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by / April 5th, 2009 /

Power Of Dreams interview

He’d been away a long time but, three quarters of the way through last year, Craig Walker came home. Much had changed since he first left Dublin for London some twenty years ago. The cause of his departure was Power Of Dreams, the band he formed at school with his drummer brother Keith and Mick Lennox, a local lad who played bass and whose parents had an empty gym that proved a handy rehearsal space.

Pouring tea in his Dublin apartment, Craig remembers how the fledgling band made it out of the rehearsal room to play gigs and one venue in particular. ‘The Underground, which is now a lap dancing club on Dame Street, that used to be brilliant. All the bands of that era used to play there – Something Happens!, A House etc. It was a dingy cellar and the owner didn’t give a shit about underage drinking. We’d play Saturday afternoon gigs in there, we would have been fifteen or sixteen. It used to be us and other bands from school so the place was full of drunk sixteen year old kids who’d pile out onto the street afterwards at six o’clock. We used to do supports at the Baggot Inn as well, but I think because we were so young and had pretty decent songs that we picked up a following pretty quickly.’

Not wanting to lose ground, the band made sure that they got their songs down on tape as quickly as possible. ‘Our first demo was produced by a guy called Stano’, says Craig, ‘who was around at the same time as the Virgin Prunes and ended up working with Colm from My Bloody Valentine. He sent it over to Keith Cullen because he knew he’d just started Setanta Records by putting out an Into Paradise single, another Dublin band. He came to a show, said he wanted to put a record out and invited us over to London.’

If that all sounds suspiciously easy, the band were thinking that way as well. ‘We didn’t really think much of it but we went over and he put is in a studio in Elephant & Castle. We’d never really been to London before and ended up staying in Keith’s squat. The whole experience was fantastic. We recorded the single, went away and didn’t expect anything more. Then I got a call from Keith that we were single of the week in Music Week and Melody Maker. It all went crazy then.’

Power Of Dreams weren’t the only band who had to leave Ireland to get noticed at this time, although as Craig admits, ‘there were ways of doing it. The Stunning had built up a great following for themselves but that required constant work and playing everywhere. That was the only route. Hot Press was all there was for magazines, although The Event Guide had started and was really fresh. There was a little scene but there weren’t any labels, I can’t even think of any. It just fell into our lap with Setanta and from that it moved on.’

And it moved on apace. Following that debut EP, the band found themselves at the centre of a record company bidding war. Craig laughs at the memory of it. ‘My parents’ address was on the back of the sleeve so I was getting letters and postcards from all the top boys, people like Geoff Travis at Rough Trade. I’d Ballyfermot College at the time and every second week I was flying out to England every second week with our manager to meet various people. It was quite amazing, like Jim’ll Fix It. I was getting loads of free records and everyone was really nice to us.’

They weren’t the only ones. ‘It was still all about the post-U2 thing, a lot of bands here got signed – An Emotional Fish, Into Paradise, Blue Heaven. There was a period in the late eighties / early nineties when a lot of bands were signed to major labels but in general there was a lot less money in Dublin, people couldn’t afford to go out and see gigs. There weren’t really that many options as a band – you could go down the route of playing universities but we wanted to play tours, we wanted to make records and we wanted to make money as well.’

The band eventually signed to Polydor and very quickly found themselves having to become accustomed to the realities of the music business, as Craig recalls. ‘That was the beginning of it. I remember the first time that mid-week chart positions were mentioned, I had no idea what that meant. Immediately we were into this world where we had to sell records. It would be very rare for a young band to go straight into a major deal these days.’ Where they given an indication of what lay ahead? ‘Not entirely, no. They don’t tell you that they’re going to stick you on tour for eighteen months after you’ve written the story of your life on an album. You get into various vices on a level that you’ve never experienced before and it’s all free. It’s very difficult not to come out of a bit wrecked.’

The record that the band produced was a remarkably mature work for ones so young, especially the songwriter Walker. The year was 1990 and their timing was perfect. Immigrants, Emigrants and Me was everywhere, Power Of Dreams were everywhere and their singles especially were all over the radio. ‘That was weird’, laughs Craig, ‘but it was the biggest buzz. We’d done a lot of sessions for Dave Fanning so we’d had a taste of it. He was always a great champion of the band and hammered the album. Then we’d be on a motorway on the M1 in the van on the way to a gig and hear yourself on Radio 1, which was amazing. The first single got a lot of play and we almost scraped into the Top 40. In those days it meant something.’ How was the reaction at home? ‘We had a good fanbase here, even if it did peak with the first album. We played the SFX and the album went top 5. If you’re not here though it’s difficult to keep things going and we didn’t play as much as we should of.

