CONTINUING THE FORNIGHTLY SERIES BY JOHN BAIRD,
FOCUSING ON THE SHOWBAND ERA AND ESPECIALLY BANDS THAT PLAYED THE LOCAL
VENUES, OR WITH A DONEGAL CONNECTION. IN THIS ISSUE WE FEATURE LOCAL MUSICIAN
HUGH Mc LEAN WHEN HE FRONTED
THE MIGHTY AVONS SHOWBAND.
The minute I walked into
Hugh McLean,s house in Doobellagh, Letterkenny, I immediately knew I was
in the company of a man of exceptional musical ability. Cd,s ,LP,s, Hi-Fi,
Recording equipment, various string instruments, ie. guitars, banjo, mandolin
etc were all sitting around. But pride of place on the wall hung two framed
Golden Discs, jus reward for Hugh,s outstanding success with two
releases of “The Leprechaun” and “The Hitch Hiker” , the former achieved
with the featured Showband , The Mighty Avons.
As all Showband fans know, the original Co. Cavan based Showband was fronted by Larry Cunningham, them by Gene Stuart from Dungannon, and when Gene suffered a brief illness he was replaced for this duration, by the late Brian Harkin from Derry , who had been vocalist with The Plainsmen. When the original band decided to break up ,Brendan Quinn from Co, Derry came in as lead vocalist.A new band was formed around him keeping the original name , and Hugh joined as Lead Guitarist in 1973. The new band was complete when R.J. Catterson(Drums) from Castlederg,
Eddie White (Sax) Magherafelt, John Bates (Trumpet)Coalisland, Martin Geraghty
(Guitar) Dublin, and Seamus Costello (Keyboards)from Galway joined . Hugh , who had been playing with Evelyn and the Envoys from Letterkenny , a band that was jointly managed by ex Avons drummer , the late Brian Finlay ,had no hesitation in joining the new band that was to be managed by ex. Mighty Avons bandleader Jimmy Smith. Another local man Evelyn O,Donnell,s brother Dessie, was to become their “roadie”
Hugh,s love affair with the guitar is similar to the lyrics of Declan Nearney,s hit,”The Marquee in Drumlish” where he says thet he bought his first guitar for £10 in Longford. Hugh,s case was similar the only difference being that he got his guitar in Ken Corrys shop , below the Market Square, Later on this self taught guitarist , who also played with the Willie Ponsonby Band and Eamonn Ponsonby,s Blueglows Showband, graduated to astate of the art Burns (London) electric left handed guitar, bought through Rainey,s (Liam O, Neill ) in Letterkenny,
During his time with the Mighty Avons , Hugh who also shared the vocal spot with Brendan Quinn, was encouraged by manager Jimmy Smith to release a single.
The band already had successful KP releases
to their credit , featuring many of the band members on their” 22 Dancing
Hits” series , but when Hugh released the”The Leprechaun” in 1975 this
catchy tune which was played many times on RTE, Radio ,propelled him to
large sales and the award of a coveted Golden Disc. Brendan Quinn on the
other hand felt “out in the cold” a little by this , and decided
to move on and form his own band The Bluebirds, Some members followed him
into the Bluebirds so the Mighty Avons recruited new members Dan Mc Ateer
from Fanad on Steel Guitar, Noel Fisher ,Ramelton on Keyboards, Frank O,
Neill, Enniskillen on Bass Guitar, Matthew Bonnar , Drumkeen on Guitar
to join Hugh and R.J.Catterson who stayed on as drummer in the revamped
band. This successful band playing mainly Country and Western material
,toured England and Scotland extensively and with the inspiration and experience
of manager Jimmy Smith, recorded 2 LP,s and a few singles. With the demise
of the Showband s as we have seen , this caught up with the Mighty Avons
, and they decided to call it a day in the early 1980,s
Back L-R. Noel Fisher, Matin Cunningham, Hugh McLean and Dan McAteer
Front L-R. R.J.Catterson and Matthew Bonnar
As with all Showbands there was a moment “worth remembering “ as Hugh recalls. “ We were playing at a gig in a small hall in Co Galway, and when the after dance meal failed to arrive the lads went to a local hotel for a bite to eat. Playing at the dance in that Hotel when the lads arrived was none other than Big Tom and the Mainliners. When we sat down to order , the manageress assumed that we were the Mainliners and served up the best of fare , Free of charge, So we actually ate Big Tom,s dinner “ Hugh laughed.
After the Mighty Avons , Hugh launched himself on a very successful solo career , where he shared the bill with top local musicians such as the late Davy Laird and Brian McCauley, He also “ gigged “ with Clippers Drummer Mickey O,Hanlon, and on one visit to the USA , found himself entertaining 33,000 people in a baseball stadium on a St, Patrick,s Day , with just an acuostic guitar, 2 microphones and a PA system. Another solo hit success in the form of “The Hitch Hiker” followed for Hugh, culminating in the award of another Golden Disc, A great achievement.
At present Hugh has overcame major surgery with great success, which is just reward for such a fine artist and moreover a gentleman of the Showband Era. Oh, and by the way, he still has that left handed Burns Guitar, It,s a collectors item now, as has been many Hugh,s recordings, and folks , we can look forward to more, from our own Hugh McLean, a true professional musician.
In the next issue before Christmas we are going out of the county to bring you the story of a very popular band from Dublin, Sean Fagan, Sonny Knowles and The Pacific Showband , who played the Fiesta many times,
Bye for now………
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