Ireland hates success as much as it loves it. Or, rather, we love to hate those who succeed and Irish begrudgery constantly rears its ugly head. This is apparent in a lot of the national conversation around Saoirse Ronan – who is a testament to the disproportionate amount of creative talent that has always been born from our little island – and, yet, permanently finds herself the butt of jealous nit-picking. Her incredible talent is often redundant because she “talks too posh” or has “notions” or talks about Ireland too much. I once had a woman I admire very much respond to Ronan’s latest nomination news with the proclamation that “she’s not even that pretty for an actress” rather than cheer on a young Irish woman who has been proving her skill beyond her years for years now.
This, however, isn’t all that surprising. It’s the intersection between Irish begrudgery and how the media treats women, which is, invariably, harshly. The scrutiny that women who are in the public sphere endure in everything they say, do, imply, wear or don’t wear, is intense. If they are young women, it is only worse. If they are teenagers, it is worse still and feels all the more unfair and invasive. When the tabloids started talking and speculating about Millie Bobby Brown’s love-life, many observed that it was cruel and perverse to treat a 14-year-old so but plenty of people continued to write and read such articles.
Having grown up as a punk, I can say that this is a world, in particular, can be hostile towards women. They’re not unwelcome but it is a highly “masculine” space and the majority of performers have always been overwhelmingly male.
Imagine, then, how 1990s Ireland responded to three teenage girls in a punk band that major labels were scrambling to sign…
I’m slightly too young to have been aware of it all at the time but that is precisely what happened when three Dublin 15-year-olds started an all-girl band and, in the space of a few years, quickly went from playing daytime gigs in Slattery’s to appearing on the Late Late Show and supporting the likes of Sonic Youth on tour. Annie Tierney, Lucy Clarke and Isabel Reyes-Feeney experienced this kind of fairytale fantasy but, along the way invoked toxic jealousy and their style of pop punk (which was simplistic but no different to many of the groups that have captured hearts over the decades) garnered immediate and unwarranted dismissal from certain critical listeners. In fact, in an interview with State.ie a few years back, Tierney noted that after their set on the Late Late, Gay Byrne “kinda lifted his eyebrows and he made some comment like ‘I won’t say anything about that’.” As the women note in the interview, they were 18-year-old schoolgirls at the time.
Despite the churlish boys around town and classmates that were annoyed at their success and the reaction of some members of the media, the girls were successful. Their EPs did well and inches of columns were being dedicated to them on a regular basis. They got the opportunity to tour with Ash, open for Sonic Youth and play Reading. They released several EPs and were signed to DreamWorks to produce an album.
Then the road bumps came. In recording, the very things that they were celebrated and signed for and their original songs, in particular, suddenly didn’t come up to scratch. The record label had them change things and record and re-record. On top of this, quickly thereafter, there were troubles within the label and things were pushed back indefinitely. A year passed without it being released and their contract made it so that they couldn’t go elsewhere. As the girls were young and eager, that year felt like a very long time and the label seemed to lose interest, so they all went their separate ways for college, different stints in various other bands and life, in general.
In 2007, the trio got their hands on the album and managed to release it in a limited run of a few thousand copies and, a year later, I stumbled across the beautiful object in Tower Records on a day out in Dublin as a teen. I had no idea who they were or what the album would be like but I had “a feeling”. I bought it and quickly fell in love, which lead to researching the group. Their not-so SEO-friendly name and era made it hard to find much on the group but I found that State.ie interview with the basic outline of the story. Chicks were basically everything that I direly wanted to be as a teen, so the result was desperately disheartening but the stunning album remains, at least. Their song, “Fuck music,” which talks about the mad passion of falling in love with music as a teen and loving it so much you wish it had a corporeal form that you could make love to and specifically mentions the first day they heard “Joey Ramone on the radio”, was basically my anthem. The punky-pop drone of “I don’t care” suited my version of angry-girl teen sensabilities to a tee and their balladic, “Fat Boy,” is just pretty. As I said, it is hard to get your hands on their music nowadays but I recommend seeking them out, they’re well worth it.
Hopefully, if we’re ever blessed with an Irish teen girl band that captures the public’s attention again, they’ll become the global superstars that Chicks deserved to be…although, I imagine the begrudgery won’t go anywhere.