Friday, November 02, 2018

Ronan Morrissey of the Waterford News & Star with Barry Murphy.

BARRY Murphy has left a lasting impression on many throughout his life. Age is just a number to the newly-turned 75-year-old who has never lost his cheeky but charming manner. The former worker at Hearne’s & Co on the Quay dishes out compliments regularly and has no problem laughing at himself. A tale from a recent holiday to Mallorca, where he was remembered by hotel staff following his stay a few years ago, captures the lovable rogue’s mischievous ways.

On the final night of their all-inclusive holiday, Barry and his wife Rose enjoyed a game of bingo, which Rose won, before taking their place in the centre of a room for a meal surrounded with around 600 people. After the winner claimed her prize, a bottle of champagne, Barry was called up to the stage much to his wife’s surprise.

“So up I went and got the mic – ‘good evening everybody it’s good to see you all here tonight, I’m very shy’. I said that we would be married 50 years in two weeks’ time. We got her up on the stage and the two of us sang together, ‘True Love’ – all the women in the place were roaring crying. I’ve never seen so many hankies out.”

Reared on St Otteran’s Place, Barry was one of six boys in a family who had little, like many in the town. His Dad survived a bout of TB which robbed life from many of the Murphy family and his mother Kathleen was a hard working woman who was well known as a pianist throughout the halcyon days of Tops of the Town.

“In soccer today you might get a 0-0 or a 1-1 draw – when we were playing it could be 45-44,” he says of the children’s games in the park. “We played for hours and hours and hours. We could have been playing for eight hours until the fella who owned the ball was called in by his mother. That was like the end of the world. All the children from Waterside, Johnstown, Poleberry and sometimes Johnny Walker, a real nice guy, would bring down a team from Mayor’s Walk.”

Barry got his first taste of entertaining people at the age of 12 when his brother Hilary asked him to stand in and perform as a pianist in his ceili band. He quickly realised that he wanted to return to the stage and soon began to play the bass guitar for the Atlantic Showband alongside his brother.

“We played in lots of places; Dunmore, small places like the Fisherman’s Hall, the Haven, the Silver Slipper in Tramore. We served our time as apprentices in the music business and learned a lot from different people we met. My eldest brother George was our manager and he also managed the Atlantic Ballroom in Tramore. We had the full use of that for practice and one of our first big gigs out there was when we played for Kenny Ball and his jazz band. That was huge for us at the time.”

From 1965-73, the band grew and forged great memories as they played for crowds in Cork, Dublin and across the South East, with two-week runs in Courtown Harbour, Wexford the highlight of a couple of summers.

He recalls playing to 5,500 people at Butch Moore’s first show back in Ireland having sung Walking the Streets in the Rain at the first Eurovision, with their first song beneath the UV lights, Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, filling him with the adrenaline musicians crave.

Speaking of his nights on the stage of in Waterford’s dancehalls, he recalls: “If a fella got a bullet from the bird the band was awful! We used to see fellas trying to get closer and closer to a girl and we’d be saying to each other ‘I bet you a tenner he won’t get with her’. We’d watch him at the start of a song as he would crawl up and ask her if she’d go with him.”

Often, the funniest stories were the ones that weren’t funny at the time. One summer the dye from their royal blue suits ran into their skin and on another occasion a friend from Hearne’s, where the staff rules included backing horses, looking at girls and taking plenty of walks, sourced some neat and narrow beetle boots for the group. All well and good only for the fact that while there was one size nine pair, the rest were size seven.

“We could barely put them on. One of the lads said they felt very tight and I said ‘Davy, they’re beetle boots, when you’re on the stage they’ll go with ya’. We all limped onto the stage but once the music started we all forgot about our feet – all the women started screaming. Usually the first thing you’d take off after the show was your tie but we all ripped the boots off!”

Prior to establishing HL and FB Murphy, a wholesale and manufacturing factory, alongside his brother, Barry met his wife in Hearne’s and they later created a tightly knit family of five daughters. Always a religious man, he received a Benemerenti medal in Rome for his service in the parish St Saviour’s, although it was never intended to last so long.

“We were going to Mass one morning with the kids over in the Dominican and one of the Friars approached Rose asking if she could get me to go down and play just one song on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – that would be it. I agreed and 43 years later I’m still playing in the same church.”

“I really do love it. There’s no payment, it’s completely voluntary, but I did get paid, just in an entirely different way.”

Barry, who recorded his song Won’t You Come Home for Christmas and only recently ceased jogging, tries to start each day with a brisk walk with his dogs. While he might venture out to the county’s beaches which he never takes for granted, he sometimes strolls into the Quay, passing points where plenty of memories were created throughout his happy life in Waterford.

“Many years ago in the Olympia we played on a Friday night before one of the big bands like Dickie Rock and we had a fabulous programme. It was coming up near Christmas and at around 10.45pm I said to the lads that we’d sing a simple thing like Silent Night. I’m very fond of the Christmas songs. Dave Coady, the lead singer, started and I looked down at the end of the hall and saw all these doormen coming in – I thought maybe we had done the wrong thing because it was a hymn. But instead we got three or four encores. Coming in our own hometown, that was unforgettable.”

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