- 02 Jan 21
Best known for the huge hit, ’Summer in Dublin’, Liam Reilly was one of the pre-eminent songwriters of his generation. His sudden death was conformed by his family in a statement this morning
Hot Press is very sad to learn of the death of Liam Reilly of Bagatelle. Liam was 65 years of age.
The family of the well-known singer and songwriter issued a statement this morning confirming the bad news.
"With sad hearts, the family of Liam Reilly, musician, songwriter and frontman of Bagatelle, wish to confirm that he passed away suddenly but peacefully at his home on January 1st 2021.
"We know that his many friends and countless fans around the world will share in our grief as we mourn his loss, but celebrate the extraordinary talent of the man whose songs meant so much to so many.
"We ask that you respect the family's privacy at this difficult time.”
Originally from Dundalk, Liam Reilly formed Bagatelle, along with Wally McConville, in August 1978. Bassist Ken Doyle and guitarist John O'Brien joined the group and the four-piece quickly emerged as one of Ireland’s brightest pop talents.
They impressed John Woods at Polydor Records, who signed the band and released their first single, an excellent pop song, ’Trump Card’. That did enough to generate momentum, and they went on to release their eponymous debut album in 1980. That contained what became their best-known track, ’Summer in Dublin’, a huge Irish hit that was ubiquitous on radio here at the time.
“I remember that summer in Dublin,” Liam Reilly sang in his distinctive northern Louth voice, “and the Liffey it stank like hell.” It was a line that resonated widely: everyone knew exactly what he was talking about.
The success of the album in Ireland created a platform for an international breakthrough. Bagatelle were signed to Polydor in the UK and released the album Waterfall in 1981. Again it contained at least one classic, in ’Second Violin’ – but the UK proved a more difficult market to crack than anticipated.
“There was a period when it looked like Bagatelle might become global superstars,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes recalls. “There was no question about Liam Reilly’s ability as a songwriter. He wrote really memorable songs with great melodies. And, of course, ’Summer in Dublin’ was one of the most played songs of its era. Indeed you still hear it being played, which is a reflection of the extent to which it had taken a hold in the collective Irish unconscious.
“It is a real shame that Bagatelle didn’t make the leap forward to the next level internationally, as that would have opened up a whole range of new doors for Liam and for the band. But just as success often depends on being in the right place at the right time, it can be all down to timing, or lack of record company support, when things don’t work out. But there was always so much, in what they did achieve, for Liam and Bagatelle to be proud of.”
Leading Irish publisher, Johnny Lappin, managed Liam for a period when he went solo. “Liam was a great friend and a gifted songwriter who will be sadly missed,” Johnny said today.
The Wolfe Tones were among the first to pay tribute to Liam.
"We are very sorry to hear of the passing of Liam Reilly of Bagatelle,” they said in a tweet. "A master songwriter, Streets of New York, Flight of the Earl's, Boston Rose + many more, Condolences to family an friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam…."
The musician Gerry Madigan also paid tribute, giving the background to the initial success of 'Summer in Dublin’ – and their appearance on The Late Late Show, which was the trigger to national acclaim.
"I can recall vividly the day in 1980 when I pitched Bagatelle with their song, 'Summer In Dublin', to Adrian Cronin, producer of RTE's The Late Late Show," Gerry recalled.
"I remember that night in the Green Room as they launched that single on the show – the last show of that current season with Foster and Allen as the other music guest. And the rest is history. The band enjoyed phenomenal success for the next 40 years, and Liam gained global recognition as a songwriter.
"He gave the world such amazing songs, shared his talent generously, and those songs and his music will go on forever – the music never dies."
Later in the 1980s, Liam Reilly left Bagatelle to go solo. In 1990, as a solo artist, he represented Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest with the song, 'Somewhere in Europe’. Again, the cards didn’t quite fall for him as well as they might have. Frustratingly, he came joint-second, alongside the French entry, sung by Joëlle Ursull. Italy claimed victory that night with 'Insieme: 1992' by Toto Cutugno. Victory for Liam might have made all the difference to his longer-term career. But it was not to be.
A prolific writer, Liam Reilly also composed Ireland 1991 Eurovision's entry, 'Could It Be That I'm In Love'. Performed by Kim Jackson, it came tenth in the competition.
Bagatelle reformed first in 1992, when Polydor released The Best of=Bagatelle and Liam Reilly. And again in 2010, when they resumed touring.
Main pic: Liam Reilly, photographed by Ibar Carty, in Enniscorthy Co. Wexford, as a promo for the album, Greatest Hits Liam Reilly, released by Emerald Records in 2000.