Only now do I realise I thought of Derek as a big brother. Very odd, as I’m older than him and have several of them.
I first met Derek in class in DIT Aungier street. I had transferred into second year and this guy was teaching our class. As I recall it, he hadn’t yet graduated, but he knew as much about the equipment as any of the staff, so they had him teaching audio tech.
I remember being wide-eyed with excitement as he walked us through the digital sampler. His own passion was obvious. Those were the qualities that struck me at the beginning and ones that remained consistent throughout our 3 decade long friendship. His generosity of spirit, his intelligence and enthusiasm.
He then became part of the gang at The Digital Media Center, Aungier Street’s R&D facility. I’m sure they were doing important research stuff, but I got the distinct impression it was just a place to play ‘Quake’ all day (like I said, smart.). I was still at college when I made an MTV film and through Derek I got them to put down their joysticks long enough to do the post-production.
As a techno whiz kid and a sensational musician, he was a boundless font of information. In effect, I never stopped being his student. But this is also how big brothers operate. I could always turn to him with questions and comfortingly, he always had the answers.
As men, our friendship had to revolve around “doing stuff”. My love for Derek meant I would always rope him into whatever I was doing. If I was making music, I would get him to record it. When I was doing a TV show, I’d hire him to mix it. When I was doing a radio project, I’d get him to play on it.
In Paul Byrne’s tribute, he used the expression, “there was no side to him”. I love that description. In the creative world, there can be undercurrents of egotism, insecurity, and backbiting. Like most people, I enjoy a healthy bout of character assassination, but Derek did not partake in this pastime.
I can’t remember when I met Aoibhe, but once she arrived, it seemed like she had always been there. The complimentary energies of AC & DC. I’ll never forget them duetting ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, the fantastically fun, random and weirdly perfect song at their wedding. He had met a kindred spirit, and she inherited his hangers-on. My peripatetic lifestyle meant I spent many an evening in Dublin in need of a bed, and this lovely couple always made me feel like a welcome guest. I was even allowed to house-sit a second time after I cooked kippers the first time!
The arrival of Cole and Cora was also a legato transition. Derek’s good sense and sensibility allowed him to take up the gig of father without missing a beat. A broadly unrecognised role, no one ever gets on the cover of the NME for being a great dad, but it was a priority for him. It is fitting that he spent his last night at home.
Over the years, not only was I the annoying little brother and gormless student, I was also a groupie, watching him play everything from weddings to the expansive Sergeant Pepper’s tribute with the UCD orchestra - one of the first gigs I attended with my daughter - to playing at his favorite venue, Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre in Kilkenny with Jack L.
There is an unsettling irony that our latest enterprise, one we discussed what seems like the day before yesterday, was “All My Sons”, a music project I’m working on to promote men’s health. I had recently noted that far too many of my musician friends had passed away before their time. Derek signed on to be a contributor and now he’ll be one of the people to whom it is dedicated.
I loved Derek. I’ve lost a big brother, teacher and musical role model, but through knowing him, I’ve gained so much.