Lifting a good many of the elements of Brit-folk giants STEELEYE SPAN, Celtic-purveyors PLANXTY and the rockier HORSLIPS, Dublin-based SPUD drew inspiration from American country-folk and bluegrass counterparts. Comprising three intermittent singers, Dermot O’Connor, Austin Kenny (guitarists both) and fiddler Don Knox, along with bassist Michael Smith, the quartet made an almost immediate impact when they supported STEELEYE SPAN (at the State Cinema in July ’73) and Celtic-folk star ALAN STIVELL (at the National Stadium).
Recorded at Eamonn Andrews’ studios in Ireland, the independently-issued single `Blubbers’ Mother’ found friends in high places; one of them was Philips Records, which signed them on a three-album deal. Sticking to their traditional values, two further 45s appeared during the latter half of ’74, and while `Blackleg Miner’ didn’t fare too well, `The Wind In The Willows’ (penned by Alan Bell) hit the Irish Top 5. As with the latter single, and produced by DONAL LUNAY, SPUD’s debut album A SILK PURSE (1974) {*6} was a well-crafted first effort, the Celtic-rock-styled jigs coming thick and fast through the upbeat, `Brisk Young Widow’, `Brian Boru’s March’ (an instrumental, like opener `Tenpenny Piece’), `A Sow’s Ear’ and the aforementioned 45s. The formula was repeated for the SIMON NICOL-produced THE HAPPY HANDFUL (1975) {*5}, although it failed to generate the same interest even with the FAIRPORT connection. It was time for a change.
Dissatisfied with their lack of success, O’Connor formed the Permanent Cure, his replacement coming two-fold by way of drummer Dave Gaynor and multi-instrumentalist Ken Wilson, while SPUD were taken under the management arm of Paul McGuinness; a deal with Sonet in England (through Release Records in Ireland) was established by journalist Bill Graham.
Taking refuge in the Sawmills Studios of Cornwall with former TREES producer Tony Cox at the helm, SPUD resurfaced with the uproarious and rootsier SMOKING ON THE BOG (1977) {*6} – the cover depicting the quintet stretched out on deck chairs rather than having a fly puff in an outside toilet. Some of their best light folk-pop cuts here were the ballad `Scarlett’, the STEVE MILLER-esque `Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Tonight’, `Gusty’s Frolics’ and a rendition of RICHARD THOMPSON’s `For Shame Of Doing Wrong (Fool For You Again)’. By 1980 and further personnel changes, SPUD (with only Knox remaining) resolved to become the short-lived Bloom, the more Celtic and traditional side of the group now coming through. Incidentally, McGuinness would soon become manager of a wee group called U2.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Sep2015

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