The Red Cow Roundabout was built by canny developers who wanted to make an impression on the two great opponents in Irish society. For Dubliners it means you are now leaving the city proper and can break speed limits and laugh at local radio presenters en route to whatever quaint village you’ve chosen to rape and pillage that weekend in Donegal, Mayo or Kerry. For country people it’s a last chance to brief your children on the dangers of heroin cigarettes and cocaine tabs and get yourself mentally prepared for the ‘lock-hards’, the joyriders and the junkies who make up the rest of the population of the city who aren’t originally from the country or Poland. But for one man called Moran it was a place of unison rather than division. He bought a small bar, then built a giant hotel and every year, during the Christmas holidays, his Red Cow complex hosts parties that bring country and city people together to the strains of music, laughter and tears. This is no Camp David and Bush, Blair and Clinton – the Mahatma Ghandis of our generation – haven’t even heard of the spot; this is the Red Cow Hotel and the man in charge of breaking down the barriers and bringing about sea-change is no politician – it’s Dickie ‘spit on me’ Rock.
Dickie Rock has been an entertainer for more than forty years. He made his name with the Miami Showband touring Ireland and England in the sixties and seventies. Dickie Rock is nearly seventy. He still gets nervous before a show. He still believes in giving the audience exactly what they want; he never leaves them waiting or wanting. Dickie Rock is the last great pro.
“I was a Dubliner, a skinny little fucker with attitude and I was told I was too slick for the country. I won them over by my performance and the choice of material.”
Tonight Dickie has a crowd of seven hundred nurses waiting for him. They’ve just had a sit down meal. The Duck a l’Orange was apparently too citric and the Beef and Mixed Veg was a bit dry but the Cherry Trifle and the Lemon Meringues rescued everything. Success. The crowd are happy. They’re from Our Lady’s Hospital. Men and Women. All ages. Sil Fox the comedian is warming them up while Dickie does his exercises in suite 206. No one knows quite what his exercises are. Long-serving manager Jackie Johnson can’t even hazard a guess: “Best to leave him be before he goes on. His routine is his routine.” Mystic indeed but my guess is it’s yoga. Dickie’s dropping from the sun salute into the scorpion and finishing off with the one-legged king pigeon replete with a couple of leg lunges and air-punches.
Sil Fox goes into his last number. It’s something about Budweiser and having sex in a canoe. “They’re both fucking close to water” is the punch line. The crowd give him a great send off but not too many of them go rushing to the foyer to buy his CDs. Either they’ve been too generous with the Lemon Meringue or they’re locked in anticipation of the crooner about to leap on stage. A lot of them, including pretty much everyone in the place under the age of forty-five, are sceptical. In fifteen minutes Dickie will have them on their feet, arms linked, swinging from side to side and when that’s not enough they’ll rush the stage for kisses. Don’t forget now, Dickie Rock is close to seventy – that’s Albert Reynolds and ‘Parky’ country, and they’re ain’t too many young ‘uns travelling there.
Both Kevin Myers and Bob Geldof have come out in criticism of Dickie Rock. Now while Bob Geldof has been dining out on one song for the last thirty years and Kevin Myers has been getting by on a faux-Irish Richard Littlejohn impression for the last couple of decades their criticisms still carry water. In a one and a half hour set Dickie does cover after cover, from Delilah to My Way to Spanish Eyes. He’s no songwriter. In fact Dickie Rock has never written anything more than his biography. He calls himself an entertainer, that’s all. But without him, chances are we’d still be having sex with the lights off in Ireland and the big ‘O’ would still be a reference to Offaly.
You see while the Brits had the Beatles and the Yanks had Elvis to shift them into a sexual revolution, we Irish were still going out to dances where resident bands made up of greasy musicians plonked on chairs supping warm porter was as good as it got. “They were like bricklayers; it was a trade,” says Dickie. When Dickie and the other showbands came along, they danced on stage, they mimicked Elvis and they contributed to the sexualisation of modern Ireland. In doing so of course, they provoked the ire of the moral minority, the original Taliban: The Irish Catholic Church.
“Archbishop John McQuaid was always against the showbands,” says Dickie. “He said it was a sin to dance during Lent and closed the ballrooms for seven weeks, putting a lot of men with families out of work.”
It was probably jealousy. Back then they had every Taoiseach in their pocket – Christ they even managed to get Call of the Wild, a book about a simple pack hound who got the horn for some wolfy chick, banned – so seeing virtuous Mna na hEireann losing their shit over these geeky teen singers was a threat. But in spite of their best efforts they couldn’t stop it.
The mania that followed Dickie was inexplicable.
“The first time it happened I was sixteen and had joined my first band. We were in the Finglas Hall and all the young ones were screaming. I had a voice I could sing a bit, but I wasn’t tall, I was no looker and I couldn’t work out why they were screaming,” he says, “It was great.”
Dickie doesn’t think much of the contemporaries. In his opinion they don’t sing like men, “Shane Ward? A man? Twenty-seven/twenty-eight? The best of luck to him but he sings like a little girl.”
Dickie in contrast lets it rip. He juggles the mic, machine guns the crowd with his fists and conducts the spotlight through an unselfish choreography that allows him to pick out ladies to the back and sides and serenade them.
A small group of women have gathered in the wing. Natasha is forty-five and has seen Dickie four times this year. “If he was ninety I’d still do him,” she says. Huh? I asked if she thought he was a good singer. Her colleague is nineteen, Jasmine. “He’s all right like,” she says, “for an auld fella an all.”
Non-committal in front of the notebook, Jasmine is still pouting and craning her neck when Dickie bends down to plant one on her cheek.
When the show ends Dickie disappears. “It’s the only way to avoid getting into trouble,” he says, “and you have to maintain an aura.”
In a pink sports jacket, blue shirt, tight trousers and ankle-length winklepickers, Dickie Rock packs up his bag and escapes out to his car. He’s living in an apartment at the moment. He likes to change his Dublin addresses every few years but spends most of the time with his wife in Spain. People offer him drinks, women offer him phone numbers but Dickie is not in it for the quick favours, he’s in it for the audience and nothing will compromise that.
“They’re the boss. They pay the tune,” he says.
Dickie Rock, what can I tell ye? Slightly deaf, skin like mahogany and old enough to say he was once your age, twice, yet still the last great pro in Ireland.