Showbands, Cabaret And All That Jazz
by   Des Hopkins

My own lifetime in music began in the Fifties. My family lived in Bray,  my Dad was a bandleader, drummer and violinist. Mother played piano. I followed their footsteps and began drumming in the late fifties. My younger brother Billy began playing a little later. Influenced by all I saw and heard in The Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman Stories, Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong, etc., I had just formed a school jazz band when the family, like so many others in Ireland at the time emigrated to England. We settled in Oldham, close to Manchester.    

At about eighteen years of age I worked for a time as an apprentice electrician and formed a jazz band in 1958 in the Oldham area, The Panama Jazz Band, playing mainly workingmen’s clubs. The jazz scene in Manchester was thriving at the time. I answered an ad in The Manchester Evening News and auditioned for the drumming job in Johnny Tippett’s Jazzmen, one of the popular local bands of the time.

Through the jazz boom years, Johnny Tippet’ts Band played, as did many jazz bands, The Cavern Liverpool, and I remember well The Beatles playing the interval for us. We toured extensively, in the North of England. Most of The Northern English bands were semi-professional. To go pro, as I wanted, one would have to head south for London.                                                                                    

In 1962 I choose to return to Ireland, where a thriving showband industry was in full swing, with hundreds of professional bands criss-crossing the country, earning excellent money playing the dance halls. I placed an advert in the Irish Independent’s excellent dance band column and worded it something like this: “Irish born drummer, at present with top English jazz band seeks position with Irish showband”. I received quite a few offers. Jack Brierley’s Showband from Cork, offered £11 per week, The Clefonaires from Sligo £12 but I settled for Dave Dixon’s Dixonaires Showband from Clones at a whopping £14.10 shillings per week!


I remember the day well, it was the12th of July 1962. Bidding farewell to the family, with packed suitcase and various boxes containing the drum kit, setting off from Manchester’s Central Station for the long journey back to Ireland by train, boat and bus arriving in, what seemed to me to be, in middle of nowhere.


The following night was my first gig, we travelled to the Silver Slipper Ballroom in Sligo. Showbands played every kind of music, so I had to adapt to this quickly, having only played jazz for some years up to this. A few nights later towards the end of a dance in Adamstown Hall in Wexford I played a lengthy drum solo, something I was quite used to doing on the jazz scene. A large crowd of dancers stopped dancing to gather round the stage, much to the delight of bandleader Dave Dixon. Calling me aside after the dance I was offered a rise of thirty shillings to repeat the performance nightly, this was something akin to winning the lotto, and I readily agreed.

Clones was a town I grew to like, as there were a few good bands based there. The craic on the weekly Monday night off was tremendous.  One of the Bands was “ The Big Four” an excellent and popular quartet featuring singer Pat McGuigan later to be known as Pat McGeegan. Their drummer Doug Stewart was down with flu, I was asked to stand in for a week or two. One of their dates was in Castlebar, the supporting band was Pete Brown and his Band of Renown from Kiltimagh. Pete offered me a job so I moved to the Mayo town. Pete’s band was extremely popular in The Irish halls in England so we spent a good deal of time travelling to and from Great Britain. The trombone player with Pete was Jarlath Maloney a brother of the famous Ollie of The Johnny Flynn Band, Tuam. Gerry Cronin, Billy Potter and Ollie decided to pack up the Flynn band and form their own outfit, and so The Ohio was born. Jarlath and I, were offered a place. I spent five enjoyable years with The Ohio Showband in Tuam.

From there it was one year with Butch Moore and The Kings, followed by another two years with Art Supple and the Victors. I am sure, as with most of us who spent memorable years in the showbands, I could write a book or two on times spent with each of those bands. But that’s for another day.

In 1973 the cabaret scene was starting to take over from showbands and together with my brother Billy (Airchords and Royal), Arthur O’Neill (Airchords) and Jimmy Byrne (Victors) we formed Just Four. This group lasted eleven years with considerable success.

And so back to my first love, jazz. Since the eighties we have been very successful with The Cluskey - Hopkins Guinness Jazz Band, playing festivals and jazz concerts throughout Europe. Together with my wife Nuala, we also run a musician and band agency,  DH Entertainment” based in County Kildare, specializing in wedding and corporate entertainment.


© Des Hopkins 2004

© Irish Showbands Archive 2004

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