Belfast boy Gary Moore was without question an international rock star, revered the world over for his genius guitar-playing. But if you met the man, you’d never imagine he was that person.
I had the good fortune to interview Gary twice in recent years and both times he was the epitome of modesty; a regular guy with no pretensions or ego whatsoever. For that alone he stood out among the countless self-important superstars of the music |industry.
Gary never did ‘the showbiz thing’ — attending parties, premieres and so forth. He kept a low public profile, and was happiest at home in Sussex with his children of whom he spoke with enormous pride and affection.
Not only was I shocked and saddened to learn that he’d been taken from us at such an early age, but recalling the genuine guy that he was I got choked listening back to (a recording of) him explaining to me in 2004 how he’d like to be remembered. He summed himself up perfectly: “Oh f***, I don’t know. However they want! As somebody that didn’t bullsh*t. Whatever I did, at least I meant it. That’s all I can say really cos I usually do mean it. I’m not full of sh*t like a lot of people. Whatever I do, whether it sells or not, at least I mean it at the time and I’m honest about it. Which I think is the only way to be.”
Of course many have been sharing their memories of this extraordinary musician, since he was found dead by his girlfriend in their hotel on Spain’s Costa del Sol.
In 2010 I’d reported how he had separated from his partner of 13 years, an artist named Jo, with whom he had a daughter Lily, now 11. Nine years ago, Gary had bought the five-bedroom detached house in Hove, East Sussex, where he lived with Jo and Lily. He’d moved to the Brighton area to be near his locally-based sons Jack and Gus from his marriage which lasted from 1985-1993.
One of five children by a promoter named Bobby and housewife Winnie, Gary was born on April 4 1952 and brought up in Belfast. He had a brother, Cliff, and three sisters, Maggie, Pat and Michelle.
But he quit as a teenager because all was not well in their household. His parents parted a year later. “Although there were loads of troubles in our house, I left Belfast just before The Troubles started” he explained.
Gary went to Dublin wanting to become a musician. He joined Skid Row which then included Phil Lynott. Gary’s first impressions were of “a tall skinny cool black guy”.
“There weren’t a lot of black guys in Dublin then, and Phil stood out like a sore thumb. People thought he was African and had come over with the missionaries,” he said.
Moore and Lynott shared a bedsit in Ballsbridge, and Gary recalled: “He was like a mum, up early every morning cooking breakfast, and he’d say ‘Here, f***ing eat this!’ One time he got me to order something from a Chinese restaurant which he knew I wouldn’t like, and he ate my food. From then on that’s how our relationship was — Phil was pulling things on me and I was falling for them.
“Phil did like the women. He didn’t look upon that as falling for them; he looked at it as having the time of his life. He made me look like an altar boy — I was never in his league, I promise you. If anything moved, Phil would be on it in a shot. You couldn’t
leave your girlfriend in a room with him. Even if he knew you were really into this girl, he would be vroom straight in there!”
When Lynott left Skid Row, he formed Thin Lizzy which Gary duly joined three times in between other bands and collaborations. Later, as Lynott fought a losing battle against his addictions, Moore tried to help his pal.
“He wouldn’t listen to anybody, but don’t think I didn’t try. I spoke to him on various occasions, once when he was in bed in Brussels and I said ‘Don’t you wanna see your kids grow up?’ He said ‘Thanks, yeah’, but nothing changed.”
In late December 1985, Gary and his then wife were visiting her parents in the Canary Islands when he got the news that Lynott had collapsed. He died, aged 36, on January 4.
Gary shakes his head at the memory. “It took me a couple of days to take in what had happened. I’m not one of those people who get emotional. But I went out for a drink in a bar and they started playing our songs, and a guy came up to me and said ‘I’m sorry about Phil’ I went home that night, man, and f***ing let rip. It was terrible.”
Gary was right; he wasn’t one of those people who got emotional. Instead he was extremely likeable and unexpectedly chatty. In the last year of his life he had gained some weight, but generally his appearance had hardly changed over the decades. He’d always been a jeans, T-shirt and trainers type, and still had a helmet of dark hair. Occasional use of the word ‘man’ completed the old-style rocker picture.
Moore told me: “I was no angel, but I didn’t get into what Phil got into — you know, the kind of harder drugs and everything. At that time it wasn’t trendy to go into rehab. He’d have probably been alright now; he’d have been in the Priory trying to pull Kate Moss!”
Gary worked with BB King, Bob Geldof, Greg Lake, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and The Traveling Wilburys which comprised Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Bob Dylan, and could rattle off rock star stories. He talked about touring with Dylan.
“A few years ago, I supported Dylan on some Irish dates. That was just like playing any gigs really as I didn’t have much to do with Dylan. At the Odyssey in Belfast, I tried to walk up the steps at the side of the stage to see who was in Dylan’s band. The bouncer said ‘You’re not allowed up there!’ and that was the end of that. The stage was quite high and I couldn’t really see, so I spent the next 20 minutes jumping up and down to get glimpses of what was going on!”
Moore was, of course, famed for that pained expression on his face when he played. When I asked him about this, he smiled.
“It’s almost a sexual thing” he revealed. “You could take a picture of that person from the neck up and ask someone else what that person in the photo is doing. The answer wouldn’t always be ‘they’re playing the guitar’. It could be pain or pleasure. People make fun of me for doing that, but it’s not contrived. When I’m playing I get completely lost in it and I’m not even aware of what I’m doing with my face — I’m just playing.”
Though Gary had lost his Belfast accent, his heart remained close to the place he was born. He recalled a 2007 trip home.
“I had a beautiful time in Ireland. I had a few days off either end of my gigs in Belfast and Dublin, and I took my partner Jo and our daughter Lily on a bit of a nostalgia trip around the places where I used to live.
“I went to my old school and to Millisle where I used to spend my summers. The only thing I didn’t like in Belfast was the Waterfront — I found it very sterile. I don’t like concert-halls where everyone is sitting down and it’s all very formal. Stand up in that venue and they tell you to sit down. That doesn’t bring out the best in the band or give people the chance to enjoy themselves.”
And he added: “I got a lot of inspiration when I was in Ireland actually. When I was just walking round in Belfast, a lot of little melodies came into my head. I found it very inspiring to be back there. I’ve been thinking I’d like to have a place in Ireland now. I don’t know if I’d live there full-time, but I wouldn’t mind having a place to escape to sometimes — maybe out in the countryside somewhere.”
Gary Moore back out in the fields? Now that would have been something to see.