I managed my first group, The BLUES by FIVE, when I was fifteen years old and my business card listed the number of the local telephone box in my native Magherafelt, Northern Ireland.
I moved to London when I was seventeen years old and studied to be a civil engineer, but the music business was my real distraction and I was more interested in writing about the London scene for Irish music papers than surveying, planning and drawing.
My real education began when I took on the multiple role of manager, lyricist, roadie, sound-engineer and agent for the Belfast band Fruupp. We signed to Dawn Records and worked around the UK and Europe for several years in the early seventies. Sheba's Song, with one of several sets of my lyrics from that period (the fine music was from band member John Mason) was sampled and recorded as Soon The New Day by American Rap artist Talib Kweli with Nora Jones guesting on vocals for Talib's latest Warner Bros album, Ear Drum. The album entered the Billboard USA top 200 at #2 on 2nd September, 2007. Norah Jones also featured Soon The New Day on her "Featuring" album, released on Nov 16th 2010 on Blue Note Records which was also a USA Billboard Top 20 album.
Fruupp eventually spilt up after four albums but by that point I had met Paul Fenn and we became firm friends and, eventually partners in the Asgard Agency where, over the last 30 years, I've been lucky enough to be agent for a wide range of quality music acts including: Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Ray Davies, The Blue Nile, Christy Moore, Don McLean, Elvis Costello, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Rory Gallagher, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, Robert Plant, Planxty, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, The Waterboys and The Undertones. I've also programmed the acoustic stage at Glastonbury Festival for the last 17 years.
Music has always been a major force in my life and I have a need for the music of The Beatles, Hank Williams, Nick Drake, Otis Reading, Bob Dylan and the artists we've been lucky enough to work with.
But as well as all of that I'm also a committed book reader—and collector—particularly British Detective fiction, and I have always loved dabbling in writing, lyrics, sleeve notes, short stories, etc., so in 1996, inspired by Colin Dexter (the creator of Inspector Morse), I attempted my first Detective Inspector Christy Kennedy Mystery, I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass, which was published the following year. Nine further Christy Kennedy titles followed, including 2008's The Beautiful Sound of Silence. In 2007 The Dust of Death, the first of a new series featuring Inspector Starrett was published. Family Life, the second in this series set in Donegal is called was published in September 2009). Also published is First of the True Believers, a novel concerning the Beatles, plus the factual (The Complete Guide to) PLAYING LIVE.
For my latest novel, The Last Dance, (published by New Island, May 2012) I called upon memories from my days with the Blues by Five when we would play around the Irish ballroom circuit as a relief group to various showbands. This is my second novel which uses music as a backdrop, the other one being First Of The True Believers (2002), "a novel concerning the Beatles." The Last Dance—set in Ireland in the late 1950s and early 1960s—and steeped in the world of the legendary Irish Showbands. It is the story of the Playboys Showband from Castlemartin, up on the Lough Neagh shore in Country Derry, and in particular the coming of age story of their lead singer Martin Dean. Unlike the majority of the books it's not a crime story but there is a bit of mystery in that if the Playboys were, as claimed, nudging the ranks of the top 10 showbands in Ireland in the early 1960s, what did they—and in particular their front man Martin Dean—do to have their name, pretty much, removed from all the history books.
Also published in May 2012 is A Pleasure To Do Death With You—(but only in the USA) the 10th DI Christy Kennedy Mystery series and this time with a new publisher, DuFour Editions. This time Kennedy has to travel as far afield as San Francisco to solve the crime.
This particular Kennedy Mystery was inspired by two separate incidents in my own life.
Firstly many years ago, following an incredible concert by Jackson Browne in Berkeley, I bummed a lift back to Los Angeles with my great friend and Jackson's long time manager, Donald "Buddha" Miller. The drive along the Big Sur was incredible with the spectacular dramatic views of the Santa Lucia Mountains rising out from the Pacific Ocean. We stopped off at the Randolph Hearst Castle—more JR Ewing than Getty—but we also pulled into Half Moon Bay, literally just a few yards off the coastal highway. Buddha had spent part of his youth in and around the locale and knew it well.
I swear to you I quite expected to meet Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Randolph Scott as they rode down Half Moon Bay's Main Street, tie up their horses and disappear into a saloon to remove the dust from their collective throats.
It really was just like stepping back 100 years once we turned off the highway, and I don't mean that in a bad way. At the heart of this charming settlement are beautiful old buildings and there was a very strong warm close knit community vibe. As Buddha and I wandered about Half Moon Bay I was totally lost in all the views and aromas of coffee and freshly baked bread wafting around the sidewalks.
Suitably refreshed, we continued our journey into LA but I never ever forgot the overwhelming impression Half Moon Bay had made on me in such a short period of time.
Quite as few summers later I was up at the Giant's Causeway—not too far from Kennedy's birthplace, Portrush, on the equally spectacular north coast of Northern Ireland. While there I spotted this phenomenally beautiful Indian princess. She was with her family who were busy, hyper and happy, happy-go lucky, and buzzing all around her. She had such a powerful but sad presence as she moved gracefully through the tourists. To me she looked incredibly lonely and very much the leading lady in a Leonard Cohen song. I started to wonder how someone with such stunning natural looks could look so sad and lost.
Right there in that thought I found the genesis for A Pleasure To Do Death With You. In the course of writing APTDDWY it became very clear to me that part of the story had to take place in America so Catherine, my wife, and I headed off to Half Moon Bay where we stayed for a very enjoyable week and by the time we returned to London I'd undertaken enough research to complete the book.
(Click any title to read about the book)
Inspector Christy Kennedy novels:
A Pleasure To Do Death With You
I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass
Last Boat to Camden Town
Fountain of Sorrow
The Ballad of Sean and Wilko
The Hissing of the Silent Lonely Room
I've Heard the Banshee Sing
The Justice Factory
The Beautiful Sound of Silence
Inspector Starrett novels:
The Dust of Death
Music themed novels:
The Last Dance
First of the True Believers
Pocket Essentials (2002):
How to Succeed in the Music Business