Book Reviews

Do You Come Here Often? - The Golden Age of Showbands by Tony Bagnall | €16.00

A 76-page paperback (page size A4), published by the author and printed and bound by Apex Printers. ISBN No: 978-0-9927416-0-0

This a is a well-presented magazine-style book, written and published by the former bass-player with The Clippertones Showband, Tony Bagnall. It's actually a collection of separate articles rather than a book but they are very well-researched,  written and proof-read. In the book there are many rare, unpublished photographs, which alone make it worth buying. The author is a retired photo-journalist!

It's probably not surprising that Newry and Northern Ireland bands are featured more than bands from the rest of the island. There are chapters on The Clippertones, Paddy Cole, Brendan Bowyer, Dickie Rock, LuvBug, Sandy Kelly, The Soundtracks, Joe Dolan, Dick Barton, Maisie McDaniels, The Hilton Showband, Arty McGlynn, Fr. Brian D'Arcy, Brendan O'Brien, The Freshmen, The Epic Showband and many others - 36 chapters in all.

Every page is illustrated, 203 photos in total, more than half of them in colour. The front cover features The Hilton Showband with Eleanor Toner and the back cover shows Joe Dolan onstage.

The book can be ordered directly from the author at tonybagnall.com . Note that it is a paperback with A4 size pages so you will have to take good care of this 'wee' addition to your library! Highly recommended.
 

Play It Again Paddy - Drogheda: An Irish town steeped in music by Harry O'Reilly | €15.00

A 256-page paperback (page size 15 x 23 cm.), published by the author and printed and bound by Anglo Printers Ltd. ISBN No: 978-0-9572916-1-4.

From the opening pages of this book, one can tell that it was written by a musician who knows the music business from the inside. I often think that only musicians should be allowed to write books about bands! Fans just cannot appreciate what it's like to set off in a wagon with five or six other musicians on a Sunday afternoon (sometimes earlier), travel for three or four hours, set up the gear, play for two to three hours and spend the next four hours travelling to arrive home in the early hours of the morning. Harry O'Reilly, who was lead guitarist with The Toppers and later The Chancellors has done this many times and he knows how to put it down on paper.

First impressions of this fine book are the impressive cover design and photography and the chunky feel and weight of it. You know that you have bought something worthwhile. Flicking through the pages, you will see 100+ photographs, many of them previously unpublished. It's divided into 43 concise and easy to read chapters with headings such as 'The early days in the '50s', 'The advent of the showband era', 'Podger and The Toppers', 'From Toppers to Chancellors' and 'Dermot O'Brien and his bands'.

Each chapter is liberally illustrated and very well written. Unlike some books we have reviewed here, it clearly was proof-read. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with self-published books and for a grammar-nerd like myself, it's comforting to know that the next page is not a minefield of punctuation and spelling errors! My one small reservation is that the 7-page index of names at the end of the book doesn't include page references.

There are two forewards, one by Tommy Leddy, former 'Topper' and founder of Drogheda's Sound Shop and the other by guitarist Eamonn Campbell, now of The Dubliners and a former 'Clubman'. Cover photography is by John O'Reilly. I encourage anyone with an interest in '60s music to add this book to their collection. It can be ordered online HERE for €15.00 plus €3.20 postage and packing, a total of €18.20. Postage is a little higher to addresses outside Ireland.

Larry Cunningham - A Showband Legend by Tom Gilmore | Mentor Books | €17.00

This is a 228-page paperback written by Tuam Herald journalist Tom Gilmore, who also presents country music programmes on Galway Bay FM. If a biography is an objective look at a person's life, this definitely is not one. It looks at the life and career of the Granard crooner through rose-coloured glasses and what results is a sweeter-than-sugar tome.

There are 16 glossy pages of photographs, showing Larry with the Granard minor football team, Larry Gogan, Jimmy Magee, Albert Reynolds, Ronan Collins, Charlie Pride, Colm Murray, Joe McCarthy, Joe Dolan, Paddy Cole, Sonny Knowles, his wife, family and his various bands.

