"Next dance, Please"
Visitors to early 1960s Ireland possessed of even a casual
musical ear would have noticed that many venues hosted gigs at which groups
of up to a dozen identically dressed musicians performed just about any
song requested by the audience.Starting at 8 it was not unknown for these
events to bounce on beyond midnight, the same band playing all the time.
Energetic,versatile, hard-working and blessed with stage skills second
to none, these Irish Showbands generated constant excitement
and a desire to dance among audiences who could never ever complain of being short-changed.
This was the most kitsch (and perhaps most fun) period in Irish memory - the showband era. For the uninitiated, this occurred in the sixties, when every hall in the country packed young people in with an alluring mixture of mineral drinks and live music
These showbands, often in costume, played with an up-beat tempo, pausing occasionally for the slow sets. They became a phenomenon. Dance halls sprang up all over Ireland, heaving with young women in mini-skirts and kitten heels;Womens styles included A-line dresses ending above the knee with a cardigan or jacket of contrasting color.Footwear was usually practical for dancing sturdy court heels or slingback shoes.Stilettos for the ones with great legs.Great care went into the preparation of Bouffant type' Beehive" hairstyles with the hair piled on top of the head Short strapped handbags,a string of pearls worn around the neck and an accompanying "twinset" of earings and Braclet.
Men in tight suits and Brylcreemed hair.Most men wore dark suits to dances sharply cut with narrow trouser legs,lighter-hued shirts pointed winkle picker"shoes,Hair heavily slicked down,dragged around the side of the head to meet in the "ducks arse"style
The showband era rose out of the big band era in Ireland,when people who were used to hearing Glen Miller type bands complete with full brass sections.As rock ‘n’ roll and the guitar became all pervasive,
bands started to be less like big bands and more like the showbands
In the 1960's, Irish showbands came to prominence trying
to emulate the rock moves of British and
American rock groups but with hindsight succeeded only in confirming Ireland's reputation as a cultural backwater. This era is still recalled by the presence of tacky/kitsch, ballrooms around
the country (many of which featured bands booked by former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds! One still standing is the Hi-Land in Newmarket, Co. Cork, now a huge nightclub and rock venue
servicing the entire region.)
At one stage there were between 300 and 400 bands right
and they drew great audiences to their shows.
At its peak the showband boom provided employment directly to some 12,000 people
People went along and had a dance and then hopefully got to meet someone they liked.
“You have to remember that there were no discos then,
so you couldn’t actually go there and hear the songs like they were on the radio.
The showbands made it possible to hear the songs played live and the people loved it.”
The bands bought the records from England,
but then the more shrewd managers got records direct from the United States.
The bands had learned to play them even before they had became hits on this side of the Atlantic.
Among the stars of that time were Dickie Rock
& Joe Dolan, two fine crooners and pelvis-gyraters.
(The former was the subject of a well-known catchphrase - "spit on me dickie"
Both of these dinosaurs are still "sending them home sweating" today. The sight of middle-aged women throwing their knickers at older men on stage may be bizarre and slightly unsettling, yet it
is somehow very Irish at the same time.
Where that translated in the world of ballrooms and Showbands probably
would have been that we celebrated our own heroes a little bit more. We
didn’t have to look across the Atlantic exclusively, we were prepared to
celebrate our home-grown heroes.
Is there anybody else out there, out of the same timewarp
as myself, a teenager of that era, who feels the same? I keep telling
people who talk about Buddy Holly and Little Richard and The Beatles as
if they were great chromed milestones along the roadways of our teenagery
that no, they did not matter at all, those stars, they shone but
dimly on the troubled edges of our young adolescent lives.
The reality was that they took second place to the showbands. The really big stars were The Capitol Showband, The Royal Showband, The Clipper Carlton, The Melody Aces,
the emerging Dickie Rock and the Miami, and a solid hundred more further down the scale. Why were these bigger? They were bigger because they were not enclosed in a jukebox. They played the dances in the dry ballrooms, doing the cover versions of the jukebox stuff in their bright suits. And it was that live music that attracted the girls. And it was girls, those beautiful creatures, that was about all we were interested in...really...in those days
Various ArtistsShowbands were an Irish phenomenon of the '60s—big groups with brass sections and featured vocalists who made their money on a thriving ballroom circuit, playing anything from sentimental ballads to rock'n'roll, beat music, novelty material recordings were something of an afterthought until it was noticed that a minor hit single in the English charts could significantly improve an act's performance fee at home,.
"At the time Ireland was a single nation as far as radio
was concerned. If you got a record played on
Radio Eireann it was heard all over the country, in every town and village. If you had a play on radio,
you were listened from Donegal to Dingle, unlike nowadays with so many stations. And the success of
the band business was the way it could get this blanket coverage throughout the country."
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