independent

Thursday 22 August 2019

Still going strong in this crazy world

Billy McGuinness speaks of Christy Dignam's illness and hopes for a cure and what has kept Aslan going strong

Aslan
Aslan

Pádraig Byrne

AHEAD of their gig in The Amber Springs Hotel in Gorey this Friday night, there's a celebratory mood surrounding legends of the Irish music scene Aslan. Having been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as amyloidosis back in 2013, singer Christy Dignam has been undergoing treatment, receiving three bouts of chemotherapy in the process.

Initially, it was feared that Christy's diagnosis was terminal, however, last week experts in the UK announced that they are confident that they've found a cure. Speaking last week ahead of a gig to 4,500 people at the Iveagh Gardens, band-mate Billy McGuinness was in buoyant mood.

'Up to yesterday this thing was incurable,' he says, excitedly. 'He was diagnosed in 2012 and has had three bouts of chemo, but yesterday the Royal Hospital in the UK where he's receiving treatment announced they have a cure. To say we're over the moon is an understatement. As Christy said himself, it's no longer a death sentence for him. He still has to do all the tests, but fingers crossed it'll work for him. Someone up there loves Christy Dignam!'

While Christy has been battling the illness for some time, Aslan have remained as prolific as ever in terms of touring and putting on their trademark energetic live shows.

'The only way it (Christy's illness) curtailed us to a degree was we had to cut back on the long haul tours,' Billy says. 'We couldn't go to America or Australia or Dubai. Those flights fly at a higher altitude and Christy couldn't get doctors permission to fly. If this treatment works, those are places we'll be able to get back to.'

Aslan have remained extremely busy on the circuit in Ireland and the UK, just recently selling out a huge show at the marquee in Cork, and when it was put to Billy that they surely must be one of the hardest working bands in Ireland, he laughs: 'For having a singer with cancer, we're definitely not doing too bad anyway!'

While playing at huge venues such as the Iveagh Gardens and the Marquee naturally provide an amazing buzz for the band, they love playing venues like The Amber Springs just as much.

'Whether we're playing to 100 people or 100,000, we always give it 110% and do our very best,' Billy said. 'That's what really sustains us. We're really looking forward to the gig in Gorey. We love to get down to Wexford. I remember playing Whites Hotel down there years ago. In actual fact we're back for another date in Wexford in the National Opera House on December 6. What a venue that is! We sold it out last year and we're hoping to do the same this year, so if anyone misses out on seeing us in Gorey, they can catch us in December.'

On Friday night, fans can look forward to hearing the seminal 1994 album 'Goodbye Charlie Moonhead' as the band marks 25 years since its release.

'We'll be playing 90% of the album,' Billy said. 'Some of the songs on there could have been written yesterday. There's a song on there called "Where's the Sun" about the homelessness crisis. It starts with the line "Lay your head down, in Cardboard City, Cause you've nowhere left to go". That could've been written yesterday. Sadly we are still here with the same issue.'

The bulk of Aslan's material certainly seems to be aging very well. At the bands last sold-out Iveagh gardens show, young and old were on hand to belt out the words to classics like 'Crazy World'.

'It's mad, at our stage, our fanbase should be at home with their pipe and slippers,' he laughed. 'But whatever's happened, whether it's kids listening to us through their parents or what, we seem to have tapped into a whole new generation of Aslan fans. At the Iveagh Gardens last time, you had a good chunk of the audience were teenagers and kids and they're singing along to songs that are over 30 years old. It's fantastic.'

In terms of keeping the Aslan train rolling, Billy is feeling confident, particularly in the wake of the good news regarding Christy's illness.

'We've been doing this for over 30 years,' he said. 'I think we've done just about everything you can do as a band. We've split up for a period, we've been in a plane crash, we've played all over the world and then obviously Christy has had personal difficulties with the drugs and then with his cancer. We've had every reason to stop, but we never did. As Christy says, what else are we gonna do? There's none of us brain surgeons or anything like that! As long as people keep coming to see us, we'll keep doing it.'

A charming and amiable character, Billy could fill pages with his tales such as the time Aslan made the journey to play for the troops in Kosovo or the time they performed for the inmates in Mountjoy prison ('Johnny Cash in San Quentin hadn't a patch on Aslan in Mountjoy!'), but in order to really see what Aslan are all about, you have to see them live on stage.

A very limited number of tickets are still available for the show in The Amber Springs in Gorey this Friday, priced at €27 from www.lantern.ie. If you do miss out, the band will be back to The National Opera House stage in December with details to follow.

Wexford People

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