They should have been contenders, but Engine Alley’s Canice Kenealy has...
Armed with a bagful of glistening songs as bright as their gold lamé and dayglo clothes, Engine Alley pounced on the local music scene in the early Nineties like the hungry Kilkenny cats they were.
Their album, A Sonic Holiday, was one of the best Irish debut albums of that decade and their follow-up album, A Shot In The Light, is venerated as an underrated gem.
The original line-up, featuring brothers Canice and Brian Kenealy, Eamonn Byrne and Emeline Duffy-Fallon, the ‘Goddess of the drumstool’ as lead singer Canice perennially referred to her, were sonic spangles in the drab era of early grunge and ‘baggie’ bands.
Tracks such as Flowers, Mrs Winder and Infamy are testament to a belief that the success that was rightfully theirs, passed them by. Canice doesn’t like to dwell on the misfortunes of the past but, instead, wants to introduce us to songs from that period that were destined for release that didn’t see the light of day.
‘We’re releasing an album called Showroom that features songs from two recording sessions in 1992 and 1993 and some others from a mini album that we’d also planned to release that was shelved. I’m not a great man for regrets or saying that we should have achieved this or that, but I do feel sorry that we didn’t release more albums and, hopefully, this rights that wrong.’
Engine Alley were signed to Mother Records, a label U2 founded to give bands ‘a legup’, with short-term contracts that would put them in the shop window for something more substantial. Some have suggested that Mother failed Engine Alley at that time, but it’s not something on which Canice chooses to dwell.
‘I don’t really want to talk about that or them,’ he says. ‘Some people write articles about us and make that the main thrust of the narrative. Yes, it could have gone differently for us. I’m just disappointed that we didn’t get to play outside out of Ireland more often. We only played three gigs outside of Ireland between 1990 and 1992. Looking back, that statistic doesn’t make sense to me.’
Even though A Sonic Holiday was voted the 1992 Irish Album of the Year in Hot Press magazine, Engine Alley were unknown in Britain where they hoped to really make their mark.
‘We moved wholesale to London in 1993, with a grim determination to make an impact. We got some great reviews, but we didn’t generate many sales of our records. We came about just before Britpop but had that pop sensibility with a punk influence. Our image was a reaction to the “baggie” and early “grunge” look and attitude. We didn’t believe in walking on stage in our normal clothes and shoegazing... We looked back to the glam rock era,’ he says.
‘In our latter days we stopped doing that and I think it might have disappointed people. But I think we’ve transcended all that now and when people see us live nowadays, they respond to the songs.’
A performance at Electric Picnic showed that to be the case. Emeline has long departed, replaced first by Jerry Fehily, once of Hothouse Flowers, and now by Paul O’Byrne. The fact that I and many others still ask about a drummer who left the band in 1994, bemuses Kenealy.
‘We are friends on Facebook but there hasn’t really been any communication since she left. It’s amazing people ask about her just because she is a woman.’
With a series of gigs coming up to promote Showroom and an intention to ultimately release all their archived material to the public ‘in time’, Canice is focused on the present and the future.
‘We have other projects. Brian has released a couple of solo albums. I’ve got a band called Rigmarole where we improvise the music on the spot at each gig.
‘I like music to be of, and in, the moment. Being on stage is a unique one-off experience between the performer and the audience on and that can’t be replicated.’
Engine Alley – Showroom is out now. They play Limerick Record Room on September 21 and Féile Classical on September 22. See their Facebook page for more dates.
‘Being on stage is a one-off experience between performer and audience’
still motoring: Engine Alley today and, below, in their Nineties heyday