A charismatic figure on the Dublin jazz and blues scenes since the early 1980’s, his Gripewater Blues Band spearheaded the blues movement in Ireland and drew many fans of both jazz and the blues
A self-taught musician, Mooney was influenced by the blues from an early age and his hard-bop style of guitar playing is expressive and melodic with a bluesy groove. He possesses a warm and rich tenor voice and has an almost flawless sense of pitch.
His first album, “All My Love’s In Vain” (Rubyworks) was released in 2005 to critical acclaim and has become one of Ireland’s highest selling albums by a jazz artist. The single, “Beautiful Day” charted on the Irish hit parade and still receives regular airplay.
Nigel Mooney was born in Dublin, Ireland, on the 12th of August, 1963. He began playing guitar at the age of 12 and soon joined the school band. In his early teens, Mooney discovered the blues, and in particular the 50’s Chicago guitar styles of B.B. King, Albert King and Buddy Guy.
In 1978, he joined Xanex Overchew, a Dublin based progressive-rock band led by drummer/pianist and composer Marney O’Sullivan. In addition to broadening his musical horizons with new chords and time signatures in this group, Mooney formed his first blues band while still at school, recruiting his old friend O’Sullivan on drums.
Upon leaving school in 1981, Mooney worked in his father’s wholesale business and also had his first taste of the Dublin pub gig-circuit with Xanex Overchew, his blues guitar style being influenced by a mix of progressive rock and modern jazz. In 1984, he met and befriended legendary Belfast blues pianist Jim Daly who encouraged him to start playing the blues full-time. In the summer of that year, he left the family business and formed The Gripewater Blues Band, soon starting a residency in Tommy Dunne’s Tavern on Dublin’s Parliament Street.
Although blues bands and guitarists of note had existed in Dublin, (Gary Moore, Jimmy Faulkner, Ed Deane and Pat Farrell, to name a few), in the early 1980’s there was a new and rapidly growing interest in the blues but little or no “scene” as such. The Gripewater Blues Band filled this gap; Tommy Dunne’s Tavern was packed to the rafters every Saturday night and Mooney became the leading figure in the newly developing Irish blues movement.
In January 1986, following the sudden closure of Tommy Dunne’s, Mooney moved the band into J.J. Smyth’s pub on Dublin’s Aungier Street. Smyth’s was the birthplace of legendary Irish bard Thomas Moore; there was a room upstairs and the affable J.J. agreed to give the band a three-week trial. So began an eight year residency for The Gripewater Blues Band; so too was born Ireland’s only permanent jazz club; J.J.’s of Aungier Street, Dublin still hosts jazz and blues nightly.
Over the following eight years, Mooney’s band backed many of the Chicago bluesmen who visited Dublin, among them Lowell Fulson, Louisiana Red, Larry Garner, U.P. Wilson and Johnny Mars, as well as opening for numerous acts including B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Hubert Sumlin and Dr. John, and playing at jazz and blues festivals in Ireland and overseas and appearing on Irish radio and television.
Although The Gripewater Blues Band had always been associated with the Southside Chicago sound, Mooney had, throughout this period, been listening to jazz and had added bebop and swing numbers to the set, seamlessly mixing B.B. King and Elmore James with Bird and Basie. In 1987 he hired fellow-Dubliner Richie Buckley on tenor saxophone, followed by jazz-fusion drummer Tom McDermott. By the early nineties there were a number of established blues bands in Ireland that played the Chicago style; Mooney’s band was, by now, playing its own brand of blues and bebop to the chagrin of the purists.
Nigel Mooney’s primary influences had been the “Kings” of Chicago; by the early nineties his guitar playing was being coloured by the influence of guitarists such as Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and George Benson, and other instrumentalists such as Charlie Parker, Stanley Turrentine, Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal. In the early nineties he met and befriended Georgie Fame, a kindred spirit whose musical influences were similar to Mooney’s; both singers have guested with one another on many occasions since.
In 1991, jazz pianist Tony Drennan invited Mooney to join his sextet and began a weekly residency with Mooney singing the blues numbers in a mainstream and swing band. During this time he met legendary Irish trumpeter and bandleader Earl Gill, who sat in from time to time with the sextet. Gill’s band was a full-time working septet playing dinner-dances and weddings all over Ireland but primarily at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel (where Earl had been resident band-leader since 1956) and in September 1994 Mooney joined the band as guitarist and occasional vocalist……
This was effectively the end of The Gripewater Blues Band and Mooney spent two years on the road with The Earl Gill band playing a wide range of musical styles from Dixieland to rhythm ‘n’ blues and Irish waltzes to contemporary pop. In the summer of 1996 he met organist Justin Carroll and, quitting Gill’s band, formed an organ trio with Carroll on Hammond C3 and some-time Gripewater member Myles Drennan, son of afore-mentioned Tony, on drums.
