The Newry man who said ‘no’ to legend Rory Gallagher
Tuesday, 29 November 2016
BELFAST City Council's recent decision to erect a statue of Irish guitar hero Rory Gallagher has evoked happy memories for Mickey Doran.
The legendary bluesman once tried to procure his prized Fender Stratocaster after a gig in Newry.
The former Hilton axeman and Rory developed a mutual admiration for each other's distinctive playing styles in the halcyon days of the showband era, with Rory's band Taste and The Hilton crossing paths on many occasions.
When Taste came to Newry in October 1970 and played St. Colman's Hall as part of their swansong tour of Ireland, local journalist Pete Fitzsimmons interviewed Rory backstage at the gig for the now defunct Newry Telegraph - leading to the guitarist making a tentative overture for Micky's venerated 1956 Strat.
Throughout their conversation Rory enquired about Mickey, expressing his admiration for his playing and particularly his lead parts, which, he said, went against the staid, risk-averse playing of most of the contemporary showband players at the time.
Pete explains: "Rory said he was around 15-years-old and starting out with the Fontana Showband, later to become the Impact Showband, when he first came across Mickey."
“It was great to see Mickey playing fantastic riffs at a time when most showband guitarists were not being at all adventurous", Rory told Pete. "The Hilton is one of the most accomplished of the bands."
It was then that the guitar wizard enquired about Mickey's hallowed instrument, before opportunistically enquiring as to whether the Newry man would part company with it, well aware that many guitarists before him had vainly tried to get it into their possession.
Mickey purchased the guitar in the famous Manny's Music Store in New York whilst on a three-week tour in America with The Hilton in 1967, and it was rumoured to be one of only a handful ever produced due to Fender switching production in 1956 from an ash wood body to alder wood.
Upon setting eyes on the guitar, he quickly arranged a trade-in with his own Stratocaster for the superior model.
Mickey explains: "Manny's was a legendary store and I was delighted to see the 1956 Fender Stratocaster there. It was in excellent condition. It had been bought by a jazz guitarist who for some reason didn't take to it and hadn't really used it at all.
“Its rarity was due to the white Maplewood neck and the Ash wood body and a Tremolo claw. The company changed from Ash to Alder wood after 1956 and pre-1956 Strats are much sought after. It has a really wonderful tone."
It was rumoured that only six had been made because of Fender's decision to change its source materials, making the guitar and even more prized commodity. One was owned by Steve Cropper, legendary guitarist with Booker T and the MGs, whilst Shadows guitar hero Hank Marvin is also believed to own one.
Over the years several leading guitarists tried to prise the guitar from Mickey's possession; including Jim Armstrong, guitarist with THEM, and Henry McCullough of Wings fame, with the Shandon Park man steadfastly refusing to sell a guitar that had garnered an almost mythic, Excalibur-esque reputation amongst Newry's musical cognoscenti.
Taste's line-up that night comprised of Rory on guitar/vocals, John Wilson on drums and Ritchie McCracken on bass guitar. At the time Peter Fitzsimmons was writing a music column called 'Clermont Crack' for the 'Newry Telegraph' and was in the dressing room talking to the group about the tour and future plans.
Little did Peter know beforehand that he was to be in the fortuitous position of breaking a scoop on the band's future that was to gazump the mighty Melody Maker
Peter said: "Also backstage at the event was Rory's brother, Donal, who was their road manager, and Roy Hollingsworth, who was a music journalist with Melody Maker, then the leading music publication.
“I was very pleased to meet Roy and learned that he was on the tour with the group because he had been given the exclusive story that Taste was about to break up. I was delighted to be given permission to write about the break-up in the next Saturday's Telegraph and had the first published story of Rory going solo.
“Roy evidently didn't think being trumped by the Newry Telegraph would affect the story which subsequently became a front page lead in Melody Maker later that month!"
As fate would have it, Mickey was performing in Armagh that night and, with Peter willing to act as nominated chauffeur, the superstar blues was guitarist keen to go and see him play, only for Donal to scupper the plans.
Peter said: "I told Rory that Mickey was playing in Armagh that night, and it was only a half hour journey away. He was very keen for me to take him there to talk to Mickey - I'd have been delighted to bundle him into the little orange Mini he drove then and take him there - but Donal wouldn't hear of it.
“The lack of mobile phones and instant communication in those days deprived Rory of a chance to bid for a guitar he longed to own and probably saved Mickey from yet another high pressure pitch from a top guitarist," said Peter.
However, in recent years Mickey's stance has softened and he's settled on the rationale that the guitar deserved to be played on a regular basis. Finally relenting, and with a heavy heart, Micky sold the guitar and it is now in the proud possession of Johnny Scott, lead guitarist for Van Morrison.
Micky said: "It's nice to see photos from some of Van's gigs where you can see the guitar featuring prominently. I had a lot of good times with it and I know Johnny is every bit as pleased to have it.
"Life goes on. I hope it'll continue to be heard in major venues for many years."
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