McWilliams' grandkids re-release Pearly Spencer

THE grandchildren of popstar David McWilliams, who lived the last 20 years of his life in Ballycastle, have played their part in a re-release of his legendary hit 'The Days of Pearly Spencer'.

Belfast-based singer Brian Houston, who has enrolled the McWilliams’ descendents as backing vocallists for the song due out in July, told The Times on Monday how he came to re-record the song.

He said: “I was doing a tribute concert last October and a girl who is a fan of my music, who had comes to lots of my shows, came up at the end of the show and asked me if I could record one of ‘my dad’s’ songs. She was Mandy Bingham and when I asked her who her dad was, she said David McWilliams.

“I made an after-gig promise and I am living up to it. We got David’s grandchildren to perform the backing vocals and there is another link. The video was shot in and around Belfast and the man who plays the ‘old’ Pearly said he used to be an estate agent and David McWilliams once came in and bought some property.”

Brian said the single will be available to download from July 3 and then available elsewhere from July 23.

David McWilliams, who died aged 56 in 2002, wrote and recorded one of the classics of 1960s rock music, The Days of Pearly Spencer.

Ironically, David McWilliams's recording of the song, first made in 1967, was never a British chart hit but 25 years later a cover version by Marc Almond of Soft Cell entered the British Top Ten, reaching number four.

The Days Of Pearly Spencer was based on a homeless man in Ballymena who was befriended by David McWilliams. The song reflected the writer's deep humanity and his empathy with those who live on the margins of society.

David McWilliams was born in the Cregagh area of Belfast in 1945 and when he was three the family moved to Ballymena where he attended the Model School and then the local technical school after which he began an apprenticeship at an engineering works in Antrim town that manufactured torpedoes.

For David McWilliams, however, making music came first. Inspired by Sam Cooke and Buddy Holly, he learned to play the guitar in his early teens. He was later a founder-member of the Coral Showband (named after Holly's record label).

When he began writing his own material, friends suggested that he should record a demo disc. On hearing the tapes, the impresario Mervyn Solomons contacted his brother Philip of Major Minor Records.

Philip Solomons and his colleague Tommy Scott immediately recognised David McWilliams's potential.

His debut single God and My Country was issued in 1966, and in 1967 The Days of Pearly Spencer was released. Featuring distorted vocals through the use of a megaphone as in The New Vaudeville's Band Winchester Cathedral, the record won David McWilliams much-deserved recognition.

Before the year 1967 was out, he had recorded three albums of his own compositions.

These early albums were marked by a consistency of quality that propelled them into the British Top 40. Backing himself on six- and 12-string guitar, David McWilliams benefited greatly from the arrangements and orchestration provided by Mike Leander, who had worked with both Phil Spector and the Rolling Stones.

In the early 1980s he moved to Ballycastle where he concentrated on writing songs and making the occasional public appearance. In 1984 he played at a concert in aid of the striking miners in Britain and supported other such causes. He performed at the Ballycastle Northern Lights Festival.