Cromwell-What Might Have Been?

By 1975, Dublin had an eclectic and vibrant music scene , and there literally was something for all musical tastes. This ranged from the traditional showbands that had long been part of the Irish music scene, right through to traditional Irish music and sentiment-laden pop music. However, this was only part of the story. 

At the other end of the musical spectrum was Dublin’s most successful music export, Thin Lizzy. Lead by the inimitable Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy’s hard rocking sound won them fans the world over. Then there was Horslips, the founding fathers of the Celtic rock sound. They had just released their fourth album and were one of Ireland’s most successful bands. Meanwhile, another Dublin based band Cromwell were about to release their debut album At The Gallop on their now Cromwell label. 

The local critics who had heard At The Gallop, forecast a bright future for Cromwell. They had honed their hard rock sound over the last few years. Now that Cromwell had come of age musically, surely it was only a matter of time before they made the journey over the water, where they would sign for one of the London based major labels. Maybe then, Cromwell would follow in the footsteps of Ireland’s most famous sons like Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher?

Alas, that wasn’t the case. Cromwell’s debut album wasn’t the success that critics had forecast. Neither did Cromwell make the Journey to London to sign for a major label. Nor did Cromwell release a followup to At The Gallop. After releasing five singles and one album, the Cromwell story was at an end. Sadly, Cromwell’s discography consists of five singles and one album and their  story began in Dublin 1970.

As a new decade dawned, a new band was born in Drumcondra, in Dublin in 1970. Originally, Cromwell was a quintet, based around the three Kiely brothers who previously had been members of Julian’s Heirs. Cromwell was a new start for the Kiely brothers. Dave Kiely became Cromwell’s frontman, while Desmond became the bassist and Michael the rhythm guitarist. They were joined drummer Derek Dawson and lead guitarist Patrick Brady. With the lineup complete, Cromwell were soon making their first tentative steps onto the local live circuit.

Cromwell made their live debut at an open air concert, in Swords, just north of Dublin. This was the start of a period where Cromwell were constant features of the local live circuit. They played pubs, clubs and dance halls, which allowed Cromwell to hone their sound. However, by November 1971, Cromwell were reduced from a quintet to a trio when Dave and Demond Kiely Kiely exited stage left. The two brothers had decided to pursue other opportunities.

Now that Cromwell were reduced to a trio, there were some changes. Michael Keily switched from rhythm guitar to bass and Cromwell’s sound became heavier and rockier. This was more in keeping with the sound that was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. For Cromwell, they were one step nearer to finding their true sound. 

Meanwhile, when Cromwell played live, their setlist included covers of songs The Who, Rolling Stones and Granny’s Intentions. To this, Cromwell added covers of twelve-bar blues. Gradually, it seemed Cromwell were moving towards what would become their trademark sound. Maybe the addition of a new vocalist would prove to be the finishing touch?

When Cromwell went looking for a new vocalist, their luck was in. They managed to secure the services of Droghedaean born vocalist Mick O’Hagan. He had an impeccable musical pedigree. His father was famous Irish tenor Patrick O’Hagan, and his brother was Johnny Logan who would later, win the Eurovision Song Contest. However, when  Mick O’Hagan joined Cromwell, he was regarded as Ireland’s premier blues and rock vocalist. Surely, he was the final piece in the jigsaw?

That should have been the case. The new lineup of Cromwell began playing live. By then, drummer Derek Dawson, bassist Michael Kiely and lead guitarist Patrick Brady were just nineteen. However, they played like seasoned veterans. With Mick O’Hagan as Cromwell’s new frontman, it looked like Cromwell were heading for bigger and better things. 

Local hero Rory Gallagher certainly thought so, and booked Sleepy Hollow and Cromwell to open for him on his 1972 Irish tour. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. Cromwell’s music would be heard by a much wider audience, and maybe, A&R men would be in the audience?

If they were, they didn’t see Mick O’Hagan. He quit Cromwell just before the band headed out on tour with Rory Gallagher. Despite this disappointment, Cromwell headed out on tour with lead guitarist Patrick Brady taking charge of lead vocals. This continued when Cromwell returned from touring with Rory Gallagher. 

Cromwell continued to play live. By now, Cromwell were heading much further afield. They were now touring the Emerald Isle and were regarded as one of the rising stars of the Irish music scene. So it made sense for Cromwell to record their first demo.

To record the demo, this necessitated a trip to Belfast, in Northern Ireland. This was at the height of the troubles. Three young men, who looked as if they belonged in a rock group were always going to attract the scrutiny of the British Army. When Cromwell crossed the border, their van was stopped. The three members of Cromwell were searched at gunpoint. Meanwhile, their van and the equipment it held was searched. This was the case each and every time Cromwell made the journey from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. Considering Cromwell were heading to Belfast to record a demo, this wasn’t the best preparation.

Having arrived in Belfast, Cromwell made their way to the recording studio. That was where Cromwell recorded songs penned by the Patrick Brady and Michael Kiely songwriting partnership. It was beginning to blossom, and over the next few years, would be fruitful source of material.

