- Biography books
- Harry Shapiro
Gary Moore delighted entire generations with his passionate guitar playing, from the driving rock of Thin Lizzy in the 1970s to his explorations in subsequent decades of jazz fusion, heavy metal, hard rock, blues rock, and more. Throughout that time, he could be seen on the world s biggest stages, yet the real Gary Moore was always hidden in plain sight, giving little away. Now, however, through extensive and revealing interviews with family members, friends, and fellow musicians, acclaimed rock biographer Harry Shapiro is able to take readers right to the heart of Gary s life and career. Despite his early death in 2011, Moore still has legions of devoted fans across the world who will be enthralled by this unique insight into the life of a guitar genius who did it his way and whose music lives on. Beginning with Gary as a teenage guitar prodigy in war-torn Ireland and continuing through the many highs and lows of more than forty years in rock, Shapiro paints an intimate portrait of a musician widely hailed as one of the greatest Irish bluesmen of all time.
Phil Lynott was never far from Gary’s mind. Outside his family, Gary’s relationship with Phil was one of the most intensely personal of his life, both artistically and emotionally. They loved and fought like brothers and wanted to be each other: Phil wished he had Gary’s exquisite talent; Gary wished he had Phil’s good looks, charisma and leadership qualities. When Gary first came to Dublin in the summer of 1968 aged only sixteen, Phil (nearly four years older) took the young whizz-kid from Belfast under his wing and, as he later said with a cheeky grin and a twinkle in his eye, ‘showed him the sights of Dublin’. Gary often told the story of when Phil took him to a Chinese restaurant and suggested he ordered sweet and sour pork. ‘I’d never tried it before and I absolutely hated it. Phil ate mine and that,’ he said, laughing, ‘established the precedent for our relationship, really, whether it was girlfriends, royalties, anything.’
Some of Gary’s greatest commercial successes came through working with Phil and if they had found a way to accommodate each other (as many creative but volatile rock partnerships have managed to do), who knows what more they might have achieved? But it wasn’t to be. In January 1986, medical complications arising from years of drug and alcohol abuse claimed Phil’s life, but for Gary, the memory of the wild Irish rover never dimmed.
Flash forward to the spring of 2005. Gary was wondering where to take his career next; he had been a very successful rock act in the 1980s, reinvented himself as a best-selling blues guitarist in the 1990s, but now he was restless and bored. The twentieth anniversary of Phil’s death was only a few months away. Gary began to think that he might revisit the power and dynamism of the Celtic rock that drove Thin Lizzy and had influenced his last work with Phil, the Run For Cover album with its hit single ‘Out In The Fields’ and its follow-up, Gary’s biggest-selling album of the 80s, Wild Frontier. He wrote three new songs: ‘Where Are You Now?’, ‘Days Of Heroes’ (first recorded as ‘Now Is The Time’) and ‘Wild One’, all with strong links to his Irish roots and past glories with Phil. Gary’s bass player at the time, former Jethro Tull sideman Jonathan Noyce, recalls, ‘We got together for a play in April, for a little jam down in Brighton where Gary lived. He had a few ideas around the Celtic rock themes and as I had been in Tull, he reckoned I knew a little bit about folk music.’ Gary and Jon, along with Gary’s drummer Darrin Mooney (also resident with Primal Scream) and keyboard player Vic Martin, went into Trevor Horne’s residential studio at Hook End Manor in Oxfordshire with producer and long-time friend Chris Tsangarides to record some demos. However, the time wasn’t right; record companies showed little interest and the idea was shelved.
Shortly afterwards, Gary read that Dublin City Council was unveiling a statue of Phil in the city centre on August 19, which would have been Phil’s fifty-sixth birthday. Worldwide, there are only a few statues honouring musicians, among them Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Freddie Mercury, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Rory Gallagher and Stevie Ray Vaughan, so Phil was in hallowed company. But in a sense, Ireland was honouring more than just a musician; Phil helped put Irish rock on the map and he had a strong sense of what it meant to be Irish (and black Irish at that), draped like a flag over his shoulders. His importance as a national cultural figure was maybe even more significant than that of his illustrious peers. Gary phoned former Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey with the idea they should gather all the ex-Lizzy guitarists back together. Brian mentioned some promoters were planning to put on a low-key event, but Gary, now well fired up, said they should book the Point, Dublin’s largest venue, and put on a proper show befitting Ireland’s most iconic rock star. ‘Sure,’ said Brian, the perfect storm of bullshit and intrigue surrounding events like these looming in his imagination, ‘so long as you organise it.’ ‘Deal,’ said Gary.
