In some households, a photograph of Syd Barrett amidst a collage of photographs of family and friends might seem odd.
But for Graham Blackmore, guitarist with The Wormholes, Barrett has been as influential as any family figure.
“When I first heard him, he just sparked something in me,” says Blackmore, nodding over at the founding member of Pink Floyd on his living room wall in Ringsend.
Both Blackmore and his bandmate Anthony Carroll sparkle with a teenage enthusiasm for rock music, excitedly sharing the bands that have left a mark on their music.
While Carroll rattles off band names like Hail Marys at a novena, Blackmore frantically tries to keep up, searching on his phone for a selection of tracks from some of the bands mentioned to play over his hi-fi system.
Bands like DEVO, German krautrock like Neu! and Can, American slacker rock like Pavement, UK post-punk legends The Fall.
Both are attracted to music with lo-fi production, sounds that are often home-recorded and place the music above commercial concerns.
“Like R. Stevie Moore,” says Carroll. “Do you know R. Stevie Moore?”
Cue Blackmore searching on his phone to play the artist known as the godfather of tape recordings.
Carroll shakes his finger animatedly in approval. “That man can write a pop tune,” he says.
The Wormholes are a trio all hailing from Ringsend, originally comprising Graham Blackmore, Anthony Carroll and his twin brother Dave, who passed away in 2019.
Emerging in 1991 within Dublin’s nascent DIY scene, the band came to the attention of gig promoter and videomaker Eamonn Crudden, in 1994, released a record with his label Dead Elvis and within the year had signed to a major in London, Roadrunner Records.
“They were a very odd trio,” says Olan O’Brien, label head at Allchival, an offshoot of All City Records, who released an anthology of The Wormholes’ music on November 15.
He hopes the anthology will give people another chance to catch up with one of the more fascinating bands to emerge from Dublin’s independent music scene in the 1990s, says O’Brien.
“They were these three working-class guys making this rock music that was quite unusual for the time,” says O’Brien.
The Wormholes came close to making it, he says. “And then just disappeared as quickly as they appeared.”
“I saw The Wormholes and thought they were incredible,” says Eamonn Crudden, who founded the independent label Dead Elvis, along with his brother Og, Eamonn Doyle and Marc Carolan.
Crudden came across the band playing at Fibber Magees on Parnell Street in 1994 where he had been putting on small gigs.
He’d been toying with the idea of putting out records, and invited them over to Doyle’s makeshift studio, he says.
Doyle’s set-up was primitive-ish, he says. “A 16-track desk and a half-inch tape recorder off Brendan Grace’s manager.”
The trio had been a band since 1991, getting together when the Carroll twins were 21 and Blackmore was 15. They rehearsed in Ringsend’s Mission Hall and played around Dublin.
From 1993, says Carroll, the band began taking songwriting more seriously. “We were destroying the music we loved and thought we might as well make our own music.”
It was mostly Blackmore and Carroll’s brother Dave who wrote the songs originally, says Carroll, and every day he’d come home from his girlfriend’s to find the pair would have another song. “They’d have all the tunes made up and everything and I’d just have to slip in there and play bass.”
One song that emerged was “44 Bulldog”, a slacker rock tune, brimming with lazy guitars, mumbled lyrics and fuzzy distortion. It also was one of the first demos they recorded in Doyle’s studio.
“It was really when we heard that song that me and Eamonn Doyle had a couple of conversations going, ‘This is fucking amazing, we should really do something here,’” he says.
Encouraged by The Wormholes’ own preaching on the value of lo-fi recording, Dead Elvis opted to record more of the band’s music in their studio.
It wasn’t the usual route, says Carolan, the label’s producer. “You were supposed to first demo songs, then you were supposed to go to a proper studio and record those songs and there was this whole process that you were supposed to do and we didn’t do any of it,” he says.
Instead, Dead Elvis followed their own instincts and not just in the lo-fi recording process. They opted to release the album Chicks Dig Scars on CD – a rare occurrence in 1994. They gave away the CD free to attendees of the album’s launch party at Whelan’s and, to accompany some of the tracks, made videos, which would later appear on national TV shows like RTÉ’s No Disco.
“It put the album into lots of people’s hands quickly,” says Carolan, and created a buzz about the band’s music.
Dead Elvis’ method of working had a ripple effect on the independent music scene in Dublin, says Crudden.
