EVERY FORTNIGHT, JOHN BAIRD TAKES A LOOK BACK AT THE SHOWBAND SCENE IN DONEGAL, AND ESPECIALLY THE LOCAL BANDS AND VENUES . IN THIS ISSUE THE FOCUS IS ON THE MIGHTY RHYTHM BOYS FROM BUNCRANA.

 In the course of compiling these articles every fortnight, I,ve learned a lot about the bands that I,ve covered, and being a Showband fan, I,ve discovered that there is “always a lot more one can learn” about certain bands.  This was clearly evident when I met up with four stalwart musicians from Buncrana on Monday last , Joe Doherty (Cooey), Colm Smith and Denis Eccles from the Rhythm Boys and Neil Doherty who sang with the Moonlight Orchestra, which evolved out of the famous Showband , and was largely responsible for bringing these three  together for this interview. Joe , Colm and Denis were membersof one of the best musical bands in the Country but also a band that was sadly “forgotten” in media circles Nationwide. The Rhythm Boys however were never forgotten by their fellow musicians from Showbands such as the Capitol, Drifters , Dixies and many more where they were and are still held in such high esteem. This is their story.

       The band was started in 1925 by Joe Doherty,s father , Frank as the “Cooey” Band, “Cooey” being the local nickname given to the Doherty family. Also in the band were Frank,s brothers John and Dan and this combination augmented by other musicians played at local parish functionsand factory Dances in the Buncrana Area. At one stage they were asked to play at a prestigious factory dance, but when John and Jeannie “Cooey” returned from a spell in the USA, they felt that the band should change their name before this “big gig”. While in America they heard a band that backed Bing Crosby called the Rhythm Boys, so in 1929 they decided to rename the band “The Rhythm Boys”. As expected, it took the locals a while to get used to the new name but little did they know at the time, that the name was to become a household name in dancehalls throughout Ireland and parts of Britian during Lenten periods.

The line up of the band then was : Colm Smith(Piano),Donie Doherty(Violin), James Eccles (Accordion), Dan “Cooey”(Sax.), Danny Mc Laughlin(Sax.), Frank “Cooey”(Drums), and Paddy Mc Elhinney (Trumpet). They were later joined by Denis Eccles (Sax.) and a very young Joe Doherty on Double Bass, who at he time was billed as the “youngest Bass Player in Ireland”, he was just around 12 years of age. This band played regularly in the Plaza Ballroom, Buncrana and as Joe Doherty put it, “ Playing a gig in Glencolumcille at the other side of the County was a long way away!”

    James Eccles, Dan and Frank “Cooey “ decided to leave the band, and hand over the leadership to Leo Smith , the bands vocalist, at a time when the Showband Scene was beginning to unfold. They got their first big date outside the county, when they were booked to play the Royal Ballroom, Castlebar, and in the words of Leo Smith “It had to be a good one”. Their meticulous preparation however paid off and a week later , letters of enquiry as to booking the band started to flood into the Smith household.

As with many other Showbands, Toreen Ballroom in Co. Mayo which was ran by the then Fr. James Horan , was to become a regular venue for the band, and on one occasion a large poster bearing just one word MIGHTY, heralded the arrival of a new era , The Mighty Rhythm Boys had well and truly arrived and their varied dancing programme of Dixieland, Dance Band Favourites, Hits of the Day.Strauss Waltzes and even a take off of the Famous Black and White Minstrels, complete with blackened faces , became popular  and much requested wherever thy played. They were also booked by the Quinn Company who operated Superquinn Food stores to play at venues that the Company had chosen to promote their beauty contests to find a Miss Superquinn.  At all these venues the were supplied with a “relief band” that turned out to be none other than a very young Joe Dolan and the Drifters from Mullingar. At one of these dances , the Town Hall Enniskillen, the Drifters did not want to play as they did,nt have band suits, and wanted to look more professional on their first trip North, The Rhythm Boys however oblidged by lending them their spare suits which were polka dotted jackets.

It,s undestandable that a special bond existed always between the two bands and I,m sure this still continues till this present day. Once while playing a gig in the Hangar in Galway , the drummer  Mickey Mc Fadden was approached by a young Johnny Kelly later to become famous in the Capitol , for drumming lessons and his old drumsticks. Mickey told him “ I,ll teach you how to drum , when I,ve learned myself!” Johnny must have picked up “some hints along the way!” The lads also played many dates for the Reynolds Bros, Albert and Jim, and Joe “Cooey” Doherty  remembers Albert when he was a clerk with the CIE in Longford, writing up the daily bus rosters with chalk on a blackboard every morning when the band stayed in that town. The usual 6 week lenten trips to England and Scotland were undertaken with appearances in Preston, Manchester, London and especially in Birmingham where they played at the Birmingham Univesity Students Ball, A beermat still exists as a treasured trophy of that “gig”. On one occasion while playing at a hall in the Gorbals area of Glasgow on arrival that the hall ,the band were surprised to find the stage protected by wire mesh. , “just  in case hostilities”would break out duing the dance. In the early 60,s it was felt that a lead vocalist that projected a “pop” star style image should share the vocal spot with Leo , Derryman Tony Woods joined the band and his first gig was at a Pioneer Social in St. Marys Hall, Buncrana. Tony , who had been with Gay Mc Intyre,s  Band also played Bass Guitar and was spotted by Leo Smith  singing in the Mc Intyre Band in the Fowler Hall, Burnfoot. “the first ever song he sang with the Rhythm Boys was “The Girl of my Best Friend”, and it was done in the key of E Flat” Joe Cooey recalls