There are quite a few inaccuracies in the text, but why allow the truth to get in the way of a good story?! 'Tribute To Jim Reeves' did not reach No.28 in the British charts - it peaked at No.40 - for one week. While Larry was just an average, lucky singer of mainly Irish ballads, corny country songs and that most awful hybrid, 'country 'n' Irish', chapter headings such as 'Teenage Singing Star', 'The Country 'n' Irish Bono', 'They Would Have Torn The Place Down', 'Married or Single For The Fans?',  'Paving The Way For U2, The

Sawdoctors and The Pogues', 'Love 'n' Lust In The Ballrooms', 'Spawning Oasis', 'Sexual Encounters With Fans', would make one think that the book was about a member of Led Zeppelin! The Mighty Avons may have been popular but, musicially, they were very limited.

This book would have been much better had it not been written by a fan. The author's belief that Larry was actually a great singer who sang great songs and fronted a great showband is its downfall. It's the story of a different Larry Cunningham than the one I thought I knew!

Review by John Lynch

Building houses, carpentry, minor football and margarine were not what I wanted to find out about in this instance; it was music matters, as is the case with all books ab artists of any genre. In that regard, the most interesting segment came from the contribution of Mick Clerkin, without whose input the book would have been a lot worse, in my view.

That said, in relation to your comment that the book would have been better had it not been written by a fan, I wonder if an outsider could even have come up with sufficient material for such a purpose. Perhaps Paschal Mooney could have, as he observed in John Coughlan's Swinging '60s compilation of articles (book) that Larry's onstage charm belied a hard-nosed business attitude.

Tom Gilmore did not find Larry to be very forthcoming in his recollections of the showband scene, yet he was all enthusiasm when it came to the aforementioned topics.  Why draw the curtains over the split from the Mighty Avons? Anyone who forks up the asking price of a publication is entitled to be told what they wish to know about a band of whom they were fans and/or travelled miles to see. The author probably did his best to plug the gaps but lacked the in-depth knowledge to be taken seriously. Unlike Dickie Rock, whose book, Always Me, I also read recently, Larry's memory seemed more selective and he certainly couldn't have written his autobiography, even with the co-operation of a professional writer such as Dickie had in David McCullagh.

Thus, for these reasons, I don't think it's a book that will stand the test of time, due to its exaggerations, inaccuracies, sensationalist chapter headings and too much trivial conversation filling out its pages. One discrepancy I noticed claims that Larry's last Irish chart-topper, Slaney Valley, was written especially for him by Paddy Kehoe, father of former Wexford hurler, Padge.  Possibly he recommended the song to Larry, but to my knowledge, it was first recorded by the Kinsellas, a singing family from that locality. There is a select discography at the end; select meaning incomplete, as opposed to availability or recommended. I doubt if Gilmore collected or kept Larry's records according as they were released, and why didn't he list the tracks on albums?  Besides, there was no such L.P. as 'Forty Shades of Green'; this is actually the title of a 21-track compilation CD.

As for singles: my, doesn't Larry Gogan's Irish chart book come in oh-so handy as a source of reference!   He could have listed chronologically A & B sides with their respective catalogue numbers, as these are available on the internet from which he took some information.  It would have been more relevant to the book's subject, instead of wasting space talking about a namesake soccer player with whom Larry Cunningham hadn't the remotest connection otherwise (such nonsense might sound okay when mused over in a pub at closing time, but not in print.)

Larry and his wife, Beatrice, obviously agreed to co-operate with Gilmore's project, but I found the whole thing fell short of a definitive biography.  I enjoyed reading about his Nashville experience and being clued in more on the Jim Reeves Lifford gig and Irish tour of 1963, in addition to learning about the origins of the song for which Larry will be best remembered: Lovely Leitrim. From an availability point of view nowadays, it's a pity the original recordings of Larry & Avons' hits are not available on silverdisc.  If the Pye label offered them a contract as per their hopes, said recordings would have been reissued by this stage, instead of current generation fans and collectors having to settle for latterday slapdash remakes.

But who is the Larry Cunningham you thought you knew?  It's all very fine making smalltalk about the weather and such, but when anyone tries getting up close and personal with singers or musicians, as Gilmore attemtped, 'tis then you find out what they're really like. Not so much as being a personal friend; but rather, in terms of establishing a good rapport with them.

John Lynch

Oh Mein Papa - Johnny Carroll's Own Life Story by Philomena Gallagher | €15.00

This is a glossy softback book packed with photographs and memories of the trumpeter from Castlerea. There is also a complimentary 2-track CD inside. It is beautifully designed and finished with an attractive swirly design on each of its 144 pages.

The biography ends at page 74 and the rest of the book is quite fragmented with pieces by John Baird & Gerry Gallagher, press releases, a chapter about the author, a list of his albums, photos of Johnny with various well-known people and some adverts. It's a pretty little book to flick through now and then but it certainly could have done with some professional editing. For some reason, many of the photos bear the logo of a showbands' website (not this one)!

  The Fiesta, Letterkenny  by John Baird | €12.50

Printed and bound by the Donegal Printing Company, with a foreward written by the band-leader of The Capitol Showband, Des Kelly, this 108-page paperback is full of memories, anecdotes and photographs from an era that we all loved. It brings us on a nostalgic journey from 1962, when the Keeney family built the dance-hall to 1979 when the doors closed for the last time.

I counted 99 photos and 19 newspaper adverts, many of them never published before. Some of the rarer ones feature concerts on the steps of the ballroom with The Blueglows and Denver Showbands, local band The Jets with the neon-lit ‘Fiesta’ behind them, the author's favourite band, The Capitol Showband, onstage on opening night.

Is it all good? Well, honesty is called for here and the answer is 'no'. Proof-reading is non-existent and page after page is riddled with poor grammar, incorrect spelling and poor punctuation. It would have been a bonus if some colour photos had been included. Writing about such a narrow subject as one ballroom, the author has produced a decent little book which could have been alot better.

It is available from the author at a rather expensive €12.50. Don’t forget to add €2.00 for postage and packing within Ireland.

'The Freshmen Unzipped' by Derek Dean | Merlin Publishing | €13.00 

If you haven’t yet read the extracts from Derek Dean’s book, “The Freshmen Unzipped” (Sunday World, 4 November 2007 - 6 pages), I suggest that you sit down and pour yourself a stiff drink first. A good choice of words actually, because “stiff” and “drink” are about all this book is about. It’s not really The Freshmen Unzipped, it’s the author himself unzipped, a state he claims he spent most of his nights in when he should have been concentrating on the band’s great music. He boasts about “The Serpent” or “The Viper” as if the rest of him was just attached to his appendage and had to follow it around.

Some paragraphs are just blatantly embarrassing. Once is enough to tell us that more than the crowd were standing to attention for the National Anthem or that he didn't need a rolled-up paper inside your trousers. So what? This is just a cheap, disgusting little rag and thankfully, I won't have to spend €13.00 on it to see more of the delusional drivel inside. The author claims that the showband/dancing boom of the ‘60s had nothing to do with an upsurge of interest in live music but was a result of the contraceptive pill! That’s a new one on me.

What a wonderful opportunity the author had to write a decent book about one of our greatest ever bands. Unfortunately, this opportunity was spurned or missed by the proverbial mile. As a personal memoir, it probably achieves its purpose but the good name of The Freshmen should not have been used in the title.

 

'Are Ye The Band? ' by Jimmy Higgins | Mentor Books | €15.00 

And now for something completely different! Not a reptile to be seen and the only rolled-up newspaper needed was The Tuam Herald to stop Billy Barrett from snoring in The Raindrops VW minibus. This humourous ramble through his years travelling through Ireland, Britain, Europe and the USA in various wagons with The International Showband, The Millionaires, The Raindrops, The Big Time and subsequently into management by trumpeter Jimmy Higgins is primarily a fun book. Packed with photos and 'colourful' stories from the road, this natural storyteller outlines what life was like for a journeyman musician, working with bands who almost, but never quite did, make it into the top echelon with The Royal, The Dixies, The Capitol and The Miami.

From the evening that his mother told the 14-year old that he was "the image of Johnny Flynn" as he, dressed in his band-suit, waited nervously to be picked up for his very first showband gig to the night that they decided to call it a day, you will enjoy this trip down Memory Lane. A very enjoyable read - well done Jimmy.

  Green Beat by Darragh O'Halloran | Brehon Books | €17.50 

What exactly is this book supposed to be? An objective no-holds barred look at the ‘60s beat-scene in Ireland or simply a vehicle to document the pathetic musical snobbery that dominated the Irish music-scene during that decade? The more I read through this 224-page book by Daragh O’Halloran (published by Brehon Press), the more I realise, sadly, that the author walked in with his eyes closed and questioned almost nothing.

Paragraphs and quotes from magazines such as ‘Spotlight’ and ‘Hitsville’ are quoted verbatim as fact when even the most naïve music fan is aware that they were little more than propaganda-sheets for bands and groups with healthy budgets. Quotes from Pat Egan and B.P. Fallon are treated with reverence when truly, they were only two non-musicians who used the pages of those magazines to publicise their own friends’ bands.

It was far more important to be ‘cool’ than to be a brilliant musician. B.P. saw to that. You had to be ‘cosmic’ and have a ‘vibe’ and if you had, you had it made. There’s an ongoing ‘sneer’ throughout the book about showbands with words like ‘agricultural’, ‘ageing’ and ‘haircuts’ liberally used. The true facts about showbands were that the vast majority of their members came from terraces or estates in small rural towns where unemployment was rife. They saved some money, bought an instrument and set out to make a decent living doing what musicians want to do - play music. There was very little ‘agricultural’ or ‘ageing’ about showbands in the early ‘60s. Just because B.P. or Pat said so doesn’t mean that it was fact.

The pervading theme that runs throughout this book is that it was much ‘cooler’ to be in a beat-group (or a 4 or 5 piece 'covers-band) than to don a suit and be part of an outfit known as a 'showband'. Yet, The Black Eagles are described as ‘one of many groups at the time doing covers of Small Faces, Yardbirds and (Rolling) Stones material’. Drummer Dave Pennefether was criticised by Paul Brady as ‘taking the King’s shilling’ when he left the beat-scene to join Earl Gill’s band. Thankfully Paul, we haven’t had ‘the King’s shilling’ in our country for many a long year! Why was Brady not asked how his joining of The Johnstons (a folk/ballad group) differed so much to Pennefether joining Earl Gill's Band - having been quoted on page 205 "I didn't really have an awful lot of time for the ballads. Why are all these people singing all this shit from 200 years ago? It was all a bit fake to me". Paul Ashford speaks some sense when he recalls Philip Lynott calling him a ‘breadhead’ when he joined The Miami – but as Ashford says, ‘I was a musician and I wanted to play’. Slightly ironic that I just happened to see a clip of the same Phil Lynott on BBC last night singing a classic beat-song – ‘Jingle Bells’! 

A former member of Rootzgroop is quoted as saying that he ‘hated showbands’. That’s an incredibly sweeping, all-encompassing statement. He goes on to say ‘we looked down our noses at them, we thought they were crap’. I seriously wonder which showbands or how many different showbands he actually heard – live? The Freshmen? Crap? The Plattermen? Crap? Dave Glover, The Skyrockets (with Henry McCullough)? Crap? Derrick and The Sounds (with two members of Taste in the line-up)? Crap? The Jokers or Johnny Quigley with one of Europe's top drummers, Tommy McMenamin laying down the beat? Crap? The Witnesses with Colm Wilkinson out front? Crap? That particular musician's blanket put-down of showbands should have been questioned and analysed.

Two phrases in the book clearly illustrate the angle from which the author approaches his subject. In reference to The Dreams’ first single, he states that it was written for them by "safe, middle-aged favourites, The Tremeloes". In fact, Alan Blakely who wrote ‘I Will See You There’ was 26 in 1968 – hardly middle-aged! Yet, in 1970, Granny’s Intentions’ album ‘Honest Injun’ “showcase the talents of youthful singer Johnny Duhan”. In 1970, Johnny Duhan was only a couple of years younger than the ‘safe, middle-aged’ Alan Blakely!
The author should have embedded a few facts in his head before he started talking to people, some of whom have coloured and biased memories of a bygone era. There were two kinds of bands in ‘60s Ireland and no, I don’t mean beat-groups and showbands – I mean charts cover-bands and bands who mixed originals with lesser-known album tracks and songs from obscure blues and soul artistes. Many of the cover-bands were known as showbands and they played in a nationwide circuit of ballrooms, marquees and dance-halls but there were also scores of smaller cover-bands who played in Tennis Clubs and local halls.
 
Let’s not forget, the word ‘showband’ was nothing more than a tag. The vast majority of working showbands in the ‘60s were not ignorant hayseeds who thought Dublin began and ended in Croke Park. Yes, they wore suits, usually very smart, tailored suits but so did The Beatles in the early days. The Wheels are pictured on page 113 wearing suits as are The Beau Brummels on page 146 (oh but of course they were ‘cool’ people!). Wearing casual clothes onstage didn’t automatically instil blinding talent in a musician. Neither did filling ones mouth with tomato-ketchup and spitting it over the crowd or having your photo taken with a noose around your neck. That particular photo of The Uptown Band is more immature and irresponsible than it is avant-garde and mould-breaking.
 
Some of the former beat-group musicians who were interviewed for this book obviously believe the myth that there was a massive city/country, beat-group/showband divide. But many of them were members of groups that were little more than small showbands themselves! I have heard beat-groups who played a complete programme of covers or ‘interpretations’ of other bands’ work and I have also been in band (a so-called ‘showband’) which belted out Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Eddie Floyd and Arthur Conley soul numbers with punchy brass arrangements. Can the smaller band feel ‘superior’ because they are based in a city and don’t wear suits? Showbands were often based in rural towns and had no choice but to travel because their towns, unlike Dublin and Belfast, simply didn’t have enough venues.
 
There are references to unscrupulous showband managers buying boot-loads of singles and dumping them ‘in the Bog of Allen’ (of course it had to be a bog) in order to get their records into the charts. Terrible behaviour altogether! But when Strangers' manager Jimmy Dunne bought a cart-load of Strangers’ singles for every jukebox in the country – it was funny and innovative!
 
The same managers are strongly criticised for ‘stealing’ musicians from beat-groups to form new showbands or to fill positions in others. If the beat-groups had got their own houses in order, joining a showband (and ‘lowering’ oneself to play dreaded ‘covers’) would not have been a financial necessity. Yet when Granny’s Intentions were disintegrating and brought in first Greg Donaghey, later Noel Bridgeman and Pete Cummins, it was seen as progress.
 
 ‘Tell Her’ by The Movement is eulogised as being ‘one of the beat-scene’s most coruscating and spirited singles’ – hold on Daragh, it was a cover! So were ‘Run Baby Run’ (The Bye-Laws), ‘Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow’ (The Strangers), ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’ (The Vampires), ‘So Sad’ (The Greenbeats), ‘Lovely Loretta’ (The Others), ‘Walk Like A Man’ (Some People) and ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ (Purple Pussycat) and others. Danny Hughes supposedly recorded 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' but whose voice was it? It was the voice of a high-profile beat-group drummer!
 
But ... ‘Holiday Girl’ (The Newmen), ‘A Knock On The Door’ (The Airchords), ‘Just To See You Smile’ (The Freshmen), ‘Love And The Country’ (The Riviera), ‘Baby I’m Your Man’ (Miami & Dreams), ‘I’d Still Believe In You Baby’ (Stage 2), ‘When I Look Around Me’ (The Times) were all originals written by members of those bands – showbands!

 
The point I’m trying to make here is that it was NOT a black and white divide. There were good and bad beat-groups just as there were good and bad showbands. I’ve listened to enough ‘crap’ over the years about how all the cool people were in groups and all the buffs were in showbands – it’s simply not true and it’s very disappointing that the author has allowed himself to be led in this way by people whose collective sneering at showbands should have mellowed over the past 40 years.
 
