Sadly David McWilliams passed away at the start of 2002.
Hopefully the following obituaries, which were published in various newspapers, will shed some light on this much underrated singer/songwriter.
– Ballymena Guardian; The Legacy of the days of David McWilliams
– Ballymena Times; Recalling the days of David McWilliams
– Ballymena Times; A personal tribute by Brian Robinson
– The Irish Times
Thomas Osterholt has translated the Irish Time obituary in German.
Für die deutschen Fans hat Thomas Osterholt diese Nachruf übersetzt.
– The Independent; David McWilliams
– The Guardian
– Le Monde (France)
The Legacy of the days of David McWilliams
Tributes have flowed in for Ulster singer/songwriter David McWilliams – author of the worldwide hit The Days of Pearly Spencer – following his sudden death in Ballycastle at the age of 56.
David was born in Belfast and grew up in Ballymena, attracted the interest of Manchester United as a teenage soccer player.
Back in 1970-71 David played football for Saturday Morning League side Broadway Celtic. “He was a useful player recalled long serving League official Brian Montgomery. And when in his 20s David switched from playing outfield to keeping goals he made several appearances with Linfield.
When he lived in Ballymena he was an apprenticeship fitter in the torpedo factory at Antrim.
Quoted as the Dylan Thomas of Ulster, David McWilliams once said ” I listen with my eyes and I sing what I see.” And it was his lyrical talent which saw him pursue a music career with his original “Pearly” selling over one million following its release in 1967, before catching another wave of success under former Soft Cell front man Marc Almond 25 years later. Told then how the new Almond version had rocketed into the Top 10, David said: “I don’t know whether to be flattered or not. I’ve never had any interest in trying to write the sort of songs that might end up in the charts nowadays. “To be honest I haven’t even heard the version. Now that it’s doing so well I’ll have to listen out for it. Do they still have Top of the Pops?”
BBC radio presenter, Gerry Anderson, described the Ballymena song smith as a true home-bred original. “There aren’t too many of them around. Van Morrison is one and David was another. Former Wings guitarist, Henry McCullough, who played gigs with McWilliams said of his death. “It is a big shock, and so sudden. There are music fans all over the world who will be mourning David’s death.” Music entrepreneur, Terri Hooley, said the artist had never been ’embittered’ like other performers ‘who had their hits in the sixties’. He believes the Ulsterman was unlucky not to carve out a bigger career for himself and said he regularly received inquiries at his Good Vibrations record shop from Europeans looking for his releases.
When David started he was working in the Shorts missiles factory and sent off a tape of his songs to Major Minor record label and got himself a deal. David was hyped all the time like every Major Minor artist. On Radio Caroline in the 1960s, you heard his new song every hour and there would have been adverts for it on the front and back of the New Musical Express. “After Major Minor he went to Dawn records, but if he had been signed to the likes of CBS or EMI he would have been a long-term selling artist – he had that much talent. “There was a Belgium dance disco version of The days of Pearly Spencer recorded in the 1980s and it went to number one in that country. A Best of David McWilliams album was later released but has since been deleted, but people from the continent are coming into the shop and asking for it. “He was just a really brilliant guy. The English had Donovan, the Americans Dylan, we had McWilliams “.
Even at the height of his fame, he never forgot his roots. A friend from Ballymena told the News Letter:”It wasn’t uncommon for David to return from being top of the bill on a European tour on a Friday night and be playing football with his mates for Broadway Celtic on a Saturday morning. He never believed he was a pop star, and he certainly never behaved like one.” (David is at the left)
David returned to Northern Ireland in the seventies and settled in Ballycastle. His live performances became increasingly rare but he never lost his love of music and writing. It is understood he was planning an imminent return to the studios to record a number of new songs for a compilation album.
Enigmatic ‘Pearly’ was a huge radio hit for Ballymena songwriter
Recalling the days of David McWilliams DAVID
McWilliams achieved charts success in 1992 when Marc Almond covered the song he released in 1967 “The days of Pearly Spencer”.
But although it had escaped him until then, chart notoriety was not McWilliams’ prime motivation. A love of music and writing were always top priorities for the local man who died suddenly last week. Born 4th July 1945, David never forgot his Ballymena roots. At the height of his success, he would have popped home to play with Broadway Celtic in the Saturday Morning League.
‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’ released on the Major Minor label, was a huge radio hit but, inexplicably, failed to chart. Most people that were listening to the radio in 1967 will remember its 60s ‘psychedelia’ vibe with pleasure.
The record like David McWilliams himself, seemed to have all the right attributes for success. It just seemed like one of those numbers that you didn’t buy. Despite several re-issues in later years, this self penned number by David McWilliams was never to succeed. Yet the 60s and 70s saw an amazing period of productivity matched by the amazing consistency of quality throughout all the material he wrote and recorded. Musically he backed himself on 6 and 12 string guitar with further arrangement and orchestration provided by the then wunderkind producer Mike Leander.
The combination of McWilliams’ heartfelt lyrics and song style with Leander’s evocative arrangements of the simple melodies still sounding bewitching today. ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’ was covered by Marc Almond in the early 90s and ‘Three O’Clock Flamingo Street is another radio favourite.
There has only been one other McWilliams compilation, released by EMI when the Almond single was a hit in 1992. That collection has long since been deleted and this RPM collection only repeats four tracks from the EMI set. Rated alongside Donovan an Dylan, David McWilliams’ place in music history is assured.
Mr. McWilliams’ funeral took place at Roselawn last Friday.
By Staff reporter for Ballymena Times; 16th January 2002
A personal tribute by Brian Robinson
David moved to Ballymena from Belfast when he was just three years old. He lived in Greenview and I lived nearby in Devenagh Way, so we were friends from early childhood.
He was a very talented footballer. He played for Harryville amateurs and Rectory Rangers with myself. At one stage he signed for Linfield, but just as he was being groomed for a regular place on team, he broke his ankle while playing football with us in People’s Park. That put an end to that for a few months. But we were big Ballymena United fans – we would even go and watch reserve team matches. (David in black shirt and shorts)
“Ronnie Holden and I took David to a studio in Belfast to cut his first disc around about 1966. It was a four track EP. Mervyn Sulvian, the sound engineer and promoter was there listening. His brother Phil was a promoter in the UK and that’s when David’s music career really took off. “His first gig was supporting a country singer in the Ulster Hall, Belfast and after that he went to London where he made an album with Mike Leander who was like a god. He appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in London. “David was massive in Europe, in Holland they named a string of restaurants ‘Candlelight’ after his song and he was very popular in Germany too. “One time in Rome, he literally had his shirt ripped off his back the way Westlife would now, and ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’ was a number one hit in France. In fact the National Orchestra of France recorded an instrumental version of it and that too went to number one. “To give some idea of just how big he was, David Bowie was once quoted as saying that David McWilliams was his favourite song-writer. “David was just a lovely guy. For example, at one stage I was running a basketball team and we needed to raise money for kids. I asked David to put on a concert at County Hall. He wasn’t really fussing on doing it but agreed because I was a friend. The concert was a sell-out and brought the house down, but David didn’t ask for a penny so that all the funds raised could go to the basketball team. That was the kind of man he was.
“He was a very, very dear friend who will be missed terribly”
Saturday 19th January 2002. Belfast musician who wrote classic rock ‘n’ roll hit – DAVID MCWILLIAMS
David McWilliams, who died on January 8th aged 56, wrote and recorded one of the classics of 1960s rock music. The Days of Pearly Spencer, along with Them’s Gloria and Bluesville’s You Turn Me On, marked the arrival of Irish rock ‘n’ roll on the world stage.
Ironically, David McWilliams’s recording of the song, first made in 1967, was never a British chart hit. A quarter-of-a-century elapsed before a cover version by Marc Almond of Soft Cell entered the British Top Ten, reaching number four.
The Days Of Pearly Spencer was based on a homeless man in Ballymena who was befriended by David McWilliams. The song reflected the writer’s deep humanity and his empathy with those who live on the margins of society.
David McWilliams was born on July 4th, 1945, in the Cregagh area of Belfast, as only child of Sam and Molly McWilliams. When he was three, the family moved to Ballymena where he attended the Model School and then the local technical school after which he began an apprenticeship at an engineering works in Antrim town that manufactured torpedoes.
