Back in the R.O.I – Fifty years on, the Fab Four are still causing a stir in Dublin
Celebrating 50 years since The Beatles played their only Irish gigs, the Dublin Beatles Festival takes place this weekend with tribute bands, exhibitions, plays, interviews and more
There’s no greater debate in rock music: Lennon or McCartney? We sat down with two local musicians to verbally slug it out. In the red corner, representing Macca, is Conor Deasy of The Gandhis. In the blue corner, representing Lennon, is Wayne Farrell of The Ikonics. Fair fight, gentlemen. Ding, ding!
OK, let’s start with the basics. Why have you chosen your respective musicians?
WF: For me, John was the first sort of “rock star”. Elvis was the first pop star who played rock ’n’ roll, but I think John was the original rock star in the way that we have rock stars nowadays, the original role model for all that followed. When you’re a kid, that makes an impression. Paul was always more of a tunesmith, to me. He was amazing, but he had more of a pop persona. John seemed like the cool one.
Paul does get a bit of a bad rap as being the “dad” of the band. What makes him your choice, Conor?
CD: I probably would have preferred John when I was younger, but the older I get, the more I like the fact that Paul isn’t the “rock star”. I think Paul really shaped The Beatles’ sound more than anyone else in the band, and it’s had way more of an influence over time.
WF: I agree completely that Paul had the pop smarts, and he did keep the whole thing grounded. But I wonder would Paul have experimented at all without John there? Would they have gone the psychedelic route without John, going from classic pop music to crazy, experimental stuff like on Tomorrow Never Knows? Arguably, that’s what made The Beatles a great band. I know George Martin influenced a lot of that stuff too, but John had a lot to do with them breaking away from pop.
What don’t you like about each others’ musician of choice?
WF: Hmmm . . . well, I would have preferred if Paul had gone outside of his comfort zone a bit. It would have been interesting to see what he could have done with his own songs if he’d pushed the boat out a bit more. I think John always took Paul’s influence into his songwriting, but I don’t know if it was reciprocal.
CD: The thing I don’t like about John is that he’s always held up as this paragon of peace and love, and war is over – but he’s full of shit! Take Imagine, for example – “Imagine no religion, imagine no possessions, blah blah blah” – but on the very same album, he’s got a track about Paul called How Do You Sleep? which is a really vicious song that tears strips off his best mate that he was in a band with for years.
Let’s talk about the post-Beatles stuff.
WF: Lennon’s first two solo albums are amazing. His last two, I don’t think they compare favourablywith any of his previous work, and I’ll admit that people brush over that fact. Having said that, what about Paul’s Christmas song?
Wonderful Christmastime? A classic!
WF: Noooo! I hate it so much. It’s one of my most hated Christmas songs of all time. Compared to Lennon’s Christmas song? C’mon . . .
CD: No way. War is Over? What the hell has that got to do with Christmas?
WF: Because that would be the best Christmas present ever! (laughs)
CD: Christmas is about opening your Scalextric under your Christmas tree in your pyjamas, not about bloody watching footage of Vietnam!
Let’s talk about Yoko Ono. . .
WF: Oh, no . . . I was hoping you wouldn’t bring that up (laughs). It’s hard to defend John with some of that stuff, really. Myself and Conor are both in bands and I’m sure he’d say the same; if I was playing with my band and one of them said “Yeah, I just brought down my girlfriend – she’s just gonna sit here all the time”, I can’t imagine it going down too well. At the same time, I don’t think John could have continued doing The Beatles at that stage, if he hadn’t had her around. I think he would have just left. Anyway, I don’t know if Yoko was as bad as Linda got with Wings – dancing around the stage with a tambourine in a baggy jumper and preaching to everyone? At least Yoko was pretty quiet. Apart from her singing.
CD: Eh, Linda was pretty cool! Anyway, I think it’s sort of irrelevant, because the band was probably about to break up, anyway. I think it was more about John than about Yoko being some sort of manipulator. I think John was probably like “Yeah, my girlfriend’s amazing! She’s really cool, why wouldn’t I bring her in?”. Although I remember reading something that said “Well, Paul got George to join the band, and John got Yoko to join.” (laughs)
WF: I think if he hadn’t been going out with Yoko, they wouldn’t have made The White Album, Abbey Road and to a lesser extent, Let it Be.
CD: That’s a good point. If he’d never met her, the band still would have broken up, John would have left and we wouldn’t have Abbey Road. So it all worked out, eventually.
RESULT: Some good points made on both sides. We’ll call it a draw.
CA|THERINE HANSARD: "Back then, an English accent wasn’t something you heard everyday, and I recognised John’s voice immediately"
Glen Hansard didn’t, as the saying goes, lick it off a stone. The Dublin musician’s love of music was passed down via his mother, Catherine. Glen grew up listening to the records she played for him and his siblings as a child, and to the stories of her teenybopper escapades – including one fateful evening outside the Adelphi Cinema in November, 1963.
