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'I frequented Jimmy Macari's ice-cream parlour... mum thought I was at Mass'

By Eamonn McCann

Published 16/04/2016

Jukebox hero: Screaming Jay Hawkins
Jukebox hero: Screaming Jay Hawkins

We didn't have a record player when I was growing up. The only person in our gang with a turntable was Paddy Hutton, who also had a guitar. I was a percussion multi-instrumentalist in the Rossville Ramblers skiffle group, with Paddy and John McColgan. Washboard and tea-chest. I think I remember being reckoned a virtuoso as far away as Foxes' Corner.

We played three gigs, or maybe it was only two. Our big numbers were Lonnie Donegan's It Takes A Worried Man and the unfairly forgotten Bobby Helms' Frauline. Muse or not as youse see fit. We couldn't play anything else. Skiffle was easy.

Our jukebox favourites were more classy, but harder to play. In truth, we weren't much good. It's possible we were rubbish. But, music-wise, we did have the veneer of having actually played instruments. We had to affect the knowing aspect of a connoisseur to indicate an underlying expertise as we savoured Sweet Gene Vincent. (I got drunk with him in Belfast once. True bill). Bill Haley, Elvis, Charlie Gracie, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Willis, Freddie Bell, Buddy Holly. And I belatedly discovered Big Joe Turner, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Wanda Jackson, Big Mamma Thornton.

It was only then, at an advanced age for this sort of thing, that I acquired a record player and was able properly to join the record store crowd. Or an ice-cream parlour. Not a shop. A parlour.

I took to frequenting Jimmy Macari's emporium on William Street on a Sunday morning, when my mother thought I was at Mass. Jimmy had the best jukebox in Ireland, always carried just-released stuff, thruppence a song, five for a shilling.

With a slider, or a poke, to pass yourself, you could last the 45 minutes it took for Mass and a run to meet the more devout as they splurged out from St Eugene's to make sure we knew the answer when we were checked at home to see if we could name the priest who had done the honours. Jimmy's up-to-dateness was a mystery, because he was almost as old as I am now and a fan of Mario Lanza.

It was only after this educational immersion in music that I went to Queen's and discovered record stores. Didn't one have a booth where you could don earphones and sample LPs before you decided what and whether to buy, an excellent arrangement which should be brought back? By this stage, the youth-quake epicentred on Liverpool was sending tremors across the Irish Sea.

On to London, both a paradise and an adventure playground for what now would be called music heads. There was nothing you couldn't find on the Portobello Road, from open-air stalls with stacks of discs of vinyl and music blaring and always a clump of aficionados holding the record covers up to admire the artwork.

There's a thing CDs have never succeeded in emulating: covers which doubled even then as works of art. Allowing examination of the vinyl merchandise ran considerable risk of the disc disappearing up somebody's coat. That was long before HMV, Virgin and the like colonised the trade.

And now vinyl is back! And in some cultured locations, actual record shops as of yore. Cool Discs on Foyle Street in Derry, for example, where knowledgeable staff will supply advice and recommendations to suit individual tastes.

Plus, there's regular gigs featuring brilliant local bands. Rock 'n' roll music, any old way you choose it, got a back-beat you can't lose it. Just as it was in the golden age and will be again.

Come the revolution, the Derry Committee will be located in Cool Discs. For the essential teen spirit that turns the world upside down.

Belfast Telegraph

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