One of the reasons for that neglect was that the band were just do damn busy. UK tour followed UK tour (including a memorable jaunt with The Mission), as well as the rest of the world taking notice. ‘Things started happening in other places, Japan really kicked off as well as Europe. I got to go around the world with my mates at the age of eighteen, doing what I loved doing. It was an absolute blast, I’d recommend it to anybody.’

There was a darker side to it all though, as the teenagers were thrown into a very adult world. ‘Early on it was just drink. I’m glad it wasn’t happening now because the harder drugs are more accessible. I remember in the early nineties to buy a gram of coke in Ireland was a big event, it was so hard to get – even in the music industry. I remember coming back here from London and there was no ecstasy, although it kicked in pretty quick.’

After the success of their debut, spirits in the camp were high. ‘The whole band moved to London’, he says, ‘and we lived liked the Monkees in a house in Finsbury Park, while we were recording the second album. They were crazy times. I was living next door to ecstasy dealer and it was the beginning of the whole warehouse scene in the early nineties. It was a good time to be in London but a strange time for music, it suddenly became really unfashionable to play guitars.’ There was a sea change coming. ‘Everything in music was really unsteady at that time, it was all led by computers and electronics. For the first time you could make music in your bedroom, what we were doing became very unfashionable.’

For Power Of Dreams, the clouds were gathering. ‘To be honest’, admits Craig, ‘we should have taken more time with (second album) 2 Hell With Common Sense. We finished touring, I’d forgotten how to write songs and we were told that we had five or six weeks before we were due to start recording. I started writing but you can’t write songs to order. Some of it I’m still pleased with but I wish I’d had more time.’

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Craig is fairly forthright about how the record went down. ‘It bombed. It did alright in Ireland but in the UK it got deleted the day it was released, which was a trick that they had. The guy that had signed us – and you’ll hear this a million times – wasn’t with the company anymore. We were one of those bands that owed quite a bit of money and they decided to cut their losses. Unless you sell an immense amount of records, politics will always come into play.’

On reflection, it was easy to see where the money went. ‘There were six versions of each single, stuff like that. At the time we didn’t realise that it was coming out of our pockets. Everyone has a gung ho attitude when you’re with a record company – the big hit is just around the corner and that’s going to save everything. You’re young and naive but I look back at that time fondly. In the first year in London I never went on the Tube, it was taxis all the way, even to the shops. I’m glad I experienced that.’

Compared to the happy days of just two years before, the process became a grind. ‘We knew that they weren’t interested and we weren’t entirely happy with it. There was a negative vibe around the whole thing, we weren’t the darlings anymore. It was a big change in a very short space of time, you start having to chase after the record company to do things. They lose interest if you don’t have hits. We had meeting after meeting but no-one knew how to take it to the next step, ourselves included. Everything had changed. Altern 8 were on the cover of NME smashing guitars.’

This wasn’t the end of the Power Of Dreams story, although it was the beginning of the end. The band would continue through two more albums on independent labels before finally calling a halt in 1994. ‘My heart wasn’t in it’, says Craig, ‘it was hard getting into the van and going to these gigs that would have been packed once but weren’t any more.’ All involved wasted no time in moving forward. Craig Walker formed Pharmacy with Ian Olney, who had joined after the first album, and Morty McCarthy from Sultans Of Ping before becoming part of trip-hop outfit Archive. Now settled back in Dublin, he has a solo album ready to go. Talk of a Power of Dreams reunion continues and with this year marking the twentieth anniversary of their first release stranger things have happened. As for the past, he remains sanguine about what happened. ‘It’s a common story’, he smiles, ‘ you get your shot and then…boom…’

  • BSB

    Now there’s a blast from the past. ‘Become Yourself’ was a pretty good album too – ‘In Time’ is well worth revisiting. Will keep an eye out for the new stuff. Good interview, thanks.

  • Quint

    Walker gives great interview. A fantastic read altogether, even if the interview is riddled with spelling mistakes….’Immigrants…’ is probably the best Irish debut of all time, amazing from a band so young. A POD reunion would be something special.

  • Tom

    “’Immigrants…’ is probably the best Irish debut of all time”

    It absolutely, positively 100% is not the best Irish debut of all time by any definition nor in any context. It’s passable indie at worst and a decent pop album at best.

  • http://www.myspace.com/martinaegan Martin A. Egan

    For every 10 happy campers there’s always one whiner. Maybe Tom is a frustrated 80′s Band member who chose the Civil Service rather than permanent Touring

  • http://myspace.com/callanwebsite callan

    great read dnt forget ROBBIE CALLAN played the guitar lads !myspace.com/callanwebsite

  • Stephen Goodair

    Such a great live band too, i managed to catch them everytime they came to Leeds. I really hope they do decide to do a reunion tour.

    Craig Walker is an amazing song writer, its amazing to think that he wrote immigrants emmigrants and me when he was 16/17!!

  • Brother in Lord

     

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