Gerard McNamee on acting, singing, flirting with Madonna, hanging with the Clintons, and his Irish parents
Gerard McNamee tells Barry Egan about acting, singing, flirting with Madonna, hanging out with the Clintons, Axl Rose, his Irish parents, and the tragic death of his brother Brian
Brian McNamee's young life was taken from him in a fire in Burlington, Vermont in late 1994. He was 21. He was finishing his final year at university and was, remembers his younger, and only brother, Gerard, "coming into his own." "Brian and I had a great summer that year. We were at Giants Stadium to watch Ireland beat Italy in the World Cup" on June 18. Then on September 23 - horrible fate intervened. Brian had moved into a house in Vermont just before uni started. He died a month later in an electrical fire.
"There was seven of them living in the house," Gerard says.
"Brian and his room-mate Anthony were sleeping in the attic when the fire started. They didn't stand a chance. The five boys downstairs were plucked out by the fire brigade when the fire started. Brian and Anthony didn't make it out alive," says Gerard, adding with heart-rending emotion: "I'll never see his red headed smiling face again. Brian had no warning - no chance to say goodbye . . . no nothing."
Gerard McNamee is one of the kings of New York. He has run the world famous rock venue Webster Hall - "New York City's largest and longest running nightclub and 1,500-person capacity live music venue" - for decades. He knows everyone - and has worked with everyone - in the city that never sleeps. To call him a character would be an understatement on a par with saying Jose Mourinho is fond of himself. I met Gerard, who was over in Ireland last week for a quick break, for coffee in Dublin. He hasn't touched alcohol, nor anything in the category of illicit stimuli, in a very long time. Gerard oozes so much charisma that he doesn't need stimulants. He has hung out with The Spice Girls ("a great laugh"), Metallica, Snoop Dog ("A cool guy"), Axl Rose ("He was amazing but very Axl"), Brandon Flowers, Trent Razor, Hillary Clinton ("She was great").
Indeed he recalls personally looking after Bill Clinton, when he was President, when he played a saxophone show at Webster Hall. There was a veritable army of Secret Security agents in the building. Gerard had to show the snipers how to get up on the roof. He also looked after Madonna when she came in to play a show just as she had become a global superstar. She turned up in a limo at the backstage door of Webster Hall, realised all the crowds were at the front of the building then told her limo driver to bring her to the front of the building.
She eventually got out of the limo wearing nothing but a fur coat, heels and her underwear. Gerard swears as Madge was ushered up to her dressing-room she stopped, turned around and eyed him up.
He is the star of the new ad for Webster Hall. He is called Sir Gotham in that. He was also the lead in the 2011 art-house movie Hip Priest. "So if I never got another acting job in my life, I will go down in history as 'hip priest' and 'Sir Gotham'," he laughs.
The iconic impresario, who owns a bar called East Village Social and is in the process of opening another one, is a sometime singer-songwriter. A few years ago he wrote a song, A Moment Of Silence, about the Omagh bombing in August, 1998. "My dad is from Omagh," Gerard told me last week.
His father, also Gerard, was a NYC transit cop who came to New York in 1957. Gerard's mother Helen, who hails from Clare, came over to Amerikay in 1959. (To this day, Helen is the assistant to the Monsignor at the local parish church.) She and Gerard met at an Irish dance in Manhattan in the early 1960s and married on April 29th, 1967. They had their first child Patricia on April 24, 1968.
"Patricia died five days later on their first wedding anniversary," says Gerard. "I came along in 1969."