The much-loved Dubliner passed away 10 years ago last August. Liam Nolan pays tribute to one of the most popular and instantly recognisable voices in Irish music.
The voice was unmistakeable. Distinctive. Unlike any other. Instantly recognisable. Unquestionably his and only his.
It was raspy and low, and likened to slate and cement.
Nathan Joseph, the founder of Transatlantic Records, went a bit further – he said the voice was “like the sound of coke being crushed under a door”.
Someone else called it, “Ronnie’s trademark gravel growl.”
The voice of Ronnie Drew made impossible the quantum leap of trying to imagine exactly how he sounded before his voice broke. How could that adult voice ever have belonged to a boy soprano? But it did.
Physically Ronnie is no more. He died 10 years ago in Dublin’s St Vincent’s Private Hospital – on 16th August, 2008. He was 73. Cancer ended his life. Ended it far too soon. But he is still alive in the minds and hearts of his family and friends, and in the minds and hearts of countless thousands around the world who remember with love, and a deep sense of loss, this man from Dun Laoghaire who sounded like the quintessential working class Dubliner.
May he rest in everlasting peace.
He was described as “feisty, funny and famously uncool”, and it was said that whereas Luke Kelly’s voice was stridently clear, Ronnie’s was like a bullfrog croaking in a coal cellar.
Behind the public persona there was a kind and thinking man. He had wide-ranging musical tastes – from opera to jazz, and from classical pieces to folk songs and Irish traditional music. He was also a socialist with a philosophical turn of mind.
Ronnie had strong views about everything, especially the way the music industry had changed during his lifetime. He was, he said, “lucky to have grown up when you could be exposed to all those sorts of music”. He regretted “the real lack of listening choice”.
“Much of what we hear these days is foisted on us,” said he, “because someone with a money-making agenda is determined to shape the music market to his or her own ends.” (He’d surely say the same thing were he alive today.)
About young performers professionally packaged and marketed, he said, “Once they make huge money, the media court them with questions you’d hesitate to ask Plato!”