Those Nervous Animals started making music together in 1981. Forty years later the Sligo-based band is about to release their first complete studio album, ‘The Mission Sessions’, consisting of songs from early days and from every decade since, the most recent material recorded remotely during the first Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. The core band consists of singer and instrumentalist Barry Brennan, bassist and arranger Eddie Lee and guitarist and songwriter Pádraig Meehan. On this project they are joined by Susan Rowland on vocals and by percussionist/sound engineer/drummer Tom Jamieson.
Those Nervous Animals were just a little bit unusual among new Irish bands of the 1980’s; they mixed blue-eyed soul, funk and indie into an uncategorizable whole. Producer Bill Whelan, excited by the band’s audacious approach (and assisted by engineer Philip Begley), helped shape the adventurous arrangements of TNA into something more radio-friendly, giving rise to two singles, ‘Just What the Sucker Wanted’ and ‘The Business Enterprise (My Friend John)’ between 1983 and 1984. A spate of sell-out gigs, major festival appearances, a mini-album (‘Hyperspace!’), a couple more singles and huge music industry interest followed. Producers Donal Lunny and Nicky Ryan also worked with the band (Donal produced ‘Damien’ in 1986; around the same time Nicky worked on the first demo of ‘He Can’t Resist A Mystery’), who were notably energetic and creative both in studio and in their live shows. Over the decades that followed the band members pursued various other paths, occasionally coming together for one off gigs and – in the early 1990’s – a tour and single, ‘Rocket Ship’. Again in the early noughties came a new set of Those Nervous Animals’ recordings and shows, including work with keyboardist and producer Trevor Knight.
In early 2020 a worldwide pandemic and subsequent lockdown found the Nervous Animals in both a retrospective and a very contemporary mood. ‘The Mission Sessions’ refers to a famous Georgian house in Union Place, Sligo (nicknamed “The Mission”), where the very earliest rehearsals were held and where some members lived for a period in the 1980’s. The house – and entire historic neighbourhood – was lost to road building at the turn of the 20th century. The songs on ‘The Mission Sessions’ unconsciously capture a changing Ireland over four decades. Listening to ‘The Mission Sessions’, you are time-travelling inside songs remarkably prophetic of boom and bust, wins and losses, various dramatic cultural shifts—but some ageless sense of wonder is vibrant within these grooves too.
To meld diverse elements and sounds from across the decades, the group enlisted the help of Colorado-based mastering engineer David Glasser, whose work includes the restoration of materials from the birth of sound recording for the Smithsonian Folkways collection and also The Grateful Dead back catalogue. Glasser’s virtuoso remastering of songs like ‘The Business Enterprise (My Friend John)’ and ‘Damien’ gives them a new polish and detail and miraculously matches the dynamics of the newly recorded material.
The most recent recordings feature many familiar elements for people who know the work of the band; the vocals of Barry and Susan, Pádraig Meehan on guitar and Eddie Lee on bass (both Padraig and Eddie contribute treatments, sequencing and occasional vocals). Tom Jamieson is on drumming duties, and Seamie McGowan plays guitar. Nichola MacEvilly (vocals) contributes to the new recordings as does ex David Bowie sideman Gerry Leonard on Transatlantic guitar and mixing duties. The artwork for the album was done by a team consisting of designer Niall McCormack and Maria Murray (who designed the original ‘My Friend John’ single cover).
Bassist Eddie Lee sums up the sentiments involved in the making of the record: “Our biggest regret, looking back to the 80’s, was not that we didn’t become pop stars, I don’t think any of us were really cut out for that. It was not getting to make that album, as we always believed strongly in the originality and beauty of the songs we wrote and arranged. We felt it would be a special piece of work; it is maybe a little ironic that it took a pandemic to finally allow it to see the light of day.”
Those Nervous Animals release ‘The Mission Sessions’ 26/03/2021. Single ‘The Business Enterprise (My Friend John) is out now.