The shock death of Gary Moore at 58 has left a huge void in Irish music. Here, one of his oldest collaborators discusses their wasted youth in Dublin and friendships that lasted a lifetime.
Sometime around 1968 I am in The Bailey, Dublin’s trendiest bar. I become aware of this skinny boy from Belfast sitting by my side, dark hair falling over his eyes. He is nervous, shy and a bit twitchy, his left hand making shapes on an invisible guitar, a brown corduroy coat too tight across the shoulders. Philip says: “This is Gary, man, our new guitar player. He needs a place to crash.”
So Gary moved into the house I shared with Ivan and Mary in Sandymount for what became the very best of days, even though money and the times were tight. I was playing in Dr. Strangely Strange, and we rehearsed in the house. When Gary was not out and about working, he would augment our ensemble, sometimes on guitar, other times mandolin or fiddle, even banjo. He could play very passable bluegrass on any of these. He once brought a sitar back. There was no pinnning us down. We’d be off down to Slattery’s basement of a Sunday night for a spot of poetry and, er, music, with or without the aid of fashionable pharma.
There were drugs. A lot of cannabis and a touch or two of Dr. Leary’s fabled turn-on. This was preferable, we knew, to the nasty speedy pills Gary favoured when first we met. There were also laughs, rib-shifting and profound, especially when Tim Goulding came by, and inevitably when we played music all together. Strangelies were in and out a lot, off on tour in England or on the continent, loading the plastic-wrapped Harmonium onto the roof of Tim G’s worthy mustard yellow Renault 4, the PA and sundries in a trailer, towed behind. So it was easy for Gary and myself to take our guitars and boogie down to Slattery’s, there to perform a guest spot. On one particular day I had ingested a healthy whack of lysergic and this came upon me as we took the stage. It made for an interesting set. Gary towed me along in the wake of his guitar and the audience were none the wiser. Gary, however, sussed me. All it took was for him to look me in the eye. The gig was in the basement of the pub, down a narrow firetrap stairs, at the bottom of which a broom cupboard fitted flush with the beauty-boarded wall. When we made our exit, I heard Gary’s voice: “Let’s take the lift man...” He took hold of my arm.
“Lift...? Em... Gar... I don’t think there’s a...”
“Come on, man, course there is.” And he ushered me into the cupboard pulling the door onto interesting lavander fragrent darkness. “Bulb seems to have gone. What floor, man? Going up... Ladies lingerie... Household... Haberdashery... and... the roof garden!” Sweeping the door open onto the dingy basement again, where the last stragglers were leaving, I thought it fabulous, in the true sense of the word, that a roof garden could be below ground like this and so very, very like the basement.
We made it back to Sandymount, on that and many other occasions. When the time came for us to record our second album, which we called Heavy Petting, we had worked out arrangements with Gary, and so it could all be put down fairly quickly in the fabled Eamonn Andrews studio, by day the Television Club on Harcourt Street, by night a bog standard Irish ballroom. Dave Mattacks, Fairport Convention’s drummer, flew in for the sessions. He and Gary seemed to us to know each other from some other universe we were not privilege to, playing together as if they had always done so. The results still speak clear and sharp across the years.
Other times Gary would arrive with some new album he was into. Or, because he had a phenomenal memory, he would take his guitar and play us something he thought we ought to know about, perhaps a new Zappa offering. He could not only do all the guitar parts but the voices as well and remember all the stage announcements. Laughter would split the seams of the house.
One day there came a knock on the front door, insistent and officious. I opened it to find a tall, well-set and groomed man, hair a curly Brylcreamed wave, sporting a fawn camel hair coat with a black velvet collar. Gary’s dad, down from Belfast to check on his errant son. Looking at Gary’s recent photos, I can see the father in the son...
Things moved on. We left Sandymount and Gary moved to England and eventually joined, left and joined again, Thin Lizzy. The Stranglies split up and we all went our separate ways. We met up every year or so to do another gig... or two... or whatever was deemed cool. We followed Gary’s exploits in and on the media. When, in 1980, I received Arts Council and Film Board funding to make an animated film, the Stranglies recombusted briefly and recorded the soundtrack. Frank Murray persuaded Gary that he might become involved, which he did, overdubbing the tracks in London, enhancing our music yet again. And all he wanted was a credit on the end-title for his record company.
His generosity reasserted itself in 1996 when we put our own money up and recorded another album back in Ballyvourney. He flew over from London and laid down his usual mind-boggling guitar on three tracks. The laughter and sheer joy of being all together once more was just the best drug. And again he would not accept a fee, saying we could not have afforded him anyway – which was true. It was better he do it for nothing.
There were other times across the years: his kindness and interest in my son’s band after they had performed a slightly shakey set in Whelan’s, which Gary had insisted on attending. And after the gig, he bought them pints and talked intensely to these young lads about music. And that band is still together.
Doris and I were living at that time in Dundrum, where she ran a super-efficient ironing service. One of her customers was Mark, who owned the local chemist. I had taken lots of photos of our recording session in Ballyvourney. I took these to Mark to have the rolls developed. I had been shooting with available light, trusting the exposure metre, but it was glitched, so next to nothing got onto the film. But Mark, a pretty decent guitar player himself, recognised Gary from the ghosted image, and expressed his admiration. So, when Gary came by the house a little later, Doris asked Gary if – as a great favour – he would deliver Mark’s recently ironed shirts down to the chemist shop. He loved the notion and did so, walking into the shop unannounced, the goods held out before him, straight-armed in rustling plastic: “Your ironing, Sir.” Gary got as much fun and joy from this simple act of generosity as did the recipient, and once Mark had got over his surprise, the two talked that intense music talk, Gary signing a CD Mark happened to have in his car.
And there were many other times – laughter and music fused by Gary’s love of both.
But for now, imagine a great spindle in among the stars of heaven, a huge rotating driveshaft, lathing at the heart of the cosmos, everything known orbiting around this central gearing, galaxies spiraling out and away, star systems revolving, space and time peeling out around the revolving core. And there is music playing, mind-altering celestial riffs to illustrate and illuminate the turning of this, the greatest wheel. Gary Moore knew this music, this life-sustaining calm in the centre of things, and could reach out and capture it. He had the sublime ability to bring it down to earth to decode it, lay it out in apriori sequences for us lesser mortals to hear, understand, marvel at and appreciate.
Thank you, Gary.
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