“Ah, Miss Angela, ’twas the devil of a colleen I was in them days, most outrageous, with a foot, I tell ye, as light as them cratures as dances be moonlight. Sure didn’t I once dance down Rory Evans in the big barn of Farmer Donoghue’s at Clonakilty, when there was that cheering, I tell ye, fit to lift the roof off the house.”
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 1898

West Cork has always had a reputation as a fun place to escape to, full of singers and dancing and craic. As a coastal territory open to the whole world’s influence since time immemorial, the region has ceaselessly attracted those in search of something special, be that the beauty of our landscapes, or the many talents of our people. West Cork has never and likely will never suffer from a shortage of stand-out-personalities with artistic gifts willing to show them off to a hospitable audience, both among our ‘natives’ and among those many who have adopted us and in turn been embraced by us. Indeed the centuries-deep cosmopolitanism of West Cork is a wonder of the rural world. Around here, we do not only accept the creative diversity of characters and perspectives, homegrown or otherwise, which is the bedrock of the arts in any time or era – we positively encourage it, we grow it as our major spiritual crop. As such, West Cork is a standing contradiction to the widespread notion that Irish small-town culture is inevitably reactionary and dull & downright silly. Wherever in Ireland The Hardy Bucks and Killinascully are supposed to be about, we know it is not West Cork.

As a youngfella haunted enough to be growing up in Clonakilty just as the heavy-rocking 80s were morphing into the harder-raving 90s, I was surrounded by a golden generation of high-energy, high-output people in the grassroots arts – this was the era not only of the birth of DeBarras Folk Club, but also of Craic Na Caoilte, of the superlative busking festivals, of underage No-discos in the community hall, of the long-standing & ever-euphonious Pub Singing competitions, of world-class teenage flaneurs crooning Where do you go to my Lovely on Pearse Street on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon…. & so on & so on. Not to mention the breakdancers of Bog Road. It was a simply wonderful atmosphere for a young person with a creative bent to grow up in and among – you felt anything was possible and possible for anyone atall.

There are of course many people, and venues, that can justifiably claim to have contributed to the artistic utopia that West Cork had become by the late 1980s and has remained ever since. It should be noted that Noel Redding—a great but humble man—never personally claimed any kind of predominance for himself over the domain of local creation. Yet, who can deny that had Noel and his effusive partner Carol Appleby not arrived out of the blue in Ardfield in 1972, & had they not set about electrifying the local music scene in the years after that, a lot of what I mention of my youthful arts life in the paragraph above might not have happened or at least not happened in such an exciting and memorable way?

I remember Noel and Carol in those locally-flowering years of the late 80s as stand-outs among stand-outs. Carol exuded warm and positivity. Carol overflowed with good tidings. She had the power-of-the-flowers no doubt about it and she was beautiful inside and out – like she had walked out of a Haight-Ashbury dream. You only had to pass within fifty yards of Carol’s life-giving aura and you were cheered up for the day. Noel was a little less colourful most of the time, but he too had his rock-and-roll hair, his rock-and-roll glasses, his rock-and-roll trousers. He struck me as a man who knew who he was and what he was here on Earth to do, and that he was going to go about doing it, whatever it took, a man who said little & delivered much – the best kind around in a world with so many do-nothing loudmouths. Noel in no sense comported himself as if he were superior stock to us locals, but as one who was here precisely because we afford no such superiority to the artistic personality or any other kind of personality.

Noel perhaps instinctively understood that while we are all for dressing up and having a good time—do we ever stop?—what we really look up to in the 33rd County of West Cork is hard work, especially hard work that benefits others, that presents a lasting benefit to the community—whether that be the hard work of the builder, the frontline worker, the window-cleaner, or indeed the musician. What Noel did all through his life, right from the 9-year-old-day he picked up the Jew’s Harp in Folkestone and blew through his first ever audience-pleasing notes; right through the incessant, breakdown-inducing schedules of The Experience years; right through three decades of leaky-roofed Ardfield Winters; was work, work, & work. Noel understood that the key role of the artist lies in entertaining an audience of one’s peers, one’s neighbours, one’s guests – in being the makings of a great night out. And that, before it is anything else, is hard bloody work. Especially in front of the discerning West Cork audience which is always spoiled for choice when it comes to great entertainers.

