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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Denny Cordell-Lavarack

1943 - 1995

Source:  Mr Michael Purcell c2008


DENNY CORDELL-LAVARACK Record Producer, Horse Breeder, Trainer, Gentleman and friend to many. In this Appreciation for The Irish Times, music promoter Michael Purcell recalls a little of Denny' s Life and Times.


Following a brief illness Denny died on February 18th 1995 at the young age of 51. Acknowledged throughout the world as one of the most influential record producers in the music entertainment business, Denny had lived among us in Carlow at Corries House, Bagenalstown since 1979.

The artists with whom he was associated reads like a "Who's Who" of modern day entertainers, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Procal Harum, The Moody Blues, The Move, T.Rex, Marc Bolan, J.J.Cale, Phoebe Snow, Dwight Twilley, the Gap Band, Toots and the Maytals, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Chet Baker, Joe Cocker, David Bowie, Georgie Fame, Freddy King, Leon Russell, Marianne Faithfull and in more recent times The Cranberries.

In an appreciation by Bill Graham published in "Hot Press" (23rd March 1995). Bill stated that "a radio station could devote a full days schedule to the music of the noted performers and other secondary artists with whom Denny was associated and there would not be a bum track".

Leaving public school at 17 he went to Paris where Denny tracked down the great jazz trumpeter Chet Baker and briefly became his manager, this was to be Denny's apprenticeship in the world of music. It was at the age of 21 that Denny working in the "Radio Caroline" based office of Jon Fenton's management company, got his first big break. The promoters of a new band called the Moody Blues were looking for a hit single for the group. Denny convinced the band to record the Bessie Banks song "Go Now" it turned out to be a huge hit.

Denny had drawn up a business contract with the group and despite their best efforts to do so the Moody Blues could not back out of the agreement. Denny cleared a five-figure-sum from the deal. Later he was to set up his own independent production company, "Straight Ahead", it was to produce some of the great music sounds of the 60's. Denny had another colossal hit with the classic "A Whiter Shade of Pale", (1967) for Procal Harum. This arrangement was to earn him 5 million or "five cool and funky big ones", as he called the amount.

Another classic produced by Denny was Lennon and Mc Cartney's, "With a Little Help from My Friends", for the soul singer Joe Cocker in 1968. Later Denny was to take Joe Cocker and the Grease Band on the Legendary "Mad Dogs and Englishmen", coast to coast tour of the United States in a cavalcade of 19 stretch limos, culminating in their appearance at the Woodstock Free Festival. The Grease Band included Gary Busey on drums, J.J.Cale on guitar, Leon Russell on keyboards and Rita Coolidge on back-up vocals.

In 1978 Denny established "Flippers", a successful (unlike my own venture of the same period) roller disco club in Los Angeles. One could fill a book with details of Denny's further involvement and achievements on the music scene. In fact the rock history, "The Sound of the City", devotes three pages to him.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, six years later he moved with his family to Brazil before being sent to England to be educated. (At the time of the Falklands war Denny had his Carlow home painted in the Argentinian national colours). Moving to Jamaica where he lived in a large shack on the beach, Denny set up MANGO RECORDS with his friend Chris Blackwell. Despite driving a Ferrari (Reg.No RAAAS) Denny always managed to be late for appointments. His Jamaican sojourn yielded him two prize catches: Bob Marley and the Wailers and Toots and the Maytals. In fact it was Denny who introduced Rasta music to the United States. Denny, "retired", to Carlow Ireland in his early 30's to breed and train racehorses, and to "Party". He was to enjoy much success in all three enterprises. Despite the achievements in his horse training career (Baba Karam, Tawkin and Modest were among the more useful performers he trained for owners such as Ron Wood and John Daley) and success as a breeder (having shares in Alzao, Niniski, Persian Bold and Ahonoora) Denny's financial losses were to run into seven figures. This was to result in his comeback in the international music scene in latter years. Returning as Artists and Repertoire man for "Island Records", Denny quickly proceeded to pick up the threads. In 1993 he was masterminding the rise of the Cranberries who were discovered by his eldest son, Barney in Limerick and was also associated with Melissa Etheridge's success in the USA.

Just before his untimely death Denny was concentrating on forming a new production, publishing and consultancy company "Realisation" with Imago founder Kate Hyman. His last studio outing was for Marianne Faithfull's new album "A Secret Life". Paul Mc Guiness of U2 recalls Denny, inviting us all to a party in Corries House, Bagenlstown and saying he was going to spend what was left of his money on the party and go back to work in the record business, Paul added that " Denny was well on his way to making his second fortune, he had clearly established in the industries mind that he could do it again."

Denny was also a keen greyhound man and achieved a measure of success both in California and Ireland. Joining with one of the country's top handlers, Brendan Murphy, the pair rejoiced in the success of the classic-placed Malibu Tip and the coursing dog Some Skunk which won the Waterloo Cup at Altcar.

