CONTINUING THE FORTNIGHTLY SERIES BY JOHN BAIRD ON THE SHOWBAND ERA, HIGHLIGHTING THE BANDS THAT PLAYED THE LOCAL VENUES AND ESPECIALLY THOSE WITH DONEGAL CONNECTIONS.  IN THIS ISSUE WE ARE FEATURING A BAND FROM THE SOUTH OF THE COUNTY, PADDY McDEVITT AND THE NORTHERN LIGHTS SHOWBAND FROM KILCAR.

      Since  I started writing these articles,I,ve been greatly surprised by the number of Showbands we had in this County. Some of them I must confess I had very little knowledge of. This certainly applies to our featured band  the Northern Lights. I knew they had released a single disc in the 1970,s but that was as far as my knowledge went. This was put to rights however, when I had a great chat with their lead vocalist and founder member
Paddy McDevitt.

      The nucleus of this Showband started in the Melody Swingtette Dance Band from Kilcar. Paddy takes up the story,” I started playing the accordion in the Melody Swingtette back in 1958 . I was 16 and still attending the local Technical School, and we played all the local gigs and also in Sligo and Leitrim and on occasions went as far south as Galway”. Also in the band was sax. player Charlie Canning and his brother Tony also on sax and later to feature in top bands such as The Travellers, Homesteaders, and presently playing with Ronnie Griffiths in American Pie. When the Swingtette split up in 1965 Paddy and Charlie got together with a few other local musicians from West Donegal and deciced to form the Dukes Showband. Resplendent in their smart dark blue suits the Dukes played their first dance in Kilcar in 1966 to celebrate the homecoming of a newly ordained priest, Fr. Seamus Hegarty , later to become Bishop of Raphoe and is at present Bishop of Derry,a prestigious engagement for the new Showband .The line up was : Paddy Mc Devitt(Accordion/Vocalist) Charlie Canning (Tenor Sax/Clarinet), Johnny D. Early (Sax.), Paddy (Ringo) Cunningham (Lead Guitar), Pat Gillespie (Bass Guitar), Sean Byrne (Rhythm Guitar) and Paddy Gallagher (Drums). Most of the lads shared the vocal spots in a mixed repertoire , country, pop, ballads and the general run of the mill Showband Fare. They played all over their native County and had many date further South in the Western Counties of Galway and Mayo, They also made the usual Lenten tours of England and Scotland and their manager Charlie McCole (later to manage Margo and the Keynotes) made sure they had a full diary. Most of the boys had day jobs and Paddy Mc Devitt who was a carpenter remembers” We arrived back home at 7 am from playing a gig down South and went straight to work. We could have been playing 7 nights a week if we had wanted, There was plenty of work for the band” he recalls.

Paddy Mc Devitt and the Northern Lights
        1n 1968 however, they decided to go full time and change their name to the Northern Lights, Charlie Canning dropped out of the Band as he was a foreman carpenter with a firm in Killybegs, and could not go on the English Tours.The band took on more bookings, and now their music was being played to audiences in the North of Ireland and as far South as Waterford City. In 1971 they decided to make a recording, a 3 track midi single on the Velvet Label featuring Paddy singing a lovely Irish ballad “Little Isle of Green” on the A side and coupled with “a little guy Called Joe” and “Take care of the Little Things” on the B side. “It done just all right” relates the modest Kilcar man but in fact it was a very popular recording, and one which brought out his fine voice for this type of song. This recording cost £700 to produce including the relevant advertising data, posters etc

One regret that Paddy had was that the band declined an offer to tour the US. Military Bases in Germany, a path taken by many a Showband as we have seen in these pages. Like many others there was the funny side to a serious uisiness ,” Sax player John D. Early missed his vocation , he should have been a comedian, On one English tour he kept us going with yarns, and never repeated the same one ,and one night playing in Ramelton Town Hall I was singing ,he made a funny remark into my ear , well, that put me right off ,but this was a regular occurrence with him” laughed Paddy. Also one night in Westport they thought they were not going to get a crowd because Big Tom was in Castlebar but by12.15 an the place was mobbed by the people who were turned away from the Big Tom Gig, They cane to hear the Northern Lights. That was in 1972 and Paddy , now married with 3 children decided to give up the band and concentrate on his business as a Building Contractor. The band finished in 1973. Paddy was out of the music scene for about 12 yrs until former colleague in the Northern Lights,Pat Gillespie who was  now doing the pub circuit needed “a pull out” so Paddy went back and has been playing since,

            Well memories of the Northern Lights will be rekindled when they reform to play at a special dance in the Blue Haven Lounge, Kilcar on Sat, the 7th Feb to raise funds for the Irish Wheelchair Assoc. “We are really looking forward to this “ says Paddy, so folks go along there if you can and hear this fine Showband perform
”Little Isle of Green” and many more old favourites by a real gentleman of the Showband Scene ,
Paddy Mc Devitt and his band the Northern Lights. It was a real pleasure to meet him ,

                                                                                              Bye for now.
 


John Baird
bairdart@iol.ie
 

 
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