How many awesome nights out for how many people did Noel generate in his Clonakilty life? How many times over & over did he set a rainy night on fire for locals & for our multifarious guests around here? The mind boggles! What the musician produces for others is joy – joy in our bodies, joy in our souls – something no mathematics or accountancy can sum-up. It is such Joy, that comes to us always in mysterious ways & never ever in scientific ways, that makes life worth living – or at least worth bearing, no?

Born on Christmas Day 1945, it all began for Noel, as will surprise no-one, in the loving bosom of a rural matriarchy. Noel was reared in coastal Folkestone – in many ways an English Clonakilty – by his mother Margaret and his Swedish born grandmother Nellie Bergren, having been abandoned by his father in early childhood. Clearly, Daddy was no loss to the household—he does not get a second mention anywhere from Noel. Mama and Nana encouraged Noel’s emergence as a teenage musical prodigy and by the time he was fifteen he was gigging on the live rock-and-roll circuit all around Southern England, including in major London venues & with a fast-changing line-up of bands and musicians, among them The Strangers, The Lonely Ones, & The Loving Kind. Noel learned his trade by doing it, and doing it under pressure – is there any other way?

Then came the fortuitous meeting with Hendrix in a London studio on September 28th 1966, when Jimi shyly asked Noel to join his new band – as bass player, not guitarist, which was a new one for Noel. Noel said yes – but had to borrow a quid the next day to get the train up to London for their first jam. Add in drummer Mitch Mitchell, & soon the three year whirlwind of excess and ecstasy that came close to blowing away everyone involved for good had begun.

It is a tribute to Noel that, from our perspective at least, the Hendrix years were such small part of his story in the end. His arrival in Clonakilty as a refugee from the thieving, soul-sucking, & downright murderous world of commercial rock-and-roll was Noel’s way of doing an emergency spiritual U-turn on The Road To Perdition. By doing so, it is likely he added decades to his physical life, and certainly he added decades to his musical life. Noel made it to the 57 club, and didn’t bow out with Jimi and the 27 club, because of his inspired house move.

All the same, it’s important for our sense of Noel’s local contribution that we summarise the brief few heady years of his international megastar career. By peer, popular, & critical acclaim Jimi Hendrix and The Experience are one of the greatest rock-and-roll bands of all time and their hard, acidy, experimental and spectacular style has influenced countless musicians since. If rock and roll had a bible, The Book of The Experience would be one of its most powerful gospels. Noel Redding was crucial to the group, helping to write much of the music—much more than he is officially credited for—and keeping the band together as a functioning unit throughout gruelling tours, disgusting over-exploitation by their management, and Jimi’s frequent collapses and breakdowns both on-stage and off. How Noel put up with it all for as long as he did, and not why he eventually strolled away from these rigours of fame, is for me the real mystery.

The result of three years of chart-topping & stadium-filling, of headline-making & TV-thrilling, of three hit albums, a slew of hit singles, and live performances before an accumulation of millions was for the three band members very nearly nothing. Nothing only poverty, depression, & a deep & bitter sense of having been grossly used & abused. Being at the very pinnacle of the rock-and-roll pyramid—the envy of millions—had also kindly gifted the now worn-out trio with addictions or near addictions to alcohol, weed, speed pills—the long-term overindulgence of each being ill advised, and their cock-tailing often fatal. As such self-inflicted snakebites soon turned out to be for poor oul Jimi Hendrix. Jimi’s reward for conquering the rock-and-roll world and changing guitar music for ever-after was an early death, and entry into that tragic 27 club on the night of September 18, 1970. The post-mortem found that among other toxins, Jimi had 18 times the recommended dose of the now long-banned sleeping pill Vesperax in his blood.

