Cecil Nolan was a DJ, he was also a husband, a father, a grandfather and a brother … as I've learned over the last couple of weeks. But to me he was Cecil, Cecil the DJ. So famous, and legendary that he had achieved the status of mononymous person, no surname necessary.
He was like Elvis or Prince, the only Cecil in the world, our world.
Of course, I'd spoken to him through the years - the years from 1991 to 1993 to be precise - our conversations were brief, me doing the talking, requesting a particular song that Cecil was most likely going to play later on in the night anyway.
But speaking with Cecil about music made the 15-year-old me feel cool. Damn it, I was cool, but not half as cool as the fifty odd year-old man on stage, spinning songs from a record collection that could well be one of the most valuable record collections in the world.
I’m sure this isn’t true but allow me the hyperbole.
Cecil was the DJ at The Grove. He was not 'one of the DJs’ at The Grove, he was the only DJ at The Grove, from its beginning in 1967 in Belgrove Football Club, through to its finale in 1997 in St. Paul’s School, Raheny - 30 whole years.
This is an incredible length of time to be DJing at a school disco, and Cecil was already approaching 30 years of age when he started. But he never became stale, he kept his ear to the ground, picking up records from The Doors in the late 60s, to Bowie, T-Rex in the early 70s, Frampton, Television, The Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, Blondie, the New Romantics in the early 80s, The Smiths, he loved his 'Cure Heads’ and catered to them every week, likewise the ‘Metal Heads’ with his Metal Hour early in the night, he’d be sure to allow the Morrissey fans the opportunity to escape their miserable existence in the alcove for four minutes of misery on the dancefloor, he was there through the baggie years of ‘Madchester,’ lots of R.E.M (where we’d do the Stand dance), Nirvana and Pearl Jam just before I finished my stint there, and no doubt he was probably playing Oasis after my time.
OK, so he wasn’t perfect, but who is?
I’ve spoken before on these pages about what The Grove meant to generations of kids that grew up on the northside of Dublin. At the time, this was to highlight the 50th anniversary celebration in 2017, appropriately held at St. Paul’s in Raheny with Cecil on the decks, ably supported by his (and my) good friend Andy Colbert. I’ve regaled you all with the experiences of a Grove night, so will not repeat myself here, other than to say that those nights are responsible for forming lifelong friendships, providing first kisses, first dances, first drunken escapades and for opening all of our ears to great music. Those 30 years were a special period, and we were lucky to be a part of it. These experiences played an essential part in forming the person I became, and I’m sure others too.
The truth is, it wasn’t The Grove that was responsible for all of this, it was Cecil, and we are all grateful to him for it.
Cecil passed away a couple of weeks ago in the care of staff at St. Francis Hospice, Raheny. He was surrounded by his loving family, and he was also surrounded in spirit by thousands of ‘Grovers’ worldwide, our thoughts with him as we all anxiously awaited updates since the news of his illness became known in September.
And the conversations continue, with post COVID-19 ideas and plans for some kind of landmark in Raheny to recognise and commemorate Cecil’s life, and maybe even another Grove evening, an opportunity for the tribe - his tribe - to get together and give one last, head-banging, slow dancing, moshing send-off.
I’ll keep you posted.