Long-term readers will recall my love affair with Irish music in general terms, and specifically, The Dubliners.
As an entity and institution, The Dubliners lasted a half-century, finally disbanding in 2012 after the banjoist and last original band member Barney McKenna died. Lineups changed, and the entertainment value never wavered, but in musical and cultural contexts, the salad days were 1962 – 1984.
Campbell came along at precisely the midpoint of the band’s existence, stuck around until the end of the line, then went right back out on the road with a spin-of called The Dublin Legends.
Apparently it was Campbell’s idea to have The Dubliners perform “The Irish Rover” with The Pogues in 1987. For this alone, he belongs in the Irish Music Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing.
Following is as loving a remembrance as any of us would hope to have written in his or her memory.
For the uninitiated, the Gaelic word “craic” (crack) means the quality of life, the warmness of conviviality, discourse and entertainment – often, though by no means exclusively, as applicable to pub culture.
In the 50-year history of The Dubliners, there were eleven band members, not counting fill-ins here and there. Five of them as yet are living, and the youngest of them is 73. Time waits for no one, but it was one hell of a ride.
Eamonn Campbell: Merchant of craic, genius guitar player, loved by all…, by Barbara McCarthy (The Irish Independent)
We raise a glass to Eamonn Campbell, 1946-2017
Eamonn Campbell died last week and it’s bloody sad. It’s not just sad because he was a genius guitar player, distinguished record producer and arranger, merchant of craic, and generous guy loved by everyone – literally, it was also because he could connect with people.
“If you met Eamonn, you’d never forget him,” his friends reminisced.
In these depressing culturally bereft times, where people favour headphones to conversations, avoid eye contact and try desperately not to engage with each other, Eamonn was a big shock of white-haired charisma and quintessential Irishness who will never be replaced.
“We are heartbroken,” said his band, The Dublin Legends (consisting of Sean Cannon, Gerry O’Connor and Paul Watchorn) in a statement.
The Wolfe Tones claimed there was “no better guitar player anywhere”. The Pogues called him a “lovely man” – while footballer Paul McGrath wrote “there will be a good session in heaven tonight”. Dutch and German newspapers reported his death at the tender age of 70. The list goes on.
Every old man’s pub I went into after news of his death hit, I heard punters retell stories of encounters with him as The Dubliners played in his honour in the background.
“I have a few anecdotes for you,” one fella winked at me, “but I’m not telling you.”
“He was larger than life and he joined a band of characters who were all larger than life – so he fit right in. Those fellas brought joy to Irish people during dark times,” Nicky Black, who drinks in Grogan’s on South William Street, recalled.
Then Tommy Smith, a co-owner of Grogan’s, came out from behind the bar to hold both my hands declaring: “Ah no they don’t make people like that any more. Eamonn and Luke, Barney and Ronnie. They used to come in here at various stages in the 45 years I’ve been here,” he reminisced.
“They were great times. They brought the besotted fans over from Europe.”