Two relatives of Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore murdered by UVF, new book reveals

A new book about the late Belfast guitar hero Gary Moore has revealed that two of his relatives were murdered by the UVF.

et the former Thin Lizzy musician, who died in 2011, insisted that he never wanted to write a song about the Troubles because he left the city the year before the conflict erupted.

Prolific rock writer Harry Shapiro — who has written biographies on the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton — says in the new book that the victims were the Catholic husband of an aunt of Gary’s, killed in a sectarian shooting by the UVF in the 70s, and a Protestant cousin murdered eight years later as part of an internal falling out within the terror group.

Gary was 58 when he died on holiday in Estepona in Spain in February 2011 after what newspaper reports claimed was a drink binge, though Shapiro says an undetected heart condition was largely responsible.

The author started to research the book — a labour of love he calls it — not long after Gary’s death but it has taken an astonishing 11 years for it to be finally published in the format the author wanted.

“I completed it a long time ago but there were a number of factors that militated against the publication but I’m glad that it will be out next month,” says Shapiro, who is also pleased that Gary’s standing as one of rock’s finest musicians is being recognised.

“Gary somehow slipped through the cracks of rock and blues history because he was too young to have been one of the old players like Peter Green, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton but not young enough to have been ranked along the newer guns like Eddie van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

“And even though he has hundreds of thousands of fans around the world and has had major selling albums and played concerts in every corner of the globe over, it seemed to me that he had somehow been forgotten, apart from his association with Thin Lizzy and his friendship with Phil Lynott.”

Shapiro’s 150,000 word book provides one of the first and most telling insights into the life and career of a complex man who was raised in Castleview Road in the shadow of Stormont in east Belfast where his father Bobby was a dance hall impresario.

Shapiro, who was sanctioned by the guitarist’s family to publish the official biography of the ‘child prodigy’, writes how Gary watched Glentoran Football Club with an uncle, holidayed in Millisle and attended Strandtown Primary School before going on to Ashfield Boys School — though he was later to pretend in interviews that he went to Annadale because he thought it sounded like a better school.

The purchase of Gary’s first guitar in the early 60s was to change his life completely and after quickly mastering it, he sought out other like-minded young Belfast musicians to form groups with him.

As part of his research Shapiro tracked down some of Gary’s first bandmates in his earliest groups like the Beat Boys, the Barons and Platform Three.

And even though his reputation as a guitarist was spreading across Ireland, Gary stunned friends in 1968 when at the tender age of 16 he announced he was moving to Dublin to join Brush Shiels’ band Skid Row in Dublin which also featured Phil Lynott in the line-up.

The relationship with Lynott would later emerge as one of the most enduring in Gary’s life and he had several spells with him in Thin Lizzy.

Gary’s departure from Belfast came just before the onslaught of the Troubles which was why, the musician later explained, he didn’t write songs about the violence in his home city.

In a 1984 documentary about his first gigs in Ireland for a decade, Gary was filmed in what Shapiro says was ‘the wounded landscape of a war-torn city and boarded-up houses.’

“He remarked how well he remembered the streets, pointing out where relatives used to live. He said that being brought up in Belfast, surviving as a kid, even before hostilities broke out, was no easy ride — and that it instilled a toughness, an edginess in him that he took into his adult life and helped sculpt the musician he became,” recalls Shapiro.

Gary also told the documentary makers that one of the reasons why he had been absent from his hometown for so long was that he couldn’t persuade his band to go with him to play a concert in Belfast because of the Troubles. He never talked publicly about the killings within his own family.

The year after the 1984 concerts, however, Gary released a song called Out in The Fields and its lyrics, ‘No flags ever stopped a bullet from a gun’ were interpreted as being associated with the Troubles — though the guitarist denied it was written with the conflict in mind.

Shapiro says Gary was ‘shy, an absolute perfectionist and a guitarist of quite exceptional talent’ but he believes he was plagued with insecurities and ‘fathom deep canyons of doubt which could cripple him.’

He adds: “He could be extremely difficult and arrogant, often letting his mouth rule his head with untethered comments which over the years won him few friends in the industry.”

The admirers of his playing of rock, blues, jazz and even Celtic music and his writing of classic ballads like Parisienne Walkways were vast and included Brian Moore of Queen, and George Harrison and Bob Dylan who recruited him to play on one of their Traveling Wilburys’ tracks, She’s My Baby.

What’s not so widely known is that Gary played guitar on the theme song for the South Bank Show that was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his cellist brother Julian who was in awe of the Belfast man’s talent.

Shapiro says Gary’s boundless potential was never fully realised, adding: “He was a guitarist’s guitarist but his main problem was that he never broke America. If he had done that there would have been no doubt that he would have been up there with all the great guitar greats.

“But one of the main difficulties was that he was terrified of flying and he was a home bird who hated being away from his family, even though there were a lot of problems about Gary’s domestic life”.

Shapiro says that Gary’s 1990 album Still Got the Blues was his greatest achievement and could have made him a megastar in the States. But he turned down the chance to tour America on the back of the album.

Shapiro adds: “He was pretty much an anti-rock star, an accidental rock star, really. He wasn’t one for big hair styles, Spandex outfits and funny shaped guitars. He loved being out on stage in front of the audiences but he didn’t enjoy the razzmatazz, the touring and the hotels. He was more focused on the music and didn’t get sucked into the rock lifestyle, preferring to be an ordinary guy offstage.”

What Gary would have made of the calls in Belfast for a statue of him to be erected here is anyone’s guess.

Shapiro’s book deals in depth about Gary’s untimely death. He writes: ‘There were a lot of unseemly rumours about drink and drugs going around. But to me it seems it was like an accident waiting to happen. His family said there had been something wrong for a while; he was putting on weight and he was breathless. It turned out that there was an undiagnosed heart condition.’

Explains Shapiro: “Yes he could hit the bottle when he was depressed but not when he was on the road. But he hadn’t been drinking before the Spanish holiday and while he did have some wine on the flight and brandies and champagne in the hotel it may be that his tolerance for alcohol had gone down and that may have triggered the underlying health problem.”

Shapiro says that Gary’s career at the time of his passing was ‘in the doldrums’ but he was planning a comeback and the talk was that he wanted to return to the traditional Irish music roots that had been fascinating him.

The author says he hopes his book will help to restore Gary Moore’s position in the rock pantheon, adding: “He used to tell his mates on the beach in Millisle that he was going to be a star with his own band. It was a hard struggle for him but he did it.”

Gary Moore: The Official Biography. By Harry Shapiro. Published by Jawbone Press

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