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
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 –
A former member of Rootzgroop is quoted as saying that he
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
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
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
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.