Friday 16 November 2018

'I get a sudden strange ripple across my lower back and it feels like half my leg has shagged off, unannounced'

Shay Healy

FRIDAY

As I am running out the front door, my 18-inch-long-by-six-inch-wide bean bag hoves into view under the hall table. At that moment, the word serendipity becomes a flashing neon sign. "You never know," I whisper to no one in particular, as I reach out, grab it and throw it into the pocket of my guitar case.

I jump into Steve Belton's car and off we go on the five-hour drive to Clonakilty, Co Cork, to pay homage to the memory of Noel Redding, the bass player with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, who died five years ago.

In 1972, Noel and his partner Carol Appleby chose a house just outside Clonakilty as a refuge from the madness of high-octane drink and drug environments in Los Angeles and New York. Noel got a gig in music-mad Moss Shanley's pub, and his infectious enthusiasm for the music of Buddy Holly, Dylan and The Beatles, won him the respect and affection of the people of Clonakilty

I first met Noel when himself and Carol sang on Nighthawks. We became friends after that, and I always thought he was incredibly brave and humble to go from playing the Monterey Festival with Hendrix to sitting on a stool in Shanley's singing Everly Brothers songs to a non-paying crowd. It would be nice to report that Noel and Carol lived happily ever after, but tragically, Carol was killed in a car crash in 1990. Noel found happiness again with a new girlfriend, Candice Carrell, a make-up artist he met on The Late Show with David Letterman. That relationship didn't last, but miraculously, into Noel's life, came partner number three, Deborah McNaughton -- another American, who brought some shape to Noel's aimless meanderings and his constant tippling.

One of the great things Deborah did was bring a camera crew and Noel back to all his old Sixties haunts in London. They planned to make a documentary, but cruelly Deborah got breast cancer and returned to America.

At about the same time, Noel's mother, Margaret, who had been living with him, decided to return to her home in Folkestone. She died not long after and three weeks later, Noel himself was dead at 57. Nine months after that, Deborah died in America.

Myself and Steve are taking on the documentary that eluded Noel and Deborah, so tomorrow we are going to chat to me old pal Eric Bell, the guitarist who gave us the world famous riff into Thin Lizzy's Whiskey In The Jar. All together now: Dada diddle ada deedle dee dada...

SATURDAY

"THE Chatshow" is my nickname for my Parkinson's. I know it sounds frivolous and some people might think it offensive, but they will be people who don't have it. We, who do have it, know that you can't let the bastard grind you down.

Anyway, The Chatshow has been giving me a lot of gyp lately via my left leg, so I should have known I was heading for trouble when I dove in to help put up our lights and our camera. But hang the pain, Eric tells us a great story about Noel.

On the day of Jimi Hendrix's funeral, Noel said he let all the mourners drift away and then he sidled up to Jimi's grave, lit a big spliff, and sat down and spoke to Jimi out loud for 10 minutes.

"When I heard that Noel had died," said Eric, "I had the same reaction and I did a bit like what Noel did ... except I walked into some trees, lit a spliff and in a forest clearing talked to Noel out loud for 10 minutes."

But there's a price to pay for all this good footage. I get a sudden strange ripple across my lower back and it feels like half my leg has shagged off, unannounced. The Chatshow is going daft. It's a long night, but my moment of serendipity when leaving my house yesterday, pays off handsomely when we get back to our lodgings in the early hours. Steve very kindly takes the bean bag from my guitar case and pops it in the microwave for three minutes. I struggle into bed and the beautiful heated bean bag banishes the pain.

SUNDAY

THERE is a sequence of photographs of Beal na mBlath in DeBarrra's pub which always reminds me that Clonakilty is Michael Collins territory and, when I am here, I always feel more politically connected. So far as I'm concerned, I come from one of those Irish families that contributed much, even though it was bitterly riven by the Civil War.

