Monday 25 June 2018

Songs for our father Christie

Christie Hennessy's three children remember their musical dad who was great fun and taken far too young

BondingsHermione Ross-Hennessy, Tim Ross and Amber Ross will perform in their dad’s honour. Photo: Mark Condren
BondingsHermione Ross-Hennessy, Tim Ross and Amber Ross will perform in their dad’s honour. Photo: Mark Condren
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

His death at 62 broke their hearts, but the late Christie Hennessy's children will take to the road in June to perform a series of Irish concerts in his honour. It has taken Hermione, Amber and Tim over a decade to gather the strength to pay tribute to their much-missed dad, who passed away in December 2007.

Christie contracted a fatal lung disease called mesothelioma, which was caused by exposure to asbestos during his years working on building sites. His wife Gill later successfully sued his former employer, and Hermione says she took the legal action to help raise awareness of the disease and its devastating effects.

Christie was born in 1945, and grew up as the youngest of nine children in Tralee, Kerry. His family name was Ross and Hennessy was the name he would later take as his stage name. It was a musical household and there were weekly music sessions in the house, but sadly his dad passed away aged 42 when Christie was only six. Christie was dyslexic and didn't enjoy school, and was unable to read or write when he left at 11. He worked as a messenger boy before moving to London aged 15 to work on building sites, sending money back to Kerry. He also played with bands by night as a drummer.

He was 18 when he met his 17-year-old future wife, Gill, in a club in Soho. They settled in Sutton, near Wimbledon, and went on to have three children, Hermione (52), Amber (46) and Tim (32). Their mum is an amazing person and incredibly smart, they say, and Tim describes her as the "mumsiest mum of all mums".

"She's the best cheerleader ever, and was always very supportive of Dad and us," he says.

Gill is artistic and creative and Amber says she is particularly good with the vulnerable, or any little person or animal that's "broken" in some way. She was also effectively Christie's first manager when he decided to pursue a solo career, sending off tapes and dealing with business and helping to drive his career. "He ran everything past her," Hermione recalls.

Hermione had just been born when Christie was asked to join a new band that became Fleetwood Mac, but he turned it down because he had a small child. He decided to start learning guitar and write songs to develop his craft, which led to his solo career, and he combined music and gigging at night with painting/decorating by day.

Mind you, Christie had an exuberant stage presence, which took Gill by surprise initially. "They were married five years the first time she saw him on stage, and she didn't recognise this crazy man telling jokes and being very charismatic," says Hermione.

Tim recalls his dad as very funny and supportive. He never judged them, but was tough when he needed to be. "If you grafted hard, you got a hall pass for certain things, which was really nice," he recalls. "Dad always had a plan, and the thing I took away the most from him was that you can get through anything once you have a plan."

The initial years of Christie's solo career were challenging, and Hermione and Amber recall him travelling miles to play at clubs who had forgotten he was on the bill, and worse. "I remember him phoning Mum really upset one night because he had finished a gig and they wouldn't pay him," says Amber, who says that their dad tried to shield them from any of the difficulties.

On the music front, Hermione sings and plays piano, Amber composes and plays violin, and Tim plays piano and saxophone, with some guitar and drums. His children remember Christie as a really fun dad who was also exacting and liked structure. Hermione says he later told her that one of his regrets was that he was too hard on her at times, but she told him that he wasn't. "He did it all with warmth and fun and he never got angry," she says.

While Christie achieved great success later in his career, the early years were fraught. He worked long hours juggling both jobs, and had songs stolen and was let down by people in the business, and the strain took its toll on him. "He suffered mental ill-health," says Hermione.

Amber recalls her dad becoming ill and strained while recording an album, and feels that the stress he was under would be better recognised and understood today. "He didn't know how to say what it was he wanted because he felt so 'less than'" she says, referring to his dyslexia. "He was always at the mercy of a producer or somebody he felt was more intelligent."

The sisters recall their mum being an unwavering support during difficult times, and she made sure Christie didn't end up in hospital and made a good recovery. "She knew that he just needed to be understood and needed love and care, and she sat with him while life went on around them until that moment broke," says Amber. "I never heard her complain about it and she was incredible really."

