It was 20 years ago today… How Sir Henry’s came to rock Homelands Ireland 2000
The second (and final) Homelands Ireland took place 20 years ago today, on 29 April 2000, with a lineup bursting with some of the biggest names in dance music – Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox, Darren Emerson, David Holmes, Richie Hawtin et al – as well as Primal Scream, Ian Brown and a smattering of Irish talent.
Where the first Homelands Ireland was an epiphany moment for Irish club culture, the second, held seven months later at the same venue – Mosney Holiday Centre in Co. Meath – helped light the touchpaper for a new era of Irish festivals.
Over the coming years, Creamfields, Oxegen, Godskitchen, Witnness, Electric Picnic and many others picked up where Homelands left off, as dance music stormed into the mainstream.
But Homelands Ireland 2000 was also notable for its regional element; as well as boasting arenas hosted by Lush in Portrush, Belfast’s Shine and Dublin’s RedBox, the festival also paid tribute to arguably the country’s finest nightspot throughout much of the 90s, Sir Henry’s in Cork.
Helmed by main room residents Greg Dowling and Shane Johnson, aka Fish Go Deep (with Steve Grainger, aka Stevie G, rocking the back room), SWEAT at Sir Henry’s spanned the period from the acid house wave to the dawn of commercial clubland, coming to an end in 2001, before the club itself closed in 2003.
Thus, the presence of a Sir Henry’s arena at Homelands Ireland – the first and last time the South Main Street venue would be acknowledged at a major festival – was a fitting tribute to its influence on Irish dance culture. And for those that were there, it was unmistakably one of the festival’s highlights.
909originals caught up with Shane, Greg and Stevie to talk about how it all came together.
Shane Johnson: “We weren’t a particularly obvious pick for the festival. Musically, we were a little bit off to the side of the main stuff that was going on there. But you could see that the organisers were trying to be as inclusive as possible, and feature as many different parts of the Irish scene that they could.”
Stevie G: “It was a big deal for us. I had been played at the first Homelands, but this was a big one, because we always knew we had a really good club, which was acknowledged by all the promoters around the country. Getting it on a festival lineup gave it a bit of extra kudos.”
Shane Johnson: “When we started in Henry’s it wasn’t an exclusively house night – we didn’t have enough house records to play a full four hours! So from the beginning it was quite bold, musically.
“The original template for SWEAT was quite varied, from hip hop to uptempo dance, to disco, and then obviously to house and techno. The guests we had at Homelands really summed up the ethos of the club, I think.”
In terms of putting together the lineup, which featured Boo Williams, Joe Claussell, Erik Rug and Matthew Herbert, not to mention the hardworking residents, Greg and Shane were largely given free reign, and set to work crafting an itinerary that would best reflect the vibe of the Cork club.
Greg Dowling: “They really left it up to us to put the lineup together. We stood out at the festival, because we were quite different to everything else that was there. Everything else was a bit more banging, and there were a broader set of acts than at the first Homelands, with the likes of Primal Scream and Leftfield there.
“We had the likes of Boo Williams and Herbert playing for us before, and therefore the lineup was a strange conglomeration of all the best of Sir Henry’s wrapped into one. A typical night could go from the strange electronic stuff that Herbert was playing to the garage that Joe Claussel played, which was a bit more jacking.
“That was really the way we wanted it, we were selecting the vibe that would reflect what Henry’s was about.
“Kerri Chandler was actually on the lineup at one stage, but back then it was very difficult to pin him down. I don’t know if that was to do with his management, but I remember we had booked him once or twice before and something had happened. We knew him well though, I think Henry’s was one of the first places that he played outside of London when he came to Europe first.”
Shane Johnson: “We had an indoor arena which suited us better than having a tent, because it was a more intimate vibe. It was a decent sized room too, you would have maybe fitted 1,000 or 1,200 people in it. I’m not sure what the numbers were in the end, but it was very busy.”
Of course, as was to be expected, a considerable contingent from Cork also made their way up to Mosney for a ‘big day out’.
Greg Dowling: “There were loads of people from Cork there. I presume the idea behind having the Sir Henry’s arena and the Lush and Shine arenas was that you would get support from different crews from all around the country.
“John Reynolds was the kind of guy that would have taken that ‘whole country’ view, rather than just looking at what was happening in Dublin.”
