CONTINUING THE FORTNIGHTLY SERIES BY JOHN BAIRD ON THE SHOWBAND ERA, FOCUSING ON THE POPULAR LOCAL SHOWBANDS, THE PERSONALITIES,AND THOSE OTHER WELL KNOWN SHOWBANDS WHO BECAME HOUSEHOLD NAMES , AND ATTRACTED THE DANCERS TO THE COUNTY,S DANCEHALLS. IN THIS ISSUE WE FEATURE THE DONIE COLLINS SHOWBAND, ASKEATON, COUNTY LIMERICK.

       As  a regular patron of Letterkenny,s Fiesta Dancehall in the 1960,s, I,ve heard all the top Showbands, and I,ve also heard them in other venues ,both countywide and nationwide.as well. However, I distinctly remember our featured band, the Donie Collins Showband,s first visit to the Fiesta. I remember seeing the poster and wondering what sort of band they were musically, and what type of programme they will play. Well I was not to be disappointed as I had the priviledge of hearing one of the best Dance/Showbands in the Country at that time.

      The band hailed from the Limerick area, Askeaton to be precise and Singer/Guitarist Austin Graham who was a band member from start to finish told me “In the early days Donie cycled to local gigs with the trumpet tied on the carrier of the bike”. The earliest line up of the band in 1958 was:Donie Collins(Sax/Trumpet/Trombone/Piano and Bass), a multi instrumentalist bandleader,Joe Costello (Sax), Danny Massey (Trumpet), Michael Collins, Donie,s brother(Piano), Frankie Bourke (Drums), Tommy Quilligan(Sax.) Ronnie “Fox “ O, Connor (Bass), and Austin graham Guitar. Don Long from Cork joined on Trombone in 1960 and was later to become a member of the famous Capitol Showband. Mick Falahee and Frank Mangan and many others were also to replace members of this great band when the situation arose. Featured vocalists in the early to mid 60,s were Johnny Grant (real name Kieran Murphy) , and Chris Grace , who joined Galway Showband , The Raindrops after a spell with the Collins Band.

        When Johnny Grant left the band, our own Paddy Joe O, Donnell from Annagry was offered the job as lead vocalist , but declined the offer , a move he now regrets. This great band performed Countrywide and Abroad playing a programme of pop, country, fine danceband orchestrations to enthusiastic dancers . Austin Graham takes up the story,”We normally worked 6 nights a week, usually having a Monday night off. A regular tour would be : Tuesday, Rosses Pt. Sligo, Wednesday, Letterkenny, Thursday, Derry, Friday Coleraine or Belfast. Saturday , Dublin , Sunday, Naas, and we would try to get home to Limerick on a Monday morning for the early opening of the Market Bar for a pint or two” he quipped, Donie Collins was also a Director of the Associated Ballroom Chain which together with Jack O,Rourke and Con Hynes, operated a number of halls nationwide. They also had a weekly sponsored programme on Radio Eireann, which helped promote the bands dancing dates together with other Showbands including the Keynotes. For such a popular showband it was not until 1966 that they recorded their debut single ,featuring Chris Grace and titled “Young Love” with”Mexican Boy” on the B side. Another Vocalist , Shaun O, Dowd who hailed from Carrick on Shannon , joined the Collins Band from Lee Lynch,s band the Blue Angels in London and he cut a single with the Donie Collins Band in 1969 entitled “ Get down with It” and Sugarpie Honeybunch” on the B side, Shaun left to become frontman with a band called Ding a Ling. In 1971 , they recorded their only album entitled “Be my Guest” which was the well known signiture tune of the Donie Collins Showband , and a number that will always be associated with this fine band.
Also in the early 1970,s female vocalist Terry Fitzgerald joined  from the Kilkenny based Jim Cantwell band , with whom she had recorded a single “Where,s my Castle” and “Everybody,s Somebodys Fool “ on the B side. Subsequently this was issued as being recorded by the Collins Band , the reasons were never known. Austin Graham,s last four years with the band were spent playing bass guitar. A new guitarist/ vocalist . Martin Roe joined from the Finnavons Showband .When the band finished in 1973, the final line up was:Steve Donoghue (drums), He also played with the Ken Mac Intosh Big Band in England ,Martin Roe, (Guitar/Vocals) Austin Graham(Bass/Vocals), Brian O, Grady (Keyboards), Mick Guinnane (Trumpet) ex, Swingtime Aces, Chas Cheevers (Sax./Clar), ex Blue Aces Waterford,, Pat Mc Donald And Donie Collins (Saxes) and Terry Fitzgerald (Vocals)

       So ends a musical chapter from a fine Showband, Sadly Donie Collins died in 1987, and also other band members including their great sax player , Mick Falahee, have also left us, We leave the last word to Austin Graham , who is still “gigging away” with his old colleague Charlie Cheevers , around the Limerick/Tipperary area.”Many musicians in the Donie Collins Band would say .”Donie is a ruthless employer”. Bu I said to them Donie will treat you well if you pull your weight, if,you do,nt , he,ll fire you”. Maybe that’s why he always had a good band!” I certainly agree. Thanks to Austin and Charlie for their invaluable help.

            Next issue we will definitely feature the La Scala Danceband from Burtonport,

                                                                                       By for Now.
 


John Baird
bairdart@iol.ie
 

 
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