For David McWilliams, however, making music came first. Inspired by Sam Cooke and Buddy Holly, he learned to play the guitar in his early teens.
He was later a founder-member of the Coral Showband (named after Holly’s record label).
When he began writing his own material, friends suggested that he should record a demo disc. On hearing the tapes, the impresario Mervyn Solomons contacted his brother Philip of Major Minor Records. Philip Solomons and his colleague Tommy Scott immediately recognised David McWilliams’s potential.
His début single God and My Country was issued in 1966, and in 1967 The Days of Pearly Spencer was released. Featuring distorted vocals through the use of a megaphone as in The New Vaudeville’s Band Winchester Cathedral, the record won David McWilliams much-deserved recognition.
Before the year 1967 was out, he had recorded three albums of his own compositions, an extra- ordinary feat of creativity given that some of today’s top artists take three years to record one album. These early albums were marked by a consistency of quality that proppelled them into the British Top 40.
Backing himself on six- and 12-string guitar, David McWilliams benefited greatly from the arrangements and orchestration provided by Mike Leander, who had worked with both Phil Spector and the Rolling Stones.
In all, he released nine albums of which two were compilations. Apart from Pearly Spencer, his best-known songs include Harlem Lady and Three O’Clock Flamingo Street.
David McWilliams undertook concert tours with the Dubliners which were compèred by his friend Dominic Behan. He attracted a large following in mainland Europe and was particularly popular in France, Holland (topping the charts in both countries) and Italy.
In the 1970s he moved to London where he was briefly managed by an associate of the notorious landlord Peter Rachman. It was neither a happy nor fruitful relationship and in 1988 he wrote the following dedication for an album track, Landlord, Landlord: “For all the Rachmans of this world. We’re gonna get ya.”
On one occasion at a party in London, David McWilliams accidentally broke a prized Appalachian lap dulcimer owned by Billy Connolly. Mortified, he asked how he could best make amends. Connolly replied that a copy of his latest album for his brother, a keen fan, would be more than adequate.
As well as being an accomplished musician, David McWilliams was a talented footballer who, in different circumstances, might have joined a Cregagh-born contemporary, George Best, in the professional ranks. Signed by Linfield FC from amateur side Harryville, he immediately became the first-team goalkeeper. Unfortunately, an ankle injury kept him out of the game for four months by which time his musical career had taken off.
David McWilliams was quiet and self-effacing. He was ill at ease in the world of showbusiness and he had an intense dislike for the glitter and hype of the music industry. He was more at home playing in the Fourways Inn, Ballymena, than in the Royal Albert Hall.
As with many singer-songwriters of his generation he lost out on the publishing rights to his music. This, it is estimated, cost him in the region of £2 million sterling.
Twenty years ago, he moved to Ballycastle, Co Antrim, where he concentrated on writing songs and making the occasional public appearance. In 1984, he played at a concert in aid of the striking miners in Britain and supported other such causes. In recent years he performed at the Ballycastle Northern Lights Festival, which celebrates the links between Scottish and Irish music.
Both David McWilliams’s marriages, firstly to Jill Sowter and secondly to Julie Ann Farnham, ended in divorce. He is survived by his daughters; Mandy, Julie, Helen, Nanno, Hannah, Shonee, and Meghan, and his son Shannon.
David McWilliams: born July 4th 1945 and died January 8th 2002
with thanks to: Nanno McWilliams, The Irish Times and Mile High Music
16 March 2002 David McWilliams, singer- songwriter: born Belfast 4 July 1945; twice married (one son, seven daughters); died Ballycastle, Co Antrim 9 January 2002.
In October 1967, the Irish singer-songwriter David McWilliams was launched in mainland Britain by his eager manager Phil Solomon, with a barrage of publicity for the dreamy track “The Days of Pearly Spencer”.
“The single that will blow your mind, the album that will change the course of music” trumpeted full-page adverts in the New Musical Express alongside enthusiastic quotes from journalists and other pop impresarios comparing the 22-year-old McWilliams to Donovan and Bob Dylan.
Unfortunately, back in 1967, Radio 1, the BBC’s new pop network, didn’t add “The Days of Pearly Spencer” to its playlist, maybe because Solomon was also a director of Radio Caroline, the pirate station just outlawed by the Marine Broadcasting Offences Acts passed by Harold Wilson’s government.
