Belfast’s Witnesses Showband were probably the only
Irish showband to welcome Elvis Presley to their show! The King and his
entourage, including his wife Priscilla attended their Christmas Show at
The Paradise Island Hotel in The Bahamas in 1969, took a bow when
introduced to the audience by bandleader and compere Harry “Trixie”
Hamilton and later told the lads that he had enjoyed the show. He bought
drinks for the band and joined them onstage, though he did not sing.
The Witnesses began when six musicians from another
great Belfast band, Dave Glover’s Showband, left to start a new band. Alex
Burns (guitar), Harry Hamilton (bass), Gerry Rice (saxophone), Andy Wilson
(trombone), Harry Mitchell (piano) and vocalist Joe Clarke formed the
nucleus of the new showband and trumpeter George Mullen was recruited to
complete the line-up.
Mitchell later left to be replaced by Tony Morelli and in the
mid-60s, Dubliner Colm Wilkinson joined as lead vocalist. Italian-born
Morelli was a former choirboy who had come from the Northern Comets
Showband. His father had been a member of Glenn Millar’s Big Band in the
USA. Colm Wilkinson has since gone on to be one of the world’s biggest
stars of stage-musicals having starred in shows such as “Les Miserables”
and “Phantom Of The Opera”.
The band made a huge impact on the British club and cabaret scene and
while resident at The Talk Of The North in Manchester, were supported by
acts who later went on to become famous, such as Gerry Dorsey (Englebert
Humperdinck) and comedian Freddie Starr. In 1964, they traveled to
America for a five-week tour where they appeared in venues in New York,
Chicago and San Francisco traveling a total of 14,700 miles! While in
the U.S.A. they had the pleasure of meeting stars like Lionel Hampton,
Gene Krupa and Sammy Davis Jnr.