Ollie Kennedy hails from Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. And we recently met up to talk a little about himself. Of course, having been born myself in Mullingar and having been through primary school with the same guy and having played music together in our early teens it was going to be difficult for both of us to stay on track, regarding the interview.
“In what class did we split?” asks Ollie.
Of course neither of us could really answer that. We would have needed Frank Cotter or Kit Dunne to confirm the class.
“And do you remember the day the car-wash in Kilcock started to eat the bumper of your auld lads car?” says Ollie.
[Will I ever forget it and us just trying to give the VW it’s first ever bath.]
“Ollie,” says I, “We better try and get a few notes down or you won’t be making your gig tonight.”
“Right, we have 30 mins,” he then ups and tells me!
Ollie told me that he was “self taught” on the guitar – his first guitar having been purchased for 30 shillings in Nally’s and it was an acoustic guitar.
“Hold on a second, Ollie.”
[Here we go again] –
“Didn’t you and I have our very first few sessions in learning the guitar with Leo Ryan in the Green Road?”
He confirmed this and added that after that he continued on his own and got the chord books and all that.
And his very first band he joined in 1959/1960 – the Young Outlaws. Other members of this band formed locally were John Donohoe, Joe Bredin (RIP) and his brothers Kevin and Des. Of course I walked him into this. I remember both himself and myself played with the Tony O’Sullivan band beforehand. I didn’t want to have him doubting his memory so I left that one.
Ollie next gigged with the Classic Showband replacing Sean McHugh. The next change came for Ollie when Mick Bryan (RIP), Bobby Clarke and himself left the Classic to join the Agents showband.
“I remember we had the best of equipment, crazy boxes and a Binson echo unit and Shure pencil mics (none of your “Copycat” stuff here)”, mentioned Ollie.
The Fairways came calling soon afterwards and they did a 3 month stint in Germany from where they were joined by Garry Street (RIP). The Fairways had several hits during this time under the management of Mick Clerkin of Release Records — Flippidy Flop, Yoko Ono, and Invisible Reilly. Invisible Reilly – that sounds like a song with a story. And it was. But a story for another day.
Country music was getting a foothold on the Irish scene so Ollie was then invited to join Larry Cunningham and the Blue Boys. Larry Cunningham then retired (temporarily) and was replaced by Mattie Fox. Soon afterwards, Ollie formed a new band with the returning Larry and Mattie Fox called Country Pride. This band was also managed by Mick Clerkin who brought Margo into the band.
In around this time a further change was evolving in the entertainment/music business and showbands were fast losing ground with the emergence of the cabaret scene. Mattie Fox and Ollie then formed a cabaret group called Misty. Ollie laughs and tells me that the punters thought he was “Misty.”
At this time Ollie started to write songs, some of which showed a lot of promise. In 1982 he joined Foster and Allen as part of their backing group and toured extensively with them. Indeed, this was a union which was beneficial to all parties as Ollie co-wrote one of their biggest hits – After All these Years. This song has been recorded by a number of other artists including Charley Pride.
Ollie now contents himself with touring with Foster and Allen, doing some local gigs in between and, with his writing. He has 12 albums under his belt, the latest which was released just recently – Captured Memories – and is doing quiet well. Listen to the lyrics of “The Squeezebox (in Mullingar Town)” and you’ll appreciate the talent of this guy. This song was co-written with Tom Coleman.
Ollie looks at his watch and exclaims,
“I gotta go or I won’t be able to pay the rent!”
Oh well, that’s one of the difficulties of trying to interview a friend – difficult to stick to the point and lots of time wasted.
When I had finished the interview I told him to think back on the first band he played with again. He was just on his way out the door but I guess someone will tell him. Maybe the next time he is touring South Africa.
Ollie is a true gentleman and has a word for everyone. His songwriting material is excellent and attracts a lot of interest from established singers. While it’s a hobby for him he is looking forward to writing more, in the same vein, and having his work recorded by the established artists.