Saturday 18 January 2020

Thank you George Byrne - we are all still smiling

Family, friends and fans of music, movies and football greatly miss the memorable, madcap and always quotable reporter

Eamon Carr

Even if I’m in the horrors, George Byrne can still make me laugh.

What a gift that man had. How lucky am I to have known him for so long.

It’s a year since George checked out. A year of discreet anniversaries and private milestones.

As he did with all of his friends, George created a series of memorable moments that have become the equivalent of wayside shrines in our lives. The sometimes madcap, often insightful, always quotable incidents and events that chart a life lived to the utmost. “Maximum R’n’B,” as The Who might have termed it at their early explosive best.

It was in the months after what seemed like an alternative State funeral that I came to realise how much I relied on George. Not just on him personally but also on his prodigious indignation to keep me on the frontline. His glorious ability to prick pomposity and deflate the elephantine conceit, was a constant reminder to never become complacent.

At the risk of sounding like a corny B-movie screen writer in search of a script, I have to confess to reaching for the phone at least once a week to share some spleenful bellylaughs at the hapless delusions of some prominent personality or other, only to remember that, damn it, George is no longer there to regale me with rapid-fire barbs, bon mots and baleful belligerence.

It was this day one year ago that, to pimp WB Yeats yet again, “all changed, changed utterly.”

George had been in hospital but, despite our initial optimism, he took one last epic swerve with Jan and Dean. Those who loved him most were with him when he hit the Curve. The rest of us swear we can still see his tail-lights.

George and I first bonded when we realised that, although there had been a trendy prog rock band playing in Bray, we’d both attended a Slade gig at the National Stadium. On such unlikely but crucial cultural cornerstones are enduring friendships built.

Throughout the next few decades, George would invariably be the one to share important breaking news. He always seemed to know stuff first. Good stuff like friends doing well and bad stuff like other friends dying young.

Anthony Bourdain and Herald writer George Byrne, Digges Lane, Dublin in August 2010
Anthony Bourdain and Herald writer George Byrne, Digges Lane, Dublin in August 2010

I valued his opinions, which thankfully usually chimed with my own, but George could express his criticism more succinctly and hilariously than anyone else around.

I continue to measure the years I knew him in laughs. And, as Cilla might have said, “That’s a lorra lorra chuckling’, Chuck.”

I know radio listeners miss his blindingly brilliant film reviews on Newstalk with Tom Dunne. Herald readers miss his dazzling copy that often read with the sweep of an operatic score.

Personally, I miss his dependable memory.

It hurts that I can no longer refer to George for details of the bizarre sunny lunchtime soiree we once had with Whitesnake on the roof garden of Biba’s in Kensington as peacocks and flamingoes glided around and Japanese journalists struggled to frame their questions in understandable English. See how useless I am? George could remember every exchange, every nuance and every nonsensical reply as if he’d just been watching Spinal Tap for the tenth time.

All of my reminiscences would benefit from the finer detail of George’s finely-honed perspective. Even the night at the BBC when, during a concert by Blur, the stuffy people sitting behind asked us to quieten down. I’m still full of admiration for how, not missing a beat, George turned and explained witheringly, but politely, that, “This is actually a rock’n’roll gig not a bloody library.”

There’s a bursary in George’s name now. And it’s a reassurance to know that a younger generation will benefit from his talent.

While trying to remember something important, I realised that George enjoyed knowing how the sight of our pasty backsides helped inspire Jack Charlton’s Ireland in Euro ‘88.

When I was invited down to Windmill for the recording of the Boys in Green theme song, I rang George. Although it was Sunday morning, he turned up. As the squad looked a bit nervous while they were filming a promo video, George and I decided to liven things up. So, on cue, unknown to everyone, we mooned the players during the filming. That’s the moment where they all crack up and point at the cameras. The deed was done before the cameras could turn on us.

Like I say, I always smile when I think of our absent friend. Even though I miss him dreadfully.


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