A rock troubador, icon, mercurial genius, guitar virtuoso, legend.
These were just some of the words used to describe Henry McCullough’s unique place in the Irish rock pantheon following his death at the age of 72 last Tuesday.
Such was his enormous standing in the music industry that Beatle Sir Paul McCartney was among the first to pay tribute to his friend and fellow band member when news of his passing broke.
“I was very sad to hear that Henry McCullough, our great Wings guitarist, passed away today,” McCartney wrote on Twitter. “He was a pleasure to work with, a super-talented musician with a lovely sense of humour. The solo he played on My Love was a classic that he made up on the spot in front of a live orchestra. Our deepest sympathies from my family to his.”
The only Irishman to perform at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, as lead guitarist with Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, he also played or toured with some of rock’s biggest names during a legendary career.
Figures from the 60s such as Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Pink Floyd, Donovan, Marianne Faithfull, Ronnie Lane, Eric Burdon.
During his time with the Grease Band, McCullough played guitar on the album version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. He also played on the original recording of Evita.
His words “I don’t know - I was really drunk at the time”, uttered during a recording session at Abbey Road studios with McCartney’s post-Beatles band Wings, were caught on tape by Pink Floyd who were in the next studio.
They can be heard on the Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), at the end of the song “Money”. He was recalling a fight with his wife the night before.
From humble showband beginnings, Henry Campbell Liken McCullough boasted a talent so undeniable that Jimi Hendrix produced him and, after that spine-tingling performance at Woodstock he was invited to join Wings in 1971, auditioning for McCartney and spending 18 months recording and touring with the band.
However he only played on one Wings album, 1973’s Red Rose Speedway. He also appeared on the James Bond theme “Live and Let Die” that the band recorded for the film of the same name.
The oldest boy in a family of four boys and three girls McCullough grew up in Portstewart - and busked on the streets of Portrush - later serving his musical apprenticeship as a teenager with showband the Skyrockets.
And when he linked up with The People, who later became Eire Apparent, his career took off.
Signed by a former member of The Animals, Chas Chandler, the group toured with Jimi Hendrix in Britain and America. The association also led to shows with the Move and Pink Floyd.
He had a short spell with the Irish traditional group Sweeney’s Men, who were lauded at the 1968 Cambridge Folk Festival, before he linked up with Sheffield blues singer Joe Cocker.
Around the same time, he played guitar in Jesus Christ Superstar and then joined Spooky Tooth for an album.
‘Musical differences’ were cited as the reason why he left Wings, with McCullough wanting a broader canvas in which to express his skills. He moved back to Northern Ireland in the 1980s, but his career was put on hold when an accident with a knife severed the tendons of three fingers of his playing hand. The surgeon at the hospital in Dundonald asked him - “Aren’t you Henry McCullough that played in Woodstock”?
He replied: “Well you’d be needing all your fingers then, wouldn’t you?”
He continued to receive acclaim in his latter years for albums such as Belfast to Boston and Poor Man’s Moon.
He suffered a heart attack in late 2012 that left him in critical condition and in March 2015, a benefit concert in Dublin was held for him that included performances by Paul Carrack, Nick Lowe and others.
He lived with his partner of 34 years Josie Gourva from Dordogne in a cottage at Ballywindelland, between Coleraine and Ballymoney - with a menagerie of birds and chickens in coops and outhouses, in a home referred to as “Ballywonderland”.
Henry’s widow Josie and the McCullough family wish to thank all those who sent cards, flowers and called at the family home to offer condolences.
In particular Josie expresses deep gratitude to the following: Ciara and the girls from Gordons Chemist, The Diamond, Coleraine; Janet Stewart; Physiotherapists Andy and Leslie; Optimum Care; Carol-Ann, Melanie and Eric; Zoe and Leanne; Doctors O’Loan, Carlin and Jack; Ellen Davidson; District Nurse Brian and team, Lodge Health; Roe and Kitty; Bluebird staff; Wade’s Funeral Directors; Minister Sam Hanna and all those who looked after Henry.s
Josie is appealing to the man who attempted to return a CD of songs from a 1981 London session which was played at Henry’s funeral to get in touch as soon as possible. Please call David Rankin, Times Editor on 028 703 57610 and he will forward it to the family.