A House was an Irish band from the 1980s to the 1990s, recognized for the clever, "often bitter or irony laden lyrics of frontman Dave Couse ... bolstered by the band's seemingly effortless musicality". The single "Endless Art" is one of their best known charting successes. A House were managed throughout their career by Liam Crinion.
Formed in Dublin by former of the band Last Chance, vocalist Dave Couse, guitarist Fergal Bunbury, bassist Martin Healy (who had all been schoolfriends at Templeogue College), and drummer Dermot Wylie came together as A House. Initially developing a classic, guitar based rock sound to highlight Couse's frank but often bitter-tongued lyrics the band put in all the appropriate rites of passage for an Irish group in the mid-1980s, honing their live skills in the pubs of Dublin, performing in McGonagle's club (best known internationally as the venue where U2 cut their teeth in the late seventies), at free gigs in the Phoenix Park, and turns on RTÉ's TV GaGa and Dave Fanning's radio sessions.
The earliest recorded appearance for the band seems to have been on a charity compilation called Blackrock Youth Aid '85, put together at Newpark School. This was followed by tracks on two live compilations: A House contributed a song whose title is representative of the band's early spirit, "On Your Bike Wench, and Let's Have the Back of You", to the EP Live at the Underground (1986), recorded in September 1985 (and only available) in The Underground club in Dublin, and featuring other contemporary up and coming bands such as Something Happens and The Stars of Heaven; the Street Carnival Rock EP (1987) includes songs recorded as Dave Fanning sessions, and finds A House, performing a song called "What A Nice Evening To Take The Girls Up The Mountains", alongside other young Irish bands including The Golden Horde.
These beginnings were followed up by two self-released singles, "Kick Me Again Jesus" and "Snowball Down". A House released these on a label given the name "RIP Records".
On Our Big Fat Merry-Go-Round and I Want Too Much:
Recording a John Peel Session for BBC radio in the United Kingdom, and gaining regional popularity, the band signed with Blanco y Negro who released the singles "Heart Happy" and "Call Me Blue" in Ireland and the UK. The latter was backed by a video and was relatively successful, receiving appreciable airplay and reaching number 28 in the Irish charts, as well as having some impact in the USA. These singles were followed by A House's first album On Our Big Fat Merry-Go-Round in 1988. The success of the release and growing crowds at their live shows allowed the band to embark on their U.S. tour with The Go-Betweens.
A promo version of "Call Me Blue" for the US tour included a track labelled "Some Intense Irish Brogue" which was a short interview with the band. Even in Ireland, however, some listeners found Couse's "yelp of a voice" not quite suited to the slightly quirky but basically mainstream rock style of Merry-Go-Round. Perhaps the band had this in mind when, after that first major tour, they went back to Ireland, and wrote and recorded the album I Want Too Much in 1988 on the small Irish island of Inishboffin. Observant critics had noted that On Our Big Fat Merry-Go-Round's title reflected a track list that developed a cartoonish sense of threat (with titles like "I Want to Kill Something", "Watch Out You're Dead", "Don't Ever Think You're Different", "Stone the Crows", and "Violent Love"). I Want Too Much was a move to maturity, with Couse's lyrical concerns becoming deeper, reflecting abilities both to look outwards and to introspect. The music too had developed, sounding far less like it wanted to sound like a rock band, and rather working with and enhancing Couse's unorthodox voice and phrasing, such that the album saw A House developing its own persona, although they would never lose their catchy side. The response of the press was good, but record sales were poor, and Blanco y Negro decided to drop the band. Eventually they were picked up by Setanta, a London-based independent label tending to focus on Irish acts.
Dermot Wylie also quit the band in this period, to be replaced by Dave Dawson.
I Am the Greatest, new members and the Setanta years:
Doodle and Bingo:
Towards the end of 1990 and into 1991 Setanta released two A House EPs: Doodle and Bingo. The latter featured the track "Endless Art", on which A House first worked with Orange Juice singer Edwyn Collins as producer. A House met Collins because he was also signed to Setanta, and it was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration as post-A House Couse and Collins remained friends and continued to work together. Setanta also facilitated a relationship between A House and countrymen The Frank and Walters, with members of A House contributing production work to several Frank and Walters' albums.
With the sort of commercial luck that sometimes hit A House hard, in the week that "Endless Art" was the most played song on British radio, Setanta, which was only teething as a label, could not get enough copies into the shops to take advantage of the situation (Keith Cullen of Setanta had already had to borrow money from his father to fund the recording of the song). Parlophone Records tried to step in, redistributing 50,000 copies, but by the time these reached the shops it was too late and the re-released version of "Endless Art" (1992) did not get the same radio support, although it did reach the UK Top 50.
"Endless Art" had also benefitted from an accompanying video using clever stop motion animation which gained significant airplay on MTV in Europe, but again due to the bad timing with the song's distribution, the video seemed to be everywhere but the record was not selling. Nevertheless, "Endless Art" became A House's signature, replacing "Call Me Blue" as the song everyone associated with them. The video was memorable, and the song itself - somewhat unusual in its musical approach, and even more so in its lyrics, which led off with a quotation from Oscar Wilde and ran through an extensive roster of famous artists from various fields, all dead, with years of births and deaths specified - stabilized the band as a cult favorite among indie lovers, and is the paradigm of the surprisingly successful "list" style of song which Couse has frequently used (the first example of this style had been the title track on I Want Too Much).
