Sunday 17 February 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Larry Gogan has left his mark on all of us'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

For all those who were wishing him well on his retirement from 2FM, there were only happy memories of Larry Gogan. For me it was not so simple.

Because when I think of Larry, like any other sensible person, I think of him as one of the most important cultural figures of the last 50 years in this country - but I also think of the only interview that I've ever done, from which I emerged with a physical wound.

It was for this paper, that I set out from my home in Dun Laoghaire on a summer evening towards the end of the last century, to talk to Larry in some pub in Terenure or maybe Templeogue - we did a lot of interviews in pubs back then. In truth, we also wrote up some of those interviews in pubs... we did a lot of things in pubs.

Please sign in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Sign In

Ah, what could be more pleasant indeed, than to be walking down to the Dart in Dun Laoghaire, contemplating the prospect of a meeting one of the most famously pleasant individuals in the show business? A man who, whenever I had mentioned him in the paper, had taken the trouble to send me a personally inscribed thank-you note?

Nothing could be more pleasant than that, nothing.

And then a dog bit me. In the midst of this reverie, a mad little dog ran out of the gate of this house, and just bit me on the back of the leg. My left leg.

He wasn't just pretending to bite me, as dogs sometimes do, I could feel this stab of pain. And I can still see the look of consternation on the face of his owner, an elderly man coming out of the house who seemed very angry about what had happened - angry towards me, of course.

But I did not have time to absorb the full implications of the incident, to "process" it, I had a Dart to catch, and Larry Gogan was waiting. Nor could I rightly savour the oddness of the fact that in the books of Roddy Doyle, the family dog of the Rabbitte family is called Larrygogan.

It was only on the Dart, that I realised the extent of the damage - there was essentially a hole in the back of my left leg, and it was bleeding. The little bugger had also torn my trousers. When I got off the train, I must have found some tissue paper to clean up the blood, and I must have got it from a pub - what else was there?

You will note that at no stage did I contemplate turning around and going home and organising an immediate tetanus injection - I had better things to be doing, I could not leave Larry Gogan waiting. I was just worried that he might regard it as disrespectful that I was showing up with the leg of my trousers torn, and blood pouring from a fresh wound.

So I made it to the pub in Terenure or maybe Templeogue, and Larry was of course prepared to abandon the whole thing and to give me a tetanus injection himself if he could possibly manage it, but I felt that a few beers and a while listening to the voice of Mr Larry Gogan would probably get me through the night.

Clearly it worked, up to a point, though to this day I still have a mark on the back of my left leg - the Mark of Larry Gogan, a permanent reminder of the greatness of his contribution. You see, there was his Top 20 show on RTE Radio which of necessity would have some Irish records in it, but which also brought us the sounds of other records which were obviously better than that.

Indeed I have often wondered where old Ireland would be now, were it not for men such as Larry and Gay Byrne who were so comfortable with cultures other than "our own" - Ciaran Mac Mathuna was wonderful, but there was a school of thought which argued that we should be listening to "our own" stuff all the time, whereas Larry in the most unassuming way would play a record by David Bowie and in an instant, that would become "our own" too.

And eventually when Irish music got a lot better, Larry would reverse the process, always ready to slip in a track by a "young Dublin band" looking for a break against the music of the multinational corporations which was dominating the rigidly defined playlist.

None of these things were automatically ordained, it was just convenient that the good music was being played by someone who was quite evidently the nicest man in the business - indeed, you felt that at some level Larry was aware that he had to be extra nice to be allowed to do what he was doing, that he was never entirely sure that he wouldn't get a tap on the shoulder one day by someone with a name that sounded like Fearfeasa O Maolchonaire, told it had all been a terrible mistake and that it was time for Larry to return to selling bullseyes.

Indeed, it is probably significant that Larry's people used to run sweet-shops, making the lives of young people just a bit brighter - at times making all the difference.

Just how Irish are our artists anyway?

For his letter last week to The Irish Times in which he complained about some of our national cultural institutions being run by "outsiders", we should be grateful to Robert Ballagh.

We've been having a great time with the Brexiteers, despairing of what we routinely describe as their "Daily Mail" vision of England, and thinking we're better than that. Now we are reminded there are "Daily Mail" tendencies to be found in Ireland too.

