On Wednesday 28th January I landed at Derry City airport, walking from plane into an in-yer-face hailstorm that should have ripped open my flesh. I was here for two reasons. Firstly, visit family - I hadn't been in Derry since the dark, dark days of The Troubles, and in this respect this visit was certainly overdue. I was also here for the Derry PUSH book launch that was to take place at the Grand Central Bar on The Strand, the following evening. The launch had been arranged by the wonderful Jenni Doherty who runs the Little Acorns Bookstore, who had help from photographer, DJ and all round nice guy, Mickey Rooney. It all looked to bode well, but the trip went better than I could have ever imagined.
No surprise that I mention there are two communities that live on the working class estates either side of the River Foyle. On both sides there are enclaves where one community is clearly outnumbered by their 'neighbours'. On my family's side, the Free Derry side, there is a small protestant area, The Fountains district, completely surrounded. For me it was important for the above two photos to open this. PUSH has no political agenda and does not take sides. That said I was staying in the Free Derry side, in the Brandywell district. My uncle Jimmy's house practically backs onto Derry City Football Club. As luck had it, so I thought, Derry City were due to play a game under the lights on my first night. But unfortunatley, due to adverse weather, that prevailed throughout my stay, the game was postponed one hour before kick off. However, the next morning on my guided tour of the city, on the morning of the day of the book launch, Jimmy took me to the ground.
We continued along the Lone Moor Road and we were soon at the house of where my mum and Jimmy were brought up, on Limewood Street. This is where I went trick or treating as a kid. The woman who lived at the very bottom right of the road, used to make the best toffee apples in the world. I know this because I have eaten enough of them! And still got the teeth to tell the tale...
Everyone in the community had a story to tell of Bloody Sunday. The anniversary, as timing would have it, was the next day, on Friday. And as we walked the streets Jimmy gave me a harrowing recount of the day. I don't want to go into detail, but along with the powerful visuals of the many spectacular murals, it really was all very emotional.
Jenni was selling the book from her stall, while I had a mooch about with my selling bag stuffed with issue 14 and of course a book of raffle tickets. I had never known such a frenzy to buy a raffle ticket. Admittedly the prizes were top drawer and while I brought along my own rare collectible treasure, I have to thank both Jenni for her donations to the PUSH cause and also Ben from Abbazappa Records who donated some real gems - notably The Lads seven inch single, 'We Built Derry City' which became a combined prize with a 1986 Derry City matchday programme, as it had the full lyrics of same song in. PUSH don't mess about. Anyway, this was how things rolled. I went up to read first and read 'Gone to the Dogs' by Joseph Ridgwell, followed by 'Woolwich' by Simon Dent. To be honest, I was a bit nervous reading someone elses work to a packed room of unfamiliar faces, but both poems seemed to go down just fine.
Next up was Mickey Rooney - who has to be acknowledged as taking all the photos on the night other than the next one, obviously, as it's got him in it. Mickey superbly read Raymond Gorman's story, ' The Ballad of Gerry McGowan.' With Gerry McGowan originally from Derry, the harrowing, heartbreaking story resonated around the bar. In fact I counted a dozen heads head-bowed following Mickey's words line for line out their own copy of the PUSH anthology. An incredible reading that Raymond and surely Gerry McGowan too, would have been proud of. Notice how it turned to daylight outside during his reading!
Just like what happened at the Walthamstow PUSH book launch in December, it wasn't long before the public got what the public wanted - the PUSH raffle. And I could understand why they simply couldn't wait any longer. You just had to look at the prizes. Naturally everybody wanted to win the Subbuteo team, especially with The Undertones 'My Perfect Cousin' connection. Did I mention Michael Bradley out of The Undertones was in attendance?
The raffle lasted an hour and to add photos and recount each prize would take a full blog entry of its own. So let's just say it was the biggest and best raffle to date and we all had fun!
Then it was onto the final readings of the night and Jenni came to the stage and gave a superb reading of Adelle Stripe's 'Big Weekend.' There is no doubt about that. Wish it had been recorded. Great work Jenni! Strangely, if you care to notice, while Jenni was reading, it suddenly became daylight outside once again!
And then, as I had been asked to do so by his family and those there on the night, I read 'Introducing Myself' by Billy B.S. Made all the harder to read as I had attended his funeral on the previous Friday. But I gave it a go and believe I delivered as he would have approved. I then closed the readings with 'Stale Cheese Biscuit' by Ford Dagenham.
And then it was all about music, conversation and good company. Rolled in at 2am, kindly picked up by my cousin Sean. But ask anyone that was there on the night, it was definitely a bit special.
And now onto the final day. Jenni wanted me to come down to Little Acorns Bookstore to do a book signing, I had never done one before and definitely fancy more. But before all the fun began, I had to sign the famous Little Acorns chair, which I was more than honoured to do.
As you can see I had a cheeky smirk on my face after all of that. And then as if the trip and last day couldn't get any better, Mickey Rooney, kindly drove me into Donegal where, never one to miss a selling opportunity, I was soon selling the mag at the ancient mountain fortress of Grianan of Aileach. It is VERY HIGH UP but the panoramic view is breathtaking, although there was a downside. Very few interested punters.
Mickey was also kind enough to drive further into Donegal so that we could have a drink at the Drift Inn in Buncrana.
We had a great chat over a couple of pints but the most amazing thing happened when we left. After last night's raffle and general sales, my selling bag was seriously loaded with coins and notes, and it was only as we headed to the car, when an old boy exited the pub in a frenzy and gave chase, that I realised what I had just overlooked. 'You've left your bag, you've left your bag in there!' Where in England, let alone other parts of this world, would that happen? I was blown away. I went back inside, thanked everyone - should have bought the whole pub a round, but didn't think I did because I was simply in a daze. With my current job situation, the future of any immediate PUSH editions would have been in peril had that bag not come back home with me. There certainly wouldn't be another issue out for a while. So thank you the good people of the Drift Inn, you put the cherry on the cake of what had been a truly inspiring three days. And thank you Mickey for the afternoon out in Donegal and for the conversation and the help you did in arranging the book launch evening along with Jenni. As I have already, credit to Mickey Rooney for the superb photography seen here throughout. And finally, thank you uncle Jimmy for putting me up for three nights (or putting up with me for three nights!!) and also to my great cousins, Sean, Ronnie and Gary. Ronnie was quick to remind me when I got home of how West Ham had failed again at Anfield. I knew I shouldn't have given it large down his local! But had a truly good last night drink with Ronnie and his pals on that last night. A truly superb trip and there were only positives throughout. On so many levels. Thanks to everybody who were involved in one way or another. The next anthology tour will be also be back in Derry. That is given.
P is for PUSH