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17.02.2021, Words by Felicity Martin

Fisherman who inspired Andrew Weatherall's 'fail we may, sail we must' has been found

The Cork trawlerman has been tracked down exactly one year on from the DJ's passing

Following an online appeal, the Cork fisherman who inspired the late Andrew Weatherall’s slogan tattooed on both arms – ‘fail we may, sail we must’ – has been found.

In an interview with Dummy in 2015, Johnno Burgess asked Weatherall about the origin of the phrase. He replied: “That was handily capsulated by a fisherman I met in County Cork. This young lad picked me up for the gig and he was 21 and was a trawlerman. He wanted to know about the glamourous world of DJing, to which I said, It’s bollocks, it’s disco’s, tell me about tales of the sea.”

A Twitter appeal was launched to find the man who picked up Weatherall that day, and DJ and broadcaster Cian Ó Cíobháin managed to track him down: a man named Gerard Sheehy.

In a Facebook post, Ó Cíobháin wrote: “It turns out that Gerard had no idea who Andrew Weatherall was at the time he picked him up – his friends would later fill him in over the years on WhatsApp groups about Andrew’s subsequent work. He picked him up from Cork Airport and dropped him off at Casey’s Hotel in Baltimore. En route to west Cork, he did, indeed, ask Andrew about the glamorous world of DJing, which Andrew adroitly deflected by asking him what he did for a living. Gerard confirmed what many of us who had met him already knew: Weatherall was a man more interested in finding more about you, than he was talking about himself and his music.

“Gerard did indeed tell Andrew the story about his father breaking his leg in a storm and both himself and his companion having to skipper the boat in his stead. At one stage he uttered the words ‘Fail she may, but go she must’, which is a variation of what Weatherall would come to tattoo on both his arms, use as a song title and which his legion of admirers would subsequently come to adopt as a kind of mantra. Over the course of the trip to west Cork and again the next day, when Gerard drove him back to the airport Andrew enquired about the phrase. In fact, it was the very last thing Andrew asked him about as Gerard dropped him off at the airport.

“What Andrew didn’t know is that Gerard himself had that very variation of the phrase tattooed on his own chest – ‘Fail we may, but go she must’ – in New Zealand two years previously. We can only speculate why Andrew re-edited the phrase a little. Poetic license. Or, a different rhythm he warmed to. He may have misheard the phrase slightly. Or perhaps he didn’t want to go through the pain of having extra words stencilled on his skin. My guess is that Gerard’s phrase set his mind in motion and that the poet in Andrew decided upon the simple words ‘Fail we may, sail we must’.

“Here’s the thing. Until this evening, Gerard didn’t realise that a phrase he had casually uttered to the visiting DJ had rippled out into the world through Weatherall. He hadn’t been made aware of John Burgess’ famous interview in ‘Dummy,’ and had never seen photos of Andrew with his famous tattoo. In fact, just before Gerard chatted to me, he had gone online and was staggered to discover how often Andrew had mentioned their chance meeting in interviews online and was completely bowled over by how the phrase had taken on its own lease of life, independent of their encounter, rippling through the worlds of music and art and beyond.

“You’ll hear in more detail about their encounter in the weeks and months ahead, but I’m delighted that we finally found our fisherman, Gerard Sheehy, the man whose lovely and inspiring phrase will be remembered by all of us whose lives were touched by Weatherall the man and Weatherall the artist. I’m delighted to tell you also that Gerard is a soft-spoken and thoughtful young man, not unlike The Guv’nor in his manner, who is completely blown away to learn this evening about the impact of a few small words from their brief encounter in the summer of 2008.”

Weatherall passed away on February 17th last year, exactly one year ago today. Tributes to the iconic DJ, producer and musician have since come out in the form of tracks (Daniel Avery’s ‘Lone Swordsman‘) and Jockey Slut recently published a book that collected interviews, imagery and tributes to the electronic legend.

Listen to Weatherall’s track inspired by the phrase:

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