Gerry’s dude days in Omagh

It was a real joy to come across an interview from Omagh Today on Gerry’s dude days in Omagh. Brian DaMuff Murphy posted the interview on The radio ulster Gerry Anderson fan group on Facebook. The group is a wonderful resource and a fabulously friendly community of Gerry’s fans (ourselves included, of course! ;)).

As a family, we always really enjoy seeing unexpected articles or pieces of journalism that pop up about Gerry. Especially if they are written about him. As opposed to by him. Sometimes, they yield precious snippets and insights, and give us an idea of what he was thinking at the time. What he was prioritising, where his head was at. Because in the day to day, these topics did not always arise in conversation. And a lot of stuff went on in that head…

Omagh Today March 2011

In it, Brian posts an image of an Omagh Today interview with Gerry harking back to 2011. I have reached out to Omagh Today, but the name of the journalist as yet remains unclear.

The interview covers his dude days in Omagh playing in the Frankie McBride band. As well as Pat Owens, Pat McGuigan, his auld car, his admiration for Arty McGlynn, Brian Coll and PP Slaggart. And meeting a wee 15-year-old Christine Bleakley. But also the need for a band to rehearse just occasionally, and how Gerry accidentally fell into broadcasting. It would have happened only to him.

More insightfully, we hear how he learned to recognise success in show business, and how he explained his own success.

Perhaps most tellingly of all, however, he speaks of his one true ambition – to pursue his writing:

The only ambition I have is to become a better writer. Nobody’s ever going to listen to a radio programme when I’m dead but they might just read a book.

Gerry's dude days in Omagh - Gerry Anderson's Big Interview in Omagh Today
Gerry Anderson’s Big Interview in Omagh Today

I’m not at all sure how right he was about no-one listening to him after he’s gone. There were certainly plans for another book. But maybe more on that some other time…

Here’s the text of the BIG INTERVIEW below, and again, all credit to Omagh Today.

We have extracted the text below from the interview image so it’s easier to access.

We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did!

BIG INTERVIEW, Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson was once just a cool dude hanging about Omagh and playing bass with some of the top bands of his day.

Though he’s better known these days as the wit behind the microphone at BBC Radio Foyle, a man who allows the quirky to breathe and the diverse to flourish, Gerry Anderson was once just a cool dude hanging about Omagh and playing bass with some of the top bands of his day.

Speaking to Omagh Today, Gerry recalls his days in Omagh and reflects on the things that make him tick.

In 1974, Gerry came to Omagh to live on the Derry Road, after he began playing along with Frankie McBride’s band.

I had been in America playing with bands and stuff, and I came back and was knocking about for a wee while and was going to go back to university, but then I came across Frankie McBride who asked me to join the band. I always liked Frankie a lot and thought he was a great singer, the best singer in Ireland as far as I was concerned. We would play three or four nights a week, and I would spend time there.

You know who else was in the band for a while, Barry McGuigan’s father, Pat. A lot of people don’t realise that he was in Frankie’s band for a while.

I’d have been there four or five days a week. It was lovely, I really enjoyed my time there. I lived in the same house as Pat Owens, who was the guitarist with Frankie, we lived in a house off the Derry Road. Me and Pat got on like a house on fire. I always thought that the Omagh people were the same as the Derry people.

An auld horrible car in Omagh

I had an auld horrible car at that time and every time we were coming back from gigs, or if we weren’t playing for a couple of days, I’d get in the car to go home, and the car would never start and Frankie and all the boys would have to push me. They didn’t like doing that at four o’clock in the morning. When it was raining.

Most of the time I spent in Omagh, we were playing outside of the town. I knew Omagh better later on, when I played with a band called ToeJam, and we played in the then Barrel and Basket. I remember Arty G, I liked Arty a lot, and Brian Coll; I liked those fellahs. At that time all you tended to do was lie in bed and sleep and drink.

When I left Frankie’s band, for no particular reason, Speedy (Sean) Hamilton was forming ‘Speedy’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus’. It was a rock band but Speedy had this kind of odd idea that we shouldn’t rehearse. He thought that we should all know all of the songs anyway, and right enough we did all know standard numbers like Memphis Tennessee, Roll Over Beethoven, and Heart Break Hotel. But what Speedy didn’t realise is that there’s only about ten of those and, when you’re playing a dance for two hours, you soon run out of them.