Was it accident or suicide? I’m fairly sure it was a bit of both as it is with many an addict’s last overdose. Noel also considered murder a possibility – claiming in press appearances around the time of the release of his and Carol’s autobiography Are You Experienced back in the early 90s that he had ‘met a bloke’ in Italy who had ‘heard from another bloke‘ that a hitman been sent forth from Italy to dispatch Jimi, and had done so by poisoning his drug supply. With all due respect for Noel & his memory, this little slice of conspiracy sounds about as reliable as conspiracy theories usually are. As a metaphor though, it makes some sense. Weren’t Jimi, Janis, Jim Morrison….and many more all-but-murdered by their fancy-dan exploiters and the gruelling torments their exploiters put them through? Even if the final stab was by their own hand, it was surely a guided hand.

By the time of Jimi’s tragedy, Noel had moved on, finally sick of being taken for granted and pleasing everyone around but himself. For the time being though, it was only a move sideways, not a move forward, not the u-turn, the leap of faith that was to come. He worked on a number of new projects, trying to establish independence, financial & artistic, from The Experience and its savage management. Most significantly, Noel founded Fat Mattress, alongside fellow Folkestone geniuses Neil Landon, Jim Leverton and Eric Dillon. Noel’s good name got them plenty of gigs, exposures and acclaim. But after 18 months and two albums—well worth a listen—he found himself in exactly the same place, only now he’d been fooled twice, and the shame was on him. Polydor grossed the equivalent of €500000 on Fat Mattress in 1970. Noel and the others got €1200 each. At last, the penny dropped with a harsh clang, the proverbial camel’s back snapped in two. The time had definitively come for Noel to either jump off the cliff or turn round and try and get back to somewhere like a home, a redoubt, a safe space and a nurturing environment where he could build himself back up from the shell he had left and rediscover his love of making music and entertaining the people.

That place was to be….you guessed it! West Cork, or more precisely Clonakilty, or more precisely again, the beautiful land that sweeps down to the sea called Ardfield (‘High’ field if we are to fully translate it from Irish, ironically enough!). How did Noel and Carol, the woman whose nurturing love had lately settled him after years of one-night stands and surprisingly boring after-gig gang bangs, come to choose ourselves? According to some, to those who enjoy a good tale let’s say, who maybe draw their inspiration from the same fantastical storytellers’ stock that gave us the Italian Assassin above, it was an act of aleatory magic—a blindfolded, random pinstick in a map of the world. That version is cool—and it suits our idea of Carol for sure, who was among the first to add crystals and tarots into our local spiritual practices. As an occasional fiction writer & somewhat of an embellishing memoirist, I like that version a lot. But it isn’t true—at least it is not the version Carol and Noel themselves gave in Are You Experienced of their many-lives-altering decision to emigrate here and settle down.

The truth is in fact much more complimentary to their destination. Noel and Carol came to rural Ireland because they already knew rural Ireland and knew that they liked it, that it was the very opposite of the Empire of Mammon they were trying to get away from. They knew exactly what they were looking for and they knew they would find it around here—the world’s most precious things, which you couldn’t find in LA or London for love nor money, things we had back then, and still have in spades:

In the tranquillity of my new homeland, I could nearly forget the nightmare. In this world, hustlers were `chancers’ and given a wide berth, not congratulations. The most discussed topic was the weather. I rediscovered my pleasure in nature — its power and beauty put my problems in perspective. Besides flattened crops, a storm could easily mean no utilities — no water-pump for the well, no cooker, no heat except an open fire which we then cooked on, too, and no phone. But I began to find things to savour more and more each day: taking the time for a chat in each shop, the old-fashioned exchange of pleasantries, `Anything strange? Or new? Or different?’ I learned that word-of-mouth is faster than telephone. I found bits and pieces of happiness in little things that mean a lot. I passed my twenty-eighth birthday among friends.

