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Once and for all

Colm Mac Con Iomaire has never held his best buddy's Oscar. Nor has he even seen it. But before anybody falls under the assumption that Glen Hansard keeps his very own gold statuette locked away in a guarded safe, you should know that there's a more reasonable explanation as to why some of his band mates might never have set eyes on the thing: his ma has it.

Oh well. Maybe one day, the Irish violinist will pay her a visit and see what the fuss is all about. Until then, we've more important matters to discuss. Like The Frames' first official gig in three years, at next month's Electric Picnic. Or the fact that it's now 20 years since the band first got their groove on and began recording debut album Another Love Song. Six records later, a little project called The Swell Season kind of got in the way of things, but as Colm explains from his home studio in County Wexford, it's finally time to start playing some "loud dirty rock music again". Yippee.

"It's kind of been a parallel universe that we've morphed into, you know, just flying under a different flag for the intervening time," he tells me, discussing he and the rest of the gang's involvement in Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's The Swell Season. Indeed, what started out as a duo soon transformed into another band -- albeit one featuring all five members of The Frames.

For a while there, the stars of John Carney's runaway indie hit Once (the low-budget Irish movie that led to Glen and Marketa's 2008 Academy Award Win for Best Original Song) were romantically involved, too -- a fact that could very well have led to the rest of the band wondering if they were about to experience their very own Yoko Ono moment.

"We've been together a long time," says Colm. "I think to have any future or have any kind of stake in a band, everybody needs to be a volunteer as opposed to a conscript. I think Glen had been kind of pretty miserable and unhappy in The Frames for the preceding year or two before he did The Swell Season thing anyway -- he needed to go off and get his solo project out of his system and it just happened to grow legs with the Oscar win and everything so, I mean, at the time it was a case of 'okay, so this is just for a few months' and then the whole Hollywood thing took over so, here we are, three years later, kind of going, 'oh, well that was a strange trip!'"

I see. Is it not a little unusual that it took a departure from his usual surroundings for Glen to achieve the kind of international recognition that he would have once (sorry) only dreamed of?


"Sure, there's definitely huge irony there," says Colm, "but hand on heart, after 20 years having success and good times, or bad times, with The Frames, I think everybody just felt joyous for Glen.

"We'll do a tour in November in Europe and America as The Frames," he continues, "and I think, after that, it'll be clear -- pretty clear -- what the next step is as regards either go into the studio, you know, make another record, or say 'good luck, see yas lads, it's been great, thanks for the memories.'"

Hmm, so what he's saying is that the next few months will be a test to see if there is still life left in the band?

"Well, it's not so much that it's a test," he replies, "but I think it will be pretty clear, you know, we're all looking forward to it, but I don't think any of us have any illusions as regards . . . I don't think we're all kind of going 'oh, this has to work', or anything like that."

Meanwhile the success of The Swell Season has seen the band play some of the biggest shows of their lives over the past couple of years, though tragedy struck last week when a man committed suicide at a gig in California, landing only a couple of feet away from Hansard after climbing his way onto the roof of the stage and jumping to his death.

Continuing on with the tour the following night, the band issued a statement expressing their sadness and shock, adding: "We wish to continue to be sensitive to family and friends of this individual . . . we continue to have them at the forefront of our minds and hearts."

The Frames play their first official gig in three years at next month's Electric Picnic in Stradbally. Tickets are on sale now