"POLICHINELLE," the Prayer Boat's Atlantic Records debut and first? ever U.S. release, is a collection of exquisitely crafted songs, marked by the Irish band's evocative acoustic-based musical backdrops and songwriter Emmett Tinley's astonishing vocals. Clear and pure and true, Tinley's urgent tenor is a magnificently resonant instrument, a voice which sends shivers up the spine and sweeps the heart away on such evocative and enigmatic songs as "Dead Flowers" or the incandescent title track. Already hailed in America as 2000's "Album of the Year" by Billboard's Larry Flick, "POLICHINELLE" is a true gem, a brilliantly multi-faceted work which already has the feel of something timeless.
Based in the town of Blessington, County Wicklow, just 20 miles out of Dublin, brothers Emmett and Patrick Tinley first convened the Prayer Boat in 1987, inspired by American songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, as well as the intensely contemplative Glaswegian group, the Blue Nile. In 1991, the band released their debut album, "OCEANIC FEELING;" but soon parted ways with their label. From there, the Prayer Boat embarked on a stormy eight year journey through Music Industry Hell before finally reaching port at Atlantic.
"It was very difficult being together for that long and making what we thought was good music and not getting any appreciation for it," Emmett Tinley says. "So we took some time, to travel a bit, to try and be independent, to see what it was like to just be responsible for yourself."
While his band mates went about their lives, Tinley set out for New York in 1997 to showcase the Prayer Boat, but by the next year, he had returned to Dublin with a number of newly-penned songs and plans for making the record that would be "POLICHINELLE."
The Prayer Boat spent the Winter of 1998 ensconced in a Dublin studio recording "POLICHINELLE." That spring, the quartet travelled to Austin, Texas where they performed at the annual South By Southwest hoedown, a gig that got the group some long-warranted attention in the U.S. With the financial support of an American major label, Tinley spent early 1999 in Los Angeles, woodshedding future Prayer Boat recordings. Alas, the anticipated deal eventually fell through, and the group continued on without a U.S. record contract.
Meanwhile, "POLICHINELLE" was garnering rave reviews from the notoriously hard-to-please U.K. music press. "The perfect record for heartbroken insomniacs," raved Q, declaring the album "sweetly melancholic and rather sublime." NME declared the record to be "quite stunning," while Melody Maker cited the tracks "It Hurts To Lose You" and "In My Arms Again" as "rich heartbreakers" in a 4 star (out of 5) review. As Tinley's work drew long? overdue praise, the songwriter felt his travelling jones acting up again and in early 2000, he set out for Denmark.
"I started working with some jazz musicians just for fun," Tinley says, "to try and do something completely different for myself. Then I moved to Amsterdam with the idea of making a new Prayer Boat album with very little money. I was only there three weeks, and then I got the call from Atlantic."
Which, at long last, brings us to 'POLICHINELLE." Recorded in Dublin in 1998, the album shows a band at the peak of their powers, creating music of extraordinary majesty and heart-rending melancholy. Songs such as the finely etched "It Hurts To Lose You" or the elegiac "Saved" evince a purity and intimacy which belie their writer's nearly-decade long struggle with the business ends of being part of a band.
"It was a difficult time," Tinley says, "but I just got on with it, going through several relationships and just being an ordinary person. I didn't write about industry politics or the music business or those kind of difficulties; I did very ordinary things and wrote about those experiences.
"I think there's an awful lot of hope in the record;" he adds. "I don't talk about being miserable ? I talk about what comes after feeling miserable."
As for the album's title, "POLICHINELLE" is derived from 'Pulcinella,' the famous buffoon of the Italian commedia dell'arte. As the character spread throughout European theatre in the mid-Seventeenth Century, the name morphed into the French 'Polichinelle,' as well as the English 'Punch.' Over the years, Tinley points out, the word has also picked up several other meanings.
"In France," he explains, "'the Secret of Polichinelle means 'an open secret; something that everybody pretends they don't know, but they all know it. It has a number of meanings, but mostly I think it's just a very beautiful word."
Even with the many ebbs and flows of their career, the Prayer Boat's achingly confessional music has found devotees around the world, as proven by both rave reviews in the international press, as well as the passionate emails Tinley receives from points all over the globe.
