Tribute to one of the unsung heroes of Irish rock music
Guitar virtuoso Henry McCullough played with the greats, and was not found wanting
‘He’s f***ing amazing,” says BP Fallon. “But if you walk down Henry Street and say ‘Henry McCullough’ how many people would know who he is?”
He pauses. “You’d be surprised actually. Cool people remember him.” As he says, “Paul McCartney could have had any guitar player in the world and he chose Henry.”
Henry McCullough, the guitarist from Portstewart, Co Derry, was in Wings in the 1970s (you can see him soloing beautifully while Paul and Linda McCartney waltz on the promotional video for My Love). He was in Eire Apparent, Sweeney’s Men and Joe Cocker’s Grease band. He played guitar on the original Jesus Christ Superstar. He was friends with Jimi Hendrix. He provided a spoken contribution to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (specifically the words: “I can’t remember, I was drunk at the time”) and was the only Irish man to play at Woodstock. He is, says Fallon, “as important to Irish rock ’n’ roll as Rory Gallagher.” He is a living legend.
“I met him in the 1960s in the Madison Hotel in London. That was the rock ’n’ roll hotel, six to a room: everyone stayed there,” says Pete Cummins of the Fleadh Cowboys.
He had it
“He was this brilliant looking man with long blond hair. He was like a prince to me. I was only a kid compared to him. I’d be playing lead guitar in my band and Henry would come in and I’d nearly shiver. ‘The prince is here’, you know? He had that kind of effect. He was just a lovely guy. He wouldn’t give any vibes off, but we knew how good he was. In the 1960s everybody knew Henry. Everybody knew he had it the way some people just had it – Gary Moore had it and Philip Lynott had it and Henry had it – one of the chosen few who just naturally had it.”
In November, McCullough had a heart attack which left him very sick in hospital, unable to play guitar and in need of financial support.
Tomorrow, friends and well-wishers including Christy Moore and Declan Sinnott, a reformed Sweeney’s Men, the Fleadh Cowboys (with whom he played for a spell), John Spillane, Mick Flannery and BP Fallon are performing in Vicar Street to raise money with a tribute performance entitled Salute to Henry McCullough.
Nobody from Paul McCartney’s first band went short of money. But the side-roads to pop success are filled with talented musicians not wily or materialistic enough to cash in. McCullough may have been a foil to music-industry juggernauts, but he was rarely on more than a weekly salary and never had much financial success with his own records.
He was always self-effacing in person, but on guitar? “He was on fire,” says Fallon. “It was twang central.”
“He’s a very sensitive player and a passionate player,” says Cummins. “A very quiet and unassuming guy, but he could be really wild on stage. And he’s the kind of person you’d like to work with. A blues-based guitarist but capable of playing anything, he’s just a very soulful player with great, great feeling. That to me is always the most important thing, more important than technique, if someone can give you that feeling.” Fallon calls McCullough’s playing “feelingful”.
Last year McCullough released an album of Beatles covers with fellow Wings alumnus Denny Seiwell. It was called Shabby Lane. Pete Cummins last saw him play at Dublin’s Leeson Lounge two months before his heart attack.
“He was just brilliant,” he says. “He hadn’t played like that since the 1960s. He was as good as he ever was.”
Salute to Henry is at Vicar Street, Dublin, tomorrow.