When I was growing up, Shay Healy was as ubiquitous as anyone in gainful employment in Ireland could be; he seemed to have a hand in almost everything musical in the country. He and Phil Coulter looked to have Irish popular music carved up in their own duopoly. Not much of Healy’s work from those years is remembered now – except, of course, the 1980 Eurovision winner he wrote for Johnny Logan – and that’s not too surprising given his work was almost quintessentially ephemeral, written and performed for a living.
To give Healy his due though, he and his work had an edge and wit that was lacking in most light entertainment emanating from the official culture of Ireland in the 1980s. He also never took himself too seriously, even if he did have the semi-legendary attribute of indirectly causing Charlie Haughey’s downfall. His interview with Seán Doherty on Nighthawks in January 1992 elicited the claim that other members of Haughey’s cabinet knew about Doherty’s phone-tapping while justice minister. Haughey was gone within weeks.
One song I do remember introduced me to the man who is now the head of the London Olympic Games Organising Committee. I was too young to remember the Moscow Olympics but three years later I heard “If I Were Sebastian Coe” and its jangly pub-rock was sufficiently catchy to lodge the middle-distance Olympic champion in my conscience. It was so impressive that I was a bit surprised to discover that Sebastian Coe was not some crusty old dignatory but a fairly young man with a few years on the track ahead of him. The song is an amusing ditty, with the inevitable Steve Ovett reference, and the title and refrain demonstrate a command of the subjunctive mood rare in pop music. As Healy explains on his own YouTube channel, Coe himself was not too impressed at the tribute:
I wrote “If I Were Sebastian Coe” in 1983 as an homage to Seb, one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time, whose frequent jousts on the track with fellow Briton Steve Ovett were the stuff of legend. I sent a copy to Seb and he said he would sue me…I hope Lord Coe, Olympic supremo 2012 has a better sense of humour…
(I first saw the video for this song on Youngline, an RTÉ youth programme of the day, and a precursor to Jo-Maxi. I have a very dim recollection of Youngline, though it also provided me with my first ever glimpse of The Jam around about that time. I always imagined it to be short-lived but I had in fact only caught the tail-end of it. It ran from about 1978, in which year U2 made their first ever TV appearance on the show. Well, we won’t hold that against it.
(by Oliver Farry)