Bill Graham dies in Howth

On May 11, 1996, Bill Graham, Irish rock journalist, died at his home in Howth. He was 44 years old. Bill stood at the cradle of the Virgin Prunes and U2. He wrote with passion and conviction about what he loved best: music.

From the Irish Times:

It was billed as a requiem but became a spontaneous gig to celebrate the life of Bill Graham, the 44-year-old rock journalist and author who died at the weekend.

The man who introduced U2 to their manager was given a musical send-off that would fill churches every Sunday. The funeral Mass became a concert, as members of Clannad, Altan, U2, and Hothouse Flowers, together with singers Simon Carmody and Gavin Friday, paid their own inimitable tribute to Mr. Graham, who is believed to have died of a heart attack.

As the sun blazed down, the cast of musicians, singers, journalists and photographers joined Bill’s mother, Mrs. Eileen Graham, her family, friends, and neighbours at the ceremony in the Church of the Assumption just up from Howth harbour in Co. Dublin.

Local curate Father Michael Cooney, assisted by the parish priest, Mgr. Brendan Houlihan, said the prayers and told the congregation that Bill’s mother wanted the ceremony to be a celebration of his life.

Clannad singer Maire Ni Bhraoinain sang an Irish melody before the gospel reading, and afterwards Mrs. Graham, U2’s manager Paul McGuinness, and journalist Liam Mackey were among those who brought offertory gifts to the altar, including a picture, books, and a record.

In the balcony Simon Carmody sang a Johnny Thunders song, “You Can’t Put Your Arm Around a Memory.”

In another tribute a friend, John Stephenson, spoke of Bill’s “utter integrity and truthfulness,” “his powerful, vast and engaging mind” and his “wicked, wicked sense of the absurd.”

Some people, he said, mistakenly thought that Bill would spend his last pound on a pint. Bill would invest his last fiver on carefully chosen fish, vegetables and a special condiment, as well as a rare piece of literature and turn it into a wonderful evening, “which is what he had with his mother, Eileen, the night before he died.”

Niall Stokes, the editor of Hot Press, of which Mr. Graham was a co-founder, said: “Bill was a great rock journalist, but he was more than that. He hadn’t a savage bone in his body or savage word in his head,” he added. “His gregariousness was legendary and he loved holding court in Suesey St. when it was open and later in Lillie’s Bordello and Joy’s when the wine was flowing and the craic was great.”

He compared Bill to Leopold Bloom and said he used to buy liver and bacon in Camden Street and sometimes kippers for the next day’s repast. But the kippers never made it to breakfast, having their one and only view of a nightclub. “Oh, the stories those kippers could tell if only they could talk.”

At the communion Bono sang Leonard Cohen’s “The Tower of Song” with musical backing that included accordionist Martin Hayes of Altan. Gavin Hayes later sang “Just Remember That Death Isn’t the End.”

After the ceremony Bono said that “The Tower of Song” was a perfect description of Bill. “It was really him.” He added: “Bill was a fun guy, and it was the right song because there was enough melancholy.”

In his own tribute to the rock critic, who wrote two books about U2, Bono said: “Bill introduced me to myself. That’s exactly what he did. He was the spirit of that early time.”

Bono, the Edge, Gavin Friday, Niall Stokes, Liam Mackey and John Stephenson carried the coffin to the hearse. As everyone moved outside to the sunshine the undertakers brought out the wreaths, among them a message from Shane MacGowan and Victoria Darke: “Bill – sadly missed, deeply treasured.” Another arrangement of white lilies and carnations said: “Dear, darling Bill, Sleep in Peace, I love You, Mum.”

Mr. Graham was buried at Fingal Cemetery in Balgriffin.