Showband Memories
The teenage wasteland of Ireland in the late '50s and early '60s was a sexually repressed climate largely dominated by the Catholic church. The Showband story goes back to these simple days of the early 1950's when unemployment and emigration ravaged the country. The choice in rural Ireland was the small farm, the boat or the religious life. For the people left at home the "wireless"as it was then known was the only piece of luxuary in an odd house. This "wireless" or radio was off-limits to most family members except for "Hospital Requests" , "The Waltons Programme", "The News" and "Ceílí House"The one bright spot for  younger listeners was Radio Luxembourg  Fab 208. It must be hard for anyone under 30 to believe that, before   1979, there were two hours of pop on national radio per week. It is even harder to imagine, that nobody in authority thought anything needed to be done about this.
Record players, Television, CD's,tapes and cassettes were all future technology that would never be affordable in Ireland, or so was the thinking then.Home entertainment was simple: card playing, story telling, visiting, were the usual forms of passing the long nights. Homes hummed nightly to the sound of the Rosary. It usualy was said after tea in the evening when all the family were gathered and it would be most unfortunate if you were to go"visiting" later and find that household had a later Rosary that you had to join in. Lent meant that time each night was given by young and old alike to visit the local Church to "do the stations of The Cross". This practise was a social outing for many people and indeed an excuse for some to meet a boy or girl on "the quiet". The power of the priests and the Church was absolute. Dances in these days were not allowed on Saturday Nights - in fact the Church in Ireland frowned on any kind of entertainment on Saturday Nights as that night was set aside for preparation for Sunday Mass and dancing during Lent was strictly forbidden by the Church.

The first half of the fifties was the heyday of the big band orchestra and the front runners  were Mick Delahunty (Clonmel),Maurice Mulcahy (Mitchelstown), Gay McIntyre and Johnny Quigley (Derry), Brose Walsh (Castlebar), Johnny Flynn (Tuam), Jack Ruane (Ballina), Maurice Lynch (Castleblaney), Dave Glover (Belfast), Jimmy Compton (Dublin), Dave Moynihan (Wexford), Donie
Collins (Askeaton), Jimmy Smith (Navan). Locally you had bands like Jimmy Dullighans Band (Mountbellew), Mickey Devaney (Clonberne) and The Tony Chambers Orchestra from Newport, Co. Mayo. The big band lacked the glamour and excitement that was to come later with the Showbands. Dancing took place in established ballrooms, town halls and parocial halls. The Marquees and Carnivals were to come later in the 1960's. Over zealous priests kept a lookout for courting couples after dances
.....  up lanes and boreens, behind ditches and hedges, in farm outhouses and behind dance venues. The local priest also patrolled the dance floor and seperated couples whom he deemed were dancing too close and causing scandel. Indeed a priest was appointed parish priest in a parish not a million miles from here in the 1980's and tried to revive this practise - going out at night and shining his torch into parked cars to see if any sins were being committed but met with a different reaction than older priests did in the 1950's. He was quickly told to get lost and very quickly took the good advice offered to him.

Each orchestra had 10 to 14 musicians and all sat on stage for the night and played their instruments and read the music from the arrangment sheets in front of them on music stands. In the mid-fifties 8 young men got together in Strabane and called themselves "The Clipper Carlton". They got rid of their chairs and music stands and decided to put a bit of variety into their music. They stood up and performed and moved to the rythem of their music. Other bands from the North quickly followed them such as "The Melody Aces. The Northern Bands were the kingpins for a couple of years. In 1957, in Waterfford City, 7 young lads calling themselves "The Harry Boland Danceband"were playing the local circuit in the City. They were spotted by a musical instruments salesman from Carlow called T.J. Byrne. He was so impressed by them that after discussions with band leader,Tom Dumphy, he decided he would manage them and immediately changed their name to " The Royal Showband". Almost overnight, with their lead singer, Brendan Bowyer and bass guitarist, Tom Dumphy, they became the biggest attraction in the country. They were the first ever showband to cut a record when Tom Dumphy and the Royal recorded "Katie Daly". Irish record sales were charted for the first time on October 5th. 1962 and the first Irish number 1 was on September 6th. 1963 when Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Showband hit the No. 1 spot with "Kiss Me Quick". He was to repeat this performance again on December 27th. 1962 with the recording of "No More".Showbands like The Miami and The Royal who, while being polished and professional (often incorporating elements of Las Vegas style revues into their shows), specialised in imitative forms, copying the hits of the day and regurgitating them for popular consumption

