Van’s long-serving drummer, Bobby Irwin, died after a long battle with cancer on May 8, 2015 at Twickenham, Middlesex. He was a long-time studio and touring drummer with both Nick Lowe and Van and played with numerous other artists like Bryan Ferry, Carlene Carter, and Lene Lovich. He also recorded a number of his own albums.
Robert William Irwin was born in 1953 in Middlesex to his father, Kenneth Irwin, an air traffic controller, and his mother, Rosemary Trehern. He went to Lady Bankes infant school in Ruislip and Vyners grammar school in nearby Ickenham. After a spell at Uxbridge Technical College he taught himself drums and worked with Lowe from their early days in the 1970s at the breakthrough indie label Stiff Records in Ladbroke Grove, London.
He also toured extensively with Nick Lowe and Van Morrison. During one tour of the US in the early 1980s he met a local girl, got married and settled down in San Antonio, Texas, playing the occasional gig.
His last album as a drummer was for his old pal Lowe on the 2013 Christmas album Quality Street. But he continued to play gigs up into 2015 usually with his friend Geraint Watkins in the Wheatsheaf pub in Tooting Bec, south London, until his cancer worsened over recent months.
“Bob’s greatness as a drummer was that he was economical,” Lowe told The Independent. “He had a tremendous natural swing, getting into the rhythm and mood of a song. He was a songwriter’s drummer, a great interpreter of a song, which no doubt is why Van chose him.
Irwin often used the surname Trehern – his Cornish mother’s maiden name but usually misspelt on record sleeves as Treherne – after “a minor understanding” with US immigration. Irwin first recorded with Van on the 1999 album Back on Top. He continued to play with him on albums up until 2007’s The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3. “Of all Van’s drummers over the years, I’ve lasted the longest. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he liked to say.
At Bobby’s funeral was at St Stephen’s Church, Twickenham, on 19 May. Nick Lowe took the lectern to deliver the eulogy and fellow Van player Geraint Watkins performed a comforting ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ seated at the piano.
His escape from music was to sail his 40ft motor cruiser Lady Lorne from its berth at the Hammerton’s Ferry jetty in Twickenham to France. Otherwise, he liked a quiet pint by the river in the White Swan, Twickenham, with his long-time love and partner, Stephanie de Salvo Hall.
Due to undisclosed immigration troubles, Irwin took the name Robert Trehern for a short time period after his return to England. Lowe would later joke about this when introducing Irwin on stage after Bob reclaimed his original name.
As a young boy, Irwin held a job as an office boy at the legendary London offices of The Beatles’ Apple Records and had the fortune of being atop the building for their famous rooftop final performance. On June 15, 1992, after returning to England, Bobby (along with Martin Belmont) got to back George Harrison and Carl Perkins at London’s Hard Rock Café. Bob said that George “thought he looked familiar.” Bobby Irwin will be missed by music fans from all over.
Bob’s Recorded Work with Van
2007 The Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 3
2006 Pay the Devil
2005 Magic Time
2003 What's Wrong with This Picture?
2002 Down the Road
1999 Back on Top
Willbirch - Bob was the greatest drummer (for the kind of music I prefer) and a really funny man. Shall miss him.
Martin Chambers - Bobby was a great player and a great guy. We always had a good time whenever we would meet up and that was never often enough.
Robbie Wilson - God bless Bobby Irwin. Remembered fondly from 1980 Nomis studios and The Royal Oak evenings.
Ivylander - Not showy, but one of the best.
Carl - This is bad news. I was acquainted with Bobby through his sister marrying a close friend. We got in to a few Nick Lowe gigs through having our names on the guest list. Sally had asked if the band would play a set at the wedding reception and they all agreed except for Bobby who apparently said “I’m not working at my sister’s wedding. I want to get pissed”.
Mavis Diles - A fine drummer, and as befits a member of Lowe’s circle, not afraid of bad jokes. Even without his exemplary, unshowy drumming, he goes into the list of good guys just for that. But, what a great drummer.
Tim - I’m so glad I drove from Nashville to Atlanta to see him play with Nick on their last tour.
Mbodayle - I made the drive to Atlanta from Nashville as well and that was the last time I saw Bob.
Molly McKay - Bob was my Dad. I was born in 1988 in San Antonio. I wonder if you ever met my mother, Tracie. I have unfortunately only spent time with my dad a handful of times. He will be missed!
Joe Trevino - I met Bobby when he was producing some Bonnie Barnard songs in San Antonio. He asked me to engineer the recording. Although I’d been doing it a while I learnt an incredible amount about the art of record making from him for which I’ll be forever indebted. He was a great drummer with a heart as big as Texas. Hilarious to be around. Thanks for teaching us that the record is all about the groove. I shall miss you dearly my friend. Godspeed my brother.
Davina Lund - I knew Bobby as Bob Trehern from my French connection and his mad keen love of boats rather than music, he was a frequent guest at my house there. the greatest nice guy I have ever met, RIP Bob.
Victor Scott - Remember supporting The Sinceros at The Marquee in 1978. Bobbi played great.
Hank Wangford - Bob always went his own way. He was my drummer with the Hank Wangford Band for a couple of years in the UK. In Orkney on a Scottish tour Bob decided he’d had enough and went back to London leaving us to finish the tour without a drummer. Bobby was a hard act to follow (Van Morrison kept him in his band longer than any other sideman despite a Van moment sacking him then reinstating him). So I went on for a long time without a drummer.