The Prayer Boat is an Irish folk/indie band formed in 1987 in Blessington, Co. Wicklow. Its name is derived from the name of a Hindu religious festival which takes place every year on the banks of the river Ganges. At the event, thousands of people burn incense and candles on small reed boats and float them down the river at night, the boats carrying their wishes and prayers.
After a short period of playing in local bars and clubs, The Prayer Boat had attracted a cult following in Dublin and two years of touring in Ireland culminated in the release of the band's first single Beautiful History on their own label, Stem Records. The band began sending demo tapes to various record companies and eventually signed to RCA in 1989. The Prayer Boat made festival appearances across Europe and toured with bands such as The Pogues before releasing their debut album, Oceanic Feeling. The album received high praise and commendation from music journals but unfortunately sales were meagre.
However, the band were determined to keep trying, and they moved to Glasgow in 1994, signing a deal with a new independent record label, Almo Sounds. They released two EPs, Bury This Thing and Dark Green, following this by tour dates in London, and an appearance in the acoustic tent at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival.
Dark Green became a chart hit and also featured in the Top 20 Singles of the Year in the national music paper Hot Press. This was followed in 1996 by another single Saved, which also entered the charts and it looked as though the success for which The Prayer Boat had worked so hard was on the horizon when Almo Sounds folded.
Frontman Emmett Tinley, realising that the quartet had probably gone as far as it was going to go in England and Ireland, decided to try to generate some interest in The Prayer Boat in America, and rather than take the whole band over there, he went to New York City himself in 1997 and performed some solo gigs. The following year, he returned to Ireland with a number of newly written songs which resulted in the making of the band's second album, Polichinelle. That spring, the band travelled to Austin, Texas where they performed at the annual South by Southwest festival, a gig that got the group some long-deserved attention in the United States. With the financial support of an American major record label, Tinley spent part of 1999 in Los Angeles, but alas, the long hoped-for record deal failed to materialise.
Emmett had signed a contract with Sony in the United States but the record company wanted him to remove some of the songs from Polichinelle and add more 'commercial' sounding tracks, which he was not prepared to do. Such faith and self-belief do credit to Tinley in an industry where unfortunately these qualities are often not rewarded. Sony, however, refused to release the album without the changes they had suggested and so another chance of possible stardom went awry.
However, Emmett Tinley was not a man to give up, and after much perseverance, The Prayer Boat finally released Polichinelle with Setanta Records in 1999 in the UK and with Atlantic Records in 2001 in the United States. It is this album which both critics and fans of The Prayer Boat think best represents the unique music of the band. Reviews from music journals were almost universally favourable, with critics particularly praising the beauty of Tinley's voice. Setanta Records said that 'Emmett could sing a nursery rhyme and make you cry', Billboard magazine remarked that 'Tinley is a masterful composer with a lilting tenor voice that is reminiscent of Fran Healy of Travis' and Hot Press said, 'Emmett Tinley'[s]... soaring vocals at times seem to be not of this world'.
The album Polichinelle as a whole was highly acclaimed by music journals. Top magazine said that it was 'Absolutely incandescent' and 'So consistently beautiful it could be displayed in a shop window'; NME described it as 'quite stunning' and Billboard voted it as its album of the year, saying that, 'this gorgeous set of intimate, meticulously crafted pop tunes was among the best albums to come across our desk this year.'
Emmett says of the album, 'Polichinelle doesn't pretend to be anything other than the loneliness and the urgency, the despair and the excitement of someone trying to run through life.'
As Tinley has now embarked upon a solo career, releasing his first album, Attic Faith in 2005, and only occasionally sees the other members of The Prayer Boat (with the exception of his brother Patrick) it remains doubtful whether the band will play together in the near future. However, this has never been ruled out.Emmett Tinley – vocals, guitars, piano, hammond organ & keyboards
Patrick Tinley – electric & acoustic guitars
Tony Byrne – bass guitar
Tim Houlihan – drums
Oceanic Feeling - 1991 / BMG/RCA
Polichinelle - 1998 / Invisible Records /1999 Setanta/2001 Atlantic
"Beautiful History" - 1989 / Stem Records / Single
The Upside Down EP - 1990 / BMG/RCA / EP
Dark Green - 1995 / Almo Sounds / EP
Bury This Thing - 1995 / Almo Sounds / EP
"Saved" - 1996 / Invisible Records / Single
"Slow Down" - 1999 / Invisible Records / Single