In aghaidh an fhionnaidh, 2/3

In an earlier post I described how Ireland responded to the pop revolution of the 1960s. Firstly there were the showbands who pumped out the big hits in packed dancehalls around the country. The Clancy Brothers, Johnny McEvoy, and others tapped into traditional music to produce something a bit more home-grown for the Irish fans. 

A third manifestation of local pop culture were the beat groups such as the Creatures and Orange Machine. In terms of style and sound, these were the closest thing we had to the international acts then changing the face of popular music. But the beat groups were the Cinderella of the Irish pop scene. Few managed to dent the national charts, and none emulated the global success of their American or British counterparts.

One of those who nearly made it was the Granny’s Intentions group from Limerick. Sometime in the late-60s I watched them perform on Irish television. Lead singer, Johnny Duhan, adopted the cocky demeanour of Mick Jagger. But he had a stronger and more distinctive voice than the Rolling Stones’ front man. To my naïve young eyes and ears this seemed like a band destined for the top.

As a youngster Johnny Duhan was captivated by the sounds he listened to on Radio Luxembourg. Like my pal, Donal Harris, he quit school and threw himself into the new world of pop. Before long he and his band were playing at London’s  Speakeasy Club to an audience that included Jimi Hendrix and Rolling Stone, Brian Jones. 

As the decade drew to a close he was sharing a flat in Dublin with two wannabe pop stars, Phil Lynott and Gary Moore. Granny’s Intentions were at the peak of their short-lived fame, having recently had a top ten hit in Ireland with “Never an Everyday Thing”. So although all three flatmates were about the same age, Johnny alone had so far achieved celebrity status.

While still in his early teens Johnny Duhan rebelled against the conventions of ordinary life to answer the call of the cultural revolution. But he found that his new “anything goes” lifestyle came with its own expectations and obligations. The record company wanted Granny’s Intentions to record the kind of music that would sell in large quantities. But even his bandmates thought that Johnny’s new songs were not “rock’n’roll”.[1]  Meanwhile they were enjoying the fruits of their initial success, which included ingesting LSD and other illegal drugs, and they resented their lead singer for not joining in. 

For the second time in his young life Johnny Duhan was facing a crossroads. He was not happy with the route his music career was taking. Yet he was not ready to admit defeat and return to the old world of academic qualifications and a pensionable job. He had left school early and felt he still had many things to learn. So he devoured obscure books on philosophy, science, and literature. His colleagues noticed the gulf growing between him and them. In a telling passage in his acclaimed memoir, There Is A Time, Johnny recounts how one of his bandmates accused him of being “different”.[2]  

He accepted the charge and decided to embark on a new course in which he could continue to make music – but strictly on his terms. So he left the world of commercial pop and became a solo troubadour, performing his own heartfelt songs to appreciative if sometimes small audiences of devotees. Although he enjoyed the occasional hit, like “The Voyage”, Johnny Duhan’s change of direction did not lead him to the heady heights reached by his former flatmates and a handful of other Irish luminaries. 

That did not seem to matter though. Other things were more precious, as a line from an autobiographical song, “On The Water” reveals:

I risked my soul to be a winner.[3] 

Just in time, Johnny Duhan discovered the price of fame and fortune.

[1] Johnny Duhan, There is a Time (Dingle, 2001), p. 181.

[2] Ibid., p. 177.

[3] Johnny Duhan, To the Light: Unsung (Barna, 2009), p. 167.

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  1. Well done, Jim, on whittling down my long wavering career in the music business to this sharp edge of an article. Happy Christmas. Johnny Duhan


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