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Monday 20 August 2018

Eamon Carr: Nice guy Ashford was a pioneer of Irish rock 'n' roll

PAUL Ashford, who died unexpectedly on Monday, was one of a rare breed of Irish rock'n'rollers who made music their vocation in an era when joining a rock band demanded a supreme act of faith.

Paul was one of those pioneering souls who defied the odds and carved out a fulfilling career as a professional bass player.

In the Swinging Sixties, at the height of the showband era, Paul was a member of The Chosen Few, a hip blues and soul band who had a huge and devoted following on Dublin's southside.



Style

His playing and sense of style was soon noticed. And it came as no surprise when both he and keyboard-player Fran O'Toole were persuaded to join a new-look Miami Showband.

The spin that the showband publicity machine put on the transfer caused both hilarity and envy in equal measure. "Beat group musicians now earn more than President De Valera," ran the headlines.

Dapper, cheerful and talented, Paul Ashford became such an in-demand player that he transferred to more bands than Robbie Keane has had football clubs.

Following a brief stint with folk group Emmet-Spiceland, Paul helped form Stepaside, the band he's most readily associated with. The music scene in Ireland was changing as rock bands began playing in pubs for the first time. In a grim decade Stepaside where a goodtime band, as fans who packed venues from the Mississippi Rooms in Bray to the Baggot Inn will testify.

The band's album Sit Down and Relapse offered an entertaining alternative to the aggression of punk rock.



Singles

While the band carried on, Paul moved on and released a series of solo singles including the Irish hit, Jenny. Around this time he teamed up with his old mate Deke O'Brien in The Sharks.

By the '80s, Paul had become one of the Irish music scene's most dependable session players. He put in a long stint with The Furey Brothers, adding a ballast to the group's sound. Soon you weren't surprised where you'd come across him. He kept busy. And, as actors, musicians and people in the arts know, that's a sure sign of success.

While perhaps not a household name, Paul had his devoted fans and was hugely popular among his peers. Smiley Bolger, organiser of the Vibe for Philo, recalls how Paul used to jam with Phil Lynott.

"He was such a nice guy," says Smiley. "He turned up and played at a number of the earlier Vibes we held, before the event became well established.

"I met him at a gig recently and he was in great form," adds the music scene veteran. "He was singing and playing really well and was impeccably dressed as always.

"He was very pleasant company and was clearly enjoying his life. He still looked really handsome and appeared healthy. That's why this terrible news has come as such a shock."



Legend

Over the years Paul had played with Paul Brady, Mark Knopfler and Ronnie Drew.

He also became rock'n'roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis's first call bass-player when the Killer was based in Europe.

And to those who know their rock'n'roll, that might just be the most thrilling entry on a fascinating CV.

Paul Ashford? He rocked.

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