In 1958/59, Eamonn Monaghan, Paul Sweeney, Des Kelly and the Late Johnny Kelly, (Both the Kelly's come from Turloughmore,Co. Galway.), as college students in Dublin, formed a local group and were looking for a leader and lead vocalist. Paddy Cole and Butch Moore joined them and thus "Butch Moore and The Capital Showband" went on to have a string of hit records starting with a recording of a song called "Foolin' Time" which was written by a young student at the time called Phil Coulter who is now an international star in his own rite. To join the Capital Showband, Butch Moore left another band called "The Mellow Chords". They recruited a new young singer called Richard Rock and changed their name and became "Dickie Rock and The Miami" whobecame hugely popular in a very short time. More and more bands emerged and soon everyone who could put three chords together was being recruited for some band or other. Loads of band equipment was being bought from Joe O'Neill in Glenamaddy. Any band who had a "Dynachord" 200 watt "Giant" P.A. amplifier, a "Binson" echo and a pair of "Marmac" Crazy Box Speakers (with a rope on top of each). was the envy of relief musicians who could not afford the huge price of these.

Binson" echo
(Some top bands never wanted the support acts to sound too good, and they discovered ways of keeping them in their place. 'Relief' bands were allowed to use the equipment of the headliners, since the logistics of having two sets of gear on stage were impractical. One important gadget was a Binson echo chamber that enhanced the sound. It was beyond the financial reach of the smaller bands. A common trick played by some top bands was to alter the settings so that the 'relief' failed to achieve the same powerful sound. "They'd have changed the echo off into different weird sounds, and you'd spend the night trying to find the right level and balance," ) The crazy box speakers would also double as a pair of wardrobes if you were stuck and removed the 32 screws that held the back on each speaker. It was most important that each showband had a "sound". A "sound" to many musicians meant that they had to be heard in the next parish and by God they were !
One more thing about the Showbands is, it was all live, there were no tapes. And to the people who went, they were like big jukeboxes - very good jukeboxes.

By the mid-60's the Showband era was in full swing. Bands travelled up and down the Country 5 to 6 nights a week. The experts claim that up to 4000 musicians were employed in the 600 to 700 showbands that toured the countryside.

But there was another side to the Showband story. Fortunes were made --- and squandered. The Showband Explosion catapulted young men from poorly paid jobs to big bucks. The average indstrial wage in 1967 was £12.47 per week while a showband worth their salt could command £500 to £700 per night. The equivalent figure for a night in 2000 would be at least £8914.87p according to the consumer price index. Drink was a Showband accessory that claimed all too many casualties. It gave the perfect "lift" before going on stage and again after coming off stage. It was a habit that became a deadly addiction for many musicians. Drink broke up bands, marriages and relationships. It lost friends and money. Some who remember the 60's only as an alcholic haze are still paying the price.
The worst thing about the Showbands was dealing with the promoters around the country, because they were horrible people, and they always had to make all the money, and they hated paying the bands the money, and if it was a fantastic night they still hated paying And there were a lot of priests involved in that, and lots of politicians and lots of colourful people.  .
Greed was a common cause of Showband Disputes. Line-ups changed like the weather. In the 70's the whole scene began to fall apart. The singing lounge was now in full swing and the dancers began to go to the dance venues later and later. The Showbands who did a three hour stint now played tapes until the vinue filled up and then only played for an hour and a half. Investment in the dance halls was non existant and peoples expectations and confort demands were not met.Basically  halls had four walls and a roof, there were no dressing rooms, or no facilities for anyone to change or look after themselves. There was a mineral bar and there was a band on stage, and that was it. And the place was usually full. Ballrooms in country towns ran buses from major towns to their venues. The punters came in their droves and went to the local pubs. The publicans thought all their dreams had come true and applied for late licences for their lounges. The punters arrived on buses paid for by the ballroom owners and flocked into the local pubs. Smaller bands were playing the local circuit and entertaining the punters. The publicans then had an extension to keep the punters in their venues with the result that the punters stopped going to the ballrooms and left the pubs just in time to catch the bus home. The ballroom which was now empty closed and the buses stopped comong to town and so did the punters. The publicans had just bitten off the hand that fed them. Ballrooms and halls closed all over the country. Pubs and Lounges grew and extended. The Showbands downsized and the bigger names now play the pubs and lounges. Indeed the cycle seems to be happening again with many lounges who seem to think that a musty, cold and damp venue with well worn carpet, a few four-legged stools and shabby decor with a handful groups "at the right price" will keep the place full of happy customers. Well just like in the dance halls and ballrooms which are now mostly a monument to a great era when life was simple in Ireland and peoples expectations were few The Cold Wind of Change is blowing very strongly and many of the lounges will also become part of that
Monument of a time long past when bad management and greed prevailed.

Gerry Costello


 
 
 


 
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