BY PADDY WALSH
AS DONEGAL prepare for another Ulster final, it’s as likely as a converted Michael Murphy free that the by now familiar strains of ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’ will get an airing or ten before, during, and, hopefully, after, the next month.
It’s also equally certain that the man responsible for bringing what is the official anthem of the current All-Ireland Champions into the public domain will be perched on a seat in the bar he co-owns with his wife on the holiday island of Lanzarote watching events unfold from Breffni Park in the company of fellow Donegal fans.
Giving the busy season that’s in it, there was never a chance that Rory Gallagher would be taking a seat in the stand at the Cavan venue for the Ulster semi-final but he’s confident that if his native county makes it all the way to the ultimate decider in Croke Park again this year he will be there. And, hopefully, accompanied by the man who was the original inspiration for the song before it was converted to the icon backing track to Donegal’s success of 2012.
“Yeah, we had problems with his visa last year and he wasn’t able to make it but we’ll try and get that sorted out before the final this time,” says Rory.
Up to Wednesday of last week, there had been a staggering 842,610 views of the YouTube airing of Rory and Jimmy (that’s Jimmy from Senegal, not Donegal!) sitting on a beach in Lanzarote under a hot sun, wearing and surrounded by the Donegal colours, and belting out ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’. 842,610 and still counting (this time last week 837,987 had viewed it).
Rory’s winning fans but then ever since the advent and subsequent success of ‘The Revs’, the three piece indie band he fronted that won a faithful following both here and abroad from 2000 to 2007, that has undoubtedly been the case.
It’s another blistering afternoon in Lanzarote and we’re seated in a bistro not far from his bar, ‘The Island’, situated in Puerto del Carmen and close to the imposing Biosphere Shopping Centre.
The friendly waitress approaches and enquires of Rory how things are doing in the bar he and his spouse, Cara, opened last March. “Going great,” he responds. “Very happy with it.”
For six nights a week he and his trusty guitar take up residence in the premises and provide three hours of entertainment for tourist and locals alike. “He is the best entertainer I have been in Lanzarote. You can feel the passion in every performance,” one Facebook contributor relates.
“I didn’t really want it to become an Irish theme bar which is the reason we called it ‘The Island’. We get a lot of English and Germans in as well as the Irish and support from home has been fantastic.”
Home, of course, is Donegal and, more specifically where Rory Is concerned, Kilcar. He doesn’t get back as often as he’d like to but it’s still home in many respects. “I’ve been living away from Kilcar since I was eighteen so there has been long gaps out of the place what with touring and the like.”
The demise of ‘The Revs’ in 2007 – the band also comprised Michael O’Donnell from Kilcar and John McIntyre from Dundalk whose father hailed from Glencolmcille – eventually was to take Rory in a new direction, literally.
Three albums, ‘Sonic Tonic’ (2002), ‘Suck’ (2003), and ‘The Revs’ (2005) – all of them well received by critics and public alike – and a variety of singles were released by the band including ‘Louis Walsh’ (a rage against manufactured pop music) and a lively version of ‘The Vapors’ song, ‘Turning Japanese’ to coincide with the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup adventure in Japan in 2002.
“It got so overhyped it almost turned us into a cartoonish band. It was marketed at the 13 to 14 age group and we were always fighting against that and with being described as the Irish ‘Busted’.”
But ‘Busted’ they were not as loyal fans of ‘The Revs’ can readily testify. The band toured as far away as Australia earning rave reviews Down Under both for their performances and the single ‘Death of a D.J.’ with which they had a top thirty hit there.
The played Slane Castle and various festivals in England, sharing the bill with the prestigious likes of The Stereophonics, Counting Crows, the Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and Razorlite.
All of it came to an end in 2007 when the band cut short a month long tour in Germany a week into it, burning bridges before eventually going their separate ways.
While Lanzarote is now his base –and will be for the foreseeable future – it hasn’t been all sunshine. There were times when Gallagher found himself living rough and in squats. And a period when the lifestyle of the island got the better, or worse, of him.
A festival appearance on the island in 2006 had prompted Rory to return there and it was while playing in Charlie’s Bar in Puerto del Carmen that he met Cara Gallagher from Edinburgh.
“I decided to move over permanently in January 2007 and we moved into together.”
2009 proved a particularly gruelling year for the Donegalman. “I was double gigging and living on uppers and Red Bull. I was trying to get it together, both for myself and for Cara but it was tight going.
“It’s weird when all these holidaymakers come to the island and think you should be on holiday too. That sort of thing is a lot easier when you’re twenty-seven.”
But get it together he did and while the release of his solo album, ‘God Bless the Big Bang’, took a while to win over the music public – “I was sitting with a box load of 5,000 C.D.’s wondering would I ever be able to shift them’ – it did strike a chord with the critics, Hot Press magazine hailing it as a “triumphant return’, ‘The Last Word’ radio programme billing it as ‘Album of the Week’, and other glowing references in ‘The Sunday World’ and on B.B.C. Ulster.
Rory has also recorded with Sharon Shannon, Damian Dempsey and Shane McGowan and will be releasing an E.P., ‘Dingo Rush’ – he ran a competition on Facebook to come up with the name – later in the summer in tandem with a new album.
Meanwhile, ‘The Island’ bar commands much of his working life. ‘There’s a regulation in Lanzarote that you must keep the original name of the bar up for a period of two years and believe it or not the original name was ‘Jimmy’s’!,” laughs Rory. “It was a sign from God!”.
Hence it was but a short step to alter the sign to ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’. And the song itself? Still winning them over ever since Rory’s mum, Mary B. – herself and his father Paul veterans of the entertainment scene through involvement in band such as ‘Luv Bug’ and ‘Pluto’ – suggested he change the words of ‘Jimmy’s Selling Watches’ (he’s still selling them!) to fit in with the Jimmy McGuinness All-Ireland experience.
“I sat down prior to the Kerry match last summer and scribbled out the new lyrics in twenty minutes.” From there it was to that by now famous setting on the beach in Lanzarote and the subsequent YouTube appearance and numerous performances later, not least in Croke Park by Karl Lacey and Michael Murphy immediately following the All-Ireland victory over Mayo.
“Jimmy McGuinness came up to me in the Burlington afterwards and said I had his life ruined. ‘You have my head melted with that song’,” he said to me.”
Rory and the Island – his official musical name so as not to confuse him in any way with that other Donegal born legend of the same name – is continually being asked to sing it particularly when visitors from his home county come into the bar.
He’s invariably happy to oblige but has countless other songs, covers and originals, in his locker to keep the patrons richly entertained.
The premises is going so well that he and Cara may consider opening another one on the island. “Or, who knows, we might even open one up in Kilcar!.”
Meanwhile, should you find yourself in Lanzarote on Sunday, July 21 and want to watch Donegal continue the journey to a follow-up All-Ireland success, look no further than the big screen in ‘The Island’ bar.
And if victory over either Cavan or Monaghan is achieved be sure to hear at first hand the song that accompanied Jim McGuinness’s men to glory last time out, sung by the very man responsible for giving it to the nation and any others who happen to be around.