It should give us all a prideful pause to see what high regard West Cork was already held in by our guests and new arrivals a half a century ago. Remember that most of the traffic at the time was in the opposite direction, out of West Cork, not into it. The country was depressed, and its rural edges the most depressed of all. One gets the feeling that perhaps Noel and Carol, and the others that followed in their wake, could see something special about us that maybe we had become not very good at noticing about ourselves.

Still, things were tough in the early West Cork years. Most assumed, naturally enough, that Carol & Noel were stinking rich, when in fact they hadn’t a bob and barely got by for years on end—surviving by whatever intermittent gigging Noel picked up and through sales of Carol’s home baking and handmade crafts, among other hand-to-mouth escapades. Noel was still dealing with the hangover of the stadium years. He was hiring lawyers to sue lawyers. Then hiring more lawyers to sue those lawyers. With no outcome only even deeper poverty, a sourer vein of bitterness threatened to take hold & inflict long-term spiritual paralysis, or worse. Then there was the continuing rock-&-roll excess to somehow pay for & get through, in a non rock-and-roll world, which was sometimes fun, but often not. Carol & Noel’s relationship strained throughout the mid & late 70s as Noel struggled to move on from the heavy burden of his past. But, inspiringly I think, Carol stood by Noel through it all, and slowly but surely the bright corner was turned for them both—and for all of West Cork.

Noel was never shy of praising those in West Cork who helped him get the wings back on his soul—one of the many pleasures of perusing his writings and interviews is the compulsion he has to name names and assign good cess. According to the horse’s mouth itself then, The Rebirth of Noel Redding, the people’s artist, started—like many a West Cork legend—in O Donovan’s Hotel, where at the Monday night ‘getting to know you’ sessions Noel very tentatively attempted Jams with a local group, trying to conquer my fear of people, audiences, & playing. As time went by Noel & Carol got to know the locals and their love of good company, good craic, & good music better and better and the gigs and the sessions, formal and informal; twilight, midnight, afternoon and dawn; front lounge & back kitchen; became more regular and more enjoyable for all. Out of West Cork’s ancient Womb of nurture and craic, Noel was born again in an artistic and a spiritual sense and he entered into his thirties on the up & as the messy 1970s at last approached an end.

Olive Finn, of Mick Finn’s famous pub & her own famous Olive Branch food store, recalled in an interview in The Examiner back in 2013 the impact Noel had on the local artistic scene in the early years—Suddenly you’d come in (to Mick Finn’s) and Noel would be there with Dave Clarke, Eric Bell and others, and they would just have impromptu sessions. Olive also recounts something else of the magic reality of Noel Redding to which all who remember him testify—his open-hearted hospitality as a musician; he was a fabulously inclusive musician, anyone could join him on stage and so they did, everyone from David Bowie to Johnny Dooley rocked out with Noel Redding in Clonakilty. Noel’s musical inclusivity is another sign of how well-suited he was to West Cork, and we to him—for isn’t this inclusivity the ethic of the local session and the sing-song? In West Cork anyone with music can join in with the rest of the musicmakers—and there is no room for lazing about! Here is Jeff Ward describing how that all worked:

I first met Noel Redding in early 1992..on my first visit to Ireland. I was living in London at the time, trying to find a way out of “Thatcher’s Britain”. I’d grown up listening to the sounds of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and had been given a copy of Noel’s autobiography the previous Christmas. In it he spoke of West Cork and the pubs and venues…He described it so well that I thought I’d better come and take a look.

So I land into Clonakilty and Noel’s playing that night in Shanleys, with Bill on guitar. No Hendrix tunes or anything remotely psychedelic, mostly old Rock’n’Roll songs that Noel knew and remembered from his early days. In the break I pluck up enough courage to go over and say “Hello”…

“Hello Mate”..he replies..“Do you play Bass?”

“Well…Er…I can..” I said.

“Good…you’re playing the second half!”