Ballagh is complaining that in addition to the Abbey's "two Scotsmen" (one of whom is actually Welsh), "the director of the National Gallery of Ireland is an Englishman, the new director of the Hunt Museum in Limerick is a Welshwoman, the director of the National College of Art and Design is an Englishman, and the director of the Gate Theatre is an Englishwoman."

Nigel Farage indeed, would probably hesitate before expressing his unhappiness in this way, about "outsiders" being placed in charge of Great British institutions.

For Ballagh, the problem with the "two Scotsmen" and their ilk arises from the intrinsic nature of an institution such as the Abbey, which has "an obligation to reflect Irish cultural values".

Ah, our old friend, the "Irish cultural values" - as to what these might be, I recall that the young Ballagh was a musician with a showband called The Chessmen, and when he was giving up that way of life, according to Irish rock'n'roll legend, his Fender bass guitar was bought by one Philip Lynott. Yes, that would be Philip Lynott who was born in West Bromwich in the United Kingdom, whose father was from Guyana - the same Philip Lynott who formed and became a kind of chief executive of Thin Lizzy in which the lead guitarist was Eric Bell from Belfast, which then, as now, is situated in the United Kingdom. Later the most internationally successful version of Lizzy would have the American Scott Gorham and the Scotsman Brian Robertson on guitars.

And yet if you were talking about an institution which represented "Irish cultural values" at their most dazzling and sophisticated, not only would many of us be pleased to nominate Thin Lizzy as exemplars of that, we would actually be deeply offended if you left them out.

Another great Irish cultural institution, U2, were managed by a man born in Germany where his father was in the RAF, as was the father of the English-born Adam Clayton. And The Edge is an Essex man with Welsh parents...

So it should hardy matter at all really, where a person was born or raised, when we are assessing their ability to advance the cause of Irish cultural values - in the theatre, the most triumphant times in the career of Brendan Behan were overseen by the Englishwoman Joan Littlewood.

Ballagh himself worked on Riverdance, which derived much of its original energy from the work of the two Americans, Jean Butler and Michael Flatley.

Indeed, there is hardly a story of successful Irish art that does not involve the "outsider" in some position of high responsibility - so if we were really doing it right, we would realise that the problem is not that there are too many of these outsiders involved, but that there can never be enough of them.

Why Murray serves as a man of integrity in a corrupt tennis world

Andy Murray has been a great player at a time when he has been up against three other great players, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.

Indeed, when he announced his imminent retirement last week, due to a hip injury which he has been unable to overcome, it seemed that even in his leaving of the arena, the others still have the edge on him - at 31 he is younger than all of them, six years younger than the absurdly indestructible Federer.

And sad though it was to hear of the ending of a genuinely heroic career, the Murray story came at a handy enough time for the game of tennis which, at its lower levels, has been described by one independent review body as "a lamentably fertile breeding ground for breaches of integrity".

And that's without mentioning the doping - last week it was just the gambling, with 30 professionals accused in relation to another alleged match-fixing ring which has been broken up by investigators in Spain.

In recent weeks, about £150,000 in cash was seized, along with a shotgun, more than 50 electronic devices, five luxury vehicles, and documentation relating to the case. An Armenian crime gang is said to be involved.

Ah, it is a long way from Sue Barker and Virginia Wade at Wimbledon for the BBC and the crowd helpless with laughter as a pigeon flies across Centre Court. It's a long way from lovely old Dan Maskell gasping: "Oh my word!"

And I would suspect that your Armenian crime gangs will be looking for something a bit stronger than a sup of Robinsons barley water to slake their thirsts after a five-set marathon.

All of which will be well-known to regular readers of these pages, where we've been talking for some time about the way that online gambling is doing a lot more than merely "creating a lamentably fertile breeding ground for breaches of integrity" in the game of tennis.

Indeed, it's a bit unfortunate for tennis that the match-fixing is so easy and so obvious - and anyway, not enough people care about tennis, or its lamentably fertile breeding grounds.

They cared about Andy Murray though, whose early retirement itself seems like a mark of integrity.

They got that right.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss