A forgotten Musical Hero from Belfast – Ernie Graham

Ernie Graham

Thought I would kick off this new blog by introducing you to very underrated songwriter from Belfast.
Ernie Graham was born in Belfast in 1946,
and was training to be a mechanic, when he joined his first band Tony & the Telstars in 1965, as rhythm guitarist. Graham soon split for England hoping for potentially bigger rewards. It was there that he met another local guitarist Henry McCullough and the two, on returning to Ireland, began putting together their own band, which was initially known as the People. They changed their name to Eire Apparent in a bid for major stardom. That didn’t quite happen, but they came close, the band toured with Jimi Hendrix, who also produced and played on their only album, “Sunrise”(1969). (more of this in a future post)
I remember seeing them supporting Jimi Hendrix at Queens Festival back in 1967, in the Whitla Hall at Queens.

The band broke up in 1970 and Ernie decided to go solo. Eire Apparent had been managed by Dave Robinson, who’d since established Down Home Productions, with Brinsley Schwarz and Help Yourself.
Help Yourself and Graham played Glastonbury in 1971 and also played a gig together in January 1971, as this Melody Maker ad shows:

Having befriended Help Yourself’s singer and songwriter Malcolm Morley, Graham invited the band (and members of Brinsley Schwarz) to back him on his solo album,
which was recorded early in 1971 and issued that April. The Album remains something of a hidden gem, even in the easily accessible treasure chest of today`s digital music.
The album was described at the time as one of the “most hauntingly beautiful albums of the pub rock scene” and as “one of the most distinctive and memorable albums of it`s time”.
It was well-received but sold poorly, prompting Ernie to join Help Yourself for a few months (he can be heard on their second album, “Strange Affair”, released in May 1972, though he’d left them at the end of 1971).

The opening track,  the gorgeous, Dylanesque “Sebastian,” is built on a lyrical acoustic guitar part. Ernie Graham reveals himself to be a songwriter and player of extraordinary sensitivity .

“The Girl That Turned the Lever” could be right off any album by “The Band” and has been describes as one of the finest working-class/folk-style compositions this side of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,

Ernie went on to form pub-rockers Clancy in mid-1973. They released a couple of LPs on Warner Bros. before he went solo again, though he only managed one solo 45, a cover of Phil Lynott’s ‘Romeo & The Lonely Girl’, for Robinson’s Stiff Records, in 1978.

Clancy – Jeka Rose
from the  album “Every day”

Clancy – “Back on Love”
from the album “Seriously Speaking”

Ernie Graham solo single.
Cover of Thin Lizzie  “Romeo and the Lonely Girl”
backed with “Only Time Will Tell”

In the early 1980s, Ernie tried forming a band with Larry Pratt, who had briefly been a member of Clancy, but when this failed, he gave up being a professional musician, worked on the railways, including as a guard on the Orient Express, and was training to become a counsellor, but his “strong alcohol dependence”  caused his health to fail, and he died in April 2001.
He passed on in 2001, ignored by all but the most devoted fans and critical music scholars
You might think this sounds like a charmed CV for a lad born in Belfast, but for Ernie Graham, the phrase ‘the luck of the Irish’ was probably a bittersweet one during his lifetime.
Fame and fortune seemed always to be just an arm`s length away…

About Ronnie Purvis

Ronnie spent many years promoting and supporting local music, running gigs recording local and visiting artists. He also ran the After10 Podcast.

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