Living memories - interview with Frank Sinnott
Published 15/09/2015 | 00:00
Although music festivals are ten a penny now, back in September 1970 Frank Sinnott was considered somewhat of a hippy when he decided that Wexford should be a musical hub.
It was the start of a 45 year (and counting) career in music and event promotion and saw Frank rub shoulders with some of the very hippest bands of the 70s and 80s.
'In September 1970 I established the first ever Wexford Festival of Living Music and this month I'll be celebrating my 45th anniversary as a music promoter. I started to promote concerts when I was just 18 years old and I loved it so I stuck with it and I'm 63 now.
'At the time I was the youngest festival director in the country and now I'm surely one of the oldest and one of the longest serving.
'The first Festival of Living Music was held in the Theatre Royal. It was a small three day affair and BP Fallon acted as MC. Thin Lizzy played at it and it was one of their first ever gigs outside of Dublin so it kind of made a little bit of history for that. They nearly blew the roof off the Theatre Royal between the music and the audience singing along.
'I had met Phil Lynott outside the outside the old RTE studios on Henrietta Street and I asked him if he would play the Festival of Living Music and he agreed. When we were saying goodbye he asked me for 10p to get the bus back as far as Crumlin. You could say that it is one of my claims to fame that I have Phil Lynott money for the bus!
'The RTE concert orchestra played a very special concert too, playing themes from the musicals, and Billy Roche gave a rare solo performance. It was a very special concert.
'In March 1971, six months later I put on another Festival of Living Music which was massive. We had acts like Fairpoint, Tir na nOg, Fairport Convention, Danny Doyle, The Strawbs and the Chieftains. We also had some classical performances and the legendary John Peel was the MCC.
'This festival was opened by Sean O Riada who was world famous at the time and he died later that year. It had been my idea to try get him to open the festival because I was a big fan. During the festival he played the Rights of Man.
'During the festival we had to push a piano from Joe Lowney's School of Music right up to the Abbey Cinema where the concerts were taking place.'
A talented raconteur, Frank said that the second Festival of Living Music was a huge event in the town although admits it wasn't well received with everyone. 'It was a really big festival and Wexford Festival were talking about establishing a mini festival at the time. We even managed to get John Beckett to come and perform on his harpischord.
'But maybe we were a bit before our time. Remember this was happening before the likes of the Kilkenny and Galway Arts Festivals and people weren't prepared to go see classical musicians when there was nothing only hippies roaming around the town. We lost money on that festival.'
Frank didn't confine his talents to festivals however and he did the music promotion of singer songwriter Christy Moore on five occasions. 'The first time he came here to Wexford he played a fundraiser in White's Hotel and when he came the second time he was emerging from a sabbatical and he didn't know how he would be received by people.
'We didn't even advertise the concerts. The tickets went on sale at 9 a.m. in the morning and by 9.30 a.m. the two concerts, a total of 860 seats, were sold out. Christy couldn't believe it but he shouldn't have had any worries about how the people of Wexford would react to him.'
Frank's brother Declan, who had a worldwide reputation, played with Christy during the two Wexford gigs and indeed on numerous occasions all over the world.
Other concerts that stand out for the irrepressible Frank are gigs with comedian Tommy Tiernan whom he described as having a 'maniac, brilliant, magical sense of humour' and Joe Dolan although he laments he never got to met the man in white in person.
'I did three shows for Joe but I never got to meet him. He was an absolute legend though. He arrived in a red Jaguar and he had two minders with him who escorted him into Hotel Curracloe. He was dressed completely in white.
'I watched about 20 minutes of his concert and he was absolutely amazing. There was 450 people in the hotel and I'd say about ten of them were men', laughed Frank.
'Chris de Burgh in the Dun Mhuire was a special show too. I love him and his music anyway so it was very close to my heart. Another great concert was the Boomtown Rats performing in the Blue Dolphin (at the top of The Faythe, now the Sailing Cot) in 1978. I rang their manager from the pay phone in Heffernan's and they agreed to play for £125.'
And how did the man who was reared on St Peter's Square in Wexford land such a plum job getting to meet and greet the very best of musical talent?
'I just woke up one morning when I was 18 years old and thought that I'd like to put on a festival...so I did. I liked doing it so I kept doing it.' It was as simple as that. Frank, however, is quick to pay tribute to those that helped him throughout the years and thanked Mick O'Brien, Kirk Robinson and Johnny Murphy from Carrig On Bannow.
It's not the only string to his bow and he admits he was happy enough to remain a part-time promoter so that he could pursue other interests. He has been writing for the past 50 years and when he was just 15 years old produced his first school newspaper in the CBS Secondary School.
He also established a free sheet newspaper 'The Boker' and, not happy with writing for newspapers and other publications, he also sold newspaper advertising for a number of years.
Not content with a career in writing and music promotion, Frank is an equally adept musician and spent 35 years teaching guitar to the young and not so young of Wexford. 'I was handy enough with the guitar but after I stopped playing it went away from me', he said.
He has also written a number of slightly, shall we say, irreverent, books. 'My first book, "View from the Bridge Volume 1" was totally hilarious and really funny. But Volume 2 wasn't as funny. I've a third book out later in the year. It's a book of jokes collected from real people and I'm going to call it the "Adolf Hilter Book of Jokes",' he said giving a belly aching laugh.
Don't ever change Frank!