Billy Brown with other lead vocalist Derek Dean,
shot The Freshmen into the charts with several hits
including The Beach Boys-style pop number "Papa-OO-Mow Mow"
which was given a unanimous top rating by the panel on
BBC television Juke Box Jury programme.
The band lasted for 15 years
Those of us who lived through the whole Irish Showband phenomenon
of the 1960's and 70's know that
The Freshmen were a class apart. Their uniquely American West Coast sound dominated the airwaves
and packed the ballrooms all over Ireland for almost 20 years.
More than most bands, The Freshmen from Ballymena epitomised the divide between urban and rural Ireland,
drawing their biggest crowds in cities like Belfast, Derry, Cork, Galway and Waterford.
Fronted by Billy Brown and Derek Dean, they wrote and performed their own original material,
and were noted for their brilliant vocal harmonies.
The Freshmen were, hands down,
the best band to come out of the "showband" scene in Ireland during
the ‘60s. While most showbands were content to do milquetoast pop tunes,
They were not the usual Showband that played cover versions of the hit's of the day,
they wrote most of their own songs.
The Freshman graduated to harmony filled,
complexly arranged songs that epitomized a genre now known as sunshine pop.
Billy Brown left to form his own band.
He was replaced by Ivan Laybourne from The Newmen
The group appeared in 1962 formed by Billy Brown (Sax Keyboards
Maurice Henry (Sax) and Tony McGahaey after leaving The Billy Farland Showband.
The classic formation of the Sixties still counted on the musicians Damien McIlroy (Guitar),
Davey McKnight (Drums), Sean Mahon R.I.P.(Trombone and Trumpete) and Derek Dean (Vocal),
later substituted for Barney McKeown and Tommy Drennan.
Formed in Ballymena Northern
Ireland in 1962, this highly-respected showband comprised
Barney McKeon (Vocals), Damien McIlroy (Lead Guitar), Billy Brown (Piano/Saxophone),
Maurice Henry (Saxophone), Terry McGahey (Bass Guitar), Sean Mahon R.I.P.(Trombone)
and Davy McKnight (Drums). After losing McKeon early on, they recruited Limerick singer
Tommy Drennan (later Tommy Dean) in 1963,
who was in turn replaced by baritone Derek McMenamin.
It was this line-up that first recorded in 1964 under the pseudonym Six Of One.
The following year, as Dean And The Freshmen, they issued the
Drennan-composed I Stand Alone. It was not until late 1965, however, that they finally infiltrated the
Irish charts with a cover of Johnny And Charly's La Yenka.
Unlike many showbands, the Freshmen spent heavily on musical equipment
and were known throughout Ireland for their superb vocal harmonies.
Their 1967 Christmas hit, Papa-Oo-Mow-Mow reached the Irish Top 10,
as did Just To See You Smile and Halfway To Where.
What was most extraordinary about the Freshmen, however,
was their live sound and ability to master the intricate harmonies of their mentors the Beach Boys.
They enjoyed chart success with a version of The Little Old Lady From Pasadena, (retitled Go Granny Go)
and even included an ambitious version of Good Vibrations in their live act.
The Freshmen survived the showband scourge of the early '70s and found Irish chart success in 1976
with And God Created Woman.
Meanwhile, original Freshman Billy Brown released successful chart covers of
Leaving Of Liverpool and Cinderella.
By the end of the decade, however, they disbanded, the victims of changing times and tastes.
The Freshmen were among the more successful examples of what was known in Ireland and England as a show band -- ensembles of usually a little more than half-a-dozen players, pounding out dance-friendly renditions of contemporary rock & roll and, even more so, R&B and soul. In the United States, such groups as Bill Deal & the Rhondels made names for themselves in places like Virginia Beach and Myrtle Beach, SC, and, in the case of Deal and company, even got to record some great sides (and every once in a while, the real article, such as Maurice Williams, would also ply their trade in such locales). In Ireland, however, such bands were a social institution in the early-to mid-'60s. The Freshmen came together in 1962, with Billy Brown (tenor sax, keyboards, arranger), Maurice Henry (tenor sax), and Torry McGahey (bass) -- late of a group called the Billy McFarland Showband -- joined up with Damien McElroy (lead guitar), Sean Mahon (trumpet, trombone), and Davey McKnight (drums), with Derek Dean eventually taking the vocalist spot. The Ballymena-based band did the ballroom of County Antrim and points south, knocking out audiences with their covers of Stax/Volt singles and then-current songs by the Beatles and the Beach Boys, among others. Their ability to harmonize made it a given that their repertory would encompass the latter group, as well as Jan & Dean, Jay & the Americans, the Association, the Fifth Dimension, and the Four Seasons. Although they'd gotten to do a one-off single (as the Six of One) for the Top Rank label, their real shot at a lasting legacy came when they were signed by Pye Records in the spring of 1964. The result was a string of hit singles, including "La Yonka," "So This Is Love," and "Cara Mia," between 1965 and 1967 -- by then, the band's reputation was such that they received the greatest honor of their careers, playing support gigs to the Beach Boys at two shows, in Dublin and Belfast, along that group's spring 1967 tour of Ireland. By this time, their sound was decidedly retro, amid the flowering of the psychedelic era, but to the audiences they cultivated it mattered not one whit -- their version of "Papa Oom Mow Mow" made the Irish Top Ten in December of 1967, although the following year they did cut a prime example of sunshine pop entitled, appropriately, "Look at the Sunshine." The band continued scoring hits into 1970 with "Just to See You Smile" and "Halfway to Where," by which time they'd also achieved the singular accomplishment in their field of recording an LP, Movin' On. On a handful of occasions, they recorded as Billy Brown & the Freshmen and Derek Dean & the Freshmen. The group left Pye soon after and jumped to CBS Records, through which they enjoyed a further string of hits, culminating with "Cinderella," their highest charting single at Number Three in Ireland at the end of the 1970s. The band finally called it quits in September of 1980, the year following that success. The Freshmen briefly reunited in the early 1980s, but weren't heard from otherwise until 2001, when Castle Records issued When Summer Comes as part of its Ripples sunshine pop series.
Pictured Billy’s daughters Paddy and Katie with
Derek Dean of The Freshmen
The Top Hat Ballroom Lisburn County Antrim
The Top Hat was one of the biggest ballrooms in Northern Ireland
with people coming from all over the country to enjoy night out.
On June 17, 1972 it was destroyed by a terrorist bomb.
It seems hard to imagine now, but artists such as Little Richard, Sandy Shaw,
Sunny and Cher, Roy Orbinson and Acker Bilk all performed in Lisburn.
The golden period took place at the height of the showband era
Trombonist and Vocalist with the legendary Freshmen
passed away in the last few days at his home in Belfast.
May his Soul Rest in Peace.
May 30th 2009
|Help | Site Help Map | Advertise With Us | Add Site|
Computing & Internet
Research & Learn
Copyright © 2000 Netscape Communications