- 24 Jan 11
In the name of the father. Our columnist’s requiem for a remarkable man.
My dear old dad died on New Year’s Eve. Peacefully, in his sleep, aged 90, at home. There isn’t a much better way to go.
I don’t want to write about his life as my father, that’s too raw, too soon. But it has become crystal clear to me that his was a life of two parts. He married at the age of 42, and I followed the year after; so the only man I knew was the devoted family man. But I always had a hint of his trendy bachelor days; the last remnant of which was his black Triumph TR3 convertible sports car with spoked wheels that I still remember as a boy. It made way for a rather staid family saloon car soon enough, and that was the end of that chapter of his life.
It is fitting to mark the passing of the younger Harry Moore here, a man who, had Hot Press been around in the forties and fifties, would most likely have featured in these pages. He most certainly would have advertised here. He was a manager of a big band, in the jazz/swing era; he was a dance club promoter, an events manager, and he ran ballroom dancing competitions. He was a technological entrepreneur, selling the latest radios, televisions, hi-fi systems, and recording equipment, in Dawson Street, from 1943 (where Harry’s Bar is now, named after him). In the early 1950s, he had a small factory making Paris anti-interference ariels, which were designed to look like picture frames, and enabled clear reception for all makes of radio. He also installed the first cable TV system to Ireland at the Iveagh Flats in Dublin.
Early on, he used to run dances in the Olympic Ballroom off Camden Street on Sundays. His method of promotion was certainly original: he had a lad cycle up and down O’Connell Street with a gramophone attached to the bicycle, blaring out the tunes the band would be playing. The guards put a stop to it, apparently: “public nuisance” or some such rubbish.
He won an award for dancing the Jitterbug, an energetic swing dance. For the life of me, I cannot imagine my dad dancing anything remotely more energetic than a muted shuffle across the dancefloor with my mother; but, after the war, the Jitterbug came to Europe with the G.I.s, and became a wildly popular dance craze – “a combination of charleston, lindy hop and truckin’” whose origins lay in the jazz clubs of Harlem.
He managed a band, the Neil Kearns All Star Orchestra, which toured Ireland and the North of England. One photo of them shows a sixteen-piece orchestra with a singer, although the band varied in size over the years, and they also had a residency at the Gresham. There are photos of huge billboards over theatres, dance halls and clubs, proclaiming their presence; their logo was a shamrock with the letters NK emblazoned over it.
The sad thing is, now, that precise details are scant. It wasn’t for the want of asking my father. But when I was young, it never really occurred to me to write down his stories. And, over the past ten years, when I began to insist on trying to get the facts from him, it was as if he knew why I was asking, and he clammed up, feigning forgetfulness. At other times, he’d be in full flow with stories, but only when he was in the mood. As soon as I’d take out a pen and paper, he’d change the subject.
It does make me wonder about how history is recorded, the small histories of our lives. You are part of history now. Of those of you reading this, I imagine a fair few of you are trying to promote your music or your clubs or your dance nights, perhaps seeing yourselves at the cutting edge of what’s fashionable, culturally and musically. Just as my dad was, in his time. What happens if, 50 years from now, your son or daughter or grandchild is trying to piece together the life you are living now, trying to trace the music you loved?
Perhaps, as my father was moving into his first home with my mother, a one-bedroomed flat in Ballsbridge, he decided that that big cardboard box, with all the flyers and contracts and ads and clippings from his life as a musical impresario, wasn’t going to travel with him. It’s a shame.
But are things any different now? Will facebook or Google help that amateur historian, in 2061, track down what you are doing now, find all those tagged photos and Tweets and links to news articles mentioning your band, your music, your dances? There are, already, sad instances of archiving endeavours in the digital age, going badly wrong – music transferred from vinyl to CD’s are now vulnerable, because the plastic used in early CD’s has degraded.
I hope that the world wide web is future-proof, that as we are going along, we don’t find new ways of networking, in this great hive mind of ours, that make our current ways of communicating obsolete. Facebook won’t last. It can’t – nothing does. Look at CompuServe, its predecessor, which offered email, chat, and web services back in the early eighties – I had an account there, and only twenty five years later, everything I ever put out there has gone without a trace.
His passing also makes me wonder about the issue of privacy on facebook, and elsewhere. Naturally, a family will want to delete someone’s profile, if they’ve died. But what would historians of the future wish us to do now? Letters are a thing of the past, and printed photographs are fast following them – very few of us now, I imagine, have a dusty box of old letters or photos, to be discovered in the attic decades from now. Our internet profiles, our computers, are our current, living histories, and in some ways are the only traces we are leaving, as we trundle along through life. How can they be preserved for the future? Everything seems suddenly very precarious to me.
Sometimes, however, memories don’t have to be true, to be special or important. As a boy, I grew up with a story that fascinated me. In June, 1953, my father organized a huge event in the Wicklow mountains. It was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, and he advertised in the Irish Times for tickets to view the ceremony on television. He had put up a huge aerial to try to catch the signal from the BBC across the Irish Sea, and had arranged marquees and benches for people to watch it together, on a series of televisions. He had a coach company hired to ferry people from Dublin to the viewing site. The IRA, however, took a dim view of it, and a couple of phonecalls were made, to the coach company and to my father, advising him that it would be unwise to proceed.
It was only a few years ago that I realised that the threats were taken seriously, and the event was cancelled. As proud as I was, and am, of my father, I had somehow blanked out the crucial detail that he had given-in to them (as any sane person would have, at that time in Ireland) and, for most of my life I had assumed he had stood up to the bully boys, and that a great day out was had by all.
Does it matter if it happened, or not? It’s a great story, and it speaks to my father’s imagination and entrepreneurial spirit. I prefer the version where it happened.
Music was a huge part of his life, and, oddly enough, it was YouTube that helped us know precisely what tracks to play at his funeral; the ones he played most were tracks by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, shining lights of that golden era of smokin’ hot, sizzling jazz.
In the gruesome, stifled land we know Ireland in the ’40s and ’50s to have been, my dad brought something vital and exciting into people’s lives, at his gigs, with his kind of music – distinctly American, definitely exciting, and undoubtedly cool. Way to go, Dad.