The Showband Years – a Fan’s Perspective

by Bob Merchant

Robert lives in Chesire, Great Britain and is married to Valerie, an Irish girl from Athenry, Co. Galway

I took this photo in 1969 in Galway from O'Brien's Bridge looking back up to the city. On the wall behind Pat Joe O'Brien, Norman Payne and Cha Taylor is a poster advertising a dance by the 'Swingtimes' in the Pavilion Ballroom (The Hangar) ~ Bob.

Manchester 1961 and the main areas of entertainment were the local Parish Youth Club and evenings in friend’s houses. I had a tape recorder, a record player converted from an old gramophone to play 78’s, 45’s and LP’s. I had just started a small record collection with records by Lonnie Donegan, Hank Locklin, Karl Denver, Johnny Cash to name a few. With the tape recorder a few sessions were held and recordings made of sing alongs to the records of the time. Not of good quality but lots of fun.

Skiffle groups and Trad Jazz had given way to a new wave of groups such as Joe Brown and the Brothers, Marty Wilde and the Wildcats and solo artistes Billy Fury, Eden Kane and Helen Shapiro. These artists brought a new sound and challenged the domination of American artists. 1962 saw the launch of the Beatles and their influence spawning other beat groups often copying their Merseybeat sound. The rest as they say is history.

1962 also influenced my interest in music. As second generation Irish, I spent a two week summer holiday in Galway, During this period I went to a Marquee dance at Oranmore. To arrive at a Marquee in the middle of nowhere, an illuminated tent resounding to the sounds of music comprising of brass, guitars, piano/organ, drums and different vocalists playing for four hours or more meant that there was never a dull moment. All types of music with the latest chart favourites performed with such authenticity meant that satisfaction was guaranteed. Playing the Oranmore marquee that night was the Regal Showband, Cork. The line up was:- John Minehan, Bantry (Sax, Trombone and Vocals), Kevin Lynch, Bantry (Baritone, Alto Sax and Vocals), Pat O’Sullivan, Bantry (Bass Guitar and Vocals), Gordan Hanly, Skibbereen (Trumpet, Piano, Vocals and Arranger), Benno Haussmann, Hamburg (Drums and Vocals), Len McCarthy, Cork (Tenor Sax, Clarinet and Vocals), Declan Ryan, Cork (Guitar and Vocals), Mick Ahern, Cork (Guitar and Vocals).

That night was to make a lasting impression on me. The mix of Folk, Pop and Country and Western music was just what I had been searching for. I still remember the band performing the Johnny Cash recording:- ‘Ring of Fire’ which at that time I had not heard, but bought on my return home. Keeping up with Showband news was difficult. I had a subscription to the Connacht Tribune. Each week the entertainment columns would advertise the local dances. Within the dance advertisements were photographs of the bands. As the Showband phenomenon grew, new bands were formed, more dances arranged, more advertising and more band photographs appeared. But this was only whetting my appetite.

When the Showbands started to release records, obtaining them in England was difficult, particularly when the record was only released in Ireland. Luckily I noticed an advertisement in the Connacht Tribune for a new Music monthly – Spotlight Magazine. I contacted the Tribune who sent me details of the publisher and I was able to take out a subscription. Spotlight magazine arrived faithfully every month. Originally produced letterpress in newspaper format (complete with prints from rising quads and rules) it was a mine of information on the Irish music scene.

Whilst I now had all the latest news, I still had difficulty in obtaining records. Then one month an advertisement appeared offering a mail order service. This was handled by ‘Sinnotts Record Shop, 30 John Street, Waterford. Apart from running the record shop, the proprietor, Noel Sinnott was also the manager of two Waterford Showbands, The Savoy and The Decca. I now had all facilities I needed to obtain all those recordings and as an added bonus postage was free. As an additional bonus I was to discover that records in the Republic were a lower cost than in England. Annual visits to Ireland thereafter always included visits to Marquee dances and obtaining as many missed records as possible. In between, in Manchester, weekly visits to the Irish Ballrooms – Astoria/Carousel and Ard-Ri.

The Irish music scene in Manchester was very strong with a number of bands playing the City on the same night. The large emigration from Ireland meant that many young people had crossed the Irish Sea to find employment and careers. As a result towns like Manchester had had large influx of young Irish. There were so many showbands formed and the level of support of dances meant that they were very frequent visitors. During the emigration period relations and friends would follow each other and settle in the same cities and areas. When showbands travelled over for a tour they would bring with them news from the emigrants parish homeland and in turn would take news of the emigrants back to Ireland. Naturally there was great support for bands from your own parish or County.

At the peak of the showband boom the Carousel Club in Manchester adopted a policy of flying top bands over from Ireland on the Saturday night, which was the big dancing night in England and back to Ireland on the Sunday for the big dancing night there. One of these bands was the Johnny Flynn Showband who ended the dance with their signature tune ‘The Magnificent Seven’. Some of the record releases hold memories. One that springs to mind was a 1965 release by Dermot O’Brien and the Clubman cover of Buck Owens ‘I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail’. This was released at the same time that Esso Petroleum were promoting petrol sales in England by giving away imitation Tiger Tails which could be attached to the petrol tank top with an elastic band. The result was that cars were driving around with these imitation tails streaming out behind them. I do not know whether the same promotion ran in Ireland, but it was very successful here.

These are just some memories of a very happy period.

 © Robert Merchant 2004

  © Irish Showbands Archive 2004


Back to Homepage                                      More Tall Tales!

© francis kennedy 2004