Gary Moore really was the odd one out in our carefree, untroubled world in the streets around Stormont in the mid-sixties. As the rest of us teenagers lived and breathed football, Gary was more interested in letting his fingers, rather than his feet, do the talking.
And as we spent every waking hour kicking a ball about what |we grandiosely called The Field — a patch of waste ground near my home at the bottom of Abbey Gardens — Gary Moore would be practising the guitar he’d first picked up at the age of eight.
His home in Castleview Road was directly opposite the gates of Stormont where we also used to play, dodging the hated park rangers who tried to enforce a no-ball-games rule. But Gary never joined in. And the general consensus amongst us football fanatics was that Gary was just a wee bit strange — wasting his time and his life on a pipedream of becoming a rock star. He was obsessed with the guitar and the music scene. His father was a promoter and encouraged him to learn the instrument.
The first time I ever heard him play his acoustic guitar was around the scrawny little Eleventh Night bonfire that us cocooned kids from the leafy suburbs built on The Field.
Gary played the blues better than he played the Orange. And one of his first bands after he got himself an electric guitar was made up of a bunch of blokes from our streets.
They called themselves the Barons. And their lead singer was Peter Mc Clelland, whose son Mark ironically later became a founder member of Snow Patrol.
Their drummer was my mate |Alan Moffett who told me how the Barons’ resourceful manager would pay girls at dances to stand at the front of the stage to mob big Pete in the hope that their fervour would be contagious and whip up others to follow suit and so enhance the band’s reputation.
The chubby-faced Gary Moore who was a couple of years younger than the rest of the group took little notice of the mercenary maulers, though all that was to change in later years.
The Barons played one night at a dance in our youth club — at St Molua’s Church of Ireland on the Upper Newtownards Road. They were the support act for the renowned blues band, the Few.
Among our other club members there to hear the fledgling Barons were singer Linda Martin who went on to win the Eurovision for Ireland and Ronnie Bunting who went on to kill — and die — for Ireland as a leading figure in the INLA.
The buzz about the Barons that night was all about how good Gary Moore actually was but even so it was still a surprise the day I met him in Summerhill Avenue to hear him tell me he was thinking about going to Dublin to join a band who had headhunted him.
The words from his 16-year-old mouth sounded to my 16-year-old ears like the scariest thing I had ever heard, not least because someone from East Belfast was thinking about living in the unknown land that Dublin was to us.
A few years later, I realised that the world was Gary’s for the taking as I went to see his new band Skid Row — with their legendary front man Brush Shiels — in the Astor, off Castle Street in Belfast. It wasn’t long after I’d been rendered almost speechless after hearing the mesmeric Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac in Belfast and Gary’s playing at the Astor was every bit as electrifying.
Down the years, I watched as he established himself as one of the finest guitarists on the planet with bands as diverse as Thin Lizzy and Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum II and as he made records with George Harrison and Bob Dylan.
I only ever met Gary again on one occasion. Around 1986 before a Belfast gig, I interviewed him for UTV in a hotel after our initial plan to do the chat in the streets of our youth fell through.
Before the interview, Gary’s PR guy took me aside to lay down ground-rules. Top of his list was that we had to film from a certain angle which was apparently Gary’s better side. After he arrived, I remembered why — deep scars at the side of his face which were the result of a bottling incident after a row over a woman.
As we reminisced before the cameras rolled in 1986, the 35-year-old me wondered why Gary’s press release which had been given to me by the PR man said he was a mere 29, even though I knew he was only seven months younger than me. Gary was clearly embarrassed as his spin doctor stuttered and stumbled but he knew he’d been rumbled when my cameraman who was also 35 said he’d been in the guitarist’s class at Strandtown Primary School!
There was no doubt that Gary Moore was only 58 when he died on Sunday in the five star splendour of a luxury hotel in Spain. Not exactly a rock n roll death perhaps but still a shock for those of us who can still remember Gary Moore as the baby faced dreamer playing the Sash around a bonfire in Abbey Gardens.