Over a dinner in Yamamori, I had mentioned to my two drum buddies that I had intended to start a Rush Tribute band. Not one which would be suiting up in 70s-style kimonos, but one which would be purely about the music. Baz got up from his seat, came around to give me a hug and, just like a mother would, said “There, there now, you’ll be ok when the pills kick in!” But then, joking aside, Johnny Boyle & Baz Campbell approved and said if anyone was gonna do this it would be me. Encouraging, for sure! Little did I know.
Step back a bit in time to ’89 and I had already had a Rush esq band. At 20 years of age, naïve but full of bubbling promise, we set about playing an two hour plus set of Rush music. Holding down a Monday night in The Earl Grattan, Capel Street, Dublin, Rush fans from around the city would somehow fill the the upstairs room, to our absolute surprise. It was a blast, to say the least. Sitting in the front row were Rush fans wearing the recent Hold Your Fire tour t-shirts. The moment we kicked into the first number, they jumped up from their seats in unison, beers in hand spilling everywhere, and began headbanging, playing air guitar and air drums. It was such a thrill to feel such a buzz and it stayed with me. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t our original music or that we were doing covers of our favourite band, the reward was in the pleasure it had given everyone in that room – performers & listeners alike.
Stepping back in time once more, now to the Christmas of 1978, my brother brought home Rush’s A Farewell To Kings album. After hearing Xanadu I quickly assembled my own ‘Neil Peart’ drum kit. I got all the biscuit tins accumulated over the festive season, added pillows, the duvet & robbed mini size snooker cues to use as sticks. I pounded the crap out of my newly design drum kit. At 9 years of age, I WAS HOOKED!!
But getting back to the future again. After that Yamamori dinner, with finally my thoughts out in the open, I called an old friend Carl McDonnell, a fellow Rush fan, and an enormously talented artist. Explaining my intentions to form a Rush tribute band called 2112 (that’s right, I already had a name for the band), I asked if he could design a logo. During that conversation, not only did he promise me an epic logo, but suggested adapting the new logo to fit into (and rework) the original Rush album covers. It was our first creative collaboration and it’s how we’ve continued to work ever since. There was nothing conventional about the forming of this band, as I had to admit to Carl while we drink our weight in alcohol, that even though we had a name, an art concept, there was yet no other band members. It was just me and Carl. We laughed a lot that night and woke with very sore heads. It’s a collaborative process we still go through, because the look of our show and how the band is presented has always been very important to us. I began coining the phrase “I have an idea!” The mention of these four little words by me would have future band members run for cover as I would express my (many) thoughts on the direction of how we should sound, look, stage and visualise the show, all driven by the sheer excitement of possibility. Am I nuts?? YES! Was I having fun?? ABSOLUTELY!
On a recommendation by a certain Kevin Murphy (later to be vocals & keys) I drove to Wexford to meet with bass player Mick Lindsay. I had watched a youtube clip of him playing YYZ. Mick didn’t play a Ricky bass, or a Fender for that matter, it was a Status bass. On first impression, it looked very physically small on him, and the sound didn’t seem to ‘match’ the person, and it didn’t, as I would later learn. But he could really play, he made it look easy. He also never stopped smiling while playing Rush tracks, which were obviously very close to his heart. I was made very welcome in Wexford that day by both Mick and Emer, his wife. Chatting about all thing music and Rush, we discovered that Mick had come to see us in Capel Street in the early days. But we also discovered we’d met before in Birmingham Airport the night after watching a show on Rush’s Snakes and Arrows tour. Small world eh? He keenly signed up and, like all good drum ‘n’ bass partnerships, we soon became the glue of the band.
Bass position filled! Next up was guitar. The wonderfully talented guitarist Conor McGouran was next up on the list but due to his commitment to projects including the excellent “Xerath” Conor would have to decline. Not long after that I met with my old friend Tony Jones, a guitarist with whom I’ve played many times over the years. But I never imagined he’d be interested in such a project. I’d had the pleasure of playing country, jazz fusion and good old rock ‘n’ roll with Tony over the years, BUT RUSH?? There was no one in the frame but Tony stepped up and said “I’ll love to do it”. I was surprised for sure, but why not – he too was looking to do something that would challenge him. Little did he know that he’d be eating Alex Lifeson guitar parts for breakfast, dinner, tea & supper. I imagine he lost a lot of sleep at that stage. But he absorbed Lifeson's wonderful solos, chord progressions, the effect pedal sounds, the amplifying set up… Just about everything about the guitar world of Alex Lifeson, Tony made it his mission to learn. That summer, like a bunch of kids, we set about tearing apart the selected songs we’d picked to jam out in Mick’s music room down in Wexford. Limelight, Spirit of Radio, Passage to Bangkok & Hemispheres’ Prelude would all be given our undivided attention. Myself & Tony laughed on the drive home at the insane idea that we'd just driven to Wexford for a rehearsal!! But that was the buzz of it. It was a lot of fun.
Still with no vocals or keyboards, we kept adding to the set list. Tom Sawyer, Freewill, YYZ. The list went on. Of course, there were no gigs yet, but the atmosphere in which we were working was fun. With no deadline we could be relaxed about our endeavour. In fact, we never imagined it being gigged. That seemed as about as far from reality, as there were just so many notes to learn!
On Kevin’s 50th birthday, he arrived in Deadsound rehearsal room to sing a couple of songs. He burst into Freewill. The volume in such a small room was enough to make Lemmy’s ears bleed. But he belted it out. We followed that with Red Barchetta and Limelight. I think we called it a day after that, I know my hearing had felt like I just got a whack of a lump hammer. Kev was offered the position of vocals. I wasn't exactly sure what he sounded like – I thought Peter Hamill from Van der Graf Generator. But he also had a Geddy mid range. Kev loves prog rock more than anyone I know. His vast record collection and knowledge has been a staple diet during our tea time breaks in rehearsal. Kev also brought (to our total surprise) a very healthy stage presence – punching fists out, stomping around the stage while trying to avoid falling over a very large drum kit. Like all of us in the band he has grown into the part, gradually finding his feet. So that made 5 members, we're not a Rush replica. Carl may not be on stage, but he’s just as important VJing the hell out of our live performance visuals.
Finishing on a personal note. I laugh about being what I would call “A Stunt Drummer”- “Now kids don’t try this at home”. The death defying drum fills are not for the faint hearted. In fact, I’ve questioned my sanity every time I sit down to play Neil Peart's drum parts. The only reason why we all continue to do it is because we love it, we all love our part to play in 2112. The music is part of our fabric, and has been a soundtrack to our life. On the 28th February 2015, 2112 played to a sold out crowd in Dublin's Button Factory. It was such a thrill to feel that buzz again.