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The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

This article was first published on CLUAS in May 2000

Whipping Boy

An e-mail correspondence with Paul Page of Whipping Boy...

Whipping boy are chiefly remembered for their 1995 acclaim-soaked album "Heartworm". They were later to be dropped by Sony records, made a third record and broke up in such a low key fashion that they were described in some sections of the media as having simply 'disappeared'. The third album saw its re;ease this month two years after it was recorded on the 'Low Rent' label. Rumours soon circulated that the band were reforming and flyers were issued in cork Cover of 'Heartworm' by Whipping Boysaying that they were playing in Elroys at the end of the month. All very exciting for fans of the band but there was another twist in the tale when, on the Dave Fanning show, Paul Page (guitarist) revealed that the "band" now only contained two of the original members (neither of whom had written any of Whipping Boys' music) and angrily claimed that such a venture was nothing more than a "Whipping Boy tribute band". The gigs were subsequently cancelled and Page says the whole series was everything that happened in the last two years of the band coming to a head.

Both out of personal interest and service to CLUAS readers I wrote to Paul Page asking him to clarify what actually happened with the breakup of the band, the current controversy and his memories of the band. He was generous in his answers and some of what he had to say contradicted the opinions expressed on their third record (admittedly that is probably a bit of a simplification) confirming the idea that there had always been two Whipping Boys. In fairness he has maintained an honest dignity and respect for Whipping Boy's work throughout the whole affair. He also revealed that himself and Myles McDonnell may form another band in the future so, along with Fergal Mckee's new project we could see two bands descended from Whipping Boy, anyway here's what I asked over email and what Paul answered.

Kevin Fitton: As far as I can make out Whipping boy broke up in late 98 and the Whipping Boy that were going to play a national tour contained only two of the original members. Is that true?
Paul Page: I am only aware of one gig -  the Elroys gig in Cork - that has now been cancelled. Yes it is true it consisted of only two original members.

Would that have been Mckee and Myles McDonnel or was it Mckee and Colm Hasset?

McKee and Hassett.

Cover of Whipping Boy's 3rd albumWould you agree that this was perhaps a bit underhanded the way that the gig was organized? Underhand not only to the original members of Whipping Boy but to the fans because the first news of Whipping Boy in two years was a news report in Hot Press saying that they were considering reforming? Then at the start of May flyers were in circulation and there was a lot of excited people in 'an Brog' (pub in cork) that weekend when in fact Paul Page, whose guitar work was fundamental to what made Whipping Boy great, had nothing to do with the project?
To say it was underhand is an understatement. The first Myles and I knew of the gig was when I read the news on a Cork website. By then, posters and flyers had been issued. Obviously, passing it off as a WB gig was unfair on fans of the band and this was one of our main motivations in bringing the facts of the matter to light. We put a huge amount of effort and love into WB; we wrote all the music and we were not going to stand idly by and allow the name to be hijacked in that fashion.

Had Killian McGowan any connection to (to quote you) "the Whipping Boy tribute band"? What exactly was his original position in relation to the band circa Heartworm and your last album?
Let me clarify things further. Killian is part of a new band Fearghal and Colm are forming and as such was part of this WB effort. Killian was brought in after Heartworm to play additional guitar and keyboards in a live context. He played no guitars on either "Heartworm" or the new album whatsoever, and was not involved in the writing process at all. He played some keyboards on the new album. In addition, Myles composed the string parts on the new album and Killian wrote the parts down.

Are you still on good terms with the members who tried to reform the band?
What do you think? In truth, I had not spoke to either since the album was finished. A lot of stuff happened in the last two years of the bands existence that I would rather not go in to. The funny thing is, this whole episode with the fake gig seems to have brought things to a head. I really wish we could close the door on WB with a little dignity and leave things less sour. In order to do this, it has been suggested that we do a few "farewell" shows and leave things on a less bitter note.

Were you happy with or should I say proud of your last record? Are you proud of the other records? Do you have a favourite Whipping Boy record?
I am particularly proud of this latest album. Because it was done in a completely independent fashion and because of the huge effort it took to finish, it means a lot more to me now. To be honest, I don't care how it sells; the important thing is we went out with our heads held high. My favourite is still "Heartworm" for obvious reasons.

Ferghal Mckee comes across through his lyrics not so much on 'Whipping Boy' but on "Heartworm" and the earlier material as not exactly the nicest person on earth to be around, was he hard to work with?
I have nothing to say about Fearghal.

The band broke up in 1998. What were factors in the breakup? The fact that ye had been given the run around with record labels? Not getting on so well with each other? Musical differences or lacking the drive of youth to go and tear peoples houses down?
I have absolutely no complaints about Sony. Bands have to realise if they sign to a major, they will not receive sizeable advances and all the benefits being on a major offers, and be allowed sell zero records in return. In fact they will be expected to sell considerably more than zero records or they will be let go. Sony did their best with us, and even though we sold approx. 70,000 worldwide, it was not enough. The main cause of our break up, in my opinion was an element of self doubt that crept into the band. Suddenly, things were not going so well and inevitably the first thing to look at was the music. There was a suggestion that we needed to incorporate a dance element to the music, that it needed to be more edgy; all kinds of things but the reality is you make the music that you enjoy making. I think the new album is a vindication of the belief Myles and I always maintained in WB's music.

The theme of ' Ghost of elvis' (track on the new WB album) kind of contradicts the question of 'lacking drive' doesn't it?
"Drive" is something that setbacks and disappointments can knock out of you, and I think it is fair to say over the course of the bands existence we had plenty of those. But I still think there is evidence of the spark that still existed between us on this album and that is the sad part of the split.

Do you have any particular favourites off the third record.
My own favourites would be "One to call my own", "Ghost of Elvis" and "So much for love".

Are you in non-musical employment yourself now or what are you doing? If so how does it suit you?
Yes after we finished this record over a year and a half ago, we all realised that we would have to go back to work. Unfortunately, there is a tendency in a band situation to live a cocoon- like existence and to forget that life goes on outside the band. You grow older, maybe have a family and they look to you and become your main priority. How does it suit me having to work? I have no problem with it. I would rather be making music and make my living that way but the reality suggests that is not feasible at the moment.

Any further musical aspirations yourself?
Myles and I have a lot of material that we have written in the last two years, we are hoping to demo it soon with a view to setting up a new band soon. I am excited about music again - there is so much great music out there undiscovered. Recently I heard Joe Pernice's records and they just blew me away. We will always make music, even if it is only for the pure joy of making it, you cannot just stop after putting so much of your life into it.

JJ72 are getting much the same treatment from the British press as yourselves did in 1995 or so. Would you have any advise for a young band in that position?
I am loathe to dish out advice to anyone; I firmly believe in allowing people to make their own mistakes as this can actually have a positive effect long-term. One thing I would say is everything you do in music you should do with your eyes wide open and try and control your own destiny as much as possible.

Finally, looking back from "I think I miss you" to "So much for love", it's a massive and consistent legacy. You must be very proud?
I am proud of a lot of what we did. I regret we did not get to make more records or play in the US but there you go. I do know that our records touched some people and that is as much as you can hope for in making music.

Thanks to Kevin Fitton and Paul Page for the above