With the demo recorded, Cromwell started trying to attract the attention of British record labels. This was the only option. Ireland didn’t have the successful music industry that it now has. So Irish bands had no other option but to sign to British labels. However, not every band signed to British labels.

After recording the demo, Cromwell tried to attract the attention of British based record labels. It was to no avail. So Cromwell returned to playing live. They travelled far and wide, following in the footsteps of Ireland’s two great bands, Rory Gallagher’s Taste and Thin Lizzy.

Usually, Cromwell weren’t short of gigs. Sometimes, though when gigs were hard to come by, Cromwell went in search of places to play. Cromwell weren’t averse to heading off the beaten track, and into small towns where no rock bands ever played. The three members of Cromwell were welcomed with open arms, by youths starved of music that was relevant to them. It was a heartening site. 

The only problem for Cromwell was the 1973 oil crisis. Suddenly, petrol was rationed and the price soared. Fortunately, Cromwell were always able to secure an extra can of petrol which they stored with the equipment in their van, before heading out to gigs. Cromwell’s mission to take rock music to every town and village in Ireland continued. 

Later in 1973, Cromwell’s thoughts turned to releasing a single. The three members of Cromwell had come to the conclusion that if a record label wasn’t going to sign them, they would release a single on their own label. That day, Cromwell followed in the footsteps of The Beatles and Rolling Stones and their Cromwell label was born.

Later in 1973, the nascent Cromwell label released its first single, Guinness Rock. This was the first single that Cromwell had released since they were formed three years earlier in 1970. Guinness Rock garnered some radio play locally, while the band were featured on RTE, the Irish national broadcaster. One of the Irish magazines  New Spotlight championed Cromwell and their music. This paid off when Cromwell released their sophomore single. 

This was Stomp Stomp Stomp which was released in 1974. It sold well and reached number eleven in the Irish single’s charts. For Cromwell, this was something of a coup, and introduced the band’s music to a new and wider audience. 

Following the success of Stomp Stomp Stomp, Cromwell released Deal Me In. It failed to replicate the success of Stomp Stomp Stomp. For Cromwell this was a disappointment.

They didn’t release another single until You Got It Made in 1975. It would feature on Cromwell’s debut album At The Gallop, which was released later in 1975.

At The Gallop featured ten hard rocking tracks from the Patrick Brady and Michael Kiely songwriting partnership. They were recorded by drummer Derek Dawson, bassist Michael Kiely and lead guitarist Patrick Brady who took charge of the lead vocals. They were by then a tight and talented trio who many thought had a bright future ahead of them.

So much so, that some local critics thought that Cromwell were about follow in the footsteps of Ireland’s most famous sons like Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Cromwell’s debut album At The Gallop wasn’t the success that critics had forecast. However, At The Gallop is a timeless cult classic that’s won over a new generation of rock fans. That is no surprise.

Cromwell’s debut album At The Gallop was an irresistible fusion of musical genres and influences. Everything from swaggering, strutting, good time, seventies rock ’n’ roll rubs shoulders with blues, country rock and beautiful ballads on At The Gallop. Similarly, Cromwell were inspired by everyone from early seventies Rolling Stones’ albums to Thin Lizzy Mott The Hoople, The Faces and the Flamin’ Groovies’ 1971 album Flamingo. This potpourri of musical genres and influences should’ve transformed the fortunes of Cromwell.

After all, Cromwell were one of the top bands in the Irish music scene. They looked as if they were about to follow in the footsteps of two of Ireland’s most successful recent musical exports, Taste and Thin Lizzy.

Alas, despite the undoubted quality of the music on At The Gallop wasn’t a huge commercial success. There was some interest locally, in Dublin and in other parts of Ireland. This must have been a bitter blow. Especially given Cromwell had spent years touring Ireland, playing towns, cites and even villages. They took rock music to places it had never been before. For the three members of Cromwell, it must have been a huge disappointment. They had spent years working towards releasing their debut album.

What Cromwell were aware of, was that the market for rock music wasn’t as strong as in Britain. Rock music was still frowned upon by the establishment in Ireland, which didn’t even have a fledgling music industry. It would be some time before the Irish music industry took shape. However, in 1975, things were very different in Britain. Maybe Cromwell’s debut album At The Gallop, Cromwell would attract the interest of major labels based in London?

At The Gallop could’ve and should’ve acted as Cromwell’s calling card, and opened the doors to major labels in London. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. None of major labels based in London came calling.  

Cromwell only released one further single, First Day. It was released later in 1975 and proved to be Cromwell’s swan-song. They neither released another single, nor album. The Cromwell story was all but over, and before long, the band called time on their career. For Cromwell, the dream was over.

Since then, a new generation of record buyers have discovered At The Gallop. It’s a musical hidden gem that’s a reminder of one Ireland’s great lost groups, Cromwell. Nowadays, their one and only album At The Gallop is regarded as a cult classic. It’s a rarity with original copies changing hands for upwards of €400.  That is no surprise as Cromwell were the most underrated and talented Irish bands of the early seventies, and the heir apparent to the legendary Thin Lizzy. 

Cromwell-What Might Have Been?







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