Frank Murray: A Final Farewell

The funeral took place yesterday of Frank Murray – the man who began his career as tour manager with Thin Lizzy, and worked with Elton John and The Specials, before managing The Pogues, as well as The Frames, The Lost Brothers and more, in what was a highly distinguished career.

Yesterday, we said goodbye to Frank Murray. The bitter, cold morning of January 3, 2017 reminded people who had been there, of the dark day back in January 1986 when Philip Lynott was taken to his last resting place in St. Fintan’s Cemetery in Sutton. We were frozen to the marrow then, and the dose was repeated yesterday. A bleak wind blew into the faces of those gathered outside the church in Mount Argus, on the south side of Dublin, as they waited for the hearse to arrive. The cold of the earth itself seemed to enter our bones.

I remember Frank Murray talking to Hot Press about the sad journey home that was his to make, with the cask that carried Philip’s body in the hold of the airplane below. It was a desperately emotional time and his words, looking back, captured the heartbreak of it with great eloquence.

Frank knew well that old, rising sense of expectation that he and Philip had shared, as over the years, planes had banked and then descended into Dublin airport. Coming home with your buddies after a period away: it was one of the joys of being involved in a rock ’n’ roll band. You felt the pulse racing, as you looked forward to revisiting old haunts, to hanging out and enjoying good times. The boys are back in town! Joy was in the air as you stepped down from the plane. But in 1986, it was utterly different. Where joy had been, now there was desolation. In one sense, it was the end of the line. There would be other, less bitter days, of course – but back then, there was only a feeling of deep and enduring loss.

Many of the same faces who travelled that day to the church in Howth to pay their final respects to Philo arrived at Mount Argus yesterday. Those who knew Frank from his days on the beat scene in Dublin in the 1960s, and then with Thin Lizzy, looked that much older now. Of course they did: that is in the nature of things. Philomela Lynott, who buried her first son on that hard day, came to pay her last respects to Frank. He had been Philip’s best friend. They had been through so many scrapes together but the bond had remained strong throughout. Her affection for Frank never waned over the years.

Gus Curtis, who had driven Philip in Dublin, London and anywhere else in the world that the services of a driver and personal minder were needed, was there too. He knew how good Frank had been in those tight situations, when a cool head and a diplomatic hand had been needed. “He was the best,” he said quietly, and he meant it.

They came from far and wide to pay tribute. Bob Geldof and Pete Briquette of The Boomtown Rats arrived in from London. Bob talked ruefully about the rock ’n’ roll cull of 2016. There was an underlying sense of trepidation, and the awareness that once you hit a certain kind of age, the old warriors who were friends and comrades start to fall, ever more frequently. Philip Lynott’s wife Caroline also made the journey, along with her husband Dave Taraskevics. She also knew how much Frank had meant to Philip and had remained friends with him across the intervening years.

The comrades from the early days lined up: the great Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey, B.P. Fallon, Brush Shiels, Jim Fitzpatrick, Pat Egan, Liam Teeling, Tom Collins, Pete Cummins, Tim Booth, Eamon Carr, Jim Lockhart, Deirdre McMahon, Philip Donnelly, Trevor Knight, Honor Heffernan, Smiley Bolger, Peter Fallon: to attempt to name them all would be impossible, but these various people, in their different ways, played a part in shaping what we think of now as the music scene in Ireland. They knew Philo and Frank intimately. And the love and affection that they all shared for Frank was evident in the soft words that they spoke and the stories and yarns that were told with a wry smile and an affectionate chuckle. The thing you could never say about Frank is that he played it safe. He was mischievous, charming and great fun and the stories reflected that.

After the Thin Lizzy adventure was done with, Frank found his metier again as manager of The Pogues. Shane MacGowan came to Mount Argus too, along with his partner Victoria Mary Clarke. There are no words to describe just how brutal the past two weeks have been for Shane, who lost his mother Therese in a tragic car accident on New Year’s Day. But it mattered that he was there – at the church, in the crematorium, and in McGrattan’s, where people repaired afterwards to warm their bones beside the turf fire and to engage in a kind of group huddle – to salute the man who had managed The Pogues and who was so central to making them the extraordinary band that they became. In the blur of things, I missed Cáit Ó Riordan, and I didn’t see Terry Woods, though I am sure that he was there.

Most important, of course, on the day, were Frank’s family. The ceremonials in the church and the crematorium, presided over with the right mix of informality and respect by Father Joe Kennedy, were suitably warm and friendly. Frank's brother Pat greeted people from the altar and acted as a kind of master of ceremonies. He wanted the day to be one that would celebrate Frank’s life and his achievements, because that was what his brother himself would have demanded. But there was a deep sadness too, in what he had to say.

“There have been a lot of tears shed and sorrow felt,” he said. And he hit on a theme that was impossible for anyone who knew Frank to miss. “It was so unexpected,” he added. “There were no brotherly goodbyes.” It resonated, that note: no brotherly goodbyes. Instead, there were heartbreaking phone calls and broken hearts. The phrase provoked a shiver of recognition.

