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Tragic Derry pop star Jimmy McShane's Tarzan Boy a big hit again thanks to new Wonga ad

By Claire McNeilly

Published 27/04/2016

Jimmy McShane, who died in 1995, had a worldwide hit with Tarzan Boy in the mid-Eighties
Jimmy McShane, who died in 1995, had a worldwide hit with Tarzan Boy in the mid-Eighties
Jimmy McShane, who died in 1995, had a worldwide hit with Tarzan Boy in the mid-Eighties
Jimmy McShane, who died in 1995, had a worldwide hit with Tarzan Boy in the mid-Eighties

A little-known Northern Ireland musician is set to storm back up the charts - 21 years after his tragic death.

Jimmy McShane has posthumously attracted a new generation of fans thanks to his best-known song being chosen for a TV advertising campaign.

Tarzan Boy by Baltimora - an Italian group fronted by the former paramedic from Londonderry - is the tune payday loan company Wonga is now using in its new That's Wongability ad.

And the exposure has prompted a fresh wave of interest in the catchy one-hit wonder from the mid-Eighties.

The video has attracted nearly 50 million hits on Youtube, and downloads of the classic synth-disco number are growing daily.

Few, however, are aware of the singer's remarkable back story.

Born on May 23, 1957, McShane was just 37 when he died of AIDS on March 29, 1995.

By then he was back living in Derry, his career as pop star having crashed almost as spectacularly as it had risen.

Disillusioned by the Troubles and the homophobia he experienced in his home city as a teenager, McShane had attended stage school and subsequently tried - and failed - to break into the West End musical scene.

He reluctantly returned to the Maiden City, where he worked as an emergency medical technician with the Red Cross, mostly tending to victims of paramilitary violence. But then an old friend from the London scene offered him a part-time job as a backing dancer with disco singer Dee D. Jackson on her European tours.

During a stint in Italy McShane was approached by producer Maurizio Bassi, who was looking for a lead singer for his new project, Baltimora.

The Derry man impressed Bassi with his good looks, flamboyance and dancing skills and was offered the job - and in the summer of 1985 the group's debut single Tarzan Boy, with its distinctive jungle call and bass-line heavy synths, became a huge international hit. Written by Bassi and Naimy Hackett, the track went top five around the world and, for a short time, Baltimora were international pop stars.

McShane's career highlight - although he wasn't aware of its significance at the time - was being interviewed by the legendary Dick Clark on American Bandstand when Tarzan Boy was shooting up the US Billboard 100 in early 1986.

By this stage McShane himself was being referred to as 'Baltimora', on the erroneous assumption that it was his stage name, rather than the group's collective title.

This caused internal strife, which was exacerbated by the inability to produce a follow-up to their monster hit.

And, when the band's next single Key Key Karimba and subsequent album failed to chart in 1987, Bassi pulled the plug on Baltimora.

McShane, well aware that he had initially been chosen for his looks rather than his singing talent - Bassi preferred him to lip-sync in so-called 'live' performances - eventually left the music business.

He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1994 and, after being told there was no cure, opted to spend the last year of his life back home in Northern Ireland.

He is buried in Derry City Cemetery alongside his late father Harry.

Incidentally, this isn't the first time Tarzan Boy has featured in a TV commercial; it was used to promote Listerine's mouthwash products 20 years ago, and also featured in the soundtracks of two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.

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