"There's not thousands of them," Tinley says with a smile, "but they certainly keep you going. That people are discovering your music in the most bizarre ways, like backpacking around Australia and hearing it in a youth hostel or something. It's great, because when people write to us, they really pour out their hearts about how much our music means to them."
Key to the Prayer Boat's power is Tinley's expansive and emotional vocal stylings. As a songwriter, he crafts his lyrics and melodies to blend in such a way that maximum effect is gained from both his voice and the band's delicately hewn music.
"This came across to me from playing in places like Spain," Tinley says, "where they don't understand English but they love what you're doing. What you're saying comes through the sound of your voice, not just the words that you're making."
Tinley, along with fellow Dublin-based tunesmiths like David Gray and Paddy Casey, has long been waiting for his poignant and sparse brand of music to find a larger audience. With the stunning "POLICHINELLE," the Prayer Boat's subtle yet unforgettable songs will likely come into fashion at long last.
"In Dublin there are a lot of bands that play in a similar style to us, or write in the same way," Tinley says, "and we'd all hang out together and say 'We think the times are changing; or 'Our time is coming around.' I recall saying that at least three times in the 90's, and it never came around, so I don't think too much about it anymore.
"But of course this is a big opportunity for us," he continues, "our first-ever commercial release in America, and it's going to be a slow ascent. I know its going to be tough, but that's why I've been chilling out, taking it easy. Now I'm well rested and ready to get out there."
The Prayer Boat from Blessington in County Wicklow released really good singles like 'Dark Green', with an album to follow later this year. They've got new management, a record deal and are ready to take on the world again.
Formed in 1987, The Prayer Boat derived their name from an Indian festival where millions of people burn incense and candles on small reed boats (prayer boats) and float them down the River Ganges at night, carrying their wishes and prayers. The band sent a demo away to RCA in 1989 and were signed up by the end of that year. They recorded their debut album, "Oceanic Feeling" in 1990, which was released the following year to almost universal acclaim and very little commercial success.
The all-too-familiar story almost ran its course. Band parts company with record label, never to see the lights of stage again. But no, not The Prayer Boat. Once again proving that Irish bands are made of stern stuff, the four lads packed their bags, moved to Glasgow and licked their wounds for three years before re-emerging as a brighter, fresher outfit with a renewed will to succeed.
They signed a new deal in November 1994 with Almo Sounds, the new independent label formed by A&M founders Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss.
Dick Meaney who produced, engineered and mixed the 'Bury This Thing' EP, was also one of the engineers on My Bloody Valentine's ground-breaking 'Loveless' album. With work completed on the video for 'Dark Green', the single was released in England in early July 1995, followed by some tour dates in London. The band are currently recording their second album, which they hope to complete by next month. They fill in the blanks in a hectic summer schedule with Irish tour dates and an appearance in the acoustic tent at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995.
The first thing that strikes you on hearing music from The Prayer Boat is a voice that send a shiver down your spine but a warm glow to your soul. Emmett Tinley is a truly gifted singer with an astonishing vocal range. It gives The Prayer Boat sound a certain uniqueness complimented with beautifully crafted songs that make that’ connection the listener - the opportunity to immerse yourself in music.
Dark Green was the first independent single released by the band in late 1995 - a chart hit and subsequently in the critics ‘Top 20 Singles of the Year’ in the national music paper Hot Press. This was followed in summer 1996 by another single Saved, another chart hit which won them the 2TV/Coca Cola ‘Best Unsigned Irish Band’ Award and a nomination for the industry ‘IRMA’ Awards. In fact both songs were voted single of the week in Hot Press.
The band decided to make 1997 and experimental year where they would constantly write, record and play new songs to an ever-increasing and loyal audience in Ireland while at the same time make plans for an album that would introduce them to North America. 1998 brings us the fruits of their labours in the form of ‘Polichinelle’. Recorded in Dublin and London by Dick Meaney (My Bloody Valentine, Beth Orton) more than delivers on the promise shown by The Prayer Boat. Songs such as ‘Soon The Stars Will Steer Me’, ‘In My Arms Again’ and ‘Dead Flowers’ are beautifully augmented with the sound of the grand piano and a 12-piece string ensemble that reveal the true magic of The Prayer Boat. ‘Polichinelle’ will delight the current fan base and help the band carve its niche in the record collections of true fans of music.