career of Henry McCullough cuts through just about every conceivable facet
of rock music, and touches upon some of its most glorious moments.
Growing up in the seaside resort of Portstewart, Henry's first musical venture was as guitarist with Irish showband The Skyrockets and the years to follow found him doing the dance hall circuit with similar outfits, including the popular Gene and the Gents.
When the blues boom hit Ireland, Henry became involved with the rougher side of music through the outfit that were to become Eire Apparent. Managed for a time by Chas Chandler, Eire Apparent were one of the many bands to take part in package tours of Britain, alongside groups like The Move, Pink Floyd, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Amen Corner... After an untimely exit from the band, Henry nailed down some of the finest mix of traditional and rock with his work as part of the legendary Sweeney's Men. It is said that this line-up more or less invented the concept of Folk-Rock.
He then drifted to London where he became steeped in the blues scene, rubbing shoulders with some of the greats of the genre who were just coming to the attention of the British revivalists. An encounter with a young Sheffield singer led to a job and Henry's first brush with the realIy big time - as part of Joe Cocker's Grease Band. Tours and albums followed quickly, including an appearance at Woodstock and a lengthy period of work in the States.
Morocco 1973. (L-R) Denny Seiwell, Paul, Linda, Denny Laine, Henry.
Breaking with Cocker, Henry and The Grease Band
continued to mune a gritty blues vein that made them a live favourite that has
rarely been equalled.
He found himself auditioning for a gig with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Henry, along with Denny Seiwell, Denny Laine and Linda McCartney were the first - and many say best incarnation of Wings. He embellished the single 'My Love' with a graceful solo that is one of the all-time guitar gems and shows once and for all the expressive power of the instrument.
At one Wings session at Abbey Road when Pink Floyd were in the studio next door, Henry made a spoken contribution to the classic Dark Side of the Moon.
But musical differences with the headstrong Macca followed, and Henry made the decision to leave. Following his instinct for rock he ended up in some very good company, playing guitar and gigging with the Roy Harper, Marianne Faithfull, Ronnie Lane, Donovan, Frankie Miller, Eric Burdon, Viola Wills, Spooky Tooth...
Grease Band 1975 from the cover of Amazing Grease. That's Henry on the right.
The others are Alan Spenner (vocals and bass), Bruce Rowland (drums) and Neil
Hubbard (guitar and slide guitar). Guest musicians on the album were Chris Stainton,
Mick Weaver, Mel Collins and Terry Stannard.
During a visit back home to see his family in the early 80s, an accident with a knife almost cost Henry his livelihood, severing tendons in his playing hand. The enforced lay-off allowed Henry to re-evaluate his life and his career, and he took the decision to stay at home in Ireland. The road to recovery was almost complete when Henry started sitting in with the Fleadh Cowboys for their now legendary Sunday afternoon residency in The Lower Deck in Dublin. It soon became apparent that Henry’s contribution was an attraction in itself, so he formed his own band and toured Ireland in 1988.
In the 90’s Henry moved back to Portstewart and formed a new band with Percy Robinson on pedal steel and Roe Butcher on bass and Liam Bradley on drums. More recently the band has featured James Delaney on keys, Chrissy Stewart (Frankie Miller Band) on bass, Chris Probst on guitar and Tony Phillips on Drums.
In 1998 he went to Poland, where he rehearsed a band of Polish session musicians for a tour. At the end of the tour, they went into a studio and played ‘live’ for an afternoon. A resulting CD, Blue Sunset was consequently released in Poland, and was followed up by a further successful Polish tour.
On returning home, Henry decided that it was time to do record a few studio tracks. With help and encouragement from his many friends, he released 'Failed Christian', a harrowing self penned song that has since been covered by Nick Lowe on his latest Demon album, 'Dig My Mood'.
In the summer of ‘99 Henry was devastated when his beloved 1963 cherry red Gibson ES335 went missing from a British Midlands flight between Warsaw and Heathrow. However, he still has his gold-top Les Paul that he played at Woodstock.
Henry McCullough is justifiably one of rock’s most legendary figures. Check him out live sometime and be convinced for yourself.