Nevertheless, the single was played incessantly and defiantly on Caroline while stations in continental Europe picked up on its strange “phoned-in” chorus and pastoral arrangement. The following year, the track charted all over Europe and impinged itself on the continental consciousness as the soundtrack to Swinging London alongside the likes of “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues and Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”.
A reluctant stage performer, McWilliams recorded more than 10 solo albums and eventually saw the torch singer Marc Almond, formerly of Soft Cell, score the biggest hit of his solo career with a carbon-copy version of “The Days of Pearly Spencer” which reached No 4 in the British charts in 1992.
Born in the Cregagh area of Belfast in 1945, David McWilliams moved to Ballymena when he was three. He grew up with seven brothers and sisters and as a teenager developed an early interest in the rock’n’roll music of Buddy Holly and learned to play the guitar. He also developed a rebellious streak and in 1960 was expelled from Ballymena Technical School for drinking between lessons. Even when he returned, McWilliams played truant constantly, spending days thinking up songs.
In 1963, he followed his father and became an apprentice fitter in a torpedo factory in Co Antrim. However, he was always looking for a way out. Six foot tall with blue eyes and unruly black hair, he cut a distinctive figure on the football pitch; he excelled as a goalkeeper but an ankle injury kept him out of the local Linfield football team.
He preferred music anyway and joined the Coral Showband. Not content with performing covers, he began writing his own compositions such as “Redundancy Blues” and “Time of Trouble”, inspired by his surroundings. “I listen with my eyes and I sing what I see,” he later told journalists.
In 1966, he signed to CBS and released his début single, “God and My Country”, but Dylan and Donovan seemed to have the protest singer and troubadour market sewn up and the track sank without trace. Undaunted, McWilliams went into a Belfast studio to record some demos. The impresario Mervyn Solomon overheard McWilliams’s tapes and contacted his brother Phil, who was equally impressed by the material.
The formidable Irish entrepreneur Phil Solomon had made his name with Them and the Bachelors. He had also joined Ronan O’Rahilly’s Radio Caroline operation and was keen to establish a record company connected to the pirate station. Having launched the Major Minor label at the tail end of 1966, Solomon wanted to add McWilliams to his roster. Even better, since CBS already manufactured Major Minor’s releases, he could appear to do them a favour by offering to take the singer off their hands. The scam worked and Solomon brought his new signing over to London. He teamed up McWilliams with the arranger Mike Leander.
McWilliams had found the perfect producer for his delicate and heartfelt songwriting as well as his six- and 12-string acoustic guitars and the partnership blossomed. In June 1967, his début album, David McWilliams Sings Songs from David McWilliams, made the Top Forty. The second one, simply called David McWilliams, fared even better, probably because it featured “The Days of Pearly Spencer”.
Thanks to Leander’s orchestral arrangement, the track had evolved from a poignant ballad about a homeless man whom McWilliams had met in Ballymena into a haunting radio record and a considerable turntable hit. Though it never charted in Britain, the single was re- released on three separate occasions and remains a favourite on oldies stations around Europe. The follow-up single, “Three O’Clock Flamingo Street”, proved equally evocative of the down-and-out milieu the songwriter had observed as a teenager. And, despite the lack of hit singles, his third album, David McWilliams Volume III, also charted in March 1968.
He joined the Dubliners on a package tour compered by the writer Dominic Behan but never recaptured the heights of his first two years. He stuck with Solomon and Major Minor for three further singles – “This Side of Heaven”, “The Stranger” and “Oh Mama, Are You My Friend?” – before switching to Parlophone and then Dawn Records.
McWilliams recorded well into the Eighties but his career was mismanaged to such an extent by the likes of the notorious London landlord Peter Rachman that he lost an estimated £2m in royalties.
In 1982, McWilliams moved back to Northern Ireland. He remained an elusive performer, only making the odd appearance in support of striking miners. McWilliams’s work deserves re-appraisal. The Days of David McWilliams, a compilation issued last year by the RPM label, provides a good career overview.