“We could see the impact immediately because all sorts of other people started into the same thing pretty much straight away,” he says. “It had that dynamic where we created an awful lot of competition for ourselves in what we were doing.”
Other labels popped up. Ultramack and Hi Tone Records released the likes of Decal and Jubilee Allstars, while Dead Elvis would go on to release 10 more albums.
“In a way, suddenly, people were listening to their peers’ albums and everyone wanted to blow away their peers,” says Crudden.
The success of Chicks Dig Scars, along with the wider impact of Crudden and Doyle’s music videos for tracks such as “Lay it On”, created an interest in the band that drew the attention of Roadrunner Records.
The Wormholes were part of the last generation of musicians where everything centred on the record deal, before online music sharing decimated the industry, says Allchival’s O’Brien.
“Even though they were DIY, the next step up was the record deal and the tour abroad to try and break these territories,” he says.
Roadrunner Records, a well-financed London metal label, was looking to diversify its acts. It approached The Wormholes in 1995, says Crudden. Signing with the label gave the group a UK tour, the opportunity to record two EPs, as well as touring opportunities with their heroes The Fall.
However, despite their initial high hopes, their relationship with Roadrunner was short-lived. “Roadrunner was a disaster,” says Carroll, in Blackmore’s flat in Ringsend. “The most we got out of them were tickets to Royal Trux,” he says.
Blackmore’s face lights up at the memory.
“We were like kids at the time saying ‘We’re going to see Royal Trux, We’re going to see Royal Trux,” he says, waving his hands up and down in excitement, at catching their lo-fi punk idols.
The band was signed by Miles Leonard, the label’s Artists & Repertoire (A&R) representative, who moved on not long after, says Blackmore. “The new A&R woman who came along didn’t take to us, so we knew our time was limited.”
Crudden squeezed enough money from Roadrunner to record one last demo. Carolan, their producer, again recorded the band in 1996, but this time The Wormholes weren’t happy.
“We just felt they were too polished,” says Carroll of the songs, “and they weren’t representing us as a band.”
“Poor Marc. After all your work,” says Crudden.
“I remember finishing it and thinking this is fucking class,” says Carolan. “But they sidelined it,” he says, still slightly bemused by their decision.
After this recording session the band’s time with Roadrunner was over, and there were just the dreams of the big-time that could have been.
How did it feel being sidelined by Roadrunner after the initial excitement of being on a major? Blackmore is silent for a moment.
“I was kinda like, fuck, you know but then at the same time everything we did, we did ourselves,” he says. “We were always more about doing what we wanted to do.”
The band throughout their time on Roadrunner were leaning into the sounds of their influences, more interested in “lunching out”, says Carroll, a phrase the band uses to describe their love of playing long improvisational, almost psychedelic jams.
This method of working was moving the group further from the songs in their first album to more experimental material, says Carroll.
“As we got on, we felt we were getting better at doing it without worrying about it collapsing or anything,” he says.
A live audio recording of the band from 1997 in The Funnel, is testament to this, a spiralling sonic odyssey of chugging drums and dissonant saxophone.
“Now I was managing them as they were making that transition and it was very difficult,” says Crudden, laughing.
“Here was a band with piles of fantastic songs and suddenly they’re not interested in writing songs anymore and they’re not even interested in playing their songs,” he says. “They might play one of them and then it’d go on the length of the whole gig.”
By the time The Wormholes were winding down they’d really gone beyond their audience, he says.
O’Brien says he was drawn to releasing an anthology of The Wormholes’ music after realising the band had made more music than just the debut.
“They’ve got three albums that get more interesting as they go on,” he says. The later albums had passed him by, he says, as they did many other listeners.
With the anthology, a new generation of listeners can catch up with the quality of music that the band produced, he says.
Crudden, the band’s former manager, says their release on Allchival has slotted them into a lineage of Ireland’s experimental music makers.
“I love that they’re in the same series as Five Go Down to Sea?, Stano and Michael O’Shea,” he says. “To see them being put alongside these very classic outsider acts. It’s where they belong.”
For The Wormholes, the release of this anthology is all the more important after the passing of Dave Carroll in June 2019.
“It’s like a tribute to him in a way, and the work he’s done,” says Blackmore. “I wish he was here to see it and enjoy it.”
There’s a solace for Carroll in his brother knowing that the anthology was in the works before his passing.
“Dave knew it was happening,” he says. “He really knew it was happening.”
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