Sweet home Ballymena .. Skynyrd tribute will raise funds for Turning Point charity

Dessie Blackadder


Dessie Blackadder

SOMETIMES the strangest ideas come into your mind when you’re enjoying a bite of lunch.

And for Ballymena man Alister Gilmore, branch manager of the local Wyse Byse store, October 20, 2016 was one of those days.

That lunchtime, two things were playing on Alister’s mind. The first was that the anniversary of his brother, Graham’s death was approaching.

“And it was looming dark and large, because as anyone will tell you, anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas are the hardest times for the bereaved,” he recalls.

As a distraction to those gloomy thoughts he flicked through social media and was reminded that it was the anniversary of the plane crash in 1977, which killed 3 members of America’s ‘southern rock’ legends, Lynyrd Skynyrd, most notably band leader/singer Ronnie Van Zant. This would mean that the following October it would be the 40th Anniversary.

And that struck a chord with the Ballymena man because he had been a fan since he was a young teenager.

Like most Rock loving teens who grew up after the band had ended, his first exposure to the band was Skynyrd’s magnum opus, ‘Free Bird’ (featuring its famous 7-minute triple guitar solo) being on a compilation album (it seemed ‘Free Bird’ was on most compilation albums).

In fact, a lot of people will know songs like ‘Free Bird’, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ or ‘Simple Man’ but not realise they are Lynyrd Skynrd songs.

Al Gilmore had heard ‘Free Bird’ and decided he wanted to hear more and so went out and bought a ‘Best of’ compilation and immediately fell in love with this effectively extinct band.

Sitting that day at his lunch, something clicked in his brain; a germ of an idea, where he could somehow turn all the negativity surrounding the loss of his brother and the sense of helplessness he had been carrying since the previous November and do something positive.

He had been a singer off and on since he was 17 but hadn’t sung in bands for about 5 years and had basically decided he was done with music.

He had never sung in a covers band before, because he didn’t like trying to sing like other people, but there was always one singer he loved to sing along to and that was Ronnie Van Zant. So, in a few brief moments the idea came to him of putting together a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band, play a couple of charity gigs including one on the 40th Anniversary date and raise money for the services that perhaps could have helped his brother – who had struggled for several years with depression, insomnia & addiction.

The call went out to local musicians to help him form this band and ‘a band ’Simply Skynyrd’ was put together a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, the whole plan did not come to fruition in the timeframe Gilmore had hoped. Band line-up changes cost the project time and last October the 40th Anniversary came and went without the band being ready – two-and-a-half hours of difficult songs takes some rehearsal and commitment. B

ut the addition of a new drummer in March of this year saw the band take on new impetus, by July the band was appearing at open-mic nights to show off a few songs, and by August the band had done its debut gig – to a fantastic reaction.

But Alister never lost focus on that first initial idea which set the wheels in motion - the charity gig.

So on Saturday, October, 13, exactly a week before the 41st Anniversary of the plane crash, this charity gig will take place at the Diamond Rock Club in Ahoghill considered one of the best club venues in the British Isles

It is the labour of love of local man, Derwin McFarland. Gilmore is a regular and there was only one place that he wanted to play when he was thinking of a venue for his charity gig. McFarland did not need to be persuaded as soon as he heard the cause.

Symply Skynyrd will play 2-and-a-half hours of the best of Lynyrd Skynyrd – including all the best-known tunes, such as the three famous songs I mentioned, but also ‘Saturday Night Special’, ‘Needle & The Spoon’, ‘That Smell’ among many others – over two dozen songs.

Gilmore looked around all the various charities that help people who were going through what his brother Graham had gone through, and in the end chose Turning Point NI – a locally based group who try to help young people dealing with mental health and addiction problems. 100% of the proceeds from ticket sales (£10 entry fee) and a raffle which will be held during the interval, will go to Turning Point NI.

“There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think about my brother,” says Gilmore, “that is always how it will be. But what I have learnt since his death in November 2015 is the strength gained from family and friends, but also from defeating negatives forces and thoughts through positive action, no matter how difficult it is to do and maintain.

“For me, my positive action was putting together this band, four guys I did not know who bought into this idea and never wavered, even through various delays and obstacles.

“I have lost a brother and he can never be replaced, but I gained four new friends and a new, very positive band project, which very possibly would not have happened otherwise”

Tickets for the event are still available.

They can be bought online at https://www.wegottickets.com/event/443254 or from Alister himself at Wyse Byse, from Derwin McFarland or at the main Diamond Bar. Alternatively, you pay at the door, provided the event does not sell out.

If you cannot attend but want to donate, you can send cheques to Turning Point NI on Mill St, Ballymena or pay into a fund Alister has set up on Paypal at https://paypal.me/pools/c/88ligm3pQr Again, 100% of the money donated will go to Turning Point NI and the fund will stay open until the end of October.

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