Monday 22 May 2023

Inishowen Peninsula and Memories of a Rathmines Landlady

 Pierce Turner and I used to share a flat in an old town house in Rathmines, Dublin. Once very upscale, the area had fallen on hard times and was disparagingly known as Culchieland.


On a recent visit I found Rathmines had more or less reverted to its original patrician state. Our house at 15 Belgrave Square, once a warren of rooms teeming with refugees from Wexford, Kerry, and Kiltimagh was once again a one-family home.


I wondered what had become of the communal bathroom, dominated by a large gas meter into which you inserted shillings in the foreboding presence of the landlady, before taking your allotted weekly bath. Let me hasten to assure all prudes that this virtuous senior citizen departed before one disrobed.


All gone now, even our local, the Hideaway Pub, where my friends and I murdered copious pints of foaming Smithwicks.


Our set was entirely composed of bogmen, though we did tolerate a number of nihilistic young ladies who risked reputation and much else by associating with us.


We were a rambunctious crowd and banned from many establishments, though we were far from aggressive. The only one who had ever engaged in fisticuffs was my brother, Jimmy, who had his nose rearranged in an argument with a rickshaw driver in Singapore during his short-lived nautical career. 


He resides in Breezy Point now, and as far as I can gather is more than welcome in all saloons on that sedate, gated Rockaway community.


Lest I digress further, I’m writing this particular column because I had a eureka moment in bed one recent morning. I might add that the moment, such as it was, had nothing to do with my ex-landlady who supervised the heating of my bathwater back in Rathmines.


It did, however, pertain to a song written by Mr. Turner and myself in those heady days of the early 70’s.

This lost classic was called Inishowen Peninsula and was inspired by a gig Pierce did in Culdaff while a member of the Arrows Showband – remember showbands? You played “six nights and every Sunday” as Brush Shields once declared, which at a wage of 30 pounds per week came out to roughly 4 quid a gig.


No wonder we emigrated and hit the big time at Durty Nelly’s on Kingsbridge Road and the Bells of Hell in Greenwich Village.


Turner and I could recall the melody of Inishowen Peninsula – even the chords - but the words escaped us.


Hence, the recent eureka moment! I bolted up in bed, heart pounding, the fog of half a century and the damage done by thousands of pints had dissipated; I was suddenly back in Rathmines gazing at Turner, his long brown hair cascading down his shoulders as we recorded the song into a gleaming new Grundig tape recorder.


I sprinted to my laptop as the forgotten words poured forth. Acres of undisturbed memory seemed to be available at my fingertips? Would this be a whole new beginning or might I die of shame? 


Alas it was but a fleeting moment, but Turner & Kirwan of Wexford, once described as “the hottest thing since Cain and Abel,” may do a reunion gig in New York City in 2024 to support the re-release of our meisterwork, Absolutely & Completely. 


In the meantime, here’s to Culdaff, Rathmines, spinster landladies who oversaw weekly baths, and all the things young emigrants leave behind.


On the Inishowen Peninsula

There is a man who doesn’t know who I am

Or how I plan to go there on my honeymoon

With the sun of June

And Paulie’s collie doggie who we normally call Moon

Will come soon,

Will come thatchers

In from the pastures

On a sunny kind of winter’s day


I saw him stroll across the bog

Separating fog and calling out the name of his dog

Who must be soggy and so wet

Where have our souls met

On a sunny kind of winter’s day


Birds sing in the treetops on a sunny kind of winter’s day

And life was so priceless before he went away


He fell off the edge of Ireland so the papers say

Someone saw a something floating out to sea

Or could it be he in Culdaff

Who’ll have the last laugh

On a sunny kind of winter’s day


Birds sing in the treetops on a sunny kind of winter’s day

And life was so priceless before he went away...

Saturday 6 May 2023

Linked Forever Rory and Phil

They are often linked together by nationality, era, and musical intensity, yet it would be hard to think of two personalities less alike than Rory Gallagher and Phil Lynott.

Rory was shy and retiring, and often seemed uncomfortable even at parties thrown in his honor.

That’s how I first met him in Dublin.  I was a teenage fan and could barely believe he was standing 20 feet away from me.

I could tell he was checking me out too, which was mindboggling as in those days I was at least as shy as he was.

He walked hesitantly towards me and inquired in his gentle Cork accent if I was driving home that night.  When my jaw dropped he realized he had the wrong person.

Almost stuttering, he informed me that I looked like someone from Cork City, and he had been hoping I might give him a lift home.

And with that he was gone, off to bum a lift from someone else, leaving me with the notion that I should steal a car, drive him to Cork, and to hell with the consequences.

I was much more familiar with Phil Lynott, but then so was everyone who lived in Dublin in the early 1970’s.

Phil was the most charismatic person I’ve ever met, and perhaps the most ambulatory, for he always seemed to be walking, this mixed-race, handsome young man with the Crumlin accent that could rip paint off the walls.

Everyone on the music scene shared his ups and down: we rejoiced when he was hired by Skid Row and despaired when he was fired soon thereafter. I was on chatting acquaintance with him for years, which didn’t make me special, because Philo would have talked to the wall - and probably did.

You’ve no idea of the impact Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey in the Jar had on Irish youth. That wonderful trio of Phil on bass, Eric Bell on guitar, and Brian Downey on drums, shook the living daylights out of the old traditional song, ripped up BBC’s Top of the Pops, and changed Ireland forever.

Rory made it big before Lizzy, of course, and had already been hailed by Hendrix as the greatest living guitarist. But Rory didn’t give a fiddler’s about stardom. He would have been thrilled to be called the greatest Delta Bluesman; but that wasn’t likely unless he’d have settled for the River Lee Delta.

Rory had made his own pact with the devil, much like the great Robert Johnston 50 years earlier at a Mississippi crossroads.

And it showed! When he hit the stage it was probably the closest I’ve experienced to real religion; the man from Cork, by way of Ballyshannon, had that rare power to make you feel totally alive, out of your head, and spiritually uplifted, all at the same time.

Mr. Lynott’s elixir was of a different kind. He too believed in the redemptive power of rock ‘n’ roll, but he was also totally aware of everything going on around him. Let one of his players drop the intensity for a millisecond and you could hear him berating the offender over the din. Phil demanded 120%, and for the most part he got it.

I never totally bought into the Thin Lizzy dual-guitar playing spectacle, it always seemed a bit contrived, and though Gary Moore was a six-string wizard, nothing compared to the raw Irish passion of the early Phil/Eric/Brian trio.

How did it all fall apart? That comes with the intensity of the music game – you have to live it to totally understand the pressure. Booze is always free, substances are rarely far behind, and prescribed medications complicate everything.

You’re living life at hyper-speed, often far from home, and though there’s always company and acclaim, you can be achingly lonely and stretched to the limit.

Rory lived longer than Phil, but he began drinking later in life.  So many years have passed but I wish they were both alive and garnering some of the joy they still give the rest of us.

Still, they left behind a tremendous musical legacy, and right now I could use a shot of Whiskey in the Jar followed by a chaser of Messin’ With The Kid.

Turn the volume up to 11 and take a taste yourself!