Pirate Irwin writing a tribute to Denny in the British paper: "The Independent" stated: On the Irish Racing scene Denny was a breath of fresh air compared to the Tipperary- dominated fake glamour set. Suddenly Ireland had a genuine star bestriding its proudest stage- from the Curragh to Gowran Park, his local track. With his mop of grey curls, a Marlboro dangling from his lip and a Charismatic clan of his children and step-children he could not but add real style and eccentricity to Irish racing.

The Daily Telegraph noted in its appreciation of Denny's life that: Cordell liked to put his feet up on peoples desks (he was something of a shoe fetishist) and to scatter broken matches on their plush carpeting. He was mulish in negotiation, but knew how to leave them laughing even as he walked off with their swag. "You're never alone with a grand", he would say.

Further down the piece continues: however hard he lived Cordell retained his good looks with wry and humorous face beneath a head of prematurely grey hair. Caroline Kennedy once described him as having "a head like Beethoven". He was a master of the art of living, but from the female point of view remained undomesticated. His Carlow neighbour and friend Emilio "Mim" Scala recalled: Denny Cordell was one of the greatest hosts you could find. He loved good food, was a great cook and there would always be a first class bottle of wine at Corries House. He could be with the jet set one day but the next he would be happily back in Corries, doing a spot of fishing or shooting with his friends. Denny had made his all-weather gallop available to many horse trainers, local wonder horse Danoli was one that benefited from this generous action. His ability to live out Kipling's : " walk with kings- nor lose the common touch", meant that one could meet Denny in the local bookies or pub or in the Castle Tavern in my own street having a quiet chat with Sean at the counter or playing cards in the corner with the lads and never guess that he was a celebrated player in the international music scene.

Never missing a stroke he had in the early days of satellite broadcasting formed a syndicate to bid for the SIS rights, he was just pipped at the post for the contract. He also devised the Stable-mate racing club which brought 500 shareholders into racing most of whom benefited when .019 of the club's 20 horses were winners.

Brought from the Corries in a horse-drawn hearse Denny was buried in a quiet corner of Lorum Church cemetery, dressed in a Rhinestone Cowboy outfit, wearing his boots. His copy of Ellington 55 in his arms with a bottle of Irish whiskey and a spliff placed beside him. Two Rastafarian Members of the Century Steel Band filled in the grave. His life was then celebrated with a wake in O'Shea's of Borris in what was described as the biggest hooley since Ireland beat Italy in the World Cup. The end had come fast and with little warning, feeling pain, Denny consulted his doctor, Lymphoma was diagnosed, a month later despite the valiant efforts of the staff of the Mater Hospital, Denny passed away. Eleven weeks later his first grand-child Lucille was born. Twice married, he had two sons Barney and Tarka from his first marriage to Mia, son Milo and daughter Emerald from his second marriage to Theodora and a two year old son Finbar from his relationship with Marina Guinness. Denny is also survived by his mother Mary and his brother Andrew.

His delights and interests were many and varied, family, friends, music, horses, dogs, an oul gamble, wild fowling, paintings, books, socialising and laughter. His inimitable self combined with his early death will ensure that his absence will be felt more strongly in the years ahead. Sure it must have been someone like Denny that Burns had in mind when he wrote:

If there's another world, he lives in bliss
If there's none, he made the best of this. m.p.

'The following article on the funeral of Denny Cordell was published in "The Telegraph" in March 1995. "It complimented the Appreciation by Michael Purcell".  The writer of this article is J.P. Dunleavy, internationally renowned author and playwright. * *Among those who attended the funeral were Bono and members of U2, Marianne Faithful, John Hurt and Paul McGuiness.'

"THE FUNERAL OF DENNY CORDELL"

Under the stars of a frosty night, dawn arriving chill across the Irish Midlands. As one gets off to the funeral of Denny Cordell, of whom one has never heard said a discouraging word.

I first met him many years ago in one of the smaller sitting rooms of Glin Castle while we were both guests of Madam and the Knight of Glin. But I had heard of him long before as a greyhound owner and mostly described through the compliments of a friend who had rented him his stud farm to house his dogs. Then he later produced the music for a piece I authored and narrated about Ireland titled, "In all her Sins and Graces". And the more I listened to this music the less I became impressed by myself interfering with my spoken words. And so as all news does when it spells the end of one still so relatively young, his death now seems a strange betrayal to the future of all who knew him.

But this is Ireland, where one comes to hate the truth that distorts the lie. You don't die here either. For the lips of those who remain keep saying your name and telling your tall tales.

And Denny Cordell was one of those rare who came from afar to this island and stayed. And uncomplaining as he always seemed to me, he sometimes must have suffered its discontent. However, from all I could see, he enjoyed to play an Irish role still played, of pleasantly shooting, racing, hunting and fishing in this westernmost parkland of Europe. And knowing too that should you need the spice of discord at any time to stimulate, you need not go far. The inhabitants will always see both sides of an argument so long as it can result in a fight.

