- 20 Nov 23
Tributes to the well-known manager, producer and entrepreneur are pouring in from across the music industry
It is with great sadness that Hot Press has learned that John Dunford, long-time manager of and mentor to Sharon Shannon, has died. A key member of the Irish music scene since the 1970s, John began working with Sharon in the late 1980s and had guided her career ever since.
Originally hailing from Castlebar before moving to Dublin, John was heavily involved in music from a young age – performing with the La Salle group. Early in his career, he worked as a sound man to Irish folk and rock groups like the later Planxty, Clannad, Moving Hearts, De Dannan and In Tua Nua. Working with In Tua Nua, he got to know Steve Wickham, who played violin with the Howth-based folk rock outfit. When Wickham hooked up with Mike Scott, to work on The Waterboys' Fisherman’s Blues album, he introduced John Dunford to the set-up – and the rest is history.
John worked first as a live engineer with the band, doing his debut Waterboys’ show in Germany, in the summer of 1986. Over the next four years, he went on to work in various roles with the band, including live engineer, production manager, location scout, studio co-ordinator and co-producer. Among his most important contributions was finding Spiddal House, where so many classic recordings by The Waterboys took place.
John was a co-producer of Fisherman’s Blues, and features on the album's iconic cover. During the recording process, a local man – who was employed as a cook during the sessions – famously entered the house intoxicated, armed with a shotgun. John stepped in and tackled him to the ground.
“I missed most of it,” Mike Scott later told Hot Press. “I was in the studio recording ‘Spring Comes To Spiddal’, cheerfully oblivious. All I knew was, when I came out, there had been this big fracas. There was Dunford and your man, squirming.”
'Dunford's Fancy', a tune by Steve Wickham which features on Fisherman's Blues, was named after John's brother, the late Steve Dunford – a well-known author and local historian, and a founding member of the group General Humbert, alongside Mary Black.
John also made a major contribution to Too Close to Heaven – the album of out-takes from the Fisherman’s Blues sessions, released in 2001.
He brought Mike Scott to see Sharon Shannon at a gig in The Purty Loft in Dun Laoghaire – following which she was invited to join The Waterboys. Mike Scott subsequently guested on Sharon Shannon’s debut album, released in 1991 – a record which was a huge success.
John masterminded her career over the following 30 years setting up a recording studio and establishing publishing interests as well as running the Hummingbird label, set up with Donal Lunny. Hummingbird were involved in releasing albums by John Spillane, Sinead O’Connor, De Dannan, Donal Lunny’s Mozaic and The Monks of Glanstal, among others, as well as Bringing It All Back Home – the album of the ground-breaking TV series.
In later years, John was also involved in teaching and lecturing – and was a fervent fisherman.
Following the death of John's brother Steve in 2021, John and his family joined forces to record a moving musical tribute, General Dunford: Songs for Steve. Listen to John singing 'The Big Strong Man' below:
“John Dunford made a huge contribution to Irish music,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said. “He was great fun, which meant that it was always a pleasure to shoot the breeze with him. But beyond that he was a real music man, who fell in love with folk and traditional music in particular – and lived his life immersed in it.
"He was hugely important to The Waterboys' Fisherman’s Blues, which remains one of the greatest Irish records of all time – and indeed to that whole, marvellous, rambunctious phase of Mike Scott’s career. And he also made a lasting contribution by guiding Sharon Shannon’s career with such passion and commitment. John will be missed hugely by people across the industry."
John is survived by his wife Hilly, and his daughters Becky, Hannah, Katy and Emily.
Numerous tributes have been shared from across the music industry, following news of John's death on Saturday.
In a social media post announcing the sad news, Sharon Shannon stated: "We are all heartbroken."
"Our great friend (my friend and manager for the last 35 years) John Dunford was diagnosed with lung cancer only 2 months ago and it advanced really quickly," she wrote. "He went into Hospice last Monday and he slipped away peaceful Saturday morning surrounded by his loving family."
The Waterboys' Mike Scott described John as a "mighty sound man, crew boss, travel companion, counsellor, fixer, co-producer, Irish trad music guide, partner-in-mischief, head, magic-seer and friend."
Travel onward well John Dunford, mighty sound man, crew boss, travel companion, counsellor, fixer, co-producer, Irish trad music guide, partner-in-mischief, head, magic-seer and friend. You will be missed. pic.twitter.com/vKkAV1MrH8
— Mike Scott (@MickPuck) November 20, 2023
The Connaught Telegraph shared a video of Mary Black dedicating her performance of 'No Frontiers' to John during her set at the Royal Theatre in Castlebar over the weekend.
"I'm sad and shocked to hear of John Dunford's untimely passing," Finbar Furey remarked. "He leaves behind him great memories for many people, me certainly included. Condolences to all his family and friends. Our thoughts are with you."
Iconic Dublin venue Whelan's also paid tribute:
"So saddened at the sudden passing of our friend John Dunford," the venue stated online. "...what a character, so full of life and enthusiasm. We learned so much from him over the years, and were honoured to have known him. He will be sadly missed. Our deepest condolences to all John's family and friends and also to Sharon and the band."
Renowned Irish illustrator Annie West remembered John as "one of the soundest fellas you'd ever be lucky to meet" – sharing a behind-the-scenes image from a Waterboys photoshoot.
One of the soundest fellas you'd ever be lucky to meet. John Dunford
My favourite photo of John, holding on to Sharon and propping Steve up with his head for this @WaterboysMusic photo pic.twitter.com/dSFS6k6u0H
— Annie West (@anniewestdotcom) November 19, 2023
Sligo singer-songwriter Jerome Taheny also took to social media to thank John "for the music and craic."
Japanese writer and music journalist Tadd Igarashi shared his memories of John's visits to Japan over the years with Sharon.
"I came to know him when John was here with Donal Lunny’s Coolfin (w/ special guest Sharon) 2nd Japan tour in 1997," he wrote online. "I accompanied them for a part of the tour and had a great time. He was always kind to me. This pic shows John gave all seats to musicians and other crew and slept himself on the bus floor. Rest in peace, John. Deepest condolences to the Dunford family and his friends. And love and hug to Sharon."
- Film And TV
- 06 Dec 23