OCEANS APART

by Robert "Crocket" Magee

Robert Magee played tenor sax with The Oceans. He now lives in Germany where he continues to play.

I got my first saxophone when I was thirteen. It was summertime 1959. My mother and me were visiting my grandparents in London and  I had my Post office book with me. We got the Tube to Oxford Street and walked to Boozey and Hawks. I sat in a cubicle where a salesman showed me how to hold the sax. It was a second hand ‘small ‘ tenor sax and I managed to squeak out a few notes. I paid fifty pounds and we trusted the salesman.
 
Back in Belfast I went to Billy McFaddens (two bus trips away), my Da said I had to learn the rudiments. I wanted to play Peter Gunn and Rebel Rouser like on the Duane Eddy records. Mr. McFadden lived in a wee kitchen house in Harrybrook Street on the Crumlin Road. He could read music like you or me could read a book and he smoked like a chimney. He was brilliant! Two and a half years later a big fella called Alan Jones knocked on our door, he’d heard from somewhere that I played sax. (Well the ‘squeaks` were gone but I still couldn't play Peter Gunn!). Anyway this guy was at least twenty!
 
There were five of us, Billy (vocals), wee Harry (lead guitar), Victor on rhythm guitar, Kenny on bass, Spud on drums and me Crocket on sax. We practiced in the front room of Alan Jones’ (manager) parents' house. The Oceans were being formed! When we had enough material to do an hours gig Alan got us a booking in Belfast College doing two half hour breaks for the Witnesses. The girls went daft for Billy who looked a bit like Billy Fury and sung a bit like Elvis, ‘specially with the hooked-up lip'. We carried on for a few months doing the breaks for the Witnesses. Watching ‘Big Joe' and Trixie doing Mister Bassman and the whole band doing ‘the steps’ made me stand in awe .
 
We started getting other gigs in small halls etc. Then we got a female singer, Paula, a trombone player another Alan and  a trumpet player and we were a SHOWBAND.  The Oceans Showband ! In 1962/63 we were supposed to be the youngest Showband in Ireland.  We were all under eighteen (I was sixteen). They were great days with all the dance halls full at the weekends ,we played the Plaza , Romanos, Co-op York Street and loads more all over Belfast, There was a great custom-built dance hall in Portrush,I forget the name, but it sparkled. We played all over the north, village halls, church halls ,chapel halls and orange halls,it didn't matter, nobody cared, we were all having a great time. We played in Dublin , but I saw nothing of the city. Usually after the dance we signed our autographs on the photo, mostly for the girls. We packed the minivan and sometimes we’d give a couple of the girls a lift if it was on our way and at sixteen it was a bit nice having this girl on your knee.
 

 
Musicians come and go and a small tight-knit band has its ups and downs. Some of the boys left and we carried on . At the end of a gig in the Top Hat Ballroom in Lisburn our manager informed us that we were going to Birmingham (England) in the morning to play at the Irish club in Mosley, the Mosley Ballroom. Now of course we weren't professionals and some of us had apprenticeships to finish so some couldn't go and some could. I’d given my apprenticeship at Short & Harlands up some months before ‘cause I told the boss I was more interested in the Showband! So off to Birmingham we went with a new guitarist and two men (boys ) short. We played Saturday and Sundays . On the Sunday we arrived (don’t forget we’d played the night before) we played and it was great ‘till the end they all stood there waiting . We’d said goodnight and safe home and played the ‘more-more-more‘ extra numbers. The bass player Ivan came back from stage right saying: ’The organizer says we have to play the national anthem’. ‘That’s no problem‘ we all said.' ‘No,’ he said ’The Southern Irish Anthem!'  We played the refrain, that bit was easy, we apologised and next day we learnt it perfectly.
 
On the odd Friday our manager got us an extra gig which helped the old post office book. After nearly three months we went home. During the time we practiced in the managers front room a guy called Van Morrison and another guy, the bass player I think, came into the room. Van Morrison asked ME if I wanted to join a new band. Van was only known to a few and I had heard someone say he played a great blues-harp (of course we called them mouthorgans in them days) and sax. Anyway I said no, I was happy where I was ,and that was that ! A year later I was in London and in Battersey Park fairgrounds I heard ‘Here Comes The Night’ by Them.  And that was the new band Van had formed!
 
In London I played with a 6-piece band called The Boardwalkers. I got married in 1966 aged 19 and took my German bride home to Belfast. I worked as a bus conductor for a while then worked for a credit firm and was then able to join another showband called the Cascades. Harry Dalzel (vocals), Billy Skelly (organ), Eddy (drums), Victor (trumpet), Jim Campbell (bass), Patrick (guitar) and me Robert Magee ( Crocket) on sax. At this time the discos had been well established but we got a lot of gigs,  firms, dos, clubs and the odd remaining dance halls. I left Belfast with my wife and son in 1972 and have been playing in bands over here in Germany up until recently . I’m now retired (YAHOOO!) but can still play as guest busker in an old mates band ! For a while I had a band over here called The Oceans and some Irish woman said she remembered me from the old days in The Oceans in Belfast!! It’s a very small world!
 
 
© Robert Magee 2004
© Irish Showbands Archive 2004

 

 

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