Over the years I’ve met a few famous people, mostly while working in music shops. It was in the late 80’s while I was working in one of these shops, Waltons in Dun Laoghaire, that I first met the guys who would go on to form Rollerskate Skinny. Back then they were the Hippyshakes and they would come into the shop quite a bit. But then Dun Laoghaire seemed to have a disproportionate amount of musicians for such a small town and most of them tended to gravitate towards the music shop as a hangout. A couple of years later I was working in London. I’d seen that Rollerskate Skinny were playing in the Camden Falcon so being a bit homesick and eager to see some people I knew from back home (and also to catch a great gig) I went along. The pub part of the venue was absolutely heaving but somehow I managed to find the lads from the band. We were at the bar and they introduced me to Shane MacGowan’s sister. As far as I can remember Shane appeared not too long after. I was awestruck, the Pogues and Shane were legendary back then. In the early 90’s Shane’s behaviour was well documented and commented on and by this stage he’d left the Pogues as a result. But I couldn’t believe I was standing beside this great songwriter at a fairly dingy bar in London. Even now as we head into the Christmas season Fairytale of NewYork must be one of the most requested songs at this time of the year (and one of the best too). Although he was standing beside me at the bar I wasn’t talking to him but I did meet him properly years later back in Dublin, when he used to come into Waltons on Georges Street. He was definitely a lot calmer than years previous! For the record that Rollerskate Skinny gig in the Falcon was definitely one of the loudest gigs I was ever at.
Where I grew up in a suburb of Dublin there used to be a little music shop, ‘Pat Dolans’, buried in the heart of the housing estate. It was less than a ten minute walk from my house. I used to love going in to look at all the guitars that I couldn’t possibly afford. The guys in there were always helpful and friendly and let me try some of the expensive guitars. I walked in one day as one of the staff was showing a guitar to a customer. It must have been a new model but I can’t remember what it was. His sales talk was what has stuck with me to this day; ‘Man, you hit this switch and it’s instant fucking Led Zeppelin.’ Wow, that’s how you sell a guitar I thought. Well he had me sold, the only drawback being that at 16 I had no money. When years later I was working in music shops selling guitars I always wondered about the wisdom of maybe trying to use his line, but I think if it was premeditated it wouldn’t ring true. I like to think that the pure enthusiasm he had for that guitar just happened to find it’s expression that way. There have been a few guitars I’ve tried over the years that felt amazing, inspiring, as soon as you’d sit down to play, but not that many. Considering I worked in 3 different stores over a period of about 14 years, I’ve tried a lot of guitars, some very expensive. So if you’re a guitarist and you find a guitar that you instantly bond with…buy it. Just be careful that you don’t end up thinking every guitar you touch is inspirational – this could become a costly exercise and possibly lead to GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).
I was sitting outside a café in Dublin enjoying a coffee and the evening sunshine when two friends passed by, making their way to Tower Records where Neil Hannon was launching his album ‘The Duckworth Lewis Method’. After explaining where they were off to they proceeded along their way. About ten minutes later they reappeared with Neil Hannon in tow. For whatever reason his piano/keyboard hadn’t arrived at the gig, so he was a bit stuck. He’d already tried a certain music shop on Exchequer St. to see if he could borrow one for the duration of the gig. Allegedly he was pretty much told he would have to buy the instrument before he could leave the shop with it. Fair enough you might say, but what about supporting your fellow musicians in need? He’s obviously not some chancer, he’s released about 10 albums and while he’s not Bono he is reasonably well known – he did after all write the theme music for ‘Father Ted’. All in all it seems their attitude just wasn’t cricket. My two friends thought of me and dragged Neil around to tell me his tale of woe. I had years previously worked in Waltons music shop so I said I’d see what I could do. With that, myself and Neil went in search of a keyboard. The guys in Waltons very kindly gave us a loan of a really nice digital piano and myself and Mr. Hannon humped it back down the street to Tower Records. What I couldn’t get my head around was why the roadies were standing outside the venue having a fag while the artist was sweating it out lifting a fairly hefty bit of gear down the road. The gig was a success from what I saw of it but unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the full duration because I had to get back to work. I’m kind of glad in a way because I wasn’t being paid as a roadie to carry the thing back!! Anyway here’s a video from the gig featuring said piano.