So there I was, playing Bass with Noel and a young Bill on my first night in the country….I went on to play with Noel many times after I moved here the following year…we even recorded an album together in his front room. His work, music and legacy still resonates through the years, both here and around the world. and I was blessed to be able to call him a friend.

Noel and various bands and line-ups became a regular feature of the burgeoning West Cork Rock scene, blowing the roof off numerous venues, and building a scene that many other artists & punters keyed in to as time went by.

To make ends meet Noel also started giving guitar lessons, reluctantly so he says, and maybe it was so, as not every artistic personality has the patience and constant good humour required for formal teaching. All the same, this was another way in which he helped catapult the arts in Clonakilty into an arena of a general & world-class excellence where we remain to this day. Bill Shanley was one of his early pupils & was proudly named as such by Noel in many interviews over the years. Shanley’s rock-and-roll bar was the scene of many a Noel Redding led session in those days and for many years after, & the show he put on there, like it was on every other stage West Cork offered him, was as good as anything from the stadium days. A fact which struck the late, great Shay Healy as remarkable: I always thought Noel was incredibly brave and humble to go from playing the Monterey Festival with Hendrix to sitting on a stool in Shanley’s singing Everly Brothers songs to a non-paying crowd.

By 1979 Noel could talk of the thriving rock-and-roll scene in The Wolfe Tone, where he played regularly alongside the great Jimmy Hayes, & sessioned with numerous others, including the still-touring Mo O Connor who reminisces that I done many’s the gig with Noel back in 1978/79 and used to stay in that beautiful house in Ardfield with him and Carol. Great times playing in The Wolfe Tone lounge in Clonakilty. Noel was a great guy and never came out with the “do you you know I played with Hendrix” vibe. He only talked about that if you asked him and of course I was interested.

Who else can remember the glorious Wolfe Tone pub? I was only three or four at the time of its peak reputation, but even I remember the sweaty, smoky rock-and-roll glamour of the place with the coolest name in town. I remember my own Mom and Dad, in their mid-twenties, glamming up before heading out to a gig there. It was where the hipsters of Tawnies Crescent, Bog Road, McCurtain Hill—and well beyond—went to get their kicks. Oh to have a time machine! Once again, unless one pauses to reflect, it’s hard to take in the meaning of having a thriving rock-scene in a town with half the population of a London Tower Block.

The story of Noel’s relationship with De Barra’s begins humbly and ordinarily and indeed organically enough. Bobby Blackwell ran into Noel at a session while visiting Clon in the 70s, during Bobby’s courtship of Eileen Barry, whom he soon married. Noel and Bobby hit it off. Bobby, a plumber by trade, was often out in Noel’s house doing little jobs—the place leaked like a member of cabinet. Noel and Carol could neither afford nor despite valiant efforts DIY adequate repairs. Over the years a lot of local tradesmen and workmen, including my own Dad, did ‘bits and pieces’ for Noel around his house & garden. Noel had a reputation as a sound man among all these, which as we know is far from automatically granted.

Sometimes when talking about Noel & Carol, and by extension the Bohemian emigré culture that emerged in West Cork in the 70s & 80s, too strong an emphasis is put on how the new arrivals stood-out, with their weed and crystals and purple pants and all that, but for me the really impressive thing is how well they all fitted in—a tribute to the open-mindedness of both ends of the equation. Over time, a deep and genuine friendship grew up between Bobby and Noel, based on the mutual trust between two straightforward, hardworking people—the plumber and the strummer. For Noel, who so often had his trust betrayed, to trust again was a big decision. Noel & Carol made several hardworking friendships like that in West Cork—friendships worth their weight in Gold records—they wouldn’t have got them in LA.

Bobby himself soon took the inspired decision—the good spirits whispered in his ear!—to renovate and reorient Debarras as a centre of excellence in live music culture, & Noel was from the very beginning crucial to the spectacular and continuing success of this plan, taking up a Friday night residency that lasted nearly 27 (there’s that strange, deadly number again!) years and was a great show every time.

