herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

'There's a lack of good quality songs today - romance has gone out of it'

Showband legend Dickie Rock (76) is still rocking, rolling and water skiing after more than 50 years in showbusiness. He tells Allison Bray the secrets to his longevity, how he never tires of fans asking for autographs, and why he wants to be described as a performer rather than a celebrity

Dickie Rock spends eight months of the year in Spain but still has strong links to his Dublin roots
Dickie Rock spends eight months of the year in Spain but still has strong links to his Dublin roots

He may be pushing 80, but that doesn't stop showband legend Dickie Rock from zipping around the Costa del Sol coast on water skis.

The 76-year-old singer from Cabra still water skis - even with one hand - like he did almost 50 years ago, when he posed for an album cover back in 1967.

With his infectious grin and Beach Boys haircut, the photo taken off the coast of Malahide, north county Dublin, captured the spirit of the carefree era and surfing craze that swept America in the 1960s.

Forty-nine years later, Dickie still embraces that same youthful spirit as he embarks on some 60 shows a year.

Along with water skiing on the Mediterranean from his seafront home in Spain, he swims and gets up early every morning for a series of calisthenics before going for a run on the beach or a round of golf.

"I just love the water," he told the Herald. "I love to ski but I get funny looks. I run up and down the beach and hear people saying 'who is that auld fecker?'."

Genes

Yet he doesn't care. Blessed with what he calls "good genes", he looks decades younger than his years and he still has the energy and enthusiasm to give it his all at shows all over the world.

While he is a contemporary of the Rolling Stones, he never embraced the rock 'n' roll lifestyle despite inciting Beatlemania-like hysteria when he was frontman for the Miami Showband that soared to the top of the charts with seven number one hits and 13 top-tens in the 1960s.

"I never smoked, which is very important," he said. "I never did drink either, other than the odd glass of wine with a meal," he said.

He also watches his diet and eats mainly fish and chicken when he is in Spain, where he lives about eight months a year.

He credits his youthful zeal with his enduring love of showbusiness.

"I feel very privileged that I am a performer," he said. "Work is difficult when you don't like it but I love it. It's not work."

Unlike some modern "celebrities" who bristle at being asked for autographs or selfies, Dickie says he is more than happy to oblige.

"I meet fans all the time and I'm so delighted," he said.

"I'd get annoyed if they stopped. I don't mind anyone coming over to me. It's a great compliment to any artist."

His fan base includes some loyal followers who have been following him since his Miami Showband days. Their children and grandchildren are also coming along to his gigs these days.

He also loves meeting fans who come from all over Ireland to see his shows, as well as members of the Irish diaspora who grew up listening to his music in such far-flung places as New York, Chicago and Toronto.

It was in Toronto where he was honoured to be grand marshal of the city's annual Santa Claus parade in 2003, as well as performing at the city's glitzy St Patrick's Day ball one year.

"It's a wonderful feeling," he said.

However, he does lament what he calls the demise of "romance" in modern music.

While he loves classic rock acts like The Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart - and enjoys the buzz in Dublin's iconic rocker pub, Bruxelles, where he likes to pop in for the odd burger, he still has a soft spot for old-school crooners like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

"I think sometimes I'm a throwback," he said.

"I'm 76 years told and I love the big bands of the 30s and 40s," he said.

His idol is still Frank Sinatra, who he refers to as "my main man". "These guys had heartfelt voices and could deliver a great song. But that's gone now."

Manufactured

Aside from velvet-voiced modern singers like Michael Buble, he believes today's manufactured pop and cult of celebrity is destroying not only music, but showbusiness in general.

"There seems to be a lack of good quality songs today. I think the romance has gone out of it," he said. "You go to some of these shows and it's more like a circus with dancers and light shows. It's not just about the artist anymore."

He also regrets how people who are "famous for being famous", like the Kardashians, have become celebrities without any apparent talent or something to offer the world.

"These people would go to the opening of an envelope," he said. "I personally don't like being called a celebrity. I'm just a performer."

He also credits his working-class upbringing for keeping him grounded and, most importantly, teaching him the importance of family.

He is married to his first sweetheart Judy and the couple have six children and five grandchildren.

His beloved father, who he idolised, was a blacksmith working at the Liffey dockyards, but he always had time for his kids.

He recalled how he grew up in a council house on Dingle Road in Cabra before most homes had central heating.

To make sure he and his four siblings wouldn't be cold, his father would lie on each of the children's beds for 10 minutes before they got in to warm them up.

He still drives out to Dingle Road from his home in Donnybrook and looks nostalgically at his old family home, where "I imagine my mother at the door watching us playing on the street".

"I love that feeling of meeting people from the old neighbourhood," he said.

He said he was still in touch with some of his childhood friends. "They still call me Richie."

He will be performing from his new album Cycles at the Red Cow Moran Hotel in Dublin next Wednesday and Thursday, as well as in Cork and Derry in 2017.

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