"There's so much love in this room," a beaming Wilie Meighan whispered in my ear as he perused the crammed attendance at The Set in Kilkenny, enjoying a rocking performance by Malojian. The date was 15th October 2016 and the occasion was the album launch of This Is Nowhere, the first album to be released on Willie's Rollercoaster Record Label. The majority of those in attendance had probably not heard of Stephen Scullion (aka Malojian) twelve months previously, or at best may have come across his previous incarnation Cat Malojian. Not intent in taking the safe option and celebrating the album launch in a smaller venue, Willie had the confidence and foresight to select The Set as the venue, comfortable that the near 400 capacity venue was the correct location and that the occasion would be suitably supported.
Willie had previously realised the potential in Stevie Scullion’s Malojian, got on board, put his money where his mouth was and kick started the Malojian journey that continues to go from strength to strength to this day. There was an intense pride in the whole project for Willie and his delight was clear to see as he glanced around the room at the smiling faces, a scene which no doubt meant so much to him. From the moment he introduced the band from the stage that evening as "the greatest fucking band in the country," to the moment at the end of the show, when he was persuaded to return to the stage and accept a cake baked in recognition of his achievement, his euphoria was there for all to witness and enjoy.
Barely fourteen months later and many of the same crowd are gathered at the same venue for another performance by Malojian, this time under entirely different circumstances. We were all aware how ill Willie was over the past months but were shocked to the bones by the tragic news that he lost his fight on 28th November, at the all too young age of 48.
A huge turnout attended his funeral at St. Mary's Cathedral on 30th November, a most dignified yet heart breaking occasion where his great friend Malcolm Noonan spoke so eloquently about Willie, recalling his early days as a bass player with Crawl Babies, his twenty-eight years as head honcho at Rollercoaster Records, his unfaltering loyalty as a friend and so much more. The Malojian show at The Set had been arranged some months ago by Willie and we all in our hearts hoped and expected that Willie would be present at some stage to enjoy the occasion, sadly not to be. In other years it would have been the much-cherished Rollercoaster Christmas Party which Willie arranged each year with various bands performing and the legendary Willie and Dave Holland's disco kicking on to the early hours after the live music ended.
In many ways it was fitting that the occasion had been arranged as it gave so many people the opportunity to gather together and celebrate the very thing that Willie had provided for years in Kilkenny and what he particularly cherished, live music, smiling faces, togetherness and love. All those ingredients were there in abundance on the night. There were tears of course but the overall sense was one of celebration and remembrance. The opening act was Mark McCambridge, the founding member of Belfast band Arborist and an act also very special to Willie. The gentle acoustic delivery was the perfect evening opener and set the scene for what was to follow. In what must have been a difficult personal challenge Stevie Scullion delivered a faultless set, choosing material actually perfectly suited to the occasion, accompanied by an outstanding band of musicians. No thumping drums or screeching guitars this time around but instead some gorgeous strings and keys delivered by Rachel Boyd on violin, David Murphy on pedal steel, Una McCann on accordion, Laura McFadden on cello and Stephen on acoustic guitar and occasional piano. Backing vocals were contributed beautifully by all.
Emotionally explaining that he only knew Willie for three years but reinforcing the impact both musically and personally in that three-year period the first half of the set concentrated in the main on material from his earlier albums including Whittle Me Down, I’ll Be Alright and Lean On Me from This Is Nowhere, Communion Girls and Crease Of Your Smile from Southlands and a note perfect cover of Neil Young’s Out On The Weekend. Moving yet always tinged with humour, (the piano temporarily dying a death mid song was greeted by a ‘Willie’s in the room’ comment), and the sense of loss always prevailed but was eclipsed by the sense of togetherness and relevance. More recent material featured in the latter half of the evening with the excellent Ambulance Song, witty Beard Song, Damp and Purity Of Your Smile all featuring from Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home his current release on the Rollercoaster Records Label.
However, the most sombre inclusion was the traditional farewell song He Was A Friend Of Mine, immortalised by Bob Dylan and on the lips of everyone in the room. Tear jerking, mournful, sentimental but more than appropriate. I glanced around the room and thought of Willie, in another world looking down and saying to himself "There’s so much love in that room."
Willie Meighan RIP
Review and live photography by Declan Culliton