Frank’s brother Brian Murray read a lovely reflection, entitled 'Remembering Frank'. And each of his four children – Shannon, Emmet, Dara and Aaron – took to the microphone to pay their individual tributes to their wild and wonderful, proud and loving father. They all saw him for what he was above all: a great and loyal friend, who truly understood the meaning of that word. He was, they said, a confidant and a counsellor, as well as a father. He was someone to whom they all could turn and they did. The love they felt for him was evident in every word.

Shannon’s tribute was especially personal and moving, describing her own indiscretions as a young teenager, when – on occasion – she took advantage of Frank’s escapades. But there was a lovely eloquence to her words that seemed part Frank and part her mother Ferga, who was there – and who, of course, knew Frank in a unique way that no one else ever could or would. She, after all, is the mother of his four children.

“I still can’t grasp how someone so full of love, with huge amounts of energy and such massive zest for life can be gone,” Shannon said and another shudder of recognition was inevitable. We know not the day nor the hour. But, like Pat Murray, she had spoken for the assembly when she hit those blue notes that asked: Why Frank? Why now? Why, why, why, when he had so many ideas and plans and dreams still to fulfil? As someone else said: it was like an explosion. Boom. It’s over. Not fair. Not fair at all. In the end, in moments like this, we have to recognise that nothing really makes any sense. There is life and death. That’s just the way that it is.

Frank’s partner Kay travelled from the United States, and her son Séamus did one of the readings: it was a tough brief that he handled with great strength of character. They too radiated a sense of terrible sadness and loss.

There was something about the day that was lovely, however: it reflected Frank’s understanding of himself as a true blue Dubliner. It wasn’t just the Dublin jersey – from 1976, when the jackeens vanquished Kerry in a historic All Ireland football final – which was brought to the altar among the offerings. As people stepped up to the podium later, in the crematorium, the Dublin spirit of the occasion shone through unmistakably.

Frank came from a salt of the earth community in Walkinstown, but there was a strong sense of poetry and culture there that had seeped into the blood of many with whom Frank grew up. As Shannon noted, it wasn’t just about Dublin for him. “His love for Dublin was immense,” she said, but as anyone who knew him well would also testify, there was more. “He was a hugely proud Irishman,” she added, "full of culture, history and of course politics.” But Dublin, the place where he was born, was at the very heart of it.

The Frames, who were managed by Frank in their Island and ZTT days, were also in attendance. John Carney, a bass-player back then, who has gone on to make some of Ireland’s finest ever movies, walked tall as always. Colm Mac Con Iomaire looked pensive. I thought I recognised Noreen O’Donnell, who sang with the band in the early days, but it has been a long time. Graham Hopkins was off to the left in the church. Glen Hansard brought his guitar and sang, offering a fine and moving rendition of the Shane MacGowan song ‘A Rainy Night In Soho’, from the EP Poguetry In Motion, that seemed wonderfully apt to the moment.

The music that was liberally sprinkled throughout mattered greatly. From the first plaintive notes sounded by Finbar Furey, which started the ceremony, it felt sacramental in its own right. The Lost Brothers, managed by Frank in more recent times, sang ‘Who Could Love You More’. My sister Mary Stokes sang as beautifully and as brilliantly as always on ‘The Foggy Dew’. Pete Cummins, a great mate of Frank’s down all the days, offered ‘All My Tears’. Philip Donnelly was spontaneously invited to sing ‘Drift Away’. Sean Boylan performed ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Nearer My God To Thee’. And Phelim Drew, son of the great Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners, and a fine singer in his own right as well as an actor of renown, closed proceedings in the church with ‘The Parting Glass’.

Frank was, of course, involved in the film business too, having executive produced the movie Come On Eileen, among other projects. To my left in the church were producer Noel Pearson and actor Stephen Rea. Just in front of me was James Morris of Windmill Pictures. Aidan Gillen – who straddles the same cultural divides as did Frank – seemed wounded. Kate O’Toole paid her respects. Patrick Bergin read a poem by Dylan Thomas at the crematorium. Jim Sheridan hung with Gavin Friday. Guggi looked as lean as always.

It was a day, then, when different strands of Irish culture and Irish life came together in a collective statement of deep admiration for a fellow spirit, who has been taken from us. Eamonn McCann travelled down from Derry to say his goodbyes, along with his partner Goretti Horgan. Bronagh Gallagher, originally from Derry, but now based in London, was her usual self-deprecating self. Romy Needham flew in from Bradford because she too shared the sense of loss. Pat Savage of OJK in London shared stories and smiled. They really did come from far and wide. As was only fitting.

Finally, everyone had to find their own right time to leave. There never really is a right time, of course. You stay and talk and if you have a plane to catch, then that rules. Frank knew what it was like only too well, having to get recalcitrant troops to the airport on time. There was some of that yesterday. But that they had come and been there and paid tribute was what really mattered.

As they left, people carried the memories of all that had gone before with them, off in hundreds of different directions. And they carried too, in their hearts, that sense that we get only on rare occasions: that this is our tribe and that whatever does happen – whatever terrible fate befalls those we love and those who are close to us – we should consider ourselves lucky to have been, and to be, part of that tribe and to have shared in its friendship, its fellowship, its warmth and its love.

We said our goodbyes and then went home and tried to sleep. But we thought of Frank.

Pic: Frank Murray (centre) with The Lost Brothers


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