Remembering Dolores O'Riordan: ‘Can you lend me 20 quid and buy me a drink?’
Before they made it big, the late Cranberries singer felt she was drinking in the music industry’s last-chance saloon
“Can you lend me 20 quid and buy me a drink” was the first thing Dolores O’Riordan ever said to me. It was in early 1993 in Fibber Magee’s pub on Parnell Street in Dublin.
She was with her then boyfriend Mike (it’s his voice you hear yodelling at the end of the song Dreams), and was in a dejected state thanks to The Cranberries’ debut album being a flop – plus the two singles off it, Linger and Dreams, had failed to chart.
They were about to be packed off to the US to be the support band on a Suede tour and Dolores felt that, aged 22, she was already drinking in the music industry’s last-chance saloon.
But come autumn of that year there was a fairytale of New York for Dolores and The Cranberries. A high-up MTV producer had come to see Suede in New York but was instead more taken by the opening act, particularly their singer and the song Linger.
He put it on heavy-rotation on the much-watched music station. It became a US top 10 hit and mid-way through the tour The Cranberries replaced Suede as the tour headliners. In November of that year I went out to New York to spend a week with the band. They had a big gig in the city’s Manhattan Center venue and were adding on new shows on a daily basis.
The best time to get a band is on the way up: the smiles are still genuine, there’s no real money yet to argue about and the first flushes of fame are greeted with wide-eye wonder, not jaded indifference.
“Someone on the TV here the other day called me a ‘star’ – I thought they were taking the piss,” Dolores told me when we met up. She dragged me off to a midtown bar and asked the barman to switch the TV over to MTV. “I swear, by the time we’ve finished these drinks, Linger will have come on – it’s gone totally crazy over here for us,” she said.
In Dublin a few months previously she was worried that The Cranberries would be dropped by their record label; in New York the album was sold out in Tower Records. In the US that autumn, their debut album went from silver (250,000 sales) to gold (500,000 sales) to platinum (one million sales) in a matter of months.
The gig that night was jammed, for a band who couldn’t get arrested in Europe. I was mystified by the ticket touts outside the venue. Backstage, Dolores was talking excitedly about how their tour bus had just been upgraded – this new one had “air-conditioning, four fridges and a curtain you could pull all the way around your bunk bed at night-time”.
A few weeks previously Dolores would have slept on overnight journeys by lying across the six legs of the three male Cranberries – “the fellas”, as she always called them.
It was that happy time in a band’s career when the tour manager would come up to tell them that a club gig they were due to play had to be moved to a bigger theatre venue because of ticket demand. The beam that came over Dolores’s face when she was informed that a show in New Mexico had sold out was a joy to see – “We’ve sold out New Mexico,” she shouted with her arms in the air.
There were still at the stage where they could all pile into a bar after the show. The US tour was going right up to Christmas and Dolores took out the itinerary to read out the upcoming Cranberries dates in an exaggerated American accent: “Cleveland, Ohio; Bloomington, Indiana; Jacksonville, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, California. ”
Everything was new and everything was exciting. They were reading about themselves in newspapers, hearing themselves on the radio and seeing themselves on the television. They were already planning for the second album and talking about going on a ski holiday when they got home.
After the bar, Dolores insisted on giving me a guided tour of the new tour bus. She put a beer in my hand and said: “You’re the journalist, what’s the word for the tick the teacher puts at the end of your homework at school when it’s all correct?” A check mark. “Well, that’s how I feel now – that there’s a check mark after my name.”
The tour bus rolled off into the night towards Ohio. She had never been happier.