Steve Wall, lead singer of The Stunning, spoke to David Hennessy to talk about 30 years since the band’s iconic debut album, his new career as an actor and the rough times his family endured after his three-year-old niece was killed in a crash.
Known for tracks like Brewing up a Storm, Galway band The Stunning are one of Ireland’s best loved bands.
Formed in 1987 by brothers Steve and Joe Wall, they are known for their strong live performances and have always maintained a cult following selling well over 100,000 albums in Ireland alone.
To mark the 30th anniversary of chart-topping debut Paradise In The Picturehouse, the band have reissued it as a vinyl LP, along with a book revealing the stories behind the songs.
Frontman Steve Wall admits he never expected the album to have the lasting effect it would have on people.
Steve told The Irish World: “Thirty years ago, I would not have thought for one minute that we would be still playing those songs and that people would want to hear them.
“I don’t know where thirty years has gone, I really don’t.
“The album still sounds quite fresh.
“I suppose it’s a testament to the music at the end of the day.
“People still enjoy it.”
You could say that by releasing Paradise in the Picture House, The Stunning provided much of the soundtrack to Ireland’s 1990. And Ireland had a great 1990.
It was the year that Ireland made it all the way to the quarter-finals of Italia ’90, their first World Cup.
It would also see Mary Robinson elected Ireland’s first female president.
The summer of celebration would climax with the iconic Féile music festival at Semple Stadium, Thurles, where 60,000 fans made the trip to Tipperary for the first time.
“That was actually quite a big year because there was Italia ‘90 of course, and the country was slowly coming out of the dreary ‘80s.
“Then you also had the very first Féile, which was the first festival for teenagers really that had ever happened in Ireland.”
With their album not even on sale when the festival acts were booked, the Galway band were given an early afternoon slot.
By the time the event would roll around, their album would be number one in Ireland. It would stay there for five weeks. Still, they played in the afternoon with the crowds coming out early especially to see them.
“You’ll never see the likes of that again.
“Everything happened on one stage, it was sort of like the Colosseum.
“I remember saying that to somebody before, that it was akin to walking out into the Colosseum with the baying crowd of wild unruly fans: They could destroy you or they could absolutely love you.
“It was just this heaving throng and there was a steam rising above the crowd from the heat.
“It was this steam of condensation just hovering.
“It was their own weather system inside that stadium, there was clouds hovering over them and it was just their own sweat.”
The band had won fans by touring the small towns of Ireland, packing out halls on the back of hits such as Got To Get Away, Half Past Two, Romeo’s On Fire and their best-loved song, Brewing Up A Storm.
“Unlike a lot of Irish bands who started in Dublin, we started on the opposite side of the country. We started in Galway, and we worked our way towards Dublin.
“But on the way we sort of conquered everything in our path, so by the time we got to Dublin, we had a huge following from all the counties.
“I think we did our first gig in Dublin, a three week residency at the Baggot Inn. They were sold out and it was mostly young people from the country who were working in Dublin.
“We were their band because we would play in their town.
“I think people really took The Stunning to heart because we played anywhere.
“Even years later people still say to us, ‘I remember when you played in Ballycotton…’
“And they were really proud that a rock and roll band doing well, that had been on the Late Late or whatever would come and play in their town.
“I think that’s really, really stood to us and we developed a really loyal audience.
“We became the soundtrack to the lives of a lot of people in the early 90s.
“It was a great thing because it has lasted, They are coming to see us now and they’re bringing their kids.”
While they were the people’s band, The Stunning encountered some ‘snobbery’ from the music press in Dublin when they first emerged.
“Yeah, the music press, I remember there was a little bit of snobbery.
“There was a little bit of condescension there.
“I remember one reviewer kind of described us as basically a bar band, an over-rated bar band.
“We didn’t care. In the end, we ended up having the biggest following of all in Dublin. They took us to heart as well. Dublin audiences have been amazing to us.”
The band’s second album Once Around the World went straight into the number one spot and that year they headlined the Féile festival at midnight, going on after Bryan Adams to a crowd of approximately 40,000 people.
They would also open for Bob Dylan and Red Hot Chili Peppers and tour with names like U2 and Crowded House.
The band broke up in 1994 with brothers Steve and Joe Wall forming The Walls and releasing three acclaimed albums between 2000 and 2012.
It was during that time that the brothers relocated to London, living in Camden for roughly two years.
Although Steve says he enjoyed the city and the anonymity it afforded him, he missed the community of musicians that he knew in Ireland.
“At the time, I found it difficult.
“We had signed to Columbia Records as The Walls.
“They insisted that we moved to London, the record label.
“The record label would ask us every couple of weeks, ‘So have you formed a band?’
“It’s very difficult to move to a city where you don’t know anybody, because most bands form from people that have maybe grown up together.
“So we probably would have been better off if we had fought that a bit more, stayed in Ireland because we had a network of musicians that we knew over the years. We would have been able to put a band together no problem.
“In London, we kind of struggled.
“I did like it. Don’t get me wrong, I actually did like London.
“One thing that I really enjoyed was the anonymity of it.
“Because we were coming from Galway at that point where we were really well known. I mean, you couldn’t walk down the street without being stopped to chat with somebody every five minutes.
“You kind of felt that everybody knew you, ‘There’s your man, the singer’.
“So you’re kind of categorized in a way.
“It was very refreshing living in London not being known actually.
“I enjoyed the anonymity part of it.”
The Stunning would reunite in 2003 and release their first original single since 1993 Brighten up my Life in 2017.
