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Genius guitar man comes home to roots

As the mighty Mott the Hoople sang in All the Way From Memphis, 'It's a mighty long way down rock'n'roll' and that's what it certainly must have felt like for Henry McCullough in August 1969 as he stood on stage with Joe Cocker's Grease Band performing With a Little Help From My Friends in front of the gathered throng at Woodstock.

Playing in showbands around the Portstewart area must have seemed an eternity away.

Even before his appearance at Woodstock, McCullough had racked up enough experience to last most musicians a lifetime. Having cut his teeth, like Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher, on the showband and beat-group circuit, McCullough went in a dirtier blues-based direction with his first major band, Eire Apparent. They soon found themselves in London, signed to The Who's Track label, being managed by Jimi Hendrix's mentor Chas Chandler and having their debut album produced by his famous protege. Head-spinning stuff for any young man in the late '60s.

When Eire Apparent fell apart, McCullough returned home to lick his wounds and soon found himself in the hugely influential folk-rock outfit Sweeney's Men, before the Big Smoke came calling again and he teamed up with Cocker for the legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour.

I had the pleasure of interviewing McCullough for Hot Press a few years back and his laid-back demeanour masked a wealth of rock'n'roll anecdotes to die for.


Although McCullough's CV encompasses stints with Donovan, Frankie Miller, Ronnie Lane, Denny Laine, the Fleadh Cowboys and the aforementioned Byrdon and Cocker to name but a handful, one sublime musical memory which stands out above all others is his staggeringly beautiful solo on My Love, as a member of Wings.

He'd already recorded a solo for the song when he badgered Paul McCartney to let him try something else just as the final mix was about to be made. Macca gave him the floor and the result was one of the most memorable melodic guitar lines you'll ever hear.

McCartney acknowledged as much when he appeared at the O2 in 2009, specifically mentioning McCullough before the song and admitting that his solo lifted the track into the realm of the sublime.

Now heading towards his 68th birthday, Henry McCullough is still gigging away, back to playing the blues he so dearly loves. A master musician.

Henry McCullough and his band play the Leeson Lounge tomorrow night