Jon Noyce winces at the memory: ‘My goodness, there was loads of politics, loads of politics, between the musicians and behind the scenes.’ Nothing involving Thin Lizzy was ever straightforward; guitarist Scott Gorham has said, ‘We were the most unprofessional professional band ever.’ During their time together, they rode the high seas of rock, Pirates of the Caribbean, led by their loveable rogue captain, full of swagger and mischief, and composer of some of rock’s most timeless, fist-pounding anthems. But the good ship Lizzy was forever lurching from one titanic catastrophe to the next. And they fought like cats in a sack—Gary left halfway through the 1979 US tour and didn’t speak to Phil for four years. The band never really recovered and, once it all ended, Phil never recovered. Gary and Scott had never spoken since; Scott and Brian Robertson weren’t really on speaking terms. There were also ongoing issues between managements about royalties owed to Gary during his last stint in the band.
But Gary made separate calls to Scott, Brian and the founder Lizzy guitarist Eric Bell, who himself had stormed offstage in the middle of a gig—and began the healing process. Says Scott, ‘When Gary phoned, I could hear it in his voice, he was sincere about the whole thing about him leaving, there was no brashness, he was almost sheepish. We had never talked out the whole Lizzy thing properly and I think he wanted to get this all out. So, we did and I agreed that it was all water under the bridge. So, let’s get out there and make a great show.’
Even so, Graham Lilley, Gary’s head of operations, still felt a firm hand would be needed once everybody came together. He called ex-Royal Marine Ian ‘Robbo’ Robertson who had been Gary’s tour manager back in the 1990s. ‘I got a call from Graham,’ says Robbo, ‘he told me who was playing, and it obviously had potential to be a nightmare and they needed somebody with some balls to make sure it all hung together.’
Gary had a very clear idea what this show would be, or rather what it would not be; this was not going to be a Thin Lizzy reunion gig—it would Gary had a very clear idea what this show would be, or rather what it would not be; this was not going to be a Thin Lizzy reunion gig—it would
be Gary Moore and Very Special Guests. The main band would be Gary, Jon Noyce and Brian Downey with each of the Lizzy guitarists coming on in turn—and there would be no big encore jam at the end. This, says Scott, was fair enough: ‘It would have been pretty shambolic to have us all on together because everybody wants to solo and it was being filmed and recorded, so Gary wanted to play it safe and bring the guys on one at a time.’ To do otherwise would have been reminiscent of the chaotic farewell Lizzy gig back in 1983.
Rehearsals began at Music Bank rehearsal studios over in east London. Jon Noyce went down with Brian Downey and Gary, the idea being to rehearse with the Lizzy guys one at a time. Inevitably, there was a fair bit of mane tossing and pawing the ground as Gary came face to face with his former band mates. ‘It was hilarious,’ recalls Jon. ‘Scott hadn’t seen Gary for about twenty years; he walked in the room and they just starting ripping shreds out of each other—funny and jokey but with an edge.’ They had one musical problem to sort out: when it came to playing ‘Black Rose’, Gary found Scott playing the parts he used to play, but he went along with it and learned Scott’s original parts instead.
Gary was very conscious of the rock hierarchy and while he wasn’t dictatorial around the guys, everybody was acutely aware of where Gary’s career trajectory was compared to the others. He determined the nature of the show and they all acquiesced because they were getting paid (it wasn’t a charity show) and there was such a good feel around the event that nobody was going to throw their guitar out the pram.
In his own gentle way, though, Eric Bell wasn’t going to quite play the game. When he came in to rehearse ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, it wasn’t right to Eric’s way of thinking. ‘No, no, no, Gary, fuckin’ listen ...’ Gary laughed when Eric put him down and took control because Gary recognised and respected the musician in Eric, a very understated and underrated player. When Eric was living in London in 2007, they became close friends; he would go down to Brighton to hang out at Gary’s house and play. There were plenty of guitars to choose from; Gary had one in every room.
There were also some issues between Gary and his former Skid Row leader, bassist Brush Shiels. Brush says that Gary had asked for them to play together. But Brush wouldn’t do it without the Skid Row drummer, Noel Bridgeman, so eventually Brush just did a solo spot.
If sorting out the musicians was a logistical challenge—‘it was like a bunch of divorced couples getting back together,’ reckons Graham Lilley—dealing with the backroom shenanigans was no easier. Gary’s organisation was trying to work with the promoters who were originally planning the small, low-key event that Brian Downey had mentioned.
Once it became clear that this would be a major Dublin music event, Robbo says, ‘We had to ask ourselves if we trusted the promoter, because he was way out of his depth. None of the signals were right, none of the language was right, none of the money was forthcoming. As far as I was concerned, if it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.’
The promoter suggested he could get Sony to support the show, do the recording and so on, but in the end, Gary’s management took over and brought in Eagle Rock to do the filming and recording of Gary’s section, because there was a whole roster of acts to come on before Gary, which the promoter took care of. Poor promotion led to concerns about ticket sales but the walk-up sales on the night ensured that the 6,500-capacity venue was rammed to the rafters.
Once everybody was in Ireland, Gary and the band went off to Grouse Lodge, a residential studio outside Dublin, about a ten-minute drive away from the Hill of Uisneach, a former residence of the High Kings of Ireland and a location for the pagan festival of Beltane. Nearby was the mythical resting place of the goddess Érui who gave her name to Éire.