May 11, 2004
Rory's Fender Strat
by DÓNAL GALLAGHER
At the tender age of fifteen and while still at school, my brother Rory had joined a semi-professional band, then known as the Fontana Showband. Rory had passed his audition with the six-piece Fontana playing on his "Rosette, Solid Seven" electric guitar, which he was paying for by instalments of pocket money to Crowley's Music Shop (then Merchants Quay) in Cork City - it would be a year before he would be rid of the $25 debt. So, when my brother asked for me to come and view the 'Buddy Holly' look-alike guitar gracing Crowley's store window, I went willingly along, but for a look only.
Being the younger brother, I had been instructed by Rory as to how I should behave in the event that he would go into the store and ask the owner, Michael, for a better look at the instrument. Possibly, my sibling informed me, he might want to pick up the guitar to see how it felt to hold a 'Stratocaster'. Basically, I was to keep my gob shut and nod in agreement if called upon to do so. I had been trying to get back into my brother's "musical good books", having been fired by him from our duo (a la the Everley Brothers) for picking an argument with him on stage.
The instrument was taken from its cradle in the store's window and put for the first time into my brother's arms, with its £100 ($175) price tag dangling from one of its tuning pegs, the cost was beyond comprehension in those days. Michael told Rory, "It's a good price for one of them, they're top of the range." Michael explained why it was at that price, "See, I ordered a Stratocaster for the guitarist with the Royal Showband [then one of the biggest attractions in Ireland], and when it arrived after three months wasn't it the wrong colour! The guy wanted a red one like Hank Marvin [The Shadows], so I let him play that 'Sunburst' one until the red guitar arrived after another three months, and I am selling the Sunburst as a second-hand guitar."
By now the Sunburst was welded to Rory fingers, "How much would you give me on a trade-in for my 'solid seven' guitar," Rory enquired, "and what would the extended weekly payments be on my existing agreement, now that I am playing with a professional band?" To me this conversation wasn't going the right way. Michael had the figures worked out in minutes, so much per week, over a period of thirty-six months, etc. "I'll take it," said Rory, shaking Michael's hand and sealing the deal. "You're mother is OK with this, is she, as the hire-purchase agreement is in her name?" the storekeeper asked. "Yes, of course she is, isn't she?" Rory smiled wryly for me to confirm his statement, and speechlessly I nodded a yes. Lord God, we'll end up in prison for three years at this rate, I thought. "I'll take all the forms home with me and have them signed by my mother and drop them back later," said Rory.
Rory and I ran out the door with the Strat in its beautiful tweed case, and nearing home I was sent ahead to make sure the path to our shared bedroom was clear of adults. In the room Rory slowly opened the case - I was stunned at the beauty of it all from the orange velvet lining to the compartment with all the extras. I wasn't allowed to touch the guitar and had to give my word of honour that I wouldn't to Rory, who might let me hold it at some point, after giving the matter due consideration, provided that I stick to my promise. So as not to be obvious, the guitar was to be secreted under my bed, and if it was spotted the story was it was being minded for one of the fellows in the Fontana. Each day when Rory wasn't around, I would slip the case out from under the bed, open it up and gaze at the contours of the instrument until I would hear someone coming, but there was no "touching" of the guitar. I became addicted to this daily ritual, but I now realise that it was the aroma from a bottle of polish was my hang-up. "Please can I polish your guitar?" I would often ask of my brother. "No, you're not to touch it," he would reply.
"Where did this come from?" I heard our mother say. I neared the bedroom. Rory, unable to lie to her, said, "Ask Dónal." I began a retreat down the stairs. "Come back here," mother ordered. Forgetting my lines, I began to blurt out something far-fetched. Interrupting me, Rory came clean, justifying the purchase on the basis that with a 'Stratocaster' he could play both rhythm and lead simultaneously, and his band could then dispense with its rhythm player - that way Rory would be paid more and would thus pay off the loan quite easily. Mammy, knowing her son's talent, allowed him to keep the guitar and thankfully signed the paperwork.
The Stratocaster became like another sibling. I recall when, after a gig in Dublin, the guitar was stolen from Taste's van, which had been briefly unattended, we were in mourning for the week it was missing, with Rory constantly calling the police station for any news on the instrument. Sadly, it is now the reverse and I feel so saddened when I look at the poor orphaned guitar. But it still has its glory days, and the Strat seems to smile when we put it on display at the Rory exhibitions we do. And it got taken back to its original home when Fender replicated it in Rory's honour. In 2005 Cork will be the European City of Culture, the Fender Stratocaster guitar will be on show for much of next year, as part of a major exhibition in its "hometown".Published May 11, 2004 05:18 PM.