Drink is an awful thing, isn’t it?
Well, no actually. It’s not. Drink is great, but it does have that annoying habit of enhancing our inner gowlishness, and so it was that I found myself standing in front of Freddie White a dozen years ago, holding out his Lost and Found CD for him to sign.
Let me play that reel back a little before we go on. For those who don’t know Freddie White, and I was surprised how many of the younger people I met over the weekend were unfamiliar with his name, this man has been a quietly influential force introducing people to songwriters they might otherwise never have heard of.
Many people might never have encountered the work of Tom Waits, Guy Clark or Randy Newman without Freddie. Many more people might not know what it is to hear a phenomenal acoustic guitar player with such a unique, percussive fingerpicking style. As a friend of mine said last night — a fine player himself — I know exactly what he’s doing. I just can’t see how it’s done.
That’s Freddie. Going all the way back to the days of the Do You Do and Live on Tour albums, he’s been beguiling his listeners with a mix of everything from Hoagy Carmichael to Frank Zappa. Did many Irish people know of Leon Redbone in 1979? Or Guy Clark, or Randy Newman? What about the late Warren Zevon? The answer is yes, they did, but they weren’t part of the demographic that Freddie educated. In many ways, you could say that Freddie White liberated an entire generation of people who might otherwise be doomed to a life of Late Late Show pap, and for that alone, he deserves some sort of sainthood. Feeling bland? Pray to Saint Freddie for salvation.
Over the years, Freddie has kept the faith with Zappa, Newman, Clark, but also Hoagy and Joan Armatrading, not to mention Tom Waits and Warren Zevon. You can see the eclectic chemistry bubbling away in that enormous musical glass retort where they formed Freddie White, those men in multicoloured lab coats.
Fred’s in a different zone these days, now writing songs and performing with his partner Trish. Last night they did a heartbreaking version of Cohen’s Alexandra Leaving and a pulsing, unexpected cover of Boy in the Bubble. They look good and sound good together. They’re nice people.
How do I know this? Well, you see, that’s where we came in, with me standing in the hallway of Dolans Warehouse back in 2002, swaying slightly and regarding Freddie with one eye shut so I wouldn’t see two of him.
He was signing copies of his CD.
All the best to Tommy, from Fred.
Good wishes to the lads in Hogans Hardware, Freddie.
Congratulations to Bridie on your massive weight loss, all the best, Freddie White.
Fred looks at me and I look back at Fred, in a manner of speaking. If you can call staring with one hand over your eye looking.
What would you like me to put on it?
I think for a minute, or maybe ten. The crowd behind me is growing restive. Wait, I have it.
Yes? says Freddie, ever-patient, though you know this man can kill with one finger if he has to.
Why don’t you write …
Why don’t you write …
Why don’t you write, Freddie’s Back — A Nightmare on Alphonsus Street?
Hmmm, Fred grunts as he scrawls something on the CD and turns back to the angry crowd.
That was then and this is now. I’m sharing the horror story with my friends when someone says, There’s Freddie sitting beside you. Why don’t you tell him in person? And sure enough, there he is, right beside me. I didn’t notice him earlier because the eyes are burned out of my head with smoke from flipping burgers at the barbecue thing in town.
Howya. This is Trish.
I tell them the story. Trish laughs. Freddie doesn’t.
Someone asks, Freddie, what did you write on the CD?
Fred thinks for a second or two. To the best of my recollection, I wrote Good Wishes from Paul Brady.
Later, after Freddie finished his gig upstairs in Dolans, I went up to buy the CDs he was selling.
Will you write something on them, please, Fred?
How about Best wishes from Christy Moore?
It was then I realised that this man could kill me with one finger if he wanted to.
Great gig, though, as I write this from my hospital bed.