Aslan, the band named after CS Lewis’ lion in the Chronicles of Narnia, boasts a career with so many twists and turns and so many ups and downs, that it makes the fantasy world of Narnia seem almost mundane.
And now, despite this career for which the word ‘chequered’ barely does justice, the Northside outfit are, almost unbelievably, celebrating 30 years in the precarious, capricious business of rock music.
Billy McGuinness, the band’s rhythm guitarist and a man whom you suspect could tell you more yarns than CS Lewis and Hans Christian Andersen put together, seems similarly surprised.
“I think the fact we have reached this milestone of being 30 years together is amazing. We’re still doing the same things we did when we started out gigging: recording, writing songs, playing gigs. So not much has changed except we have gotten a little bit older and wiser,” he says.
A lot wiser, almost definitely. Aslan are known as one of the most exciting live bands Ireland has ever produced, something which Billy, in no small measure, puts down to their lead singer.
“In my opinion we have one of the best frontmen that Ireland has ever produced who is amazing to watch on stage,” he says, referring to Christy Dignam. Few would disagree. Christy most certainly has one of the finest voices in Irish rock music, but he is a man who has had his fair share of problems, mostly centred round drugs — something which he has spoken about publicly.
Happily, that is all now behind the band, although Christy still regards this period as one of the great lows in the band’s history.
“Yep, splitting up for a while in 1988 — that was hard alright. But on the other hand we’ve had great times — before and since. Too many to mention really. Way too many. But they include playing with David Bowie at Slane Castle, getting to record with some amazing artists such as Damian Dempsey, Sinead O’Connor and Alabama 3.”
Billy is also very proud of the recognition of their peers, as well as the more obvious approval of their public: “Picking up Best Irish Band at the Meteor Awards in 2008. Yeah, there have been plenty of good times that’s for sure. And now we have our latest album, released in April, going straight in at no.1 in the Irish charts.”
The band’s latest album, Nudie Books and Frenchies, is their sixth studio recording.
“It’s a retrospective album of us looking back over our career to date,” says Christy. “It’s really important album for us — I suppose we had to find out if Aslan were still relevant. When we released the single Too Late For Hallejuah off the album, every radio station started playing it. The fans and the critics gave the album the thumbs-up, and we were very, very happy. We can’t wait to play Under The Bridge at the end of July. It’s been a while since we played London. Bring it on!”
With Aslan’s recorded work it’s often been said that that they’re far better as a live band than a studio band.
“That’s a fair point,” says Billy. “I think when you see Aslan perform live you’re getting a lot of dynamics that you’re not going to get listening to a CD,” he says. “And right enough, our biggest selling album is the live album Made In Dublin. But hopefully our new album Nudie Books and Frenchies might change that perception!”
Their career has seen many highs, and the band have received many accolades, but perhaps international mega-success has to some extent eluded them. It doesn’t seem to bother any of the members of Aslan. “Believe it or not,” says Billy, “there is nothing we would change. If we hadn’t made the decisions we had to make I don’t think we would be still here. Bad and good.”
He pauses, closes his eyes, and adds: “It was a journey we had to take. And the good and bad things that happened to the band have helped us get this far.”
Aslan made it up the hard way. From the Northside of Dublin to some of the great rock venues of the world. And they’re glad they made it to the top through their own efforts; not through ‘talent’ shows such as The Voice or The X Factor.
“How can you be prepared in a few weeks for what the music business throws at you” says Billy. “Can you imagine Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Van Morrison trying out for these shows? It’s all about looks, not talent, and when you win if your album doesn’t sell well enough you’re dropped by the record company. You’re left on your own. And that’s not what music is about.”
Aslan’s 30 year career has in many ways coincided with huge social changes in Ireland, perhaps even huge changes to the Irish psyche.
“People emigrating is the biggest change and because of it we have had to follow them .This year alone we’ve been to Australia twice, Dubai ,Norway, Germany and so on — because there are so many Irish out there, and there’s a demand for Irish bands.”
The band still has an avid interest in the Irish rock scene, and Billy has advice for anybody starting out in the music business.
“Get together with some of your mates and play for fun in your garage. And don’t gig until you feel you are ready too. And also try writing your own songs. You never know — you just might enjoy it!” he jokes.
Aslan perform at the London Irish Village at Under the Bridge on Sunday, July 29.