Jim Ryan was married to my mother's aunt, Mairin Creegan. Jim's sister, Mary Kate, was married to Sean T O'Kelly and, when Mary Kate died, Sean T married Phyllis, yet another sister of Jim Ryan's. And here's the difficult bit, a third sister of Jim Ryan's, Mairin, married Risteard Mulcahy.

History also tells us that when Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, Jim Ryan and Sean T sided with the anti-treaty side and Risteard Mulcahy became the ruthless commander in the Free State Army, who ordered the execution of 77 members of the anti-treaty forces. That's when the row started.

To be frank, I've never bothered to find out whether or not there was ever any reconciliation between the families, preferring instead to allow the whiff of cordite to swirl around my head and make me giddily wonder where my real political sympathies might have lain, had I lived back then.

I think I would probably have followed Michael Collins into hell. Every time I see those mesmeric black and white clips of Collins the orator, I am stirred by the sheer physicality of his speaking style and the size of the crowds he drew.

De Valera came closest to matching Collins, but he wasn't as sexy. Since then we have had a series of lame and tame leaders. Haughey was the only one who vaguely looked like he might succumb to shouting at us from somewhere like the steps of Le Coq Hardi, while bedecked in a military jacket, over a Charvet shirt, jodhpurs and his trusty riding boots.

The choice gig this Sunday is surely An Evening With Shay Healy, subtitled Bring Back The Ballads. I am coming out of retirement to be part of the official memorial weekend programme of events. Shanley's pub is hosting the gig and, as soon as I get there, Phil sticks on the microwave and in goes the bean bag.

If I told you the gig was great, I'd be lying. It is better than that. It is warm and friendly and thoroughly Irish. We sing ballads for three hours non-stop, me, the good people of Clonakilty and the band, with Harro on bass, (watch out for his CD Paul Harrington: A Collection) Sean Devitt on drums, Bill Shanley, who was tutored by Noel Redding, on guitar and guesting on fiddle, dancing and backing vocals is a new friend, Matty Gordon from Austin, Texas via New York.

Matty is ... wait for it ... the Great, great, great, great, great-grandson of frontiersman and hero of the Alamo, Davy Crockett.

How cool a band member is that!

"Born on a mountain top in Tennessee/

The greenest state in the land of the free/

Raised in the woods so's he knew ev'ry tree/

Kilt him a b'ar when he was only three/

Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier."

MONDAY

I AM slow to rise this morning. My Chatshow and I don't really fancy the long drive home.

However, the journey is leavened by the surprised and bemused looks I get in garages along the way, as I politely ask would they mind popping my bean bag into the microwave for three minutes.

TUESDAY

The rheumatoid arthritis specialist tells me that I have very good movement and that she agrees with all the different specialists that my X-Rays, MRIs, VHIs, CIEs, UVFs, FCAs and all the other Jaysus tests I've had done, all point directly to the same thing.

Wear and tear.

C'mon guys and gals. What kind of lousy mean-spirited diagnosis is that to give a decent hypochondriac?

WEDNESDAY

RONNIE Drew is the man for the great Paddy Kavanagh stories, but I'm not sure where I heard this one. Anyway, having just been in Clonakilty, it is suitably apt. No doubt it has changed in the telling, but here is how I heard it.

One morning, Paddy Kavanagh is nursing

a drink in McDaids when a fellow drinker points out that a report in The Irish Times says that Paddy has been awarded an Stg£10,000 bursary by the BBC.

Paddy, eyes aglow at the prospect of a few pounds for the purposes of drink, sets off for his bank with his vital evidence, The Irish Times, carefully folded, in his pocket.

When he returns, he is grim-faced. The bank manager has greeted him with a face as stony as the grey soil of Kavanagh's native Monaghan.

"That man's brother shot Michael Collins" declares Paddy.

"Ah come on now," says his companion ... "you know that isn't true."

"Course I do" retorts Paddy... "but that's the rumour I'm spreadin'."

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