Duhan’s new album takes inspiration from passing of friends Gary Moore and Ronnie Drew

For the former front man with Granny’s Intentions, the most popular ‘beat group’ in Ireland in the 1960s, Johnny Duhan’s latest album, Winter, reflects something of a rite of passage.

Duhan’s new album takes inspiration from passing of friends Gary Moore and Ronnie Drew

“The passing away of my parents and old friends like Ronnie Drew and Gary Moore may have had something to do with the inspiration behind my new album,” he explains.

“Back in August, I participated in a Testimonial Show at the Olympia Theatre for the singer/songwriter Philip Chevron, who has since died of cancer. Passing the 60 year mark is a watershed, in itself. You know that you have passed the half way mark of your life.”

Duhan was only 21 when Granny’s Intentions were signed to the prestigious Deram record label in the early 1970s. Though they soon split up, the intervening years have, if anything, enhanced his reputation, with luminaries like Christy Moore calling him “one of our greatest songwriters”.

Duhan’s back catalogue has been covered by such musical icons as Mary Black, Mary Coughlan, the Dubliners and Freddie White. Thin Lizzy legend Gary Moore also played by the great man’s side.

“It all started for me when a good friend, Ger Tuohy, invited me to come along to a rehearsal of a rhythm’n’blues group he had just started,” says Duhan. “While I was there, he and the band called me up to sing a blues song, while Ger vamped on harmonica. I have been up on stage ever since.

“Ger Tuohy and I used to spend hours listening to the old blues singers. We started out as the Intentions, a soul band, playing covers by the Temptations, the Impressions and the Miracles.

“Even our name, the Intentions, had a similar ring. By the time we moved to London, however, our style was beginning to change; just as all the 1960s bands were beginning to change, eventually becoming Granny’s Intentions.

“Back then, we craved success — and I craved it more than most — but the little I have experienced of it has informed me that you always want more. Far worse than that, the more success you get, the more prone you are to arrogance, presumption and smugness. These vices seem to go hand in hand.”

As if in riposte, Duhan’s new single ‘Veronica, Anne and Claire’ was inspired by three mothers who are suffering from potentially fatal illnesses, but who are dealing positively with the cards life played them.

‘Wings’, also on the new album, covers the emotive passing away of his parents and confronts his own mortality. However, it is done with a spirit of acceptance and in a very light way. Just because death has become a taboo subject is no reason to ignore it, he believes.

“If anything, the writing of these songs has strengthened my religious faith,” he says. “If you listen carefully you will see that faith has the last word. Of course, doubt is a constant ogre to be battled with, but Don Quixote is my role model, after all.

“For me, there is no pleasure on earth greater than the feeling you get when you pin down a great song.

“I am often walking on air for weeks after that achievement. I don’t think commercial success can come anywhere near the experience of writing a ‘real’ song, which is why I try my level best, to stay true to my calling.”

* Johnny Duhan plays the Temple Bar TradFest in Dublin on Jan 25 and the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork on Mar 2. Further information: www.johnnyduhan.com/

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