I motored south from Mullingar under the glowering grey skies, randomly passing across the Irish countryside and viewing the battle for survival of all these suburban homes so stuck out of place with their "pitch and putt" and "Bed and Breakfast" signs, and more recently posted, those plaques warning of Community Alert Areas and thieves beware. The heart can seize up with loneliness along these lonely winding roads. But you're kept alert trying to read the cast-iron road signs torn in half. This is an ancient amusement practised by some locals as a testimony to their feats of strength. And this is always better than encountering a sign you can read which points the wrong way. But this is always done with the best intention so the visiting tourists will not miss the best sights.

I go round and round the roundabouts looking for any sign naming a town I've heard of. Farther south finally the hills rise and beyond the valleys dip the town of Carlow comes. But I can't seem to find my destination of Bagenalstown for it is named Muine Bheag on my map. At last I find my way through mile after mile of winding narrow lanes and suddenly the gates of Corries House are there.

Back in Bagenalstown I had already passed the small neat funeral home where Denny reposed wearing in his coffin his country and western outfit and holding a vinyl of Duke Ellington, one of his favourites as a boy. He's wearing too his cowboy boots, footwear when I noticed such first I thought strangely out of character.

I was warned by two locals that I would have no trouble finding the rest of the way to Corries House as the vehicles would be parked miles around over the surrounding countryside. Finally there it is, the modest mansion, Corries House, sitting in its small paradise tucked sweetly in these hills. As one enters the gates and down the avenue around the stud railed field spears of daffodil leaves are pressing up from the ground. And true it is, his attending friends are legion. From every corner of Ireland and the globe, crowded in the hall and standing about in the sitting rooms. His dear slenderly beautiful lady, Marina Guinness, her face pale but eyes still sparkling blue. Rock stars in their leather rock gear. Music managers and executives in gents' natty suiting. The racing fraternity in their tweeds and cavalry twill. The grooms and jockeys. The Anglo Irish.

I stare at an open door into the nearby room. Candles burn on the chimney piece and there on the dining table is placed the long polished gleaming length with its golden handles of Denny Cordell's coffin, brought back from the funeral home for one last visit to his house. On top lies neatly folded his racing colours, his silks of green and orange. Beneath the table a splendid array of pretty flowers, richly fresh and full of the colour of life. Beyond through another door, the kitchen, the table brimming with sandwiches, soup and cakes. And from all the other kitchen surfaces many glasses are lifted into which many beverages flow. The generosity that is Ireland. And amid the animated chatter it's hard to feel sorrow nor does one hear a sad word.

Denny's handsome young sons and friends carry the coffin out of Corries House and up the rising drive to the front gates where an exquisite horse-drawn hearse waits. The flower-covered coffin placed within and outlined by cut glass windows. I stand watching in the drizzling rain with one of his oldest friends whose crinkly ginger hair is slowly getting wet as his gentle voice talks touchingly of this man they go now to bury and behind whom one is to walk to the church and cemetery. And about this and the distance there is the lie told that distorts the truth as the word goes whispered about that it is only a mile and a half. Off we go. Suspicions grow as the first two miles and three go by.

To pass time I count the little rainbow circles of moisture on the road. And I find I am walking next to a woman in black of a beauteous face who is from New Jersey. Then next to her comes a man in Connemara tweed, his head of long hair is truly soaked in the rain. He shows not a sign of tiredness nor discomfort, but chuckles as I turn to look back and report that there are following now more cars and a distinctly diminished number of pedestrians. We shake hands as he introduces himself as John Hurt. And we walk yet another mile past a field where Denny galloped and trained his horses. Relief now as the church steeple rears finally still another mile away. But one knew the ginger-haired old friend of Denny's would walk thus 10 miles farther behind Denny's coffin. The knowledge gives one a strange hope of light to have in all one's own dark dooms where courage must live if life is not to die.

All around the church, the lanes are packed with parked cars. Inside along with his coffin are Denny's saddle and bridle. I do not recite the prayers or sing. For John Hurt is in the pew next to me and the splendid resonance of this actor's voice would be sad to miss when declaimed so near. Crimond and Danny Boy are sung. And the Service ends with the rousing hymn "When The Saints Go Marching In".

As the last sounds of song die away I am reminded of being back in Corries House. When asking one of Denny's old friends, Julian Lloyd how did all this so suddenly happen. He said that one night, three weeks ago, severe pain came upon Denny and he asked Julian to take him to the hospital. Where he lay waiting on his back to be attended and Julian placing a blanket upon him to keep him warm saw his cowboy boots sticking up and out. And Julian asked him wouldn't he be more comfortable with his boots off. And Denny, still so far from death as anyone knew, smiled and said "No I'd like to die with my boots on".

 J.P. Donleavy.


Foot note

Denny Cordell (born Dennis Cordell-Laverack,) 1 August 1943, Buenos Aires, Argentina died 18 February 1995, Dublin, Ireland was a British record producer and horse-racer.

Source: Wikipedia


(Thank you to Michael Purcell for providing this material)


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