Getting used to a different beat


A New Life: Former superintendent Fred Garvey tells Cleo Murphy how he followed his son into the music business

Fred Garvey admits he did not pay much attention to what he would do when he retired from the Garda Síochána.

"We did a course on retirement about five years beforehand but you don't pay that much attention, do you?" he says. "I neglected my hobbies. I sort of thought I would enjoy myself, travel with my wife, Anne, and so forth. There were one or two projects I had discussed with people, but there was no real plan."

The former chief superintendent of the Kerry division is the father of eight children - seven girls and a boy. As his career in the force was entering its final phase, his son Rea's career in the music industry was escalating at a steady pace.

Once a member of the Dublin band, the Reckless Pedestrians, Rea Garvey had moved to Germany and set up a new band, Reamonn. Over the past five years, it has made three studio albums and one live one, and toured with Bon Jovi and Robbie Williams.

When Rea wanted to set up a sound studio back home, Fred and Anne decided to become involved. They found a site with a warehouse in Ballyheigue in north Kerry and began transforming it.

The plan was that emerging bands would have a place to record, and Reamonn would have a place to retreat, write songs and make demos.

"I wanted to support him. Not having a full knowledge of the music, I figured I would do what I could and hire professionals in for the rest," says Fred.

They set up a company, The Jam Factory, and hired sound consultants to advise on the refurbishing of the building. They applied for, and received, rural development funding through Tuatha Chiarrai which administers the Leader programme in north Kerry.

The reality, though, was that Ballyheigue is short on sound engineers.

The solution, and another use for the studio, came through Fred's conversations with Paul Dolan, head of media in FÁS in Tralee. FÁS would run a course for sound engineers, using the facilities at the Jam Factory.

Now 18 young people from the area are training there, and Fred is making plans for the future.

There could be a song-writing week, master classes in sound engineering or the possibility of bringing young people from developing countries for training courses. That would require negotiations to acquire funding.

It would mean drawing in other organisations and supports.

Having had a high profile before retirement is no small advantage when it comes to doing business, and Fred is not short on contacts.

"I would have known a lot of people, certainly," he agrees. "They would have seen the value of my work or my ability over the years and they can make up their own minds about what I was doing, or getting involved."

While the worlds of Garda enforcement and rock music seem separate, and perhaps at odds, Fred has a greater insight than many parents to the rougher side of life.

"You see what happens to kids when life doesn't open doors for them. Sometimes it looked like they had no other choices.

"You can't just whip kids into shape. You have to offer them something," he says.

"Some of the kids I deal with now don't come from the best of addresses but music is their world and they're finding a discipline in it. I've been with Rea when he's on tour and I've seen the number of different professionals who are involved - roadies, engineers, managers and musicians. The music industry is huge, it's worldwide and there are no barriers and it can bind communities.

"But there is a drug element in the music industry too and, while I don't teach the kids here, I do talk to them - maybe in a fatherly way, maybe in a policeman's way. I try to give them hints from what I've seen, try to steer them in a direction."

He's also conscious that his own son was helped along the way. "I worried about him when he went to Germany first, not so much that he would get into trouble or that he was set on a career in music but that he may not eat properly or sleep properly," he says.

"Those concerns weren't unfounded. We were going into a good hotel together in Berlin recently and he pointed across the street to an alleyway where he had once slept the night because he didn't have enough money to get back to his place."

A Garda's child is like Caesar's wife and needs to be seen to be above reproach. "That's an accepted difficulty for most guards' children. They're expected to behave properly at all times," Fred says. His son the rock musician has given him little trouble. "When he was in college in Dublin he used to busk at weekends. The guards were always moving him on.

"Rea is emphatically against the use of drugs, and I hope that's the influence of mother and father, and seven good sisters, rather than just about being a guard's child. Anne gave up her teaching job to look after the family and deserves huge credit," he says.

"But I'm not presumptuous in this respect either. A good upbringing in a good home is no indication that a person won't run into difficulty."

While Fred may have been responsible, in his own career, for up to 280 gardaí and divisional budgets, he was somewhat surprised when he set up the Jam Factory by the amount of work that goes along with running a business. "I never would have thought it was so demanding. Since we formed the company I see the need for discipline in running it," he says.

That said, he still finds it much more liberating to work this way. "As a chief superintendent you are playing a role, you're not really an individual. You can't let the side down. There's great freedom in the way I work now. It's a freedom to be your own man. It's a total change.

"The responsibility of being a chief superintendent in the gardaí is huge, and never more so than now. I'm delighted to be retired. I'm delighted to move into an area where that daily responsibility does not exist," Fred says.

"But you do need something to get up for in the morning or else you have to watch out for depression. At this age you don't need the demands of your job anymore but you do need something."

The Jam Factory may be providing opportunities for trainee sound engineers and aspiring bands; it may be offering Rea Garvey a facility when he's home on holidays and a source of new talent for his production company in Germany. But Fred Garvey is sure of one thing.

"I'm the real beneficiary here," he says. "I love what I'm doing."