By Pierre Perrone
Saturday April 20, 2002
The pop-star career of David McWilliams, who has died aged 56, was all but over by 1968. Yet, by then, he had released one record, The Days Of Pearly Spencer, that was a domestic flop, a continental hit – and has been a cult record ever since. Twenty-five years later, it was covered by Marc Almond, who made it a British top 10 hit.
McWilliams was educated at Ballymena technical school, in Northern Ireland, and completed an engineering apprenticeship in Antrim. Moonlighting in folk clubs, he released a CBS single, God And My Country, as a 22-year-old, and impressed Phil Solomon, founder of Major-Minor records, who launched him with a large advertisement in the New Musical Express, and the services of Mike Leander, who arranged Pearly Spencer. But subsequent singles sold poorly and, despite transfers to Parlophone in 1969 and later to Dawn Records, before long McWilliams returned to Irish venues. There, those who remembered would not let him quit the stage before singing Days Of Pearly Spencer.
Two marriages ended in divorce; he is survived by seven daughters and one son.
David McWilliams, singer-songwriter, born July 4 1945; died January 8 2002
Décès de David McWilliams, chanteur et auteur-compositeur irlandais David McWilliams, chanteur et auteur-compositeur irlandais, est mort le 8 février, vient-on seulement d’apprendre.
Né à Belfast le 4 juillet 1943, David McWilliams avait fait partie des chanteurs folk-rock influencés par Bob Dylan. C’est par l’apport du rock psychédélique dans ses compositions que le succès viendra. Ainsi The Days of Pearly Spencer, enregistré en 1967 avec force violons et effets sur la voix : produite et arrangée par Mike Leander,(qui s’occupait alors de la chanteuse Marianne Faithfull) la chanson fut un grand succès. Cette popularité sera sans suite pour David McWilliams, qui avait cessé d’enregistrer en 1982, après une dizaine d’albums.
Dieser Nachruf wurde in der „Irish Times“ veröffentlicht. Hoffentlich wird dies ein bisschen Licht auf diesen unterbewerteten Sänger und Songwriter werfen.
Samstag, der 19. Januar 2002. Belfaster Musiker, der klassische Rock ’n’ Roll Hit schrieb – David McWilliams:
David McWilliams, der am 8. Januar 2002 im Alter von 56 Jahren starb, schrieb und nahm einen der Klassiker der 1960er Rock Musik auf. „The Days of Pearly Spencer“, sowie „Them’s Gloria“ und „Bluesville’s You Turn Me On“ läuteten die Ankunft des Irischen Rock ‘n’ Roll auf der Weltbühne ein.
Ironischer Weise, wurde David McWilliams Erstaufnahme des Songs im Jahre 1967 nie ein britischer Charthit. Ein Vierteljahrhundert verstrich, bevor eine Coverversion vom Soft Cell Sänger „Marc Almond“ die britischen Top Ten eroberte und Platz vier erreichte.
„The Days of Pearly Spencer“ basierte auf dem Leben eines Obdachlosen in Ballymena mit dem David McWilliams befreundet war. Dieser Song spiegelte die tiefe Menschenachtung und Empathie des Songwriters mit diesen, die am Rande der Gesellschaft lebten wieder.
David McWilliams wurde am 4. Juli 1945 in der Cregagh Area von Belfast, als einziges Kind von Sam und Molly McWilliams geboren. Als er 3 war, zog die Familie nach Ballymena, wo er erst die Model School und dann auf die örtliche Technikschule nach deren Abschluss er eine Ausbildung als Ingenieur in Antrim Town, das Torpedos herstellte.
Für David McWilliams stand Musik zu machen immer an oberster Stelle. Inspiriert von Sam Cookie und Buddy Holly lernte er das Gitarrenspielen in seinen frühen Jugendjahren. Er war später ein Gründungsmitglied der „Coral Showband“
Als er begann sein eigenen Stücke zu schreiben, schlugen Freunde vor, dass er eine Demo Disc aufnehmen solle. Als der Impressario Mervyn Solomons die Aufnahmen hörte, kontaktierte er seinen Bruder Philip von Major Minor Records. Philip Solomons und sein Kollege Tommy Scott erkannten sofort Davids Talent.
Seine Début-Single „God and My Country“ wurde 1966 herausgebracht und 1967 die Single „The Days of Pearly Spencer“ veröffentlicht.
