In today’s music industry, you could well ask yourself “Where have all the rock stars gone?”
We all know they don’t make ‘em like they used to, but it is interesting to see where they make them. Ireland has produced some of the world’s most influential rock stars. We’re talking about Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher and Phil Lynott, who have shaken the foundations of the music industry and rocked audiences all over the globe.
So let’s take a breather from Beiber, give Rihanna a rest and soak up some genuine Irish rock star righteousness.
Van the Man
Van Morrison needs no introduction. He’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee who has written over 36 albums in a career spanning four decades. He started in the same era as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and he’s still making music. Van is, quite simply, the man.
And he’s a Belfast man. Born and raised in , the spirit and character of comes through in many of his tunes.
Van was unquestionably influenced by the city in which he grew up. His song ‘On Hyndford Street’ will give you a clue as to why there is a little brass plaque on the wall of 125 Hyndford Street, Belfast. The terraced house in East Belfast is where George Ivan Morrison was born in 1945. The only son of George and Violet Morrison, he was heavily influenced by his father’s massive record collection and was listening to the likes of Ray Charles, Lead Belly and Solomon Burke from a young age.
Growing up, Van had a few different jobs including a window washer, touring the estates of East Belfast sudsing up windows and no doubt humming a tune. His songs Cleaning Windows and St Dominic’s Preview are clearly influenced from his time spent up a ladder in Belfast.
Today, on the spot of the former Maritime Hotel in Belfast, a plaque notes where Van and his band ‘Them’ performed their first gig in 1964.
He went solo in 1967 and one of the defining songs from his hit album Astral Weeks was Cypress Avenue. Named after an actual street in Belfast (a ‘well-to-do area’, lined with huge leafy trees), Van recalled feeling a sense of peace there, an opportunity to reflect. Vanoraks come to Belfast to drive down that very street on the Belfast Music Tour.
Tick the world’s greatest guitarists off your calloused fingers and you’ll name Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix and Pete Townsend. In the same league of axe-men is Ireland’s own Rory Gallagher.
Rory Gallagher and the blues go together like peaches and cream. Such is the magnitude of Rory’s fame that he is claimed by two of Ireland’s counties: and.
Rory grew up in a tiny village in Donegal called Ballyshannon. Performing was in the blood, as Rory’s mother Monica was a singer and his father Daniel played the accordion. When Rory was still a wee lad the whole family headed south to the rebel county of Cork. It was here that Rory’s music blossomed.
Like Van Morrison, Rory also earned his stripes on the showband scene. But the blues in his blood spoke too loudly and, before long, Rory quit the grueling show band circuit to follow his heart. Before venturing into his solo career, Rory joined forces with two Cork men to found the near mythical group, Taste.
Both Ballyshannon and Cork City pay homage to Rory with sculptures in his honour. Every year Ballyshannon hosts Rory fans from around the world in the Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival.
If you’re new to the music of Rory Gallagher allow me to suggest a starting point: the 1974 Irish Tour Album. This was the first album I ever bought of Rory’s and is still my favourite. The first track, Cradle Rock, is likely to change your life. Enjoy.
Long Tall Phil
Legendary Irish rock group Thin Lizzy was fronted by Phil Lynott. Phil was the ultimate Rock Star. A long strip of a fella, sporting a leather jacket and bearing a long-necked bass guitar – he just oozed charisma.
Phil was born in West Bromwich, England in 1949 to an Irish mother Philomena Lynott. At the tender age of four he went to live with his grandmother, Sarah Lynott, in Crumlin, Dublin. From there, he would become synonymous with
It was in Dublin that Lynott formed Thin Lizzy in 1969. Until his tragic death in 1986, the band were one of the most dynamic rock acts on the planet. Their albums sold millions, and churned out instant classics with Dancing In The Moonlight, The Boys Are Back in Town, and Cowboy Song.
Thin Lizzy hit the big time with the release of their album Jailbreak in 1976. Phil drew on traditional Irish influences, and Thin Lizzy’s cover of Whiskey in the Jar was simply groundbreaking.
The band headlined the first ever Slane Castle concert in 1981, with none other than U2 playing support. The gig has been credited for establishing the venue as one of the best natural rock amphitheaters in the world.
The Phil Lynott Exhibition in Dublin’s Stephen’s Green Shopping Center ran for months in 2011 and 2012, showing the largest collection of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy memorabilia ever assembled under the sun.
A stone’s throw away on Harry Street (Just off Grafton street and outside Bruxelles Bar) stands the iconic statue of the man himself. Gussied up in standard flamboyant wear, complete with guitar, the Phil Lynott statue has become one of the obligatory photo stops in Dublin City, giving even Molly Malone a run for her cockles.
Ireland’s rock and roll titans were each a product of their city. The soulful, lyrical beauty of Belfast gave the world Van Morrison; the wild and rebellious Cork gave us guitar hero Rory Gallagher and ultra-cool, urban, Dublin-nourished Phil Lynott.
Just imagine what our cities are cooking up next.
Coming soon to a Discover Ireland blog near you: Ireland’s Rockers II. Starring: Bono, The Edge, Sinead O’Connor, Gary Moore and Bob Geldof.