‘Bop ’til you drop’, a fitting motto for The Dubliners star
Eamonn Campbell obituary: Born: November 29th, 1946; Died: October 18th, 2017
Eamonn Campbell. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
“Bop ’til you drop” was Eamonn Campbell’s motto, one that he was true to, right to the end. Despite significant health issues, the musician, who has died aged 70, continued to tour as a member of The Dublin Legends, as “sitting at home staring at the four walls” was never an alternative he was willing to contemplate. Widely described as warm and witty and a quintessential gentleman, Campbell was on the final three days of a tour in the Netherlands when he took ill and died, surrounded by his family.
Instantly recognisable by his shock of white curly hair and his infectious laugh, Eamonn was a guitarist whose skills as a producer and arranger were considerable. For many years he worked as a session musician, producing some of the biggest-selling Irish songs of the 1970s, including The Fields of Athenry for Paddy Reilly, as well as hits for The Fureys, Foster & Allen, and American country singer, Billy Jo Spears.
Eamonn was born in Drogheda, the only child of Patrick Campbell and Fionnuala (Collins), both Drogheda natives. The family lived on William Street, and Eamonn attended St Joseph’s Christian Brothers school. His father died of chicken pox when Eamonn was two years-old. After that, his auntie May moved in to help rear him.
As a child he harboured ambitions to be an accountant, but at the age of 11, he heard Elvis singing That’s Alright Mama on the radio and asked his mother to buy him a guitar. He got some music lessons from a local man, Frank Cassidy, but Eamonn was largely a self-taught musician who set up a number of local bands while still at school, including The Viceroys, The Delta Boys and The BV5.
He embarked on a professional career in 1963 at age 17 when he joined Dermot O’Brien and The Clubmen. In 1966 they had a big hit with The Merry Ploughboy. The following year, he first encountered The Dubliners when the two bands toured together. In 1968, The Clubmen left Dermot O’Brien and renamed themselves as The Big Band which included five saxophones, two trumpets, a trombone and rhythm section. Eamonn wrote and arranged all of the band’s music. He returned to work with Dermot O’Brien in 1970 but in 1973, tired of life on the road, he moved to Dublin and embarked on what was to become a very successful freelance career. As well as working regularly with the RTÉ symphony and concert orchestras, he worked in many theatrical productions including West Side Story.
In 1986, he was invited to produce an album to celebrate The Dubliners’ 25th anniversary. It was Eamonn who suggested that the band record with The Pogues and their rambunctious version of The Irish Rover became The Dubliners’ biggest hit, introducing them to a new generation of fans. A year later he joined The Dubliners. After Barney McKenna’s death during the band’s 50th anniversary tourin 2012, they changed their name to The Dublin Legends, and continued to tour.
Eamonn was a big fan of the Dubs and was invited in to rouse their spirits in advance of many big matches by manager, Jim Gavin. He was also a genius at the Irish Times cryptic Crosaire crossword, and would regularly finish it in record time. On the road, manager, Brian Hand was tasked every day with sourcing a copy of the newspaper. After every concert, Eamonn was the first member of the band to meet the fans, and the last to return to the dressing room. The last song he sang on stage was Seven Drunken Nights, a song made famous by The Dubliners.
Eamonn was taken ill with pneumonia in the town of Ede in the Netherlands. He was diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) some years ago and had been successfully treated for lung cancer in 2013.
Eamonn Campbell is survived by his wife, Noreen, and his six children Patrick, Eamonn jnr (Jacko), Frankie, Emma-Jane, Niamh and Ciara and his 10 grandchildren, including his granddaughter, Meghan, an Irish international soccer player.