25 years on – – reviewing Whipping Boy

One of my favourite albums was released 25 years ago this month: Heartworm by Whipping Boy.

Back in 1995, I was music features editor for the Elephant & Castle – – Coventry University Student Union’s esteemed newspaper. 25 years on, here’s a look back at what I wrote about the band and their Wolverhampton gig…

Whipping Boy
They should be massive

Music feature in the Elephant & Castle newspaper

Their debut album ‘Heartworm’ released on Columbia was one of 95’s best albums but, sadly, also one of the most overlooked.

Whipping Boy are an Irish four-piece. Ferghal Mckee the charismatic front man, with Paul Page on guitars, Myles McDonnell on bass and backing vocals and Colm Hassett on drums.

They have been together for almost nine years, at the beginning very much influenced by bands of the day like Sonic Youth. We met up with Myles to find out about Whipping Boy’s influences and future plans…

“After a couple of EPs, the band had gone through a lot of difficulties. There came a point after four or five years when the band had just put out a forced album (Submarine) on a small independent label called Liquid. The label went bust almost immediately after we recorded the album so it was never distributed. That was very frustrating for the band and it looked like we were going to split up because financially we’d borrowed all the equipment to record the album and it was a very hard situation for the band to continue.”

Thankfully the band didn’t split up, but the difficult situation prompted radical changes, pressing ahead without a record label. Myles continues…

Whipping Boy in 1995 (Myles second from left)

“At that point it looked like we might have to split up, but we decided that we wouldn’t. We also made a very conscious decision that, if we were to continue, we would start writing songs that actually meant something to us.”

“We decided, if nothing else was going to happen with the band, we would write and demo a couple of songs that would mean something to us. Then, in the years that would follow, even if the band split up or whatever, they would be something to be proud of that would reflect back to that time. So that’s really what Heartworm was born out of. Once this happened, a lot of things came very clear and the band became very focused. From that point on, the band had almost got like a new strength to speak.”

As a result, Heartworm is one of the most emotional albums ever put out by a band, the lyrics in particular are extremely intense.

“It’s a very open, a very honest album. We’re lucky in the band that we’re all capable of putting something down on acoustic and writing a song. But it takes somebody to have very strong feelings about something, have an experience – they put it into a song, then it is brought to the rest of the band, and we rally around that idea or that emotion.”

As well as being emotional and intense, the songs seem to be very personal.

“Yeah, they are. Depending on what song we’re talking about. With Ferghal, I mean some of the songs are so personal that they’re not things the rest of the band can even interfere with. ‘We Don’t Need Nobody Else’ and ‘A Natural’ are two songs that Ferghal came in with the lyrics completely and it was not something that we could get involved in as songwriters. ‘We Don’t Need Nobody Else’ was a piece that Ferghal either went with completely or we didn’t go with at all. After eight years we’ve a good understanding of each other and tolerance; people have the opportunity to express themselves through music.”

After that pivotal decision following a first failed distribution deal, Whipping Boy now write music that means something to them; the type of songs they want to do.

“The most important thing for us is that people just like our songs because they feel they’re great songs, and they get off them, whatever, you know, just the melodies or whatever.”

Despite Whipping Boy’s exceptional album and recent singles, there has been a disappointing lack of commercial success. Myles was asked if he was surprised…

“I’m very surprised ‘Twinkle’ didn’t get into the charts this time. Its a travesty. I think it’s something we just have to deal with. It’s not, you know, the end of the world, and in the scheme of things at the minute Whipping Boy don’t fit too comfortably into the way music is going.”

We’re a very ambitious band, our expectations are high. And still, after saying that, we’re still very fortunate, and we feel very privileged because we are getting opportunities that a lot of good bands never get.”

“Heartworm is as good a record as many, and better than most, and given the right climate our record could be the number one record everywhere.”

“I feel its a matter of perception. It’s the way the public perceive the band, in as much that if we were a cool band, people would go and buy it regardless of whether it was good or bad. We haven’t got that type of profile that will make people automatically go out and buy the record in the same way people go out and buy, even a Sleeper record.”

So what to the future for Whipping Boy?

“Well, the immediate future is to record our next record which is something we’re very excited about now. We’ve been working on ideas for a while; we’re very excited about those ideas, and remembering back to Heartworm when it was at this baby stage like these new songs are at, I feel this has the potential to be, if not as good an album, a better album than Heartworm.”

Paul Chibeba 1996
Published in the Elephant & Castle
Coventry University Student Union’s newspaper

Review: Whipping Boy at Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall (May 1996)

Theatrical performance thanks to Ferghal’s intensity

WHIPPING BOY opened with ‘Favourite Sister’, one of their older tracks. Followed by ‘Fiction’, setting the mood with Ferghal’s appropriate refrain “I can’t control myself.”

The set was not merely a run through of their recent album, Heartworm; it was an epic theatrical performance – mainly thanks to Ferghal’s sheer intensity as front man.

Subtle humour
Whipping Boy are a four-piece but, for live sets, they are joined by Killian McGowan who must be commended for introducing subtle humour, producing a large banana from his back pocket and waving it suggestively at the audience!

If their album is emotional and profound, then Whipping Boy’s live performances somehow surpass that. Take ‘We Don’t Need Nobody Else’ for example, with Ferghal’s strong vocals convincingly crying out “We don’t neeeed nobody else, just you and me.”

‘Twinkle’ is a right pretty song, opening with a soft melody line before Colm gently starts drumming and Ferghal sings out “Waiting to be bled, turning tricks just like your mother,” switching the mood appropriately. Perhaps not so pretty after all.

A superb set is rounded off perfectly with the mad-thrash epic ‘Buffalo’; it was during this last track that Myles handed his bass guitar to an audience member, Whipping Boy becoming a six-piece for a moment. Killian had hopped up onto the speakers and was strumming his guitar with a wine bottle. Colm was attacking the drums giving it everything he had while Paul maintained a more conventional approach on lead guitar.

Meanwhile Ferghal was, for once, almost merging into the background – – sat against the drum kit, but still shouting the lyrics.

What a finish it was to a great set by Whipping Boy, and also great performances from the two support bands, Strangelove (best track ‘Sway’) and Sun.

Irish music is booming at the moment, and Whipping Boy are up there with Ash and the Cranberries in the song-writing and performance stakes, if not album sales… yet.

Paul Chibeba

Find out more about Whipping Boy at the Irish Music Central website.


About Paul Chibeba

Paul Chibeba now lives in London and works for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew after having spent nine years living and working in New York City.
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