Talent Spotting Christine Bleakley

The drummer was Ricky Bleakley from Ballinamallard, Christina Bleakley’s father. (See more on Christine Lampard, nee Bleakley in Hello! Magazine) Years later, I was doing a talk show ….and this wee girl came up to me, she was only about fifteen, and she said to me. “You are friendly with my father. I said to her, do you want to be on TV, and she said oh yes. And I said, do you want to be a presenter and she said oh no, no. I want to be a camera woman. Fortunately enough one of the crew there that night was a woman. I introduced her to the camera woman. They had a long chat and, after that, she got a job as a runner. She still wanted to be a camera woman and never wanted to be a presenter; one day someone put her on the spot and asked her to do something and it turned out she was a one take wonder’, she was a natural.

But she never really liked being a presenter, I don’t think she enjoys it to this day. She always wanted to be behind the scenes.

Christine Lampard on
Christine Bleakley in her school days – The Sun

Broadcasting by accident

Gerry also got into broadcasting almost by accident:

I was writing for a community newspaper in Derry called, ‘Community Mirror’. I got the job as editor and the first day I was employed there, someone rang me from Radio Foyle and said, ‘do you want to do an interview’ and I said. ‘What about?’ and she said’ are you not the new editor?’ I said yeah, but I don’t know anything about this paper. I hardly know how to spell it. I don’t know how it’s financed or editorial policy, or anything like that. She asked me to do an interview anyway and I agreed, as long as she wouldn’t ask me any of the technical questions. So I went down and they asked me all of those questions. So I just made it all up off the top of my head. When I came off, the producer said, ‘did you just make all that up?’ I said yeah, and she said ‘what’d you do that for?’ I said, ‘You didn’t expect me to sit there and say nothing’. and she said to me, ‘You might be good at this.’ So, the ability to lie live, fluently, on air was what got me into broadcasting.

I always knew that I was never destined for show business because I was never very good at it….it’s got to the stage if I see someone on television and they are really hateful, and I really hate them, I know that they are going to be very successful. When I was at Radio Four for a year, I was the presenter, there were lots of contributors, but there were about four people who came in who I couldn’t stand, and about another eight who I thought were really good. The eight that I thought were good disappeared completely, and the four people that I hated all went on to become very famous. So, I think the things that I hate are the things that you need to do to be successful. So that’s why I’ll never be commercially successful. The only way I can fit is if I can make my own rules…. People who like me tend not to like anybody else. They follow me just to make other people angry. I think the period on Radio Four (1994-95) was probably the worst period of my life. Other than that, I’m a very happy kind of a person, I’ve had a dream life because I’ve never really had to work. I haven’t worked since I was eighteen. When I left school, I was an apprentice toolmaker or something like that. It was the last thing I was meant to be because I’m useless. I worked at that for six weeks before they sacked me.

Gerry’s Third Book

Gerry has written two books ‘Surviving Stroke City‘ and the critically acclaimed ‘Heads – twenty fours hours in the life of a musician‘.

I’m doing one now about my time in a rock ‘n’ roll band in America. The thing I most enjoy doing is writing because you can do that on your own. The only ambition I have is to become a better writer. Nobody’s ever going to listen to a radio programme when I’m dead but they might just read a book.

Gerry came from a family of four who were raised in Sackville Street, just a few metres away from the site of the Bloody Sunday killings. The family lived above a shop which was bombed, but his mother, who was the only one in the house at the time escaped with her life.

There’s only one building left that I recognise in the street that I lived in. It’s kind of sad in a way. That whole area was just wiped out, it was like a bomb-site.

Gerry has high praise for a number of Omagh people, particularly artists of the calibre of virtuoso guitarist Arty McGlynn, and singer songwriter PP Slaggart.

I never played with Arty but he is a great player, but when I was watching him, I was admiring him for the wrong reason. He used to have a bit of wire on his guitar that he placed his cigarette on while he was playing and I thought ‘I want to do that’. But he is a brilliant player.

As for Slaggart?

I think Slaggart is a genius, I know he is a genius. If he left his work and tried 100% to become a singer and a song-writer he would make it. I don’t even know if he wants to do that … Maybe he doesn’t want to do that, maybe he’s just too sensible, but he doesn’t strike me as being a sensible person. Maybe he just takes his responsibilities seriously, but he is a genius, there’s no doubt about that.

Gerry has two grown-up children, David and Kirsty, who won’t be following him into the radio business, and his wife Chris runs a highly successful fashion boutique on Derry’s Pump Street.

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