Words Patrick Cassidy
No one produces music in isolation. We all have our musical inspirations, artists who paved the way and introduced us to extraordinary new sounds. For me and a whole generation of young musicians, Horslips, particularly Johnny Fean, were a huge inspiration.
I first met Johnny when our two families lived across the road from each other in Shannon, County Clare, a new town that was developed beside the airport in the 1960s. It was a unique and exciting place to live, and the Cassidys and Feans were among the first families to move there.
It was also an exciting time in music. Rock and roll, which had dominated the music scene in the 1950s, began to splinter into different subgenres. There was a resurgence of interest in the blues and in folk music in the US and the UK and Ireland by young musicians who wanted to preserve these traditions. This time was also a landmark era for the revival of Irish traditional and folk music. Séan Ó’Riada led the way in the 1950s and 60s with his groundbreaking arrangements of traditional music, which had a pivotal influence on generations to come.
Horslips, formed in 1970, was a brilliantly original ‘Celtic Rock’ band that combined traditional Irish music with hard rock. With a distinct Irish identity, they conveyed to their fans the magical power of ancient mythological tales and historic events.
Johnny Fean joined Horslips as lead guitarist and vocalist in 1972. He had learned to play tenor banjo and mandolin in his early years, and his guitar style was a remarkably distinctive fusion of blues and Irish traditional music.
Regarded as one of Ireland’s foremost electric guitarists, Johnny was a quiet, unassuming man who let his guitar do the talking. There are so many great moments one could choose from, but for Johnny himself, the defining moment was the 1973 hit single ‘Dearg Doom’ from The Táin. ‘It changed everything in Irish rock music,’ he said. ‘Nothing would ever be the same again!’
The guitar riff for ‘Dearg Doom’ was based on a traditional Irish march, ‘Marcshlua Uí Néill’ (O’Neill’s Cavalry March), and it has become one of the most recognised and enduring tunes in Irish music. It also elevated Johnny to the ranks of the great international guitar heroes.
I was immensely saddened to learn of Johnny’s recent passing. My sincere condolences to his wife Maggie, brothers Donal, Shearie, Ray and sisters Gail and Corna. Also to his Horslips bandmates, Barry, Jim, Eamon and Charles. Thank you, Johnny, for your friendship, your inspiration and your incredible musical legacy.
Solas na bhFlaitheas go bhfeice sé agus ceol na nAingeal go gcloise sé.