They're the best Irish band in decades and now they’re in the running for a Grammy Award on Sunday night. Alan Corr looks at the irresistible rise of Fontaines D.C.

"We had no idea that we were in the running for a nomination. I was in my flat and our manager had come over to visit. He was sat on this couch across from me and he just goes, 'What the f***?!’ - which is usually a bad sign with him.

"He came over to me but didn’t turn the phone round or tell me what it was. He loves suspense, it took 10 minutes to get it out of him, and he goes, ‘You’ve just been nominated for a f***in’ Grammy!’."

That was Fontaines D.C. frontman Grian Chatten speaking to US entertainment bible Variety a few days ago. Anyone who has seen the 26-year-old singer live and feral on stage or in one of the band’s supremely inventive videos will know that he does cool very well.

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With a blank Ian Curtis stare that seems to gaze into your very soul, he’s a front man with an insolence but a vulnerability that captures his band’s appeal. But even the laconic Chatten must have been blown away that his band, formed only four years ago, were up for one of the biggest awards in the music industry.

On Sunday night they find themselves in the running for a Grammy gong for Best Rock Album for their second LP, A Hero’s Death, in a category that also includes The Strokes, Sturgill Simpson, Michael Kiwanuka and Grace Potter.

Fontaines D.C.: "We went from hungover to euphoria."

If Fontaines, who hail from Dublin, Mayo, Monaghan and Spain, win - and they certainly deserve to - it won’t hurt their record sales but as one of their early songs goes, they may prove too real for the stuffed shirts of the Recording Academy, the secretive cabal who dish out those dinky golden gramophones.

Win or not, these ragged twenty-somethings have become rock’s new princes in very short order. 

They've had the kind of rapid rise last witnessed when The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, and U2 exploded onto the scene - and like the young U2, Fontaines articulate youthful confusion and an enraged sorrow as Dublin - and in particular their beloved Liberties - is torn down (again) and turned into a soulless mini-metropolis of glass and steel. If old Dublin is dying - Fontaines are keeping it alive.

Old Dublin is dying - Fontaines are keeping it alive

Named after Johnny Fontaine, the burnt-out lounge lizard singer portrayed by Al Martino in The Godfather, the band formed in 2017 while they were students at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute in Dublin’s historic Liberties.

With an attention to detail and a suss for self-mythologising, Chatten, Carlos O'Connell (guitar), Conor Curley (guitar), Conor Deegan III (bass), and Tom Coll (drums), seemed to will themselves into existence with a heady mix of romanticism and pure bloody-mindedness.

Rock and ceol: The Irish at the Grammys

Alchemising a Behan meets MacGowan swagger with a love for James Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh and the Beat poets, their early singles sounded like The Dubliners covering The Clash and the band were a gobby rebuke to some of Ireland’s more careerist acts.

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Their debut album, Dogrel, a gloriously slapdash salvo of post-punk poetry, was both a critical and commercial hit, featuring instant anthems like Big, Boys in a Better Land, and Television Screen, a song indebted to their late seventies Dublin forebears The Radiators from Space.

What you need to know about this year's Grammy awards

2020's follow-up album, A Hero’s Death, delivered just a year after that celebrated debut, more than proved that Fontaines were no one-off. It went to Number 2 on the Irish and UK charts and scored well in the Billboard charts in the US.

It's a cavernous and doomy affair that journeys through a (stout) glass darkly from the blunt punk of Dogrel and the band have openly discussed the emotional toll they endured after relentless touring and hard living on the road.

These ragged twenty-somethings have become rock's new princes in very short order. Photo credit: Richard Dumas

Speaking to RTÉ Entertainment last year, Carlos O’Connell said, "The fun we can last year was quite self-destructive. It started as fun but then you get into a vicious cycle of not feeling anything. You go from a hangover to euphoria and being absolutely numb and you do that every day on and on . . . "

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Alan Corr previews this year's Grammys on the Dave Fanning show

That Grammy nomination is well-deserved but the competition for the award is fierce. A resurgent Strokes, nominated for the first time, delivered their best album in yonks with the aptly titled The New Abnormal, Sturgill Simpson’s Sound & Fury is a stonker, and both Kiwanuka’s self-titled third album and Potter’s Daylight are both great records.

Speaking about Fontaines D.C.'s Grammy nod in that Variety interview, guitarist O’Connell said, "It was the biggest kind of shock of good news that I’d ever experienced.

"I think it’s an amazing achievement, for the music to travel that far, to the ears of the people who decide on Dua Lipa and Harry Styles and Billie Eilish that, ‘Oh, that band from Ireland should be on there too.’"