Stevie G: “A massive crowd came up from Cork for it. With any festival either back then or today, you always have a big gang from Cork, another gang from Galway, another gang from Waterford.
“Being from Cork you have that thing were we are the ‘centre of the world’, and Henry’s probably was the best club in Ireland for a time. But overall, we knew that the best festivals tended to happen elsewhere in the country.
“That was one of the great things about Homelands; the likes of Herbert and Joe and Erik Rug would have played at Henry’s multiple times during the 90s, and would have known us well, and the club well. You would go for dinner with them, maybe have a few smokes after with them; there were really strong relationships there.
“That personal relationship meant that they really understood the vibe that we were creating and the sound that we were creating with the arena at Homelands.”
With the lineup complete, it was time for those at the controls to man the ones and twos… with or without a good night’s sleep behind them.
Stevie G: “I was playing in HQ the night before, which is now The Academy. I had a residency there. We were staying up in Portmarnock and I think I got back from the club at about four or five in the morning, and I could hardly sleep a wink. I was down to play the first slot, which I think was at one in the afternoon, and I was wrecked.
“I was usually the guy that started off at these sort of festivals, as the music I was playing wasn’t really seen as ‘main room’ music – I think I was seen at the time that if you were on pills, you couldn’t dance to hip hop. So I did the warm-up slot, and I remember it was the first time I had used a rotary mixer. They are fine for house music, less so for hip hop – but it didn’t matter.”
Shane Johnson: “I think the day went better than expected – at six in the evening, I remember, the place was fairly full, and you had a blend of styles, from reggae to house to techno. I think that set the scene for the whole night.”
As the festival took place on the Saturday before a bank holiday, the temptation for all involved was to make a weekend of it, and thus they did – with an epic follow up on the Sunday, featuring Joe Claussell and the exhausted, but happy, residents.
Shane Johnson: “We had an epic night on Sunday. We were all a bit tired and it was a long trip back to Cork – I think we got sidetracked a few times and took the scenic route – but we had a brilliant night in Henry’s after that.
“Obviously you had a lot of people who have travelled up from Cork for the festival, and then lots of people who weren’t able to go to it, so it was pretty much a full house. Joe Clausell played an incredible set and finished the weekend off beautifully.”
Stevie G: “I remember Joe played The End by The Doors at one point, and everyone was blown away by it, it was a very trippy experience.”
As for the legacy of Homelands Ireland 2000, it was clear that the event, and its predecessor, marked a turning of the page of sorts – things weren’t quite the same afterwards.
Shane Johnson: “I think Homelands was groundbreaking, not just because it was a dance festival, but it was a festival for contemporary music. Looking back on it, it was quite a landmark.”
Stevie G: “This was dance music’s ‘coming of age’ moment in Ireland. Five years previously, some of the commentary about dane music was so negative – it was seen as dirty, or drug ridden, but then it became part of the mainstream. Homelands marked the point of change, for better or worse.
“It was one of the things that signalled the end of the ‘underground’ dance culture in Ireland, but it was also a kind of ‘pat on the back’ for those in attendance, thanking them for loving the scene for all these years and watching it grow. For showing that the underground culture had a stronger resonance than people might have believed.”
And in terms of Sweat at Sir Henry’s, it too would only have another 18 or so months of longevity, wrapping up in November 2001, enabling Greg and Shane to focus on production, as well as performing at venues further afield than Cork city centre.
Greg Dowling: “We were at Sir Henry’s from 1988 to 2001, and when we finished with it, we felt we had done our bit – every Saturday night for 13 years. You couldn’t even imagine that these days.”
Shane Johnson: “We finished Sweat in November 2001. The owners had been running the place down a bit and not putting any of the money back into the building. We got to the point where we had been there a long time and we weren’t particularly happy with how the place was being run, so we said ‘OK, that’s enough for us. There’s other things we can do.’
“At the time, we had started putting out music as well, as producers, and we were travelling a bit more. So it was a logical time to finish it, and start the second half of our careers.”
Thanks to Greg, Shane and Stevie for sharing their memories of Homelands Ireland 2000, and to Shane and Stevie for the pictures. If you have any memories from the day, please share them in the comments below. Thanks!