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That Petrol Emotion

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John & Damian O’Neill had been in the Undertones, a seminal punk band from Derry, Ireland. After the Undertones broke up, a disillusioned John went back to Derry and started doing a club night playing killer music with friends Mickey Rooney and Raymond Gorman. Fired up by the new and eclectic sounds they were grooving to, he began writing songs once again and asked Raymond to join him in this new project.

Ciaran was in town, over-educated and unemployed. And one hell of a drummer. Damian came back to visit and found out what was going on and was dying to get involved. Trouble is there were already two guitarists, so Damian agreed to play bass.

Fast-forward a few months. In the process of recording their first single (Keen for Pink Records) they realized they needed a singer. Steve was putting his college degree to good use busing tables in London. A couple of rehearsals and a lot of Buzzcocks and Velvets covers later, Steve was in.

They played a lot, got ridiculously popular on the pub circuit, and put out a second single (V2 on their own Noiseanoise label). Demon Records stepped up and put out the first full length album, Manic Pop Thrill, which was produced by Hugh Jones and received rapturous reviews. This would become a habit with the Petrols.

More touring, and next thing you know they’re signed to their first major label, Polydor. They put out Babble, produced by Roli Mosimann, and receive rapturous reviews. They even come dangerously close to denting the pop charts when Big Decision goes to #42 on the British charts. Little did they know that was as close as they’d ever get.

Things start to go awry when the management at the top of Polydor changes, and the new management wants hit singles. Pronto. The Petrols decide that’s asking too much, and promptly leave Polydor when a loophole in the contract is discovered. Within weeks they’re signed to Virgin Records, who promise to support them and let them do as they please.

The Petrols release a 12″ single, Genius Move, which is rapturously reviewed. Robert from the Cure even gives it single of the week. The group make a hilarious underwater video that gets lots of airplay worldwide. Things are looking really good - sorta.

Never ones to follow trends, the Petrols decide to delve into the wonderful world of dance music. And dissonance. Often at the same time. This results in a third record, End of the Millenium Psychosis Blues, which tries to emulate the tour van mix tapes the band love so much, but with extremely mixed results, as it shifts from grungey artrock to white funk/hip-hop to celtic balladry and initially confuses the hell out of their fanbase. The atmosphere during recording sessions is often tense, edgy and joyless due to John O Neill announcing his imminent departure from the band two days into arriving at the studio. In fact, some of the songs are actually pretty damn great and live performances from the time bear this out.

Never mind, Damian seizes the opportunity to swap back to guitar, and the band brings in an old friend John Marchini on bass. Lots of touring, much revelry, and excessive self-abuse follows. Fun? You bet! In the meantime the songs are still flowing, as the writing duties have been taken over by Raymond, Ciaran, and Damian. In fact, the songwriting is getting stronger every year.


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