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.


It's a fam­ily af­fair: (l to r) Am­ber, Tim & Hermione Hen­nessy

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