CHRISTIE HENNESSY THE LEGACY LIVES ON
2018 saw the release of The Last Goodbye, a collection of CHRISTIE HENNESSY’s superbly crafted hits, re-recorded with the 45-piece RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Here, JACKIE HAYDEN talks to Hennessy’s daughter HERMIONE and son TIM about the musical legacy of the man who passed on in 2007.
CHRISTIE HENNESSY WAS BORN IN Kerry in 1945 but was a latecomer to success. From the early nineties he enjoyed multi-platinum selling albums with The Rehearsal, A Year In The Life, Box and This Is As Far As I Go, as well as selling out endless tours and providing hit songs for artists of the calibre of Christy Moore and Francis Black. These were extraordinary achievements for a man who left school aged eleven, and who suffered from severe dyslexia. His first job was as a messenger boy, and working on London building sites gave him endless opportunities to observe human nature at work.
Daughter Hermione performed and recorded with her father, including ‘Every Time A Star Falls’ and ‘If You Were To Fall (And I Was To Fall In Love With You)’ on the new collection. She also served as his manager and has done much since his death to keep the flame lit.
I met Christie a few times, mainly at award ceremonies and album launches, and he always struck me as a man whose modesty enabled to continually marvel at his own considerable successes and his acceptance into the music scene at the highest level.
His daughter agrees with my assessment.
“I’m not sure if Dad truly believed he deserved to be anywhere. He’d never forgotten being told by his headmaster that he’d never amount to anything, so there was a genuine humility about him that came from him being a truly great, kind human being who didn’t believe that anybody should be driven by ego. But he had his contradictions. On the one hand he didn’t want to be a star yet he became transformed when he was on stage and became a consummate performer, story-teller and comedian. He was a very funny man both on stage and in our home in Croydon, but he was also quite vulnerable and wary of success while also wanting it.”
Hermione remembers a very eclectic mix of music in a household full of music.
“We had records by all sorts of artists, and my Dad always said that I’d spoken the names of blues legends Leadbelly or Mississippi John Hurt before I ever said the word Dad! We had their records as well as ones by the music hall entertainer George Formby right across to contemporary acts like Prince Buster,
Harry Nilsson, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Irish traditional music, classical and folk artists. One of Christie’s very favourite albums was Nilsson’s A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night. When I was little he was a drummer and then he picked up the guitar and learned the clawhammer blues style. He’d met Peter Green the founder of Fleetwood Mac and became a big fan of Peter’s wonderfully unique guitar style. He also began writing songs.”
She recalls her mother telling her about the first time she saw her husband perform on stage.
“It was such a shock to her I think she nearly divorced him. From out of nowhere emerged this man on stage who was completely different from the man she’d married. He cracked jokes, clowned about, nearly broke his guitar and nearly broke the stool and had the audience in stitches. She’d never seen this side of his personality. She thought he was crazy, as well as being brilliant, and it was the biggest shock of her life. It’s like he revealed himself as shy extrovert. Even later when we went on stage together he was always a bag of nerves and yet he loved being on stage and giving it everything he’d got. It was like going on a journey with him, not just for me but for the audience.”
“My Dad believed that his music was a great gift, and that if you had a gift you should use it. He encouraged me to sing and last year I came across an old reel-to-reel tape with me singing when I was only two! I remember hearing jokes on the television told by very famous people that I knew had been stolen from him and for which he got no credit or recognition. It would break my heart that he was being ripped off. He didn’t earn a penny for some of his early work. So I became his manager to help him become successful and to make sure he got what he and his talent deserved. I knew he had star quality. He loved the idea of families, music and entertainment together. He loved the Osmonds, The Jacksons and the Brady Bunch and those acts. Music kept us together and became part of my life experience. Although I got wrapped up in the business side because I didn’t trust anyone else to manage him, he always wanted me to sing and he’d point out songs like ‘Oh Shenandoah’, the traditional American folk song that he thought would suit my voice.”
All of Christie’s best-loved songs, such as ‘Messenger Boy’, ‘All The Lies That You Told Me’, ‘Roll Back The Clouds’ and ‘Soho Square’ included on The Last Goodbye, are grounded in reality fleshed out by his acute observational skills. There’s no sense of lyrics merely being conjured up just to match the dots. As Hermione observes, “Dad had a great love of literature and through his great collection of talking books he became very familiar with the works of Dickens and he’d listen to plays and serialisations of books on BBC Radio 4. That’s how he developed such a fine vocabulary. He had his own vision and he would bring the same sense of focus and determination to the recording studio as he did to his work on building sites. He had a kindly way of conveying what he wanted, and he became almost intimidated by his own success. He felt for young artists who might not be able to stop the trappings of fame going to their heads, but he made sure that didn’t happen to him.”
Hermione’s younger brother Tim has also followed family tradition into the music business and has been heard recently on radio performing some of his Dad’s songs. But he also played a major role in the production of The Last Goodbye as orchestrator, producer and mix engineer for the album.
As he explained to me, “It’s a privilege to be carrying on my father’s legacy and fulfilling his dream to hear his songs performed by an orchestra. But adding the RTÉ Concert Orchestra like we did with Gavin Maloney conducting can have its pitfalls in that you can overwhelm the music if you’re not careful. We didn’t want it be feel like a band recording with some strings stuck on top.
So it was important to leave space for the original recordings by Christie to breathe and use the orchestra to enhance them. He had a good instinct himself for when he needed something added and when not. A good accompanist knows when not to play as well as when to play. As the orchestrator I had to remember that the most important focus here were the songs. We also had to bear in mind that so many people love the songs the way Christie originally did them so it was important not to move too far away from that as a musical experience. Thankfully, everybody’s really pleased with the result. But we were working with a world-class orchestra and I feel Dad would have been pleased too.”
Tim chose the tracks to go on the album and did so with the care and attention you’d expect.
“We had to go for tracks that would work with an orchestra. There was no point in just picking the hits or your favourites and plunging right in. We had to consider each track in terms of how it would work and then what exact orchestration to bring to it. ‘Soho Square’ works particularly well with the orchestra added whereas a song like ‘She Sits Behind The Wall’ might not have worked so easily had we done it.”
Even better news for Christie Hennessy’s legion of fans is that there remains much unreleased material in the vaults which will hopefully emerge into the light in due course, although Hermione and Tim are currently unclear as to when and in what format.
Either way it looks like they’ll both be busy for the foreseeable future keeping the legacy alive and taking it to new places. In the meantime, there’s so much to explore on this new package which many will hope is not really The Last Goodbye.
“MY DAD BELIEVED THAT HIS MUSIC WAS A GREAT GIFT, AND THAT IF YOU HAD A GIFT YOU SHOULD USE IT. ”
It's a family affair: (l to r) Amber, Tim & Hermione Hennessy