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Sad end for gifted guitarist Billy McFadden who 'could play anything'

By Ivan Little

Published 26/08/2015

Way ahead of his time: Billy McFadden
Way ahead of his time: Billy McFadden
Clipper Carlton showband

One of Belfast's most highly respected guitarists who was a contemporary of Van Morrison in the '60s will be buried quietly without any fuss in front of only a handful of mourners in a common grave at Roselawn cemetery.

Friends have appealed for former colleagues of Billy McFadden, who used to appear in the UTV programme Teatime with Tommy, to attend his funeral today.

Mr McFadden, who was also an accomplished pianist, died a lonely death last week at the age of 71 after a long battle with alcoholism.

The one-time member of the Clipper Carlton showband and the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra was found dead at his home in north Belfast more than a week ago.

It's believed his body had been there for some time and he's understood to have died from natural causes.

The funeral of Mr McFadden, who once played in the resident band at the old Plaza ballroom in Belfast, was delayed because there was no one to take responsibility for his burial. However, it's understood that Belfast City Council agreed to inter him in a common grave after approaches from church officials in north Belfast.

Mr McFadden, a former teacher at the Belfast School of Music, had been attending meetings organised by a group called Helping Hands which had been set up in the Mountcollyer area of the city to provide support for alcoholics. One volunteer, Tom Ross, a former musician himself, said: "Billy was a lovely man. I knew him by repute as a guitarist back in the old days. Everybody talked of how good he was. He could play anything. He was way ahead of his time so it was a shock to see him coming along to Helping Hands in such a bad way. He was under the influence of alcohol for long periods but he was always an absolute gentleman.

"He would have talked quite a bit to me about his musical background, especially with the Clipper Carlton showband with whom he toured America and Canada, but I was told that he sold his guitar in America and gave music up after hitting the bottle."

At the Helping Hands meetings Mr McFadden sometimes played a Hammond organ. "He still had all the skill from the past, but he would never play the guitar," Mr Ross said.

He urged people who knew Mr McFadden to turn up for today's service.

"At the moment I think there will be only five or six of us there but Billy deserves a better send-off."

One erstwhile friend from the Crumlin Road area of Belfast said: "He was a brilliant pianist as well as a guitarist. He played by ear and it was no surprise when he started to appear on the TV along with Tommy James on Teatime with Tommy. The only shock was that he never went any further with his musical career. He was certainly good enough."

Mr McFadden's funeral service will be conducted at his graveside by the Rev Dr Robert Beckett of the North Belfast Evangelical Presbyterian Church at 11.30am in sector W of Roselawn cemetery.

Belfast Telegraph

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