CONTINUING OUR FORTNIGHTLY SERIES BY JOHN BAIRD ,WHERE WE FOCUS ON THE SHOWBAND ERA AND ESPECIALLY THOSE BANDS THAT PLAYED THE LOCAL AND COUNTYWIDE VENUES , ESPECIALLY THOSE WITH A DONEGAL CONNECTION. IN THIS ISSUE WE LOOK AT PROBABLY THE MOST POPULAR SHOWBAND OF THEM ALL, THE LEGENDARY ROYAL SHOWBAND FROM WATERFORD.
The very mention of the name “Royal Showband”in the late 1950,s and all through the 60,s generated the same kind of enthusiastic appeal from dancers as did their illustrious predecessors from Strabane, the Clipper Carlton. I certainly danced to them during this period, and I,m sure I, along with scores of others awaited their appearances in the Fiesta from the moment Danny Cullen would have posted the bills on the town,s billboards advertising their forthcoming dates. They were the band to dance to at the time ,and with the enigmatic Brendan Bowyer doing his Elvis Presley routines, they were great to watch on stage, but like all of our other top Showband , they had a very humble beginning.
The Harry Boland Dance Band in Waterford
was the foundation stone of the Royal Showband. Michael Coppinger (Sax.),
Charlie Matthews (Drums), Jim Conlon (Guitar) , Jerry Cullen (Piano) and
Tom Dunphy who sang the Lonnie Donegan skiffle type numbers and also played
double bass were members of this band.At one stage in their early line
up John Gilligan from the Blue Aces Showband in Waterford , a guitarist
was also part of the Royal line up. The lads were soon to be joined by
a young trombonist, Brendan Bowyer from a local band the Rhythm Kings.
Being greatly influenced by the style of the Clippers, especially the brass
section , Coppinger decided to add trumpeter Eddie Sullivan to complete
the line up. Their name was taken from the Theatre Royal in Waterford ,
and they were launched on a semi-pro.basis on the 22nd Sept.1957. They
played their first date outside their native county when on St Patricks
night 1958 the took the stage of the Olympia Ballroom, Parnell Sq, Dublin.
Michael Coppinger , Sax player and bandleader was also looking after the
band,s managerial affairs until the legendary figure of Carlow businessman
T.J. Byrne took over in 1958 . Byrne had heard this young musical combination
while on a business trip to Waterford and decided to put his trust in the
band . It was a wise decision and the Royal went “ full time” on Easter
Sunday 1959. By November of that year they were playing to packed dancehalls
across the Country 6 and 7 nights a week. They never looked back and it
was not long before they found themselves in the recording studios where
Tom Dunphy recorded “Katie Daly” the first Showband recording issued on
a single They were also the first Showband to use the now famous
“Binson” echo chamber, and they also made their TV debut at Easter 1963 with a forty five minute show “The Royal Showband Show”.Their recorded single “Kiss me Quick” spent 14 weeks in the Irish charts , seven of them being at No. 1. They also made a film “The One Nighters” depicting life in the Showband and issued their first LP of the same name. They also won the coveted Carl Allan Award in England for being the most outstanding modern Dance Band on the Mecca dance circuit and while playing a gig in Liverpool ,the Beatles played as support band for them.
They also played in all of Bill Fullers major venues in Britian and the USA. In 1964 “Hucklebuck Mania” hit Ireland followed by hits like “Don,t lose your Hucklebuck Shoes”, “I ran all the Way Home” and others. I must point out that in this article ,I am emphasising the main achievements of the Royal, because if I were to write it in more detail I would simply run out of space. The band played many Donegal dates and every time they came to the North-West, Brendan Bowyer would visit his friend the late Seamus Creagh from Killea.” Both of us being trombonists, we would blow a bit and compare the tro. Arrangements” Seamus told me. This friendship still continues through Seamus Greagh,s siste who lives in Cork angd goes to see Brendan whenever he is on tour here.
Impressario Bill Fuller introduced the Royal to Las Vegas in 1966, the same year as they had hits with “The Fly” and “I cant get you out of my heart”. Drummer Charlie Matthews had also a hit with “Somewhere my Love” The band played the Stardust Club and the Desert Inn for Rocky Sennes but also found time to come home and do the usual ballroom venues every year. T.J Byrne was replaced as manager by Cavan man Connie Lynch in 1967. but bigger changes were on the way. Reports were rife that Bowyer and Dunphy were to form a new band to play exclusively in America. These reports were confirmed when the Royal Showband played their last”gig” in the Stardust , Las Vegas in July 1971. They had been together thirteen years and the new band was named the BIG 8 ,with Paddy Cole ex. Capitol as Bandleader and Twink as female vocalist. They were to renew their partnership with T.J.Byrne as manager
Connie Lynch ,however continued
on with the remenants of the once famous band and brought in Lee Lynch
and Billy Hopkins to replace Bowyer and Dunphy respectively. It,s worth
noting that Derek Mehaffey , ex. Sound Showband ,Fintona and Barbara Dixon,
(Dick, from the girl trio Maxi Dick and Twink) as vocalists with the band
before they called it a day in the early 70,s Sadly tragedy was to strike
the BIG 8 when Tom Dunphy was killed in a car accident on the main Carrick-on-Shannon
to Longford Road at Drumsna , on the 29th, July1975. He was on his way
to meet up with the Big 8 who were to play at the Mary from Dungloe Festival
Dance that night.
Tom is remembered by a monument at the scene of the accident but the most fitting monument to Tom and all the Royal Showband boys is that Brendan Bowyer is still entertaining us so brilliantly at concerts and tours , reminding us of the great days and sounds of the Royal Showband , Waterford.
In the next Showband Scene we come back to the county when we look at the story of another great
Donegal band The Keynotes Showband.
Bye For Now
From John Bairds collection
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