Widely regarded as one of Europe’s finest guitarists, Henry McCullough did not confine himself to one musical genre.
Born in Portstewart, Co Derry, he first came to prominence in the early 60s as the teenage lead guitarist with Enniskillen’s Skyrockets showband. In 1964, along with three other members of The Skyrockets, he left and formed a new showband fronted by South African born vocalist Gene Chetty, which they named Gene and The Gents. Chetty recalls: ‘While most of the top showbands would have crowds of girls around the stage, we invariably had groups of young male guitarists watching Henry!’
New horizons beckoned, however, and soon McCullough returned to his first love, rhythm‘n’blues, replacing Mike Cox in Portadown group The People. With McCullough on board, The People built up a huge following all over Ireland, and when they were signed in 1967 by (former bassist with The Animals) Chas Chandler’s management team, they changed the group’s name to Éire Apparent. Under Chandler’s guidance, Éire Apparent toured Britain on the same bill as groups such as Pink Floyd, The Move and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
McCullough’s career took an unusual twist when he moved back to Ireland and joined what was primarily a folk group called Sweeney’s Men. Under his influence, however, they soon began to mix folk and rock, and are often regarded as the innovators of the folk/rock genre.
Having spent a year in Ireland, London and the blues beckoned again. McCullough teamed up with Sheffield singer Joe Cocker in The Grease Band. With Cocker he toured the USA and performed at the legendary Woodstock open-air festival.
Even bigger things were to come. When the world’s most famous band, The Beatles, called it a day, Paul McCartney asked McCullough to join his new outfit, Wings, alongside Denny Laine and Denny Sewell. His guitar solo on ‘My Love’ is regarded as one of rock music’s greatest solos. Musical differences with McCartney, however, saw McCullough move on once again within a year.
McCullough then did some session work, and played concerts with Roy Harper, Frankie Miller, Eric Burdon, Marianne Faithfull, Ronnie Lane and Donovan. He also spent some time with progressive band Spooky Tooth.
While recovering from an injury to his hand while visiting his family in 1980, McCullough decided to stay in Ireland. He began to sit in with some old friends, The Fleadh Cowboys, at their Sunday afternoon residency in The Lower Deck in Dublin, and soon decided to move back to Portstewart and put a new band together. He was joined by Percy Robinson on pedal steel guitar, Roe Butcher on bass and Liam Bradley on drums.
In 1998 McCullough went to Poland, where he rehearsed with a band of Polish musicians for an upcoming tour. After the tour, they went into a recording studio and recorded a ‘live’ album which was released as Blue Sunset. This was followed by a further successful Polish tour.
On returning home, McCullough recorded and released ’Failed Christian’, a song that has since been covered by Nick Lowe on his album, Dig My Mood. In 1999, his beloved and invaluable cherry red 1963 Gibson ES335 guitar went missing during a flight from Warsaw to London. To date, it has never been recovered.
Henry McCullough continues to record and perform. His album, Unfinished Business, is currently on sale and has received very positive reviews.