There are paragraphs, even pages on groups like The Viscounts, The Caravelles (Greenbeats), The Strangers, Bluesville, The Action, The Chosen Few, The Kingbees, The Creatures, The Chessmen, Granny's Intentions, The Movement, The People, Eire Apparent (hardly beat!), The News, Sweeney's Men (a folk group - they have no place here apart from the link with The People), Skid Row, Rootzgroop, The Orange Machine, The Bye-Laws and a section on Northern Beat including Them, The Wheels, The Mad Lads, The Method, Andwella's Dream, Taste and Granny's Intentions.
 
Musicians and 'heads' such as John Keogh (sometimes I wonder about John's memory!), Shay Healy (hardly a leading light in the beat-scene), Ted Carroll, Brush Shiels, Jonathan Ryan, Terry Brady, Alan Dee, Kevin Dunne, Jimmy Dunne, Ronan Collins, Len Guest, Maxie McEvoy, Deke O'Brien, Ian Whitcomb, Jerry Dennon, Peter Adler, Mick Molloy, Sam Smyth (always plenty to say but was he actually involved at all?), Ian McGarry, Ditch Cassidy, Paul Ashford, Tony Boland, Bobby Kelly, Jay Malone and others are quoted at length. A comprehensive and impressive line-up you might say - until you read on and find that many of their contributions came from old interviews published many years ago in magazines like Spotlight and books and papers by Ian Whitcomb, Jerry Smith, Johnny Rogan, Mark Prendergast, Vince Power and others.
 
Another point which strikes me about this book is the number of significant groups which are not included. A cursory nod (or not even that in some cases) to Sugarshack (Brian Downey), Chapter 5, The Difference (Paul Keogh), The Deep Set, Grassband, The Gentry, The Intruders, Jangle Dangle, Reform, The Wild Breed, The Pickford Set, Heatwave, The Others, Some People, Beat-Route, The Mousetrap, Zebedee, The Urge, Strange Brew, The Fugitives, Dead Centre, Stop Press, Love Street, Demon Duck, Ned Spoon, Magazine, Judge Joe & The Jury - there are just too many left out.
 
When writing a book to fill a gaping niche like this one, it's not enough to write a thesis. It's not enough to go to the National Library and copy quotes and paragraphs written many years ago. It's not enough to listen to some 40-year old memories and opinions and not even question them. Though the author did speak at length with many of those involved, there are many others out there who experienced this era and whose memories and views could have been featured.
 
In my opinion, Part Five which covers the experiences of John Byrne and Declan Mulligan in America could have been left out. Brehon Books appointed an editor, Nicola Keenan, for this book but apart from proof-reading, what exactly did she do? To include those pages at the expense of some of the groups and personalities mentioned earlier was in my opinion, a poor call.
 
Now to the layout, the photographs and the cover. To be honest, the whole book looks a bit like the annual report from a financial institution. Layout is incredibly unimaginative when compared to the book's British counterpart, 'Beatboom' (Dave McAleer - Hamlyn 1994 - ISBN 0-600-58009 -1). That particular book uses only spot colour throughout but because of it's excellent design and layout, is far more attractive to leaf through). I realise that full colour printing is more expensive than mono (the difference is not nearly as much as it was in the '70s or '80s) but a colourful era like the '60s to be documented totally in black and white is just boring. Most of the photos have an over-riding grey tint, something that can be fixed in a few seconds in an application such as Adobe Photoshop. I love the cover photo (The Creatures onstage at The Five Club) but surely they could have stretched their budget a little and included a colour section? One other rather annoying fact is the absence of an index, almost obligatory in a non-fiction book.
 
And finally, a couple of clangers.

Page 13: "The Royal Showband (featuring Brendan Bowyer) was the first to take the plunge in 1962, releasing 'Come Down The Mountain Katy (sic) Daly'". It was Katie Daly and it was the late Tom Dunphy.
 
Page 123: “Rory (Gallagher) took Eric D’Amery (drums) and Norman Kitteringham (bass) away from the others and formed The Taste”. It was Norman D’Amery and Eric Kitteringham.
 
Page 128: “Richie McCracken and John Wilson were previously members of a Northern Ireland power-trio called Cheese”. That is true but it would have been fitting to mention that prior to Cheese, they were both members of a showband, Derrick & The Sounds where McCracken played lead guitar, not bass.

It is said that if you can remember the '60s, you weren't there. The author wasn't.

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