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The rock of pages
From soul boy to singer/songwriter to author - Johnny Duhan tells his tale.
Peter Murphy, 06 Dec 2001
Despite being most commonly associated with Limerick ’60s soul act Granny’s Intentions, Johnny Duhan has also carved out a niche for himself as a songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by the likes of Mary Black, Mary Coughlan and Christy Moore. However, this month sees the fruits of Duhan’s labours in prose, specifically, his memoir There Is A Time.
“I tried to do it back in 1980 and I found it really difficult,” he admits. “I kind of poured out my soul for about a year, one draft. I gave it to two friends to read, one suggested I try to get it published, the other suggested tearing it up. In fact I’d written something before that, a short little novella. Neil Jordan read the manuscript and he told me to put it in a bottom drawer with the other one!”
Duhan can laugh about it now, but his story makes for a lesson in tenacity. Stephen King watched four of his novels go into the trash before getting a sniff of a book deal.
“If I weigh that against all the songs I wrote before I wrote any ones that I could sing without blushing, that took me years altogether,” he continues. “I started when I was about 17, and I’d say I was 27 before I wrote the first one that I knew had any kind of value.”
One thing springs to mind when reading There Is A Time: Granny’s Intentions were an Irish soul band playing the clubs of Dublin – it’s hard not to think of a short-trousered Roddy Doyle taking notes.
“I wonder was he into the band?” Duhan says. “I saw The Commitments and I think it’s a very good caricature of what the whole business is like. How he actually tuned into it I don’t know, but he captured something there.”
More coincidences: at the end of Doyle’s book, the band switch allegiances from soul to country-rock, a carbon copy of the Grannies’ strategy at the end of the ’60s. Whatever the genre, Johnny Duhan never achieved the pop stardom for which he was groomed, but he didn’t become a has-been either.
“That’s it,” he says. “I think most people hopefully have forgotten the early years. For me, the Grannies making the big time in England, I wouldn’t have been able to come out from underneath something like that.”