Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Aidan and George - Cousins Finally United

Aidan Ffrench died a few weeks back. In his day he was a well-known figure around County Wexford.

He had a beautiful voice and was lead singer of the Visitors Showband. I wouldn’t say I rocked out to him, as big ballads were his forte; but if Aidan was no rocker he had rock hard credentials. For he was a cousin of George Harrison’s and, in music mad Wexford, this was second only to being related to John F. Kennedy or John XXIII.

Up until the 1920’s Wexford had a bi-weekly shipping connection with Liverpool and George’s grandmother, a Miss Ffrench, apparently availed of it to seek her fortune Merseyside. Had she not, I suppose, there would have been no Beatles.

When the Fab Four struck it big Aidan dropped a line to his cousin offering to forward some tapes. George never replied. Perhaps that’s why I can’t recall Aidan ever tackling a Beatles song, though I’m convinced he could have done a first class version of “Something.”

Ah well, now that they’re both playing in the big orchestra in the sky, no doubt George can give a good excuse for his lack of etiquette.

Whenever I play The Beatles on SiriusXM I always call them “the greatest Irish band.”

This often occasions letters from Anglophiles – a pity about them! For both Lennon and McCartney have deep Irish connections and, with a name like Starkey, it’s hard to imagine that Ringo hasn’t a bit of Paddy in him too.

Indeed many people consider Liverpool to be the “capital of Ireland,” since so many Merseysiders have Irish roots. Not surprising, I suppose since Liverpool is so close to Dublin in both miles and attitude. But the real reason is that the ‘Pool was the main point of embarkation for the US.

Thus, during the Potato Famine most Irish had to travel to Liverpool before taking the boat to America. Many ran out of money or were too ill to go any further, while at the same time the Industrial Revolution was taking hold and there was much need of cheap labor in Lancashire. America’s loss was Liverpool’s gain.

What an amazing band The Beatles were! We sometimes forget that their recording career stretched barely more than seven years. Think of the sheer output and the efficiency of their genius.

They completed their first album in two four-hour sessions and still had time to take the van home and do a late night show at The Cavern. The key to their success, apart from having three top-shelf songwriters, is that they were an amazing live band.
However, they were just another group of young R&B aficionados until they went to Hamburg in 1961. They stayed many months playing six sets a night, seven nights a week; it worked, for on their return they blew everyone away Merseyside.

None of them went to college, in fact only Paul graduated high school, and yet they had something that cannot be taught in a classroom – a total belief in themselves. As John Lennon once put it, “we knew we were the best, everything else was easy.”

Nor could any of them read music – although Paul learned later in life – consequently they didn’t know the rules, but they sure as hell rewrote them. Take a look at the wonderfully innovative chordal structures of their songs.

McCartney recently attributed their success to the fact that they were the first Post-War British generation not to undergo the mandatory two years of national service – “they never got a chance to shape us,” he claimed.

There was a lot of shaping back in Wexford. You were reminded over and over of all the things you couldn’t be, and that failure was inevitable; if you disagreed you were considered “too big for your boots.”

Aidan Ffrench died largely unknown. Had he grown up in Liverpool, could he have become as famous as his cousin? We’ll never know but maybe he’s singing “Something” right now while George’s guitar gently weeps – cousins finally united!

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