on a sports montage there. It was the first track O’Riordan and Noel wrote together. He had little idea of what a huge hit it would become, mainly because when they used to rehearse, he couldn’t hear it properly. “We didn’t have much gear, so Dolores would plug her microphone into the guitar amp. The sound was dreadful so I actually never got to hear the lyrics until we demoed it. I could hear the melody and the odd word here and there, and we got that ‘linger’ was in there somewhere.” When they scraped the money together to record it and he got to hear O’Riordan’s vocals properly, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. “She sang that and it was like, ‘Oh my God… this is actually good!’” They recorded Everybody Else Is Doing It… with Blur and Smiths producer Stephen Street but after an initial buzz around their demos, no one was interested when it was released in March 1993. “We had the curse of, ‘Here’s the next big thing.’ It just died and we were back playing tiny clubs with nobody in them,” says Noel. It was during a small tour across Europe with Hothouse Flowers, which The Cranberries were treating like a holiday in the belief the band had run its course, that they were informed Linger had been picked up by college radio in the States and that they should get over there and promote it. “We were really surprised. We didn’t know what college radio was. But it sounded impressive, so off we went.” On the first night in Denver supporting The The, they encountered a crowd who not only knew Linger, they knew the words to every song. From there, it snowballed. “We were getting played once or twice every hour on MTV and MTV was God in the States at that time,” says Noel. “It was like, ‘Jesus Christ! Mad, like. Jesus,’” adds Lawler. Given a renewed push by their label, the album went to Number 1 in the UK and sold more than six million copies worldwide. The band had already written most of their second album by the time Everybody Else Is Doing It… took off. No Need To Argue was released in 1994 and sold around 17 million copies, sealing The Cranberries’ status as one of the biggest bands of the ’ 90s. O’Riordan’s death, ruled by an inquest last month to be from drowning due to alcohol intoxication, came as the band were working on their seventh studio album. The remaining three members completed work on it in May. “That really brought it to a conclusion, that last day in the studio. Funny that none of us said a word about it, but we all knew this would be the last time the three of us were going to be in a studio together working on Cranberries material. It was sad,” says Noel. It was when he got home from the studio, sitting on his own, running through the day, that he really missed O’Riordan, imagining her coming into the studio and giving her input on things. He thinks of those songs she wrote as a teenager that became worldwide hits. So many bands come and go, but he thought of the amazing legacy Dolores O’Riordan left behind. Her bandmates set out to respect her memory. They’ve finished what she started.
Producer Stephen Street (left) and Noel Hogan at VINYL festival in Dublin, May 2018.