Like Olive Finn, Ray Blackwell, who now manages the Folk Club, recalls the real magic that Noel brought into his childhood, during the early years of that long-term residency:

I remember Noel walking around Clonakilty wearing blue seude shoes & a David Letterman bomber jacket. Once we moved out to housemind Noel’s place in Ardfield. We were feeding goats and playing in their gardens—it was class! My dad built us a tree house out there. My parents often had Noel over for dinner in our kitchen with so many characters that seemed to walk out of the Radio or TV into our lives—the likes of Donovan & Andy Moore and so many more at the sessions that ran late into the night. People traveled from all over the world to see Noel in DeBarras on a Friday night. He always seemed to be really gracious and sound to them, signing records and beermats & it seemed anybody could jump out of the crowd and hop on stage during Noel’s set at DeBarras – most got one song and if they were any good they could be asked to join for the rest of the set.

Some of the exotic cast of musicians who leapt up to play at those sessions stayed around for a while, sometimes forever, melding with & transforming the local culture—and the local economy. We must always recall with gratitude how many West Cork Lives have been greatly enriched, and how many West Cork Livelihoods supported, because we punch so far above our weight in the musical world. This is down to two factors mainly—the talents of Noel and all those who followed his lead, added in to our own innate local capacity, forged over our centuries as a rebellious coastal outpost in touch by trade and subterfuge with the wide world, to accept, embrace and adapt to the ‘outsider’. Paraphrasing that well-known quote from the outsider W.B Yeats we might say that in West Cork there are no outsiders, only people who haven’t joined in with the session yet.

Among those who as Led Zeppelin might have put it came in through the out door of Noel Redding’s West Cork and stayed for a decade of sessions were Eric Bell (Thin Lizzy) Jeff Ward, Roy Harper, Paddy Keenan (the Bothy Band) & Donovan. And of course Les Sampson followed Noel to West Cork, & still plays in DeBarras. All three of Les’ children are now highly accomplished touring musicians (they play in TALOS , Moxie and loads of other bands) & grew up playing music in West Cork & DeBarras. Noel planted himself like a magic musical bean in the soil of West Cork & year after year after year another crop of genius springs forth.

Besides the ones who stuck, there is another star-studded list of those who were drawn to West Cork for a shorter period by Noel’s presence and the reputation of the sessions he hosted. Ray recalls the excitement he felt as a teenager upon hearing the rumours of the latest band to drive out to Noels house after their gig in Paric Ui Choimh or further up the country. Among those Hall-of-Famers who leapt into Noel’s sessions at DeBarras were David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Mitch Mitchel, David Bowie (yes i said him twice! Can you believe it?) Eric Shenkemen, The Spin Doctors, Shay Healy, Tom McGuinness from Manfred Mann, Jon Kenny of the famous D’unbelievables getting up to play sax, BP Fallon……not to forget world class locals of such pedigree as the aforementioned Bill Shanley, Jenny Mac, & John Fitzgerald. And that’s not all—we would be here til Kingdom Come if we listed all the great names! I don’t know how much they were paying in August in Las Vegas for shows we were getting on weeknights in February for the price of a couple of pints?

As well as being a Temple of Craic & Entertainment to rival anything Las Vegas has to offer, DeBarras is a University too, after its kind. Become a regular in the Folk Club and you will soon learn more about the whole range of contemporary performing arts than you would on any college course. I don’t think there is anywhere in the World you could learn as much and as quickly about guitar music as you can in one weekend of the (multi-venue) Clonakilty International Guitar Festival. Noel was the Einstein of this College of Inspiration, its wacky professor, who inspired so many by his own generous, enthusiastic and above all excellent example – the real way to teach in the arts, by the way. I’ve had so many other musicians who got a start with a jam alongside Noel when they were 18 or 19 come in and tell me how it changed their life says Ray. That says it all really—Noel changed many of our lives for the better, just as coming here did his.