At the time, however, the band had run into criticism because all the artists mentioned in the original "Bingo" release of the song were men. Despite the facetious excuse that they thought Joan Miró was a woman, they tried to make amends by making available a second version of the song, called "More Endless Art", which lists only women artists, as the B-Side of the single version. Controversy aside, "Endless Art" is frequently featured on representative compilations of Irish rock and pop music. The 12" single included two other tracks, "Freak Show" and "Charity" which had been recorded for the band's second John Peel Session early in 1992.
I Am the Greatest:
The Parlophone distribution of "Endless Art" was the flagship single from A House's new album, called I Am the Greatest (1991/2), Parolophone again taking over distribution from Setanta. This new record represented a musical expansion for A House. Alongside new drummer Dawson, the recording introduced two other new members to the band, Susan Kavanagh, who had sung with a Dublin band named "Giant", and had been working on the TV show Jo Maxi, on backing vocals, and David Morrissey on keyboards. This new trio remained with A House until it dissolved although they were less involved in the creative process than the remaining original trio. However, their presence enabled A House to significantly further the transition begun on I Want Too Much beyond the fairly straightforward sound of Merry-Go-Round to a broader musical palette. This was enabled further on "I Am the Greatest" by Collins's production work, and extra contributions from Susie Honeyman's violin.
Lyrically, the songs on the record addressed themes running from satire of societal and religious pieties, through excruciating examinations of personal fears, to the title track, on which the three core band members ruminate in spoken word fashion on their lives, their regrets, their jealousies, and the state of music in the 1990s. The cover artwork was by Irish photographer Amelia Stein, and a second single from the album, "Take It Easy On Me" (1992), was also released.
Wide Eyed and Ignorant and No More Apologies:
I Am the Greatest is A House's most significant legacy, and is cited by many as one of the best ever released by an Irish band. But it was followed by two more albums on Setanta. Wide-Eyed and Ignorant was released in 1994 to little notice outside of the band's fan-base, although the single "Here Come the Good Times" was A House's only UK Top 40 chart placing, reaching number 37. In 2002 this song experienced a rather unusual second life on the Irish charts when it was chosen by popular vote on national radio to be rerecorded, with new lyrics, as a team anthem and charity single by the Irish soccer squad in the run up to the 2002 World Cup.
Despite the relative success of "Here Come the Good Times", the good times never really came for A House. In the popular music market place this was probably largely because the band refused to do anything but their own thing, which lent extra resonance to the title of their fifth and final album, No More Apologies, released in 1996. It was already known that A House would call it quits the year after that, but No More Apologies, a collection of "twisted beauties", allowed them bow out, masters till of themselves and of "disturbing melodies reflecting the world as seen through their own, strangely coloured, spectacles".
A House broke up in 1997. The demise of A House was marked by an emotional concert in Dublin on February 28, attended by the band members' families and packing out the Olympia Theatre. Although visibly moved by the occasion, Couse, ever sarcastic, wondered from stage if A House would have had to break up at all had everyone in attendance bought their records. But no one wanted to leave the Olympia, and A House went out on a high, producing
a farewell show last weekend that was one of the most cathartic and genuinely disconcerting live events that this column has seen or heard in 15 years. No caro meos, no undue fusses and no forced sentiment, A House came over like they've always come over, always four and often six-square, cocksure and strutted-up like they knew, just knew, how damned good they were and how damned good it was what they were leaving behind them.
Even so, five years later Couse could still wonder how the apparent fondness of so many fans for his band had never really carried over to record sales.
On the release of a best of album in 2002 (The Way We Were) one British reviewer wondered if they were one of the great lost bands of all time, or if most of the world had been right to ignore their "Gaelic charms". On the evidence of the retrospective collection he decided that the answer was "curiously enough, a bit of both". In a specifically Irish context, however, critics writing around the time of A House's demise claimed that there were ways in which "A House is far more important than U2", and that "their passing also arguably drew the safety curtain on the first and last great pop movement this country has either seen or heard".
More than ten years after A House's break-up, critics still held A House in high esteem. In 2008 the Irish Times rock critics voted I Am the Greatest the third best Irish album of all time (jointly with Ghostown by The Radiators), behind only Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Achtung Baby by U2.
After A House:
Following the breakup of A House, Couse and Bunbury started a new project together under the moniker Lokomotiv and recorded an album, but this was never released and Lokomotiv were only ever represented by one single, "Next Time Round" (2000). Couse went on to a solo career and, beginning with Genes in 2003, has released three albums so far, two under his own name, and one billed as by Couse and The Impossible. Bunbury continues as Couse's frequent musical collaborator and live accompanist. Couse now hosts a weekly radio music show on Irish national radio station, Today FM.
Martin Healy also took on a couple of different projects. He formed the electro-rock band Petrol with French musician Julie Peel, although they failed to progress far; nonetheless, this was Peel's first entry into music, and she enjoyed working with someone who was "kind of famous" in Ireland, although they, "never actually played a gig - only did studio work and rehearsed". A more substantial effort was known as AV8 (sometimes "Aviate"). This began in 1998 when Healy and Niamh McDonald began a writing and performing partnership, to be joined about a year later by French guitarist Morgan Pincot. AV8 recorded an album called Tremor, and was still a going concern in 2002, albeit with a name change to "Sweet Hereafter", but may now be defunct as Healy, with David Morrissey, is currently part of Mark Cullen's Pony Club. Healy has also produced for Pony Club, and for other bands such as She's a Beauty.
Four tracks from Tremor (Fireside / Push / Now and Forever / Never Knew What Luck Was) have been available for streaming and/or download on AV8's website.