Mickey Griffiths: a life less ordinary

Derry’s ‘Godfather of Punk’, Mickey Griffiths, passed away this week. In this article, his friend, Paul McCartney, pays tribute to a ‘genuine and wonderful human being’.

Thursday, 28th November 2019, 10:50 am
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Mickey Griffiths (centre) pictured with his ‘Aftermath’ bandmates, Dessie Doherty and Bill Vail, in 1983.

I first chatted to Mickey Griffiths in May 1979 in the ‘Musica’ record shop on Great James’ Street.

I was a shy, 14 year old geek and, at that point, he was a star in the local Derry underground music community. Needless to say, I was kind of starstruck.

As the 1980s began, you’d usually touch base with Mickey in the town centre on a Saturday. He had a band called The Idol Threats and pretty soon the band I played in, Graffiti, ended up regularly supporting them every second Tuesday upstairs in Mason’s Bar.

You know, I don’t think I saw a local group as musically adventurous until That Petrol Emotion came along. You could just sense a desire from them to do something that was different.

It was a million miles apart from The Undertones and The Moondogs and Mickey was crucial to this process. He wasn’t just the drummer - he was the lyricist also. Just as the music was very involving and mysterious, so, too, were the words and song titles - ‘Lonely Beach Now’, ‘Postcard From Abroad’ and the legendary ‘Little Green Men On The Moon’.

Technically, he was self taught but he was original and dynamic and no two rhythms were the same.

This sense of eclecticism in his own music was mirrored in his own tastes. Everything was in there - Brian Eno ambient pieces, Dub Reggae, obscure 1950s Rockabilly, 1960s Psychedelia and the prime of what was going on around him - Joy Division, Siouxsie & The Banshees and Gang Of Four.

This went against the optics of his image - leather jacket, bleach blonde hair and tattoos. But, in a way, so, too, did Mickey’s character and personality. Many lovely tributes have been paid to him in recent days but one friend of mine simply used the term “good mannered” and I think he hits the nail on the head. Mickey was a kind and generous guy, but also grateful and reciprocal for everything he received. He remembered everyone’s birthday and was always there with a card or gift. He constantly exuded a spirit of fun and that amazing sense of humour of his was just non-stop and incredible - you simply didn’t know what would come next.

Politics? He didn’t do them and they did not happen in the many get-togethers in his legendary Abercorn Place flat. I think I can genuinely describe him as an “Enemy Of Sectarianism”. Mickey Griffiths buzzed off the fact that Punk Rock culture in the North of Ireland brought young Protestants and Catholics together. This was an essential component of the entire thing which stayed with him all his life - he fundamentally just wanted folks to be free and to be able to live their lives in the way they wanted.

When Mickey was cruelly affected by ill health in recent years, this sense of civility never eroded.

At times when he struggled to communicate, the message didn’t change. All he wished for was to see people getting on in life and getting through life.

As someone said - he just couldn’t meet you without smiling and greeting you warmly.

So lucky are many of us for having this wonderful and inspirational human being around for many years.

A life less ordinary? Yeah, you better believe it.