It was in the 90s that the indirect effect of Noel Redding on the artistic reputation and pulling power of West Cork, and especially of DeBarras Folk Club, became ever more apparent. Ray tells it like it is—I suppose because Noel played DeBarras so regularly emboldened us  – you felt anything was possible – and your wildest dreams could come true – this still stands today because as a music venue we still like to punch above our weight – Noel Redding was one third of the Jimi Hendrix Experience one of the most musically and culturally influential bands that have ever existed – he played with Jimi Hendrix at Monterey and the isle of Wight……& here he was playing DeBarras every Friday….so why wouldn’t Christy Moore or Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) want to play the folk club? – Noel connected us all here in a small sleepy seaside town to rock n roll and because of that we knew we were worthy of our big dreams.

Clonakilty has had innumerable cultural successes in recent decades and many of them clearly bear the imprint of Noel and friends. Who can ever forget the magical chaos of our first Busking Festival, back in 1988—presided over by Noel’s good friend, BP Fallon, a kind of rock druid himself? Then again, as is said about the sixties, perhaps only those who can’t remember that truly demented weekend were really at it.

Aside from the never-ending parade of top notch performers that occupy the hallowed stage of the folk-club on regular weekends, the annual Clonakilty International Guitar Festival, a mecca for the world’s serious guitarists as well as quality entertainment for punters, is obviously a legacy of Noel’s, & of that sacred friendship between Bobby & Noel struck up over cups of tea and discussions of pipes and leaks out in Ardfield. But there are so many popular artistic festivals, events, & initiatives always ongoing in and around Clonakilty that it is impossible to keep up—a great problem for a small town on the edge of a declining continent to have. All of these great goings on have benefited from the confidence in our own abilities—organisational and cultural—that Noel and friends inspired in us.

One of the reasons we evolved songs and poems and music in the course of our seven million year old human journey is to help us deal with the fact that it’s an unjust universe. Or more precisely, we humans might feel and know what justice is, but the universe isn’t interested. No matter how good things are going for us as individuals, or no matter how much benefit we are to those around us, we are always just a split second away from a piece of news that will break our hearts and turn summer into sudden winter for us. Carol, Noel’s great love and a hero of his life, died in a traffic accident in 1990, one of 50000 or so whom Irish roads have massacred since we so unthinkingly gave up on the horse.

Many families in West Cork have had to suffer such a cruel untimely loss—by illness or accident, and by murder too. Members of those families and their wider circles of love will understand the terrible and potentially fatal nature of the grief that sweeps into such dark, demonic voids as are blasted in our hearts by untimely loss. There are places where a writer simply does not have the words, and should not pretend to have them. There are no words. There is however music, invented by birds of the air 150 million years before humans showed up. Music has much much more powerful, real and bewitching magic to it than mere words alone could ever have. Then there is song, that hybrid, fluid child of music & words, and song has the power to heal even the deepest of human griefs, especially if we ourselves are singing along.

And so Noel Redding sang himself up once again and not for the last time either from the bottom of that dread well of grief where we all end up, most likely over and over, as time goes by in our life. Noel had another 13 years of making other people happy left before, shortly after his beloved mum was herself called home to God, he passed away on May 11th 2003,—from the 60s as one grieving friend asserted at his enormous Clonakilty Wake. From the bullet he had dodged for thirty years longer than Jimi Hendrix was able to, we might add. In those final years Noel lived with & through his old & new wounds & continued to create & inspire all around him. All of Noel’s post-experience recordings are a good listen, but The 1995 album The Redding Factor recorded with Dave Clarke (and available on Spotify) is brimming with passionate and often uplifting, always tuneful rock-and-roll guaranteed to get you to your feet—another testament to Noel’s longevity as an artist who thrilled.

‘In this lightning-flashed twilight of his, Noel even managed to find, as he so deserved to find, romantic love again, on two occasions. First with Candace Carrell, introduced to Noel by Paul Schaffer on ‘Late Night with David Letterman Show’. Following this auspicious introduction, Candace soon became another true love of Noel’s and eventual fiancée,  once again nurseing him back to health and nourishing him with joy and laughter. Her reminiscences give us a great flavour of this period of Noel’s life and the hospitality and welcome she received during their happy 9 years living together in Ardfield, West Cork.

