INTERVIEW: From globe-trotting drummer with Horslips to journalist, Kells native EAMON CARR can add playwright to his list of job descriptions. He tells he Meath Chronicle how the staging of his first stage play 'Dusk' was a terrifying experience
It would be understandable if, at times Eamon Carr stopped to wonder at the unexpected twists and turns life can take.
How, for instance, he came to be the drummer in Horslips, a band that for a decade flashed across the Irish musicial firmament like a super-bright comet fusing rock and traditional Irish music in a revolutionary way.
Later he became a journalist and had a seat at the front row of some truly momentous events including the Republic of Ireland’s 2002 World Cup campaign in Japan and the infamous Roy Keane/Mick McCarthy row.
From 1970 to 1980 Horslips produced a string of highly successful albums, played in many of the top venues in the world and even now, 46 years after they were formed, they retain a devoted following.
Reflecting back on his life so far Carr also has reason to feel a sense of wonder at how now - in his sixties - he has had one of his plays performed on stage.
Now he can, with justification, add ‘playwright’ to his list of job descriptions that includes musician, journalist and poet.
The other week he went through the nerve shredding experience
and watched as his verse play, Dusk (which has Cu Chulainn as a central character) was staged in the GPO as well as the New Theatre, Essex Street. It was a anxious, unforgettable night for the Meathman.
“I was a nervous wreck, and I was thinking until less than a year ago, last December actually, there was this script of a verse play I had written lying in a drawer, after all who is their right minds writes a verse play these days! Now here we are in October and it’s premiered in the GPO. Now, for me, that’s going to be very hard to top.”
The play - which Carr had written simply because it was something he wanted to do - is described in the publicity as a work that seeks to “explore a provocative correlation between Irish myth and contemporary reality as unseen influences, which lie beneath the surface of our everyday world, manifest themselves.”
Considering that Cu Chulainn was an inspirational figure for Padraig Pearse, and this is the centenary of the 1916 Rising, the staging of the play in the GPO was particularly significant.
Carr traces his long-held interest in Irish legend and mythology to the time when as a youngster he spent many happy hours in his grand-parents house in Lloyd outside Kells.
“My grandfather James Ginnity had a library and because he was a War of Independence man there were some very interesting stuff in his house. There was a lot of obviously political stuff and there were also a huge amount of Irish fairytales, writings that emerged from that whole Celtic Revival period when the GAA and the Abbey Theatre were starting, when there was a big Irish identity being formed, Lady Gregory and all that.”
“I became fascinated by how a legend or a mythological figure, like Cu Chulainn could have so much power and influence and I poured a lot of that into The Tain album with Horslisp when we were writing that,” recalls.
He had also wanted to do something further with all that material that was perculating in his consciousness for years. He had written a verse play, Deirdre Unforgiven, which has yet to be staged, but Dusk has made the cut.
Eamon was one of five members of the Carr family born to Mary and Joe Carr in Carrick Street, Kells. His mother came from the local Ginnity family that also includes Fintan, who served as chairman of the Meath GAA Co Board for 20 years, as well as Kevin, Vinny and the well-known comedian Noel V Ginnity. “I think I got my love of football from them, they all played for Drumbaragh.”
Young Eamon attended St Finian’s, Mullingar where he studied Latin and Greek. “I took to the Greek and I really loved the Greek playwrights, it was so different, it wasn’t like our contemporary television stuff or soap opera, it was really heavy stuff yet I enjoyed it and read a lot of it.”
Even as a schoolboy he wrote poetry and it has remained a passion for him throughout his life.
Very intereseted in journalism Eamon “struggled to get a start” in the trade initially and instead found work in an advertisment firm; it was there he met Charles O’Connor and Barry Devlin.
It’s stuff of legend now how the threesome were involved in creating some music for an ad. It worked well. “Afterwards we said why don’t we have a bit of craic and knock out a few tunes.”
After a few changes in the line up, that included, for a brief spell, another Meathman, Gene Mulvaney, the well-known Horslips combination of Jim Lockhart on keyboards and flute and guitarist Johnny Fean was formed.
Over 10 years the band worked hard gigging in smoke-filled parish halls throughout Ireland as well all sorts of venues in Britain, Europe and the Unisted States. They brought out a studio album every year, sometimes two. Their first - Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part - was to prove one of their most successful. What started as “a bit of craic” became a way of life.
“The real excitement to be honest was that the band provided us with the opportunity to create more stuff, that’s what it was about. If you’re creative you want to be creating something, short stories, poetry whatever, and in our case the albums were sort of stories and the lyrics obviously. That was the big bonus for us, you could actually create stuff and be paid for it. Absolutely, it was thrilling.”
When they rocked up in places like Kildalkey Parish Hall, Beechmount and Warrenstown College it was like the Rolling Stones had arrived in town. They looked like genuine rock stars and played like them. They brought with them strange-looking machines called ‘mixing desks.’ And, as journalist Declan Lynch noted, they brought real-life roadies. They were the business.
They played regular tunes such as ‘Dearg Doom,’ ‘Trouble with a Capital T,’ ‘The Man Who Built America’ and ‘Lonliness’ to audiences far and wide. “We’d go to America on 90-day visas and work almost everyday otherwise you’d be just sitting in a hotel spending money.”
Then, exhausted, the band came to a halt. The “stress and pressure” of trying to maintain a level of high quality material told. They took “a break” that lasted 24 years when they brought out their ‘Rolled Back’ album, a slower, re-working of some of their best known songs. They also gigged again, although only occasionally. Carr did not do the shows like the rest, his place on drums taken by Johnny Fean’s brother Ray.
Since the early 1980s Carr has worked as a journalist. One of his more memorable assignments as a features writer with the Evening Herald was reporting on Ireland’s adventures in the 2002 World Cup in Japan. Because of the time difference the Herald was often the first with any breaking news.
“Myself and Paul Hyland wrote reams of copy everyday, it was wonderful.” A book of poetry emerged from his experiences called ‘The Origami Crow: Journey into Japan, World Cup Sumer 2002.’
He was also sent to report on Mother Teresa’s funeral in Calcutta in 1997 “I actually managed to get into what was the equivalent of Dublin Castle in Calcutta and Mother Teresa was lying in state. I actually spent the night in the church with Mother Teresa before she was buried. The nuns in her order stayed with her all night, and I got access to all that."
Eamon Carr could be forgiven all right if, from time to time, he did wonder about life and the strange and wonderful twists it can take. It’s certainly brought him down quite a few unexpected routes.