By Patrick Markey and Eileen Murphy
Charles Comer, longtime publicist for the Chieftains and a host of other musical stars, died suddenly last Thursday night in New York from complications following a long illness. He was 64.
Comer, a native of Liverpool, England, entered showbusiness after a stint in the Merchant Marine. One of his earliest public relations coups came in 1963 with Sam Leach, when they got the job of promoting the Beatles’ first album, "Meet the Beatles." They dubbed the band’s sound "The Mersey Beat," a term that entered the rock and roll lexicon to describe the first wave of the "British Invasion."
Comer handled the Rolling Stones’ publicity for over a decade, and went on to represent such diverse acts as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Grace Jones. He also represented a band called the Texas Blues, where he met a then-unknown guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughn. In recent years, he concentrated on Irish traditional artists the Chieftains and blues/cabaret singer Marianne Faithfull.
Among his unofficial clients were "Lord of the Dance" creator Michael Flatley and Irish firebrand singer Sinead O’Connor. Both had toured with The Chieftains in the early 1990s, and Comer was fiercely protective of them when they were criticized in the press.
This week friends and former colleagues remembered Comer as a skillful promoter, one who cared deeply about the music profession, but also about the artists he represented. He was, they said, a man who lived for his craft, which he approached with tenacity and humor.
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"Charlie Comer was part of that exceedingly rare breed, the artist representative as a true believer, some one who cared and fought fiercely for his clients…yet did it all with great panache and class," said Earle Hitchner, the Echo’s Trad beat columnist.
Comer’s associates said he had worked in many areas of business, from managing bars — his first was the Jolly Sixpence — and other establishments while building up an enviable list of contacts. But it was in the field of music and entertainment that he made his mark, they said. Through disco, early rock and roll into regg’ and then Irish traditional music, Comer moved smoothly through the genres, as comfortable promoting The Who’s 1981 first farewell performance as he was with lifting Celtic beats to next level.
Maggie Cadden, who runs the Dara Record company and had known Comer for more than 20 years, said he had been a formidable PR man.
"When you had Charlie Comer, your event was a success. Whoever you had after dimmed in comparison," she said.
Mary Ryan of American Celtic Television said Comer was loved and feared at the same time, because he could make or break a career. He had the magic necessary for the spell of success, she said.
"He loved, loved being a public relations man, He was Mr. Showbusiness," Ryan said.
Comer’s body was flown to Liverpool, where funeral services will be held on Thursday, Feb. 18. In lieu of flowers, his family requests that donations be made to the Physically Challenged Irish Youth Team, c/o Dominic Kiernan, 825 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022.
Comer is survived by a sister, Mary Comer of Liverpool, England, and many cousins, nieces and nephews.