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Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

Showbusiness veteran Pat Egan told David Hennessy about how he made it despite leaving school hardly able to read and write, how he avoided tragedy at a Queen gig and being robbed a gunpoint.

A massive figure of the Irish music industry, Pat Egan was the first ever promoter to stage arena concerts in Ireland.

He is also the man behind Ireland’s first major outdoor music festival headlined by a world superstar, Bob Marley at Dalymount Park in 1980.

In his new memoir, Backstage Pass: A Life in Show Business, Pat details how he went from growing up fatherless and penniless on the inner-city streets of Dublin to representing internationally famous Irish stars such as Colm Wilkinson, Brendan O’Carroll, Phil Coulter and Rebecca Storm.

The book tells the inside story of a life presenting concerts by international artists, including a 40-year association with Sir Billy Connolly, Freddie Starr, Sir George Martin, Eric Clapton, Queen, Sir Elton John and Dame Shirley Bassey, some of whom he would become friends with.

Described by the Sunday Independent as a “Showbiz mogul’s engaging memoir captures pure chaos of the rock and roll world with a wealth of wild stories”, the book sees Pat  tell of driving for three-and-a-half hours from Dublin to Cork with a totally silent Van Morrison in the back seat, collecting a hooker at Dublin Airport for Lou Reed and seeing a well known Dublin criminal insist on presenting Bob Marley with a huge bag of weed.

Pat with Phil Lynott and Rory Gallagher.

Pat told The Irish World: “I had no intention of ever writing a book of any sort because I just didn’t have the know how.

“I wasn’t a very good student in school and I left at thirteen.

“All my English or whatever literary skills I had were taught to me from reading newspapers and books and all that kind of stuff.”

Although he left school with no qualifications, Pat’s street smarts took him a long way in an industry that was far from the regulated one of today.

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“In the 1950s, there was no template for doing business.

“It was the smartest guy on the block in terms of street sense and savvy that always kind of got the cream.”

Pat would have to negotiate danger as he had Shamie Dunne of the notorious Dublin crime family often asking for himself and his pals to be put on the guest list for whatever act Egan brought to town.

“He was a big character in Dublin at the time in the underworld.

“Shamie Dunne would call me when there was a show, ‘What gigs have you got on? Who’s coming?’

“Because of who he was, I wasn’t gonna say, ‘Feck off and mind your own business’.

“I just told him that he could come to the gigs but they never created any problems at the gig.

Pat and Elton John.

“In fact, when I was on The Waterfront, I remember some of those guys used to come in and say, ‘How’s everything going here? You know if you’re having any problems with anybody just give me a shout.’

“You went along with it and kept your head down.

“I didn’t have any problems other than being robbed with a shotgun at the window of the car. And when I got out, he put it in my face. That was a close shave and one I suppose I still remember with a little bit of fear still.

“That happened when I had The Waterfront nightclub, which was one of the few late night bars in Dublin in the late 80s.

“Once pub hours finished at 11.30pm or whatever, there were very few places where you could get a drink but the Waterfront had a late night license.

“Obviously, it was always busy, very busy Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights.

“We were taking in very good money and I suppose some guys must have been on the premises and knew there’d be money in the till. So they planned a robbery.

“We were driving to the bank at half two in the morning, a BMW came tearing out of a side lane and hit the back of the back of the car that I was in and gave us a 100% spin.

“Before I knew it, there was a guy at the window with a shotgun, ‘Get out, get out, give me the fucking money, give me the money’.

“It probably took about a minute.

“I had bouncers with me who were in the other car who didn’t want to hand over the money, but I made sure they did because otherwise somebody might have been shot.

“When you’re younger, a lot of scary things happen to you.

“Nowadays, I would probably feel much differently about it.

“But in those days, it just rolled off me, you know what I mean?

“Dublin in the 80s was a really, really dodgy town.

“There were bank robberies on probably on a weekly basis.

“There were always hold ups in betting shops and things.

“It was a bit of a wild west, Dublin in the 80s and you had to watch your step. But when you’re young, you just get on with things.

“There were no restrictions, there were no rules and regulations there. I didn’t get a license to do the gig. And there were no health and safety issues.

“I went to the police station ten days beforehand up in Mountjoy just to tell us the sergeant on the desk, that we were running a show up in Dalymount, and we might have a big crowd.

“He just scribbled it in a book and more or less said, ‘20,000 people, that’s a lot of a lot of people coming. I better make a note of that’.

“So I was very lucky that I never had any anybody injured or a claim against us or anything like that.”

