Bernie Tormé, the Dublin musician who found moderate fame and fortune as a guitarist with some of rock music’s biggest names, died on March 17th, one day short of his 67th birthday. The musician was rushed to a London hospital in mid-February with double pneumonia, and had been on life support.
"What a sad day," Ozzy Osbourne sympathised on Twitter. "We've lost another great musician. Bernie was a gentle soul with a heart of gold. He will be dearly missed."
According to a report in Planet Rock magazine, Osbourne credited Tormé with salvaging his career in the aftermath of the tragic death of guitarist Randy Rhoads in 1982. “If it wasn’t for (Bernie), I wouldn’t be doing it now. I’d have given up.”
Another tribute was paid to Tormé by former Twisted Sister singer, Dee Snider, who had worked with the guitarist in the band, Desperado. Snider tweeted: “I loved that man & today my heart is broken. RIP Bernie. Your guitar weeps.”
Born on March 18th, 1952, Bernard Joseph Tormey began his life as a professional musician in 1969, playing with bands in Dublin (including The Urge). He moved to London in 1974 to play with various rock and pub rock outifts, but subsequently formed the Bernie Tormé Band.
Although admitting the group was more “second wave” than New Wave, the band played punk haunts such as The Roxy and The Vortex, and supported acts such as Generation X and compatriots The Boomtown Rats.
The band had musical muscle aplenty, but Tormé’s guitar playing (“a brilliant technician in the Jimi Hendrix mould . . . with razor sharp, whiplash lines and beautifully controlled feedback”, noted a 1977 gig review in NME by future U2 producer Chas De Whalley) set him apart from the punk rock music he admired and which influenced him. “The energy and the simplicity and power was something that I was totally sold on,” he told webzine punk77 some years ago.
Tormé never really gained a foothold on the punk/post-punk scene, but quickly established himself as an accomplished guitarist for hire. In 1979, he joined Gillan, the rock group founded by former Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan. From the early 1980s onwards, Tormé was one of the few technically dependable guitarists that rock bands could call on. Other musicians and groups that Tormé worked with included Ozzy Osbourne, Desperado, Rene Berg, Mammoth, and Gary Barden.
As late as last November, he was working on music, releasing the double album, Shadowland. His last performance was on December 1st as part of his Final Fling tour, the naming of which was perhaps a nod to his health issues.
He recorded more than 24 albums in his career as a solo artist or band member, his later few solo records (which included 2017’s Dublin Cowboy) recorded in his home studio in Kent, and crowdfunded through campaigns that ensured connection with and feedback from his fans.
A working musician through and through, Tormé never made the so-called big time, but his love of music never waned. “It’s not just about notes and technique,” he said in a 2006 interview with the website getreadytorock.com. “That’s the easy part. It’s about heart and soul and feel, which no one can teach . . . Some of the most emotionally moving music on the planet has been made by musically illiterate people who could not play very well. That’s not an excuse for not learning how to play well, but it does mean it’s better to try to move people emotionally rather than to be clever.”