Die, im Hauptteil verzerrten Vokale wurden durch den Gebrauch eines Megaphons, wie in der New Vaudeville’s Band der Winchester Catherdral. Die Aufnahme brachte David McWilliams die wohlverdiente Anerkennung. Bevor das Jahr 1967 zu ende war hatte er drei Albums mit seinen eigenen Kompositionen, eine beachtliche Leistung an Kreativität, für die einige der heutigen Top-Artisten mehrere Jahre brauchen würden.
Diese frühen Alben waren von einer stetigen Qualität gekennzeichnet, die sie in die britischen Top-Ten katapultieren. Neben eigener Begleitung mit einer Sechs- oder Zwölfseitengitarre, profitierte David McWilliams sehr von den Arrangements und Instrumentation mit Mike Leander, der sowohl mit Phil Spector als auch mit den Rolling Stones zusammen gearbeitet hatte.
Insgesamt gab er neun Alben heraus, von denen zwei Zusammenstellungen aus mehreren waren. Neben „The Days of Pearly Spencer“ waren seine meistgekannten Songs „Harlem Lady“ und „Three O’Clock Flamingo Street“.
David McWilliams unternahm einige Konzert-Tourneen mit den Dubliners, welche von seinem Freund Dominic Behan moderiert wurden. Er gewann eine große Fangemeinde auf dem europäischen Festland. Besonders berühmt wurde er in Frankreich, Holland und Italien.
1970 zog er nach London, wo er kurz von einem Mitarbeiter des berüchtigten Grundherrn Peter Rachman gemanagt wurde. Es war weder eine glückliches, noch eine von Erfolg gekröntes Arbeitsverhältnis und 1988 schrieb er folgende Widmung für einen Album-Track Landlord, Landlord: „Für alle Rachmans in der Welt, wir werden euch kriegen.“
Ein Zwischenfall auf einer Party in London war, dass David McWilliams ein wertvolles Hackbrett für Leder aus den Appalachen zerbrach, das Billy Connolly gehörte. Beschämt fragte er, was als Schadensersatz machen könne. Connolly antwortete, dass eine Kopie seines neusten Albums für seinen Bruder, der ein großer Fan sei, mehr als adäquat sei.
So sehr er ein vollendeter Musiker war, war er ein talentierter Fußballer, der, unter anderen Umständen, vielleicht dem Cregagh Fußballclub beigetreten wäre und wie George Best in professionellen Rängen. Bei der Übernahme von Amateur Harryville zum Linfield FC, wurde er sofort zum Torwart des ersten Teams. Unglücklicherweise hielt ihn eine Sprunggelenkverletzung vier Wochen aus dem Geschehen heraus. In dieser Zeit startete seine Musik Karriere.
David McWilliams war ein stiller und übertrieben bescheidener Mensch. Er fühlte sich unbehaglich im Showbusiness. Er hatte eine heftige Abneigung gegen den Glanz und den Medienrummel in der Musikbranche. Er spielte lieber im Fourways Inn in Ballymena, als in der Royal Albert Hall.
Wie viele Musiker und Songwriter seiner Generation verlor er die Lizenzrechte seiner Musik. Dies kostete ihn vermutlich etwas in der Region von 2.000.000 £ Sterling.
Vor zwanzig Jahren zog er nach Ballycastle bei Co Antrim, wo er sich auf das Schreiben von Songs und machte gelegentlich Auftritte. 1984 spielte er ein Konzert zur Unterstützung streikender Minenarbeiter und befürwortete deren Gründe. In den letzten Jahren trat er beim Ballycastle Northern Lights Festival, das die Verknüpfung von schottischer und irischer Musik feiert, auf.
Beide Ehen, zuerst zu Jill Sowter und dann mit Julie Ann Farnham endeten mit Scheidungen. Er lebt jetzt noch durch seine Töchter Mandy, Julie, Helen, Nanno, Hannah, Shonee, Meghan und seinen Sohn Shannon weiter.
David McWilliams: geboren am 4. Juli 1945, gestorben am 8. Januar 2002
Herzlichen Dank an Nanno McWilliams, The Irish Times and Mile High Music