Footballing greats George Best and Rodney Marsh appeared together at the Du Pont Recreation Club
Since organising his first dance – a Springtown Camp Reunion in the Stardust in 1987 - Derry promoter Willie Deery has been bringing international stars – such as Glen Campbell, David Essex, Shakin' Stevens and country star Don Williams – to perform in his home town.
Add to that, a host of legendary sporting and home-grown stars, and you can certainly say he has mixed with the top 'A listers.'
Here, Willie looks back at some of the acts he has brought to the city, revealing some of their unusual requests, including how he was asked to 'sack' the driver of a limousine that brought a country legend to the town and how a female staff member working in a takeaway went 'weak at the knees' when he and George Best walked into to order a fish supper.
Among the top international stars Willie has brought to the city was legendary American country star Don Williams who paid his first visit to the North when he appeared in the Rialto in March 1992 – one of two shows he agreed to perform in Ireland, the other being at The Point in Dublin.
Describing Williams as a 'country legend,' Willie revealed he made a highly unusual request on arriving in Derry.
Willie recalled: “I first met him when he arrived in the Everglades Hotel in a classy limousine and I welcomed him to Derry and he thanked me for doing so. He asked me could I do him a favour and I replied: 'Sure, if I possibly can.' His request surprised me: 'Will you fire the driver who drove me from Dublin,' I asked him: 'Why?' He said: 'He didn’t do his job very well as he lost his way to here on several occasions and we had to stop along the way to seek help on which way to travel'.
“I replied: “Sorry, but I can’t do that' because I didn’t employ him and I didn't know the person as I had never met him in my life before as he was employed by the Dublin promoter. He instructed his musical director to tell the driver his services were no longer required. I got the shaken driver a meal and give him directions back to Dublin.
“On stage, Don Williams was a total professional and gave a super performance and was loved by the audience. He did, however, say on stage: 'God, you do have some small crooked roads in Ireland.”
Kris Krisfofferson also had an unusual request.
Willie recalled: “I remember he arrived in the Everglades on a cold night wearing a sleeveless pullover and in good form. He asked me could I have some spring bottled water and some red grapes in his dressing room. I told him they were already there - they were not but I got them before he went there - that pleased him.
“He was a straight-forward person and easy to work with, as was his entire band. The show went well and the audience loved him.”
David Essex was another star Willie struck up a good relationship with.
“I welcomed David Essex to Derry for a concert, again in the Rialto theatre.
“He came through the Everglades door with a smile as wide as the Foyle with his tour manager, Mike Smith, a gentleman who I had worked with before.
“Essex held his hand out to shake mine and in a loud voice said: 'Hello Willie Boy. what’s the craic.' I thought to myself this boy is going to be some craic with that welcome as we never had set eyes on each other in his life. He had obviously been briefed in the local lingo by Mike.
“I have to say he was one of the nicest down to earth stars I have ever met. All was easy-going as we chatted about the gig arrangements. His show was one of the best shows I have ever promoted - he was simply a class artist and his band were superb. Not one word of the slightest discontent from David or his band, a complete delight to work with.
“We chatted for a long time in the Everglades Hotel after the show and he told me a lot about his life and I told him a lot about Springtown Camp and growing up there. He was genuinely interested in my story of the camp and the antics I got up to as a boy.
“A funny thing happened in the Everglades Hotel after the gig as we were chatting away. This posh lady came over and asked for a photograph to be taken with him and he said: 'Of course, sit down here.'
“I was sitting beside him and the lady asked me would I mind moving as she just wanted her and David in the photograph. I got up to move out of way when David grabbed my arm and said: 'Willie, sit where you are.'
“The woman said: 'I only want a photograph of you and me, David.' David told her: 'Willie is sitting with me all night and if you want a photograph you can have one but please don’t ask my friend to leave his seat.' I just sat there with a big red face and the photograph was taken I’m sure she cut me out of the photograph when she got it.
“After she and her friend left, I told David I didn’t mind moving and he told me: 'She didn’t make a request, Willie, she gave an order, that’s not nice'.”
Superstar Glen Campbell was another Willie has fond memories of. Stating he was a 'real gentleman,' Willie said: “I shook his hand in the Everglades Hotel and thanked him for coming to Derry and he replied 'glad to be here and thank you for inviting me.'
“We were going to the Rialto theatre for the sound check and the band were already in their classy long vehicle and I told the driver to follow me in my car.
“At the theatre, I asked Glen what was John Wayne like, as he was in the John Wayne classic True Grit, the film he got his only Oscar for. Glen told me just as you see him on screen and on television, 'a nice man.' 'Do you know it was me who was responsible for him getting the Oscar for that film?' said Glen. 'No, how was that?' I asked, and with a big grin he said: 'My acting was so bad it made him look so good' - we both chuckled at that.
“I asked him did he have a favourite song expecting him to name one of his own hits, but to my surprise he said Paul McCartney’s 'Mull of Kintyre' was one of the best songs ever recorded, 'Impossible to improve on,' he added.
“After the sound check was over and just before he was to go on stage he was talking to me and Sean Coyle, who was the compere. He asked him what could he do for a encore and Sean told him the significance of 'Danny Boy' to Derry and Campbell was shocked to hear that.
“George Caldwell, an ardent Derry City fan, was at the dressing room door and asked me would Glenn Campbell wear his Derry City scarf for a brief moment on stage and I said I would ask him. Thinking there was no chance he would, I told him how important Derry City Football Club was to the city - to our surprise, he turned to me and asked: 'If I wear it will it offend anyone?' I told him: 'No, it will not.'
“To our surprise and delight he looked at Sean and me and said: 'Ok, I will sing Danny Boy for the encore and wear the scarf around my neck.' Well, to say it brought the house down was an understatement. What a lovely gesture, one not easily forgotten.”
Legendary footballer George Best was another superstar Willie brought to the city who also had an unusual request.
Willie recalled: “George Best and Rodney Marsh were touring England with their chat show and pulling in the crowds everywhere. I was asked to bring the show to the Du Pont Social Club which I duly did.
“George was talking to Colm Holmes, who was the compere for the show, in the dressing room when he beckoned me aside. 'Do me a favour,' he said, 'would you ask me which club would you like to manage?' So, when they were on stage I asked him the question and, like a flash, he said 'Stringfellows' - the packed audience roared with laughter.
“Jobby Crossan told me before the show: 'You will have good craic with Best' - and he was correct. Best was a bundle of laughs from the first minute I met him until he left Derry.
“After the show, I drove both of them to the Everglades Hotel and as we left the Du Pont club he said don’t forget your promise to me. He asked me earlier to take him to get fish 'n' chips. I took him in to a fish 'n' chip shop on Spencer Road.
“As I pulled up outside the shop, he said: 'Hold on, I will go in with you.' So, in we both went. Of course, the ladies behind the counter recognised him instantly but just to confirm it one whispered to me: 'Is that who we think it is?' and I said: 'It's Georgie Best.' I think she went weak at the knees.
“Beside us at the counter was a young man in his 30s who was a little drunk as he struggled to keep himself steady.
“He kept looking at Best from every angle at the same time doing his upmost to keep steady. While the ladies handed us our order of fish 'n' chips, he said to me 'Your man is wile like Georgie Best' and I said to him: 'That is because he is Georgie Best.'
“I could only smile as he stuttered: 'Hi Georgie mucker, you alright?' Best looked at him and gave him the thumps up sign and said: 'I’m great' thanks, you had a few tonight?'
“The man just smiled and spread the palms of his hand s out in front of him and shrugged his shoulders.”
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