My first Rock concert was way back in 1988 when I went to see Ozzy Osbourne playing in the Top Hat in Dublin (sadly this venue is long gone). The ticket was the princely sum of £8.50 (which is in the region of €45.00). I think it might have been Zakk Wyldes first tour with Ozzy and as far as I can remember Geezer Butler was playing bass. I think that was what really sold it for me, half of the classic Black Sabbath line-up on stage. As it was to be my first gig I decided to go out and get a leather jacket, you have to look the part! I had only finished my Leaving Cert in school so I wasn’t working, a strict budget was required. I trawled through the second hand rag shops in Dublin and eventually found a retro 70′s style straight leather jacket, big collars et al, for 50pence! The guy in the shop was distraught, there was no way that was the price, but I stood my ground. The tag said 50p and that’s all I was paying. I was over the moon – my mother was horrified. She has a mortal fear of second hand clothes (“God only knows who was wearing that before”). She scrubbed it and fitted a new lining into it before she’d let me wear it. The gig was amazing. As a first concert it was a serious induction into the world of Rock. Loud, lots of headbanging, the band played some classic Sabbath numbers too. Some guy dived from the balcony into the crowd below, which unfortunately for him parted and he hit the floor. It’s one thing diving from a stage but off the balcony? Well I guess the people in the crowd weren’t up for being flattened and he was stretchered off. I can still remember being up the front of the crowd watching Zakk playing guitar- absolutely amazing. Thankfully I didn’t emulate their hairstyles. (If only I still had long hair now though.)
After writing about meeting Dave Gilmour it got me thinking about all the other famous and maybe not-so-famous people I’ve met whilst working in music shops. While the trappings of fame I’m sure has its moments, being recognised while trying to go about your business must be a drag. Everyone feels like they own you and want a piece of you, and your time, and your autograph too – why not? My meetings with celebrities range from the bizarre to banal. Ronnie Drew (The Dubliners) had a row with me as he tried to convince me that the shop I worked in sold certain strings when, seeing as I had the stocklist in front of me I knew we didn’t. He was a trifle upset. I sat down with Andy Cairns (Therapy?) and helped him choose a guitar. As far as I can remember he came back again months later and bought another one from me too. I sold Chris Martin (Coldplay) a very expensive acoustic guitar that he bought as a present for Gwenyth Paltrow. I had no idea who he was, just some dude who said he wanted to buy his girlfriend a nice present. Pierce Brosnan bought an accordion from me when he was getting prepared for his role in Evelyn. Nice man, very polite and unassuming. (As a kid I’d actually bumped into him years previously when he was shooting Remington Steele in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.) Nils Lofgren (E Street Band) was hilarious, came into the shop with his crew looking to buy a guitar lead I think. A lot of big names just send the crew out to do the menial tasks, but not Nils. It was too long ago now to remember what was said but I do remember we had a good laugh. Put me on the guest list to his show that night too. Great gig, he reminded me of Iggy Pop for sheer raw energy on stage.
There’s definitely more but I need to scour the recesses of the old memory, it’s been a while since I worked the shop floor.
Photo of Nils by Gerry Gardner – originally posted to Flickr as Nils Lofgren Ronnie Scotts 97, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6283747
During the early 90s I worked in a posh music shop called Chappell of Bond Street, which as the name suggests was situated in that exclusive area of London. It thought of itself as being upmarket, (maybe it still does) and was frequented by wealthy sheiks and Queens of African states. I was in charge of the Guitar department but my accessory counter, (strings, picks etc.) was shared with the Brass & Woodwind dept. so I had to know about any products relating to that department too. I answered the phone one morning to an enquiry about metronomes; the clock-like device that musicians use to keep time. The basic electronic models began at about £20 I informed the caller, to which I was told that this item was to be a gift, so I countered that we had a very nice wooden clock-work, pendulum type in stock that would make a perfect present for £80. That would be great, could I put it aside for a Mr. Gilmour for collection later that day? Of course sir. I hung up the phone, immediately thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious if it turned out to be Dave Gilmour?’ You have to remember that as a young 20year old guitarist and fan of Pink Floyd this was a natural train of thought. I dismissed the idea thinking that this was London after all and how many Mr. Gilmours could there be in that metropolis? So when later that afternoon a certain guitar player from Pink Floyd stood before me requesting to see the metronome he’d reserved earlier I was star-struck. I tried to remain calm, I did try, but here 2 foot away from me was one of Rocks great guitar legends. My initial professional reaction was to feign indifference but eventually my excitement couldn’t be contained and I asked him was he doing any recording at the moment. It broke the spell a little bit. He seemed like an affable man but I could see he was uncomfortable as soon as he realised he’d been recognised. He answered politely but without much enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s said that it’s not a good idea to meet your heroes, but to me he came across as an ordinary bloke just wishing to go about his business without being hassled which is fair enough and probably much harder to do nowadays. I wish I’d kept a copy of his signature though.