While not quite in line with my previous “Under-rated Irish” posts, the career of Kerbdog in the 90’s has always left me with the feeling of an opportunity missed, that there could have been just that little bit more. Not that their success was negligible, but that it wasn’t sustained. Victims of record label economics and politics perhaps, certainly not victims of their own lack of talent, or work ethic. And despite reforming and playing plenty of sold-out shows around the place since their initial shot and planning some new material, I still get the feeling that Ireland, in the main, has forgotten it had one of the best alternative rock bands of that period in Kerbdog. So you can imagine my surprise as I sat in one of those craft beer pubs in Dublin over Christmas and their entire eponymous debut was played on the stereo. Having never heard them outside of my bedroom and live shows, it was refreshing to say the least.
Formed in Kilkenny in 1991, they very quickly garnered massive attention from their early demos and signed to Vertigo / Mercury in 1993. Their debut was released in March 1994 and saw the band, along with Therapy? and Whipping Boy, lead the charge of great Irish alternative rock, surpassing in my view, what was coming out from the UK at the time, bettered only by American output. “Kerbdog” was a truly great album. While it didn’t quite scale the heights of “Troublegum” or “Nevermind”, it did contain timeless classics such as “End of Green” and the anthemic “Dry Riser”.
Their sound was certainly more US influenced, also somewhat moulded by singer/left-handed guitarist Cormac Battle’s use of a right handed guitar upside down, but not in the Hendrix way – Battle kept the strings upside down and always tuned down the E-string to make power chords easier to play. This is part of the reason Kerbdog sounded the way they did – heavier than they might otherwise have. You could say having the legendary Jack Endino produce was likely a bit of an influence on the sound as well.
By the time of their second album “On the Turn”, things were indeed beginning to shift. Despite, from my best recollections, being almost darlings of the UK rock press, they don’t seem to have translated that into massive record sales and the second album did not sell well enough. They were dropped, which does not always spell the end, but in Kerbdog’s case, they were unable to get away from Mercury, despite offers to buy out “On the Turn” and bring the band to America. They weren’t helped by the infinitely inferior Placebo, when they as headliners decided to forbid Kerbdog from using the PA at a label showcase gig in Belfast, because they were scared of being completely blown away. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be.
Post-Kerbdog, Battle and drummer Darragh Butler formed Wilt. A bloody good band who released two albums on Mushroom records. Kerbdog reformed a couple of times and the gig I got to around Christmas 2007 in the Village was a sold-out, sweaty old school cracker. Battle continues to work as a DJ on RTE 2FM, while the rest of the band have got on with careers and jobs elsewhere. They still gig occasionally and released a live album in 2014 entitled “Congregation”, which includes the song “Electricity”, a track re-worked from the 1997 demo sessions, with which they were trying to secure a deal.
The story of Kerbdog to date, while not a glorious one, is certainly one with far more success than failure, and one that should engender great pride for those involved. A rock band from small city/town like Kilkenny; suffused with US underground influences alongside metal and grunge; getting signed direct to a major label from their first demos; having a legend produce your debut; featuring all over Kerrang and on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball; releasing acclaimed albums; touring; splitting; then reforming to play to an adoring fanbase, who will never forget them.
There’s few enough with a story that great to tell.
And there’s more to come in 2015 with hopefully some new material and more live shows.