Van Morrison may have the most exalted career of any ex-member of Them, but Jackie McAuley is a close runner-up, at least in terms of longevity. Born in Northern Ireland in 1946 and the younger brother of Pat McAuley -- himself later a drummer -- Jackie McAuley grew up surrounded by traditional Irish music, and revealed a serious proficiency at the piano as a boy. He later showed a facility with numerous other instruments, including the guitar, and along with a broadening of his skills came a widening interest in music -- by the start of the 1960s, he was a serious fan of American-style R&B. He and his older brother (who became a drummer) headed for London, where the 17-year-old Jackie made the acquaintance of Gene Vincent, the American rock & roll legend, who was making most of his records in England by then. McAuley subsequently attributed his emergence as a songwriter to Vincent's influence. Both McAuley siblings passed through the lineup of the Irish-spawned R&B-based band Them, though Pat McAuley lasted longer in what was, at best, a highly fluid personnel situation. During the mid-'60s, following his exit from Them, the younger McAuley sibling worked on the folk circuit in Dublin, in the process crossing paths with the Dubliners, and joined with future Planxty member Paul Brady in a blues-based outfit called the Cult. Some time in 1966 or 1967, following the breakup of Them, Pat McAuley had grabbed the name for himself and organized a group that eventually got rechristened the Belfast Gypsies -- which included Jackie McAuley on lead vocals. They fell under the wing of producer Kim Fowley for a couple of failed singles and a posthumous album, somewhat confusingly titled Them Belfast Gypsies, recorded in Copenhagen and released by the Sonet label. Although it was hopelessly intertwined (and confused with) Them's history, the album was a killer showcase for McAuley, working in a multitude of blues and rock idioms, including a gloriously expressive rendition of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," that's worth tracking down, plus performances intersecting with the styles of Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf, et al.
McAuley later teamed up with original Fairport Convention lead singer Judy Dyble and recorded for Pye Records as Trader Horne. They lasted into the early '70s before Dyble decided to give up music, and McAuley cut his first solo album, a self-titled release, for Pye in 1971. Alas, the album was still-born commercially, appearing at a time when Pye was losing ground as a major label.
McAuley was most visible as a session player in the '70s and '80s, his musically diverse skills serving him well in the company of the Heptones, Jim Capaldi, Rick Wakeman, and Rebop, among others. He was later a sideman to skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan, and enjoyed a hit as a songwriter -- in collaboration with renowned bassist John Gustafson -- with "Dear John," which made the U.K. Top Ten in the hands of Status Quo. He set up a Celtic rock band called Poor Mouth -- of Gael Force fame -- in the mid-'80s. His career as a performer was nearly ended in 1988, however, by an accident with a kitchen knife that came close to costing him his left hand. He managed to recover with extensive therapy and work, but as a result of that near-tragedy, he didn't get around to cutting another album of his own until the '90s. McAuley has continued to perform into the 21st century, and the first authorized reissue of his work with the Belfast Gypsies in 2003 has even allowed his early work to catch up with him in his sixties. ~ Bruce Eder