Another scary incident that Pat revisits is the time a Queen gig he promoted in the RDS could have ended in disaster as he had not anticipated fans gathering in big numbers so early.

“You didn’t have any instruction manual of how to run a rock and roll gig.

“It depends on how special the gig was but people would start arriving at 10 o’clock in the morning.

“And then by afternoon, there was a couple of thousand there.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have the suss or the experience to line up proper security outside the venue to put people into proper queues and corral them in the way they do these days so that there isn’t a scrum.

“At that time in the RDS, we had 2,000 people crammed up against a steel gate. More people were coming in, everybody was pushing forward.

“And I could see that we were in serious trouble.

“Luckily, I had a couple of very experienced bouncers from the National Stadium so they could see the danger as well and they went outside and they managed to force their way into the middle of the crowd and push backwards, get people to push back to take the pressure off the front gate so we could open it a bit.

“And from that day on, I made sure that every gig I ran, I had two security guys out front from two o’clock in the afternoon, and making sure that there were proper queues and things so that it never happened again.

“We were very lucky.”

Pat with Phil Coulter and Billy Connolly.

Pat saw drugs start to become commonplace in the music scene.

“In those earlier days, certainly musicians smoked a lot of dope or whatever, but I never saw that much other stuff.

“I wasn’t interested in it myself. But I would have been aware that there was cocaine available for bands and stuff like that.

“And the odd band might ask for a contact with somebody that could supply it or whatever.

“But the drugs thing was in its infancy, the same as the music business.

“It was all kind of new territory.”

It was Shamie Dunne that wanted to present Bob Marley with a very special, and not at all legal, present when he came to town.

“Bob Marley was a big attraction. He was probably the biggest star that had come to Ireland.

“I’m sure today when people like Springsteen and all these people come to town, there are people who are mad to get at them and just have a photograph taken with them.

“So it wasn’t all that different, the fact that one of the guys was into a criminal career wasn’t any different.

“He was probably a fan who wanted a picture taken.

“And that’s the way fans are.”

Pat saw the hold drugs were taking through his friend Phil Lynott. Pat and Phil were friends long before either got anywhere in music.

“We were two young guys. We just hung out together around the streets and the clubs and chased girls and talked about music and all that kind of stuff.

“So I didn’t have a real business relationship with him.

“But I was friendly with him, I was very close with him for three years, as his career developed.

“We were close and he was the nicest guy you could meet.

“It all changed when he became a rockstar.

“I didn’t know him at that point. I hadn’t fallen out with him but I wrote something in Spotlight that he wasn’t happy with and he didn’t really talk to me much after that.

“Was I upset? Yeah, well upset to lose a friend. I would always be upset to lose a friend over some kind of a stupid thing or other but he lost his way in the rock and roll business of drugs, of course, and the heroin and all that stuff. Who could survive that at that level, you know?

“I went to a party in Phil’s house when he was just starting off in the bands, he probably was in Skid Row at the time.

“I wrote in the book, I thought it was gonna be girls and and scotch and coke and whatever.

“Like something from San Francisco in that whole hippie era, they were just sitting on the floor passing around a joint which didn’t seem very exciting to me.”

Pat with Paul McGrath, George Best and his wife Alex.

Pat also worked with football star Paul McGrath for a time only for his ‘demons’ to scupper the plans they had.

“I was working for him for about a year after he retired. I did a lot of work for him. We did put together a lot of deals for him worth an awful lot of money.

“Unfortunately, his demons took over and he just wasn’t able for the after career, the limelight that was there for him.

“He was the most popular guy and probably still is one of the most popular sports personalities in the history of Irish sport, but it was just one of those things.

“He had a drink problem and he was able to stay off it for a while but he always seemed to go back on.

“It was very sad. He was a lovely guy and I always enjoyed working with him and it was very disappointing at the end when we put so many good deals together including a BBC deal for the World Cup, kind of a Match of the Day thing at the time and it fell apart.

“He arrived in Tokyo drunk from the flight. The BBC immediately put him on a plane and sent him back home.

“I mean, all those things are just my experiences from being close up with people or whatever.

“They’re not meant to be character assassinations. They are meant to give people an insight into both sides of their personalities.

“Writing about how lovely Shirley Bassey and how great a singer she was was never on the cards.

“I just wouldn’t have been able to say those things without saying she was also an absolute nightmare to deal with even though she was probably the best artist- certainly one of the best performers that I’d ever seen on the stage.

“Off stage she lived her diva status to the to the to the hilt. But it was still magic to deal with her.”

