Music critic calls on friends David Gray, Gabriella Cilmi, Magic Numbers and U2’s Bono for charity fundraiser

David Gray has also signed up to the gig

David Gray has also signed up to the gig - Credit: Archant

During more than 30 years in the music business, Neil McCormick has spent plenty of time both on stage and watching others.

Neil (left) and Ivan McCormick arrive for the premiere of Killing Bono, at the Apollo Cinema in Lond

Neil (left) and Ivan McCormick arrive for the premiere of Killing Bono, at the Apollo Cinema in London. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

But the music critic, who turned to journalism after failing to achieve the dreams of rock stardom shared by his childhood friends in U2, is now stepping behind the scenes for the first time.

Gabriella Cilmi performs at a concert to celebrate the lighting of the world-famous Blackpool Illumi

Gabriella Cilmi performs at a concert to celebrate the lighting of the world-famous Blackpool Illuminations on the Blackpool Promenade. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

And, thanks to McCormick’s bulging contacts book, the line-up for the fundraising gig at Islington’s Assembly Halls, on Wednesday, March 6, would be the envy of any other start-out promoter – with singer/songwriters David Gray, the Magic Numbers, Gabriella Cilmi, David Ford and The Voice winner Bo Bruce among those on the bill.

The unplugged gig is in aid of small charity Moxafrica, which runs a research project investigating the treatment of tuberculosis with Chinese medicine. It’s a cause that his wife Gloria, an acupuncturist who works with the charity, introduced him to.

McCormick, 51, of Crouch End, said: “It’s a small and not very ‘sexy’ charity. I could hear them talking about costs and it struck me that they didn’t need that much money to survive – £16,000 to complete their work.

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“But that money is hard for charities to raise, so I very foolishly uttered the fateful line: ‘Well you could raise that with one gig.’ And that was how I ended up moving from my normal reality of reviewing concerts across the line to promoting – and it will hopefully be the last.”

McCormick describes himself as a “music journalist with a rather dogged history”.

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He went to school with Bono – who has donated a pair of his sunglasses as a raffle prize for the gig – and the rest of U2. They formed a band but eventually went their separate ways and McCormick, despite 13 years trying, failed to match their success – a journey immortalised in print with his book Killing Bono which was released as a film last year.

McCormick said: “We formed a band together, we shared memories, we stared stages, we shared adventures and misadventures. Me and Bono set off from Dublin together with our heads held high, both believing that we would conquer the world and one of us did.

“I’ve been on a bitter journey.”

But for all the challenges McCormick’s career has thrown at him, organising the Moxafrica gig has been one of the most taxing. One of the hardest aspects, he said, was calling upon his many contacts in the industry.

“I was quite nervous about it and found it hard to ask people to help. I know what it’s like because I’m still very good friends with Bono and he gets at least five requests to do charity things a day. It’s their livelihood, their talent – and to give you that for nothing is a big ask.”

He continued: “In my time as a musician and critic I’ve obviously met a lot of people you have quite honest exchanges with and friendships blur across certain lines, but you do reserve the right to criticise them.

“But I really had to gird my loins and started to send emails to these people. I was surprised with the enthusiasm for the cause – people do like to help and support charities where they can.”

One of the first to offer his help was David Gray. “We go back a long way. White Ladder [Gray’s debut album] had been around for a while and started to go off in Ireland – I’ve always got one eye on what’s going on there,” said McCormick.

“I was listening to the record and just felt it, and it really started to get played a lot in my household. I went to the Telegraph and told them that this man was phenomenal.”

McCormick conducted Gray’s first interview, which launched his career in the UK and saw him go on to sell seven million copies of his debut album.

“There’s always been a positive relationship between us and I think he is possibly the best contemporary singer/songwriter in this country. I have a lot of affection for him,” added McCormick, who may also perform during the gig as well as band Buckshot Soup.

Another act on the bill is Australian-born singer/songwriter Gabriella Cilmi, who got involved with the gig as a client of McCormick’s wife, Gloria. She said: “Although western medicine is good for certain things, I’m also interested in alternatives and have been going to see Gloria for two years.

“I’m really looking forward to the gig – it’s a great bill and it’s nice to be involved in an event when you have some kind of objective and it’s not just to perform your songs.

McCormick, who continues to perform in his band The Groovy Dads and recorded an album inspired by Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen in 2004, added: “It’s going to be a great night of unplugged music and I don’t think you would see a better line-up of singer/songwriters.

“Everybody is a real, quality artist and each of them could sell out the Assembly Halls in their own right.”

n Tickets for the Moxafrica gig cost £30 (plus £2.30 booking fee) and can be bought at

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