The line up of the band then was :
Leo Smith (Vocals , M/C  ) Colm Smith (Piano) Tony Woods (Bass/Vocals)
Joe Doherty (Lead Guitar) Mickey Mc Fadden (Drums) Jimmy Gallagher (Sax/Clar.)

Danny Mc Laughlin(Alto /Bari/ Tenor Saxes) Paddy Mc Elhinney (Trumpet) and Denis Eccles(Tenor Sax). Their driver John Mc Cracken took over as Band Manager and they always prided themselves in having a fine luxury custom built Mecedes Coach and later and possibly the only Showband in Ireland to acquire a converted 42 seater coach complete with bunk beds and cooking facilities.

    The Rhythm Boys declined tours to America , but stayed at home playing on the same bills as such visiting artists such as the famous whistler, Ronny Ronall, Ruby Murray, Victor Sylvester, Lelia Kidd,s All Girl Band, Donald Peers, and the famous guitarist Bert Weedon , who incidentally offered drummer Mickey Mc Fadden a job in his band. In the early days of the band , when playing a gig in Tramore they spotted some soon to famous youngsters admiring their performance , the lads that were to become the now legendary Royal Showband. Like all of the other bands on the road “they had their fun moments”such as trying to bring back a donkey foal (That turned out to be half grown!) in the band wagon to Buncrana! And finding the piano”raised up high on blocks” at a certain venue! Joe “ Cooey” relates how hard they worked travel wise” We played a Dance in Birmingham on the Thursday night , drove to Stranraer , Missed the boat, arrived in Buncrana just in time to get a wash , shave , a fish supper out of Charlie Kelly,s and head for the Plaza to play until 3 am, Fri-Sat, morning for the Faulat Shirt Factory Staff Dance”. That was tough going.

    The demise of the bad began mid to late 60,s as band members decided to leave and go their separate ways,, but as Buncrana always had a very successful Pantomime Society , many ex members formed a band to play at the Pantomimes, They became so popular that they were encouraged to stay together and play at local charity functions, Dinner Dances etc. They took their name from the Mighty Rhythm Boys signature tune “Moonlight and Roses” and were billed as the Moonlight Orchestra, Neil Doherty was vocalist with them and they played well into the 90,s

   Sadly many of the old “Cooey “ band have passed away , but Donie Doherty is still alive ,and looks “hail and hearty”.  Of the Rhythm Boys, Sadie Cutliffe (Pianist in the earlier band) Paddy Mc Elhinney, Jimmy Gallagher, Leo Smith, Danny Mc Laughlin and Tony Woods have all sadly left us .

Today , Colm Smith and Neil Dohert have a fine CD on sale for the Buncrana Nursing Unit ,entitled “Speaking with God”. Joe “Cooey”Doherty , like other showband musicians namely Art Supple (Victors), Johnny Wall (Kerry Blues), Donie Cassidy(Jim Tobin and the Firehouse) and T.R. Dallas is involved in local politics with Buncrana District Counci, and still finds time to “play a bit of music”and Denis Eccles also plays a bit as well.

Surviving members of the Rhythm Boys Showband
Seated L-R, Colm Smith (Piano), Joe Doherty (Guitar).
Neil Doherty ( who sang with the Moonlight Orchestra)
and Denis Eccles (Tenor Sax.)

    I know I could have wrtten more about this great Showband but sadly space has beaten me . My greatful thanks to Colm , Joe, Denis and especially Neil who arranged this, ensuring that the Mighty Rhythm Boys Showband, from Buncrana will never be forgotten


Charlie & Eman
              Greetings from Buncrana, just accidentally visited your site  you might like to add
          my friend, mentor and unmentioned twin brother of Denis Eccles, Charles (Charlie) Eccles.
                   He played trombone and trumpet and is currently "alive an kicking".
                          Attached photo from my sons wedding two years ago
Eman Eslaf

Eman.Eslaf@iol.ie

        Next issue it definitely will be the Marines Showband, Letterkenny, Bye for Now.
 


John Baird
bairdart@iol.ie
 

 
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