CORK SONGWRITER Jimmy McCarthy has written some of the most popular contemporary Irish songs, with Christy Moore, Mary Black, Maura O’Connell, Tommy Fleming, and Mary Coughlan all enjoying chart success with McCarthy compositions including ‘Ride On’, ‘No Frontiers’, ‘Mystic Lipstick’, and ‘Ancient Rain’.
In 2001 McCarthy published a songbook charting the stories behind the songs and it became a best-seller. In recent years he has collaborated with international hit writers such as Graham Lyle (‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ ) and Wayne Hector (‘Flying Without Wings’ ) and together with Hector composed ‘Angel’s Wings’ for Westlife’s Coast To Coast album.
After a break from performing live for more than five years Jimmy McCarthy will showcase new and old songs at Town Hall Theatre on Monday June 15 at 8pm.
Economic necessity in the 1950s meant McCarthy had to leave his family home in Macroom to live with his grandparents in Cork. It was through his maternal grandfather James Manley that he developed his interest in horse racing and this would lead him on to his first job at 15.
“I went to work for the Vincent O’Brien stable in Ballydoyle, in County Tipperary, in my early teens,” McCarthy tells me. “They had a replica of the Epsom Derby course there and it was an extraordinary place for a young boy who loved horses.
“I remember every Friday night some of the older lads would put some of the apprentices together and back them boxing each other. This new young skinny boy came to the yard and he was so light that you could almost pick him up with one hand. I was chosen to box him and within five minutes he had me flattened. I had a great apprenticeship there and then later I got a few rides at Newmarket with the Willie O’Gorman stable. I came back to Ireland to work with my father in the late 1970s.”
McCarthy’s father Ted ran a newspaper distribution service but through a combination of bad luck and bad health the family lost the business.
“I was working with my dad during the day and doing gigs at night,” says McCarthy. “When his business closed down through ill health I became a professional musician overnight.”
McCarthy developed his craft as a songwriter with stints as a busker on the London Underground and in the band Southpaw with guitarist Declan Sinnott.
McCarthy had his first taste of songwriting success in 1983 when folk-rock band Moving Hearts recorded his ‘Strain Of The Dance’ for their Live At The Dominion album. A year later his career was to really take off when Christy Moore released his stunning version of McCarthy’s song ‘Ride On’.
“I was delighted when I initially heard it because the production on the record was extraordinary,” he says. “That’s the one thing about the top tier of music producers in Ireland because you know that if people like Declan Sinnott, Donal Lunny, or Arty McGlynn had a hand in the production that there is a guaranteed great result.
“In the 1980s and 1990s people like Christy Moore, Mary Black, and Maura O’Connell all had these top producers working with them and there was a certain quality signature to what emerged from the studio. When Christy did his interpretation of ‘Ride On’ he stripped it down chord-wise quite a bit and I think it worked well for him. I remember having written the song that it was in my mind that if Christy did record it his low-register velvety voice would suit it very well.”
In 1998 McCarthy released a best of album, Warmer For The Spark, which featured versions of his songs by Christy Moore, Mary Black, Frances Black, Maura O’Connell, Mary Coughlan, and Tommy Fleming. Around this time an old friend suggested that McCarthy approach a major record company.
“Louis Walsh has always been a good guiding hand,” he says. “He more or less introduced the Universal Records people to me and sort of advised me to send them a copy of the album and a small biog. They immediately picked up on what I was doing and the association has been recouping for me every since.
“When I signed with them their basic job was that they’d put me together to other hit song writers. The song I did with Wayne Hector was meant to be Westlife’s Christmas single but they chose another song over it. Chances are my song would’ve have gone to number one and it would’ve been nice to have a song at the top of the UK charts. That’s the way the cookie crumbles though.”
Jimmy McCarthy has been writing and performing songs for over 30 years and a new album is due for release later this year.
Tickets to see Jimmy McCarthy in Song and Story at the Town Hall are available through 091 - 569777.