In 2018 Twice Around the World was the band’s first studio album in 26 years.
The last decade has seen Steve launching another career. Since he acted in Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy, he has appeared inTop of Form Vikings, Ridley Scott’s Raised by Wolves and The Witcher.Bottom of Form
He also recently played a central role in RTE’s The South Westerlies, alongside Patrick Bergin and Orla Brady.
When the Irish World chat to him, he has just finished working on BBC’s The English alongside Emily Blunt, Ciaran Hinds and Stephen Rea.
However, this was less of a new departure than many would think and more Steve returning to an old passion.
“Before I started The Stunning, that’s what I wanted to do.
“I spent a couple of years with Druid Theatre Company and I absolutely loved.
“I wanted to pursue acting, moved to Dublin to do that, but I was unemployed for over a year.
“This was pre- internet days. It was very hard to find out about things if you weren’t in the clique, you know?
“So I got frustrated, put an ad in the Hot Press magazine, started the band and then it was just music after that. But I went back to it.
“It was around 2010, I just started doing acting lessons.
“I actually met a woman that worked in the Druid Theatre while I was there and she said, ‘Why did you ever give up acting? I really thought you had something. Why did you give it up?’
“With the band as well, people started doing different things. Joe got a job teaching in Dublin, I turned out to be the only one that didn’t have anything else.
“So I decided, ‘Well, maybe I will.
She told me about a four day workshop and I joined up. I was the oldest one there, they were all in their 20s. But I absolutely loved it and kept it up and kept going to the workshops and the course for the best part of two years.
“Then I did my first audition which was for Moone Boy, and I got that.
“And I put work into it. I really focused on reading books on how to act and that kind of thing, watch loads of interviews with other actors, everyone from Robert De Niro to Robert Duvall and all those amazing actors. And you do pick up things from people.
“So it just kind of went from strength to strength.
“I just spent the whole summer in Spain working with Emily Blunt, Stephen Rea and Ciaran Hinds on a six part miniseries western that will be out this time next year.
“I grew up watching westerns on TV. Westerns were a big thing when I was a kid.
“Every Saturday afternoon, there would be a western on television and I used to watch them with my grandfather, and my brother. I absolutely loved them.
“I did have to pinch myself when I was there with my cowboy boots and chaps and stetson hat. I had a Winchester in one hand, a six shooter on my belt, on a horse strutting down an outback town.
“I thought, ‘I’m living the dream here. This is a proper Western’.”
It all started with playing a prodigal uncle in Chris O’Dowd’s Sky series in which his character, claiming to be a roadie for U2, hilariously described how the Edge made Bono carry amps.
Was this an in-joke between the two bands who have often shared a bill? “I made up all that myself. That wasn’t scripted.
“And Chris loved it because we had opened for you U2 so I just thought I’d have a bit of a laugh there.”
U2 invited The Walls to support them at Slane in 2001.
“How we got that gig was The Walls had put out their first album Hi-Lo in 2000.
“We sent copies to them. U2 were touring in America.
“Through a mutual friend, we sent some copies of the album but we put in a little letter basically saying, ‘Hope the tour is going well, lads’.
“In the note we said, ‘Very careful, mind your back when you’re hauling the gear in and out of the van and up the stairs into the venue.
“Like they were at our level, we were still doing that.
“So I suppose I was kind of tapping into that joke in a way by saying that, you know, ‘The Edges is the clever one, he makes Bono carry all the amps’.
“I did see The Edge since actually.
“I said something like, ‘The Edge carries my plectrums’.
“So I got I got a picture of me with The Edge and him holding up my plectrums and I sent it to Chris O’Dowd.”
Steve Wall told us that the family are still healing after the tragic death of his three-year-old niece Estlin after a car crash in 2017.
The horrific incident, in which a truck driver was later convicted of careless driving, has also left Estlin’s dad, Steve’s brother Vincent, with life-changing injuries.
“It was a really rough few years.
“My brother and his wife will never get over it. It’s something that will never go away, the loss of a child.
“I suppose everything they went through with the trial- Well, there wasn’t really a trial because the person responsible pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of careless driving.
“It kind of added to the hurt to see how somebody that drove so recklessly and can cause the death of a little girl and my brother has a brain injury after it as well.
“It was just a horrible time. I think now that it’s all over, my brother and his wife have had another baby since, I think now it’s just about the healing and continuing to remember Estlin as we talk about her.
“She always gets mentioned. People don’t move on. You don’t move on and leave somebody behind, you move on and you carry it with you and you learn how to deal with it.
“It was a rough time. That was March 2017, and the following January our mum passed away as well.
“She was a broken woman. She loved that little girl so much. She was with her all the time, she minded her nearly every day.
“My brother would drop her in and they had an amazing relationship.
“My mother just died of a broken heart really. It was just a hellish time.”
Steve would like to see something done to ensure it is not repeated.
“I just think the roads are dangerous. I mean that road between Ennis and Ennistymon is very dangerous.
“I just think there’s very little being done by the council to improve that road.
“There should be compulsory purchase orders put in to widen it.
“It needs to be done. It’s a busy road. It’s very dangerous.
“I do believe on those two lane national roads, trucks should not be allowed to overtake.
“If you’re stuck behind a bus or something- as this trucker was- you do not attempt to overtake it.
“A massive truck with huge rocks the size of cars on the back of it- There should just be a law that on no account on a road like that can you overtake in a vehicle that size.
“That’s what I would like to see now, call it Estlin’s Law.”
The reissue of Paradise in the Picture House and the accompanying book are out now through Dirtbag Records.
For more information, click here.