She may not have had a ticket for the show, but that didn’t stop her gaining access to the building for The Beatles’ show. Hansard had been at Dublin Airport earlier that day for the Fab Four’s arrival on Irish soil, but had only seen “the tops of their heads” from a distance. “I was so small that I couldn’t make out anything,” she explains. “At that time, I was small, thin and very agile”.
That agility came in handy when it came to navigating the throng outside the Adelphi. “On an ordinary night, you’d be able to sneak in the side exit door – but with The Beatles, everything was chained. So when that would happen, we would climb the spout: in through the window and down the stairs. We got in many a time that way,” she says. “Health and safety went out the window back then!”
Once Hansard and her two friends had climbed in a window, the hustle and bustle of the venue meant that they couldn’t sneak into the venue room. “We had to double back and run into a room that had a load of boxes in it,” she explains. “I had no idea what they were, but we heard people coming, so we ran in and got behind the boxes. The door opened and the light went on, and next thing – oh God – they started to talk. Back then, an English accent wasn’t something you heard everyday, and I recognised John’s voice immediately. My top lip started shaking and we were holding on to one another and we were nearly wetting ourselves. I don’t know how we managed to stay quiet; my teeth were rattling. They finally left the room and we had to get out of there. By then, we weren’t fit to break into any concert, so we had to go back out the window and down the spout. As we were going down, the police caught us and we had to leg it up Prince’s Street.”
She may not have met her idol John Lennon that day, but the story did have a somewhat happy ending 45 years later, when she and Glen were invited to a
pre-Oscars dinner in Los Angeles hosted by Ringo Starr. It was 2008 – the year Glen went on to win his Oscar for Falling Slowly.
“You couldn’t have explained how excited I was,” she says. “I was telling him the story about what we did, climbing up the spout, and he said ‘You know something, it’s a lovely story, but I can’t even remember where we played in Dublin’. And that was a disappointment, because that was my claim to fame yet he didn’t even remember the show. Then again, you have to think that they did thousands since. Anyway, when the night was over and we were leaving, he came over and put something into my hand, and said ‘That’s for you for not getting in’. When I opened my hand it was a badge saying ‘Ringo for President’,” she laughs. “It’s a night I’ll never forget.”
ORIGINAL QUARRYMAN ROD DAVIS: "We were just kids in the village, having a bit of fun, trying to be up on stage looking cool and trying to impress the young ladies"
It’s a classic quiz question: what were The Beatles known as before they became The Beatles? Music buffs may be aware of The Quarrymen’s role in the liner notes of music history, but they may not be aware that they’re still active, despite being, as banjo player Rod Davis puts it, “on the wrong side of 70”.
Davis first met John Lennon at the age of five or six, when they were both in the same Sunday School class in Liverpool, and they both went on to attend Quarry Bank High School from the age of 11, but it wasn’t until later that they became friends. Inspired by Lonnie Donegan’s trailblazing skiffle sound, Davis bought a banjo at 14 and was invited by his friend Eric Griffiths to join The Quarrymen, the band formed by Lennon in 1956. “He was a good singer, but we were all two- and three-chorders,” Davis laughs. “I wouldn’t have known a rock star if one had hit me on the head, to be honest – we were just kids in the village, having a bit of fun, trying to be up on stage looking cool and trying to impress the young ladies.”
Davis ended up leaving the band as they all moved on – Lennon to art school, others to take up apprenticeships and jobs – his place in the band was eventually taken by Paul McCartney, and the rest, as they say, is history. Although, a chance meeting with Lennon some years later nearly got him back into a life of rock ’n’ roll.
“I think it was Easter ’62. He said, ‘What are you playing these days?’ and I told him: banjo, melodeon, guitar, fiddle . . . and he said ‘Oh, pity you can’t play the drums, or you could have come to Hamburg!’. I don’t think for one moment that it was a serious offer, but for months after, my mother was murmuring to herself ‘He’s not going to Hamburg with That Lennon’, as she called him. Mind you, if I’d know what they were up to, I might have been tempted . . .”
Davis rejoined the Quarrymen in the late 1990s, when the band’s original members were reunited at the Cavern Club’s 40th anniversary celebrations. Sixteen years later, they remain in high demand.
“People want us to play the stuff that we played between ’56 and ’59, as the Quarrymen – the music that influenced John, Paul and George, and of course, Ringo, because Ringo was in a skiffle group. What we do is what we did then, and people seem to appreciate it.”
yyy John Lennon’s Original Quarrymen play the Grand Social tomorrow night and participate in a public interview with Tony Clayton-Lea at the Gresham Hotel that afternoon