The recent surge in music in my household – guitars, drums, harmonica, shower vocal performances – led me to explore my families roots in music. I searched through archive photos as well as newspaper articles both here and where my family roots are in County Kerry, Ireland. What I discovered, truly amazed me and really tied together a lot of who I am as a music lover as well as how my kids are so musically inclined.
I have been following punk rock bands for years despite being somewhat of a straight edge. I never put two and two together before I read an archive article from a local Cork newspaper about my great-great uncle, whom I’m named after. His name was Noel Fitzgibbons, but everyone in town knew him as Noel the Punk. Noel the Punk was a legend in his own mind and often told people that he would someday become a famous legend in the minds of everyone else. He had a long standing gig at the famous pub “The Long Valley” although he was never paid, nor did anyone bother to show up except the barkeeps, who, according to the article, were the ones who drew the shortest straw. His music was raw and his lyrics were biting and his breathe was hideous. He insisted on playing in his boxer shorts, which matched the couch at “The Long Valley” pub. Truly, he was a man who would do what he wanted, when he wanted to, regardless of the outcome, which was typically a Guinness or two throw in his direction by the owner to end his set.
But, one day, Noel the Punk did have someone attend his set. A well known record executive, Eric Short, from Instable Records happened upon the Valley. He was still drunk from the night before and only landed at the Valley because it happened to be at the bottom of a steep hill, which Mr. Short had recently fallen down. Short gathered himself, stood up and took listen of Noel the Punk. What he said changed the face of Irish Punk music for minutes to follow. “Hey idiot” yelled Short to Noel the Punk “why don’t you take your mittens off. No one can hear the bloody strings your killin’.” Noel stopped playing, put his guitar down, and ran to punch the stranger in the face – a fairly routine act when you are greeted in a pub by someone who interrupts your musical genius. Short, a veteran of musicians trying to hit him, ducked just in time and Noel the Punk punched a wooden beam so hard he broke every bone in his hand. Screaming at the top of his punk rock lungs, Noel the Punk ran out of “The Long Valley” and never returned. Later that day, his guitar would be used for kindling wood and the couch he sat on so many times was fed into the fire as well.
Noel the Punk was never able to play the guitar again. Soon after the Valley incident, his father signed him up for an apprenticeship raking leaves. Noel Fitzgibbons became one of Ireland’s premier leaf rakers and won awards for cleanliness and tenacity during really windy days. The shopkeepers and homeowners would often hear Noel the Punk singing in their yard and then shut their windows and doors extra snug so as not to hear him. At times, Noel would take his rake and strum it like a guitar and sing one of his originals, which were legendary in his own mind. At a church just outside Belgooly, Noel was raking and singing and a Catholic schoolgirl took notice. Her name was D’Arcy Price and should watched Noel intently. She took out her notepad and made notes about his appearance and his song lyrics. She even snapped a photo of him, which a local Irish newpaper editor sent me. D’Arcy then formulated her own song, made a demo tape, and scored a record deal for, at the time, the richest signing bonus in Irish music history. On her multi-platinum debut album’s jacket was a small mention of Noel, “to my inspiration, Elvis and some creepy guy at my old school.”
So, it turns out my family does have strong musical roots. I was named after a true punk rock legend in his own mind who helped the career of the famous D’Arcy Price and shortened the stay for many who walked into “The Long Valley” pub. Very cool and I’m honored to carry his name and carry on his tradition of punk rock music.