Hermione was six when Amber came along, and she recalls her crying a lot, having a shock of black hair and being "really beautiful." They were both thrilled when surprise baby Tim came along when they were 19 and 13, respectively, although he gave them a bit of a fright as he was born with septicaemia. "My nose wasn't out of joint and I thought Tim was the best thing in the whole world," says Amber. "He's one of the kindest people I've ever met." Hermione agrees with that and says that Tim has exemplary qualities. just like their dad.

When Tim came along, his parents were at a stage were life was calm and stable, and he loved having two older sisters. "It was wicked," he says. "I was spoiled rotten. Hermione is a powerhouse in every way and she's amazing. She's really kind and considerate and any problem in my life is taken care of by her. Amber and I are best buds and she just emanates music and is very kind and caring."

Hermione went on to forge a career in music PR and management, including being deputy MD and head of artist development at Jive Records. She worked with acts as diverse as Willie Nelson, Justin Timberlake, Dionne Warwick and R Kelly and was Christie's manager when he signed, aged 47, to U2's Mother Records, and later to Warner Records Ireland.

Christie's breakthrough as a songwriter came when Christy Moore recorded two of his songs, Don't Forget Your Shovel and Messenger Boy. Frances Black had a massive hit with All the Lies That You Told Me, and Moya Brennan from Clannad had a hit with Oh Jealous Heart. Christie had 10 multi-platinum selling albums, and played to sold-out concert halls all over Ireland

Hermione is also a performer in her own right and she regularly performed with her dad in concert. She had a number one album with Songs My Father Taught Me and toured alongside both Willie Nelson and Leona Lewis.

"I think she's a superstar," says Amber, "even though she's really great in business too and people love dealing with her."

Hermione and Amber work together in their company H+I Music, which is a music management and consultancy service for artists, labels and brands based both in London and LA.

Hermione spends a lot of time in LA as she manages a teen girl group L2M there, who are signed to Warner. Having previously been married for 10 years, she is in a new relationship and is dating a "super-clever" professor of neuroscience and mathematics. She is very happy and says her new man is an incredibly kind and thoughtful.

She describes Amber as very loyal and a real achiever. Amber has worked in A&R for record companies, working with bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and The Verve. She is married to musician and manager Nick Burton, and first dated him at age 18 when he was 32. It was a tempestuous relationship as she had a battle with drug addiction but is now 15 years in recovery. "I was hard work," she admits. "I came home one day after a three-day party and my key didn't work and all my clothes were lined up in bin bags in the alleyway. I'm in NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and I decided to write to all of the people I might have harmed in the past. I wrote an apologetic letter to Nick and he responded by asking if I wanted a cup of tea, and we got back together after 25 years."

The multi-talented Tim studied classical orchestration, became a record producer and formed a band called Cash+David, which was signed to Sony Music and enjoyed great success. He now DJs and works with orchestras and on film and TV, and his sisters proudly declare that he is 'one of the best songwriters ever' across many genres. He is married to Kate, who works with charities around children in conflict and ending sexual violence in conflict. They have a one-year-old daughter Zuzu, who has two adoring aunties in Hermione and Amber .

Hermione, Amber and Tim are delighted to be able to go out as Hennessy and perform in their dad's honour around Ireland this June. They will perform many of his hit songs, and will show unseen memorabilia and personal effects that the family have curated. "It's a show and not just a gig," says Tim. "There are songs that Dad loved, and we'll tell stories about him and give insights into his personal life and the meanings behind his songs."

"We miss our dad every day," adds Hermione. "Coming together to perform as Hennessy seems the best way for us to honour him, both through his music and our own personal memories.

"We can't wait to meet all of Christie's fans as we sing his favourite songs that everyone will know and love, as well as arranging a few surprises."

'Hennessy: A Tribute to Christie' will take place at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, on June 13, Glor Theatre, Ennis, on the 14th, INEC, Killarney, on the 15th, Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on the 16th and Cork Opera House on the 17th. Tickets, from €27, from Ticketmaster.ie

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