 My time with Noel became intense.  I contracted breast cancer.  He flew to NY to be with me as well as Dave Clarke.  They were wonderful and helped me through a very very rough time.  During my chemotherapy I flew over to Ireland to be with Noel, to be with the beautiful countryside, the music, DeBarra’s and to laugh.  Bobby, Eileen and everyone, Phil Shanley, Martin & Catherine Kingston, Carol & Syd Guppy, Les Sampson, Eric Bell, Jim O’Neil and everyone were there for me helping me through a very very tough time.. Bill Shanley is very dear to me too.  When he’s in NYC he always calls.  He’s been very good to me and cherishes all the time he had with Noel who taught him so much.  They were special mates.

DeBarra’s was our rock solid happy place where Noel could relax, read the paper after our shopping on the High Street, have a pint, or a cup of coffee, relax talk to his mates.  We loved the food too!! And Margaret (Noel’s Mother) had her special chair she would sit with Noel and I across from her. We would gather there many times during the week.  BUT ON THE WEEKENDS IT WAS TO THE GIG!!  I can still hear the music,  seeing everyone, the loud applause, the singing,  all those dear, cherished good times.. .”

Noel’s last flame was the Canadian artist Deborah McNaughton, who died shortly after him of cancer. She had this to say to the media in his memory: Noel was an extremely gentle and gracious soul. He had a kind of chivalry and nobility about him and he was kind to everyone bar none. True for her!

What a wonder is a late love too, heh?—the sun reverse-rising by the real magic of a mutual passion, to give ye another half-hour in each other’s arms in the bright land – before the divil knows ye’re dead.

Of all the wise lessons one could learn from Noel Redding’s exemplary life, the one that will stand to all of us the most is we can get through anything by the activation of our gift. It’s more than just using your gift tho – and we all have a gift, it doesn’t have to be ‘artistic’ – could be bricklaying, could be gardening, could be being the perfect bartender…. Noel’s difficult but utterly worthwhile life teaches how we overcome and thrive-in-despite by way of the sharing of our gift.

One of the Countercultural ikons of the 1960s was the visionary poet William Blake, who wrote in 1798 that The Road of Excess leads to The Palace of Wisdom. Excess here simply means what good we have been given more than enough of ourselves—our talent, our gift. We only get to keep the gift by giving it away—that is The Road. The song we write ourselves matters so much, but it matters so much more that others sing along with us, and that we singalong with them.

Noel in West Cork was a like a New Bird that landed in an Old Wood. The Old Wood has seen all types of birds with all sorts of feathers and beaks and so doesn’t take too much notice, which pleases greatly the New Bird, who is sick of multicoloured meadows that are young and loud (and about to be mown). The New Bird starts singing his New Bird Song and the Old Birds sing back (Sure, why not? What harm?) and after a a certain period of mutual adjusting of keys and back-and-forth experimentation the songs blend together and everyone’s song is even better & more meaningful than before. So let’s honour Noel & all that great West Cork generation of the 70s and the 80s to whom we owe so much in the old & proper way—with our deeds, and not only our sentiments. Let’s always generously answer the call when a New Bird, seeking refuge and healing, comes to sing for us in our Old Wood. Our Old Wood that has seen so much and helped to heal and revive so many, whether farborn or nearborn, & so retained its proud and glorious name through it all. That way we in West Cork will continue to be blessed by all the good spirits with songs in their pockets & have many many more great gigs and great festivals and great cultural successes to come, just as Noel would have wished it.

Dave Lordan is a freelance writer from Clonakilty helping DeBarra’s document and preserve the Folk Club’s oral history as well as our wider musical community’s stories and memories. If you have a musical memory from the Folk Club or Clonakilty in general we’d love to hear it. You can email us on our contact page.