Indeed, Pat resolved to tell the truth about his encounters with celebrities with Billy Connolly, who wrote the foreword to the book, standing out as a favourite.

“Billy Connolly, who I spent 40 years with overall, never arrived at an airport with any kind of entourage.

“He just strolled through on his own carrying a small bag and a banjo and there was never any fuss.

“He was grounded.

“He was a folky. It just wasn’t in their nature. Folky guys are like that.

“I know that from Jim McCann, and Ronnie Drew and all those lads.

“They didn’t dress up to go on stage. They went on stage as they were in the pub a couple of hours beforehand.

“Billy was very much like that.

“He was a banjo playing hippie that turned into an international comedian not by accident but by talent, I suppose.

“I always remember Billy saying to me, ‘I couldn’t be going around with a minder or in a limousine all the time’.

“He said, ‘The lads would be laughing at me’. And he was talking about Ronnie Drew and those guys.

“If I was writing about Brendan O’Carroll, who I spent a lot of time with, I wanted to say that he was a genuine kind of guy and superbly talented but I wanted to be able to say that he was he was a bit of a control freak or whatever in terms of how he ran his show or his business.

“He wanted to be the tea boy and he wanted to be the marketing director, he wanted to be everything.

“That’s the way he was and that’s the way people are so I wasn’t criticizing him from any malice point of view. I didn’t hold any grudges and I don’t, it’s not in my nature.”

Pat with Shirley Bassey.

The music promoter tells of how he paid U2 £50 for a gig in 1978 having no idea of the future that lay ahead of them.

“They were a young band. They hadn’t been signed at that time by Paul McGuinness even.

“They were just a young band on the scene.

“And obviously, like all young bands, were looking to get exposure and try to get a decent gig.

“So the 50 quid they got for the gig, they really weren’t interested, they didn’t care.

“I mean they took it of course but they really just wanted to get onto a big stage supporting a big band with 2,000 people in the audience.

“And it’s the same today, I guess.”

What about the time he drove from Cork to Dublin with Van Morrison without one single word being uttered between them for the entire 160-mile journey?

“Strange guy, Van.

“The fact that he wasn’t very sociable to me or very polite to me or whatever, I never held that against him.

“That was that was part of his persona, that he wanted to be rude to people or whatever and obnoxious to some other people.

“He wasn’t ever obnoxious to me, but he just ignored me even though I was the promoter of the tour and I travelled in the car with him and even had helped keep his name in front of the public in Ireland threw my column in Spotlight.

“It just didn’t register with him but because he was such a talent, that didn’t bother me in the least.

“I still think he’s probably very much our most creative and talented act. Very much so.”

Lou Reed sent Pat to Dublin Airport to pick up “a hooker from Holland” on the night of the show that Pat was promoting.

“I did that a number of times for various other people as well.

“They wouldn’t have been carrying a sign saying they were hookers.

“We knew ourselves as you did send a car to the airport.

“But in his case, he wanted me to go out and meet her.

“Even though the gig was on and he was on stage, I was standing at the airport.

“Because he just didn’t want the driver going on his own. I did that anyway, but that was part and parcel of the thing.

“It was like Freddie Starr giving me envelopes with anything from two grand to six or seven grand in it and telling me to go to the bookies and put it on a horse at Newmarket at 2.30, or whatever.

“I did those things.”

Would Pat get into the same business if he was starting out now? “The opportunity has ceased to exist in the music business for anybody trying to get in as a promoter or an agent.

“It’s really, really difficult because of the globalization of the business and big American giants taking over everything.

“So the opportunity has disappeared.

“I got big bands in the day like Queen and Bob Marley and Status Quo.

“You couldn’t get them anymore now as a promoter.

“If you’re a multi-millionaire and you want them for your daughter’s 21st birthday party or something and you’re putting a few million on the table, then they’ll deal with you.

“But as a promoter in Ireland hoping to grab a big act, forget it. It’s gone, finished.”

Has Pat heard any reaction from of those he writes about in the book? “No. I don’t expect to really.

“I don’t think anyone’s gonna sue me because I didn’t say anything in terms of their character or anything like that.

“I just kind of said this was my experience of them. I didn’t really dramatize anything. There’s no fiction in what I wrote.

“I’m sure one or two people would say, ‘F**k him, he shouldn’t say that’.

“But there you go. The book wouldn’t be interesting if I didn’t do that.

Backstage Pass: A Life in Show Business by Pat Egan is published by Orpen Press,€17.99. Royalties from the sale of the book will go to St Audoen’s National School in Cook Street, Dublin 8.

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