Man with many strings to his bow had unique links with Galway
From this week's Galway City Tribune
Author: Judy Murphy
~ 4 minutes read
From this week's Galway City Tribune
BY JUDY MURPHY
Despite being born in Mayo and living most of his life in Dublin, the late John Dunford, who died on Saturday, left a unique mark on Galway’s cultural landscape.
Best known for more than 35 years as the manager of Galway-based accordion player Sharon Shannon, he played a huge role in her career and in the innovative musical collaborations she enjoyed through the years.
Before that, he had been central to the Waterboys’ 1988 album, Fisherman’s Blues, which put Galway on the musical map in a new and exciting way.
Much of that album was recorded in Spiddal House, a location which John had secured for the group when the Waterboys’ lead singer, Scottish-born Mike Scott, was exploring the traditional music of this country.
John came from a musical family in Castlebar and had previously worked as a sound engineer for outfits like Planxty, Clannad, Moving Hearts, and Galway’s De Dannan while also being involved in studio production for some of them.
During a stint with Dublin band In Tua Nua in the 1980s, he met fiddle player Steve Wickham who went on to join the Waterboys. Through Steve, John met Mike Scott, who recognised the Mayo man’s ability across a range of areas. John was involved with the groundbreaking group from 1986 to 1990, covering everything from engineering and production to finding locations for their projects, including in Spiddal.
John also introduced Mike Scott to traditional musicians, including Sharon, who went on to join the Waterboys. And he was in Spiddal in the mid-1980s the band recorded so much of their renowned Fisherman’s Blues album, which featured local musicians including Charlie Lennon, Máirtín O’Connor, Pádraig Stevens, Brendan O’Regan, singer Tomás Mac Eoin and the late Alec Finn. John co-produced the album.
In the late 1980s, he brought Mike to the Purty Loft in Dun Laoghaire to see Sharon in concert. After the show, they invited her to join the Waterboys. She was a member for 18 months and appeared on their Room to Roam album in 1990. Mike Scott went on to guest on Sharon’s debut, eponymous album the following year.
John, meanwhile, became Sharon’s manager and they forged an extraordinary partnership, which saw her work with similarly talented people across a range of musical genres.
Those she recorded with included Steve Earle, John Prine, Willie Nelson, Shane Mac Gowan, Nigel Kennedy and dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. Closer to home, she worked with the likes of Bono, Mundy, Eleanor McEvoy, Eleanor Shanley, Pauline Scanlon and, most notably, the late Desmond O’Halloran from Inishbofin, who gained new fame late in life, when he recorded the hit song, Say You Love Me, on Daisy Discs, the label John and Sharon had founded,
Desmond’s album, The Pound Road, was also recorded on that label in the company studio near Craughwell, to which a receiver was later appointed.
Just last month, the Daisy label released Sharon Shannon: Now and Then, a comprehensive box-set that spanned her career.
John worked with other musicians, as well as Sharon and, along with Dónal Lunny, a close associate of both, he founded Hummingbird Records, which released work by John Spillane, Sinéad O’Connor, De Dannan and the Monks of Glenstal Abbey as well as the 1991 album, Bringing It All Back Home, from the acclaimed TV series of the same name.
But it was as Sharon’s manager he was best-known and his loyalty to her was immense. She has described herself as “heartbroken” at his death, just two months after he was diagnosed with cancer.
John is survived by his wife Hilly, daughters Becky, Hannah, Katy and Emily, his broader family and friends.
Pictured: John Dunford with Sharon Shannon on the Late Late Show set in 2020.
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