Playing a mixture of hard-bop and blues, the trio soon gained a following and in October 1996 were invited to the prestigious Guinness Cork Jazz Festival to play as the house band at the Festival Club, an arrangement that continued for the next few years, during which the trio backed many of the visiting international musicians such as Terrell Stafford, Bill Mobley, Bobby Watson, Joey de Francesco, Bruce Barth, and Ron Affif.
By the end of the 20th century, Myles Drennan and Justin Carroll had both gained high reputations as pianists in the Irish jazz scene and Mooney occupied the unique position as Ireland’s only jazz singer and guitarist of repute. With a large repertoire of jazz vocal standards, bebop and blues, he was now working mainly with a quartet featuring Drennan on piano, Dave Fleming on bass and internationally renowned drummer Johnny Wadham, and had performed with fellow-guitarists Louis Stewart, Mundell Lowe, Howard Alden, Bjorn Solli and Russell Malone.
It was around this time that Mooney began working on the arrangements that would eventually make up his first recorded album. In or around the turn of the century, Dublin guitarist Hugh Buckley had been touring Ireland with a group featuring ex-Jazz Messengers pianist James Williams, and Mooney’s regular rhythm section of Dave Fleming on bass and Johnny Wadham on drums. When this group decamped to New York to record with Williams, Mooney replaced the rhythm section with the O’Donovan brothers, Ruadhri and Shane, on bass and drums respectively.
This new quartet (Mooney, Myles Drennan, Ruadhri O’Donovan, Shane O’Donovan) began a residency in The Harbour Bar in Bray, near Dublin, under the name of Nigel Mooney’s Hip Operation. In July 2001, this same line-up recorded Mooney’s first album, completed in 2003 and eventually released by Dublin record company Rubyworks in 2005. “All My Love’s In Vain” featured six of Mooney’s compositions plus an arrangement of the old Wexford ballad, “Boulavogue”, and jazzy arrangements of two Robert Johnson numbers. The album was a big success for Rubyworks and Mooney, with a sustained period of touring and critical acclaim in the minute Irish jazz scene as well as concerts in England, France and Germany and at the “Memphis in May” Beale Street Blues Festival in Memphis, Tennessee.
In May 2013, Mooney’s second album, “The Bohemian Mooney”, was released to critical acclaim, featuring as “Record of the Week” on mainstream R.T.E. radio (a rare honour for a jazz recording); the Irish Times review awarded the album four stars before going on to award it International Jazz Album of the Year in December 2013. Mooney has been touring the album with a quartet featuring Johnny Taylor on piano, Dan Bodwell on bass and Dominic Mullan on drums, and occasionally with a three-part horn section added which has featured Jean Toussaint and Michael Buckley on tenor saxophones and Linley Hamilton on trumpet.
Reviews for “All My Love’s In Vain”, (Rubyworks, 2005).
The Clare People, 12th July, 2005. *****
Unquestionably, Mooney’s work on this offering isn’t in vain. This is a tour-de-force of an Irish jazz/blues album, showcasing the Wicklow man’s innovative guitar playing and unique vocalising. Six of the nine tracks here are self-penned, showcasing Mooney’s superb song-writing talent. The other three comprise an instrumental “Boulavogue” and two knockout versions of Robert Johnson classics, “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” and “Love In Vain”. Effortless vocals, reminiscent of Mel Torme, Nina Simone and Chet Baker, fit snugly over a tight four-piece band sound. “All My Love’s In Vain” can stand up favourably with anything that has come out of Memphis, New Orleans or Chicago in recent times. A gem.
The Sunday Tribune, 5th June, 2005. ****
It has taken guitarist Nigel Mooney about 20 years to get around to his debut album, but the wait has not been in vain. Mooney has been one of the seminal figures of Irish blues since his Gripewater Blues Band pioneered the current live scene at places like J.J. Smyth’s. But even those who know him well are being blown away by this impressive collection of original songs, sung with real feeling, and played with real style by a group that includes Myles Drennan on keyboards, and a guest appearance by Richie Buckley.