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The Sultans of Ping 'It was a crazy sight to behold - every gig was exciting'

Paul McDermott traces the musical journey of Cork band The Sultans of Ping.

THE SULTANS OF Ping are best remembered for Where’s Me Jumper?, their 1992 debut single. This surreal blast of indie guitar-pop kick-started a recording career that saw the Cork band release three albums and tour the world until originally disbanding in 1997.

You Talk Too Much, the band’s fourth single, reached No 26 in the UK Official Singles Chart 30 years ago this month. The history books will record that chart placing as the commercial highlight of their recorded career, but for their legion of loyal fans The Sultans of Ping were, and continue to be, a band that just have to be witnessed live.

In my radio documentary, Dancing in the Disco – The Story of The Sultans of Ping, the band explain that they always considered themselves first and foremost a live act.

I was lucky enough to witness some of their earliest gigs in Cork. Whenever they performed their song Turnip Fish, hundreds of fans would fall to the floor, kicking their legs in the air. It was a crazy sight to behold, every gig was exciting and the Sultans were gaining in confidence before our very eyes.

As a young band, their first ambition was to move from pub gigs in Cork to playing in the famed Leeside venue Sir Henry’s.

“Obviously the idea was to somehow make it to Henry’s,” says Pat O’Connell the band’s guitarist. “If we could possibly do that, it just seemed to be an unobtainable goal.”

That goal was achieved when the Sultans got a gig supporting one of the best Irish bands of the period.

“Des Blair, a local promoter, got the Sultans to support The Golden Horde who pulled a big crowd in Cork at the time,” remembers Morty McCarthy, The Sultans of Ping’s drummer.

The Sultans probably added 200 people to the crowd, Des was smart enough to realise that every time the Horde were in town, he should book the Sultans as support.

Golden Horde

Screenshot 2014-07-28 16.04.48

The Sultans honed their live act playing with The Golden Horde around the country.

“They took us under their wing a little bit. We were coming from the same place in a lot of ways,” says singer Niall O’Flaherty. “We wanted to be punk band, a rock ‘n’ roll band, at points a surf band, they ticked all those boxes. We were just lucky to have mentors like that. They were a great act to open for.”

O’Connell remembers those early gigs with the Horde: “It was a real event; they were people who loved paying live. They had great stage presence. We loved playing with them and that’s when you see proper bands probably for the first time and really start to enjoy being around them, even speaking with them was a big deal for us.”

Years later when the Sultans wanted to bring a second guitarist into the band, it seemed obvious to them who to approach – The Golden Horde’s Sammy Steiger.

“Sammy joined and really beefed up the sound, his influence on the sound of the band was immense,” recalls Morty. “We all idolised The Golden Horde and suddenly we had the guitarist of The Golden Horde in the band.”

‘We were in disbelief’

Another band that The Sultans of Ping idolised was the Ramones. In 1996 the Ramones’ final tour reached Europe and the legendary New Yorkers requested that The Sultans of Ping support them.

“We were in disbelief, Johnny Ramone standing at the side of the stage every night watching us,” says Morty.

Their crowds were fanatical. I have never seen anything like it.

“I remember in Italy, the first night we played – before we even played a note, the boos and the coins being thrown at us.

“I had to buy a pair of swimming goggles because there was so many coins hitting the cymbals, I feared for my eyes. Gerry Breen, our roadie, used to collect all the coins after we finished and we made a pretty sum each night.”

“The Ramones were complimentary, they liked what we were doing and that meant a lot,” says Niall. “It was fantastic meeting and hanging out with them a little bit. But there were some tough audiences. We did a good show in London, but Italy was rather tough going. A coin coming at you at speed is not a pleasant thing.”

The Sultans of Ping broke up in 1997 but were persuaded to reform in 2005. Since then they get together once or twice a year to play a gig and like their heroes, The Golden Horde and the Ramones before them, always put on an incredible live show.

The Sultans of Ping will soon return to their hometown to perform two huge gigs in the city’s prestigious Cork Opera House.

The faithful will attend – whether they fall to the floor for ‘Turnip Fish’ remains to be seen.

Dancing in the Disco – The Story of The Sultans of Ping will be broadcast on RTÉ 2XM on Monday 6 February at 6pm and repeated on Saturday 11 February at 3pm. 

The Sultans of Ping play Cork Opera House on 10 February and 11 February in celebration of the 30th anniversary of their debut album Casual Sex in the Cineplex. To Here Knows When – Great Irish Albums Revisited, Paul McDermott’s podcast, is available here.

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